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Moonbase, Grissom Country. 12:49 P.M.

Sam Anderson had been agent in charge of the vice president's Secret Service detail for six months. He was not happy. The assignment should have been relatively straightforward. They were in a limited-access zone. Residents of Moonbase had all passed psychological screenings to eliminate nut cases, and the visitors were VIPs who, in a less restricted area, would have been traveling with their own security units.

Nevertheless, it was not a comfortable situation. Of course, on assignment, Sam was never comfortable. He always assumed that a potential assassin existed, looking only for the opportunity. And Moonbase put him at several distinct disadvantages.

People here tended to live and work in close proximity to one another. In the corridors and meeting rooms, it was literally impossible to maintain a ring around "Teddy," their code-name for Haskell. It was, of course, a reference to the TR sketches and memorabilia that the vice president kept in his office. Sam's favorite was a doctored photo showing Theodore Roosevelt and Charlie Haskell, both in buckskin, standing together outside the Dakota Saloon in the Badlands.

Firearms were prohibited at Moonbase. No exceptions, Sam had been told when he tried to argue the point. Consequently, the agents carried only stun guns. They wouldn't be worth much if someone else had gotten a revolver past the sensors.

Backup was, of course, far away. Moonbase had no security force worthy of the name. The assumption was that its residents would abide by the policies and live by the rules. A person who drank too much and created a problem could be dealt with. But a couple of people with criminal intent, if they were able to smuggle weapons into the facility (which Sam thought would not be all that difficult), could pretty much have their own way. He wondered whether the lunar operation would suffer a minor disaster before they got smart and installed a tough, efficient police detail.

Something else worried him. It took a while to get used to moving around at one-sixth g. If the agents had to respond to an emergency, he wasn't sure how efficient they were going to be. Quick moves tended to cause people to bounce off walls.

Sam was thirty-eight years old, twice divorced, had one child by each marriage. He was a graduate of Ohio State, where he'd run the two-twenty better than anyone else in the school's history. He'd majored in poli-sci, gotten a commission and served as a naval officer for four years. A fellow officer had convinced him of the many advantages and the glamor of the Secret Service. He'd joined, while the friend changed his mind at the last minute and went to law school, where he'd learned to make big bucks defending the indefensible.

Sam's first assignment had been to the Detroit office.

There was, of course, no glamor to speak of, but the pay was decent and he enjoyed the work. A man couldn't ask for more than that. He'd done well, shown a flair for the intelligence desk, and been twice promoted. Eventually he drew an assignment with the White House unit. This time next year, he expected to be Special Agent in Charge at one of the major stations.

Sam was six-feet even and right out of central casting for agents: spare, chiseled features; alert brown eyes; and conservatively cut black hair. On duty, he fell easily into the polite cool monotone that was almost a parody of Hollywood agent-speak. But nobody seemed to mind, and at retirement parties and award luncheons, his colleagues never missed a chance to mimic him. It always got a laugh.

He was good at his job: tough, dependable, smart. Both his wives had also understood he had a soul that he kept carefully hidden. That might have been the reason they'd eventually given up on him, that they saw only glimpses of the part of him they loved. Unlike the other members of the detail, Sam would have enjoyed being at Moonbase if he could have relaxed for a few hours.

Because of the nature of the assignment, only three agents had been assigned to him for the detail. They all stayed with their charge constantly during the ceremonial functions. At other times Sam split the assignments so they could get some rest. (There was no question here of engaging in sight-seeing.) But four was just not enough to do the job right. They'd been hovering around Teddy since they left the White House and they were getting weary.

Like most other high-level politicians, the vice president didn't care much for all the security, but he was good-natured about it, and freely admitted he wouldn't want to have to go looking for his agents when he needed them. His agents. Charlie Haskell was smart enough to let them know he understood what they had to do, and that he appreciated them. This alone ensured that, if Teddy got his party's nomination, he'd also get the votes of his security detail.

The Secret Service had been assigned a double suite to use as combination quarters and operations center. Sam knew that the evening's festivities would run late, and that Teddy liked to party. So it was going to be a long night. Sam was getting one break, at least: Moonbase operated on Washington time, so there was no equivalent to jet lag.

It was a no-sweat mission, the operations chief had insisted. But Sam worried, as he was trained to do. The Secret Service hadn't lost anybody in over sixty years. Sam had no interest in breaking the streak. Skyport Orbital Lab. 1:00 P.M.

The lunar shadow glided northeast into New England and Canada. It tracked just south of the St. Lawrence River. Toronto and Montreal, on the northern side, saw only a partial eclipse. But buses, cars, and trains had carried thousands of enthusiasts to Granby and Magog and St.-Hyacinthe, and across the U.S. border to Burlington and Plattsburg. The eclipse crossed New Brunswick, passed into the gulf, and began to accelerate as Earth's surface curved away. It moved rapidly across the southern tip of Newfoundland, reached St. John's in the late afternoon, local time. A band struck up and the citizens threw a citywide party, which lasted well into the evening. By then the shadow was long gone, having moved first into the North Atlantic and then off the planet altogether.

Meantime, Wesley Feinberg had confirmed Tomiko Harrington's discovery, that something new had indeed appeared in the sky.

"Recommend action to determine nature of object," his report read.

Probably a sun-grazer, he told Windy Cross on the phone.

Unfortunately, the thing had retreated once again into the solar glare. No local optical telescope was going to be of any immediate use. But Windy had other resources. Moonbase, Main Plaza. 1:11 P.M.

Tables had been set out along the concourse and heaped with food. Evelyn took the occasion to thank those who, as she said, had come so far to share in this special occasion. She passed out commemorative plaques to the vice president and to many of the other guests. When it was over, the celebrants drifted into the half-dozen or so shops and bistros that had opened their doors for the festivities.

A tram moved through one of the parks. Rick watched it, recalling the summer trolleys he'd ridden as a boy on Lake Michigan, and glanced up at the Moonbase headquarters building. An elevator was descending. A few workmen were putting the finishing touches on a light standard. Another was installing an elevator door, and two more seemed to be inspecting the gridwork across the central canyon.

Rick felt better than he had in thirty years. Lunar gravity induced a sense of general well-being, of sheer effervescence. If there were a way to bottle this, he told the vice president, we'd make a fortune.

Afterward he spent time with the journalists, buying them drinks, talking casually with them about the vice president's plans for the future, why the nation would profit under his leadership, and in short, doing what he could to ensure their support during the coming campaign. It was thoroughly enjoyable duty. Rick was born to socialize. He genuinely liked the journalists, they knew it, and so they naturally tended to shade things for him. Not consciously, of course, but nevertheless, there it was. Rick Hailey was a guy any one of them would have had over for dinner, even if he weren't an administration source. It was this camaraderie with the media that constituted Rick's primary value to a candidate.

He was also careful not to neglect press officers. On this occasion Moonbase's media rep would be giving interviews, and Rick wanted to exert some influence over what was said. He therefore made it a point to stop by the public relations office, introduce himself, and feign interest in the operation. Would you like to tour our little corner of Moonbase, Mr. Hailey?

Of course he would. This is the video production department, and that's the VIP coordination group. While they were strolling through the training facility (which was directed by the same person who oversaw the press office), Hailey saw an extraordinarily striking young woman. She had green-flecked gray eyes and blond hair, and she looked at him with the curiosity to which vice presidential confidants become accustomed.

"Who is that?" he asked his escort innocently.

"Oh," the escort replied, "just one of the communications technicians."

He let it drop. It would have been unseemly to push.

Then she was gone, out the door, with a sheaf of papers in one hand.

Richard Daley Hailey enjoyed the electricity and dazzle of politics, where the rabbit was power rather than money. So when an uncle running for alderman had asked Rick's help, he took a leave of absence from his public relations job and directed the campaign. He decided which issues they would put up front (garbage collection and street repair), which aspects of their opponent's corruption they would emphasize (nepotism and paybacks), which voting blocs they would pursue and which concede.

He discovered that he had perfect pitch in these matters, and his uncle won easily. Rick never went back to his old job.

A few years later he saw to the election of Avery Foster, the most thoroughly incompetent mayor Chicago had ever seen. It was the victory that made Rick's reputation. When, during later years, journalists tried to corner him about Foster's corruption and incompetence, Rick took the position that it was not his purpose to find truth in a political campaign. "My job," he once told Fox TV, "is to champion one side or the other. Truth emerges from the clash of ideas, not from one person's advocacy."

He'd won a lot of campaigns since Foster, had never lost, and was pleased now to be working for Charlie Haskell, although riding a good candidate to victory struck him as less of a challenge. Charlie was behind at the moment, but that was only because he lacked Kolladner's support. He was an ideal candidate, honest, reasonably intelligent, with Avery Foster's knack for saying the right thing. He was young, physically imposing at six-four, good-looking, the kind of guy most people wanted their daughter to bring home. And he had a great smile. With American voters, a single aw-shucks smile compensates for four years of invisibility.

Rick wished he'd been able to get the name of the woman with the green-flecked eyes. Skyport Orbital Lab. 1:58 P.M.

Tory glanced at her central display, which provided a live view of boiling Venusian clouds.

The Venus probe of 2016 had contained a Hofleiter 0.8-meter telescope which, after the main package had been injected into that world's atmosphere, had gone into orbit.

The Hofleiter was capable of making ultraviolet, optical, and near-infrared observations over wavelengths from 115 to 1010 nanometers. It carried two spectrographs, a high-speed photometer, a wide-field Advanced Charge-Coupled Device, and a fine guidance sensor. Its primary mission was to map the Venusian atmosphere, to track its turbulence, and thereby to contribute to a better understanding of terrestrial weather patterns.

Now they had permission to retarget. It was a process they did only with reluctance. In planetary atmospheric observations, continuity was everything. Sequence and development mattered. But a second message from Feinberg had forced their hand: