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.The stranger called after him.“There’s nothing you can do, Mr Morgan, believe me.”“But I can’t leave him,” protested Jet.“You’re not leaving him.He is leaving you.Follow him and your chance of getting back to the Fleet is gone completely.”Jet reluctantly switched off his motor.A few minutes later he was sitting alongside the stranger who immediately started up his machine and set off, at an incredibly fast rate, in an easterly direction.They travelled steadily for about two hours and, according to the stranger, had about another three hours to go before they reached their destination.In the next hour Jet learned quite a lot about his companion whose name was Webster.Apparently he was a Sussex man who had been picked up from England fifteen years before, and his one desire was to get back to Earth as soon as he could.He was, of course, very miserable on Mars, doing what the Martians told him.But not to do so, he said, would mean being condemned to one of the underground factories, to live away from the light and work at the dull, monotonous task of building the space fleet.Being a farmer he had been offered agricultural work and had had the good sense to take it.At least he saw the sunlight, and the stars at night.Quite suddenly Webster interrupted the conversation to say: “Well, there she is.If we can make that, our chances are good.”Jet followed the direction in which Webster pointed and saw, on the horizon, what appeared to be a great glass dome.“But the men working beneath it,” said Webster, “are like you and me.They need a good supply of oxygen to breathe.And.oh.”“What’s the matter?” demanded Jet.Webster didn’t reply but brought the truck to a standstill and switched off the motor.“What are we stopping for?”“They’re here,” said Webster.“What? Who--who’s here?”“Look up there,” said Webster, pointing to the sky.“Hovering above us--a sphere.They’ve found us.It’s all over.I’m afraid we’ll never make it now.”Unaware of Jet’s encounter with Mr Webster, Lemmy, Mitch and I were, of course, still crossing the Argyre Desert in the Martian sphere, hoping to locate Jet in the land truck.We had been going for about half an hour when Mitch, who was lying on the floor, showed signs of waking up.He opened his eyes and looked into my face as I bent over him.“Doc,” he complained, “what’s happened to the heating system in this ship?”“So far as I know,” I said, taken aback, “it doesn’t carry one.”“What are you talking about? All the ships carry heating systems.We’d better get one of the engineers over to look at it.And quick, before we all freeze to death.”It dawned on me then that Mitch thought he was back in the Discovery and that we were still coasting towards Mars.“There’s nothing wrong with the heating system, Mitch,” I told him.“It’s you that’s cold.”“Cold,” he said, shivering, “that’s putting it mildly.My inside feels like it’s frozen solid.”“Mitch,” I asked, “do you know who I am?”“Why shouldn’t I?” he said.“What’s the matter? What are you wearing your suit for, Doc?”“Lemmy and I have to, Mitch,” I replied evasively.He looked at me strangely and began to climb to his feet.Obviously the effort it cost him was considerable.He breathed very heavily and moved incredibly slowly.“Now don t attempt to walk,” I protested.“Lie down again.”“I’ll get up if I want to,” said Mitch defiantly.“How do I come to be lying on the floor, anyway.And what’s happened to the bunks and the cabin? It looks all different.Where am I? What.” He began to breathe very heavily now.“Doc--my chest,” he cried.“It feels all tight.I can’t breathe.”“Lemmy,” I called urgently, “come over here--quick, Mitch is returning to normal but he can’t breathe the atmosphere in here.”“Oh blimey,” said Lemmy, as he came over to my side, “and we’ve got no suit for him.”“That oxygenised chamber upstairs.Harding,” I yelled, “open the door to the upper cabin.”Almost immediately die door in the pillar swung open and, between us, Lemmy and I managed to get Mitch upstairs and lay him on the floor.It wasn’t long before the Australian began to breathe more easily and normally, but, before we could get him to the upper cabin he had virtually lost consciousness.However, I felt that the immediate danger was past which was just as well, for Lemmy, who had gone back downstairs while I examined Mitch, called to me to say he had seen one of the land trucks just below us on the desert.“Only one?” I asked him.“That’s all I can see.”“Halt the ship then, Lemmy.I’ll be right down.”“Yes, mate.”We were both extremely puzzled by the disappearance of the second land caravan and all attempts to raise the occupant of the vehicle over which we were hovering failed.I decided that the only way to find out whether it was Jet or McLean on the desert below was to go down and see.The moment we landed, Lemmy and I, clad in our space suits, went outside.First we walked round to the front of the land truck and looked into the driving cabin but there was nobody in it.“Whoever’s in that truck,” said Lemmy, “must be in the living quarters.”“Then we’d better let ourselves in,” I decided.A few minutes later we were in the airlock.But, to our amazement, the cabin when we entered it was empty.There was no sign of anybody.There was nothing for it but to go back to the sphere and continue in the direction in which we had been travelling in the hope of overtaking the other truck which, we could now only conclude, must contain both Jet and McLean.But, just as we were about to embark, I noticed the tracks of another machine leading from the front of the land truck in which we had expected to see Jet.Lemmy and I walked over and examined them carefully.The marks in the ground had not been made by tractors.They were much smoother, as though made by little spheres some foot or more in diameter.“Come on,” I said.“Let’s get back.We’ll fly just a few hundred feet above the ground and follow these trails.”Before long I noticed down below a strange vehicle, not unlike those we had seen in the city of Lacus Solis.And apparently, it must have seen us, too, for, as we approached it and hovered above, the thing came to a standstill.Lemmy was not too happy about dropping down to investigate but I persuaded him that no more than two people could possibly be in the vehicle and, if one of them should turn out to be Jet, we would have, at most, only one Martian or conditioned Earthman to contend with [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]