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´╗┐Title: If at First You Don't...
Author: Brudy, John
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 "If at First You Don't..." ***

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

Transcribers note:

      This etext was produced from _Amazing Stories_ June, 1960.
      Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the
      U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.





   _To Amos Jordan, Secretary for Cislunar Navigation, no situation was
   unsolvable. There were rules for everything, weren't there.... Except
   maybe this thing ..._

"What's the matter, anyway?" Amos Jordan snapped at his assistant. "Is
everyone in the Senate losing their mind?"

"No more than usual," said Clements, the undersecretary. "It's just a
matter of sentiment."

"Sentiment?" Jordan poured himself a glass of lemonade. "What's
sentiment got to do with it? It's just a standard procedural problem."

"Well, not exactly," began Clements soothingly. "After all, now, '58
Beta was the first long-lived satellite ever launched, and the first
successful shot of the old Vanguard series. People are proud if it. It's
a sort of monument to our early efforts in astronautics."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jordan sipped experimentally, adding a little sugar.

"But, Clem, the sky's full of the things," he complained. "There must be
a hundred fifty of them in orbit right now. They're a menace to
navigation. If this one's due to fall out, I say good riddance."

Clements spread his hands helplessly.

"I agree, chief. But, believe me, a lot of people have made up their
minds about this thing. Some want to let it burn up. Some want to
retrieve it and stash it in a museum. Either way it's a decision we're
not going to reach in this office."

Jordan tossed down the rest of his lemonade.

"I'd like to know why not," he snapped, almost bristling.

"Well, frankly this thing is moving pretty fast." Clements fished a
facsimile sheet out of his jacket pocket. "Everybody's getting into the
act." He handed the sheet across the desk. "Read this; it'll bring you
up to date."

Jordan stared at the sheet.

"_Senate Committee Probes Beta,_" ran the lead, followed by,

   "_The Senate Advisory Committee for Astronautics began hearing
   testimony this morning in an effort to determine the fate of
   satellite '58 Beta. Mr. Claude Wamboldt, leader of the CCSB
   (Citizens' Committee to Save Beta), testified that the cost of
   retrieving Beta from orbit would be trivial compared to its value as
   an object of precious historical significance. He suggested the
   Smithsonian Institution as an appropriate site for the exhibit. At
   the same time the incumbent Senator from Mr. Wamboldt's district
   filed a bill in the Senate which would add a complete wing to the
   Smithsonian to house this satellite and other similar historic
   objects. In later testimony Mr. Orville Larkin, leader of the unnamed
   committee representing those in opposition to the CCSB stated that
   his group felt that to snatch Beta from orbit at this moment of its
   greatest glory would be contrary to natural law and that he and his
   supporters would never concede to any plan to save it._"

Jordan raised his head and stared over the fax sheet at Clements. "Am I
going out of my mind, or did this really happen?"

"It sure did ... and is," said Clements. "Later on, I am told, Wamboldt
threw a chair at Larkin, and the committee recessed after declaring both
men in contempt."

Jordan shook his head.

"Why didn't somebody tell me about this?"

"I sent you a ten page memo about it last week," objected Clements,
somewhat aggrieved. "Gave you the whole story with extrapolations."

"Memo! You know I never read memos! I ought to fire you ... I would if I
could ... you ... you 'appointee.'"

Clements shook his head warningly. "Better not, chief. You'll need me
for the briefing."

"Briefing? What briefing?"

"_The_ briefing. You're scheduled to testify before the committee
tomorrow afternoon at three."

       *       *       *       *       *

_Senator Darius:_ Mr. Jordan, will you please state whether or not there
is a satellite body known as '58 Beta?

_Mr. Jordan:_ Yes, sir, there is.

_Senator D:_ Will you describe its present orbit?

_Mr. J:_ I'd be glad to, Senator. It now has a perigee slightly below
110 miles and an apogee of about 400 miles. The last perigee occurred
400 miles last of the Seychelles Islands about 35 minutes ago. Roughly
its present position is about 250 miles above Manus Island.

_Senator D:_ When do you expect it to enter the atmosphere for the final
plunge to its death?

_Mr. J:_ (bridling) Well, Senator, we in the Secretariat don't usually
refer to such an occurrence in exactly those terms. It's really just a
problem in celestial mechanics to us, and ...

_Senator D:_ (glaring) Your administrative assistant testified a few
moments ago, sir, that '58 Beta has had a life of 185 years. Will you
kindly explain to the committee how anything which has had a life can
end in anything but death?

_Mr. J:_ I ... uh ... I believe I appreciate your point of view,
Senator. '58 Beta experiences a very steep re-entry at each perigee.
According to our computers it will disintegrate on the 82nd or 83rd
revolution following that of 2:48 Greenwich crossing this afternoon.

_Senator D:_ Tell us, Mr. Jordan ... how many revolutions about the
Mother Planet has '58 Beta made since its launching?

_Mr. J:_ (hastily working his slide rule) Upwards of eight hundred
thousand, I should say. I can provide you with an exact figure if you

_Senator D:_ That won't be necessary, Mr. Jordan. Eight hundred
thousand, give or take a few paltry thousand, is close enough. Eight
hundred thousand endless, lonely revolutions about an unthinking,
uncaring, ungrateful world is quite enough. Quite enough, Mr. Jordan.
Now sir; (squinting over his glasses) what do you think is the proper
action to be taken in the matter of retrieving this historic satellite
from its orbit so that it may be preserved as a living memorial to the
gallant efforts of those early pioneers ... those brave and intrepid men
of Cape Canaveral ... to stand forevermore as a beacon and a challenge
to our school children, to our students, our aspirants for candidacy to
the Space Academy and to our citizens for all time to come?

_Mr. J:_ Nothing, Senator.

_Senator D:_ (aghast) Am I to understand, Mr. Jordan, that you are
suggesting that this symbol, this quintessence of an historic and
magnificent era in mankind's history ... this unique and precious object
... should be allowed to destroy itself and be lost forever?

_Mr. J:_ (squirming) Senator, there are dozens of those things up there.
Every year one or two burns up. They have no usefulness. They're a
menace to navigation. I ...

_Senator D:_ (interrupting loudly) Mr. Jordan, what was the date of your
appointment to your present position?

_Mr. J:_ April 11, 2138.

_Senator D:_ Do you consider yourself fully qualified to hold this
august position?

_Mr. J:_ (tight lipped) Senator, I am a graduate of the Administrative
Academy, the Logistics Staff School, and I have 31 years seniority in my
department. Furthermore ...

_Senator D:_ (banging his gavel) Mr. Jordan, please! Try to remember
where you are! We had enough trouble yesterday with witnesses before
this committee. There will be no more of it. And Mr. Jordan, while it
may be true that your technical qualifications for serving in your
present position may be adequate, it is clear to me and, I am sure,
apparent to other members of this committee that your feeling for
history and the relation of this problem to the destiny of the human
race leave much to be desired. And, Mr. Jordan, may I emphasize ...
_these_ are the things that count in the long, long haul!

       *       *       *       *       *

Jordan sat limply at his desk, his hands hanging loosely at his sides.
"It's unbelievable," he muttered dully. "Where did this man Darius come

"It doesn't matter much," Clements answered unsympathetically. "It's
where he is now that counts."

Jordan shook his head.

"There has to be a way out. A clean, quick way out."

After a moment's thought Clements said, "Isn't there a regulation about
orbital debris?"

Jordan nodded dully. "Someplace. Number 710.1, I think. Hasn't been
invoked in years. Once they stopped using chemical fuels, we stopped
having wrecks."

"Still," Clements went on more eagerly, "Beta's really a piece of
debris, isn't it? It's not working or transmitting or whatever it was
supposed to do, is it?"

"No." Jordan shrugged impatiently. "But, good grief, this thing isn't
debris. Debris is ... is big _chunks_ of things; broken up space
stations, or ... or nuclear engines and things like that."

"Hell, no, chief," yelled Clements, jumping to his feet. "This is
debris, pure and simple. That's your answer!"

Jordan's eyes slowly brightened.

"Clem, maybe you're right. Regulation 710.1 says that any orbital debris
constituting a demonstrable menace to navigation may be destroyed at the
discretion of this office." He brushed his hands together with finality.
"That should do it."

Suddenly Clements' enthusiasm degenerated to a faint smile.

"I've just got to wondering, chief. Do we dare go right ahead with

Amos Jordan's eyes took on a piercing glitter of command.

"This is our job, Clements. We should have done it long ago. Get
Statistical and have them find out how much boogie time is consumed in
plugging that silly thing into every takeoff problem. Multiply that by
all the launch stations. Convert it into man-hours per year and make
that into a dollar figure. That always scares the wits out a
Congressman. They'll knuckle under...."

He paused and cocked an ear toward the door. A faint hubbub was now
percolating through from the receptionist's lobby. It grew louder.
Suddenly the door opened, letting in a roaring babble, as Geraldine ...
the usually poker-faced secretary ... leaped through and slammed it shut
again. Her eyes, behind their thick lenses, were round and a little

"It's General Criswell and Admiral Flack," she panted. "They insist on
seeing you." She gasped for breath and added, as though she could not
quite believe her own words, "And ... and ... oh, Mr. Jordan; they're

Jordan said, "Quarreling? Two staff men quarreling?" He looked
uncertainly at Clements. "I thought there was a regulation against

Clements gave a palms up shrug.

"Well, there is," snapped Jordan. "Has something to do with interservice
unity or something ... been on the books for years. Send them in,

Tentatively she opened the door and almost had time to gesture before
being bowled over by the visitors.

       *       *       *       *       *

Admiral Flack had the advantage of volume, and Jordan got his message

"Jordan," he roared in true bullhorn style, "I want to make one thing
clear! '58 Beta was Navy through and through! Start to finish! She's got
salt water on her, and she's going to be pulled out of orbit and that's

"Navy through and through, hell!" sneered General Criswell. "A fine
botch you made of it, too! How many times did you try before you slung
that thing up there? How many goofs were there afterward? The Dodgers
are in last place, and they've got five pitchers who could have done it
without warming up."

"Watch your mouth, Criswell," advised Admiral Flack, tightlipped.
"There's considerable tonnage of Air Force hardware under water, too.
Maybe the Russians beat us, and maybe von Braun got lucky, but _ours_ is
_still there_, Mac! Just remember that!"

"You people have fetishes," stormed the General. "You even keep
Admirals' hats and hang them on pegs. Who wants your hat, you pack rat?
Where would we ever keep all the junk you people want to save?" He
shuddered. "Good God! Hats!"

"That's ... just ... about ... all ... I'm ... going ... to ... take,"
Admiral Flack said, spelling out the entire sentence. He stared
furiously at the General. "Don't think we don't know that once '58 Beta
is down it'll be your precious damned '61 Epsilon that's in the oldest
orbit. I'll bet you fly boys will break your silly backs trying to
recover that one when its time comes."

Jordan pounded his desk. "Gentlemen, shut up!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Appalled by this exhibition of low level civilian effrontery, they both
did so without really meaning to.

"Gentlemen," Jordan announced firmly in the almost uncanny silence, "the
entire problem is solved as of now. '58 Beta constitutes a demonstrable
menace to navigation. Under the authority vested in this office I will
issue instructions to have it picked up by a salvage ship tomorrow. Once
it's brought down you may claim it if you like and do with it what you

Admiral Flack shot a look of pure triumph at General Criswell. The
General, however, was not paying attention. He was looking, almost with
an expression of pity, at Amos Jordan.

"I'm afraid, Mr. Jordan," he said slowly, "that you don't fully realize
the implications of such an act at this time. It may be within your
jurisdiction to salvage and all that, but I believe that the decision
_whether_ to salvage now rests with the legislature. I would hesitate to
act without securing high ... _very high_ concurrence in this matter."

Flack erupted.

"Criswell, you're an idiot! A chicken hearted idiot! On top of that you
haven't any business telling Jordan ... ah, _Mr._ Jordan what he can and
can't do."

Criswell glared icily at Flack.

"A mere suggestion," he gritted and stalked out.

Admiral Flack paused and bestowed a warm smile upon Amos Jordan before
hurrying out the door after the General. As the door closed Jordan heard
the contest break out afresh in the lobby.

       *       *       *       *       *

That was only the beginning. The general population, eager for a silly
season diversion, chose sides with religious fervor. Congress went into
emergency session. Newspapers drew their lines and fought ferociously.
Student riots began on the second day and sympathy strikes on the third.

On the fourth Jordan got the big news break first, for a change. With
growing caution he had been holding the situation unaided by the simple
expedient of refusing to issue a salvage permit without which '58 Beta
could not be touched. Clements brought the news at midnight,
interrupting a tempestuous press conference.

He managed to get Jordan out of the milling lobby and into the office.
"We've got trouble, chief," he began. "Ascension reports Beta out of

Jordan stared incredulously.

"Perturbed that badly already? Maybe something's wrong with their

"Not perturbed, chief. Gone. It's just not there any more. It's been
picked up ... no doubt about it."

Jordan's face purpled.

"I want a complete ground tracking report on that pebble for the last
three revolutions. Fast!"

"I doubt if we can get it," said Clements dubiously. "Woomera only
checks it occasionally to train radar operators. Perigee was south of
Singapore on the last two passes, but so low I doubt if they got any
clear sightings. It would be a waste of time."

Jordan wrung his hands. "You have something better?"

Clements sat for a minute with a faraway look in his eyes.

"Do we know anyone who can make Navy Operations toe the mark?"

"Of course. Why?"

Clements tapped his finger-tips together.

"Wouldn't it be interesting to filter the mission reports of all Navy
ships that have been outside the atmosphere in, oh, say the last
thirty-six hours?"

Jordan's eyes lit up like twin afterburners.

"They'll have it hidden like the British crown jewels, but...." He
grabbed the phone. "Gerry? Have General Criswell paged and ask him to
come to my office if possible." He chuckled triumphantly. "Criswell's on
the Joint Security Service Board ... what an exercise for that gumshoe

       *       *       *       *       *

It took three hours for General Criswell's ferrets to obtain facsimiles
of the reports needed. A sweating staff (borrowed from the cryptographic
section to preserve secrecy) finally broke them down to three probables:
a Lunar courier which had aborted and returned to base for no clean cut
reason, an alleged training exercise in three body orbits with the
instructors' seats inexplicably filled with nothing lower than the rank
of Lieut. Commander and a sour smelling sortie out of Guantanamo labeled
_Operation Artifact_.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jordan remained sold on the latter for half an hour until fuel
consumption and flight time log figures failed to correlate with an
orbital flight, and the bottom fell out of the case. As it turned out it
was the courier after all. Both the pilot and his commander refused to
talk until presented with the alternative of court-martial proceedings.

_Senator Darius:_ Now, Admiral, I'm going to put the question to you
this way, just to see if I can get a straight answer. Did you or did you
not issue orders to Lunar Courier G771 specifying _in general substance_
that it was to retrieve satellite '58 Beta?

_Admiral Flack:_ (hurt but proud) The Navy, sir, has a long record of
gallantry, a tradition of derring do dating back to John Paul Jones ...
a tradition we are all proud of and which we continue and will always

_Senator D:_ (with acid patience) Again, if I may put the question,
Admiral. Did you or did you not issue the order?

_Admiral F:_ (defiantly) '58 Beta is Navy property, sir! I am glad and
proud to say that I issued the order to retrieve her.

_Senator D:_ Aha! (to the recording secretary) Did you get that? And
now, Admiral, will you explain to this committee why this action, in
view of the exigencies of the present situation, didn't strike you as
singularly high handed, not to say out of your jurisdiction?

_Admiral F:_ (after a whispered consultation with an aide) Well, sir,
there is a precedent. May I recall to your attention an incident
recorded in Navy history about eighty years ago. An officer of flag
rank, if my memory holds, in defiance of instructions and in a damaged
ship, at great danger to himself and his crew, acting on an operational
plan which had been scathingly disapproved by his superiors, went to the
rescue ... the successful rescue ... of a three-man Lunar exploration
party which had become lost near the south scarp of Sinus Iridum. The
officer's name, I am almost certain, was Captain Steven Darius ... the
Senator's grandfather, I believe ... an officer the Navy will never
cease to honor.

_Senator D:_ (shuffling papers, clearing throat, wiping glasses) Well,
ah, yes Admiral ... I do recall something along those lines. Of course,
this is different ... altogether different. But at the same time, sir, a
most interesting parallel. The ... ah ... the committee will recess
until two o'clock. You are excused, Admiral. And ... oh, yes ... if
you're free, sir ... possibly you might join me at lunch?

       *       *       *       *       *

"If I were you, chief," said Clements soothingly, "I would just stop
worrying about your jurisdiction in this thing. Beta's out of orbit, and
we no longer have a problem. How nice can things be?"

Jordan gritted his teeth and wadded up paper with an odd gesture, as
though his fingers were encircling someone's neck.

"You will be sorry you said that," he said peevishly. "Whatever happens
I'm going to assign it to you for action while I sit on the bench and
cheer." He rang for Gerry. "What's happening now ... I haven't been out
of here in three hours."

Clements stretched out on the Vibrolounge and turned it on.

"The president," he began, as the machine went to work, "has called an
arbitration meeting. Everyone's in on it ... Darius, Flack, Criswell,
Wamboldt, Larkin and the Lord knows who else. They are supposed to come
to some sort of agreement as to what's to be done. The minutes of the
meeting are expected to take the form of a recommendation to congress
for action. By way of the Advisory Committee for Astronautics with
Darius introducing the motion, of course."

"Of course," echoed Jordan. "Who else could?"

The door opened, and the huge glasses of Gerry peered in.

"Yes, chief?"

"Get on your telephone and finagle a way to route the first press
release from this big arbitration meeting direct to my DeskFax. Can do?"

Gerry nodded.

"No sweat, boss," she said and backed out.

"Now," said Jordan, returning to Clements, "you can get your overweight
carcass out of my chair and let me into it. Sit on the hot seat for a
while. I'll relax and you read the news when it comes in. It'll be your
bad luck, not mine."

The facsimile machine gave a little chug and began unwinding a pale
green, endless sheet. Clements began to read from it.

"In an unprecedented session at the White House today the President
revealed that a unanimous decision had been reached regarding the fate
of '58 Beta will be placed in the the congress for action it was
recommended that a solid copy of the historic satellite, complete with
meteor pits, be made and placed in a special display in the Smithsonian
Institution. The original itself, '58 Beta will be placed in the third
stage payload compartment of the Smithsonian's Vanguard missile and ...
in an historic re-enactment of the first launch ... will be injected
into permanent orbit about the Earth."

There was a loud snap as Jordan turned off the Vibrolounge. In a single,
convulsive movement he was on his feet and around the desk.

"Get out of my chair," he yelled at Clements. "Let me at that phone! Get
Gerry in here! Get Flack on the telephone ... try to catch him at the
White House if you can! And get Administration to send over some forms!"

Clements started for the other phone ... then stopped and stared at

"Forms?" he repeated slowly. "What kind of forms?"

Jordan's answer rattled the windows.

"Resignation forms, you idiot!"

       *       *       *       *       *

General Criswell walked briskly to the front of the conference room. He
took chalk in one hand and pointer in the other. He rapped sharply on
the desk with the pointer and sent a keen, Air Force type glance over
his assembled staff.

"Gentlemen, by direction of Congress and under orders issued by the
Secretary of Defense the Air Force has been assigned the mission of
relaunching satellite '58 Beta. The launching vehicle will be either the
Smithsonian exhibit Vanguard or a duplicate if the old one proves to be
structurally unsuitable.

"To help you understand the magnitude of the problem involved and, of
course, to give you guidelines for additional staffing, I will review
for you the major techniques utilized in the original Vanguard
launchings. I have had copies of the 1958 launch documentary films
printed for each department. They represent excellent source material
for your planning sessions.

"Now, gentlemen ... the original Vanguard was the classic example of
what we now call, somewhat facetiously I'm afraid, the hybrid propulsion
system. It utilized chemical fuels throughout ... liquid oxygen and
kerosene in the first stage, fuming nitric acid and unsymmetrical
dimethyl-hydrazine in the second stage and an unknown form of solid
propellant in the third stage."

       *       *       *       *       *

A buzz of nervous comment ran through the assembled officers, and
sitting in the back row, Jordan felt his blood run cold. Where, he
wondered in a sort of dreadful daze, would they even find a crew to work
on this project. No sane Launch Monitor he had ever known would even go
near such a bomb, much less work on it.

The General rambled on.

"Now the guidance system, gentlemen, may at first strike you as rather
incredible. However, it worked remarkably well in the original, and
there seems no reason to suppose we cannot force it to repeat. I foresee
some difficulty in finding manufacturers whose shop practices are
flexible enough ... or sloppy enough, if you prefer ... to turn out a
piece of mechanical gear to such low tolerances. However, we will ask
for bids and award to the lowest; that should do it. It always has in
the past at any rate." He paused to allow the chuckles to subside.

Jordan crept quietly out and headed for his office.

Clements was busy supervising the placement of two new file cabinets.
When he saw Jordan's face, he turned directly to his desk, poured a
lemonade and handed it to his chief. Jordan took the glass, paused
thoughtfully, opened a drawer and added a couple shots of gin.

Clements raised his eyebrows encouragingly, but Jordan simply drank and
shook his head dully.

"Horrible," he said. "Horrible, horrible."

He turned and walked slowly back to the conference.

By this time General Criswell had a film showing in progress.

"This, gentlemen," he was saying, "was the famous launch attempt of
December sixth, 1957."

Jordan had never seen the film, and he watched in fascination as the
launch crew scurried about their duties. Propellants and explosives
people appeared, waddling in grotesque acid suits. Liquid oxygen boil
off made a hazy lake in which men walked with apparent unconcern.

Then, from a fixed and apparently unattended camera came a steady,
portentous view of the rocket ... sleek and so incredibly slim that
Jordan wondered why on Earth it didn't simply topple over and be done
with it.

The sound track came to life with sudden, brassy violence. Someone was
counting backward. When he reached zero, the first stage engine burst
into life, the rocket lifted off its platform, slowed, began to tilt
slowly to one side and settled back into the stand. No, it kept right on
going through the stand. The rear section began to crumple. Then there
was a horrible burst of flame which engulfed the lower part of the
rocket and then, with perfectly savage violence, erupted in great
billowing bursts of fire until only the extreme tip of the missile was
visible. The conical top of the first stage fell off and disappeared
into the inferno rather like an ice cream cone falling into the sun. The
film stopped at this point.

"That," said General Criswell matter-of-factly, "was the end of the
first launch attempt. You will note, gentlemen, that not only was the
vehicle structurally weak, but it also burned well, once ignited. These
two points, I dare say, will exercise considerable influence over our
handling of this project."

Jordan, sick to his stomach, got up again and left the conference, this
time for good.

       *       *       *       *       *

Once begun the program proceeded feverishly. A corps of designers rooted
through every available shred of data: microfilm, old blueprints and
ancient engineering notes from files so old that no one knew why they
still existed. Films, recorded data, technical histories and newspaper
reports ... nothing was spared.

Slowly at first and then with almost magical speed, the ancient Vanguard
came to life. Her structure took shape. Her tankage and guidance were
reproduced. Like long atrophied nerves and muscles her controls and
electrical system once more hummed with power. Her engines were
duplicated and tested (though not without an explosion or two), and her
gyros were run in (by shuddering engineers who were accustomed to
hitting Marsport on the nose with a box half the size). And tiny Beta,
her wee antennas and Hoffman solar cells carefully fitted into place,
now had a twin sister enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution.

Jordan reflected that it was a solution bordering on genius even though
he was forced to admit that Senator Darius was its foremost architect.
His feeling for the old coyote was still something less than brotherly,
though forced association had revealed unsuspected and valuable
negotiative skills.

       *       *       *       *       *

One morning several weeks later Jordan sat before his desk which was
piled high with unanswered correspondence. He drank lemonade and glared
across at Clements whose desk was piled even higher.

"I told you this was going to be your baby," Jordan said, "but I guess I
can't make it stick. There's too much of this stuff." He waved at the
stacks of paper. "Where does all this junk come from?"

Clements picked up a letter at random.

"This one," he said, "is from the Dupont Chemical Corp. They want us to
send them the quality control specification for the hydrazine that was
used as fuel in the first launch. They say they can't proceed till they
have it."

He tossed the letter aside and picked up another. "Here's a purchase
request for four hundred yards of sailcloth. Now what the hell do you
suppose they want sailcloth for?"

"Maybe it's for another project," said Jordan, cramming half a doughnut
into his mouth. "I found one yesterday for hypodermic needles. On top of
that it wasn't signed."

"That figures," said Clements tossing the letter aside and picking up
another. "Now, how's this ... good grief! The Ancient Order of
Hibernians, if you please, formally requests that ... since '58 Beta was
launched on St. Patrick's day ... to do otherwise with this launch would
be unthinkable, sacrilegious, treasonable, etc, etc."

Jordan froze in his chair.

"That's the one!" His voice sounded faintly strangled. "That's the one
that'll kill us, right there! I have a feeling for these things. How
long till St. Patrick's day?"

Clements looked at his desk calendar. "Three weeks."

Jordan's eyes rolled upward. "We're dead!" he said, buzzing for Gerry.
"Dead as mackeral."

Gerry answered, and Jordan asked for General Criswell.

       *       *       *       *       *

A fine seabreeze was whipping ashore at Canaveral Space Port; not strong
enough to be a nuisance, but strong enough to blow Senator Darius'
emerald green tie persistently around behind his neck. He was still
puffing a little from his climb up the steps to the balcony on top of
the Space Control Center. As soon as he caught his breath he tugged at
Jordan's elbow and said, "Mr. Jordan, I have the great honor to
introduce to you Mr. Patrick McGuire, president of the Ancient Order of

Jordan shook hands, noticing as he did so that Mr. McGuire was carrying
something that closely resembled a hip flask. It had a bright green silk
ribbon tied around the neck.

"It's a pleasure," he said. "What's in the bottle?"

Mr. McGuire laughed a rich bellow.

"That, me friend," he said in a brogue so carefully cultivated that
Jordan winced almost visibly, "is a bottle o' wather from the River
Shannon, fer the christening', b'dad 'n' bejabers."

"The christening?" Jordan echoed hollowly.

"Indade, the christenin' ... with the Senator's kind permission I'll now
step down and officiate. One piddlin' smash at the nose of yonder rocket
is all I ask. One smash and a Hail Mary, and she's off to Glory!"

"Jordan ..." began the Senator.

"Now, Senator ..." began Jordan.

But the bullhorn above them drowned out everything and effectively
stalled the plans of the Hibernians by announcing in deafening syllables
that everyone was to clear the launch area.

In the distance Jordan observed dozens of tiny figures scuttling from
the gleaming Vanguard toward something that looked vaguely like a turtle
but which he had heard was called a blockhouse.

"I think," he said in unutterable relief, "that we're about ready to

Jordan finally found Clements in the milling throng. They stood at the
balcony rail staring fixedly at the Vanguard as the count progressed
downward with what seemed dreadful slowness.

"How long _is_ a second, anyway?" growled Jordan peevishly.

The countdown proceeded to minus twenty minutes ... minus fifteen
minutes. Then came the quick announcement, "The count is T minus twelve
minutes and holding."

"Twelve minutes and holding?" repeated Jordan jumpily. "What does that

"It means," answered Clements with just a touch of superiority, "that
they have stopped the count at T minus twelve minutes because something
is wrong. It will delay the launch."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jordan wrung his hands fretfully.

"Something wrong? I never heard of such a thing. What could possibly go

"Oh," ventured Clements, "I suppose there are a few things about this
rocket that could fail to function under unusual circumstances." He
snubbed out his cigarette. "After all, your watch stops sometimes,
doesn't it?"

"Sometimes," Jordan admitted sourly, "but never at T minus twelve

After a short time the bullhorn shook the area with the news that the
count had resumed. Jordan borrowed Clements' binoculars and stared
fixedly at the abandoned Vanguard. Suddenly he started violently. "My
God, Clem," he yelled, "it's on fire! There's smoke flying out right
there in the middle. Look!"

Clements took a quick glance.

"Relax, chief," he said reassuringly. "It's oxygen coming from a vent.
They can't seal the oxygen tank till just before launch, or it'll blow

"Oh, it can't blow up," quavered Jordan, going to pieces. "But it will.
I feel it in my bones. It's going to blow up ... ker BOOM!"

Clements patted him on the back.

"Stop worrying, chief. It's going to work just fine. You wait and see."

Jordan shook his head in disbelief. "kerBOOM!" he said faintly.

The bullhorn announced T minus four minutes. To divert Jordan's
attention Clements suggested that he watch the pilots of the photography
ships who were about to board. With some difficulty Jordan focussed the
instrument and observed the two pilots walk across the apron in front of
the main operations building and climb into their small ships. A blue
halo formed softly around the stern of each as they cut on the engines
and brought them up to idle.

Then suddenly the count was a T minus ten seconds. 9 ... 8 ... 7 ... 6
Jordan thought he was going to faint ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 Zero!

There was a dazzling flash of igniting kerosene and lox which caused
Jordan to jump into the air, a terrible burst of smoke and dust and then
an overwhelming, harsh shattering roar such as had not disturbed
Canaveral Space Port in more than a hundred years.

Deafened Clements looked at Jordan; saw his lips form the work "ker

But in spite of all the evidence to the contrary the Vanguard was off
the launcher, balancing with unbelievable, rocklike steadiness on that
flickering, fiery column. Slowly, almost painfully the thing rose,
gathered speed, pitched slowly eastward and bored triumphantly into the
sky. Beside it, a thousand yards to the north and south, sped the photo
ships, their drive haloes still scarcely brighter than when idling on
the ground. With cameras whirring they escorted '58 Beta into space for
the second time.

There was considerable confusion, some hoarse cheering and a great deal
of milling around. Clements got a grip on Jordan and steered him to the
AstroBar where two quick ones put him back together again.

"Now, what we should do," Clements suggested, "is to go down to the
trajectory section and find out the latest word on the launch analysis."

Jordan hiccupped.

"Why?" he said, a little belligerently. "What's to analyze? We got it
launched, didn't we? What more d'they want? Besides, I like it here."

       *       *       *       *       *

Forty five minutes later the reports clattered in from Cairo and
Woomera. In the Port Commander's private briefing room a young woman
brought a sheaf of papers to the Commander. He began to read aloud. The
audience leaned forward in strained attention.

"Preliminary flash report on the re-launch of satellite '58 Beta. The
launch phase was eminently successful. The hold at T minus twelve
minutes was not due to any malfunction in the missile itself, but rather
to a disorder of another kind ... the engineer who was functioning as
Launch Monitor had fainted in the blockhouse. The count was picked up
under the direction of the Assistant Launch Monitor. After launch the
three stages of the rocket separated properly, and injection into orbit
occurred at the predicted altitude."

He paused and shuffled the papers.

"Now I have here," he continued, dropping a sheet and picking it up,
"the description of the orbit now occupied by '58 Beta. We have a
perigee of six hundred twenty five miles and an apogee of twenty nine
hundred miles, and ... oh, my word; this _is_ a tough break! Well,
gentlemen, we can't win 'em all. As you know, we had hoped for a
permanent orbit. However, according to our computers, while '58 Beta is
now in an orbit, it is a degenerative one. She will unfortunately suffer
a progressive perigee drop on each resolution and after three hundred
forty eight years, seven months and approximately nineteen or twenty
days she will re-enter the atmosphere and burn up. I am heartily sorry,

       *       *       *       *       *

They returned to the AstroBar, and Clements began trying to catch up
with Jordan.

"You know," said Jordan, his head wobbling a little with the emphasis he
put into the words, "this is the damnedest farce in the history of the

"You're absolutely right, chief," agreed Clements, taking another slug.
"And what are we going to do about it?"

Over his empty glass Jordan gave Clements a slow, confidential wink.
Then he fished some papers out of his pocket. He folded them carefully
and slipped them into an envelope. Meticulously drying a spot on the bar
with his coatsleeve he put down the envelope and began writing on it.
Finally he finished. Sealing it he waved it in the air in front of

"These," he said solemnly "are the resignation forms you got for me that
day. Do you remember those resignation forms, Clements, you old
appointee, you?"

Clements set his glass down indignantly.

"Certainly I remember, old chiefie. I remember because I got a set for
myself while I was at it."

"Well, good for you, old appointee. Now, you take this envelope, and
when we get back to Washington you put it in the office archives file,
O.K.? Safest place this side of Fort Knox."

"Depend on me, chief," he said, taking the envelope and reading the
instructions Jordan had written.

_To be held for the use of the Undersecretary for Cislunar Navigation
incumbent in the year 2492._

"Good idea," said Clements. "Let's drink to the jerk ... O.K.?"

       *       *       *       *       *

   _Memo: 92 8574 27 October 2492_

   _From: Secretary for Cislunar Navigation_

   _To: Undersecretary_

   _The oldest item in the archives file was opened today. We are not
   certain that it does not constitute some sort of barbaric practical
   joke. Note that the forms involved have been superseded several dozen
   times over since they were originally printed. Investigate and

   _Memo: 92 1751 29 October 2492_

   _From: Undersecretary for Cislunar Navigation_

   _To: Secretary_

   _Due to excessive demands for time caused by the present
   Congressional furor regarding our department and its rights and
   duties concerning debris collection and disposal we have been unable
   to act on your memo 92 8574. Present priority weighting indicates
   that the earliest compliance date will be late in December. Please
   denote concurrence._

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