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"This is Governor Adcock, speaking to you from the state capital at Harrisburg. I want to urge you to stay in your homes. I understand your concern about the Tomiko Comet, but I remind you that the Moon is a quarter-million miles away, and everything else is speculation.

"Traffic on the streets and highways of eastern Pennsylvania has all but ground to a halt, despite the best efforts of state and local police.

The safest place for you is at home. We have fully mobilized the resources of the Commonwealth to deal with any problem that might arise. I will add that I do not expect any, other than the ones caused by frightened citizens. Bear in mind that emergency vehicles cannot get through if private vehicles crowd the streets and roads. I would also ask that you refrain from tying up telephone lines unless absolutely necessary.

"I'll be leaving here within the hour to join Mayor Hanson in Philadelphia. I plan to stay at City Hall there tomorrow and through the weekend, to be with you until we can put this behind us.

"Please do not misunderstand me. I recognize the uncertainty of the situation. But be aware that this is a problem for all of us. The best thing we can do right now to help one another is to keep calm. I will continue to inform you of developments. Thank you and good evening." Micro Flight Deck. 10:18 P.M.

They were chasing Berlin. It was a long run this time, almost an hour and a half, and Tony took advantage of it to try to sleep. But the incident with the leaky valve haunted him.

Unlike Bigfoot Caparatti, he wasn't given to guilt, and he in no way blamed himself that they were now perhaps fatally behind schedule. He knew what he might have done differently, knew he could have blown out of the cloud, or climbed outside and shut down the leaky valve, and finished the mission. But he couldn't have been expected to make those guesses. It would have been reckless, for example, to risk colliding with the plane. A small voice somewhere told him he should have realized the other pilot would draw away. But he couldn't be certain the other pilot wouldn't have thought he was in deep trouble, and would have expected the Micro to keep still while the plane approached.

Anyway, that was all past now. A waste of time to think about it. The question was, how to repair the damage?

There was a way.

"You okay, Tony?" Saber was looking at him, worried. Berlin was around the curve of the Moon. They were running over Farside, beneath the baleful glow of the comet, which now looked like a second sun. Not a real sun, but a cool, wispy apparition. Something seen at night in a forest.

"Yeah. I'm fine."

"What are you thinking?"

"You know," he said, "we can deliver our last pickup tomorrow night and still get back down before the comet hits."

Their last launch from the Spaceport would take place at about seven-thirty P.M., Saturday. They'd rendezvous with Arlington, which by then would be the only remaining plane in Luna's skies, at about ten after nine.

"We could get back down to the Spaceport by a quarter after."



"Tony, that's only twenty minutes before the comet hits. Not even time to get off the pad. Anyhow, Arlington would be long gone."

"So we'd have to stay with the Micro, wouldn't we?"

She stared at him. "We couldn't get out of there in under a half hour. We could skip the maintenance, but we'd still have to refuel."

"I know. Saber, I don't want to leave anyone on the ground."

"Hell. Nobody does. But all that would happen if we went back is that we'd get caught down there with them."

"Not necessarily." He picked up their passenger manifest, and looked over the names. There were three private vendors on board and three dependents. He also had two geologists, a hydroponics expert, and an astrophysicist. Total of ten. (The hydroponics expert was heavy, the kids were light. They'd been able to put an extra child on board.)

The astrophysicist should be just what he needed. He asked Saber to go below and invite her onto the flight deck.

Janet Koestler was middle-aged, slightly overweight, with a plump, apple-pie expression. It was easier to imagine her surrounded by grandkids than working with telescopes. "How can I help you, Captain?" she asked after he'd seated her in Saber's chair.

"Professional question?"


"I wonder if you could describe for us precisely what'll happen when Tomiko gets here? When it hits the Moon?"

Ahead, the Earth was rising.

"In what way?" she asked.

"Is the Moon going to explode?"

Her brow furrowed. "No," she said. "The Moon can't explode. It's really a fairly cohesive body."

"Then what's going to happen?"

"I haven't seen the calculations, but this comet is very big. It's an anomaly. And it's coming at a velocity I'd have thought impossible.

"A comet this size, if it were hitting Earth, would carve out a crater roughly thirty-six hundred kilometers in diameter. That's more than the diameter of the Moon." She paused for effect. "That tells me the Moon will be broken apart." She looked down at the lunar surface. "Everything in the immediate neighborhood of the impact will be vaporized, probably well toward the core.

"The comet's going to melt a lot of rock. A lot. Some of it will be blasted clear of the surface. Or maybe a more correct way to put it is, ejected from the gravitational center. Some will even be blown clear of the Earth-Moon system and go into solar orbit."

"But the Moon, or most of it, will still be here? Is that what you're saying? Because that's not what we've been hearing."

She frowned. "It's just very hard to predict this event. Look, the comet will fracture the Moon. There's no question about that. It'll convert it into a cluster of loose rock. Everything that can be broken will be broken. The shock will cause the rock to drift apart. It'll spread out around the Moon's orbit, and some of it will probably form a kind of shell around the Earth, at about the lunar radius. I'd want to do some work on this, but I imagine, given enough time, the particles will reform. And there'll be another Moon. Smaller, I would think." She took a deep breath. "There's another interesting possibility."

"Which is?"

"The Earth will acquire a set of rings. Over the long term."

Saber asked how long was the long term.

"Several million years. Certainly nothing we need concern ourselves with."

Tony leaned toward her, attentive. "Doc," he said, "I'd like to ask a hypothetical question. You've had a chance to look at the Micro?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"This vehicle. The one we're in."

"Well, yes. I've seen it, more or less. I'm in it."

"If it were a few thousand feet over Moonbase at the time of collision, what would you think about its chances of survival?"

"Not good."

"Can you be more specific?"

She shrugged. "Well, if the bus were directly over Moonbase, it would have one thing going for it. Impact will take place on the far side. But there's going to be a very large fireball. My guess is that the fireball will come right over the pole and engulf the entire northern hemisphere."

"Moonbase is at Alphonsus," Tony reminded her. "Thirteen degrees south."

"Maybe I should have said it will engulf the entire Moon."

"How high would I have to be to be safe?"

"Preferably halfway to Earth. At least. Captain, none of this is my field of expertise. I really don't know." She looked at him, and the smile, which had seemed a permanent part of her features, faded. "You're not planning on doing anything like this, are you?" Moonbase, Director's Office. 11:03 P.M.

Chaplain Pinnacle hadn't been the first volunteer. A mechanic named Tamayaka had offered to stay in exchange for payment of future college expenses for his three kids; and a young optics expert, distraught over the philandering of her new husband, had asked to remain. Chandler had accepted neither. He was disappointed at the reaction of his senior people. Only Jill Benning had openly opposed him. But the others had stood by and left him to defend the only reasonable position as best he could. Eckerd was behaving as if he was doing Chandler a favor. Hawkworth walked around looking like a martyr.

Eckerd, who headed Health and Safety, knew about the director's heart problems. Chandler wondered whether he had pursued his knowledge to its logical conclusion: that it was far less difficult for Chandler to play the hero than it was for the others. And that hard reality chilled him. Still, it did not ease his smoldering anger. With or without the heart problem, he would have done the right thing. He knew that.

After the chaplain called, Chandler simply put out an amended list, inserting the chaplain's name directly above his own. That bumped everybody else, except Evelyn, up one slot. Then had come the shocker: The vice president was staying!

Chandler had his doubts that Haskell wouldn't change his mind. But he'd duly inserted the name, scheduled Benning for a flight, and moved the others up another notch. Benning had told him that he shouldn't think for a minute that this would get him and Hampton and the corporation off the hook. She was going to sue everyone in sight.

He wondered what they'd do if Haskell did change his mind. Call her back and tell her she was going to get to stay after all?

THE MOLLY SINGER SHOW. 8:00 P.M. | The Moonfall | BBC WORLDNET. 11:07 P.M.