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´╗┐Title: Test Rocket!
Author: Douglas, Jack
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Test Rocket!" ***

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[Transcriber's note: This etext was produced from _Amazing
Science Fiction Stories_ April 1959. Extensive research did not
uncover any evidence that the U. S. copyright on this publication
was renewed.]



   It's amazing how much you can learn about absolute strangers if
   you just stop to think about the kind of an animal they'll put
   in a ...


TEST ROCKET!

By JACK DOUGLAS

[Illustration: Cover]


Captain Baird stood at the window of the laboratory where the
thousand parts of the strange rocket lay strewn in careful order.
Small groups worked slowly over the dismantled parts. The captain
wanted to ask but something stopped him. Behind him Doctor
Johannsen sat at his desk, his gnarled old hand tight about a
whiskey bottle, the bottle the doctor always had in his desk but
never brought out except when he was alone, and waited for Captain
Baird to ask his question. Captain Baird turned at last.

"They are our markings?" Captain Baird asked. It was not the
question. Captain Baird knew the markings of the Rocket Testing
Station as well as the doctor did.

"Yes," the doctor said, "they are our markings. Identical. But not
our paint."

Captain Baird turned back to the window. Six months ago it had
happened. Ten minutes after launching, the giant test rocket had
been only a speck on the observation screen. Captain Baird had
turned away in disgust.

"A mouse!" the captain had said, "unfortunate a mouse can't
observe, build, report. My men are getting restless, Johannsen."

"When we are ready, Captain," the doctor had said.

It was twelve hours before the urgent call from Central Control
brought the captain running back to the laboratory. The doctor was
there before him. Professor Schultz wasted no time, he pointed to
the instrument panel. "A sudden shift, see for yourself. We'll
miss Mars by a million and a quarter at least."

Two hours later the shift in course of the test rocket was
apparent to all of them and so was their disappointment.

       *     *     *     *     *

"According to the instruments the steering shifted a quarter of an
inch. No reason shows up," Professor Schultz said.

"Flaw in the metal?" Doctor Johannsen said.

"How far can it go?" Captain Baird asked.

Professor Schultz shrugged. "Until the fuel runs out, which is
probably as good as never, or until the landing mechanism is
activated by a planet-sized body."

"Course? Did you plot it?" The doctor asked.

"Of course I did," Professor Schultz said, "as close as I can
calculate it is headed for Alpha Centauri."

Captain Baird turned away. The doctor watched him.

"Perhaps you will not be quite so hasty with your men's lives in
the future, Captain?" the doctor said.

Professor Schultz was spinning dials. "No contact," the professor
said, "No contact at all."

That had been six months ago. Three more test rockets had been
fired successfully before the urgent report came through from
Alaskan Observation Post No. 4. A rocket was coming across the
Pole.

The strange rocket was tracked and escorted by atomic armed
fighters all the way to the Rocket Testing Station where it cut
its own motors and gently landed. In the center of a division of
atomic-armed infantry the captain, the doctor, and everyone else,
waited impatiently. There was an air of uneasiness.

"You're sure it's not ours?" Captain Baird asked.

The doctor laughed. "Identical, yes, but three times the size of
ours."

"Perhaps one of the Asian ones?"

"No, it's our design, but too large, much too large."

Professor Schultz put their thoughts into words. "Looks like
someone copied ours. Someone, somewhere. It's hard to imagine, but
true nevertheless."

They waited two weeks. Nothing happened. Then a radiation-shielded
team went in to examine the rocket. Two more weeks and the strange
rocket was dismantled and spread over the field of the testing
station. The rocket was dismantled and the station had begun to
talk to itself in whispers and look at the sky.

Captain Baird stood now at the window and looked out at the
dismantled rocket. He looked but his mind was not on the parts of
the rocket he could see from the window.

"The materials, they're not ours?" the captain asked.

"Unknown here," the doctor said.

The captain nodded. "Those were our instruments?"

"Yes." The doctor still held the whiskey bottle in a tight grip.

"They sent them back," the captain said.

       *     *     *     *     *

The doctor crashed the bottle hard against the desk top. "Ask it,
Captain, for God's sake!!"

The captain turned to face the doctor directly. "It was a man, a
full grown man."

The doctor sighed as if letting the pent-up steam of his heart
escape. "Yes, it is a man. It breathes, it eats, it has all the
attributes of a man. But it is not of our planet."

"Its speech ..." the captain began.

"That isn't speech, Captain," the doctor broke in, breaking in
sharply, "It's only sound." The doctor stopped; he examined the
label of his bottle of whiskey very carefully. A good brand of
whiskey. "He seems quite happy in the storeroom. You know,
Captain, what puzzled me at first? He can't read. He can't read
anything, not even the instruments in that ship. In fact he shows
no interest in his rocket at all."

The captain sat down now. He sat at the desk and faced the doctor.
"At least _they_ had the courage to send a man, not a mouse.
Doctor, a man."

The doctor stared at the captain, his hand squeezing and
unsqueezing on the whiskey bottle. "A man who can't read his own
instruments?" The doctor laughed. "Perhaps you too have failed to
see the point? Like that stupid general who sits out there waiting
for the men from somewhere to invade?"

"Don't you think it's a possibility?"

The doctor nodded. "A very good possibility, Captain, but they
will not be men." The doctor seemed to pause and lean forward.
"That rocket, Captain, is a test rocket. A test rocket _just like
ours_!"

Then the doctor picked up his whiskey bottle at last and poured
two glasses.

"Perhaps a drink, Captain?"

The captain was watching the sky outside the window.


THE END





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