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´╗┐Title: Breakaway
Author: Gimble, Stanley
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 "Breakaway" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Astounding Science
Fiction December 1955. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence
that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

[Illustration]



BREAKAWAY

BY STANLEY GIMBLE

Illustrated by Freas

_She surely got her wish ... but there was some question about getting
what she wanted._


Phil Conover pulled the zipper of his flight suit up the front of his
long, thin body and came into the living room. His face, usually serious
and quietly handsome, had an alive, excited look. And the faint lines
around his dark, deep-set eyes were accentuated when he smiled at his
wife.

"All set, honey. How do I look in my monkey suit?"

His wife was sitting stiffly on the flowered couch that was still not
theirs completely. In her fingers she held a cigarette burned down too
far. She said, "You look fine, Phil. You look just right." She managed a
smile. Then she leaned forward and crushed the cigarette in the ash
tray on the maple coffee table and took another from the pack.

He came to her and touched his hands to her soft blond hair, raising her
face until she was looking into his eyes. "You're the most beautiful
girl I know. Did I ever tell you that?"

"Yes, I think so. Yes, I'm sure you did," she said, finishing the
ritual; but her voice broke, and she turned her head away. Phil sat
beside her and put his arm around her small shoulders. He had stopped
smiling.

"Honey, look at me," he said. "It isn't going to be bad. Honestly it
isn't. We know exactly how it will be. If anything could go wrong, they
wouldn't be sending me; you know that. I told you that we've sent five
un-manned ships up and everyone came back without a hitch."

She turned, facing him. There were tears starting in the corners of her
wide, brown eyes, and she brushed them away with her hand.

"Phil, don't go. Please don't. They can send Sammy. Sammy doesn't have a
wife. Can't he go? They'd understand, Phil. Please!" She was holding his
arms tightly with her hands, and the color had drained from her cheeks.

"Mary, you know I can't back out now. How could I? It's been three
years. You know how much I've wanted to be the first man to go. Nothing
would ever be right with me again if I didn't go. Please don't make it
hard." He stopped talking and held her to him and stroked the back of
her head. He could feel her shoulders shaking with quiet sobs. He
released her and stood up.

"I've got to get started, Mary. Will you come to the field with me?"

"Yes, I'll come to say good-by." She paused and dropped her eyes. "Phil,
if you go, I won't be here when you get back--if you get back. I won't
be here because I won't be the wife of a space pilot for the rest of my
life. It isn't the kind of life I bargained for. No matter how much I
love you, I just couldn't take that, Phil. I'm sorry. I guess I'm not
the noble sort of wife."

She finished and took another cigarette from the pack on the coffee
table and put it to her lips. Her hand was trembling as she touched the
lighter to the end of the cigarette and drew deeply. Phil stood watching
her, the excitement completely gone from his eyes.

"I wish you had told me this a long time ago, Mary," Phil said. His
voice was dry and low. "I didn't know you felt this way about it."

"Yes, you did. I told you how I felt. I told you I could never be the
wife of a space pilot. But I don't think I ever really believed it was
possible--not until this morning when you said tonight was the take-off.
It's so stupid to jeopardize everything we've got for a ridiculous
dream!"

He sat down on the edge of the couch and took her hands between his.
"Mary, listen to me," he said. "It isn't a dream. It's real. There's
nothing means anything more to me than you do--you know that. But no
man ever had the chance to do what I'm going to do tonight--no man ever.
If I backed out now for any reason, I'd never be able to look at the sky
again. I'd be through."

She looked at him without seeing him, and there was nothing at all in
her eyes.

"Let's go, if you're still going," she finally said.

       *       *       *       *       *

They drove through the streets of the small town with its small
bungalows, each alike. There were no trees and very little grass. It was
a new town, a government built town, and it had no personality yet. It
existed only because of the huge ship standing poised in the take-off
zone five miles away in the desert. Its future as a town rested with the
ship, and the town seemed to feel the uncertainty of its future, seemed
ready to stop existing as a town and to give itself back to the desert,
if such was its destiny.

Phil turned the car off the highway onto the rutted dirt road that led
across the sand to the field where the ship waited. In the distance they
could see the beams of the searchlights as they played across the
take-off zone and swept along the top of the high wire fence stretching
out of sight to right and left. At the gate they were stopped by the
guard. He read Phil's pass, shined his flashlight in their faces, and
then saluted. "Good luck, colonel," he said, and shook Phil's hand.

"Thanks, sergeant. I'll be seeing you next week," Phil said, and smiled.
They drove between the rows of wooden buildings that lined the field,
and he parked near the low barbed fence ringing the take-off zone. He
turned off the ignition, and sat quietly for a moment before lighting a
cigarette. Then he looked at his wife. She was staring through the
windshield at the rocket two hundred yards away. Its smooth polished
surface gleamed in the spotlight glare, and it sloped up and up until
the eye lost the tip against the stars.

"She's beautiful, Mary. You've never seen her before, have you?"

"No, I've never seen her before," she said. "Hadn't you better go?" Her
voice was strained and she held her hands closed tightly in her lap.
"Please go now, Phil," she said.

He leaned toward her and touched her cheek. Then she was in his arms,
her head buried against his shoulder.

"Good-by, darling," she said.

"Wish me luck, Mary?" he asked.

"Yes, good luck, Phil," she said. He opened the car door and got out.
The noise of men and machines scurrying around the ship broke the spell
of the rocket waiting silently for flight.

"Mary, I--" he began, and then turned and strode toward the
administration building without looking back.

       *       *       *       *       *

Inside the building it was like a locker room before the big game. The
tension stood alone, and each man had the same happy, excited look that
Phil had worn earlier. When he came into the room, the noise and bustle
stopped. They turned as one man toward him, and General Small came up to
him and took his hand.

"Hello, Phil. We were beginning to think you weren't coming. You all
set, son?"

"Yes, sir, I'm all set, I guess," Phil said.

"I'd like you to meet the Secretary of Defense, Phil. He's over here by
the radar."

As they crossed the room, familiar faces smiled, and each man shook his
hand or touched his arm. He saw Sammy, alone, by the coffee urn. Sammy
waved to him, but he didn't smile. Phil wanted to talk to him, to say
something; but there was nothing to be said now. Sammy's turn would come
later.

"Mr. Secretary," the general said, "this is Colonel Conover. He'll be
the first man in history to see the other side of the Moon. Colonel--the
Secretary of Defense."

"How do you do, sir. I'm very proud to meet you," Phil said.

"On the contrary, colonel. I'm very proud to meet you. I've been looking
at that ship out there and wondering. I almost wish I were a young man
again. I'd like to be going. It's a thrilling thought--man's first
adventure into the universe. You're lighting a new dawn of history,
colonel. It's a privilege few men have ever had; and those who have had
it didn't realize it at the time. Good luck, and God be with you."

"Thank you, sir. I'm aware of all you say. It frightens me a little."

The general took Phil's arm and they walked to the briefing room. There
were chairs set up for the scientists and Air Force officers directly
connected with the take-off. They were seated now in a semicircle in
front of a huge chart of the solar system. Phil took his seat, and the
last minute briefing began. It was a routine he knew by heart. He had
gone over and over it a thousand times, and he only half listened now.
He kept thinking of Mary outside, alone by the fence.

The voice of the briefing officer was a dull hum in his ears.

"... And orbit at 18,000-mph. You will then accelerate for the breakaway
to 24,900-mph for five minutes and then free-coast for 116 hours
until--"

Phil asked a few questions about weather and solar conditions. And then
the session was done. They rose and looked at each other, the same
unanswered questions on each man's face. There were forced smiles and
handshakes. They were ready now.

"Phil," the general said, and took him aside.

"Sir?"

"Phil, you're ... you feel all right, don't you, son?"

"Yes, sir. I feel fine. Why?"

"Phil, I've spent nearly every day with you for three years. I know you
better than I know myself in many ways. And I've studied the
psychologist's reports on you carefully. Maybe it's just nervousness,
Phil, but I think there's something wrong. Is there?"

"No, sir. There's nothing wrong," Phil said, but his voice didn't carry
conviction. He reached for a cigarette.

"Phil, if there is anything--anything at all--you know what it might
mean. You've got to be in the best mental and physical condition of your
life tonight. You know better than any man here what that means to our
success. I think there is something more than just natural apprehension
wrong with you. Want to tell me?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Outside, the take-off zone crawled with men and machines at the base of
the rocket. For ten hours, the final check-outs had been in progress;
and now the men were checking again, on their own time. The thing they
had worked toward for six years was ready to happen, and each one felt
that he was sending just a little bit of himself into the sky. Beyond
the ring of lights and moving men, on the edge of the field, Mary stood.
Her hands moved slowly over the top of the fence, twisting the barbs of
wire. But her eyes were on the ship.

And then they were ready. A small group of excited men came out from the
administration building and moved forward. The check-out crews climbed
into their machines and drove back outside the take-off zone. And,
alone, one man climbed the steel ladder up the side of the
rocket--ninety feet into the air. At the top he waved to the men on the
ground and then disappeared through a small port.

Mary waved to him. "Good-by," she said to herself, but the words stuck
tight in her throat.

The small group at the base of the ship turned and walked back to the
fence. And for an eternity the great ship stood alone, waiting. Then,
from deep inside, a rumble came, increasing in volume to a gigantic roar
that shook the earth and tore at the ears. Slowly, the first manned
rocket to the Moon lifted up and up to the sky.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a long time after the rocket had become a tiny speck of light in the
heavens, she stood holding her face in her hands and crying softly to
herself. And then she felt the touch of a hand on her arm. She turned.

"Phil! Oh, Phil." She held tightly to him and repeated his name over and
over.

"They wouldn't let me go, Mary," he said finally. "The general would not
let me go."

She looked at him. His face was drawn tight, and there were tears on his
cheeks. "Thank, God," she said. "It doesn't matter, darling. The only
thing that matters is you didn't go."

"You're right, Mary," he said. His voice was low--so low she could
hardly hear him. "It doesn't matter. Nothing matters now." He stood with
his hands at his sides, watching her. And then turned away and walked
toward the car.


THE END





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