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TRANSGLOBAL SPECIAL REPORT. 4:21 P.M.


"Two men were apprehended this afternoon minutes after they allegedly fired two ground-to-air missiles at one of the space planes being launched from Hartsfield Airport. At least one of the missiles was reported to have struck its target. The plane landed safely shortly afterward. There were no casualties on board, but the spacecraft is said to have been severely damaged. Two persons, a man and a woman, were reported dead on the ground, and murder charges are being considered.

"Police identified the two men as Steven Gallagher and Thaddeus Wickett, both of Staunton, Virginia, and both associated with right-wing militia groups. Gallagher has been seen numerous times on television in support of ultra-right-wing causes. No motive was given for the attack.

"Meanwhile, Canadian authorities are bracing for an avalanche of refugees fleeing the anticipated impact of the Possum early tomorrow morning. Border stations are already overwhelmed. Sources close to the government are continuing to deny persistent rumors that the Canadians will suspend inspections for the duration of the emergency." Percival Lowell Flight Deck. 4:27 P.M.

"You heard, Mr. President?" Feinberg sounded shrill.

"I heard. We'll just have to make do with six."

"If you'll forgive me, sir, physics is not politics. You can't make things happen by trying harder."

Charlie was seated up front with Rachel Quinn. Outside, the Possum's terrain rolled slowly past. "Wes, we're not going to give up."

"It doesn't matter whether you give up or not. It won't work without a seventh ship. But, I should point out, you're sitting in one."

That fact hadn't escaped Charlie. Like Feinberg, he was beginning to wonder if the Percival Lowell could substitute for the damaged space plane. But the Lowell was dwarfed by the giant SSTOs. He covered the mike and glanced at Rachel. "Will this thing put out the kind of horsepower the space planes do?"

"We don't call it horsepower, Mr. President," she said. "But no, it won't. It doesn't need that much thrust."

"It's close enough," said Feinberg, when Charlie repeated her comment.

"Okay," said Charlie. "Why don't you hang on a minute and let me put you on the speaker so the pilot can get into this conversation."

He flipped a switch and Feinberg's voice filled the cabin: "You need to find a way to anchor the Lowell to the Possum. Actually, the Lowell makes a more effective engine anyway than the SSTOs, because you won't run out of fuel in twenty minutes. If we had a handful of ships like yours, we wouldn't have a problem."

Rachel made a slicing motion across her throat. Charlie nodded. "Give us a chance to talk about it, Wes. We'll get back to you." He cut the connection and turned to the pilot. "What?" he said.

"You remember the damaged SSTO? They're sending it over with some equipment to try to lash it down. I don't think they've left Skyport yet. Why don't we suggest they send extra gear for us?"

"Do it," said Charlie.

She put in the request and then turned back to him. "There's a downside, you know."

"What's that?"

"There won't be any easy way to unanchor us. My understanding is that the pitons they're putting on the SSTOs can be jettisoned. If things get hairy, they push a button and they're gone. In case, say, the rock goes down."

"You're saying-"

"In our case, we'll just get fastened to the rock. If Plan A doesn't work, there'll be no way to get Lowell clear." Skyport Flight Terminal. 4:36 P.M.

The maintenance people had patched the holes, cleaned and lubricated the engines, and replaced Arlington's broken antennas. There'd been some talk about removing tail and wings to cut down on drag, but apparently they'd decided it was just too big a job. The external damage, a shattered tail assembly, assorted dents and chips, and a bent undercarriage had been left alone. All that could be taken care of later. If necessary.

With flight engineer Curt Greenberg and copilot Mary Casey in tow, George met with Belle Cassidy and a couple of her people in operations to discuss the mission profile. They went over flight data and were shown their assigned place on the Possum. While they talked, George watched one of the SSTOs arrive from Atlanta and glide gently into its bay.

Belle introduced Jonathan Porter, an engineer, who would help anchor the plane. Porter was a dark-haired, middle-aged man of remarkably passive appearance. He looked uncomfortable in Belle's presence, and smiled too much. His voice was reedy. This, George thought, was the kid they always picked last when they were choosing up sides. Not the man he'd have wanted on board during an emergency. But Belle didn't seem to have any qualms.

"We're lucky Jonathan didn't leave with the rest," she said smoothly. "We've given you plenty of cable and spikes. Jonathan will see that you're securely bolted down. When that's done, he's going to do the same thing for Lowell."

"Lowell?"

"Yep. I guess we're throwing everything we've got into this little tug of war." Skyport Flight Terminal. 9:45 P.M.

Everything went like clockwork. Five planes arrived from Hartsfield, the last three only slightly delayed by the terrorist incident. They refueled and got a final inspection while they waited for their window to open.

Although all were owned by the Lunar Transport Authority, they were based around the world. SSTO 702 was from Atlanta, 703 from Berlin, 704 from London, 705 from Tokyo, 708 from Moscow.

The journalists at Skyport, most of whom had been on the Moon for the opening ceremonies, had a field day. The networks were filled with interviews of crewmembers, all of whom seemed calm and confident. Feinberg predicted success. "The numbers are there," he said. "Barring another crazed act by terrorists, we should see the Sun rise tomorrow on a happy Kansas."



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