Moonbase, Director's Office. 6:27 P.M.
Jack Chandler hadn't slept since the emergency started. He was no longer young and just couldn't keep going indefinitely. But he wasn't aware there was anything left he needed to attend to, so he turned the operation over to his aides, announced he'd be at his desk if he was needed, turned down the lights, and lay down on the sofa in his office. Of all the people at Moonbase, of all the careers that would be lost, investments dissipated, dreams blown away, no one was going to take a harder hit from Tomiko than the director.
For the first time in almost ten years, there was no lead weight in his chest, no painful awareness of his bruised heart's constant struggle with gravity, no sense of his lungs struggling for air. Jack Chandler loved his life on the Moon. He'd come to stay.
Evelyn thought they were at the end of the human attempt to expand off-world. What was it she said she'd told the vice president? You get a window when the technology, the money, and the will are all there. We had it. Briefly. They were already scrambling at the LTA to salvage what they could from their fleet of space vehicles.
For Chandler, it meant a return to one g.
He closed his eyes and listened to the soft, steady rhythm of his heart. His body remembered what it had been to be twenty-five.
The distance between Earth and Moon was measured, not in kilometers, but in heartbeats.
Someone knocked. The door opened. "Mr. Chandler?" His secretary.
"What is it, Susan?"
"Phone, sir. It's Elrond Caparatti. Says he has to speak with you. Says it's urgent." Moonbase, Grissom Country. 11:53 P.M.
Evelyn was wrapped in an oversized bathrobe. "You're sure," she demanded.
Chandler hesitated. If the average weight went miraculously down so they could squeeze an extra person on here, and another one there, they could still make it. But realistically speaking, that wasn't going to happen. "Yes," he said. "It looks like about six people."
Her eyes bored into him. "Overload the buses," she said.
"They are overloaded. One of them damned near crashed an hour ago. They aren't built to carry a lot of excess weight, Evelyn. I'm sorry: A few of us are not going home and I think we better start getting ready to face it."
"Show me," she said.
Chandler produced his numbers, the maximum weight allowances for the individual vehicles, departure and rendezvous times, the windows. He watched the muscles move in her throat as she studied them. "We can't do any better than this?"
"I've been over there, working with them all evening. We've tried everything we can think of. This is the best we can do."
Her eyes moved away from him. "You can get the Micro back here by about ten," she said.
"What good's that going to do? The last of the planes'll be out of here by nine-thirty. We couldn't even get back up to it before the comet hits. Couldn't even get out of the Spaceport, for that matter."
"Six people?" she said.
Chandler felt the weight in his chest. "Make it five," he said.