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"This is Keith Morley reporting live with the vice presidential party at Moonbase. It is now just over four hours until the Tomiko Comet arrives. As you're probably aware, there'll be a spacecraft racing it to try to get us out. The vehicle's a moonbus, but it's smaller than the regular moonbuses, so it's known locally as the Micro. Its pilot is Tony Casaway, who's from San Francisco; and the copilot is Alisa Rolnikaya. Alisa is a Russian, although she was born in Florence, Italy. They call her 'Saber.' I expect to be talking to them a little later on in the evening, live and by remote, from the cockpit of the Micro.

"With me now is Chaplain Mark Pinnacle, who's one of the six who've agreed to stay behind when everyone else was evacuated. At the time you volunteered, Chaplain, did you know that a last-minute rescue would be attempted?"

"No, Keith. We had no idea anyone was actually going to try to get us out. I must say I was delighted to hear the news. I hope we can do it."

"Are you confident?"

"I'd like to think God isn't finished with me yet."

"Chaplain, I wonder if you'd tell us why you elected to stay behind?"

"I suppose I could turn that around, Keith. Why are you still here?"

(Hesitates.) "I suppose because it's my job."

"Me too."

"Chaplain, I wonder if you'd tell us which faith you represent?"

"Well, I'm Church of England, of course. But on the Moon I represent all faiths. And not only Christian, I might add."

"I'm sure our viewers wonder how that can be, Chaplain."

"I'm not sure I understand it, Keith. People just seem to accept it. Accept me. If you know what I mean." Moonbase, Main Plaza. 6:28 P.M.

Chaplain Pinnacle was drenched with sweat. He was glad the interview was over, but he wasn't pleased with his performance. He'd had a heaven-sent opportunity to explain to the world how it really was out here, how the great faiths came together and the theological disagreements tended to fade away. There were no heretics on the Moon.

Out here, the universe looks pretty big.

Theologians had been describing the creator as infinite right from the beginning. And for the first time, people were beginning to understand what that might mean. Maybe there's room for all faiths. They seem to coexist quite nicely once they get off-world.

Mark had never felt closer to his God than he did at that moment. Yet this giant comet was coming to destroy the entire place. Why was that? • • • Moonbase, Director's Private Dining Room. 6:30 P.M.

It might have been the most memorable dinner Charlie had attended during his entire political career. He'd gone in reluctantly, expecting a funereal atmosphere, with the participants exchanging doomed glances and peeking surreptitiously every few minutes at their watches. But it wasn't like that at all.

Jack Chandler and Evelyn seemed to be in high spirits. Keith Morley had been to the abandoned commcenter, where he'd opened a permanent channel to his producer. Then he'd sat down with the chaplain, set up his microcam, and done a program. "You were absolutely great," he was telling a pleased Pinnacle when Charlie walked in the door. "Faith, courage, and humility. They were all there."

The chaplain thanked him. "A worldwide congregation," he said. "I would never have believed it."

Only Bigfoot was missing. He'd promised to come if he could, but they had a message from him: Thanks for the invitation. Hate to miss the sausage. But if I eat now, we'll sit later.

Evelyn and Jack had cooked the meal. There was no sausage. But they did deliver Caesar salad, chicken fingers (real chicken), fried potatoes, mustard sauce, white wine, coffee, and, for dessert, the piece de resistance, fudge nut brownie with ice cream. Not much maybe in Georgetown, but by Moonbase standards, it was a feast of major proportions.

The chaplain bowed his head. Under other circumstances, his companions might have done little more than pause awkwardly. But this time they all joined him.

Charlie had been reared as a Methodist by a skeptical father whose primary purpose in belonging to the Church seemed to be political. It was the power center for the movers and shakers, for those who wielded influence in his hometown. The vice president himself attended church on a fairly regular basis, Methodist or whatever else happened to be handy. Like his father, he did it out of political expediency. Voters expected pious presidents.

Also like his father, he believed the universe a clockwork mechanism; and if there was a clockmaker, he'd hidden himself too well and had therefore no justifiable complaint with unbelievers. Charlie cringed at the long sermons, when he'd have preferred to play golf. Or sleep late. Churches had another downside: The preacher who found out he had a vice president in the pews often used his opportunity to attack the administration on behalf of his favorite moral issue. Charlie had been pelted from the pulpit over fetal tissue, Social Security cutbacks, voluntary life-termination, biosynthetic research, and the failure of the public schools to include God in the curriculum.

"I've always envied people with faith," Charlie told Mark Pinnacle. "It helps at a time like this."

The chaplain looked amused. "I wish I could tell you it makes me less nervous."

The table was set with gleaming silver, cloth napkins, fine china, and exquisite long-stemmed glasses. It was a startling change of pace to the spartan lifestyle at Luna. Evelyn poured the wine and they lifted their glasses. "To Moonbase," she said.

The laughter and good spirits defied all logic. There was a fair amount of graveyard humor, none of it funny in retrospect ("Here I am with the story of the century and somebody else is going to get to do the wrap-up"), but hilarious at the time.

Charlie discovered how much he liked these people: Evelyn, black, beautiful, whiplash bright, wanting to look fearless, but concealing a trembling hand when she raised her wine glass.

Jack Chandler, the perfect bureaucrat. Reserved tonight, conservative, a man who measured life by precedent and regulation. An hour ago, Charlie would have guessed that Chandler had never learned to enjoy himself. Now the director roared with laughter at every opportunity. And at one point he exchanged glances with Evelyn, and silently formed the words I love you.

Keith Morley, TV journalist, professional cynic. Self-appointed defender of the public weal. A man who enjoyed sacrificing the reputations of political figures. But Morley offered a series of going-away wishes for the others: that Evelyn would avoid the bankruptcy that loomed over Moonbase International; that Chandler would land an even bigger bureaucracy to direct: the cleanup effort after Tomiko; that the chaplain would be transferred to a quiet parish on the banks of the Thames; and that Charlie would get the White House, but only if he still wanted it when he got home.

And the chaplain. This man who had seemed so fearful a few days ago, who'd admitted earlier to being nervous, appeared utterly at home. He thanked Morley, implying that he and the journalist had already discussed his future hopes. He confessed to enjoying himself thoroughly, and wondered whether such an extraordinary evening wasn't almost worth the risk.

For Charlie, a bachelor vice president, almost all meals not taken alone were, to a degree, working meals, or formal engagements. Tonight, for a few hours, he became just one of the crowd. And he understood Morley's comment: only if he still wanted it.

Chandler covered his french fries liberally with catsup, another product Charlie had not seen at Moonbase. Jack finished one of the morsels off with obvious pleasure and looked around the table. "Anybody ever been in a life-and-death situation before?" he asked.

Evelyn nodded. "When I was five, I was pulled out of a burning building."

"You remember it?" asked Chandler.

"Oh, yes. Clear as day. In fact, it's the earliest thing in my life I can remember. It's sort of the day I became conscious."

"Were you scared?"

She smiled. "Yes. But of the firemen rather than the fire. They were big and they wore those odd coats and hats and masks."

"Anybody else?"

Morley said, "I got assaulted and left for dead by a gang once. In New York. They broke me up pretty good. Told me they were going to cut my throat."

"But they didn't?" asked the chaplain.

Morley opened his collar and showed them a scar. "They just didn't do a good job of it."

Charlie was horrified. For all the political rough and tumble, he'd lived a sheltered life. "Why'd they do it?" he asked.

"Who knows? I took the wrong picture, maybe. Or maybe I just got out of my car in the wrong part of town. I can tell you, it was the worst moment of my life."

"Worse than this?" asked Evelyn.

"Oh, yeah. Much worse than this. It was personal. Those kids wanted me dead. That's a terrible feeling, to find out that someone wants to kill you for no very good reason. But the comet. Hell, the comet doesn't give a damn. It doesn't know we're here. It's just a big dumb pile of ice blown out of somewhere." He shrugged. "Yeah, this is a lot easier. There's no hate mixed up in it anywhere."

There was a pause in the conversation, as if a significant moment had arrived. Charlie refilled everyone's glass. The wine poured slowly in the light gravity. "Here's to us," he said. They joined in the toast, and Charlie studied their eyes over the rims.

Jack Chandler offered another: "To both Tomikos," he said. "The woman and the comet. The woman because she gave us a warning, and the comet because it's brought us together tonight."

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