Jeff Sutton

Jeff Sutton by First on the Moon Read Free Book Online

Book: Jeff Sutton by First on the Moon Read Free Book Online
Authors: First on the Moon
snap through the ether.
    "Don't sacrifice the drone,
Commander!"
    "Do you know a better way?"
    Pickering's voice dropped to a laconic drawl.
    "Reckon so."
    Crag
glanced at the analog and gave a visible start. The satelloid was lower, moving
in faster along a course which would take it obliquely through the space path
being traversed by the Aztec. If there was such a thing as a wake in space,
that's where the satelloid would chop through, cutting down toward the intercept. He's using his power, he thought, the scant
amount of fuel he would need for landing. But if he used it up . . .
    He slashed the thought off
and swung to the communicator.
    "Step One to S-two . .
. Step One to S-two . . ."
    "S-two." Pickering came in immediately.
    Crag barked, "You
can't—"
    "That's
my job," Pickering cut in. "You gotta get that bucket to the
moon." Crag looked thoughtfully at the communicator.
    "Okay," he said
finally. "Thanks, fellow."
    "Don't
mention it. The Air Force is always ready to serve," Pickering said.
"Adios." He cut off.
    Crag
stared at the analog, biting his lip, feeling the emotion surge inside him. It
grew to a tumult.
    "Skipper!" Prochaska's voice was startled. "For God's sake . . . look!"
    Crag swung his eyes to the scope. The blip
representing
    Pickering
had cut their flight path, slicing obliquely through their wake. At its
tremendous speed only the almost total absence of air molecules kept the
satelloid from turning into a blazing torch. Down . . down . . plunging to meet the death
roaring up from the Pacific. They followed it silently. A brief flare showed on
the scope. They looked at the screen for a long moment.
    "He was a brave
man," Prochaska said simply.
    "A pile of guts." Crag got on the communicator. Gotch listened. When he had finished,
Gotch said:
    "After
this, Commander, follow ground orders. You damned near fouled up the works. I
don't want to see that happen again."
    "Yes, Sir, but I
couldn't have expected that move."
    "What
do you think Pickering was up there for?" Gotch asked softly. "He
knew what he was doing. That was his job. Just like the couple that got bumped
at the Blue Door. It's tough, Commander, but some people have to die. A lot
have, already, and there'll be a lot more."
    He
added brusquely, "You'll get your chance." The communicator was
silent for a moment. "Well, carry on."
    "Aye, aye, Sir,"
Crag said. He glanced over his shoulder.
    Larkwell
was leaning over in his seat, twisting his body to see out the side port. His
face was filled with the wonder of space. Nagel didn't stir. His eyes were big
saucers in his white, thin face. Crag half expected to see his Bps quiver, and
wondered briefly at the courage it must have taken for him to volunteer. He
didn't seem at all like the hero type. Still, look at Napoleon. You could never
tell what a man had until the chips were down. Well, the chips were down. Nagel better have it. He turned reflectively back to the forward
port thinking that the next two days would be humdrum. Nothing would ever seem
tough again. Not after what they had just been through.
    Prochaska fell into the routine of calling
out altitude and speed. Crag listened with one part of his mind occupied with
Pickering's sacrifice. Would he have had the courage to drive the satelloid
into the warhead? Did it take more guts to do that than to double for a man
slated to be murdered? He mulled the questions. Plainly, Step One was jammed
with heroes.
    "Altitude, 1,000 miles, speed, 22,300." Prochaska whispered the words, awe in his
voice. They looked at each other wordlessly.
    "We've
made it," Crag exulted. "We're on that old moon trajectory." The
Chiefs face reflected his wonder. Crag studied his instruments. Speed slighdy
over 22,300 miles per hour. The radar altimeter showed the Aztec slightly more
than one thousand miles above the earth's surface. He hesitated, then cut off the third stage engine. The fuel gauge
indicated a bare few gallons left. This small amount, he knew,

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