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BBC WORLDNET. 10:01 A.M.


"A spokesman at Moonbase International headquarters in Boston revealed today that a general evacuation of Moonbase has begun. The spokesman stressed there is no danger to base personnel or to visitors. The evacuation has been prompted by the impending collision with Comet Tomiko early Sunday morning, Greenwich mean time. The collision will not be visible from London.

"In a related development, astronomers at the Royal Observatory are speculating that the object is not strictly a comet, as the term is traditionally understood. "Comets are members of the Sun's family," said Wilfred Hodge, a staff member and well-known science writer. "Tomiko is an interstellar object, probably a cometary body that was expelled from another star system, and has been traveling for millions and perhaps billions of years." Moonbase, Grissom Country. 10:17 A.M.

Evelyn Hampton found herself, in the supreme operational crisis of her life, with little to do. Jack Chandler was organizing the evacuation, and the last thing Moonbase needed was a second boss. So she'd withdrawn into the role of Visiting Dignitary Who Had To Be Rescued.

This status gave her a perspective similar to Charlie's. Consequently, it seemed almost in the natural order of things that the two of them arranged to meet in the private dining room of the Huntress, a bistro set back in a grove of trees in Main Plaza, where (while the agents watched) they exchanged condolences and words of encouragement. "No blame should attach to either of us," said Evelyn, "but it will. It's Hampton's Law."

"What's Hampton's Law?" asked Charlie. The vice president looked dazed, as if he hadn't quite caught up with events.

"When things go wrong, whatever the circumstances, it's always somebody's fault."

As a rule, Evelyn disapproved of politicians. They tended to break down into two categories: the completely unprincipled, who composed the vast majority; and those who lived by their principles no matter who suffered. Her early impression of Charlie was that he did not fit easily into either category. It was almost as if he'd somehow wandered in off the street and gotten into the wrong profession. He embodied a kind of casual, we're-all-in-this-together approach to business relationships that she wouldn't have believed for a minute coming from the other seekers-after-power whom she had known. And even with Charlie she was mildly skeptical. For one thing, they weren't all in it together. Charlie might have to face some political fallout, but Evelyn stood to lose everything-the corporation, her holdings, her career. Her reputation.

"So what will you do now?" Charlie asked. "Do you see a way to salvage any of this?"

She shrugged. "It doesn't look hopeful."

They were having coffee and toast. About half the tables in the main dining area were occupied. People strolled casually along the walkways, and somebody was riding a hang glider down from the top of the dome. "How about the evacuation?" he said. "Any problems?"

"I don't think so. The LTA says they'll cooperate and get the planes out here forthwith. It'll be tight; some of us leaving on the last flight Saturday will have a damned good view of the fireworks. But everybody will be off. Barring glitches." She bit into her toast. "We always assumed the most likely emergency would be an upturn in the solar flare cycle. Something like that. That all we'd have to do would be to get people under cover. I don't think it ever occurred to anybody we'd have to evacuate the entire complex. We're talking about the Moon, for God's sake." She was having a hard time keeping her voice steady. "We've already shipped off the first load of people to L1."

Opposite them, a virtual mountain brook ran through a tank. There were rocks in the water, and a broken cupola stood off to one side, half-submerged in the stream. Evelyn glanced at it, watched the image change and dissolve into a USA Today headline:



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