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The line was quite short but it was moving very slowly. By the time they reached the service desk, three hours had passed since they entered the License Office.

"Application number?" The woman behind the desk did not look up at the two young men. She was in her mid-twenties, sloppily made-up and about forty pounds overweight. Her smeared make-up was a perfect match for the cluttered desk top and the battered metal filing cabinets behind her.

"I'm Len Martello." The taller and thinner man was looking about him impatiently. "And this is Garry Scanlon. We've got an Evaluation petition in here, and we wonder what's happened to it."

"Yeah?" The woman looked up at them for the first time. There was no flicker in interest in her eyes as she slowly scanned from one to the other. "I need yer Application number. Can't do nothin' without that. D'ya have it?"

"Here's what we have. But it's not an Application number." Martello handed a slip of paper across the desk. He was thin, dark-haired and nervous, with sharp features and a pale, bony face. An old wound on his upper lip had healed to give him a twisted mouth and a skeptical, sardonic look. "We never received an Application number from you. All that came back to us was this, with a file code and an Evaluation petition acknowledgement. Look here." He leaned forward, trying to communicate his own urgency to the woman behind the desk. "We filed for the evaluation of our propellant four months ago, and we've had no answers at all. Not a word from here. What's the delay?"

She stared at the yellow slip for a few seconds, rubbing one hand against her pimply cheek. At last she shook her head and handed it back. "You got the wrong office. You shoulda gone to Room Four-forty-nine. You'll hafta go over there."

"But dammit, we asked downstairs, and they told us to come here." Martello had crumpled the yellow slip and stood there, fists clenched. "We asked the guard, and he was quite definite about it."

The woman shrugged. "He tol' ya wrong, then. Ya know, we only do applications in here. We used to do 'em, evaluations, but not now. I mean, not since I've been here. You'll hafta go to Room Four-forty-nine, nex' floor up."

Her look turned to the clock on the office wall. She began to pull tissues from a box on the desk and transfer them to her shoulder bag.

"Look, we made six phone calls from outside, before we came over here." Martello's voice was furious. "Nobody seemed to be able to tell us where to go or what to do or anything. We've taken all day just to get this far."

"Yeah. But you shoulda gone to Four-forty-nine." The woman stood up, showing a thick bulge of fat over her tight skirt. "They do evaluations, we only do the applications. Anyway, I can't stay an' talk now. You know, I gotta car pool."

Garry Scanlon put a restraining hand on Len Martello's arm and stepped forward. He was fair-haired, pink cheeked, and slightly pudgy. "Thank you, ma'am. "He smiled at her. "I was wondering, could you maybe call up there and tell them we're on the way? We'd like to see them, and we shouldn't have to wait in line all over again."

"Sorry." Her eye turned again to the clock. "You'll hafta start over anyway. I mean, they close same time we do, in another coupla minutes. They won't see you today. I can't change that, ya know."

"You mean we'll have to begin the whole thing again tomorrow?"

"Guess so, yeah. Offices here open at eight-thirty." She picked up her bag and shepherded them in front of her, out into the corridor, then looked at them uncertainly. "Well, have a nice day," she said automatically, and was off, wobbling away on her high heels.

Garry Scanlon slumped back against the corridor wall and took a deep breath. "Christ, Len, there's another whole day wasted."

"Yeah." Martello was paler than ever, with anger and frustration. "God, no wonder we couldn't get any sense out of these turkeys over the phone. If they're all like her, I don't see how Government evaluations ever get done at all."

"So what do we do now?"

Martello shrugged. "What the hell can we do? We'll have to come back. We're trapped, Garry. It's going to be the same old crap. If we don't get an approval, we'll never get an industrial group to look at us. And we've agreed that we'll never get the bench tests done without outside financing."

He shook his dark head. "I hope the propellant's as good as we think it is. Another night in this crazy place, and I thought we'd be on our way back to Dayton by now. Come on, let's see if we can check in at the Y again."

He started to walk away, head bowed, along the dingy corridor. After a final, helpless look at the empty office, Garry Scanlon followed him.

* * *

"Yes, yes, it's here all right. Martello and Scanlon, right, Evaluation Request 41468/7/80. Now, if you'll wait a minute I'll run a computer search and see where it's got to."

The speaker was small and white-haired. He wore a flowered red vest, opened to show old-fashioned suspenders and a well-pressed white shirt. A carved wooden sign on the desk in front of him read: "Henry B. Delso—the Last One Left." He hummed softly to himself as he carefully entered the data request, pecking away at the keyboard with two gnarled fingers. When it was done he swivelld the display screen around so that they could all see it.

"Be just a few seconds, while it does the search. Rocket propellant, you said?"

"That's right." Len Martello swallowed. "A good one."

"Don't get many of those any more." Delso shook his head. "Well, here she comes."

The characters that filled the display screen were unintelligible to Len and Garry. They watched Delso, trying to read his expression.

"What's it say?" asked Garry.

"Not much." Delso shook his head again, and looked at his watch. "I'll get a hard copy output of this for you, and tell you how to read it. But I don't think it'll do much for you."

He leaned forward in his wooden, high-backed chair. "Look, how long have you boys been working on this?"

"Here in Washington? Just three days." Garry's pink face was earnest. "But we filed the forms over four months ago."

Delso nodded. "First application, right?"

"Yes. Did we file it the wrong way?"

"Nope. You did it right, evaluation request's on the right form, everything's in order there." He looked again at his watch. "I'm done for the day, just about. Gimme a hand here and I'll boil up a cup of tea for all of us—better for your gut than the stuff in that coffee urn—and I'll tell you what the problem is. Can't tell you the solution, wish I could. You'll have to figure something out for yourselves. Good luck on that."

He carried a battered shiny kettle into the back room, filled it, and came back. "Go bring the teapot and milk through here, would you? And get cups and a spoon while you're there." He plugged the electric kettle into an outlet on the wall behind him. "There we go. Three minutes, and it'll be boiling."

He leaned back. "So, you've got a new propellant? I'll believe you, even believe it might be a good one. But do you know what happens when you file your evaluation form with the Government here?"

Garry and Len looked at each other in bewilderment. Len shrugged. "I guess somebody here takes a look at it. And decides if it's dangerous for us to test it. If it's not, we get a permit from you and we go ahead and do the bench tests."

"Just so." Henry Delso was carefully measuring four spoons of tea into the big brown pot. "Sounds very fair and logical, eh? And you know, it used to be. I've been around this office for thirty-five years—as long as we've had the evaluation procedure. When I first started here, I read all the applications—we didn't distinguish in those days between applications and evaluations, that only came in fifteen years ago. I'd take each application, and I'd study it for a day, maybe two days. For something like a propellant I'd dig out the relevant patents, and the engineering handbook. Maybe do a few calculations, see if things seemed to be in the right ball-park. And you'd get an answer, yes or no. It took a week, sometimes two weeks, from start to finish."

"But we've waited over four months," said Len.

"Right." A rueful smile. "That's progress, yer see?"

Delso looked around his office, at the ranks of file cabinets, the computer terminal, and the elaborate multi-channel telephone. "I had none of this in the old days. Look at what we have to do now. Rocket propellant, see, first thing I have to do is look up the Industrial Codes. I can do it in that book"—he pointed at a three-inch thick volume with a bright red cover—"or I can check through the terminal there. That tells me which Government departments must be involved in the evaluation procedure, where they are, and so on."

"Hell, if we'd known that we could have contacted them before we sent in the forms," said Len. "We could have saved you a lot of time here."

"Not the approved method." Henry Delso poured tea into three chipped cups and pushed the tray forward. "Help yourselves to milk and sugar."

He picked up a cup. "I can tell you the complete list if you want it, but it wouldn't help you. The law says that they have to be contacted from here, whether you talk to them or not. Let's look at just a few of them. Environmental Protection Agency, naturally—you have to get their approval, because you'll be releasing some substances into the air. It might affect the environment when you do the bench tests. Center for Air Quality, same thing applies to them. Food and Drug Administration"— he looked at them over the top of his thick glasses—"didn't think of them, did you? You'll be working with new compounds, they'll want samples to test for the effects on humans, plants, and animals. Might be harmful effects there. Then there's Defense, they have to be involved on anything that might have defense implications. Then, let's see, Office of Safety are on the list—with a new material test, they have to be sure there'll be no danger to workers who'll be involved."

"But we're the only two people who'll be involved!" Garry's eyes were bulging. "We don't want their stupid protection."

"Ah, but it's for your own good—you don't have a say in it. Where was I?" Delso leaned back, checking off on his fingers. "Health Department, naturally—they duplicate some of Food and Drug's work and some of the Office of Safety, but they have their own checking system and that has to be followed."

Len Martello's scarred mouth was more twisted than usual. "I just can't believe it. You mean we have to get approval from all those groups before we can get a positive evaluation from you—that we can't do any more testing until that's finished?"

"That's right." Delso handed him a cup. "All those groups—and we're just getting started. Equal Opportunity, there's a dilly for you. They have to be sure that your company will have a positive action program for minorities."

"But there's only the two of us in it!"

"Makes no difference, laws are laws. Then there's the Women's Civil Commission. They'll have to be satisfied that there's no sex discrimination in the operation—that's not considered the same thing as the minority question. Mustn't forget the Department of Transportation, too. You'll need to get a clean bill of health from them, to ship your propellant."

"We won't be shipping any propellant!" Garry slammed the cup down on the old desk. "Well be making it right where we test it. Damn it, Mr. Delso, these regulations are ridiculous. Why should we have to get approval from a whole bunch of places that won't have anything at all to do with the development?"

Delso pursed his lips and shook his head. "I can't disagree with you. You're five hundred percent accurate. That's exactly what I'm trying to get across to you. I can't change the laws, they've all been passed and we have to go along with them here. I think they're as silly as you do, most of them, but I can't break those laws—not if I want to see my pension in a couple more years."

Len Martello put down his cup and stood up. "Mr. Delso, I don't know all those laws, but I do know how to count, and I think I understand probability. How many negative evaluations from those departments would it take to kill our chances?"

"One is enough, for the evaluation to come out negative. You can always re-file, of course."

"And start all over again? Look, if we have to get, say, twenty independent agencies to approve, and there's just a one-in-five chance that any one of them will say no to us, do you see what that means? The probability that we'll get approval is down to four-fifths to the twentieth—less than one chance in eighty. Am I right?"

"Quite right, I'm afraid." Delso nodded. "Your arithmetic's probably right, and I'm sure about your conclusion. In the past ten years, since the last set of regulations came into effect, I can count the number of successful evaluation petitions from small companies like yours on the fingers of one hand. I tell you, I'm just trying to help, even if it sounds as though all I'm doing is offering bad news."

"So what ought we to do?" Len sat down again and looked intently at the old man.

"You don't know much about law, do you? Either one of you."

"Hardly anything—we've never needed it."

"Well, let me give you some free advice. It's the best I can offer but I don't think you'll like it. If you ever hope to get a positive evaluation nowadays, go and hire a lawyer—a whole bunch of lawyers. And you'd better be ready to spend a year and a lot of money, if the petition involves advanced technology."

He peered over at their cups, buttoning his vest as he did so. "You've not touched your tea, either one of you. How old are you now, twenty-one?"

"Twenty-two." Len laughed without any sign of humor. "Twenty-two, and the more I hear, the older I feel. You're telling us there's no hope—this whole trip has been a waste of time."

"I'm telling you I don't think you have much hope, the way you're doing it now. But you're young, and space-mad from the looks of you. Don't give up."

"So what ought we to do?"

"You've got plenty of energy, and you want to work on the space program. I don't think you can get far these days on your own. Forty years ago, there weren't all these restrictions. Nowadays, you ought to join the Government, or one of the really big corporations. They can afford to hire a whole team of lawyers, and they can afford to sit and wait until all the roadblocks to permits are out of the way. You can't do that, you don't have the resources."

Len stood up again, and this time Delso rose also. He walked over to the door and took an umbrella from the hook behind it, then a heavy and out-of-style overcoat. "You can't wait—and it gets worse every year. I see it happening, right here."

"How long does it take to get an evaluation approved now?" asked Len.

"It varies. But I've never seen it happen in less than two years, recently—and I've got one here that's been ten years and we're still going on it. You have to get yourselves on the right side of the argument, and that means working with the big outfits—maybe even learning law yourselves. But I can tell you, if I were a young man now, and I wanted to have a career in space work, I'd be in the Government. I've seen too many youngsters like you come here and go away disappointed."

He maneuvered them in front of him, so that Garry and Len again found themselves out in the long-dimly-lit corridor. Delso held out his hand.

"Good luck to both of you, however you decide to go. I just wish I had something more promising to tell you, but I don't. You can't beat the system, not the way it is now. Things have just got too complicated these days. So don't beat it, join it."

He locked the door and walked away, a jaunty little man with an overlong overcoat. Len and Garry looked after him in silence until he turned the corner and was out of earshot.

"What do you think, Len? Is he for real?"

Martello scowled at the wall, with its dirty peeling paint and broken light fixtures. "I think he must be. He was trying to help us. Why should he want to make anything up? If we try and get a positive evaluation out of this place, we'll still be working on it when we're as old as he is."

"Then I guess we ought to do what he says." Garry Scanlon was leaning against the wall, his shoulders slumped forward. "I don't want to waste my whole life fooling with those damn-fool regulations. I want to do something real, get a real job where I can see results. Let's get out of here. When we get back to Dayton I'm going to write off for an application to the Space Program."

"You'll apply for a Government position?"

"Right. Why don't we both do it?"

"No." Len's face was thoughtful. "Maybe you should do it, Garry. You're the technical brain, and you ought to be producing where you'll be most effective. I'm just not ready to give up yet."

"But what can you do, Len? It sounds as though every year there are a bunch of new regulations and a longer approval cycle."

"Sounds like it." Martello shrugged. "Delso sounded pretty convincing, but maybe he only knows his own little area. I'm going to try another approach—I'm damned if I'll give up yet. Not while there's a whole universe up there, waiting for us to get our act together."

* * *

Evaluation Petition Request 4146817180. (Martello and Scanlon, petitioners). Request denied on the following grounds: Code A3T, Insufficient evidence of affirmative action plan; Code B77G, Failure to comply with Child Welfare Act A-15, Amendment 5; Code G23R, Failure to provide statement of intended uses of Inland Waterways; Code R3H, Insufficient evidence of adherence to Privacy Statute D-04; Code T1TF, Failure to provide evidence of recycling (materials SIC 01,03) in processing of limited supply substances.

* * *

Len—the ticket will be waiting when you get here (for the launch viewing, I'm afraid, not for the flight!) If you can get down to the Cape a day early I'll show you the sights. We've got two Orbiters in Maintenance. You'll see how far we've come since last time you were here.

Seen the new Lunar Treaty yet? It's a bummer. NASA's official line is that everything is fine, but you should hear the contract support staff. Nobody's ready to put a wooden nickel into space investment until it's clear who'll own what.

I was up at Wright-Patterson a couple of weeks ago, looking at hi-temp tiles. Know who I ran into in Dayton? Old Uncle Seth. Told him you were off studying law and I thought he'd break down and cry. Looks as though the old stories are right, he really is hooch-peddling on the side. Remember those cases in his garage every Christmas? He's in great shape, must be nearly eighty but you'd never know it. Pickled in his own product, it can't be too bad.

It looks iffy on Lungfish. The industrial consortium is backing off, not sure they can raise more money. Macintosh and his committee are against Government assistance, say it's more pie in the sky.

You getting near the end up there yet? Remember, if you can't take New York any more there's always a job here at the Cape. I've got so many equal opportunity quotas round my neck—be nice to have somebody round here who can change a light bulb without an instruction manual. I've never told anyone you're a budding lawyer, they think you're an engineering buddy from way back.

Don't get the wrong idea about this place, it's not all roses. I'll tell you some of my problems when you get here.

Stick in there with the tort and malfeasance. Jennie says hi.


* * *

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS DECISION ON POWERSATS. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court today upheld last July's Superior Court finding that the construction of solar power satellites offers an unacceptably high risk to human life and health. In a seven to two decision, with Justices Stewart and Basker dissenting, the Court ruled that possible future power shortages cannot be used to undermine the force of existing laws. Microwave radiation levels near the receiving rectennas of the proposed power stations would exceed recent Federal maximum levels by a factor of three or more.

In a minority opinion, the dissenting justices referred to the billion dollar investment that has already been made in the powersats, to the overwhelming need to build some independence from imported fossil fuels, and to the poor understanding of the effects of microwave radiation. Justice Basker stated: "We are condemning our children and our children's children to a life of reduced options, in order to satisfy a set of arbitrary standards on radiation levels that is neither clearly understood nor fully supported by scientific experts."

This ruling by the Court confirms similar decisions made by the European, Russian and Chinese Governments. The Japanese Parliament is currently debating the same issue. . . . UPI NEWS RELEASE.

* * *

"Assholes." Len Martello slapped his hand down flat on top of the newspaper. "They have no idea what they're doing. Here we are in the middle of the worst set of brown-outs we've ever seen on the East Coast, and those silly old bastards decide to cut off one of the only decent alternatives."

Garry Scanlon looked at him in surprise. Len was even thinner than the last time they had met, and his dark hair was already beginning to show the first strands of grey. The scar on his left upper lip seemed more prominent than before, pulling that side of his mouth up and giving a slightly manic look to his whole face.

"It's not just the Supreme Court in this country, Len—look at the rest of the countries, too."

"I am looking at them. Just because they walk off a cliff doesn't mean we have to. Ah, hell, what's the point." He folded up the newspaper. "I guess they don't care what happens twenty years from now, they'll all be dead."

He looked across the table at his friend. Garry Scanlon was showing his own first signs of aging. The fair hair was receding a trace at the temples, and he no longer looked as though his face had never felt a razor. There was a tough, straw-colored stubble on his chin, and his eyes were tired and black-edged.

Garry slipped a couple of dollars under the glass ashtray and stood up.

"Come on. We might as well get out of here and over to the launch site. I agree with you about the way they're handling powersats, but it's not just an isolated case."

"I know. I've been following the appropriations cycle in Washington. But I thought you'd be free of it down here. Your programs are on the move, aren't they?"

"Yeah. We're on our way up Shit Creek. It's as frustrating here as it was when we were just a two-man show, back in Dayton."

Len was shielding his eyes against the bright Florida sunshine. He whistled.

"Bad as that, eh? I thought you'd got rid of the problems when you joined NASA."

"So did I."

"So what's gone wrong?"

Garry rubbed at his chin and shook his head. "I just wish I knew. Last time I wrote to you we had, oh, I guess fourteen hardware developments stalled. We had four briefs in preparation, and just one piece of gear approved. Know what the score is now? Eighteen in evaluation, and no new ones approved. Zero."

They climbed into the buggy and began the short drive back to Launch Control. The half-liter engine had a top speed of less than forty miles an hour, but it was a real miser on fuel oil. Len struggled out of his jacket and held it on his lap as they puttered their way over the heat-soaked roadway.

"Are you telling me it's as hard to get anything done in Government as it is outside it? I thought that was the whole point of the NASA job."

"So did I." Garry shrugged. "We have to fill out all the same bullshit, get everybody and his uncle to say yes. There's only one difference—I don't go broke waiting, the way that we did. That makes it a bit easier to take."

Ahead of them, the eight-wheeled support vehicles had finished their final service and were crabbing away from the foot of the gantry. A mournful siren began its booming call across the flat Florida landscape.

"Five minutes," said Garry. "Come on, we ought to be inside the blockhouse."

"One more minute." Len had descended from the buggy and was standing on the concrete, drinking in the scene in front of them. His face was excited. "My God, Garry, this is what it's all about. I should be doing what you're doing instead of fucking about up north. It will be years before I take the Bar exams, longer than that before I can do anything useful."

"Don't let this mislead you." Garry took his arm and began to draw him into the protected area. "This launch will look great—they always do. But we're down again by another twenty percent from last year. The Shuttle works like a dream now—whenever we can get approval to do anything useful with it. We've done all the easy stuff"—he waved his arm with its wrist radio—"but there's nothing new about antenna farms. Dammit, they've been around for fifteen years now. We have to see some new starts."

The siren had changed to a more urgent, high pitched note as they entered the blockhouse. Len went at once over to the display screen. The silver Orbiter with its solid boosters and external tank looked fat and clumsy, too squat and awkward ever to leave the ground.

"Two minutes," said Garry, sitting down next to him.

"So it's the way we figured it." Len didn't take his eyes from the screen. "We're going to lose out to the other countries—we won't even come in second."

"Maybe not that bad." Garry's voice was baffled."I thought the way you did, until I went over to Geneva for the last joint meeting. Now, I'm not so sure. Hold it, now, we're on the final thirty seconds."

They sat silent as the last seconds of the countdown ticked away. On cue, the swell of flame appeared at the base of the rocket and the assembly began its first stately lift-off. Inside the concrete block-house, four miles from launch, the noise was still deafening.

Garry flicked in the tracking monitor, split-screen from the rising Shuttle and the down-range cameras. "She's away. Watch that status display, any second now we'll get solid booster separation. We'll have an accurate trajectory back here in a couple more minutes, but from the look of it she's going to orbit with no problems."

He turned away from the screen, swinging his chair to face Len. "That's what makes me sick. See those boosters? Ten years, and we still use solids. We should have had liquid reuseables years ago. The Space Tug's still on the drawing boards, and we're further from nuclear propulsion than we were in 1960. The International Affairs people in Washington are so sensitive about Test Ban agreements that we can't even mention nuclear any more, not even for comparative studies."

Len was still hungrily drinking in the displays. This was the real thing—the action was here, not back in New York fiddling with precedent, regulation, and who won in Soriba versus Rockwell, 1982. What was the point of all that legal effort, if it didn't lead to this? He watched until the final sign of the ascending Obiter was gone from all the displays, then turned at last to Garry.

"We must be losing out. I've been looking at the patents filed, things are going slower than ever. Our own system is killing us—strangling us. Remember our oath? At this rate we'll never do it."

"I know. But Len, you're wrong on one thing. We're not losing out. Everybody seems to be in the same boat."

"Slowing down?" Len's attention was suddenly all on Garry.

"And how. China, Russia, Japan, Europe, Australia—all over. Everybody has a space program in trouble. We keep trying to move ahead, but there's more and more red tape and bureaucratic bumscratching. You'll find this hard to believe, but we're not doing at all badly here."

"Everyone's strangling? What about the Brazilians?"

"Just as bad. Hell, if there were any place better, I'd go there, but I can't find a cure anywhere in the world."

Len turned back to the displays. On the one showing the launch area, a large black automobile was crawling slowly towards the pad. Windows of tinted glass made it impossible to see the interior, but it looked like a great hearse moving across the concrete. Len stared at it, a sudden speculation showing on his face.

"Maybe there is an answer. Garry, remember the oath? Meet on the Moon, July 20th, 1999, and drink a toast."

"We weren't the only ones that made it, I'll tell you that. Lots of the guys here did the same thing when they were kids. Better face it, Len, something took a wrong turn. A lot of us want space—millions of us, if NASA's mail means anything—but there's no mechanism any more. We've got technology, all we need. But we'll never make it through all the control and half-assed regulations. You ought to recognize that, too. Come on down here, there's still a job for you."

"Yeah." Len's eyes were still fixed on the black limousine. "Maybe, if all else fails . . ."

"All else has failed. The bureaucrats are in charge, all over the world."

"Not quite. I haven't given up the idea of legal loopholes completely. But if it doesn't work, I have another thought. What's that limo out there make you think of?"

"Eh?" Garry turned to the screen. "The VIP tour car? Beats me. Funeral parlors? Al Capone and Lucky Luciano? Henry Ford?"

"Pretty close with one of those. Look, Garry, I need to bounce something off you. Can we go for another beer?"

Garry looked doubtful. "I told Jennie we'd be home early for dinner."

"Still interested in drinking that toast?"

"All right." Garry sighed. "I'll call and tell her we'll be late. I know a bar where they don't blast muzak down your ear. If we don't get through by eight, though, you'll have to tell me the rest of it over at the house."

* * *

The winter storm had surprised everyone with its ferocity. After three days at a standstill, the ploughs were finally beginning to make an impression on the Dayton suburbs. Len stood inside the bitterly cold garage and looked out through grime-coated windows at the blown snow drifts. He had been waiting for almost half an hour in the unheated building.

"All right." The big man had slipped through from the inner office so quietly that Len had not heard him arrive. "You can come in now. But hold still while I check you over."

"Somebody already did that."

"Yeah." There was a gruff chuckle in the darkness. "But that was twenty minutes ago. Meyer likes people who are thorough. O.K., you're clean. Keep your hands behind you and go on in."

Inside there was more light but no heat. Len shivered and walked forward to the old table. A little man with thick grey hair, carefully styled, sat behind it. Len received a long, measured stare before Sal Meyer again bent his head to the papers spread out in front of him.

"So all right." Meyer was wearing thick woollen gloves with just the fingertips cut away. "So you're Seth's nephew. Yeah, I can maybe see his look there. You're a Martello, you got the nose."

Dark eyes flashed up from their inspection of the papers and fixed again on Len's face. "You got fancy degrees, one in engineering and one in law. Now, you tell me what you want a job with us for. There's lots of other places you could work, no sweat for finding a job for yourself."

Len took a deep breath. "Money. I want to make a lot of it."

"You could do that in a law practice just as easy. Crooks, all of 'em, but you never see one in jail."

"But I don't see why I should work eighty hours a week, just to pay it in taxes."

That produced the first trace of a smile from Meyer. "You got me there. That's what I hated worst of all when I worked in City Transport. The big gouge, I call it." The smile was suddenly gone. "All right, you want a job with us. Now tell me what you got that I can't get better from Jake and Rocky behind you. Do it quick, before we all freeze to death here."

"I've talked to Uncle Seth. He wouldn't tell me much—"

"Bet your ass he wouldn't—not if he wanted to stay well."

"—but he made me think you've probably got problems with distribution, and maybe with quality control. I think I can help with both. I've controlled a fractional distillation line, I know how to check for fusel oils."

Sal Meyer held up his hand. "I talked to Seth, too. Look, I don't care about the quality end of it. If people are willing to drink it, or run their buggies on it, that's not my problem. Distribution is—specially with the way the pay-offs have been screwed up with the new Chief of Police. How greedy are you?"

"Try me and see."

Meyer grinned again. "Let me tell you the rules. I don't care where you make your money, how you spend it—except when it's in my area. I've got drugs, and I've got gambling. Anything that you make in that area, I take a third. If you want to get into booze and pimping, that's up to you. I don't ask for a piece. But remember, you get in trouble in those areas and you're on your own. I won't make one phone call to help you. If it's trouble you get into on my business, you'll have the best lawyers money can buy. You married?"




"All right. For a married man, I look after the wife and kids if he goes inside." Meyer looked at Len curiously. "What do you do for fun?"

"I keep busy." Len cleared his throat. "I gather you're offering me a job, then?"

"I got an opening in Cleveland. Just so you know what's happening, the number two man over there got too greedy, started moving in on the hard drugs action. We've not heard from him for two weeks, and somehow I figure we're not going to. You'd go in as Number Three, and if you do anything decent you can move up fast. You want to ask me about money?"

"Not at the moment."

"O.K. That's the right answer." Meyer stood up and came around the table. He moved to within a few inches of Len and peered closely at his face. "How'd you get that lip?"

"Played ice hockey without a mask, back in high school." Len realized that Sal Meyer preferred short answers—something to file away for future reference.

"O.K." Meyer stepped back and gestured to the men behind Len. "Martello, don't tell the customers how you got that scar. It's worth money in your bank account. You'll have to organize a little enforcing once in a while—it helps a lot if you look as though you've seen action. If you need to reach me, do it through Seth or Jake here. You'll see me anyway, once a week. O.K. Jake."

"Thank you, Mr. Meyer." Len drew another deep breath as he was shepherded out into the main garage.

"Don't thank me, it's all business. So long, Lips, be seein' you next week. Oh, yeah, one other thing."

Len turned in the doorway. "What?"

"Tell your Uncle Seth he'll have an extra piece of change coming from me. And if you know any good people, let me know. Competence seems to get rarer and rarer."

He nodded, and the door closed.

"All right, Lips," said Jake. He shivered in the unlit garage. "Give this fucking snow a day or two to clear, and I'll show you round your area. You're part of the operation now. Remember one thing. Once you're in, you can't leave—so take my advice, and don't even think of it."

* * *

LUNAR AGREEMENT SIGNED. At a Special Session of the United Nations, marked by a parade of angry demonstrators along Fifth Avenue, the controversial Lunar Agreement was finally signed. All off-Earth resources of the Moon and all other natural celestial bodies become, under this Agreement, the common heritage of all mankind, and the common property of all mankind. No organization, group, or nation may exploit those resources without paying compensation to all member nations, on a scale to be decided by the General Assembly.

Industrial representatives have pointed out that this Treaty makes it impossible for any corporate enterprise to continue to invest in Lunar development, or to plan the use of Lunar resources, since the basis for compensation to other nations remains unresolved. The Agreement has been defended by the Administration as the natural next step in the peaceful uses of Outer Space. Opponents of the Agreement deride this view, since there is an admitted escalation in particle and laser weapon beam development for use in near-Earth orbit. However, with the signing of the Agreement further debate on the issue now appears of academic interest only . . .

—UN Correspondent, N.Y.

"Yes, I've got it right here." Len looked up from the video screen, where Garry Scanlon's earnest face showed as a diminutive black and white image. He winked at Sal Meyer, waved him to a seat and turned back to the screen. "I read it the same way that you do, Garry—it'll have a bad effect. Remember what the Law of the Sea Treaty did to the industrial investments in deep ocean development? This will be as bad as that, maybe worse. Look, I'll call you tonight and we can talk about it some more. How's Jennie?"

Garry shook his head. "No change."

Len sat silent for a moment. Since the loss of the baby, stillborn, he had a feeling that a thin curtain had come down between him and Garry—the barrier that separated those with families from those without. "Do they think it was the drugs?" he said at last.

Garry shrugged. "Who knows? The Government tests and tests, and still they don't know what's good and what's bad." His voice was bitter. "Len, I feel as though the whole world's going to hell. There's not a thing left working for."

"Stick with it, keep on working." Len's voice was gentle. "Remember the oath. I haven't given up hope, you know—and I may need help soon. Talk to you later."

While Len talked, Meyer had unabashedly been picking up and reading letters and notices that sat on top of Len's desk. That was something worth noting for future reference. Meyer had stopped at the Lunar Agreement article.

"What in hell's name is this doing here? You thinking of putting a few feds into orbit, Lips?"

"Wouldn't be a bad idea. You know they're walking all over our operations?" Len smiled. "It's hard to believe, but they suspect we're not paying all our taxes."

"Are the books all clean?"

"Trust me—both sets of them. They won't find a thing wrong. As for that article, don't ignore it. I think it might be very important to us."

Meyer picked it up again and took another look. "This? You're crazy. How could it have anything to do with us?"

"That depends on how good your contacts are. Look, Sal, you know the figures on the drug business a lot better than I do. How much will the new intercountry agreement on drug sources cost us? I don't mean local operations, I mean over the whole world, for us and others like us."

Meyer leaned back and squinted at the ceiling. Len knew what was going on inside that grey head. Figures were being recalled, summed, allocated and compared.

"Fifty, sixty billion a year," said Meyer at last. "That's assuming the sources dry up as completely as we think they will."

"All right. Now look at the taxes on legal gambling—forget the other parts for the moment. How much are they, worldwide?"

"Thirty billion a month, maybe forty—depends what you call legal. So what? We can't find a home for drug production—you know they sniffed out and closed down the last three sooner than you could wink—and if we can't find a safe place for gambling activities, then what's the use of talking about it?"

Len reached over to the other side of the desk and pulled out another printed sheet. "I've got a place for drug production— one that won't get raided in a hurry by any government agency. Take a look at that while I get a cup of coffee."

The prose was flowery enough to raise Meyer's eyebrows as he read.

'A ghost still walks above the Earth. Blue-grey and silver, a hundred feet tall, it moves silently through the night and through the day, never pausing above any point. Like an uneasy spirit, it travels on and on . . .

'Who is this spectre? It is the most expensive shade in man's history, a sad reminder of what might have been. It is the unoccupied hulk of Lungfish, the empty space shell that still sits up near synchronous orbit. The U.S. and European industrial consortium who funded the launch and assembly of Lungfish at a cost of more than two hundred million dollars have declared that the project to make use of it has been abandoned.

'The future of the empty shell (four million cubic feet of working space!) is now uncertain. The consortium would certainly accept any reasonable or even nominal offer—but who is likely to make one?

'Meanwhile, get out your telescope some clear night just after sunset. With a two-inch refractor you'll easily be able to see Lungfish. And broken dreams are up there with that ghost.'

"What the hell is this, Lips?" Meyer was still frowning over the piece when Len came back into the room.

"Space for sale—working space."

"Up there? You're out of your mind."

"Not if you try logic. Point one: you'll be outside the jurisdiction of any Government. They can't come in and close you down, because even if they could ever agree who would do it they don't have a space force in the U.N. Point two: I've looked at the economics of it. We could carry our materials up and our products down for a tiny fraction of their value. It wouldn't add more than a couple of hundred dollars a pound. For what we work with, that's like nothing."

"You'd never be able to land it."

"Not true. The Free Trade Zones would welcome a space facility. You'd have to grease a few palms with each cargo, but that's something we already know all about."

Meyer leaned back in his seat. "You're serious about this! I should live so long."

"Sure I'm serious—but we can't take step one with that damned Senator Macintosh blocking all movement on space manufacturing." Len came over to Meyer's side. "I'm dead serious. I'm even volunteering to set up the whole thing. Before I can do that, I need some encouragement from the rest of the operations that there's interest. Are you willing to carry it up the line for me?"

Meyer looked up at him sharply. "What's your angle? You looking for control?"

"I'd never be given it. No, I'm simple-minded. I want one percent of operations. And I'm willing to wait until everybody else has earned out their investment before I begin taking my percent."

"That keen, eh?" Meyer whistled softly. "You know, Lips, you've come on fast the past four years—some of the local operators say it's been too fast, but I don't agree. Tell you what I'll do. I'll take this over to the Central Council meeting—give me all the facts you have—just to see what reaction it gets. There's no way it'll fly first time around, everybody has to let it stew for a while and look for loopholes. If you rush things, that's the death of 'em."

"I've waited a long time. I can wait longer." Len had automatically reached over into the left hand desk drawer and pulled out an indigestion tablet. Sal Meyer watched the movement, shook his head unhappily.

"Still got the ulcer? You should take a break sometime, go off to Vegas and get laid. When you get to my age, you lose interest in raising hell." Meyer stood up, grunted, and rubbed at his chest. "And the damn doctors won't let you do it anyway, even if you feel like it."

Len was watching him shrewdly. "You ought to be up in Lungfish yourself, Sal. You'll add years to your life—that's a nice effect of low gravity, no heart strain."

Meyer didn't speak, but Len saw the change in the hard old face. Converts were sometimes made in the strangest ways. Len spoke as Meyer was turning to leave.

"If we did go ahead with this—in a year or two, I mean—we'll need to put political pressure on a few people. For a start, that Lunar Agreement has to go."

"Well, if that's all we have to do, I'll be surprised." Meyer laughed. "I'll push it along, Lips—but don't hold your breath waiting."

* * *

"They'll buy it, Garry. But they want me to prove myself one more time. I don't know how."

Garry Scanlon looked across at Len, slumped in the rocker. The dark hair was grey, as grey as the face beneath it.

Have I aged that much? Garry thought. God knows, I've had the reasons. The baby, then Jennie.

"I can help, Len. Just tell me what you need. I didn't get much from the move to Headquarters, but at least I can pull a few strings if I have to."

"Not these strings, Garry. Who do you know over at the Department of Justice?"

"Couple of neighbors are there. You want me to keep you out of jail?"

Len smiled wanly. "It may come to that—I haven't told you what I've been doing, but I've gone a long way past old Uncle Seth. A long way. Right now, I want to arrange a meeting with somebody, as high up as you can get me."

"You're part of the group that's bidding on Lungfish, that ought to get their attention. What else do you need from me? "

"Nothing. The less you know, the better. Believe me, when the time comes for a trip out, you'll know the minute that I do."

"How long?"

A weary shrug. "Three years? As my ex-boss says, don't hold your breath waiting. Maybe you'll beat me to it, doing it the regular way."

"Uh-uh." Garry stood up. He was developing signs of a paunch and the rounded shoulders of a desk worker. "You should see the budget for next year. It's a disaster—we spend more in welfare in one week than we do on space in two years. Got a job for me out there, Len?"

Len Martello had closed his eyes. He was silent for so long that Garry wondered if he were in pain.

"Not right now, Garry."

And not this year. It's bad enough that I have to do what I'm doing.

"Maybe when we get the operation going," he said at last.

"You'll need specialists in chemical plants if you're really going into space pharmaceuticals."

"There's a few bridges to be crossed before we're there. Big ones. Got a Congressional Directory? I need to dig out Senator Macintosh's address."

'Most men and women, at their deepest levels, are a complex combination of bravery and cowardice. It is the rare individual who has the pure essence, the complete courage or the true cowardice. Of all the professions, politics draws an unusually high percentage of both pure types. The difficult task is to determine with which one is dealing, since there are strong resemblances in their superficial behavior.

'It is much the same when we look at corruption. Politics presents a strange mixture of high and low ideals, the naturally corrupt and the incorruptible. The 101st Congress is no exception . . .'

Len read on, marking certain passages for future use. At nine p.m., the preset alarm sounded. The sixteen inch refractor set into the roof of his penthouse apartment was ready, computer-controlled on its target. Lungfish was rising. Slightly above synchronous orbit, its twenty-seven hour period took it slowly across the star field; it had less apparent motion than any other body in the sky except for the synchronous satellites.

The consortium was ready to prove their statement: Lungfish still had working communications with ground-based stations, and enough fuel in the mickey-mouse external thrusters to achieve attitude stabilization.

Len watched closely, but he could see no change. Lungfish was still only a point of light. He would have to wait for attitude telemetry to come down and prove that the station was still live and controllable, even though it was no more than the hollow husk of a working space station.

On impulse, he keyed in lunar coordinates. The microcomputer that controlled the telescope tracking took a fraction of a second to compute the relative positions, then swung the system quickly to its new target. The Taurus-Littrow Range was at the center of the field of view. For the thousandth time, Len peered at the image, seeking in his own inner vision the tiny speck of the Lunar Rover from Apollo 17. The last trip out . . .

A sudden razor's edge of pain from his stomach made him gasp, then reach for an antacid pill. They were scattered all over the apartment, never more than a couple of paces away. The ulcer was under control, no worse than it had been a year ago—but no better.

Reluctantly, Len turned from the telescope and sat down to word the next letter.

* * *

"Congressman Willis? I think you ought to see this for yourself."

The aide had been waiting patiently outside the Committee Hearings. He passed a sheet of plain white paper across to the Congressman.

"Another one! This is intolerable." Congressman Willis was a big man, close to three hundred pounds, but the suit did a good deal to hide the swelling belly and thick neck. "What's in this one?"

"The same sort of thing—you'll be hearing more in the future, but you ought to look closely at your voting record."

"Hmph. Didn't do a bit of good last time, giving this to the FBI. Let me take a closer look."

"Congressman"—the aide was greatly daring—"Do you think this is genuine? This is the third one, and nothing has happened."

"And nothing will happen!" Willis stuffed the paper into his pocket and patted the young aide with a thick hand. "You go on back to the office, Ron. Don't worry about it, and I'll take care of the whole thing."

"Yes, sir." The aide's face cleared and he hurried off along the corridor, back to the Rayburn Building office. Behind him, Willis put one hand out to steady himself against the corridor wall. A thin line of sweat had appeared up where his forehead met his thinning hair. Another one! The threat was vague, but it was there. And it was not the usual hint of financial pressure, of blackmail for past activities, of defamation. It would be physical violence, broken bones, torn flesh . . .

Congressman Willis had a vivid imagination. He could turn this one over to the FBI and have them again fail to find anything. Fail to protect him, too, when the trouble (the gun, the knife?) came to him. Or else he could take the phone call when it came, vote as he was directed to vote. That was a cheap price for freedom from the terrible fears that had been with him since the first letter. Damn the Free Trade Zone controls—first things first.

He leaned against the wall, white suit blotched with perspiration, and waited for the end of the Hearing Recess.

* * *

Len had made the decision personally. Now everything was falling apart, and there was no doubt who would get the blame. Already, Sal had called in and was telling him that the heat was on, that he had better have something worked out.

"I'll do what I can, Sal, but I need more facts. What made Mesurier renege on the deal?"

Meyer's voice was quavery over the line, and his video image showed him looking older than ever. He was being eaten away inside, the drugs doing no more than slowing the spread. "He's greedy, Lips. Pure greed."

"How much does he want?"

"I don't know. We promised him a hundred million."

"Right. Damn it, I picked the Cook Islands for the launch and free trade site because it's nicely out of the way, and because the price was less than half we'd have had to pay to Papa Haynes in Liberia. Who's Mesurier's number two man?"

"Bartola." Meyer had caught Len's expression. "He'd maybe be easier to work with, but he's an unknown quantity. You thinking of putting out a contract on Mesurier?"

"No." Len was silent for a few moments. "Make that maybe. I'm not going to let a tin-pot dictator stop us when everything else is going well."

"So what are we going to do?"

Strange how their roles had reversed. Sal Meyer had become the dependent one, looking to Len for guidance . . .

"I think the threat should be more than enough. He'll get the choice, a hundred million for Mesurier, tax-free in a Swiss bank; or a dead Mesurier, and a deal with his second-in-command. He's no fool. The decision shouldn't be too difficult." Len glanced down at his desk. "Not like that damned Senator Macintosh. I can't see any way round him, and he's too brave to scare and too honest to buy. We need some angle on him."

"Stick at it, Lips." Meyer sounded a lot better now that the decision on Mesurier had been made. "I'll get the message back out to the Cook Islands. Rocky Courtelle's the right man to deliver it, he looks as though he'd kill his mother for a good cigar. What's the launch date going to be?"

"Two months from now. We've got the boosters for the upper stage, and we'll be taking the first work crew out there on the second mission. I'll be ready to brief the Council in two weeks, but I can already tell you that a lot of the usual production problems will disappear when we've got the Lungfish Station running smoothly. Then I want to hit them with the next step."

"Next step! I thought we were in business with Lungfish."

"You'll be all right, Sal. We'll have you up there as soon as there's a medical facility running. But I mean the next big step. I want Council approval for a Lunar Base."

"On the Moon! What the hell are you talking about, Lips. You'll never sell them on that."

"Want a little bet on it, Sal? A hundred thousand, and I'll give you five to one odds."

"But why, for God's sake? We've got all the production capacity we'll need on Lungfish Station for twenty years."

"Capacity, but not total security. We'll have that when we have a Lunar Base, once we dig in there we'll be out of reach of anybody. We can set up a bigger facility and we'll be able to get the Arabs into the Casino. They say that the Lungfish Station is bad, it's where Mohammad's coffin is supposed to be—but they don't mind the Moon at all. How'd you like to get your hands on a few of those four hundred billion a year petrodollars? We'll make the fanciest Casino in the universe."

"You think you'll get Arabs to go all the way to the Moon to gamble, when they could be doing it at home? Lips, I hate to say this, but you sound all screwed up."

Len grinned. "Wait and see, old man. Wait and see. They'll go. Don't you understand, the Moon isn't part of the Moslem earthly universe—it's a place where all the rules can be broken without offending the religion. As far as they're concerned, it'll be janat, the garden of paradise. All the vices and none of them forbidden."

"On the goddammed Moon?"

"Why not? You've never been to the Empty Quarter in southern Arabia. After that desert you'd find the lunar surface a pleasant change. Here, before you cut out let me show you my first design. The more you know about this, the easier it'll be to come in hard on my side with the Council."

Twenty minutes of coaxing, explaining, and summarizing didn't convince Sal Meyer. The financial analysis did that, as soon as Meyer looked over the basic budget and projected returns.

He shook his head as he finally cut the connection. "Damned persuasive, Lips. And you know what? It's not even an illegal operation."

"Never mind, Sal. You can't have everything. Who's going to tax us for money we make on the Moon? We don't have to be illegal to avoid the tax bite up there."

Like the Arabs, Sal Meyer had the sudden look of one to whom Paradise has become just a Shuttle ride away.

* * *

Len Martello was mortal. Like any mortal he couldn't cover all the bases. Development operations had been spread over a hundred separate corporations in thirty countries. Each company had become the instrument that cleared some roadblock standing in the way of Lungfish's conversion to production and use. But there were connections between corporations, and that network—given enough time and patience—could be traced. On the day that Sal Meyer made a minimal acceleration ascent to the Lungfish medical facility (five thousand dollars a day; Meyer might feel the pinch if he had to stay there more than fifty years) late that same afternoon Len Martello felt the first thread of the noose.

"Len." The call was voice only, Garry Scanlon from Washington. "I can't talk long now but you've got problems."

"You bet I've got problems." Len was lying back in a reclining chair, moodily reviewing the proposed changes to the Lunar Agreement. "Do you know of a new one? Construction on the Lunar Base looks like being a barrel of snakes."

"Listen. I've been subpoenaed to appear before a Special Commission on organized crime. They sent a set of interrogatories, with the notice. They're going to ask me a whole set of questions about you, what your background is, what you've been doing for the past twelve years, how much money you have—everything."

Len jerked upright. "Who's behind it?"

"Senator Macintosh. Remember, I told you once before I'd had his staff aides around to my offices in NASA, wanting to know how well I knew you."

"Damn. I knew in my bones that it was a mistake asking you to go on that check-out trip to the Cook Islands. I was in a box for somebody who really knew his launch procedures, but we should have kept you out of it."

"Len." Scanlon's voice was strained. "I'll protect you if I can. But I have to say this, I won't lie to the Commission. You've only hinted at some of the things you've been doing but I'll have to talk about them if I'm asked."

"That's all right." While Len had become more and more the loner, he knew that Garry had been steadily merging into the Establishment. Over the years there were less protests about the crippling lethargy in Government, more in his casual conversations about the responsibilities of the job of Associate Administrator. "You tell them what you have to. We'll talk when you're free to do it."

Len Martello returned to his work with a cold and furious energy. Macintosh, the old incorruptible. He had always been there on the horizon, a presence that Len couldn't convert or distract with other business. Could he be any more than a nuisance at this stage of the work?

Len reviewed the steps that stood between him and an operating and permanent Moon Base. Thirty of them depended on people and functions based in the United States. Over the next sixty days, one by one, he substituted activities that could be handled by foreign interests.

On the sixty-fourth day, Len's own call to Washington was delivered by an armed marshal. With it came a lengthy set of written questions.

* * *

"But despite all that, Mr. Martello, I believe that I can see a pattern."

The kid gloves and the gentle touch were still in operation. Howard Macintosh, Democrat of Oregon, had handled thousands of witnesses, friendly ones and hostile ones. If he thought that Len was going to refuse to cooperate, that didn't show in his manner.

Len cleared his throat. "The only pattern I can see, Senator, is one of simple industrial development of our only remaining frontier. I have tried to promote our interests in space, that is all."

"And that you have done, remarkably well." Macintosh was short and thin, in his mid-sixties. Len had noticed a strange resemblance to Sal Meyer. They could pass for brothers, both from appearance and style of speech.

"But it raises a question of what you mean by our interests," went on the Senator. "Would you agree that the road to space has become strangely clear of roadblocks in the past few years?"

"You might think that way. I believe those 'roadblocks' were just that, impediments to progress. No one should mourn their disappearance."

Len noticed that Garry Scanlon had slipped into the back of the room as he was speaking.

"That is an opinion you are entitled to hold," said Macintosh. "Yet I find that there is, as I said, a pattern. Things went just the way that your group needed. Now we have a private corporation—"

"I don't know of any such corporation, Senator."

"—a corporation, I say, a single corporation, no matter how much its integrated nature may be disguised. This entity now occupies the Lungfish Station, and has a permanent base on the Moon. It has passed beyond the control of any national Earth government, passed beyond even the power of the United Nations. I myself have had pressure from this group, attempts to subvert my opinions and my vote."

He paused. Since these were not public hearings, Macintosh was not indulging in any histrionics or impassioned oratory. He was a single-minded man with a basic objective. Len was suddenly glad that the Base was doing so well.

"I did not hear a question, Senator," he said at last, when Macintosh showed no sign of continuing.

"I am coming to it. Mr. Martello, I strongly believe that this entity, this powerful corporation which now has more activity in space than any country of the earth, is controlled by and the tool of organized crime."

He leaned forward, his manner intent. "I also believe that you, personally, know a great deal about the workings of this organization." With an instinctive flourish, he picked up a document from the long table and held it out towards Len. "If you will cooperate with us—help us to the limit of your knowledge—then I have already arranged that you will be given immunity for any crimes you have personally committed. This document, which you are free to examine, gives that guarantee from the Justice Department."

He handed it across the table. The room had gone completely silent. Len took the paper with trembling hands, surprised by his own tension, and looked at the Presidential Seal upon it. He read it through carefully.

"And if I do not act as you suggest?" he said at last.

"We will terminate our questions for today. You may return to your home." Macintosh paused. "For a time," he said softly. "But Mr. Martello, that will not be the end of the story. I will continue to pursue this matter, as long as I have strength to do it. And you will not have immunity."

"A man who has done nothing wrong does not need immunity."

"How true." Macintosh shook his head. "But how many of us have done nothing wrong? Will you give me your answer, Mr. Martello?"

"I will give it to you, Senator." Len cleared his throat, then sat with head bowed for many seconds. When he at last looked up his face was white. "I decline your offer of immunity. If you have no more questions, I request that I be allowed to leave these Hearings."

The hubbub in the room took a long time to die down. As Len was leaving he caught Garry's eye—an incredulous, troubled eye. Behind him, he could hear the mutter of voices at the table as Senator Macintosh huddled with his aides.

* * *

After that last meeting of looks in the Congressional Hearing, Len had seen and heard nothing from Garry for almost four months. His phone calls had not been returned, two letters had gone unanswered. That Garry should arrive, uninvited, at the penthouse apartment that Fall evening was doubly surprising. Even as a youth, Garry had made all his appointments in advance.

"Alone?" Garry looked round and snaked into the apartment almost before the door was open fully.

"God help us! "Len was laughing. "Who's after you, Aunt Wilma?"

"No joking." Garry went over to the window and looked out nervously. "I took an Eastern Shuttle flight to get here—paid cash. Have to be back before anybody knows I've left."

"You can come away from the window—we're thirty floors up. No one's going to be looking in. Garry, what the hell's going on?"

They sat facing each other, Garry with his overcoat still buttoned.

"You're in bad trouble, Len. A week from now, you'll be in jail. Macintosh has enough to put you in for tax evasion—I talked to one of his aides, and he told me a lot more than he ought."

He was short of breath and his words came out in wheezing bursts.

"It's not too late, I know that. If you come back to Washington with me, agree to cooperate—you'll still get immunity. Will you do it, Len?"

His expression was pleading. Len shook his head slowly.

"I can't do it, Garry. You don't understand the situation. They'd give me immunity so they could get at the top guys in the operations, right? But I've not been level with you. For the past two years, I've been the top man. Think they'd give me immunity? Anybody else in the Council, maybe. Me? Never."

Garry's plump face flushed and his mouth gaped open. "You're the top of the whole thing? That was why you walked out of Macintosh's hearings!"

"Not the only reason. Here, you need this." He passed across a tumbler of scotch and soda. "I had an even better reason—not just my own skin. Look, Garry, how's the NASA program doing now? Budget and projects."

"You've read the papers. Since you got Lungfish and the Lunar Base operating, we've started a big joint program with ESA and the Russians. I can't quote you all the details yet, but I'm sure my area—Tracking and Data Analysis—will double."

"And the year after that I'll bet it will double again—as soon as Congress finds that our group is going to build a Farside Base and start lunar mining. They'll be so keen to stop us that money won't count." Len lifted his own glass. "Let's drink to crime. Don't you see, people only seem willing to pour money into something when they act out of fear—that's why Defense can get fifty times the budget of the peaceful programs. Well, now everybody has somebody they can mistrust: me."

The light was dawning in Garry's eye. He took a huge gulp of scotch, choked on it, and spluttered, "But that won't do you any good, Len. You'll be rotting in jail."

Len Martello stood up and walked over to the telescope setting. He switched on the control for the big refractor and opened the opaque cover on the penthouse roof.

"I'll rot in jail—but they'll have to catch me first. Garry, it's bad news but I've been expecting it for a long time. Look at this, tell me what you see."

"Mm. Serenitatis? Let me get the focus right." Garry bent over the eypiece for a long second. "Yeah. That's Taurus-Littrow there. Long time since I looked at that."

The familiar sight somehow had calmed his excitement. He grinned up at Len, then bent again to look at the lunar image. "You've put your base there, right? No chance of seeing it with this, though."

"Not yet. Just wait a few years. We began with the Casino, now we're into low-pressure agriculture, power generation, medical plants. It's beginning to grow. But I'm not just telling you that to show off, you know. How long do you think it will be before there's a U.N. team sent up to try and close down that operation?"

"Couple of years, not much more. You know that they relaxed the ban on nuclear rockets, just in the hopes that we'd come up with something that would make sure you were under control?"

Len operated the switch to close the covers on the telescope. "Think you'll be on that close-out team?"

"Well . . ." Garry shrugged. "I'm a pretty high muck-amuck these days. If it's an official inspection team, chances are pretty good that I can work my way onto it." He grinned. "You can be sure I'll try like hell to go, but so will a lot of others."

"Know what they'll find there?" Len went back to his seat. "It's a one hundred percent legitimate business venture—no sign of crime. The only reason we needed the crime in the first place was for muscle—to get some of those damn-fool regulations pushed out of the way, and to give the financial base."

"But it's too late for you, Len." Garry's expression was serious again. "It may be clean now, but it wasn't clean when you started. I know that. We'll be up there, and you'll be in some damned jail down here."

Len Martello leaned back in his chair. He looked tired, ten years older than his forty years, but his eyes were still bright. "I deserve to go to jail, Garry. I can't deny it." He raised his hand to still the other's protest. "Sure, I went into the game with good intentions. But I found out one thing very quickly. You can't work up to your elbows in dirt and expect your hands to stay clean. Not just the tax evasion. I had to get into the drug sales, and the enforcement, and the strong-arm tactics. I wouldn't have lasted a month otherwise. But good ends don't justify means."

He shrugged his thin shoulders, watching the shock spread across Garry Scanlon's face. "I deserve to go to jail, there's no argument on that."

"Maybe." Garry's face was a mixture of emotions. "Maybe you do. I won't judge that. But I know this, Len, if anybody ought to go on the lunar trip, it's not me—it's you." His voice was earnest. "You touched dirt, sure you did. Lots of people back in Washington will be happy to crucify you for it. But I just want to say that I'm sorry about it all. If I could give you my place on a trip up to the Lunar Base, I'd do it—gladly."

"Thanks, Garry." Len's voice was so soft that he was only just audible. "I know how much that means to you. Don't think I don't appreciate it, and the fact that you came here to warn me the way you did.

"But you know"—he grinned, and suddenly there was a trace of the youth of twenty years earlier in his smile—"you don't need to give up anything for me. They'll come and get me in a week, right? Know where I'll be then?" He jerked a thumb upward, toward the unseen orb of the Moon. "If they want me, they'll have to come and get me. I'm betting that I can keep a move ahead of the posse, all the way out. We'll have full mobility over the lunar surface in another four years. You'll have to develop that if you want to catch me. How long will that take?"

He raised his glass. "Come on, drink up and we'll get you out of here before you miss that last shuttle. Know what I feel like? In the old days they'd hang a carrot out in front of a donkey to keep it moving along. That's me. As long as I'm out there, you don't need to worry about the health of the space program—they'll have to keep going and catch me."

"You're right." Garry smiled and picked up his glass. "National pride would never be satisfied to leave you out there. We'll be chasing you."

"A toast then." Len shrugged. "It's not the one we've always wanted, I know, but there's still time for that. It's a few years yet to 1999. I'm betting we'll still drink that one—and we'll drink it where we've always wanted to. For now, let's just drink to the Space Program."

"No." Hesitantly at first, then with increasing resolve, Garry raised his own glass. "This time I'm going to propose the toast. The Space Program is fine, but I'll give you something better. Here's to the carrot—and long may it hang out there."


You might think that a writer knows exactly what is in his or her head when a story goes down on paper. I used to think so, but now I'm far less sure of it. Consider this example.

Robert Heinlein's classic "The Man Who Sold The Moon" was obviously much in mind when I wrote this story. No surprise there. I had even gone back and re-read the original just before I began, but so far as I knew I had not played any word games within the story beyond the twist on the title itself.

This story was published. A few months later a reader wrote to tell me that he got a kick out of the way that I had secretly inserted a non-hero figure who was a variation of Heinlein's main character. At that point in his letter I had no idea what he was talking about. I read on.

Look at Henry B. Delso, he said. "Delso" was a very simple anagram of "Delos", and Harry is an informal version of the name Henry. The man Henry B. Delso was therefore none other than Heinlein's Del(os) D. Harri(man).

I wanted to write back to him and say, no, not at all, I didn't do what you think I did. I never wrote the letter. You see, after I thought for a while longer I realized that I had done it. I didn't know I'd done it, but that's a different matter entirely.

Some readers may feel that this story is a piece of preaching about the bureaucratic stifling of initiative in our society, and they may assert that I was trying to sugar a warning by wrapping it in fictional form. Some readers would be quite right.

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