Chapter 15.3

Less than four minutes passed before the communications system chirped; a slightly nasal voice intoned, “Bolo One, this is Commander Morgan Lewis at Mission Support. We have analyzed the condition of your fuel reserves. Due to the loss of that tank yesterday, I am sorry to say, it does not appear you will have sufficient fuel for the thrusters to perform the necessary maneuvers once you have entered the planet’s atmosphere. Therefore, it is with deep regret we must order you to abort any attempt to land the Habitat. You will, instead, make preparations to fire the trans-Earth thrusters at precisely 23:42 and 12 seconds. This movement will take you back out of orbit and put you on the free return trajectory toward Earth.

“We realize what a great disappointment this is, especially after having come so far, and getting so close to your objective. However, the safety of the crew vastly outweighs the importance of any benefits derived from the mission. We are all thankful that the failure of the fuel tank didn’t cause more damage than occurred or loss of life. Preparations will now begin to launch a Dragon capsule for you to dock with, upon your return. Godspeed Bolo One and our prayers go with you on your return to our home planet. Please acknowledge this message and its directive.”

Tom swallowed and fought down the burning urge to convey to Morgan his true feelings. He wanted, desperately, to reach through the radio link and wrench the commander through the connection and into the Hab. Were that a possibility, Tom would have destroyed the commander with his bare hands. Instead, taking a deep breath, Tom keyed the microphone and calmly answered, “Mission Support, we acknowledge the command to abort. Repeat, we acknowledge abort. We are now preparing to fire the Trans-Earth Thrus…” As he spoke, Tom made a quick slashing motion across his throat, signaling Brandon to cut communications. Brandon flipped the switches, turning off the communications link and the telemetry, as he nodded his assent. “Now, firing the bolts on the tether and solar panels,” he reported.

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