OF MEGARON part 6
The old man, hardly more than a skeletal frame held together
force of his mind, walked slowly to an instrument spread. On
leaned both hands on the console and gathered himself for the
Helena, with a medico's interest, was half out of her chair to
go to him,
but he said, without turning around, "Thank-you, Dr. Russell,
but there is
nothing you can do for me."
In the centre of the lounge area, there was a circular feature
tiling, like a large, empty plinth waiting for a statue. It began
from edge to edge with a swirling, blue cloud. It grew thicker
intense and then abruptly cleared, leaving in its place a 3-D
the space base.
Tiny air cars drawn
up on the terrace around the rock showed that the
Megaronians had come in strength to hound the fugitives. Men
were posted all
around the admin silo.
The outer areas began to peel away as Cydon zoomed for a closer
They saw their own abandoned cars and the head of the elevator
were climbing down, carrying shoulder packs of what looked like
gear. Maya asked, "Will they be able to break the seal?"
Still busy and changing the picture, Cydon said, "No. all
barriers are lined with infrangom. It is a metal that would interest
Maya of Psychon. Under pressure or in thermal agitation, it gains
strength. They have nothing which can penetrate it."
The scene had moved to the interior of the rock. They were seeing
inside of a spherical bunker with launch and guidance systems
familiar enough to the four Earth-born Alphans. A hatch opened.
now looking along a connected corridor to a second hatch which
an iris eye to let them through a gantry. It dissolved to a long
a high point down an immense wall, ringed every few metres by
spidery stairways. In the centre, the whole space was occupied
by a long,
slender rocket ship.
Cydon slowly panned down its length. Silver cone, brilliant white
superstructure, huge hydraulic jacks, red and black propulsion
units. At the
waist, there was a stylized emblem, a great, golden bird rising
of vermillion flame. Below it was the motto: "Wisdom shall
Alan said, "Holy cow. That is a spaceship if I ever saw
one! Did she
"Phoenix is a new ship. Her prototypes successfully probed
to the nearer
stars. She incorporated all the best features of her predecessors,
refinements. She would fly. Of that there is no doubt."
Alan said bitterly, "We were just a few millennia late for
She only needs fuel and a back-up team. Little things like that."
Cydon went off on a tangent, his voice gaining a little strength
spoke with pride of the past. "Three hundred of the elite
scientists and technicians sealed themselves away in this sanctuary
world of Megaron went mad in an orgy of destruction. The secret
of life is
energy. Energy is life. Food, heat, light, power. That we could
though we were cut off from the tidal generators which once supplied
Maya queried, "Reactors?"
"Not reactors, nor solar energy, though either would have
technically possible. No, the brief was to organize a simple,
supply with no complications. The answer lies in the residual
heat of the
"Geothermal energy," Maya said as she raised her eyebrows
"Correct. A deep shaft was sunk. A heat exchange system
gas was set up and is working to this day. There is no reason
why you should
not live out your lives here and other generations after you."
The human angle interested Helena. "And the others? Finally,
"Ah, yes... You must understand. We are speaking of many,
centuries. We endured here longer than most civilizations take
to rise and
flower and fall. Looking back over that history, I believe that
point, a psychic weariness must have blunted the life-force.
The waiting was
too long. Even hope does not endure forever. Fertility levels
community ceased to replace itself. Helice and I, the last pair
had no children."
It was a sad story, but glint of hope was building in John's
was an idea in his mind which he hardly dared to give house room,
but he had
tp broach it. "Would the power from the geothermal well
be enough to service
Phoenix and launch her?"
Alan leaned forward in his chair. "Is there fuel for her?"
"There is fuel, but the power needed to open the silo and
control gear is beyond what I can command."
Tony spoke excitedly. "John. The portable generator we brought
John nodded in full recognition of the prospect. "If we
atomic power source and patched it into your energy channeling
might that be enough to launch Phoenix?"
Cydon nodded pensively in the affirmative. "If there is
a way of
achieving what you suggest, yes." He went on. "I, too,
would like to see
Phoenix rise from Megaron as one last gesture from her days of
perhaps even as a symbol of regeneration. As in all matters of
importance, there is a choice. You have reached a certain sanctuary.
you can live a comfortable life. That way, you can put all at
hazard for a
single chance of venturing again into the unknown."
John had a prompter mobility in mind. All eyes were looking his
inquired slowly, "How is Phoenix manned? What numbers is
she designed to
"A crew of eight. The key decks on the command island are
only four but
require manning by two. Navigation, power, communication, and
Urion said, "I would not leave Megaron. If it will help
you in your
decision, Commander, do not consider me."
Hepa said quickly, "Nor I. Even if it is possible- and how
can that be?-
I would stay with Urion."
Alan did the count. "That leaves us with five Alphans- and
"For what?" Rhoda asked. "Are you thinking that
you can go back to your
Moonbase in that?"
"It would seem our only chance, Rhoda," John answered.
"And if we're
going to try it, we must act immediately."
"No contest, John," Tony declared. "If we can
launch Phoenix, we must
Helena added, "I know you, John. You could never live with
you missed a chance to reach Alpha. We must try."
It was a difficult decision for the Outfarers in the party. Who
what the future would be for the Outfarers and for Caster? They
live to see a change and the beginning of a new way of life on
again, revolution can be slow and painful. Change might not happen
lifetimes, and if it did, there could be resistance to it and
conflict. Their Alphan friends needed their help, and there would
be a life
for them on Moonbase Alpha. For Rhoda, the choice was tilted
in favor of the
latter. Alan wanted to go home, and she did not want to part
"Do you want to come with us?" Alan asked her. "Commander
give you a place on the ship."
"But I wouldn't be going for him." She looked at John
with hope that her
stance was not an offense. John smiled reassuringly, and her
again fixed on Alan.
A simple man of action, Alan had not thought that his position
in any doubt. But he wanted it in clear terms. He swept her out
of her chair
and held her high in his arms. "Rhoda, really you have no
choice. I have to
go. Either you come quietly, or I'll shanghai you. I can't leave
life on this rock."
"Shanghai? What sort of word is that?"
"Shanghai. Abduct. Carry away. Anything like that."
"You want me to go?"
"I love you."
"Well, why didn't you say that in the first place?"
"I thought it was obvious."
"Let me down, then."
"Will you come?"
Karl and Gelanor knew that their daughter was a woman in every
She would be all right apart from them now, but more Megaronians
on Phoenix. Karl was a skilled technician. If Phoenix were to
fly, he was
indeed qualified to be in the crew. Gelanor said, "Wherever
you go, I must
follow. I sense that you are going to choose to accompany the
so, count me in, too."
Melas and Deana were young. Space held infinite unknowns and
awesome adventures. They both volunteered to join the Phoenix
were passenger seats on Phoenix, and Deana and Gelanor would
fill them. A
full compliment was assembled. All that remained now was to prepare
To Cydon, John inquired, "What is your estimate of the time
it will take
to prepare Phoenix for countdown?"
"When I was a young man, I was given instruction in the
procedures. It was a long time ago. All the information you need
is to be
found in the control bunker at the silo. Fueling alone, as I
takes twenty-four hours. But while that is going on, you can
yourself with the other details."
"Will power sources be enough for that?"
"I believe so."
"Then we should start right away."
"I will direct you to the control bunker. You must excuse
me if I stay
here, but I will be available to give any help that is in my
"We will also need to know the location of the switchgear
the control gear and opening the silo in order to hook up our
"I will direct your party there also."
"There's one more thing. You said you could raise Alpha.
I'd like to
speak with Command Centre there."
Cydon inclined his head and walked slowly to a long, elaborate
communications spread. His bony fingers flipped switches in a
row, and a
large screen glowed with silver rain. As it cleared, a gaunt
the frame, pockmarked with craters and lava dykes. The Alphans
had seen it
countless times below the jacks of their hurrying Eagles. Helena
It was no paradise to offer to an impressionable girl, and Alan
defensively, "Think of it as a spaceship in mid-passage.
Moonbase Alpha is
Rhoda replied, "Are you afraid that I can't stand a few
particulars of the place are unimportant, if you like the company
Sandra's patient voice sounded over. "This is Alpha calling
Koenig. We think you are still in range. Come in, Commander Koenig."
Cydon beckoned, and John joined him. The Megaronian was tuning
magnification, and the edges of the still were peeling away as
bore in. There was the silver glint of the domes and corridors
sprawling base and then a last spurt, as though they had broken
the doorway to the underground Command Centre. Sandra was looking
at the Big
Screen, dark eyes wide with surprise as she stared at John's
looking down at her.
"Bill! David! It is the Commander!"
Fraser and Kano were conferring privately at John's command desk
cocked their heads upward to behold their leader. All others
Centre gathered to look at the Big Screen with them.
John said, "It's good to see you. We have a race on, against
There's an outside chance we might get a spaceship off the ground
up with you. Maya, Tony, and Alan will need technical help. Keep
open and have computer keyed on the remote.
Bill spoke. "Check, Commander. Shall we meet you in space?"
"That might be necessary. You know the drill on Eagle rescue
Bill. Still, there's a whole lot of maybe on the equation. We'll
Cydon blanked the screen and said, "We must conserve power
where we can.
You will be able to communicate from the control bunker or from
cabin of Phoenix."
Rhoda said, "I like your people, Alan. Particularly the
fair one who
"Bill? Hey, you don't think I'm going to let you talk to
people, do you?
You'll be locked in my cabin and only allowed out on my personal
Very likely on a short length of silver chain."
Cydon moved to position himself
deep in the recess of a horseshoe
console. "You are anxious to make a start, Commander. I
can no longer make
the journey into the silo. But I will lead you."
For a moment, John believed that senility had won the day and
perhaps the whole of Cydon's offer had come from an unhinged
mind. Then, the
old man was bathed in a shaft of brilliant light. When his voice
it was from an archway almost opposite to the one through which
entered. All eyes tracked from the illuminated man to his doppelganger,
which stood in the arch, looking the more solid of the two.
"This way, my friends. After all these years, the plan of
is as vivid to my mind as the palm of my hand."
Certainly, there was no hesitation as Cydon projected himself
maze of corridors, moving firmly at a good pace. Rounding a long,
gallery, he explained, "There are three silos. Phoenix is
in the centre one.
We are passing the first. The ship here is unfinished. A small
craft, started when the intercontinental conflict became inevitable."
Tony asked, "And the third silo?"
"A missile. Against the wishes of the scientists, the government
day insisted that the facilities of the base would be used for
effort. Launching it would have brought swift reprisal. The people
contrived to delay, until the government was swept aside in the
upheaval. It was disarmed and made safe."
At the centre silo, Cydon stopped and indicated a massive hatch,
by wheeled gear. He said, "Through here, you will be in
territory than I am. I shall be ready to answer any questions
you may ask."
Tony said, "Well, I have a question." Something was
nagging at him.
"Suppose we're successful at launching Phoenix. What's to
stop Caster from
bringing it down, like Eagle One? They're already well established
the sanctuary. They're bound to see us launching."
It was a good point, and one that had been forming in the minds
others. Tony, Security expert and always a tactician, was naturally
first to articulate the concern.
John looked at Helena. "Can we assume that your reagent
is already doing
its work? Could we count on a break-up of the chain of command?"
"This soon? Probably not. The people in the city have gotten
so used to
receiving and adhering to orders, and the launch of Phoenix is
bound to be
so alarming to them that the Caster soldiers will likely do as
"You mean they'll fall back on the thought patterns they're
to when they see something as unusual as Phoenix rising?"
"Very probably," said Helena. "They'll just follow
"Well, maybe we can give them new orders. Tap into their
system somehow. Cydon's communication device may be capable of
They all turned to the image of Cydon for an answer. "Yes,
as you know,
my communicator can penetrate through most walls, including those
Particularly as the effect of entropy has weakened their resistence
penetration. Even the most top secret meetings and discussions
witnessed and heard. Very recently, I was able to obtain the
code to the
Spadec computer system, the one that orally transmits the suggestive
phraseology that coincides with the effect of the drugs. Spadec
therefore be overridden from here by using the code."
"How come you haven't used it?" Tony asked the old
"There would have been no point. My voice is too feeble,
and I am an old
man. The computer would not recognize my voice as coming from
authority. Even if it did, the Council could move in and countermand
change of command with little confusion among the populace. But
now that you
have introduced an antidote into the city food supply, the result
John thought that Spadec was the oracle in the cave. Even if
it did not
initiate policy, it was the ultimate director. The Council framed
question, and Spadec came up with the answer in line with a detailed
program, which had been stored in its memory in the long-distant
people in the city had been programmed to obey the oral transmission
centuries, but now, there was a difference. Perhaps, just perhaps,
change in the programming would take root.
Helena said, "If our antidote is having preliminary effects,
Council may not be able to direct its forces to bring us down,
if we did
somehow alter the computer's directive to the people."
John inquired, "Cydon, could you provide the code to my
"I have it in writing in my workbench drawer. It may take
to find it."
John said to Maya, "Work with Cydon on that. When you have
the code and
are convinced we can break into the city's computer, let me know."
"Right," the Psychon replied as she walked back to
the bona fide Cydon.
Cydon's image faded away. One second, he was there in full flower;
next, he was gone, and they were alone. Now, it was time for
them to have a
close look at Phoenix. John spun the release wheels. A motor
whined on load
and slowly opened the hatch, which was a full metre thick. They
a coaming to a gantry, and the immense scale of the undertaking
They had seen Phoenix scaled down, as a model to wonder at, in
lounge. At close quarters, brilliantly lit along its shining
length, it was
a triumph of the humanoid mind. Untold years of evolution had
race which had produced this marvel to carry them to the stars.
Both hands on the rail, John looked up and down the sleek hull.
one say that the humanoid is insignificant. One way or another,
he will make
his mark on the universe."
Helena said, "They could do this and yet they could not
work out their
It was the ultimate question. Tony responded. "Not only
here. Earth had
the same problem. Science was ahead of the techniques of government.
almost destroyed ourselves. The spirit of intelligent life, human,
whatever, must be the same everywhere."
They clattered down a spiral staircase to a lower gantry and
entrance to a control bunker. It was, as Cydon had said, a straightforward
layout. Alan, excited as a schoolboy, went from console to console
already making racing calculations on how they could be manned.
Controls were labeled in a language which was not familiar to
Outfarers; but, in addition, there was a pictograph system, which
enough to a newcomer to the great bird. Alan settled himself
command desk and after a concentrated scan, picked out the start
for the fueling system.
As though inspired by the spirit of the long-gone Megaronian
he went along the instrument spread, selecting switches. From
the depth of
the silo, there was the hum of machinery starting up. A stylized
glowed on a monitor. They were in business. Phoenix was taking
of life blood.
John and Tony dropped down two more gantries to reach the waist.
Opening below the brilliant flames of the ship's emblem, the
main hatch was
reached by a broad ramp that lipped into the reception area.
A central trunk
with a hoist ladder, that could be a walkway when the ship was
led to all sectors.
It was built in modules: a power pack with its control cabin;
found ward room; the command cabin with four decks and on a command
a dormitory module; a hydroponic tank section; and a communications
in the cone. The problems of spaceflight were that for any people
time, and the Megaronian designers had come up with solutions
that both of
the Alphans had seen before. But there was no doubt of the quality
craft. A superb piece of engineering. They rejoined Alan and
told him of
"What do you think, Alan?" John asked.
"She'll go, and we can fly her."
"So, all we have to do to get it airborne is open the gate.
"Let's do that thing, then. Alan, Tony, get in touch with
start connecting our portable generator. I'm going to see what
Maya is making."
"Check," came the chimed response.
Maya and Cydon had found the code and used it to give to John
of stirring the inhabitants of Caster out of their servile sleepwalk.
he wait, to give the reagent more time, or should he attempt
it now? John
weighed his choice below conscious level, where the holographic
web of the
human mind lived its own particular life. When a thread of light
out at the end of the long conduit, a decision surfaced as though
been inevitable all along. Do it as the silo would be opening
was about to launch, while the Caster toy soldiers would be most
to orders of action from their tinkered computer, when Mestor
frazzled and would have the least time possible to reverse the
and wreck Phoenix's lift-off.
With help from Technical Section
on Alpha, the Alphans and Outfarers
combined their wits and sinews to adapt the portable nuclear
the base's power system. Wiring was the problem, but Alphan and
technology was compatible enough that the problem was soluble
within a few
hours of work. Cydon provided all of the needed tools and instructions
their use. Energy flowed. The great pit was glowing with a new
Phoenix was soaking up power like a greedy sponge.
"I have Alpha standing by," Maya said to John in the
"Fuel?" John inquired of Alan.
"There's a crash program. As soon as the full power came
on, I switched
to it. Halves the time."
"So, where are we now?"
"Thirty percent on board?"
"What do we need?"
"For lift-off- a minimum of twenty percent. Full thrust
Megaron's gravisphere- another ten percent. David's been running
calculations. He reckons we need to maintain full thrust to match
speed and claw back some distance."
"Forty percent would give us a chance."
"Fifty would be better. Sixty would be safe to break into
We'd need the full hundred to land Phoenix on the Moon's surface."
"That's not on. But she would be no more than a museum piece
couldn't refuel her from Alpha. I'll talk to Command Centre.
the lid and clear Phoenix for launch, while we have the power."
uncertain that the jury-rigged connection to the portable nuclear
John sat at the communications desk. The Space Corporation sign
on a blue background on the screen. He said, "Koenig to
Command Centre," and
Sandra, tuned meticulously to make a composition, with her chocolate-milk
eyes on the upper Golden Section, said, "Commander?"
It was like rubbing a lamp and producing a beautiful genie. John
surge of optimism. If he had been nearer, he would have been
moved to pat
her sleek head. "Sahn, there's a computer here that's gotten
too big for its
pedestal feet. I've set an override to respond on fourteen-twenty.
I want a
signal probe, with all the power you can give it, to trigger
it off. Then,
put me through on a link, so I can talk to it through Alpha."
Doing so, he
believed, would complicate Caster tracing the transmission source
to a point
on Megaron long enough to insure an unimpeded Phoenix launch.
For a count of five, he could only see the top of her head. Then
looked up, "Go ahead, anytime you like, Commander."
"Thank-you, Sahn. Keep it open."
John allowed an hour by the clock and found time to shower and
quick Last Supper with Cydon and Urion and Hepa, the Megaronians
staying behind, who would wait in their sanctuary until it had
that revolution had taken root in Caster and that perhaps the
would have dispensed with authoritarianism as a mode of government.
The ten who would fly in Phoenix to a destination in space embarked
the ancient spaceship. Helena and Rhoda occupied the communications
when Rhoda seemed lost in thought.
"What is it, Rhoda?"
"I ask myself if I am doing the right thing."
"In what sense? For Alan? Or for you?"
"For Alan. Will I fit into your world? Are there differences
which will make him unhappy?"
"Nobody can legislate for the long term, Rhoda. Forever
is a long time.
We all change. Hopefully, two people who love each other, change
in the same
direction. But love is love, and there is a great deal to be
had of it in
the universe. The Alphans will accept you as they accepted Maya-
you just as they like her. Your parents are coming with you,
and two of your
friends. All of you will adapt together and fit in, and you do
Alphan friends already, plus Alan, who is a loyal and honest
man. There are
not many like him, anywhere."
"For me, there is nobody like him."
"Well, then. I don't think you need my opinion; but for
what it's worth,
I give it to you. We need a compliment of eight to make the voyage.
parents are coming. Karl is adamant that he come, and Gelanor
loves him. If
you were to stay on Megaron, you would live with regret, knowing
parents are somewhere in space, knowing that Alan is beyond reach.
come with us, you will share our dangers, but you will share
our hopes. So,
any way you look at it, there is no real choice. You have to
Helena initiated a scan of the space centre on one of her screens.
levels were falling. Cars were drawn up beside the rock with
two in the air
on patrol circuits, in case there was another exit from the burrow
Alphans broke cover.
Tony said from the power station that he was sharing with Melas,
set to open, John."
Helena knew what he was thinking even before he called through
communicator to Cydon, "We're all set to go."
"Very well, Commander."
"Tell me. Are there any defensive weapons to protect Phoenix,
silo is open?"
"None. I have told you. The base was designed for peaceful
scientists here would have prevented war, if they could have."
Gelanor and Deana in their ward room passenger seats viewed from
monitors there what everyone else was regarding on the screens
various decks relayed from Helena's station as Tony activated
mechanism. Lights in the bunker were dimming as power switched
to the load.
Tony crossed his fingers, trusting to luck that the portable
supply the additional needed energy.
There was a rumbling in the silo and a vibration that shook the
floor. The Phoenix occupants could also feel the tremor. A slit
the huge dome and widened as two great segments reacted into
Then, it was done, and the lights brightened, sending a yellow
the gathering dusk.
The two patrolling cars changed course and ran in to check this
phenomenon. Others began to rise from the apron. It was now or
began to talk to Alpha and through Alpha to Spadec. "This
Directive Omega-one. You will disregard all Spadec instructions
this. All previous commands are null and void. When you hear
this, you are
free. You are on your own. Your life is your own. You are free
to act in any
way that is human and reasonable. Any future Spadec instruction
false. The Social, Political, and Defense Computer has done its
preserved you from many problems over the long years. But now,
that work is
done. It is time for you to wake from your long sleep and see
what is done
in your name. Be active, meet, talk, and discuss your problems.
Life is not
easy. It is not meant to be easy. Living is struggling. You must
like it. There are great rewards. Make the future of Megaron
greatness to her past. As a symbol of renewal, a great ship,
built by your
ancestors, will be launched in a bid for the stars. Some of your
aboard it. Watch her and know that she bears the message of your
thinkers: 'Wisdom shall rise again.'"
Everyone on Phoenix was profoundly
impressed by the oratory. If anything
would succeed in irrevocably persuading the people of Caster
to change their
ways, it was the speech that John had just made. Rhoda spoke
to John through
the intercom, "Thank-you, Commander. Now, I know I shall
be happy on Alpha."
"So shall we all," Karl added, from his post with Maya
"Your visit to Megaron will be a turning point."
"Perhaps it was ordained," Rhoda said, "as I believe
it was ordained
that I should meet Alan."
They watched their screens. All the cars were airborne and circling
rock, nosing in to look at the brilliantly lit silo and then
turning off to
circle again. But the overall impression that they gave was more
moths around a flame than of aggressive hawks looking for a place
Cydon said his farewell message as everybody on Phoenix looked
image on their monitors. "That was well done, Commander.
I must revise my
opinion of planet Earth and of military men. you have struck
at the mind and
not the body. Who knows? We three, Urion, Hepa, and myself, may
in our lifetimes- witness great changes."
"Nevertheless, you must close the silo again and stay watchful,
you are sure of a change of heart in Caster. There are some who
the call of duty in Spadec's interests. True democracy may not
tastes. Things could go worse before they get better. Even the
had their dissidents. Good-bye, my friends. And thank-you!"
"Good-bye," followed everyone else on Phoenix. On the
gantry, Urion and
Hepa stood with the shadow figure of Cydon. They waved and withdrew
John called for reports.
Maya answered, "Navigation. Ready, Commander."
Tony said, "Power. All systems go, John."
Helena, the least sure, in an unfamiliar slot, managed an even
"All set, John."
John rapidly cleared his desk in a sequence that brought the
alive. A muted pinger on orchestral A sounded through the ship.
as he heaved
down the lever for a full due, a sweep hand began to count down.
As he waited, he thought that he could have brought his people
themselves in on a bomb. Any one of a hundred systems could fail
Phoenix into a pit that would turn into an inferno. The pinger
There was a second of utter silence and stillness, as though
dropped to the still point of the turning world, and then a vibration
the deep-foam insulation of the acceleration couches.
The watchers in the bunker heard the roar as the motors began
deliver. They saw streams of vermilion and cadmium-yellow flame
jet from the
tubes and break in a rolling surge along the blast trenches.
The rock itself
was shuddering under the savage storm of power that Phoenix was
Then, it was rising, slowly at first, jacking itself a metre
at a time
through the maze of gantries, until its gleaming cone was thrusting
the darkening sky. Its immense strength crept from the silo,
as though there
would be no end.
Suddenly, an air car broke from the circling squadron. Mestor
aware that the Alphans had taken him all of the way. His occupation
gone. Rage burned out all thought of Spadec Instruction Omega-one.
his pilot aside. Teeth set and eyes bleak, he aimed the air car
shining tower that was materializing out of the rock.
"That could only be Mestor," Tony commented.
John saw the move and knew for a truth that he could do nothing
it. thumping the console with a bulky fist, he willed Phoenix
Phoenix was accelerating, even as Mestor commenced his run. The
bird at its waist leveled with the rim of the silo, glowing crimson
Promethean fire below. It hurled itself from its long resting
though eager to reach its true home in the interstellar wilderness.
Mestor had the emblem dead ahead, and the car was roaring in
power. Them, it had gone and he was plunging forward into the
brilliance of the fireball. It was so quick that Urion and Hepa
bunker could hardly remember whether they had seen anything or
second, the black car was arrowing over the rock. The next, it
reduced to molecular trash, as though it had plunged into the
surface of the
John called Alpha.
"Phoenix to Command Centre. Do you read me?"
Sandra appeared on the screens throughout Phoenix. "Command
Phoenix. Loud and clear. Go ahead."
"We're off. Heading your way."
"Bill is in orbit around the Moon right now. When he sees
approaching, he will move in for a docking."
It was a textbook perfect procedure. Phoenix circled Megaron
orbital boost from the planet's gravity toward the Moon. Alan
the expert pilot once again. All hands worked with equal efficiency
stations, especially at power and navigation, for Phoenix to
arrive at the
rendezvous point with Bill's Eagle with scarcely a minute or
discrepancy from target. The five Alphans and five Megarons marched
triumphantly from Phoenix to the Eagle through the Eagle docking
Last to leave, John had set the
onboard computers for a course change
that would take the ship off at a tangent. There was no power
to land it,
and he did not fancy leaving even the outside chance that it
through the roof of Main Mission Tower. Once the Eagle had separated
the bird from Megaron, Phoenix commenced its drift beyond the
Moon, into an infinity of time and space, the proud symbol of
mind and the great statement of humanoid aspiration.
The intrepid ten watched Phoenix from the monitors of the Eagle's
passenger section. By any standards, it was the most elegant
craftsmanship that any culture could boast.
Helena touched John's arm. He knew what she was thinking. He
know. In a way, it's sad- and in a way, it's great."
"Where will she end?"
"Who knows? Drawn into some sun that her builders never
Launched in flame and ending in flame. But in a way, it doesn't
what she stands for.
"Wisdom will rise again?"
"Something like that."
They were closing in on the Moon. They could pick out the metallic
glint of the sprawling base. Eagles were making proving runs
on the approach
lanes. For the five Alphans, it was a homecoming, and for their
Megaronian comrades, a new beginning.
John said to his Psychon Science Officer, "Nothing to log,
"I wouldn't say that, Commander." The Psychon held
up a large jar with a
ventilated screw top.
"What have you got here?"
"If you'll recall, the briefing for the mission included
survey for new strains of hydroponic spread. These are from Cydon's
Intended to supply the Phoenix. Very vigorous."
John thought of the enclave in the rock, which had endured through
millennia and had shrunk to one frail old man and his electronic
was a warning to Alpha to resist complacency. He had told the
that living was struggling. He gave himself another shot of ancient
Do not emotionalize over experience. Life is one thing after
for the next challenge. The quest was still on.