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*****

Dog Star


"Don't you think we're coming in just a little fast?" asked a husky voice behind Jake in the tiny spaceboat.

"There's a critic on every ship," Jake muttered, without breaking his concentration.

"Just doing my job, I'm just—whooo, that asteroid's really coming at us!" Jake didn't argue. The gray, potato-shaped object was indeed getting large quickly—which was exactly according to his plan. Its orbit was less than ideal, and he had only one day to make a survey before it caromed off another asteroid. He wanted to find out: Was it a candidate for mining? Was it worth chasing if it got knocked out of the cluster?

"Like I said, we want to get in fast and get out, before it bounces off NEA-238," Jake said. If he was right and this rock turned out to have mining potential, his tagging it could be just what he needed to break out of the ranks of the junior surveyors. A lot of Earth-approaching asteroids had been nudged by robot boosters together into this Near-Earth cluster, but not many of them had been studied in detail yet. He had a feeling about this one. "Look—haven't I logged, like two hundred asteroid landings? What are you worried abou—oh crap, what's that?"

An alarm honked, the spaceboat jerked, and there was suddenly a much-too-bright flare of rocket exhaust in his peripheral vision. Jake glanced at the control board, then outside—and was horrified to see a bright jet of flame shooting sideways out of the boat. Sideways! He slapped the cutoff, checked for signs of fire—there were none—then hastily rechecked his approach speed. He'd been okay before, but not any longer. He'd just lost his main engine. Without that for braking, he was definitely approaching too fast.

"Rrrr, you just shut off our rocket," Sam said, squirming around behind him. "Why'd you do that?"

"Had to," Jake said with a gulp, trying not to betray the fear that was rising in his throat. Think fast now! "Looks like we've got to use the attitude thrusters for braking."

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