“You go ahead of me,” Barak said. “I want to keep an eye on you and help you if you have any trouble with the sliders. I’ll be behind you but to your right so when we try the thruster you won’t be right in my path.”
“Alright,” Laja agreed. She leaned forward and slowly crouched before pushing into the ground behind her with the poles. She went forward but still came off the ground for about three meters.
“We need long telescoping poles,” she immediately decided. “The angle you push should be almost parallel to the ground so you don’t lift.”
“Good idea,” Barak commended her. “They’ll be fabricated before our next visit.”
Laja managed to stay in contact with her next shove, but it was going to be really slow. She looked up at the machine and then back at the ship. It might take ten or fifteen minutes to get to the machine. Barak hadn’t come along with her at all. He was still standing just barely off the landing pad.
“Are you going to come along? Laja asked him.
“I let you get a little bit ahead. I want to try pushing with the suit thruster.”
“You better lean forward a little or tilt it up a hair. It’s really easy to lift off the surface,” she warned.
“I think leaning will be enough. I’ll give as short of a burn as I can and try to just catch up with you,” Barak said.
Laja could see him lean forward, poles behind him off the ground. He used his helmet controls to fire a short burst. The exhaust wasn’t visible at all. He moved forward sharply and let off quickly enough. However, his right slider seemed to be pointed off to his right from the left one. As he passed her he was doing a slow-motion split and his forward lean was increasing. About three meters past her the split widened until the backs of the sliders crossed and the sideways drag of them threw him forward. He crossed his arms in front of him and managed to keep his helmet up out of the slime. The front of his suit and arms were all smeared though. On the plus side that took him two-thirds of the way to the machine.
“I’m coming,” Laja called. “Don’t try to get up yet.”
It took her five minutes to reach him.
“Are you hurt?”She worried when she pulled up beside him.
“I may be a little sore later. I don’t think I’ve done a split like this since I was about eleven years old. Once the slider was running straight it just went off with a mind of its own. I should have turned the fronts towards each other so they’d run together.”
“Is that what you did before?” Laja asked.
“This is the first time we’ve tried them,” Barak admitted.
Laja just looked at him, put out.
“I’m going to push off with my arms and see if I can get back vertical.”
“Why don’t you plant a pole right in front of you and lift yourself up it hand overhand? It seems to me that would be a lot more controllable,” Laja advised.
“That might work. It’s a good thing they are on lanyards.” Barak levered himself up enough on his left arm to get his right hand pole out from under him. In the light gravity, he worked his way up the pole with both hands until he could drag his right slider back in and get some weight back on top of it. Lifting himself on both poles he got the sliders both together.
“I’m going to skip the thrusters until we have some way to steer better,” Barak said.
“Do you need to go back?” Laja asked. “Don’t risk yourself.”
“No, no. I just stretched a few things further than they enjoyed. Let’s go on.”
Going even slower, they arrived at the machine. The side facing the shuttle was caked with slime thrown up by their exhaust.
“As hard as it is to move around, it still might have been easier to sit down further away,” Barak decided.
“It’s really not that thick,” Laja said scraping at it with a pole. “Is it stuck here?”
“It wasn’t when it shut down, but it looks like it might have sunk a few centimeters. I will have Deloris command it to back up. It’s already pointed straight at the ship. See the track marks in the muck? Deloris landed almost right on top of them.”
Laja kept quiet while Deloris and Barak made sure what they intended to do. The tracks on the machine started turning dead slow, but it didn’t move.
“Hold on a second. It doesn’t have a lot of clearance. I think maybe it sank until it is dragging bottom. Laja and I will go around the front and pry with our poles.”
After much side-stepping and careful maneuvering, they were at the front with their sliders jammed up against the front.
“Ready?” Barak asked Laja.
“On your word.”
“Pry as soon as you see Deloris engage the tracks,” Barak said. “Go ahead, Deloris.”
The tracks started again and they pried, but it didn’t move.
“Speed the tracks up please,” Barak requested.
The tracks sped up once and again. The machine backed up hard and started for the ship. Barak fell forward between the sliders his toes still in the straps.
“It’s rolling,” he called. “Do you have it on camera to stop it short of the ship?”
“Yeah, I have a good view. Don’t worry, I’ll stop it before it bumps us but close enough to get the crane cable on it,” Deloris promised.
“I know the drill on this now,” Barak said before Laja could be helpful. He lifted himself on a pole until he was on his knees and then
repositioned the pole and got all the way upright. When he looked over the spinning track had sprayed Laja from head to toe with a sticky mess. She wasn’t saying anything but she didn’t look happy.