54. Theory of Relativity
It was to Morgan's credit that he felt his own fate was sealed, in the desolating moment when the last dregs of power were exhausted, and the lights on Spider's display panel finally faded out. Not for several seconds did he remember that he had only to release the brakes and he would slide back to Earth. In three hours he could be safely back in bed. No-one would blame him for the failure of his mission; he had done all that was humanly possible.
For a brief while he stared in a kind of dull fury at that inaccessible square, with the shadow of Spider projected upon it. His mind revolved a host of crazy schemes, and rejected them all. If he still had his faithful little spinnerette – but there would have been no way of getting it to the Tower. If the refugees had possessed a spacesuit, someone could have lowered a rope to him – but there had been no time to collect a suit from the burning transporter.
Of course, if this was a videodrama, and not a real-life problem, some heroic volunteer could sacrifice himself – better still, herself – by going into the lock and tossing down a rope, using the fifteen seconds of vacuum consciousness to save the others. It was some measure of Morgan's desperation that, for a fleeting moment, he even considered this idea before commonsense reasserted itself.
From the time that Spider had given up the battle with gravity, until Morgan finally accepted that there was nothing more that he could do, probably less than a minute had elapsed. Then Warren Kingsley asked a question which, at such a moment, seemed an annoying irrelevance.
“Give us your distance again, Van – exactly how far are you from the Tower?”
“What the hell does it matter? It could be a light-year.”
There was a brief silence from the ground; then Kingsley spoke again, in the sort of tone one uses to address a small child or a difficult invalid. “It makes all the difference in the world. Did you say twenty metres?”
“Yes – that's about it.”
Incredibly – unmistakeably – Warren gave a clearly audible sigh of relief. There was even joy in his voice when he answered: “And all these years, Van, I thought that you were the Chief Engineer on this project. Suppose it is twenty metres exactly -”
Morgan's explosive shout prevented him from finishing the sentence. “What an idiot! Tell Sessui I'll dock in – oh, fifteen minutes.”
“Fourteen point fIve, if you've guessed the distance right. And nothing on earth can stop you now.”
That was still a risky statement, and Morgan wished that Kingsley hadn't made it. Docking adaptors sometimes failed to latch together properly, because of minute errors in manufacturing tolerances. And, of course, there had never been a chance of testing this particular system.
He felt only a slight embarrassment at his mental blackout. After all, under extreme stress a man could forget his own telephone number, even his own date of birth. And until this very moment the now dominant factor in the situation had been so unimportant that it could be completely ignored.
It was all a matter of Relativity. He could not reach the Tower; but the Tower would reach him – at its inexorable two kilometres a day.