The radar had blipped repeatedly giving the impression that the supply ship was just on the cusp of entering the airspace above them, but an hour had passed and the excitement had brimmed over and faded like the aftermath of a child’s birthday party. The supply ship arrival was the next big milestone in the mission plan. Surviving the entry and landing onto the Red Planet had been the first big hurdle. Establishing a reliable supply route was the next. Without it, there was no settlement, and without the settlement, human existence rested with the last sands in the hour glass that had been emptying at a torrid pace.
“Can you try communication again?” Jane asked Frederick.
He looked at his captain with an expression of overt doubt. “Sure.”
Frederick moved to another screen, made a few gestures, and began speaking. “Settler to Phoenix, can you hear me?”
Nothing but static greeted his ears.
“Phoenix can you hear me?”
A fuzzy hiss ended in silence.
Frederick shook his head.
“Fuck,” Sanjay exhaled.
Jane looked back at him briefly before she said, “Well, we see it getting closer, so before long we’ll be able to talk to the crew face-to-face.”
“Why can’t we communicate? We need to get in touch with Mission Control,” Ava interjected. The crew turned to her. Sanjay seemed annoyed that she had even spoke.
“I don’t know,” Frederick replied. “I’ve checked everything two or three times. I don’t see a problem on our end.”
Ava pursed her lips and looked down at the floor beneath them. Exhaustion suddenly overwhelmed her. Only the promising blip on the radar kept her standing in her position behind the astronauts in the control room.
“It’s getting very close,” Frederick announced.
“Olivia, take these,” Jane said handing her the binoculars, “and see if you can make eye contact with the ship. It’s coming from the northwest.”
“I’ll go with you,” Ava volunteered.
Olivia stared at the screen one last time before she pivoted and walked quickly out of the control room with Ava in her wake. The women burst through the door leading out to the bright, sandy confines of the Martian day and jogged to a point away from the base where they could get a good view of the northwestern sky. They could see nothing with the naked eye at that moment.
Olivia put the special binoculars up to her face mask. They had been designed for such use, but they felt awkward compared to the ones she had used on earth. The rubber ends of the binoculars bumped up against her face mask, and she could see nothing at first. Finally, she adjusted them until the distant sky became clearer. A faint glowing object hovered on the muted canvas.
“I think I see it!” Olivia said. Her excitement reverberated through the general comm system. Ava smiled.
“I do. It’s definitely coming closer,” she confirmed after a few seconds.
“How does it look?” Jane asked.
“Steady…normal so far,” Olivia replied.
She watched the ship grower larger in the binoculars, and she held her breath. Without the supply ship, they could not survive for very long. That much she knew, but mostly, she longed for other people to join them. She felt like she was on a deserted island with four other castaways and the rescue ship had just come into sight. The giddiness almost overwhelmed her.
Ava stared up into the sky behind Olivia who alternated with staring unaided and peering through the binoculars. At first, she could see nothing. Then, a faint, dark object appeared in the bright sky and grew noticeably larger.
“I can see it now!” Ava reported. No one said anything.
Olivia smiled and put the binoculars up to her face mask. She could clearly see the ship in the glow of its entry. It looked like it was on fire, so she couldn’t see any detail beyond the shape of the large ship as it pointed toward its landing. She dropped the binoculars from her face.
Neither woman said a word as the ship came into clear view with the naked eye. They watched as it grew larger and whisked toward them. Only when it grew to the size of a small airplane did they worry that they might be standing in the landing path, but the ship took a sudden turn away from them as it descended.
It angled to the side exposing the top starboard portion of the ship as if it were going to cartwheel to the surface, and that’s when the women noticed the small fire near the rear of the space craft. They collectively gasped as the ship continued past them high in the air and zipped across the horizon continuing its descent. It disappeared behind an outcrop of mountains not far from where they stood. They tensed waiting for the sight or sound of a crash, but nothing came.
Olivia turned back toward the base quickly and saw Jane, Sanjay, and Frederick standing a few feet behind them staring out in the direction the ship descended.
“Does the crew know where we’re located?” she asked.
“I don’t know. We haven’t been able to communicate with anyone,” Jane replied.
“Our ship beacon gives a precise location even if we can’t communicate,” Frederick stated. “They should be able to lock on our location.”
“They may have run into some trouble. Did you see the fire at the back of the ship?” Ava asked.
“That could have been a remnant from entry,” Frederick explained. “The ship seemed under control as it went by.”
“Will they come find us?” Ava asked.
“Yes,” Jane assured. “Let’s try to communicate now that they’re here. Maybe we can make the connection.”
Jane started back to the base, but the others continued to stare out to the horizon where the ship had apparently landed. One by one, they broke away and followed their Captain back to the base. Ava was the last to fall in line. She kept looking back hoping for signs that the ship had landed safely.
Frederick took his seat at a large screen and gestured repeatedly until he reached the screen he wanted. All lights were green on the comm system. “WSA Settler to Phoenix, can you hear me?” he said hopefully.
Everyone stood on edge waiting for a response, but nothing came other than some intermittent static.
“Phoenix, are you out there?” Frederick leaned back after a moment with a grim look on his face. He looked at Jane for further direction. Finally, he said, “What do you want to do?”
Jane paused as if she had stage fright and the spotlight had just pinned itself on her. She glanced at the screen before them and then at Frederick before an idea took hold in her mind. “We’ll have to go to them. They may not know our comm system is inoperable.”
“They may not know we even made it safely to the surface,” Olivia interjected.
“True,” Frederick agreed.
“I’ll go,” Sanjay volunteered. He had been uncharacteristically quiet for much of the conversation about the supply ship, preoccupied even, but Jane thought nothing of it. He had been something of a lone wolf from the very beginning. Jane seemed pleased that he wanted to help the mission rather than criticize it or her in some way.
“Thanks, Sanjay,” she said. “Olivia, will you go with him?” She looked at her co-pilot who seemed alarmed by the request.
“Sure,” Olivia replied after an awkward pause that clearly indicated her reservations about being alone with Sanjay.
Sanjay didn’t seem bothered by the lack of enthusiasm. He busied himself with preparing a pack while the Captain and her co-pilot exchanged a look. Finally, Olivia’s initial reaction evaporated and she followed Sanjay to out of the control center.
“What do you want me to do?” Frederick asked.
“Make sure we can communicate with Sanjay and Olivia. Do the suit comms have good range?”
“They should work up to several miles.”
“Do we have any portable backups?”
“Yes. I’ll get them one each.”
“What’s the range on those?”
“It’s similar to the suit comms.”
“We don’t have anything longer?”
“Let’s hope the ship isn’t out of range,” Jane said wistfully.
Frederick stood up and left the room to retrieve the mobile units, while Jane stared at the camera feed pointing out to the horizon where the supply ship had landed. No plume of smoke trailed up into the sky to indicate that it had crashed, which gave Jane hope that they only needed to find the ship and resume their efforts to build the settlement. The first transport ship would arrive in three weeks, and they had a lot of work to do.