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Authors: Jack McDevitt

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3.

Moonbase, Grissom Country. 12:49
P.M.

Sam Anderson had been agent in charge of the vice president’s Secret Service detail for six months. He was not happy. The assignment should have been relatively straightforward. They were in a limited-access zone. Residents of Moonbase had all passed psychological screenings to eliminate nut cases, and the visitors were VIPs who, in a less restricted area, would have
been traveling with their own security units.

Nevertheless, it was not a comfortable situation. Of course, on assignment, Sam was never comfortable. He always assumed that a potential assassin existed, looking only for the opportunity. And Moonbase put him at several distinct disadvantages.

People here tended to live and work in close proximity to one another. In the corridors and meeting rooms, it was literally impossible to maintain a ring around “Teddy,” their code-name for Haskell. It was, of course, a reference to the TR sketches and memorabilia that the vice president kept in his office. Sam’s favorite was a doctored photo showing Theodore Roosevelt and Charlie Haskell, both in buckskin, standing together outside the Dakota Saloon in the Badlands.

Firearms were prohibited at Moonbase. No exceptions, Sam had been told when he tried to argue the point. Consequently, the agents carried only stun guns. They wouldn’t be worth much if someone else had gotten a revolver past the sensors.

Backup was, of course, far away. Moonbase had no security force worthy of the name. The assumption was that its residents would abide by the policies and live by the rules. A person who drank too much and created a problem could be dealt with. But a couple of people with criminal intent, if they were able to smuggle weapons into the facility (which Sam thought would not be all that difficult), could pretty much have their own way. He wondered whether the lunar operation would suffer a minor disaster before they got smart and installed a tough, efficient police detail.

Something else worried him. It took a while to get used to moving around at one-sixth g. If the agents had to respond to an emergency, he wasn’t sure how efficient they were going to be. Quick moves tended to cause people to bounce off walls.

Sam was thirty-eight years old, twice divorced, had one
child by each marriage. He was a graduate of Ohio State, where he’d run the two-twenty better than anyone else in the school’s history. He’d majored in poli-sci, gotten a commission and served as a naval officer for four years. A fellow officer had convinced him of the many advantages and the glamor of the Secret Service. He’d joined, while the friend changed his mind at the last minute and went to law school, where he’d learned to make big bucks defending the indefensible.

Sam’s first assignment had been to the Detroit office.

There was, of course, no glamor to speak of, but the pay was decent and he enjoyed the work. A man couldn’t ask for more than that. He’d done well, shown a flair for the intelligence desk, and been twice promoted. Eventually he drew an assignment with the White House unit. This time next year, he expected to be Special Agent in Charge at one of the major stations.

Sam was six-feet even and right out of central casting for agents: spare, chiseled features; alert brown eyes; and conservatively cut black hair. On duty, he fell easily into the polite cool monotone that was almost a parody of Hollywood agent-speak. But nobody seemed to mind, and at retirement parties and award luncheons, his colleagues never missed a chance to mimic him. It always got a laugh.

He was good at his job: tough, dependable, smart. Both his wives had also understood he had a soul that he kept carefully hidden. That might have been the reason they’d eventually given up on him, that they saw only glimpses of the part of him they loved. Unlike the other members of the detail, Sam would have enjoyed being at Moonbase if he could have relaxed for a few hours.

Because of the nature of the assignment, only three agents had been assigned to him for the detail. They all stayed with their charge constantly during the ceremonial functions. At other times Sam split the assignments so they could get some
rest. (There was no question here of engaging in sight-seeing.) But four was just not enough to do the job right. They’d been hovering around Teddy since they left the White House and they were getting weary.

Like most other high-level politicians, the vice president didn’t care much for all the security, but he was good-natured about it, and freely admitted he wouldn’t want to have to go looking for his agents when he needed them.
His
agents. Charlie Haskell was smart enough to let them know he understood what they had to do, and that he appreciated them. This alone ensured that, if Teddy got his party’s nomination, he’d also get the votes of his security detail.

The Secret Service had been assigned a double suite to use as combination quarters and operations center. Sam knew that the evening’s festivities would run late, and that Teddy liked to party. So it was going to be a long night. Sam was getting one break, at least: Moonbase operated on Washington time, so there was no equivalent to jet lag.

It was a no-sweat mission, the operations chief had insisted. But Sam worried, as he was trained to do. The Secret Service hadn’t lost anybody in over sixty years. Sam had no interest in breaking the streak.

Skyport Orbital Lab. 1:00
P.M.

The lunar shadow glided northeast into New England and Canada. It tracked just south of the St. Lawrence River. Toronto and Montreal, on the northern side, saw only a partial eclipse. But buses, cars, and trains had carried thousands of enthusiasts to Granby and Magog and St.-Hyacinthe, and across the U.S. border to Burlington and Plattsburg. The eclipse crossed New Brunswick, passed into the gulf, and began to accelerate as Earth’s surface curved away. It moved rapidly across the southern tip of Newfoundland, reached St. John’s in the late afternoon, local time. A band struck up and
the citizens threw a citywide party, which lasted well into the evening. By then the shadow was long gone, having moved first into the North Atlantic and then off the planet altogether.

Meantime, Wesley Feinberg had confirmed Tomiko Harrington’s discovery, that something new had indeed appeared in the sky.


Recommend action to determine nature of object
,” his report read.

Probably a sun-grazer, he told Windy Cross on the phone.

Unfortunately, the thing had retreated once again into the solar glare. No local optical telescope was going to be of any immediate use. But Windy had other resources.

Moonbase, Main Plaza. 1:11
P.M.

Tables had been set out along the concourse and heaped with food. Evelyn took the occasion to thank those who, as she said, had come so far to share in this special occasion. She passed out commemorative plaques to the vice president and to many of the other guests. When it was over, the celebrants drifted into the half-dozen or so shops and bistros that had opened their doors for the festivities.

A tram moved through one of the parks. Rick watched it, recalling the summer trolleys he’d ridden as a boy on Lake Michigan, and glanced up at the Moonbase headquarters building. An elevator was descending. A few workmen were putting the finishing touches on a light standard. Another was installing an elevator door, and two more seemed to be inspecting the gridwork across the central canyon.

Rick felt better than he had in thirty years. Lunar gravity induced a sense of general well-being, of sheer effervescence. If there were a way to bottle this, he told the vice president, we’d make a fortune.

Afterward he spent time with the journalists, buying them drinks, talking casually with them about the vice presi
dent’s plans for the future, why the nation would profit under his leadership, and in short, doing what he could to ensure their support during the coming campaign. It was thoroughly enjoyable duty. Rick was born to socialize. He genuinely liked the journalists, they knew it, and so they naturally tended to shade things for him. Not consciously, of course, but nevertheless, there it was. Rick Hailey was a guy any one of them would have had over for dinner, even if he weren’t an administration source. It was this camaraderie with the media that constituted Rick’s primary value to a candidate.

He was also careful not to neglect press officers. On this occasion Moonbase’s media rep would be giving interviews, and Rick wanted to exert some influence over what was said. He therefore made it a point to stop by the public relations office, introduce himself, and feign interest in the operation.
Would you like to tour our little corner of Moonbase, Mr. Hailey?

Of course he would.
This is the video production department, and that’s the VIP coordination group
. While they were strolling through the training facility (which was directed by the same person who oversaw the press office), Hailey saw an extraordinarily striking young woman. She had green-flecked gray eyes and blond hair, and she looked at him with the curiosity to which vice presidential confidants become accustomed.

“Who is that?” he asked his escort innocently.

“Oh,” the escort replied, “just one of the communications technicians.”

He let it drop. It would have been unseemly to push.

Then she was gone, out the door, with a sheaf of papers in one hand.

Richard Daley Hailey enjoyed the electricity and dazzle of politics, where the rabbit was power rather than money. So when an uncle running for alderman had asked Rick’s help, he took a leave of absence from his public relations job and directed the campaign. He decided which issues they would
put up front (garbage collection and street repair), which aspects of their opponent’s corruption they would emphasize (nepotism and paybacks), which voting blocs they would pursue and which concede.

He discovered that he had perfect pitch in these matters, and his uncle won easily. Rick never went back to his old job.

A few years later he saw to the election of Avery Foster, the most thoroughly incompetent mayor Chicago had ever seen. It was the victory that made Rick’s reputation. When, during later years, journalists tried to corner him about Foster’s corruption and incompetence, Rick took the position that it was not his purpose to find truth in a political campaign. “My job,” he once told Fox TV, “is to champion one side or the other. Truth emerges from the clash of ideas, not from one person’s advocacy.”

He’d won a lot of campaigns since Foster, had never lost, and was pleased now to be working for Charlie Haskell, although riding a good candidate to victory struck him as less of a challenge. Charlie was behind at the moment, but that was only because he lacked Kolladner’s support. He was an ideal candidate, honest, reasonably intelligent, with Avery Foster’s knack for saying the right thing. He was young, physically imposing at six-four, good-looking, the kind of guy most people wanted their daughter to bring home. And he had a great smile. With American voters, a single aw-shucks smile compensates for four years of invisibility.

Rick wished he’d been able to get the name of the woman with the green-flecked eyes.

Skyport Orbital Lab. 1:58
P.M.

Tory glanced at her central display, which provided a live view of boiling Venusian clouds.

The Venus probe of 2016 had contained a Hofleiter 0.8-meter telescope which, after the main package had been injected into that world’s atmosphere, had gone into orbit.
The Hofleiter was capable of making ultraviolet, optical, and near-infrared observations over wavelengths from 115 to 1010 nanometers. It carried two spectrographs, a high-speed photometer, a wide-field Advanced Charge-Coupled Device, and a fine guidance sensor. Its primary mission was to map the Venusian atmosphere, to track its turbulence, and thereby to contribute to a better understanding of terrestrial weather patterns.

Now they had permission to retarget. It was a process they did only with reluctance. In planetary atmospheric observations, continuity was everything. Sequence and development mattered. But a second message from Feinberg had forced their hand:

PROBABLE COMET. VERY LARGE HALO
.

A comet.

Tory was delighted. It was always exciting to be in on a discovery like this, even if credit would go to Tomiko What’s-her-name in St. Louis. But if it was a comet, it would orbit the Sun and go back out the way it had come. Which meant it might not be visible to the naked eye for several months, until Earth had traveled to the other side of its orbit.

But that raised a question: Why had no one noticed it, say, last October, when it was on its way in and Earth was on the far side of the Sun?

“Ready,” she told Windy.

“Do it.”

She’d already entered the comet’s coordinates and had only to activate. This she did with a flourish, and she and her supervisor watched the monitors blank out. The orbiter would need several minutes to shift on its axis, realign, and focus.

“It’s probably because it isn’t very bright,” said Windy. “Happens all the time.”

“All the time?”

“Well, occasionally.”

Images started to come in. The definition adjusted, and they saw it! “Comet Tomiko,” said Tory.

Windy grinned. “Stay with it,” he said. “Eventually you’ll get one of your own.”

She increased magnification. “Not much of a tail.” It was gauzy. Barely perceptible.

Windy shook his head. “I wonder if we’ve seen it before.”

Tory called up the register for regularly recurring comets and initiated a search.

“Negative,” she said after a time. “We don’t know this one.”

C
HAPTER
T
WO
MOONBASE

Tuesday, April 9

1.

Moonbase, Director’s Dining Room. 7:15
A.M.

Charlie heard about the comet at breakfast. He was with a dozen or so other special guests when Slade Elliott mentioned the subject. The comment was offhanded, of no particular significance. To Charlie, as well as to most of the other VIPs, a comet was a light in the sky that one might take a look at if one happened to be on a dark patch of road. But it struck him as appropriate that the information would come from the man who’d made his fortune playing the swashbuckling captain of a fictitious starship.

Evelyn took advantage of the breakfast to introduce Jack Chandler, who would be the first director of Moonbase. Chandler was stocky, intense, reserved. He did not look entirely comfortable shaking hands with the notables, but he radiated an air of quiet competence. He wouldn’t have been worth a damn as a politician, but the vice president sensed he’d do all right as an administrator. What he’d need though, Charlie thought, would be a good public affairs advisor. Somebody like Rick. The director of Moonbase was going to become a political animal whether he wanted to or not.

As they were breaking up, Charlie cornered Evelyn. “I’d like a favor,” he said.

“Name it.”

“I want to go outside.”

Sam Anderson lost most of his color and began to shake
his head vigorously
no
. Charlie put on a bemused expression for the senior agent.

“On the surface?” asked Evelyn.

“Of course. On the surface.”

She hesitated. “You have any experience with p-suits?”

Sam looked as if he were going to explode.

“Your people can show me,” said Charlie.

“Mr. Vice President, we don’t allow anyone to go out who isn’t thoroughly familiar with the equipment.”

“How long does it take to become thoroughly familiar?”

“Usually a few days. We do some training and administer a written test and a practical. And a physical.”

Charlie sighed. “I’m not going to be here that long.”

Evelyn smiled sympathetically. “What do you think they’d do to me if I lost a vice president?”

“Give you a medal.”

She dazzled him with a brilliant smile. “I don’t think so.”

An aide had been trying to get her attention. She turned away momentarily, signed a clipboard, and then looked back at him. Her expression had grown very serious. “It is a risk,” she said, “that I’d prefer not to take. May I ask why you wish to go out?”

Because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and this might be my only chance
. “I might not get back here again,” he said.

She looked at him for a long moment. “When do you want to do this foolish thing?”

Charlie felt like a boy confronting a disapproving teacher. How hard could it be to learn how to walk around in a pressure suit? “At your leisure,” he said.

She sighed. “Understand, I do not think this is a good idea.” She glanced at Sam, establishing her witness for the future inquest. “However,” she added, “if I were you, I would also wish to go outside.” She took his hand, and the grip was curiously electric. “We can do it now, if you like.”

Yes, Charlie decided, he would like very much. He called
Rick and directed him to cancel his morning’s schedule. Rick was, of course, appalled.

Sam wasn’t happy either. “I’m sorry, sir. I just can’t allow it. It violates procedure.”

“Relax, Sam,” said Charlie. “I’ll be fine.”

Moonbase was an underground facility. The surface was nine floors up from the Director’s Dining Room. Evelyn, Charlie, Sam, and Isabel took the elevator, which climbed the outside of the headquarters building, providing a panoramic view of Main Plaza. From this perspective, Moonbase resembled nothing so much as a vast park.

At the top level they passed along a winding corridor whose walls were decorated with a series of prints depicting Moonbase at various stages of construction. They stopped before a heavy metal door marked
CAUTION—AUTHORIZED PERSONNNEL ONLY
. An intercom was mounted on the wall. Evelyn keyed it, said her name, and the door opened.

They entered a long room filled with benches, equipment bins, cabinets, and racks. Pressure suits in various bright colors hung from overhead bars. A technician rose from a desk and stood by.

“We have several ground-level exits,” Evelyn explained. “We’re quite busy outside. Moonbase is still under construction, as you know. The crews are in and out all the time. And researchers. And our maintenance people. And occasional tourists.” Here she brightened and pursed her lips.

The technician provided them with two p-suits. One was gold and the other, vermillion. Evelyn accepted the gold suit and removed her shoes. “You get the loud one,” she smiled.

“Wait a minute,” Charlie said. “I didn’t intend for you to have to go out.”

“Nobody goes out alone. We don’t allow it.”

It made sense. “Okay. But why not send someone else? I don’t want to take up your time.”

“It’s my pleasure,” she said.

“I’ll need a suit, too,” said Sam, looking resentful.

“Why?” said Charlie. “Who’s out there to take a shot at me?”

“Sir, I don’t see that it matters. It’s dangerous and I wish you wouldn’t do this.”

“It’s settled.”

“I
have
to go along. It’s in the regs.”

“How familiar are you with the equipment?”

“Not much.”

“Which means, in an emergency, how much good would you be?”

The muscles in Sam’s jaws were rippling. “Not much.”

“You might even
become
the emergency. Sit tight. Evelyn’ll take care of me and we’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Evelyn gave him a quick course on procedure, which consisted mostly in not jiggling the suit’s controls unnecessarily once they’d been set. She showed him how to modulate the air pressure, how to control the temperature, and how to use the radio. “Keep in mind the gravity differential,” she said. “That’s the real danger. There are lots of fissures, craters, cracks, you name it, for you to fall into. Keep your eyes open. The suit is tough, but it’s still possible to punch a hole in it. Red light means you’ve got a problem and you should come back immediately. If
you
see a red light, they’ll see it at the same time back here and they’ll tell you to return. Anything like that happens, no argument, okay?”

Charlie was no dummy. “How often do you get red lights?”

She shrugged. “They’re not unheard of.”

They put on his helmet and air hissed into the suit. Evelyn did a radio check. “You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Good.” She was pulling on her own helmet. “You’ll enjoy it, Mr. Vice President.”

The technician led them into an adjoining room where an airlock stood open, waiting to receive them. Charlie followed Evelyn inside and the technician closed the door. Colored lights flashed. “You’ll feel a tingle as the air pressure changes,” Evelyn said.

He couldn’t see her face anymore behind the smoked Plexiglas. “How many times have
you
been outside?” he asked.

She laughed. “Once or twice.”

Charlie assumed she was tweaking him, but a long silence followed. “You’re kidding,” he said.

“Yeah. I’ve been out a few times. Not as often as I’d like.”

A green lamp came on and the exit door irised open. Charlie looked out at the lunar surface, a broken plain, etched in silver light. The sky was black, but filled with rivers of stars.

She waited, letting him go first.

“It’s magnificent,” he said. He stepped through the hatch. Out onto the regolith. The illumination, most of it anyway, was coming from Earth, which hung blue and white and very big almost directly overhead.

“It’s about forty times brighter than a full Moon,” said Evelyn.

The horizon looked close. Had there been natives on Luna, they would have known without any question they lived on a globe.

There were no words. He’d seen the hologees many times, but they were nothing like this.

Evelyn led him out to a rectangular area that had been cordoned off. It was about one hundred by fifty feet. A walkway had been built across it, a few inches above the surface. Here and there he saw footprints, each marked with a small post and a yellow tag. She showed him the names on the tags. They were all familiar, all well known: Sheila Davidson, who had commanded the first return mission to the Moon; Angela Mikel, the first woman to give birth on Luna; Ed Harper,
who’d overseen most of the construction efforts. Evelyn pointed to an unbroken piece of ground. “I’d like you to step down onto the regolith,” she said.

“Why?”

“You belong here.”

“I don’t think so.”

“If you win in the fall, people will look at your prints centuries from now and remember the first president to walk on the Moon.”

“If I lose?”

She smiled. “We’ll take down the rope and run a roller over it.”

He looked again at Earth, blue and warm and inviting in the black sky. “I can understand,” he said, “why people come out here and get religion.” And then with a rush of caution: “Can they hear me back inside?”

“Every word, sir,” said the technician’s voice.

“It’s okay,” said Evelyn. “Nobody’ll quote you.”

“Good.” As Rick would have reminded him once again, it wouldn’t be the first time a spontaneous remark had sunk a candidacy. George Romney had faded after commenting on his return from Southeast Asia that he’d been brainwashed; Teddy Roosevelt had ruled himself out of a second term without stopping to think; and Mary Emerson was on the verge of becoming the first woman president when she told a reporter there were a lot of deadbeats on Medicaid.

He stepped down onto the marked ground, trying to leave clear prints. It was gratifying to imagine people standing on this spot ages from now, pointing out to one another that Charlie Haskell had walked here. First president of the Space Age. It had a nice ring to it.

It occurred to him that Evelyn was probably wondering whether his moonwalk was a political stunt. Something that would appear later in a campaign biography. But there was
nothing he could do about that. And Charlie wondered, not for the first time, whether his political career was worth all the hassle. He enjoyed the cut and thrust of politics, he loved winning, and he enjoyed being in a position to make things happen. But there was a price to be paid. He would never again be able to go out to a restaurant or run over to Wal-Mart without attracting a crowd.

A fan in the back of his helmet changed pitch, adjusting to temperature or humidity.

His one major political drawback was that he was a bachelor. The party believed the voters would not be comfortable without a first lady. That notion did not show up in surveys, but it was the common wisdom in a society that had become increasingly concerned about personal morals while only one marriage in six now stayed the course.

The ground was gray and crumbly. The guidebooks maintained the Moon hadn’t changed much in three billion years or so. There was no volcanism on Luna, no climate, no wind to move things around. It was a world where nothing ever happened except occasionally it got plunked by a falling rock.

He climbed back up on the walkway and looked around at the flat plain. “I thought Moonbase was inside a crater,” he said.

Evelyn was behind him, allowing him an unbroken view. “It is. But the crater’s
big
, and the Moon’s small. Alphonsus is a hundred seventeen kilometers across. We’re in the center of the crater, and its walls are all below the horizon. But they’re there. If you like, we can take a ride over.”

“Yes,” said Charlie. He studied her for a long moment, wishing he could see her face. “
You’d
like to do that, wouldn’t you?”

She chuckled. “I think you caught me,” she said. “But yes. With the vice president’s permission, we can turn this into a jaunt.”

“By all means,” said Charlie. He looked at the horizon. “I wonder if we can see the comet from here.”

Evelyn was silent, and the voice of the technician came over the radio. “No, sir, it’s not visible from Moonbase.”

“Pity,” he said.

2.

Beaver Meadow Observatory. 9:30
A.M.

Wesley Feinberg canceled his flight home and stayed on at Beaver Meadow. Hoxon gave him an office and a computer and he got on the circuit with Kitt Peak and NASA and Zelenchukskaya and twenty other institutions. The astronomical community, of course, was fully aroused and scrambling to pin the comet down. Could it be identified with anything in the record? How
big
was it? Where was it going?

The quick way to get a handle on the object was to track down where it had been, say, in January or February. Then it would become possible to work out a trajectory. It should have been visible in the early part of the year. So it was just a matter of conducting a thorough search.

But as yet there was insufficient data to make even an intelligent guess where it might have appeared in the winter heavens. Feinberg worked methodically, bringing up sections of sky and comparing them against the database, hoping to find an object that did not belong. The images were produced by ACCDs, Advanced Charge-Coupled Devices, mounted on major telescopes around the world and in orbit. The pictures were far sharper than the photos with which he’d worked when he’d begun his career near the end of the last century.

He knew that an army of professionals and talented amateurs were doing the same thing, but he wasn’t interested in waiting for someone else’s results. Although he’d have denied
it, he was a competitor and wanted very much to get there first. He was, after all, less likely to be led astray by every point of light that didn’t fit the catalog. But after working through the night, he had nothing. That was understandable. What he did
not
understand was that no one else had anything either.

Feinberg had stayed with it until almost six
A.M.
, when he began to doze at the keyboard. Finally he’d given up and commandeered a couch in a utility room, where he slept until noon. By then several sites had reported positives. But after a glance Feinberg dismissed their “finds” as the carcasses of junked earth satellites, two known asteroids, and in one case, a nebula.

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