Chapter 8

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George stared intensely at the dusty ground, obscured as it was by fleeing clouds of yellow dirt. He gripped the joystick tightly with both hands, carefully twisting it, gauging each jolt and lurch, making sure the ship remained stable.

It was the third day since the initial landing, and George was tasked with wrestling one of the enormous dropships onto the ground without destroying it and, more importantly, its contents. To his best knowledge this one contained an assortment of metal and plastic, to be used in construction of the new city.

The dropships were one of several auxiliary vessels carried by the Facem. Unlike the passenger shuttles, they were thick and blocky, shaped rather like bricks, with powerful chemical rockets attached to each corner After a harrowing journey through the atmosphere, these rockets were the only means by which to land the dropships, since they had no wings or parachutes.

The ungainly machines were meant to be automated; their landing AI was rather advanced and would have been able to ground the vessel with much more grace than even George could. It was only yesterday, on the first cargo deliveries, that a problem had been discovered. For some yet unknown reason, the dropships could not reliably locate themselves. For any spacecraft to be able to land, it was vitally important that the positioning systems be functional, but all had failed in some way or another. The primary means by which location was derived involved bouncing a continuous stream of radio between the dropship and an orbiting satellite, and measuring the slight response lag to find the distance. By using multiple satellites, the dropship could then triangulate its exact location. Unfortunately, the receivers on the dropships were not working as expected, and couldn't receive any signal from the sats. The backup guidance system worked by having the dropship detect Gaea's magnetic field. This way, the machine could correctly find the cardinal direction in which it was pointing. Knowing the location from which it began, it could then semi- accurately find its way to the landing site. However, the compasses did not seem to function properly on the surface; as the dropships approached the ground, they would begin to spin erratically, believing that "north" was in several directions at once. It had thus been decided to have human pilots take the ships down instead.

The ground leapt closer. The ship, like some enormous horsefly, hovered and pitched, repeating the action until it floated a meter above the ground. The engines cut off abruptly, and the dropship crashed into the surface with a burst of gravel and creaking metal.

Outside, an improvisational village had sprung out of the soil. Shelters were clustered around an unusually shaped hill, many taking advantage of the shade it gave. They were mostly white or grey tents, with a sturdy scaffold draped in a thick plastic skin. A few of the structures were more substantial. A command building made of cinder block stood at the edge of the village, and four concrete storm shelters huddled at the base of the hill.

George, still sweating from the intensity of the landing, escaped the cramped cockpit and jumped onto the dry ground below. The air was pleasantly warm, yet thick with dust that stung the side of his face. He stared apathetically at the long line of dropships that had come before him, stretching toward the mountains in the distance. George then went to the cargo bays of his own vessel, and watched as they hummed open.

The Facem gradually regurgitated its cargo onto the planet. Supplies were hauled out of the dropships, temporary shelters were constructed. Rich, imported soil was laid down atop the dry, alien dirt. Piece by piece, humanity built a replica of its homeland in this foreign place. The machine of civilization quickly swallowed George's dropship as well. A combination of robotic and human workers delved into its cargo bay and hauled sheets of white plastic and support columns out. George watched them passively from nearby. It was difficult to gauge time without motion of the sun, but George guessed that he stood for more than four hours. Just watching.

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