home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | форум | collections | читалки | авторам | add


Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Washington, D.C. 1:33 P.M.

The space plane resembled a rocket ship out of a 1950s science fiction film. It was long, silver, bullet-shaped, with stubby retractable wings and tail fins. It was fueled by a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. The Reagan flights were propelled by a rocket booster along a seventeen-mile-long tunnel, traveling northwest beneath the Potomac into Maryland, and launching near Glen Hills. A nuclear-powered version was on the drawing board, but until someone could figure out how to allay environmental concerns, it was going to stay there.

Alexander Drummond, the operations boss for LTA Reagan, was short, fat, and bald. He wore chain jewelry and his tie was pulled down and his shirt was open at the neck. He had bushy eyebrows and thick lips. His type had appeared in a thousand cop films as Mister Big. He was staring out his office window, from which he could see both the SSTO and the launch track. "George," he said without turning around, "your mission profile is on the desk."

George Culver glanced down at the folder but made no move toward it.

"It asks you to do double duty," Drummond said. He came back to his chair, waved George into the divan, and sat down. "I'm asking you to do double duty."

Drummond had hired George, had looked after him, and George understood it was now payback time. "I'm listening," he said.

"There'll be four planes on the mission. Two of them will leave Skyport today and arrive in lunar orbit tomorrow around noon. Both will start back Friday, bringing as many people with them as possible.

"A third plane will go into lunar orbit Friday evening and will leave late Saturday afternoon. By then, there shouldn't be too many people left.

"We want you to go to L1. You'll get there at about eleven A.M. tomorrow. Pick up your passengers. Expect a full load. Return to Skyport. Your TOA should be about seven A.M. Friday."

George shrugged. So far so good.

"Unload and refuel. As soon as you're able, you'll turn around and head for the Moon."

"You're not serious," said George.

"You'll be in lunar orbit by noon Saturday. Shortly after you get there, the third plane will leave. You pick up whoever's left."

"How many are going to be left?"

"Probably fewer than a hundred. But you won't have them all on board until roughly nine-thirty. I'm sorry; I know that's not much lead time."

"You mean before the comet comes in."

"Yeah. That's what I mean."

No wonder the son of a bitch was looking guilty. "Alex, what the hell are you setting me up for? You want me sitting out there when the place goes up?"

"You should be well on your way back before the event."

"Well on my way back? What are we talking here? Twenty minutes?"

"An hour, George. I think I can promise you an hour. Minimum. Listen, I know it's tight, but we don't have any choice."

"Sure you do. You've got a half-dozen or so other SSTOs sitting around. Use one of those and speed things up."

Drummond's chair squeaked. "Sending a fifth plane wouldn't speed anything up, George. The bottleneck's with the moonbuses. Getting people off the surface and up to the planes. It's a slow process. So it doesn't matter whether we use four planes or five. The last flight out is still going to be leaving at around nine-thirty P.M. Saturday.

"Now, we're doing it the way we are for two reasons. One, you're the best I have. You might need to do some jinking on the way back, and there's nobody I'd rather have in the left-hand seat. Two, sending you out to L1 will give you some experience in how the vehicle handles beyond earth-orbit."

"Great," said George. "I'm honored."

Outside, a fuel truck moved across the concrete apron. "You don't have to do it. I can't force you. But there'll be roughly a hundred people coming back with you. Their lives will depend on the pilot we send them. I want you. If you want to back off, I'll understand and I'll get one of the others."

"Son of a bitch," said George.

"Thanks." Drummond picked up the mission profile and held it out to him.

• • • Moonbase, Grissom Country. 3:05 P.M.

Evelyn took the call in her private suite. She was not a physicist, but she suspected what was coming, and the suspicion was confirmed when she recognized Kermit Hancock's voice. Hancock was her second-in-command at corporate headquarters in Boston. "We got a call from the White House," he said without ceremony. "They're recommending we evacuate both space stations. Especially L1. They think it might get totaled."

Totaled. The term somehow trivialized the potential loss of so much. But at least they had the plane going out there. Just as well to get everybody off. "Do it," she said. "I'll make the calls."

There was a long pause. "Evelyn, I'm sorry."

"Me too, Kerm." She felt very tired. "Me too." Microbus, approaching 11.3:10 P.M.

The station floated against a background of stars. As Tony Casaway watched, it disgorged a ferry. The ferries were boxy vehicles, capable of carrying between twelve and forty passengers, depending on the model. Their sole mission was to move passengers and cargo between the space stations. This was the Christopher Talley. Tony was close enough to see people in the passenger cabin. They were probably dependents being sent to Skyport as a precaution against the comet.

Digital readings blurred on his screens as thrusters fired and the main engine, which had been braking the ship, went silent. They were rotating in sync with the satellite. The Moon, enormous at a range of only sixty thousand kilometers, and Earth drifted slowly across the windows in apparent pursuit of each other as the microbus turned on its axis.

Like Skyport, L1 used counter-rotating wheels to enhance stability and simulate a sizable fraction of lunar gravity. L1 was smaller than the Earth orbiter by almost a third, and because it had no tourist pretensions, it was a far more spartan facility. Several thruster clusters helped maintain its position at the unstable Lagrangian point.

"Seven minutes to dock," said Saber.

"Roger." He locked onto the short-range beacons and manuevered into the designated guide path while Saber talked to the flight controllers and started providing minute-by-minute course adjustments.

Then a new voice came on the circuit. "Tony."

"Go ahead, L1."

"Update. FYI, Tony, we just got word we're evacuating the station."

Tony thought he meant Moonbase. "Say again, please."

"They're looking for major trouble when the comet hits. We're clearing out L1."

Evacuating L1? "By Saturday?"

"Roger. You're instructed to unload your passengers and start back posthaste."

The terminator arced across the lunar surface, dividing it sharply between dark and light. Tony glanced over at Saber.

"We're a long way from the Moon," she said. "How much damage can Tomiko do?"

предыдущая глава | The Moonfall | cледующая глава