The colony. Chapter 24: Departure

    Barney woke to the sound of the alarm. It was 6:15 in the morning.

    My head was buzzing a little, but not at all from a glass of whiskey before bedtime, but from lack of sleep over the past two days. However, the thought of the upcoming important matter encouraged Barney, and the cold shower raised the charge of cheerfulness even higher.

    Going downstairs, Barney was surprised to find that he was the last to appear at breakfast.

    “You're late, comrade,” Gordon smiled.
    “Wait a minute,” Barney raised his hand and looked at his watch, and then his eyes narrowed suspiciously. - Now 6:29, there is still a whole minute before the agreed time. It's just that you came earlier, and the bosses are not late.
    “You can't hold this guy,” Joe remarked, sending a piece of meat into his mouth.

    During breakfast in the dining room there was silence, only occasionally disturbed by the clanging of forks and passing phrases about nothing. Each of those present was thinking about the same thing - about what they all had to do. And, of course, about how this occupation will end in one way or another.

    Having settled down with the contents of his plate, Raytnov went up to the coffee machine and ordered his daily morning cappuccino. A pleasant aroma filled the room, and a minute later a small line formed in front of the device.

    “So,” Gordon finally broke the silence, carefully taking a sip of the hot drink. - Today we go to the Port.

    He put his hand to his chin, slowly ran his fingers along his beard and continued:

    - From here to him about two thousand kilometers ... maybe even a little more. First we descend to Alpha, and then turn right at the fork.

    Hearing the name of his base, Raytnov began to dive into the memories, again mentally losing events that occurred on that very night. However, a too large and inaccurate gulp unpleasantly burned his tongue and brought him back to reality.

    “Now about our transport,” continued Gordon. - I propose to hold a vote. We can dive all in one rover and comfortably get to the point of destination. Or we can be distributed among all the rovers we have, but then we will lose in speed. - He looked at everyone. - Your thoughts?

    The new rover could reach a much higher speed than the others, and the wheelbase slightly hinted that it was almost impossible to get stuck on it. However, a column of three rovers looked like a more reliable option, on which everyone unanimously agreed.

    “Great,” Gordon nodded. - It will slow us down, but we are not in a hurry to get to the Port today. So, the road should take us about twenty-five hours of pure time, provided that we move at the maximum speed that small rovers can develop. However, driving at the limit is not the best idea.

    Joe and Scott nodded in agreement.

    - So, you can safely add seven or eight hours. Plus, forced stops for natural and understandable reasons - another hour or a little more. In addition, we will have to spend the night on the way if we want to arrive at the Port fresh and vigorous, without exception.

    Gordon leaned back in his chair, threw his hands behind his head and looked at the ceiling.

    “In general,” he said, without taking his eyes off the lamp, “I expect that we will arrive there tomorrow evening with the onset of darkness.”

    Joe yawned, while covering his mouth with his hand and simultaneously scratching the tip of his nose with his fingers. Then he rubbed his sleepy eyes, looked at everyone and slightly shoved an elbow at Scott, who was sitting next door.

    “The searchlight is broken on our rover,” he reminded. - It would be necessary to look in the hangar repair kit, maybe it will be possible to quickly fix it.
    “Good,” Gordon nodded. - What else needs to be done before sending? Stock up on water?
    “And a meal,” Barney immediately revived. - I saw some kind of machine gun in the hangar, it is quite likely that it just gives out rations for marching before the sorties.
    “That's great,” Gordon stood up and stretched his joints. “Why don't we do it right now?”

    Once in the hangar, Barney immediately decided to check his version about the machine. To his great pleasure, the version turned out to be true, and soon all three rovers were replenished with the necessary number of rations and drinking water. Barney calculated the dose so that the food was enough for the way back and forth, and with a small margin. He gathered enough water so that everyone would have enough of it for at least a week. At first, he wanted to take even more food, but then reasoned that, at best, they would not need it in Porto, and at worst, they would have enough food to go back.

    Joe and Scott rummaged through all the boxes, but did not find the repair kit for the searchlight. Scratching the back of his head, Joe concluded that the failure was not so critical as to leave the rover in the hangar because of it. In the end, the "nightie" worked properly.

    After an hour, all preparations were completed. The mechanics carefully checked all the systems of each rover and made a positive verdict. You could go.

    The first few hours of the journey took place without any adventures and were accompanied by pleasant enthusiasm, which invariably accompanies the beginning of each trip and gradually develops into fatigue as you move away from the starting point. Gordon had already begun to feel this fatigue, but despite the fact that the rover was walking on autopilot, he was holding the steering wheel and was not distracted from the road.

    Closer to dinner, Barney began to nod, then broke down and moved to the back of the rover to take a nap. For a while, Isaac considered passing the landscapes through a virtual reality helmet, getting used to gun control, which, however, seemed to him rather simple and quickly bored. He threw back his helmet, settled himself more comfortably in his chair, and soon also fell asleep. Emilia sat beside her and looked out the window, tapping her rhythm with her foot and moving her lips barely perceptibly, singing some kind of melody.

    The four of them rode in a combat rover at the head of the column.

    Raytnov and Angus rode in one of the expeditionary rovers, and the conversation didn’t go on with them either - they both didn’t take their eyes off the monotonous road and seemed to be under hypnosis.

    And only in the rover Joe and Scott, the silence could not be established.

    - What do you think, - another “ingenious” question has matured in Joe's head, - is it possible to smoke a cigarette from a plasma shot?
    “Unless this delay is the last one for you,” suggested Scott.

    But Joe remained dissatisfied with this answer.

    - Why? - He did not let up. - After all, there must be somewhere the temperature limit? And, if you hold the tip of a cigarette clearly along this border, then you can set it on fire, and at the same time your face will not be smoked.
    “Well,” Scott hesitantly scratched his head. - The probability of this ...
    - Yes, what have the probability? I'm talking about the possibility in principle.

    Scott scratched his head again.

    - Well ... yes, n-probably you are right.

    Joe wanted to smile smugly, but then a new thought came to him, even more brilliant than the previous one.

    “And what if,” he even felt a rapid heartbeat from the realization of all the grandeur of this thought, “two charges will collide — normal and large, with that very gun?”
    “Yes, the same with-thing, if we run into a conflict with you,” Scott didn’t seem to appreciate the question. “You will run farther, as if nothing had happened, and I will crush me on your stomach.”
    - Do you think the kinetic energy of the plasma charge system is described by the same physical laws as for absolutely rigid bodies?

    Scott looked down and lightly patted his protruding belly.

    - I am not an absolutely solid body.

    Joe glanced at him, and a smile appeared on his lips.

    - Then it all fits. In this case, I reformulate the question - how many small shots do you need at the same time to hold one big one?

    Scott's answer was not long in coming. He liked this quiz of stupid questions - it served them as excellent entertainment from the very beginning of the journey.

    - It's all very n-easy. It is necessary only to divide the power of the big shot by the m-power of the small one.
    “Suppose,” Joe agreed. “Let ten ... no, fifteen small shots will balance one big one.” What happens then - will the plasma charges just stop and fall to the ground?
    - Probably.
    - Or will they bounce off each other and fly back? - Joe squinted his eyes, as if trying to confuse a comrade with a tricky question.

    However, Scott was calm and confident.

    “No,” he replied. - I think they will fall.

    Joe wanted to say something else, but Gordon’s voice beat him out of the speakers:

    - Guys, there is a few kilometers to the fork in the road, but right now we will have a spacious lawn with a good view. I propose to stop and knead the bones, at the same time to do other equally important things.
    - What are you doing? - I do not understand Joe. - What, right on the lawn? I’m not so good ...
    “You’ll go to the rover and nobody will see you,” Gordon was in no mood for joking. - In general, how do you like this option?

    A few minutes later, the whole group was breathing fresh air and doing exercises, without having forgotten to turn on the radars on all three rovers. Sensor readings were unanimous - nothing threatened the lives of the colonists.

    Rubbing his sleepy eyes, Barney smoothed his hair disheveled after a short sleep and began to peer into the edge of the forest, to which there were two hundred meters or even a little more.

    “Interesting,” he said softly, practically in a whisper, scratching his head, “why does the forest have such clear boundaries?” Why do trees grow there, but not in this glade?

    Isaac, who kneaded his neck a few steps away and heard everything perfectly, also scratched his head and thought hard.

    “That's weird,” Barney continued. - As if this clearing was deliberately cleared. Hey, Alex, weren't there any plans for any excavations or other research?

    Raytnov, who was finishing an important business, looked out from behind the rover, fastened his fly and went to his comrade.

    “Not here,” he said. - At least, during these three months we did not even come here even once. The excavations were carried out to the southeast of Alpha, where we spent most of the time.
    - What confuses you? - Joined into the conversation Joe. - Well, they grow there, but not here. Should there be a border somewhere, or they, according to your understanding, should grow everywhere, otherwise it is suspicious? You have a mustache, too, just under the nose grow.
    “Yeah, something like that,” Barney said. - Suspicious.

    Raytnov shrugged and turned to go to the rover and take some water, but his gaze slid over the doctor's face and for some reason lingered on it. It seemed that Angus was about to say something, but at the same time he seemed not to do it and forced himself to remain silent. Feeling Raytnov’s gaze on himself and meeting his eyes, he finally decided to give a voice.

    “As far as I know,” he said. - At this place it was planned to build another launch pad.
    “And where does this awareness come from?” - narrowed his eyes Joe. - You kind of said that you should have been watching us, and not be aware of further plans for building this planet.
    “You are right, they did not inform me,” the doctor agreed, and his voice slightly faltered. - But, working side by side with other people in a corporation, sooner or later you will learn certain moments. Rumors, in other words.

    Joe nodded, thought for a moment, and wanted to say something else, but he was interrupted by a sudden alarm signal from the cockpit of the combat rover. After a few seconds, he was joined by the radars of two other rovers. Within a radius of one hundred meters was a predator.

    - In places! - Gordon shouted, looking around. After making sure that everyone else was safe, he quickly jumped into the cabin and closed the door behind him.

    The fork was left far behind, and for the entire journey, the colonists did not have a single problem. The incident on the lawn did not open up, because the radar subsided as suddenly as it had been activated - apparently the wolf or some other animal momentarily fell into the detection area and immediately disappeared. However, no one wanted to tempt fate, so they decided to make further stops only in case of urgent need.

    The clock showed 20:16. The sun was leaning more and more over the horizon and soon had to hide behind its line. Gordon, after a little thought, decided not to wait until dusk and stop again. They traveled continuously for more than ten hours, and there were reasons that are much more important than the warm-up of numb joints.

    Gordon drove a little on the side of the road so that other rovers could level him and stand next to him, then glanced at the radar, turned the sound to maximum and got up from his seat. The others followed his example, and soon everyone stood on the street and looked for suitable places nearby.

    “I remember this road,” said Joe, peering into the distance and stroking the fuse on the machine, which he had just taken with him. - A little further will be the same tree that blocked our path, and where we almost had died.
    “Exactly,” Scott confirmed, returning from the nearest bush. - H-for sure, still t-lays there.
    “Yeah, if nobody removed it.”

    Raitnov silently raised his eyes to the gun on the roof of the rover, as if wondering if it would cope with the barrel. Barney followed his gaze.

    “I think we can clear the way,” he suggested. “No tree can withstand a plasma strike.”

    Joe nodded. However, there was some concern in his eyes.

    The sun was leaning ever closer to the horizon. Before the first twilight it was not very long, and this, in turn, meant the imminent appearance of the titans. However, it was amazingly quiet on the street now, as if someone had turned off all the sounds of nature. The wind disappeared somewhere, the tree branches froze in place and stopped moving their leaves. Not even the birds flew overhead. The silence that followed was very much like a lull before the storm and pressed heavily.

    “Okay,” Gordon glanced at his watch, and then glanced over at his comrades. - Half past eight. Another hour and a half, and the titans will emerge from their holes. It would be nice to decide what we will do at night. Sleep, as usual, will not work.
    - Options? - Barney asked shortly.
    - There are two of them. Obviously, we will have to fend off the titans. The question is whether we will do this on the road or take some position.
    - Advantages and disadvantages? “Barney was a bit of a military man.”
    “In motion, we will not allow ourselves to be surrounded,” Gordon, too, spoke exclusively on business. - This is a plus. Faster get to the Port, this is also a plus. I do not see any other advantages.
    “But the movement is not so convenient to conduct aimed fire,” suggested Emilia, and, judging by the affirmative nods of her comrades, turned out to be right.
    “This is a minus,” Gordon agreed.
    “But the main disadvantage is that,” Joe said, looking around at his rover without a searchlight, “that small rovers, especially ours with Scott, will be extremely vulnerable, as are the pilots inside them.

    Gordon nodded again. He remembered very well that the titan did with one of the rovers at the military base.

    “Okay, but if we stop and take a position,” Barney continued, “small rovers will be just as vulnerable.”
    - Yes, to hell with them, with the rovers, - waved his hand to Joe. - We will not be in them. We will all transfer to this big thing and in turn will shoot back from the enemy troops.

    He put his hands on his hips and glanced at the plasma gun.

    “I also think that it would be wiser,” agreed Emilia. “Even if we fail to protect one of the rovers or even both, we won’t lose people.”
    - A large rover armor stand titanium blow? - Doubt was heard in Isaac's voice.

    There was silence for a few seconds. The wind finally made itself felt, and somewhere above the heads rustled leaves. Barney looked up, took a deep breath, and broke the silence.

    “Do not worry you so much,” his voice was completely calm. - You look at this car, and then remember how we dealt with the titans the day before. No problems are foreseen, I promise you.
    “Well, it means they decided,” Gordon looked at his watch again. - Then around the cabins, we have time to ride a bit more.

    About an hour later, they arrived at the very tree that was blocking the way, and which Scott mentioned in his story. The sun had already finally disappeared beyond the horizon, however, its rays still illuminated the western edge of the sky, not allowing the darkness to finally set.
    But despite the twilight, it was quiet around. The radars still did not catch a single large animal nearby, and every colonist from time to time had doubts about the technical health of the devices.

    “That's the same tree,” said Barney, activating the radio link between the rovers. - It has not gone anywhere.

    Emilia lifted herself up from behind Barney, leaned on the head restraint, and sighed enthusiastically. The tree trunk was so thick that it would be possible to cut an arch into which all three rovers would pass at the same time.

    “Well, carry him with your cannon,” Joe heard from the transmitter.
    - Wait, - Gordon raised his hand, not paying attention to the fact that his interlocutor could not see this gesture. - I had another idea.

    He thought for a while and only carefully examined the barrier.

    - What is this idea, Gordon? - Rytnov's voice broke the silence. - Reception, can you hear me?
    - Yes. The barrel is thick enough even for titans, so it can be used as a wall.
    “Exactly,” Barney caught the thought. - Thus, we will exclude one of the areas that potentially have to be controlled.

    Gordon nodded in agreement.

    - And we will protect small rovers if we put them between us and the trunk of a tree. Thus, they will be beyond the reach of the Titans.
    “It sounds reasonable,” Jo confirmed after a short pause and gently pressed on the gas pedal.

    A few minutes later, the idea was implemented, and all members of the expedition moved to one rover - good, there was enough space in it.

    The last rays of light slowly faded away, and soon the darkness finally swallowed everything around. Overboard was still quiet. Suspiciously quiet, because the sound detectors did not even detect the singing of crickets.

    No one liked this silence.

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