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Space Jockey

JUST as they were leaving the telephone called his name. "Don't answer it," she pleaded. "We'll miss the curtain."

"Who is it?" he called out. The viewplate lighted; he recognized Olga Pierce, and behind her the Colorado Springs office of Trans-Lunar Transit.

"Calling Mr. Pemberton. Calling—Oh, it's you, Jake. You're on. Flight 27, Supra-New York to Space Terminal. I'll have a copter pick you up in twenty minutes."

"How come?" he protested. "I'm fourth down on the call board."

"You were fourth down. Now you are standby pilot to Hicks—and he just got a psycho down-check."

"Hicks got psychoed? That's silly!"

"Happens to the best, chum. Be ready. 'Bye now."

His wife was twisting sixteen dollars worth of lace handkerchief to a shapeless mass. "Jake, this is ridiculous. For three months I haven't seen enough of you to know what you look like.

"Sorry, kid. Take Helen to the show."

"Oh, Jake, I don't care about the show; I wanted to get you where they couldn't reach you for once."

"They would have called me at the theater."

"Oh, no! I wiped out the record you'd left."

"Phyllis! Are you trying to get me fired?"

"Don't look at me that way." She waited, hoping that he would speak, regretting the side issue, and wondering how to tell him that her own fretfulness was caused, not by disappointment, but by gnawing worry for his safety every time he went out into space.

She went on desperately, "You don't have to take this flight, darling; you've been on Earth less than the time limit. Please, Jake!"

He was peeling off his tux. "I've told you a thousand times: a pilot doesn't get a regular run by playing space-lawyer with the rule book. Wiping out my follow-up message—why did you do it, Phyllis? Trying to ground me?"

"No, darling, but I thought just this once—"

"When they offer me a flight I take it." He walked stiffly out of the room.

He came back ten minutes later, dressed for space and apparently in good humor; he was whistling: "—the caller called Casey at ha' past four; he kissed his—" He broke off when he saw her face, and set his mouth, ''Where's my coverall?"

"I'll get it. Let me fix you something to eat."

"You know I can't take high acceleration on a full stomach. And why lose thirty bucks to lift another pound?"

Dressed as he was, in shorts, singlet, sandals, and pocket belt, he was already good for about minus-fifty pounds in weight bonus; she started to tell him the weight penalty on a sandwich and a cup of coffee did not matter to them, but it was just one more possible cause for misunderstanding.

Neither of them said much until the taxicab clumped on the roof. He kissed her goodbye and told her not to come outside. She obeyed—until she heard the helicopter take off. Then she climbed to the roof and watched it out of sight.

The traveling-public gripes at the lack of direct Earth-to-Moon service, but it takes three types of rocket ships and two space-station changes to make a fiddling quarter-million-mile jump for a good reason: Money.

The Commerce Commission has set the charges for the present three-stage lift from here to the Moon at thirty dollars a pound. Would direct service be cheaper?—a ship designed to blast off from Earth, make an airless landing on the Moon, return and make an atmosphere landing, would be so cluttered up with heavy special equipment used only once in the trip that it could not show a profit at a thousand dollars a pound! Imagine combining a ferry boat, a subway train, and an express elevator—

So Trans-Lunar uses rockets braced for catapulting, and winged for landing on return to Earth to make the terrific lift from Earth to our satellite station Supra-New York. The long middle lap, from there to where Space Terminal circles the Moon, calls for comfort-but no landing gear. The Flying Dutchman and the Philip Nolan never land; they were even assembled in space, and they resemble winged rockets like the Skysprite and the Firefly as little as a Pullman train resembles a parachute.

The Moonbat and the Gremlin are good only for the jump from Space Terminal down to Luna . . . no wings, cocoon-like acceleration-and-crash hammocks, fractional controls on

their enormous jets.

The change-over points would not have to be more than air-conditioned tanks. Of course Space Terminal is quite a city, what with the Mars and Venus traffic, but even today Supra-New York is still rather primitive, hardly more than a fueling point and a restaurant-waiting room. It has only been the past five years that it has even been equipped to offer the comfort of one-gravity centrifuge service to passengers with queasy stomachs.

Pemberton weighed in at the spaceport office, then hurried over to where the Skysprite stood cradled in the catapult. He shucked off his coverall, shivered as he handed it to the gateman, and ducked inside. He went to his acceleration hammock and went to sleep; the lift to Supra-New York was not his worry—his job was deep space.

He woke at the surge of the catapult and the nerve-tingling rush up the face of Pikes Peak. When the Skysprite went into free flight, flung straight up above the Peak, Pemberton held his breath; if the rocket jets failed to fire, the ground-to-space pilot must try to wrestle her into a glide and bring her down, on her wings.

The rockets roared on time; Jake went back to sleep.

When the Skysprite locked in with Supra-New York. Pemberton went to the station's stellar navigation room. He was pleased to find Shorty Weinstein, the computer, on duty. Jake trusted Shorty's computations—a good thing when your ship, your passengers, and your own skin depend thereon. Pemberton had to be a better than average mathematician himself in order to be a pilot; his own limited talent made him appreciate the genius of those who computed the orbits.

"Hot Pilot Pemberton, the Scourge of the Spaceways—Hi!" Weinstein handed him a sheet of paper.

Jake looked at it, then looked amazed. "Hey, Shorty—you've made a mistake."

"Huh? Impossible. Mabel can't make mistakes." Weinstein gestured at the giant astrogation computer filling the far wall.

"You made a mistake. You gave me an easy fix—'Vega, Antares, Regulus.' You make things easy for the pilot and your guild'll chuck you out." Weinstein looked sheepish but pleased. "I see I don't blast off for seventeen hours. I could have taken the morning freight." Jake's thoughts went back to Phyllis.

"UN canceled the morning trip."

"Oh—" Jake shut up, for he knew Weinstein knew as little as he did. Perhaps the flight would have passed too close to an A-bomb rocket, circling the globe like a policeman. The General Staff of the Security Council did not give out information about the top secrets guarding the peace of the planet.

Pemberton shrugged. "Well, if I'm asleep, call me three hours minus."

"Right. Your tape will be ready."

While he slept, the Flying Dutchman nosed gently into her slip, sealed her airlocks to the Station, discharged passengers and freight from Luna City. When he woke, her holds were filling, her fuel replenished, and passengers boarding. He stopped by the post office radio desk, looking for a letter from Phyllis. Finding none, he told himself that she would have sent it to Terminal. He went on into the restaurant, bought the facsimile Herald-Tribune, and settled down grimly to enjoy the comics and his breakfast.

A man sat down opposite him and proceeded to plague him with silly questions about rocketry, topping it by misinterpreting the insignia embroidered on Pemberton's singlet and miscalling him "Captain." Jake hurried through breakfast to escape him, then picked up the tape from his automatic pilot, and went aboard the Flying Dutchman.

After reporting to the Captain he went to the control room, floating and pulling himself along by the handgrips. He buckled himself into the pilot's chair and started his check off.

Captain Kelly drifted in and took the other chair as Pemberton was finishing his checking runs on the ballistic tracker. "Have a Camel, Jake."

"I'll take a rain check." He continued; Kelly watched him with a slight frown. Like captains and pilots on Mark Twain's Mississippi—and for the same reasons—a spaceship captain bosses his ship, his crew, his cargo, and his passengers, but the pilot is the final, legal, and unquestioned boss of how the ship is handled from blast-off to the end of the trip. A captain may turn down a given pilot-nothing more. Kelly fingered a slip of paper tucked in his pouch and turned over in his mind the words with which the Company psychiatrist on duty had handed it to him.

"I'll giving this pilot clearance, Captain, but you need not accept it."

"Pemberton's a good man. What's wrong?"

The psychiatrist thought over what he had observed while posing as a silly tourist bothering a stranger at breakfast. "He's a little more anti-social than his past record shows. Something on his mind. Whatever it is, he can tolerate it for the present.

We'll keep an eye on him."

Kelly had answered, "Will you come along with him as pilot?"

"If you wish."

"Don't bother—I'll take him. No need to lift a deadhead."

Pemberton fed Weinstein's tape into the robot-pilot, then turned to Kelly. "Control ready, sir."

"Blast when ready, Pilot." Kelly felt relieved when he heard himself make the irrevocable decision.

Pemberton signaled the Station to cast loose. The great ship was nudged out by an expanding pneumatic ram until she swam in space a thousand feet away, secured by a single line. He then turned the ship to its blast-off direction by causing a flywheel, mounted on gymbals at the ship's center of gravity,

to spin rapidly. The ship spun slowly in the opposite direction, by grace of Newton's Third Law of Motion.

Guided by the tape, the robot-pilot tilted prisms of the pilot's periscope so that Vega, Antares, and Regulus would shine as one image when the ship was headed right; Pemberton nursed the ship to that heading . . . fussily; a mistake of one minute of arc here meant two hundred miles at destination.

When the three images made a pinpoint, he stopped the flywheels and locked in the gyros. He then checked the heading of his ship by direct observation of each of the stars, just as a salt-water skipper uses a sextant, but with incomparably more accurate instruments. This told him nothing about the correctness of the course Weinstein had ordered—he had to take that as Gospel—but it assured him that the robot and its tape were behaving as planned. Satisfied, he cast off the last line.

Seven minutes to go—Pemberton flipped the switch permitting the robot-pilot to blast away when its clock told it to. He waited, hands poised over the manual controls, ready to take over if the robot failed, and felt the old, inescapable sick excitement building up inside him.

Even as adrenalin poured into him, stretching his time sense, throbbing in his ears, his mind kept turning back to Phyllis.

He admitted she had a kick coming—spacemen shouldn't marry. Not that she'd starve if he messed up a landing, but a gal doesn't want insurance; she wants a husband—minus six minutes.

If he got a regular run she could live in Space Terminal. No good-idle women at Space Terminal went bad. Oh, Phyllis wouldn't become a tramp or a rum bum; she'd just go bats.

Five minutes more-he didn't care much for Space Terminal himself. Nor for space! "The Romance of Interplanetary Travel"—it looked well in print, but he knew what it was: A job. Monotony. No scenery. Bursts of work, tedious waits. No home life.

Why didn't he get an honest job and stay home nights?

He knew! Because he was a space jockey and too old to change.

What chance has a thirty-year-old married man, used to important money, to change his racket? (Four minutes.) He'd look good trying to sell helicopters on commission, now, wouldn't he?

Maybe he could buy a piece of irrigated land and—Be your age, chum! You know as much about farming as a cow knows about cube root! No, he had made his bed when he picked rockets during his training hitch. If he had bucked for the electronics branch, or taken a GI scholarship—too late now. Straight from the service into Harriman's Lunar Exploitations, hopping ore on Luna. That had torn it.

"How's it going, Doc?" Kelly's voice was edgy.

"Minus two minutes some seconds." Damnation—Kelly knew better than to talk to the pilot on minus time.

He caught a last look through the periscope. Antares seemed to have drifted. He unclutched the gyro, tilted and spun the flywheel, braking it savagely to a stop a moment later. The image was again a pinpoint. He could not have explained what he did: it was virtuosity, exact juggling, beyond textbook and classroom.

Twenty seconds. . . .across the chronometer's face beads of light trickled the seconds away while he tensed, ready to fire by hand, or even to disconnect and refuse the trip if his judgment told him to. A too-cautious decision might cause Lloyds' to cancel his bond; a reckless decision could cost his license or even his life—and others.

But he was not thinking of underwriters and licenses, nor even of lives. In truth he was not thinking at all; he was feeling, feeling his ship, as if his nerve ends extended into every part of her. Five seconds . . . the safety disconnects clicked out. Four seconds . . . three seconds . . . two seconds . . . one?

He was stabbing at the band-fire button when the roar hit him.

Kelly relaxed to the pseudo-gravity of the blast and watched.

Pemberton was soberly busy, scanning dials, noting time, checking his progress by radar bounced off Supra-New York. Weinstein's figures, robot-pilot, the ship itself, all were clicking together.

Minutes later, the critical instant neared when the robot should cut the jets. Pemberton poised a finger over the hand cut-off, while splitting his attention among radarscope, accelerometer, periscope, and chronometer. One instant they were roaring along on the jets; the next split second the ship was in free orbit, plunging silently toward the Moon. So perfectly matched were human and robot that Pemberton himself did not know which had cut the power.

He glanced again at the board, then unbuckled. "How about that cigarette, Captain? And you can let your passengers unstrap."


No co-pilot is needed in space and most pilots would rather share a toothbrush than a control room. The pilot works about an hour at blast off, about the same before contact, and loafs during free flight, save for routine checks and corrections. Pemberton prepared to spend one hundred and four hours eating, reading, writing letters, and sleeping—especially sleeping.

When the alarm woke him, he checked the ship's position, then wrote to his wife. "Phyllis my dear," he began, "I don't blame you for being upset at missing your night out. I was disappointed, too. But bear with me, darling, I should be on a regular run before long. In less than ten years I'll be up for retirement and we'll have a chance to catch up on bridge and golf and things like that. I know it's pretty hard to—"

The voice circuit cut in. "Oh, Jake—put on your company face. I'm bringing a visitor to the control room."

"No visitors in the control room, Captain."

"Now, Jake. This lunkhead has a letter from Old Man Harriman himself. 'Every possible courtesy—' and so forth."

Pemberton thought quickly. He could refuse-but there was no sense in offending the big boss. "Okay, Captain. Make it short."

The visitor was a man, jovial, oversize—Jake figured him for an eighty pound weight penalty. Behind him a thirteen-year-old male counterpart came zipping through the door and lunged for the control console. Pemberton snagged him by the arm and forced himself to speak pleasantly. "Just hang on to that bracket, youngster. I don't want you to bump your head."

"Leggo me! Pop—make him let go."

Kelly cut in. "I think he had best hang on, Judge." "Umm, uh—very well. Do as the Captain says, Junior." "Aw, gee, Pop!"

"Judge Schacht, this is First Pilot Pemberton," Kelly said

rapidly. "He'll show you around."

"Glad to know you, Pilot. Kind of you, and all that."

"What would you like to see, Judge?" Jake said carefully. "Oh, this and that. It's for the boy—his first trip. I'm an old

spacehound myself—probably more hours than half your crew." He laughed. Pemberton did not.

"There's not much to see in free flight."

"Quite all right. We'll just make ourselves at home—eh, Captain?"

"I wanna sit in the control seat," Schacht Junior announced. Pemberton winced. Kelly said urgently, "Jake, would you mind outlining the control system for the boy? Then we'll go."

"He doesn't have to show me anything. I know all about it.I'm a Junior Rocketeer of America—see my button?" The boy shoved himself toward the control desk.

Pemberton grabbed him, steered him into the pilot's chair, and strapped him in. He then flipped the board's disconnect.

"Whatcha doing?"

"I cut off power to the controls so I could explain them."

"Aintcha gonna fire the jets?"

"No." Jake started a rapid description of the use and purpose of each button, dial, switch, meter, gimmick, and scope.

Junior squirmed. "How about meteors?" he demanded. "Oh, that—maybe one collision in half a million Earth-Moon trips. Meteors are scarce."

"So what? Say you hit the jackpot? You're in the soup."

"Not at all. The anti-collision radar guards all directions five hundred miles out. If anything holds a steady bearing for three seconds, a direct hook-up starts the jets. First a warning gong so that everybody can grab something solid, then one second later—Boom!—We get out of there fast."

"Sounds corny to me. Lookee, I'll show you how Commodore

Cartwright did it in The Comet Busters—"

"Don't touch those controls I"

"You don't own this ship. My pop says—"

"Oh, Jake!" Hearing his name, Pemberton twisted, fish-like, to face Kelly.

"Jake, Judge Schacht would like to know—" From the corner of his eye Jake saw the boy reach for the board. He turned, started to shout—acceleration caught him, while the jets roared in his ear.

An old spacehand can usually recover, catlike, in an unexpected change from weightlessness to acceleration. But Jake had been grabbing for the boy, instead of for anchorage. He fell back and down, twisted to try to avoid Schacht, banged his head on the frame of the open air-tight door below, and fetched up on the next deck, out cold.

Kelly was shaking him. "You all right, Jake?"

He sat up. "Yeah. Sure." He became aware of the thunder, the shivering deckplates. "The jets! Cut the powerl"

He shoved Kelly aside and swarmed up into the control room, jabbed at the cut-off button. In sudden ringing silence, they were again weightless.

Jake turned, unstrapped Schacht Junior, and hustled him to Kelly. "Captain, please remove this menace from my control room."

"Leggo! Pop—he's gonna hurt me!"

The elder Schacht bristled at once. "What's the meaning of this? Let go of my son!"

"Your precious son cut in the jets."

"Junior—did you do that?"

The boy shifted his eyes. "No, Pop. It ... it was a meteor."

Schacht looked puzzled. Pemberton snorted. "I had just told him how the radar-guard can blast to miss a meteor. He's lying."

Schacht ran through the process he called "making up his mind," then answered, "Junior never lies. Shame on you, a grown man, to try to put the blame on a helpless boy. I shall report you, sir. Come, Junior."

Jake grabbed his arm. "Captain, I want those controls photographed for fingerprints before this man leaves the room. It was not a meteor; the controls were dead, until this boy switched them on. Furthermore the anti-collision circuit sounds an alarm."

Schacht looked wary. "This is ridiculous. I simply objected to the slur on my son's character. No harm has been done."

"No harm, eh? How about broken arms—or necks? And wasted fuel, with more to waste before we're back in the groove. Do you know, Mister 'Old Spacehound,' just how precious a little fuel will be when we try to match orbits with Space Terminal—if we haven't got it? We may have to dump cargo to save the ship, cargo at $60,000 a ton on freight charges alone. Finger prints will show the Commerce Commission whom to nick for it."


When they were alone again Kelly asked anxiously, "You won't really have to jettison? You've got a maneuvering reserve."

"Maybe we can't even get to Terminal. How long did she blast?"

Kelly scratched his head. "I was woozy myself."

"We'll open the accelerograph and take a look."

Kelly brightened. "Oh, sure! If the brat didn't waste too much, then we just swing ship and blast back the same length of time."

Jake shook his head. "You forgot the changed mass-ratio."

"Oh . . . oh, yes!" Kelly looked embarrassed. Mass-ratio . . . under power, the ship lost the weight of fuel burned. The thrust remained constant; the mass it pushed shrank. Getting back to proper position, course, and speed became a complicated problem in the calculus of ballistics. "But you can do it, can't you?"

"I'll have to. But I sure wish I had Weinstein here." Kelly left to see about his passengers; Jake got to work. He checked his situation by astronomical observation and by radar. Radar gave

him all three factors quickly but with limited accuracy. Sights taken of Sun, Moon, and Earth gave him position, but told nothing of course and speed, at that time—nor could he afford to wait to take a second group of sights for the purpose.

Dead reckoning gave him an estimated situation, by adding Weinstein's predictions to the calculated effect of young Schacht's meddling. This checked fairly well with the radar and visual observations, but still he had no notion of whether or not he could get back in the groove and reach his destination; it was now necessary to calculate what it would take and whether or not the remaining fuel would be enough to brake his speed and match orbits.

In space, it does no good to reach your journey's end if you flash on past at miles per second, or even crawling along at a few hundred miles per hour. To catch an egg on a plate—don't bump!

He started doggedly to work to compute how to do it using the least fuel, but his little Marchant electronic calculator was no match for the tons of IBM computer at Supra-New York, nor was he Weinstein. Three hours later he had an answer of sorts. He called Kelly. "Captain? You can start by jettisoning Schacht & Son."

"I'd like to. No way out, Jake?"

"I can't promise to get your ship in safely without dumping. Better dump now, before we blast. It's cheaper."

Kelly hesitated; he would as cheerfully lose a leg. "Give me time to pick out what to dump."

"Okay." Pemberton returned sadly to his figures, hoping to find a saving mistake, then thought better of it. He called the radio room. "Get me Weinstein at Supra-New York."

"Out of normal range."

"I know that. This is the Pilot. Safety priority—urgent. Get a tight beam on them and nurse it."

"Uh . . . aye aye, sir. I'll try."

Weinstein was doubtful. "Cripes, Jake, I can't pilot you." "Dammit, you can work problems for me!"

"What good is seven-place accuracy with bum data?"

"Sure, sure. But you know what instruments I've got; you know about how well I can handle them. Get me a better answer."

"I'll try." Weinstein called back four hours later. "Jake? Here's the dope: You planned to blast back to match your predicted speed, then made side corrections for position. Orthodox but uneconomical. Instead I had Mabel solve for it as one maneuver."


"Not so fast. It saves fuel but not enough. You can't possibly get back in your old groove and then match Terminal without dumping."

Pemberton let it sink in, then said, "I'll tell Kelly."

''Wait a minute, Jake. Try this. Start from scratch."


"Treat it as a brand-new problem. Forget about the orbit on your tape. With your present course, speed, and position, compute the cheapest orbit to match with Terminal's. Pick a new groove."

Pemberton felt foolish. "I never thought of that."

"Of course not. With the ship's little one-lung calculator it'd take you three weeks to solve it. You set to record?"


"Here's your data." Weinstein started calling it off.

When they had checked it, Jake said, "That'll get me there?"

"Maybe. If the data you gave me is up to your limit of accuracy; if you can follow instructions as exactly as a robot, if you can blast off and make contact so precisely that you don't need side corrections, then you might squeeze home. Maybe. Good luck, anyhow." The wavering reception muffled their goodbyes,

Jake signaled Kelly. "Don't jettison, Captain. Have your passengers strap down. Stand by to blast. Minus fourteen minutes."

"Very well, Pilot."


The new departure made and checked, he again had time to spare. He took out his unfinished letter, read it, then tore it up.

"Dearest Phyllis," he started again, "I've been doing some hard thinking this trip and have decided that I've just been stubborn. What am I doing way out here? I like my home. I like to see my wife.

"Why should I risk my neck and your peace of mind to herd junk through the sky? Why hang around a telephone waiting to chaperon fatheads to the Moon-numbskulls who couldn't pilot a rowboat and should have stayed at home in the first place?

"Money, of course. I've been afraid to risk a change. I won't find another job that will pay half as well, but, if you are game, I'll ground myself and we'll start over. All my love, "Jake"

He put it away and went to sleep, to dream that an entiretroop of Junior Rocketeers had been quartered in his control room.

The close-up view of the Moon is second only to the space-side view of the Earth as a tourist attraction; nevertheless Pemberton insisted that all passengers strap down during the swing around to Terminal. With precious little fuel for the matching maneuver, he refused to hobble his movements to please sightseers.

Around the bulge of the Moon, Terminal came into sight—by radar only, for the ship was tail foremost. After each short braking blast Pemberton caught a new radar fix, then compared his approach with a curve he had plotted from Weinstein's figures—with one eye on the time, another on the 'scope, a third on the plot, and a fourth on his fuel gages.

"Well, Jake?" Kelly fretted. "Do we make it?"

"How should I know? You be ready to dump." They had agreed on liquid oxygen as the cargo to dump, since it could be let to boil out through the outer valves, without handling.

"Don't say it, Jake."

"Damn it—I won't if I don't have to." He was fingering his controls 'again; the blast chopped off his words. When it stopped, the radio maneuvering circuit was calling him.

"Flying Dutchman, Pilot speaking," Jake shouted back.

"Terminal Control—Supro reports you short on fuel."


"Don't approach. Match speeds outside us. We'll send a transfer ship to refuel you and pick up passengers."

"I think I can make it."

"Don't try it. Wait for refueling."

"Quit telling me how to pilot my ship!" Pemberton switched off the circuit, then stared at the board, whistling morosely. Kelly filled in the words in his mind: "Casey said to the fireman, 'Boy, you better jump, cause two locomotives are agoing to bump!'

"You going in the slip anyhow, Jake?"

"Mmm—no, blast it. I can't take a chance of caving in the side of Terminal, not with passengers aboard. But I'm not going to match speeds fifty miles outside and wait for a piggyback."

He aimed for a near miss just outside Terminal's orbit, conning by instinct, for Weinstein's figures meant nothing by now. His aim was good; he did not have to waste his hoarded fuel on last minute side corrections to keep from hitting Terminal. When at last he was sure of sliding safely on past if unchecked, he braked once more. Then, as he started to cut off the power, the jets coughed, sputtered, and quit.

The Flying Dutchman floated in space, five hundred yards outside Terminal, speeds matched.

Jake switched on the radio. ''Terminal—stand by for my line. I'll warp her in."

He had filed his report, showered, and was headed for the post office to radiostat his letter, when the bullhorn summoned him. to the Commodore-Pilot's office. Oh, oh, he told himself, Schacht has kicked the Brass—I wonder just how much stock that bliffy owns? And there's that other matter—getting snotty with Control.

He reported stiffly. "First Pilot Pemberton, sir."

Commodore Soames looked up. "Pemberton—oh, yes. You hold two ratings, space-to-space and airless-landing."

Let's not stall around, Jake told himself. Aloud he said, "I have no excuses for anything this last trip. If the Commodore does not approve the way I run my control room, he may have my resignation."

"What are you talking about?"

"I, well—don't you have a passenger complaint on me?" "Oh, that!" Soames brushed it aside. "Yes, he's been here. But I have Kelly's report, too—and your chief jetman's, and a special from. Supra-New York. That was crack piloting, Pemberton."

"You mean there's no beef from the Company?"

"When have I failed to back up my pilots? You were perfectly right; I would have stuffed him out the air lock. Let's get down to business: You're on the space-to-space board, but I want to send a special to Luna City. Will you take it, as a favor to me?"

Pemberton hesitated; Soames went on, "That oxygen you saved is for the Cosmic Research Project. They blew the seals on the north tunnel and lost tons of the stuff. The work is stopped—about $130,000 a day in overhead, wages, and penalties. The Gremlin is here, but no pilot until the Moonbat gets in—except you. Well?"

"But I—look, Commodore, you can't risk people's necks on a jet landing of mine. I'm rusty; I need a refresher and a checkout."

"No passengers, no crew, no captain—your neck alone." "I'll take her."

Twenty-eight minutes later, with the ugly, powerful hull of the Gremlin around him, he blasted away. One strong shove to kill her orbital speed and let her fall toward the Moon, then no more worries until it came time to "ride 'er down on her tail."

He felt good—until he hauled out two letters, the one he had failed to send, and one from Phyllis, delivered at Terminal.

The letter from Phyllis was affectionate—and superficial. She did not mention his sudden departure; she ignored his profession completely. The letter was a model of correctness, but it worried him.

He tore up both letters and started another. It said, in part: "—never said so outright, but you resent my job.

"I have to work to support us. You've got a job, too. It's an old, old job that women have been doing a long time—crossing the plains in covered wagons, waiting for ships to come back from China, or waiting around a mine head after an explosion-kiss him goodbye with a smile, take care of him at home.

"You married a spaceman, so part of your job is to accept my job cheerfully. I think you can do it, when you realize it. I hope so, for the way things have been going won't do for either of us.

Believe me, I love you.

He brooded on it until time to bend the ship down for his approach. From twenty miles altitude down to one mile he let the robot brake her, then shifted to manual while still falling slowly. A perfect airless-landing would be the reverse of the take-off of a war rocket-free fall, then one long blast of the jets, ending with the ship stopped dead as she touched the ground. In practice a pilot must feel his way down, not too slowly; a ship could bum all the fuel this side of Venus fighting gravity too long.

Forty seconds later, falling a little more than 140 miles per hour, he picked up in his periscopes the thousand-foot static towers. At 300 feet he blasted five gravities for more than a second, cut it, and caught her with a one-sixth gravity, Moon-normal blast. Slowly he eased this off, feeling happy.

The Gremlin hovered, her bright jet splashing the soil of the Moon, then settled with dignity to land without a jar.


The ground crew took over; a sealed runabout jeeped Pemberton to the tunnel entrance. Inside Luna City, he found himself paged before he finished filing his report. When he took the call, Soames smiled at him from the viewplate. "I saw that landing from the field pick-up, Pemberton. You don't need a refresher course."

Jake blushed. "Thank you, sir."

"Unless you are dead set on space-to-space, I can use you on the regular Luna City run. Quarters here or Luna City? Want it?"

He heard himself saying, "Luna City. I'll take it."


He tore up his third letter as he walked into Luna City post office. At the telephone desk he spoke to a blonde in a blue moonsuit. "Get me Mrs. Jake Pemberton, Suburb six-four-oh-three, Dodge City, Kansas, please."

She looked him over. "You pilots sure spend money."

"Sometimes phone calls are cheap. Hurry it, will you?"


Phyllis was trying to phrase the letter she felt she should have written before. It was easier to say in writing that she was not complaining of loneliness nor lack of fun, but that she could not stand the strain of worrying about his safety. But then she found herself quite unable to state the logical conclusion. Was she prepared to face giving him up entirely if he would not give up space? She truly did not know . . . the phone call was a welcome interruption.

The viewplate stayed blank. "Long distance," came a thin voice. ''Luna City calling."

Fear jerked at her heart. "Phyllis Pemberton speaking."

An interminable delay—she knew it took nearly three seconds for radio waves to make the Earth-Moon round trip, but she did not remember it and it would not have reassured her. All she could see was a broken home, herself a widow, and Jake, beloved Jake, dead in space.

"Mrs. Jake Pemberton?"

"Yes, yes! Go ahead." Another wait—had she sent him away in a bad temper, reckless, his judgment affected? Had he died out there, remembering only that she fussed at him for leaving her to go to work? Had she failed him when he needed her? She knew that her Jake could not be tied to apron strings; men—grown-up men, not mammas' boys—had to break away from mother's apron strings. Then why had she tried to tie him to hers?—she had known better; her own mother had warned her not to try it.

She prayed.

Then another voice, one that weakened her knees with relief: "That you, honey?"

"Yes, darling, yes! What are you doing on the Moon?"

"It's a long story. At a dollar a second it will keep. What I want to know is—are you willing to come to Luna City?"

It was Jake's turn to suffer from the inevitable lag in reply.

He wondered if Phyllis were stalling, unable to make up her mind. At last he heard her say, "Of course, darling. When do I leave?"

"When—say, don't you even want to know why?"

She started to say that it did not matter, then said, ''Yes, tell me." The lag was still present but neither of them cared. He told her the news, then added, "Run over to the Springs and get Olga Pierce to straighten out the red tape for you. Need my help to pack?"

She thought rapidly. Had he meant to come back anyhow, he would not have asked. "No. I can manage."

"Good girl. I'll radiostat you a long letter about what to bring and so forth. I love you. 'Bye now!"

"Oh, I love you, too. Goodbye, darling."

Pemberton came out of the booth whistling. Good girl, Phyllis. Staunch. He wondered why he had ever doubted her.


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