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´╗┐Title: Operation Boomerang
Author: Revelle, George
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 "Operation Boomerang" ***

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



                          OPERATION BOOMERANG

                           BY GEORGE REVELLE

                _There are all kinds of heroes. And the
               irony of it all lies in the fact that the
            bravest are those who are unknown and unsung._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
               Worlds of If Science Fiction, April 1957.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


Wade Boeman let his eyes wander up the hull of the huge silver ship. He
thought; _if only Tomer were here now!_ He caught himself and quickly
erased the thought before he remembered more ... things that were better
left alone, hidden behind the thin veil he had created in his mind.

The quick blink of a signal light from the tower caught the corner of
his eye. H-hour minus fifteen minutes. The ground crews had cleared
the area. He hadn't noticed. He turned to the huge, blond man standing
beside him.

"Well, Allen. This is it. I've checked everything myself. You should
have no trouble. Be sure and strap yourself in tightly and don't forget
to check the gyro. Its the only thing we can't double check from the
tower."

"You're all through instructing now, _teacher_," the blond man said.
"I can take it from here. And I can't say I'm sorry."

Wade wanted to say then all the little things that had been building up
within him during the past long months. He bit back the words. It took
much effort.

He said: "Good luck, Captain. I really mean it."

Allen gave him a tight smile. "Drop dead, Colonel."

Wade dropped his outstretched hand as the big man ignored him. Ackerson
turned his back and began to climb the metal rungs leading up the hull
of the ship.

Tomer, Wade thought. If only it could be Tomer instead of Ackerson.

He waited until the blond man entered the hatch before he climbed into
the jeep. He glanced once more at the silver hull of the _Starfrost_,
then he jammed down on the accelerator. Hate was a word Wade seldom
used. There was too much of it in the world already. But he was
beginning to hate Ackerson.

He parked the jeep beside the concrete and steel structure housing
Operations. The instant his hand touched the door handle he tried to
cease being Wade Boeman the man. He tried to become Colonel Wadon G.
Boeman, senior officer in charge of 'Operation Boomerang,' with no
personal feelings. It didn't come off fully.

The four walls were lined with banks of instruments. Small lights
flickered and died, only to come alive again the next instant. A man
coughed.

He nodded at a communications man, a civilian, as he hurried to the
small table where the television set was resting. The closed circuit
showed the _Starfrost_ resting alone on the sand with her nose pointed
toward the sky.

He took off his cap, then lighted a cigarette. He checked his wrist
watch with the large clock on the wall. He set the sweep second hand to
coincide with the larger one.

"Twelve minutes, Colonel," someone behind Wade said.

He wiped his dry lips as he flicked his eyes in the direction of the
Major in charge of the control panel. The Major gave him a tight smile.
Wade nodded. Major Gormely was a good man ... they were all good men.
Wade felt proud to be part of the team.

He took in the radar man checking the never-ending sweep of the beam.
Frank Piluis, a tall, lanky man of twenty-three. He was checking the
screen, adjusting, as if his own life depended on its operation instead
of a man he hardly knew.

Wade checked his own screen again.

The _Starfrost_ was so silent ... so latent ... so important. Wade
found Tomer creeping into his thoughts again. He shut the thought out
quickly. Wade was a military man. He had orders to forget Tomer. He
gave orders. He also had to take them.

Wade became mindful of someone standing behind him. He turned. The man
was tall, wearing the cloak of authority in the very way he smiled.
Distinguished looking streaks of gray ran over his once brown hair.
Tiny wrinkles at the eyes told that he was a man with a sense of humor
even though pressed with responsibility.

"A penny for your thoughts, Wade." The Secretary of Defense said as
Boeman got up. Wade wondered if the man had been in the control room
all the time. He hadn't seen him.

"They aren't worth it, Harry," he answered, offering his hand.

"As bad as that," the Secretary laughed. "Here we are on the edge of
a History making moment and you're wasting your time with worthless
thoughts."

Worthless thoughts. Wade wondered if they were, really.

Wade first met Harry Lowe a long time ago when the project was just a
dream on the drawing boards. Since that time he had come to know the
Secretary intimately. Now, suddenly, he felt awkward before the man.
Perhaps it was because Lowe seemed to have a special talent for reading
peoples' expressions, converting them into sentences. Like now, Wade
felt the man was reading his face like a book.

"That's right, Harry. History is being made isn't it?"

The Secretary's face became very serious. "More than that, Wade.
Perhaps salvation depends on it."

"Ten minutes," a voice said.

Wade nodded at the technician. Tiny lights came into play on
the control panel as Major Gormely began closing circuits. The
communications man made a final type check on the huge P.C.R. set.

"_Starfrost._ This is Mother. How do you read me? Over."

"Mother. This is _Starfrost_. Loud and clear. Five by five." Ackerson's
strong voice came from the loud-speaker located in the center of the
equipment. "Oxygen checks. I've bedded down. Give the Colonel my love."

The radio man looked at Wade. There had been no mistaking the sarcasm
in Ackerson's voice. Wade felt his face grow red.

"He hasn't changed," he heard the Secretary say.

"No. He hasn't changed." Wade said softly.

"Don't let it throw you, Wade. You've done a good job. We both know
that nothing counts but the Project."

_Nothing counts but the project._ Personal feelings, ideals, not even
human lives. _Nothing counts but the project._ How many times had he
said that to himself, trying to be convincing.

"It's Tomer. Isn't it?" the Secretary said.

Wade's eyes locked with those of the older man. There was no sense
going over that now. They had had it out a dozen times already.

"That and other things," he said.

"Like Ackerson's attitude, I suppose."

"Like Ackerson's attitude."

The Secretary gave a tight smile. "We all have reasons for doing
things, Wade. To you this is a military feat that could spell security
for years to come. To me it does that and more. It could be the opening
of a new frontier, something that will provide a new outlet for
humanity instead of war."

Wade said: "And to Ackerson it will mean fame and fortune. Nothing
more. His name will go in the history books. There will be personal
appearances, contracts, money. He has no feelings at all about what
this will mean to his country."

The Secretary nodded. "You're a professional military man, Wade. You're
making it your life. I understand how you feel."

Wade laughed bitterly, inside. _Did_ Harry know how he felt? Did he
think that military men were just brass and polish with no feelings, no
friends to worry about, no cares outside of regulations and orders!

"Eight minutes." The voice came again.

Wade left the Secretary, went to the mike resting on the communications
desk.

"_Starfrost._ This is Mother," he said.

"Go ahead, Mother." Ackerson recognized his voice.

"Double check everything. Repeat. Double check everything, oxygen,
hammock straps, loose objects, everything."

"Relax, Mother! You sound like you're going to have another baby."
Ackerson laughed over the loud-speaker.

Wade gave the mike back to the radio man carefully. He walked back to
the small television screen and sat down. The _Starfrost_ looked like a
silver monument standing alone out there on the sand. Soon there would
be nothing there but sand. Wade felt like a mother hen waiting for her
first egg.

He adjusted the contrast, brightened the picture. Perhaps the Secretary
was right. Everyone had their reasons for doing things. He wondered
what Tomer's were?

"Do you think he will make it, Wade?"

The Secretary sat down on the edge of the desk. He looked out of place.
He should have been behind one, a large mahogany one.

"I think he will," Wade said softly. "The test ship we sent made it.
There is no reason to believe a ship with a man in it should fail."

"Do you want him to make it?"

The words jarred Boeman. He searched the Secretary's face. "Of course I
do. What makes you say a thing like that?"

The Secretary toyed with his tie. He said nothing.

Wade got up. He could feel the anger begin to seep through his body.
"You know what this trip means to me--to the country." He faced the
gray-haired man squarely. "If you're insinuating that I want him to
fail because I disagree with his reasons for volunteering, you're
wrong. Dead wrong."

Wade found himself lighting a cigarette. "Sure. I dislike Ackerson.
Dislike him violently. I've taken more lip from him in the past months
than I've taken during my entire life. And when he returns that will be
finished or I'll finish him. One way or another." Wade inhaled deeply.
"It's the project that counts. Only the project. It's bigger than one
man ... it's bigger than all of us put together."

Lowe smiled. His face seemed younger. "I knew you felt that way, Wade.
I just wanted you to say it for your own benefit. Perhaps it will make
this entire thing easier for you."

The Secretary moved then, over to the communication panel.

"Three minutes," someone said.

Wade looked at the narrow back of Harry Lowe. And he knew how the man
became Secretary of Defense. It was shrewd getting him to open up
like that. They both knew how lucky they were to have Allen Ackerson.
Finding men capable of making such a flight hadn't been easy. Of the
dozen volunteers only Ackerson remained. Mental and physical tests had
eliminated all but a few. Those remaining were unfit for space travel,
weeded out by the psychological teams, unable to cope with the morbid
phobia of being alone so long wrapped in a metal cocoon. Only Ackerson
and Tomer had succeeded. Now there was only Ackerson.

"Colonel!" Wade turned and faced the rawboned sergeant standing beside
him. Meyers was a big man with a deep tan browning his face.

"What is it, sergeant?"

Meyers handed him a large white envelope. "Captain Ackerson said to
give this to you just before take-off."

"Thanks, sergeant."

"Two minutes," someone said. Wade stuffed the envelope inside his
jacket. Then he hurried over to the radar man. The envelope had to
wait, there was no time now.

"Are we set?" he asked. The man nodded as he adjusted the dials. Wade
smiled. These men were experts in their fields. To double check them
would be to insult them. Besides, this wasn't the first time for them.
The same crew had been operating when they fired the test rocket. He
knew they wouldn't fail.

"One minute ... 59 ... 58 ... 57...." Wade found himself counting under
his breath while he stared at the small screen on the table. Would
the reactors work? They would go on at 30. And the _Starfrost_! Would
it lift--or would it, like some others before it, slowly hesitate,
then begin a weird, frightening slide to the side to become a flaming
blowtorch of death.

"30!" Major Gormely closed the switch. Wade became conscious of the
Secretary watching the screen with him.

"... 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2...." The counter continued. "FIRE!"

The _Starfrost_ shivered.

Wade felt his heart skip a beat. Slowly, ever so slowly, the huge ship
began to move. Dust, sand and smoke mingled with the sheets of flame
pouring from her stern. The platform disappeared in a puff of smoke.

The _Starfrost_ lifted.

"Thank God!" the Secretary sighed.

"Amen." Wade muttered. He took out another cigarette. He was glad it
had begun; the project. Now there was only the long wait.

"Ackerson's a brave man." The Secretary said.

"Of course he is." Wade never had any doubts about Allen's intestinal
fortitude. The man had a good war record. Confidence seemed to ooze
out of the man. It was his attitude, damn it.

Wade drew deeply on the cigarette. Tomer had been the same type in many
ways. Eager, filled with the enthusiasm, unafraid. A small man compared
to the blond Ackerson, he seemed to carry himself tall. And his
attitude. He felt the same intensity about National defense as Boeman
did himself. Perhaps that was another reason he had felt close to the
boy. Tomer would have made this trip with no thought whatsoever about
the financial rewards or what the history books would have to say about
him.

"... Sixty thousand ..." someone said.

"Start communication," Wade commanded automatically.

"Romeo." The commo picked up the small hand mike. All eyes in the room
centered on the silent speaker on the wall.

"_Starfrost._ This is Mother. How do you read me, over?"

The speaker remained silent.

"_Starfrost._ Can you read me. Over!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Secretary looked at Wade. His face was tight and drawn. "What do
you think, Wade. Are we getting through?"

"It's hard to say. He's moving pretty fast. He could outrun the signal.
We've never had a practical voice test."

Lowe's face had a worried expression covering it. "Didn't you have
communications with the test rocket?"

"That was unmanned ... remember?"

"This silence doesn't worry you?" the Secretary asked with amazement.

"Ackerson was trained for this. He knows there is nothing we can do for
him. _He's on his own._ Communications would be to our advantage, to be
sure. But Ackerson knows that ship like you know the back of your hand.
Besides ... perhaps he is too busy to answer right now. He has to be
sure there is no wobble."

"Wobble!"

"Sure. The ship could begin to oscillate. If it does that he is done.
He has to keep his eye on the gyro."

The Secretary's eyes penetrated. "I can't help but feel that you would
be more concerned if Tomer were in the _Starfrost_ instead of Ackerson.
Wade ... don't let the fact that you hate Ackerson cloud the issue. He
is doing us a great service."

"Stop it, Harry!"

"After all. The first man to circle the Moon is entitled to a place in
the history books. I can share his feelings, in a way. It's a great
thing he's doing."

"Others have done more," Wade said sharply.

"Of course they have. But remember one thing. If Ackerson succeeds we
will get the appropriations we need to _build_ up there on that cold
chunk of rock. We need that ... need it badly."

"I tell you we have nothing to worry about yet," Wade said quickly.

"Have it your way, Wade. But remember, we can't land on the Moon until
we have appropriations for installations. It all takes money; landing
sites, protection against the elements, and most important, take-off
facilities. It's a big order. Ackerson can give us all of that if he is
successful. The public will back us to the limit if we prove we have
mastered space travel." The Secretary watched Wade carefully. "Ackerson
_is_ important!"

"I never said he wasn't."

"I know, Wade." The Secretary toyed with his tie. "But did you let your
feelings toward Tomer interfere with your attitude toward Ackerson?
He came to me you know, about halfway through the course. He said you
were babying Tomer to the point where it was interfering with _his_
instruction."

"He lied," Wade cut in. He threw down the cigarette he was holding and
ground his heel into it. "You know me better than that!"

"Of course. But perhaps Ackerson did have _something_. Perhaps you
spent more time with Tomer than you intended. Unconsciously you may
have favored him to the point where Ackerson did suffer."

Wade let his eyes wander over to the small television screen. It was
still operating. Flat, empty sand and a burned out area was all that
remained of the _Starfrost_. He wondered: Did I do that? Did I forget
to teach Ackerson something while I was working with Tomer?

The loud-speaker crackled.

"Mother. This is _Starfrost_. Over."

The operations room came alive. Wade and Lowe hurried over to
stand beneath the speaker, as if that would put them closer to the
_Starfrost_.

"Go ahead, _Starfrost_. This is Mother." The communications man held
the mike in a hand that wasn't quite as steady as it should be.

"This is _Starfrost_. Everything in the green. Repeat, everything in
the green. Over."

Wade took the mike. "How is the gyro, _Starfrost_!"

The loud-speaker laughed. "Tsk, tsk, Colonel. Where is your radio
procedure? You forgot to say over." There was a pause and Boeman knew
why. "Don't tell me you're worrying about ole Ack. I've got this thing
sewed up. Why don't you take a walk around the park and see if you can
find that little guy? What was his name? You know the one I mean. The
one who got cold feet and dropped out before you finished feeding him.
Over."

Wade handed the mike back to the commo man without a word. He looked
at the Secretary. Lowe's eyes cautioned him. Wade swallowed the things
he was going to say. Orders. Damn them. He wanted to stick a pin in
Ackerson's ego. And it would be so easy. So damn easy. Orders. He gave
them and he had taken them.

Wade turned and got the mike again. "This is Mother. Keep an eye on the
hull temperature. Watch that gyro. If you feel the slightest vibration
be sure to start the auxiliary immediately. Over."

"Romeo, Mother. Take care of my letter. I--" the speaker became silent.

Major Gormely moved like a blur of light. Wade knew what was wrong
the instant he looked at the pip on the radar scope. Major Gormely
hurriedly began checking instruments. But he had seen too. The
equipment was in order. It was the _Starfrost_. It had all indications
of a "wobble".

"This is serious, isn't it, Wade?"

Boeman didn't look at the Secretary when he answered. His eyes were
glued to the radar scanner. "Pretty much. It could be the end if he
doesn't catch it in time."

"What can we do?"

"Nothing but wait. He isn't finished yet. He has the extra gyro. That
should do it. If not he can try the fuel as a last resort. It's only
theory plus but he might be able to blast something with substance
against the dorsel fin. If he plays it carefully he might be able to
give the gyro a hand. It will be tricky but we think it can be done."

"What effect will that have on the mission? He has only so much fuel!"

"He can waste thirty seconds. After that he is cutting himself short on
the leg home."

"The wobble stopped," Major Gormely said quickly.

It was true. The course was slightly erratic but Ackerson had the
_Starfrost_ back under control. Wade wiped the back of his hand over
his lips. Suddenly he felt tired and old. He wanted to sit down. "Keep
trying on the radio, Mike," he said.

He walked over to the small table with the television set on it. He
switched it off. He didn't want to look at that empty sand. He lighted
another cigarette. Then he reached inside his blouse and withdrew the
letter Ackerson had left for him. He didn't want to read it. For the
first time he had felt close to the blond man ... felt sorry for him.
The letter could say something to change that.

"Why don't you read it, Wade?" the Secretary said.

Wade looked up quickly. The Secretary was smiling with that know-all
look of his. Wade reached in his pocket and brought out the pack of
cigarettes. Then he caught himself. But the older man hadn't missed the
one smoldering in the ashtray.

A tight smile creased Wade's face. He felt like a small boy caught with
his hand in the cookie jar. "I know a nice quiet spot in upper New
York. Phonecia! There's a nice trout stream beside the only hotel. The
people are simple and tolerant. And there is a small, private bar where
a man can really relax. I think I'll go up there for a few years when
this is all over."

"Now you're reading _my_ mind," the Secretary said.

They both laughed.

"Seriously, Wade. I think you should take a long rest when this is
over. A man with your knowledge of the human body should realize
that you're fighting fatigue. In fact I've already spoken to General
Dominick about it."

Wade shook his head. "You know I can't do that. I've got another job I
have to take care of first."

"Tomer?"

"Of course."

"I thought we settled on that. Someone else can take over in your place
and handle that. You can supervise if you wish. But not until after
you've had a rest."

"You know better, Harry. This is my baby and I'll handle it. It isn't
that I haven't tried to keep him out of my mind. I have. Yet he always
comes back to haunt me. If not because of my own feelings, then it's
Ackerson reminding me. It's no use. I can't rest with him on my mind."

"Not even when you've had orders?"

Wade snuffed out the cigarette. "I'm finding out that feelings can
sometimes rebel against orders."

"That isn't a good trait for an Army Officer to acquire."

Wade's face took on a sardonic expression. "No. It isn't, is it?" he
said softly.

       *       *       *       *       *

The time piece on the wall was broken. It had to be. Wade had been
watching it for hours and it hardly seemed to move. The _Starfrost_ had
disappeared behind the dark side of the Moon and a press release had
been duly passed on to the anxious public. The world was electrified.
Man had ventured into space. The public hadn't been told that there was
no communication with the _Starfrost_. It was better that way.

Wade fished for another cigarette as he followed the sweep second
hand with his eyes. It was ironic, in a way. Man had ventured to the
Moon and could not land. He dared not. To set foot on the cold, dead
satellite when there was no possible way of return would be inviting
suicide. The test rocket fired at the silent world, and the _Starfrost_
had eaten up the last of the appropriations and it would take a battery
of ships to carry the supplies necessary for the building of take-off
facilities.

That was what Wade wanted, an installation on the Moon before another
nation could make it. It was no secret that the nation that controlled
the Moon in the next war would be in the driver's seat. It would be
a fortress in the sky. And it was no secret that another nation was
almost ready to launch a ship. Wade wanted to get there first.

Wade could feel the sweat on his hands. They felt cold and clammy.
The _Starfrost_ should have reappeared on the radar set an hour ago.
He dared not think of what would happen to Ackerson if the big blond
man miscalculated while in orbit. To shoot off alone into black, empty
space, hurtling out into a void of nothing, where there was only a
cold, quiet death awaiting was no way for a man to die.

Damn it. Where was that silver cocoon? Ackerson had to make it.
Everything depended on the success of the _Starfrost_.

"I think I've got something," Major Gormely cried.

Wade came out of his dream world with a rush. His swift steps covered
the distance to the radar set in a matter of seconds.

Gormely was bending over working with Piluis. And it was there ... a
tiny speck that could only be one thing.

Wade heard himself mutter: "Thank God!"

The control room became a beehive of excitement. These men were
accustomed to success in the face of overwhelming pessimism. Yet this
was almost the ultimate. They were part of a team that had projected
an earthbound object into space. Now it was coming home. "Operation
Boomerang" was nearing fulfilment. The long hours of sweat and worry
were beginning to pay off. The cork was ready to burst out of their
bottled up emotions.

Sergeant Meyers' face was beaming. He was exuberant with excitement.
"I guess that calls for a drink." He took Wade by the arm. "I've been
saving a quart of homemade corn for just this occasion."

Suddenly Meyers stopped. His tan face became a gray mask.

"... pardon me, Colonel ... sir!" He came to rigid attention.

Wade laughed heavily. "I think one drink would be in perfect order,
sergeant. Where do you hide this liquid cob?"

Meyers' face became bright again. He almost tripped as he tried to
salute, about-face, and run at the same time. He was going out the door
when he called back over his shoulder. "In the water closet on one of
the thrones in the latrine ... Sir."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was Wade Boeman who ruined Allen Ackerson's exit. He had the staff
car pick up the pilot as soon as the hull of the _Starfrost_ cooled.
The official car had sped back over the barren sand, through the
waiting throng of newsmen, straight to the small office located in
the control building, without a stop. To say that it peeved Ackerson
would be putting it mildly. His face was still burning with anger after
twenty minutes of interrogation. Wade knew it was only the presence of
the Defense Secretary keeping him in line. For that reason he tried to
keep each question brief and simple. Ackerson was dying to get outside
that door and receive some of the acclaim that he was being denied.

"You say you had a chance to look at the test rocket we fired?" Wade
asked.

"Yes sir. It was resting in a red crater, fairly well beat up. It must
have come down hard. In fact it looked like it may have struck a wobble
at the last minute. Of course the terrain is pretty rough up there and
it could have toppled after it hit. I'm sure the camera shots I took
will tell us much more."

Wade felt a sudden twitch in his shoulder. "You said the crater was
red."

"Yes, sir. A bright red. I thought it was strange. It was as if
something spilled out of the ship when she hit."

Wade and the Secretary exchanged glances.

"It was a marking dye so you could pick up the location of the ship,"
Wade said too quickly.

Allen twisted his head as the sound of many voices pierced the quiet
room. Someone cheered loudly. Allen shifted his large frame.

"How was she lying?" Wade asked.

Allen brought his attention back to the two men. It was obvious, he was
becoming annoyed. "Down tail-first. The nose section looked intact.
That's what makes me believe she took on a wobble at the last second.
The nose should have been buried out of sight."

Another cheer forced its way into the room. Suddenly Allen burst out.
"Tell me, Colonel. How's Tomer these days. You remember, that little
guy who quit on you just before the training ended."

The words had the effect the big man had hoped for. Boeman came out of
the chair. His face was a vivid white. "You ..." he began.

The Secretary moved quickly. He was between the two men before Wade
could continue. "That's all for now Captain Ackerson," he said, "or
should I say Mister Ackerson. Your papers have been processed as you
wished. You're a civilian, after sixty days terminal leave, of course."

Ackerson watched the play of emotions on Wade's face. He was enjoying
every second of it. Wade wanted to smash that smug face all over the
floor. Yet he was powerless. Ackerson was still an officer and there
was too much left undone to risk everything now. He sat back down on
the chair. There would be time when the blond man was a civilian.

"Thank you, sir." Allen grinned.

The Secretary extended his hand. "Congratulations again for a job well
done." They shook hands.

"Don't forget, Ackerson," Boeman said as Allen hurried to the door.
"The next week is mine. Solid interrogation. You're still in the
service."

"_Yes, Sir._"

"And one more thing, Ackerson. I know your communication was working.
Why didn't you answer our calls?"

"I thought that would make you sweat a little. I can see that it did."

The door slammed shut.

       *       *       *       *       *

Neither man spoke when the door closed behind Ackerson. The silence was
long. Finally it was Boeman who moved. He opened the top left drawer of
the desk and withdrew a small glass and a bottle. He poured a drink and
offered it to the Secretary with a glance of his eyes. The Secretary
shook his head.

Boeman lifted the tumbler to his lips and poured the liquid down with
a quick motion. He made a face as it burned. He poured another, toyed
with it before he tossed it down.

"Well, he made it." Boeman said finally, placing the empty glass on the
desk. "To the Moon and back--non stop."

"You knew he would, didn't you."

Boeman nodded, staring at the glass.

There was another awkward silence as both men were wrapped in thought.

"Disappointed, Wade?"

"Not disappointed. Disgusted."

"He gave us what we wanted. The appropriations will be easy now."

"I know."

"Then what's wrong? Certainly you can't blame Ackerson fully. He
doesn't know the entire story."

"Perhaps that's what's wrong. If I could just tell the full story I
might feel better."

"Impossible. Can you imagine the entire nation carrying a load on its
back the way you are now?"

Wade laughed bitterly. "It might wake them up."

"I understand, Wade. My insides feel it too. But let him be the hero."

"He will be," Wade said, reaching for the bottle again. "He will be."

"Then let him. We have more important things to think about now." The
Secretary got up. Wade grasped the empty tumbler in the palm of his
hand, squeezing tightly.

"Ackerson said red."

"I know," replied the Secretary.

"Red means danger. The crater should have been stained yellow."

"Perhaps there was a mix-up in containers."

"You don't believe that, Frank."

"But the radio is still operating! A steady C.W. beam is coming in. If
there was any danger we would be getting code."

Wade forced a smile. "You should have been a minister. There is always
hope ... is that it?"

The Secretary placed his hat carefully on his head. "I'd better get
over to the lab and take a look at those movies he took."

"It must be so lonely ..." Boeman said loosely.

"Perhaps not. Tomer was a quiet man. Those kind don't seem to mind."

A sudden, loud cheer broke the near silence in the room. Wade glanced
toward the window. Then he got up slowly with the action of an old man.
He went to the window and looked out.

Ackerson was being carried through a path of humanity aloft on dozens
of shoulders. He was waving to the hundreds of well-wishers as he
was carried toward the battery of microphones waiting on the wooden
platform erected for the occasion. Wade couldn't help but think of a
hero of another age. Lindbergh. It must have been the same then. And
who remembered those that followed him? Or those that paved the way so
he could make it? Wade shook his head.

He turned away from the window quickly, heading for the desk and the
bottle. The Secretary followed him with his eyes, undecided.

Boeman lifted the bottle high above his head in a toasting gesture. "To
the hero."

"Don't, Wade."

The bottle paused there while the eyes of the two men met. Finally the
bottle returned to the desk as Wade surrendered. Then he slumped down
in the chair.

The Secretary placed his hand on Wade's shoulder. Boeman shook it off,
and he was sorry instantly. "O.K. Frank. You win. Ackerson wins."

"Good," the Secretary said softly. "That's the way we want it. We have
to prevent everyone from feeling the way you do now. It isn't that
you're jealous of Ackerson getting the glory. And you know that Tomer
doesn't mind. It's your worrying about him that's clouding your mind.
Everyone would be feeling the same way."

The Secretary looked out the window. "We couldn't have that. It would
have set space travel back years. Ackerson is powerful evidence that
space flight is safe. Tomer is our insurance. We need that just as
badly. We had no choice. We had to stake a claim on the Moon."

Wade poured another drink. "And that conceited ass is getting all the
credit while Tomer is sweating it out up there on that cold chunk of
rock--while everyone thinks he quit the project because he got cold
feet."

"True." The Secretary shook his head. "But Tomer is our ace-in-the-hole
if the iron curtain announces their intentions to land up there.

"Tomer can be contacted. He can set off the signal for the world to
see. In the meantime we will be working to make the next flight a
complete one. It won't take long. Tomer will manage."

"But Ackerson said the crater was red!"

"I know. And I'm wasting time talking with you. I should be looking at
those movies he took."

Wade didn't watch the Secretary leave. He picked up the bottle and
glass and went to the window.

Down on the ramp the P.A. began to crackle. Ackerson was beginning his
speech.

Wade took out the letter that Ackerson had sent to him. He took out
a match and touched the flame to it. It was better that way. He was
finished with Ackerson. He had a job to do now, one that would consume
him. He had to get the _Starfrost II_ underway. He had to get there to
get Tomer.

Suddenly he understood. There were all kinds of heroes. Men like
Ackerson were driven by the lure of fame and money. Tomer became one
because the job had to be done and there was no one else to do it.
Lowe was one, in a way, fighting for peace against a world that was
always in unrest. In a way Wade himself might fall in one category. The
thought made him smile.

The Secretary was right, of course. The public would crucify them if
they knew Tomer had been in the supposedly unmanned test rocket fired
at the Moon with no way home.

Wade lifted his drink high in the air as Ackerson's deep voice carried
into the room from the ramp below. "To a hero," he said. "A lonely
hero." Wade's eyes were on the sky when he said it, on a spot where the
Moon would be some hours later.





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