transmissions had suffered almost constant distortion from the dust, though they'd never been completely blocked. In the twenty hours they'd been manually operating the probe, the communications had been fairly clear.
ACCESS ORBITER. CODE HOME-RUN ANNIE.
ORBITER ON LINE, came the response.
WHAT IS STATUS OF WEATHER IN PROBE SECTOR? Anna typed.
COULD WEATHER PREVENT COMMUNICATION WITH PROBE? PROBE SECTOR UNKNOWN. CONTACT WITH PROBE LOST AT 05:00 12/14/56.
That was three hours ago.
WHY WAS CONTACT WITH PROBE LOST? CAUSE UNKNOWN. WHAT WAS STATUS OF WEATHER IN PROBE SECTOR AT 05:00 12/14/56? WEATHER IN STATUS GREEN.
Status green meant above average weather conditions.
So the loss of contact wasn't due to the weather. It looked like either a breakdown or an accident, as she had feared. The probe must have been on automatic control at that time, since if it had been under manual control, Chang would have told her the probe was out of commission.
WAS PROBE UNDER AUTOMATIC OR MANUAL CONTROL AT 05:00 12/14/56? MANUAL CONTROL.
Anna tapped her fist against her mouth. Chang had only authorized himself and Anna to access the probe. In the hours when neither of them were available, the probe functioned automatically. Perhaps Chang had given someone else access, and that person had failed to notify Anna about the loss of contact. Probably afraid to admit they screwed the pooch, Anna thought.
WHOSE CONTROL? Anna asked. MISSION COMMANDER CHANG.
Anna's fist went still against her lips. Perhaps Chang had just forgotten to inform her of the breakdown. But she would have thought he'd have been very upset about it. They were still nineteen days away from the planet, and with the probe out, that would mean nineteen days of exploration and preparation lost. And