On a high hill in Samoa there is a grave. Inscribed on the marker are these words–
"Under the wide and starry sky
Dig my grave and let me lie
Glad did I live and gladly die
And I lay me down with a will!
"This be the verse which you grave for me:
'Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.'"
These lines appear another place – scrawled on a shipping tag torn from a compressed-air container, and pinned to the ground with a knife. -
It wasn't much of a fair, as fairs go. The trottin' races didn't promise much excitement, even though several entries claimed the blood of the immortal Dan Patch. The tents and concession booths barely covered the circus grounds, and the pitchmen seemed discouraged.
D.D. Harriman's chauffeur could not see any reason for stopping. They were due in Kansas City for a directors' meeting, that is to say, Harriman was. The chauffeur had private reasons for promptness, reasons involving darktown society on Eighteenth Street. But the Boss not only stopped, but hung around.
Bunting and a canvas arch made the entrance to a large enclosure beyond the race track. Red and gold letters announced:
This way to the MOON ROCKET!!!!
See it in actual flight!
Public Demonstration Flights
This is the ACTUAL TYPE used by the
First Man to reach the MOON!!!
YOU can ride in it!! – $50.OO
A boy, nine or ten years old, hung around the entrance and stared at the posters.
"Want to see the ship, son?"
The kid's eyes shone. "Gee, mister. I sure would."
"So would I. Come on." Harriman paid out a dollar for two pink tickets which entitled them to enter the enclosure and examine the rocket ship. The kid took his and ran on ahead with the single-mindedness of youth. Harriman looked over the stubby curved lines of the ovoid body. He noted with a professional eye that she was a single-jet type with fractional controls around her midriff. He squinted through his glasses at the name painted in gold on the carnival red of the body, Care Free. He paid another quarter to enter the control cabin.
When his eyes had adjusted to the gloom caused by the strong ray filters of the ports he let them rest lovingly on the keys of the console and the semi-circle of dials above. Each beloved gadget was in its proper place. He knew them – graven in his heart.
While he mused over the instrument board, with the warm liquid of content soaking through his body, the pilot entered and touched his arm.
"Sorry, sir. We've got to cast loose for the flight."
"Eh?" Harriman started, then looked at the speaker. Handsome devil, with a good skull and strong shoulders – reckless eyes and a self-indulgent mouth, but a firm chin. "Oh, excuse me, Captain."
"Quite all right."
"Oh, I say, Captain, er, uh –"
"Captain McIntyre, could you take a passenger this trip?" The old man leaned eagerly toward him.
"Why, yes, if you wish. Come along with me." He ushered Harriman into a shed marked OFFICE which stood near the gate. "Passenger for a check over, doc."
Harriman looked startled but permitted the medico to run a stethoscope over his thin chest, and to strap a rubber bandage around his arm. Presently he unstrapped it, glanced at McIntyre, and shook his head.
"No go, doc?"
"That's right, Captain."
Harriman looked from face to face. "My heart's all right – that's just a flutter."
The physician's brows shot up. "Is it? But it's not just your heart; at your age your bones are brittle, too brittle to risk a take-off."
"Sorry, sir," added the pilot, "but the Bates County Fair Association pays the doctor here to see to it that I don't take anyone up who might be hurt by the acceleration."
The old man's shoulders drooped miserably. "I rather expected it."
"Sorry, sir." McIntyre turned to go, but Harriman followed him out.
"Excuse me, Captain –"
"Could you and your, uh, engineer have dinner with me after your flight?"
The pilot looked at him quizzically. "I don't see why not. Thanks."
"Captain McIntyre, it is difficult for me to see why anyone would quit the Earth-Moon run." Fried chicken and hot biscuits in a private dining room of the best hotel the little town of Butler afforded, three-star Hennessey and Corona-Coronas had produced a friendly atmosphere in which three men could talk freely.
"Well, I didn't like it."
"Aw, don't give him that, Mac – you know damn well it was Rule G that got you." McIntyre's mechanic poured himself another brandy as he spoke.
McIntyre looked sullen. "Well, what if I did take a couple o' drinks? Anyhow, I could have squared that – it was the damn persnickety regulations that got me fed up. Who are you to talk? – Smuggler!"
"Sure I smuggled! Who wouldn't with all those beautiful rocks just aching to be taken back to Earth. I had a diamond once as big as... But if I hadn't been caught I'd be in Luna City tonight. And so would you, you drunken blaster ... with the boys buying us drinks, and the girls smiling and making suggestions..." He put his face down and began to weep quietly.
McIntyre shook him. "He's drunk."
"Never mind." Harriman interposed a hand. "Tell me, are you really satisfied not to be on the run any more?"
McIntyre chewed his lip. "No – he's right of course. This barnstorming isn't what it's all cracked up to be. We've been hopping junk at every pumpkin doin's up and down the Mississippi valley – sleeping in tourist camps, and eating at grease burners. Half the time the sheriff has an attachment on the ship, the other half the Society for the Prevention of Something or Other gets an injunction to keep us on the ground. It's no sort of a life for a rocket man."
"Would it help any for you to get to the Moon?"
"Well. . . Yes. I couldn't get back on the Earth-Moon run, but if I was in Luna City, I could get a job hopping ore for the Company – they're always short of rocket pilots for that, and they wouldn't mind my record. If I kept my nose clean, they might even put me back on the run, in time."
Harriman fiddled with a spoon, then looked up. "Would you young gentlemen be open to a business proposition?"
"Perhaps. What is it?"
"You own the Care Free?"
"Yeah. That is, Charlie and I do – barring a couple of liens against her. What about it?"
"I want to charter her... for you and Charlie to take me to the Moon!"
Charlie sat up with a jerk. "D'joo hear what he said, Mac? He wants us to fly that old heap to the Moon!"
McIntyre shook his head. "Can't do it, Mister Harriman. The old boat's worn out. You couldn't convert to escape fuel. We don't even use standard juice in her – just gasoline and liquid air. Charlie spends all of his time tinkering with her at that. She's going to blow up some day."
"Say, Mister Harriman," put in Charlie, "what's the matter with getting an excursion permit and going in a Company ship?"
"No, son," the old man replied, "I can't do that. You know the conditions under which the U. N. granted the Company a monopoly on lunar exploitation – no one to enter space who was not physically qualified to stand up under it. Company to take full responsibility for the safety and health of all citizens beyond the stratosphere. The official reason for granting the franchise was to avoid unnecessary loss of life during the first few years of space travel."
"And you can't pass the physical exam?" Harriman shook his head.
"Well, what the hell – if you can afford to hire us, why don't you just bribe yourself a brace of Company docs? It's been done before."
Harriman smiled ruefully. "I know it has, Charlie, but it won't work for me. You see, I'm a tad too prominent. My full name is Delos D. Harriman."
"What? You are old D.D.? But hell's bells, you own a big slice of the Company yourself – you practically are the Company; you ought to be able to do anything you like, rules or no rules."
"That is a not unusual opinion, son, but it is incorrect. Rich men aren't more free than other men; they are less free, a good deal less free. I tried to do what you suggest, but, the other directors would not permit me. They are afraid of losing their franchise. It costs them a good deal in – uh – political contact expenses to retain it, as it is."
"Well, I'll be a– Can you tie that, Mac? A guy with lots of dough, and he can't spend it the way he wants to." McIntyre did not answer, but waited for Harriman to continue.
"Captain McIntyre, if you had a ship, would you take me?"
McIntyre rubbed his chin. "It's against the law."
"I'd make it worth your while."
"Sure he would, Mr. Harriman. Of course you would, Mac. Luna City! Oh, baby!"
"Why do you want to go to the Moon so badly, Mister Harriman?"
"Captain, it's the one thing I've really wanted to do all my life – ever since I was a young boy. I don't know whether I can explain it to you, or not. You young fellows have grown up to rocket travel the way I grew up to aviation. I'm a great deal older than you are, at least fifty years older. When I was a kid practically nobody believed that men would ever reach the Moon. You've seen rockets all your lives, and the first to reach the Moon got there before you were a young boy. When I was a boy they laughed at the idea.
"But I believed – I believed. I read Verne, and Wells, and Smith, and I believed that we could do it – that we would do it. I set my heart on being one of the men to walk the surface of the Moon, to see her other side, and to look back on the face of the Earth, hanging in the sky.
"I used to go without my lunches to pay my dues in the American Rocket Society, because I wanted to believe that I was helping to bring the day nearer when we would reach the Moon. I was already an old man when that day arrived. I've lived longer than I should, but I would not let myself die... I will not! – until I have set foot on the Moon."
McIntyre stood up and put out his hand. "You find a ship, Mister Harriman. I'll drive 'er."
"Atta' boy, Mac! I told you he would, Mister Harriman." -
Harriman mused and dozed during the half-hour run to the north into Kansas City, dozed in the light troubled sleep of old age. Incidents out of a long life ran through his mind in vagrant dreams. There was that time... oh, yes, 1910 ... A little boy on a warm spring night;
"What's that, Daddy?" – "That's Halley's comet, Sonny." – "Where did it come from?" – "I don't know, Son. From way out in the sky somewhere." – "It's beyoootiful, Daddy. I want to touch it." – "'Fraid not, Son."
"Delos, do you mean to stand there and tell me you put the money we had saved for the house into that crazy rocket company?" – "Now, Charlotte, please! It's not crazy; it's a sound business investment. Someday soon rockets will fill the sky. Ships and trains will be obsolete. Look what happened to the men that had the foresight to invest in Henry Ford." – "We've been all over this before." – "Charlotte, the day will come when men will rise up off the Earth and visit the Moon, even the planets. This is the beginning." – "Must you shout?" – "I'm sorry, but–" – "I feel a headache coming on. Please try to be a little quiet when you come to bed."
He hadn't gone to bed. He had sat out on the veranda all night long, watching the full Moon move across the sky. There would be the devil to pay in the morning, the devil and a thin-lipped silence. But he'd stick by his guns. He'd given in on most things, but not on this. But the night was his. Tonight he'd be alone with his old friend. He searched her face. Where was Mare Crisium? Funny, he couldn't make it out. He used to be able to see it plainly when he was a boy. Probably needed new glasses – this constant office work wasn't good for his eyes.
But he didn't need to see, he knew where they all were; Crisium, Mare Fecunditatis, Mare Tranquilitatis – that one had a satisfying roll! – the Apennines, the Carpathians, old Tycho with it's mysterious rays.
Two hundred and forty thousand miles – ten times around the Earth. Surely men could bridge a little gap like that. Why, he could almost reach out and touch it, nodding there behind the elm trees. Not that he could help. He hadn't the education.
"Son, I want to have a little serious talk with you." – "Yes, Mother." – "I know you had hoped to go to college next year–" (Hoped! He had lived for it. The University of Chicago to study under Moulton, then on to the Yerkes Observatory to work under the eye of Dr. Frost himself) – "and I had hoped so too. But with your father gone, and the girls growing up, it's harder to make ends meet. You've been a good boy, and worked hard to help out. I know you'll understand." – "Yes, Mother." -
"Extra! Extra! STRATOSPHERE ROCKET REACHES PARIS. Read aaaaallllll about 't." The the little man in the bifocals snatched at the paper and hurried back to the office. – "Look at this, George." – "Huh? Hmm, interesting, but what of it?" – "Can't you see? The next stage is to the Moon!" – "God, but you're a sucker, Delos. The trouble with you is, you read too many of those trashy magazines. Now I caught my boy reading one of 'em just last week, Stunning Stories, or some such title, and dressed him down proper. Your folks should have done you the same favor." – Harriman squared his narrow, middle-aged shoulders. "They will so reach the Moon!" – His partner laughed. "Have it your own way. If baby wants the Moon, papa bring it for him. But you stick to your discounts and commissions; that's where the money is."
The big car droned down the Paseo, and turned off on Armour Boulevard. Old Harriman stirred uneasily in his sleep and muttered to himself. -
"But Mister Harriman–" The young man with the notebook was plainly perturbed. The old man grunted.
"You heard me. Sell 'em. I want every share I own realized in cash as rapidly as possible; Spaceways, Spaceways Provisioning Company, Artemis Mines, Luna City Recreations, the whole lot of them."
"It will depress the market. You won't realize the full value of your holdings."
"Don't you think I know that? I can afford it."
"What about the shares you had earmarked for Richardson Observatory, and for the Harriman Scholarships?"
"Oh, yes. Don't sell those. Set up a trust. Should have done it long ago. Tell young Kamens to draw up the papers. He knows what I want"
The interoffice visor flashed into life. "The gentlemen are here, Mr. Harriman."
"Send 'em in. That's all, Ashley. Get busy." Ashley went out as McIntyre and Charlie entered. Harriman got up and trotted forward to greet them.
"Come in, boys, come in. I'm so glad to see you. Sit down. Sit down. Have a cigar."
"Mighty pleased to see you, Mr. Harriman," acknowledged Charlie. "In fact, you might say we need to see you."
"Some trouble, gentlemen?" Harriman glanced from face to face. McIntyre answered him.
"You still mean that about a job for us, Mr. Harriman?"
"Mean it? Certainly, I do. You're not backing out on me?"
"Not at all. We need that job now. You see the Care Free is lying in the middle of the Osage River, with her jet split clear back to the injector."
"Dear me! You weren't hurt?"
"No, aside from sprains and bruises. We jumped."
Charlie chortled. "I caught a catfish with my bare teeth."
In short order they got down to business. "You two will have to buy a ship for me. I can't do it openly; my colleagues would figure out what I mean to do and stop me. I'll supply you with all the cash you need. You go out and locate some sort of a ship that can be refitted for the trip. Work, up some good story about how you are buying it for some playboy as a stratosphere yacht, or that you plan to establish an arctic-antarctic tourist route. Anything as long as no one suspects that she is being-outfitted for space flight.
"Then, after the Department of Transport licenses her for strato flight, you move out to a piece of desert out west – I'll find a likely parcel of land and buy it – and then I'll join you. Then we'll install the escape-fuel tanks, change the injectors, and timers, and so forth, to fit her for the hop. How about it?"
McIntyre looked dubious. "It'll take a lot of doing. Charlie, do you think you can accomplish that changeover without a dockyard and shops?"
"Me? Sure I can – with your thick-fingered help. Just give me the tools and materials I want, and don't hurry me too much. Of course, it won't be fancy–"
"Nobody wants it to be fancy. I just want a ship that won't blow when I start slapping the keys. Isotope fuel is no joke."
"It won't blow, Mac."
"That's what you thought about the Care Free."
"That ain't fair, Mac. I ask you, Mr. Harriman – That heap was junk, and we knew it. This'll be different. We're going to spend some dough and do it right. Ain't we, Mr. Harriman?"
Harriman patted him on the shoulder. "Certainly we are, Charlie. You can have all the money you want. That's the least of our worries. Now do the salaries and bonuses I mentioned suit you? I don't want you to be short."
"–as you know, my clients are his nearest relatives and have his interests at heart. We contend that Mr. Harriman's conduct for the past several weeks, as shown by the evidence here adduced, gives clear indication that a mind, once brilliant in the world of finance, has become senile. It is, therefore, with the deepest regret that we pray this honorable court, if it pleases, to declare Mr. Harriman incompetent and to assign a conservator to protect his financial interests and those of his future heirs and assigns." The attorney sat down, pleased with himself.
Mr. Kamens took the floor. "May it please the court, if my esteemed friend is quite through, may I suggest that in his last few words be gave away his entire thesis. '–the financial interests of future heirs and assigns.' It is evident that the petitioners believe that my client should conduct his affairs in such a fashion as to insure that his nieces and nephews, and their issue, will be supported in unearned luxury for the rest of their lives. My client's wife has passed on, he has no children. It is admitted that he has provided generously for his sisters and their children in times past, and that he has established annuities for such near kin as are without means of support.
"But now like vultures, worse than vultures, for they are not content to let him die in peace, they would prevent my client from enjoying his wealth in whatever manner best suits him for the few remaining years of his life. It is true that he has sold his holdings; is it strange that an elderly man should wish to retire? It is true that he suffered some paper losses in liquidation. 'The value of a thing is what that thing will bring.' He was retiring and demanded cash. Is there anything strange about that?
"It is admitted that he refused to discuss his actions with his so-loving kinfolk. What law, or principle, requires a man to consult with his nephews on anything?
"Therefore, we pray that this court will confirm my client in his right to do what he likes with his own, deny this petition, and send these meddlers about their business."
The judge took off his spectacles .and polished them thoughtfully.
"Mr. Kamens, this court has as high a regard for individual liberty as you have, and you may rest assured that any action taken will be solely in the interests of your client. Nevertheless, men do grow old, men do become senile, and in such cases must be protected.
"I shall take this matter under advisement until tomorrow. Court is adjourned." -
From the Kansas City Star:
"ECCENTRIC MILLIONAIRE DISAPPEARS"
"–failed to appear for the adjourned hearing. The bailiffs returned from a search of places usually frequented by Harriman with the report that he had not been seen since the previous day. A bench warrant under contempt proceedings has been issued and–" -
A desert sunset is a better stimulant for the appetite than a hot dance orchestra. Charlie testified to this by polishing the last of the ham gravy with a piece of bread. Harriman handed each of the younger men cigars and took one himself.
"My doctor claims that these weeds are bad for my heart condition," he remarked as he lighted it, "but I've felt so much better since I joined you boys here on the ranch that I am inclined to doubt him." He exhaled a cloud of blue-grey smoke and resumed. "I don't think a man's health depends so much on what he does as on whether he wants to do it. I'm doing what I want to do."
"That's all a man can ask of life," agreed McIntyre.
"How does the work look now, boys?"
"My end's in pretty good shape," Charlie answered. "We finished the second pressure tests on the new tanks and the fuel lines today. The ground tests are all done, except the calibration runs. Those won't take long – just the four hours to make the runs if I don't run into some bugs. How about you, Mac?"
McIntyre ticked them off on his fingers. "Food supplies and water on board. Three vacuum suits, a spare, and service kits. Medical supplies. The buggy already had all the standard equipment for strato flight. The late lunar ephemerides haven't arrived as yet."
"When do you expect them?"
"Any time – they should be here now. Not that it matters. This guff about how hard it is to navigate from here to the Moon is hokum to impress the public. After all you can see your destination – it's not like ocean navigation. Gimme a sextant and a good radar and I'll set you down any place on the Moon you like, without cracking an almanac or a star table, just from a general knowledge of the relative speeds involved."
"Never mind the personal buildup, Columbus," Charlie told him, "we'll admit you can hit the floor with your hat. The general idea is, you're ready to go now. Is that right?"
"That being the case, I could run those tests tonight. I'm getting jumpy – things have been going too smoothly. If you'll give me a hand, we ought to be in bed by midnight."
"O.K., when I finish this cigar."
They smoked in silence for a while, each thinking about the coming trip and what it meant to him. Old Harriman tried to repress the excitement that possessed him at the prospect of immediate realization of his life-long dream.
"Eh? What is it, Charlie?"
"How does a guy go about getting rich, like you did?"
"Getting rich? I can't say; I never tried to get rich. I never wanted to be rich, or well known, or anything like that."
"No, I just wanted to live a long time and see it all happen. I wasn't unusual; there were lots of boys like me – radio hams, they were, and telescope builders, and airplane amateurs. We had science clubs, and basement laboratories, and science-fiction leagues – the kind of boys who thought there was more romance in one issue of the Electrical Experimenter than in all the books Dumas ever wrote. We didn't want to be one of Horatio Alger's Get-Rich heroes either, we wanted to build space ships. Well, some of us did."
"Jeez, Pop, you make it sound exciting."
"It was exciting, Charlie. This has been a wonderful, romantic century, for all of its bad points. And it's grown more wonderful and more exciting every year. No, I didn't want to be rich; I just wanted to live long enough to see men rise up to the stars, and, if God was good to me, to go as far as the Moon myself." He carefully deposited an inch of white ash in a saucer. "It has been a good life. I haven't any complaints." -
McIntyre pushed back his chair. "Come on, Charlie, if you're ready."
They all got up. Harriman started to speak, then grabbed at his chest, his face a dead grey-white.
"Catch him, Mac!"
"Where's his medicine?"
"In his vest pocket."
They eased him over to a couch, broke a small glass capsule in a handkerchisf, and held it under his nose. The volatile released by the capsule seemed to bring a little color into his face. They did what little they could for him, then waited for him to regain consciousness.
Charlie broke the uneasy silence. "Mac, we ain't going through with this."
"It's murder. He'll never stand up under the initial acceleration."
"Maybe not, but it's what he wants to do. You heard him."
"But we oughtn't to let him."
"Why not? It's neither your business, nor the business of this damn paternalistic government, to tell a man not to risk his life doing what he really wants to do."
"All the same, I don't feel right about it. He's such a swell old duck."
"Then what d'yuh want to do with him – send him back to Kansas City so those old harpies can shut him up in a laughing academy till he dies of a broken heart?"
"N-no-o-o – not that."
"Get out there, and make your set-up for those test runs. I'll be along."
A wide-tired desert runabout rolled in the ranch yard gate the next morning and stopped in front of the house. A heavy-set man with a firm, but kindly, face climbed out and spoke to McIntyre, who approached to meet him.
"You James Mcintyre?"
"What about it?"
"I'm the deputy federal marshal hereabouts. I got a warrant for your arrest."
"What's the charge?"
"Conspiracy to violate the Space Precautionary Act."
Charlie joined the pair. "What's up, Mac?"
The deputy answered. "You'd be Charles Cummings, I guess. Warrant here for you. Got one for a man named Harriman, too, and a court order to put seals on your space ship."
"We've no space ship."
"What d'yuh keep in that big shed?"
"So? Well, I'll put seals on her until a space ship comes along. Where's Harriman?"
"Right in there." Charlie obliged by pointing, ignoring McIntyre's scowl.
The deputy turned his head. Charlie couldn't have missed the button by a fraction of an inch for the deputy collapsed quietly to the ground. Charlie stood over him, rubbing his knuckles and mourning.
"Damn it to hell – that's the finger I broke playing shortstop. I'm always hurting that finger."
"Get Pop into the cabin," Mac cut him short, "and strap him into his hammock."
"Aye aye, Skipper." -
They dragged the ship by tractor out of the hangar, turned, and went out the desert plain to find elbow room for the take-off. They climbed in. McIntyre saw the deputy from his starboard conning port. He was staring disconsolately after them.
Mcintyre fastened his safety belt, settled his corset, and spoke into the engineroom speaking tube. "All set, Charlie?"
"All set, Skipper. But you can't raise ship yet, Mac – She ain't named!"
"No time for your superstitions!"
Harriman's thin voice reached them. "Call her the Lunatic – It's the only appropriate name!"
McIntyre settled his head into the pads, punched two keys, then three more in rapid succession, and the Lunatic raised ground.
"How are you, Pop?" Charlie searched the old man's face anxiously. Harriman licked his lips and managed to speak.
"Doing fine, son. Couldn't be better."
"The acceleration is over; it won't be so bad from here on. I'll unstrap you so you can wiggle around a little. But I think you'd better stay in the hammock." He tugged at buckles. Harriman partially repressed a groan.
"What is it, Pop?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all. Just go easy on that side."
Charlie ran his fingers over the old man's side with the sure, delicate touch of a mechanic. "You ain't foolin' me none, Pop. But there isn't much I can do until we ground."
"Can't I move to a port? I want to watch the Earth."
"Ain't nothin' to see yet; the ship hides it. As soon as we turn ship, I'll move you. Tell you what; I'll give you a sleepy pill, and then wake you when we do."
"I'll stay awake."
"Just as you say, Pop."
Charlie clambered monkey fashion to the nose of the ship, and anchored to the gymbals of the pilot's chair. McIntyre questioned him with his eyes.
"Yeah, he's alive all right," Charlie told him, "but he's in bad shape."
"Couple of cracked ribs anyhow. I don't know what else. I don't know whether he'll last out the trip,
Mac. His heart was pounding something awful."
"He'll last, Charlie. He's tough."
"Tough? He's delicate as a canary."
"I don't mean that. He's tough way down inside where it counts."
"Just the same you'd better set her down awful easy if you want to ground with a full complement aboard."
"I will. I'll make one full swing around the Moon and ease her in on an involute approach curve. We've got enough fuel, I think." -
They were now in a free orbit; after McIntyre turned ship, Charlie went back, unslung the hammock, and moved Harriman, hammock and all, to a side port. Mcliityre steadied the ship about a transverse axis so that the tail pointed toward the sun, then gave a short blast on two tangential jets opposed in couple to cause the ship to spin slowly about her longitudinal axis, and thereby create a slight artificial gravity. The initial weightlessness when coasting commenced had knotted the old man with the characteristic nausea of free flight, and the pilot wished to save his passenger as much discomfort as possible.
But Harriman was not concerned with the condition of his stomach. There it was, all as he had imagined it so many times.
The Moon swung majestically past the view port, wider than he had ever seen it before, all of her familiar features cameo clear. She gave way to the Earth as the ship continued its slow swing, the Earth itself as he had envisioned her, appearing like a noble moon, many times as wide as the Moon appears to the Earthbound, and more luscious, more sensuously beautiful than the silver Moon could be. It was sunset near the Atlantic seaboard – the line of shadow cut down the coast line of North America, slashed through Cuba, and obscured all but the west coast of South America. He savored the mellow blue of the Pacific Ocean, felt the texture of the soft green and brown of the continents, admired the blue-white cold of the polar caps. Canada and the northern states were obscured by cloud, a vast low pressure area that spread across the continent. It shone with an even more satisfactory dazzling white than the polar caps.
As the ship swung slowly, around, Earth would pass from view, and the stars would march across the port the same stars he had always known, but steady, brighter, and unwinking against a screen of perfect, live black. Then the Moon would swim into view again to claim his thoughts.
He was serenely happy in a fashion not given to most men, even in a long lifetime. He felt as if he were every man who has ever lived, looked up at the stars, and longed.
As the long hours came and went he watched and dozed and dreamed. At least once he must have fallen into deep sleep, or possibly delirium, for he came to with a start, thinking that his wife, Charlotte, was calling to him. "Delos!" the voice had said. "Delos! Come in from there! You'll catch your death of cold in that night air."
Poor Charlotte! She had been a good wife to him, a good wife. He was quite sure that her only regret in dying had been her fear that he could not take proper care of himself. It had not been her fault that she had not shared his dream, and his need. -
Charlie rigged the hammock in such a fashion that Harriman could watch from the starboard port when they swung around the far face of the Moon. He picked out the landmarks made familiar to him by a thousand photographs with nostalgic pleasure, as if he were returning to his own country. Mcintyre brought her slowly down as they came back around to the Earthward face, and prepared to land east of Mare Fecunditatis, about ten miles from Luna City.
It was not a bad landing, all things considered. He had to land without coaching from the ground, and he had no second pilot to watch the radar for him. In his anxiety to make it gentle he missed his destination by some thirty miles, but he did his cold-sober best. But at that it was bumpy. As they grounded and the pumice dust settled around them, Charlie came up to the control station.
"How's our passenger?" Mac demanded.
"I'll see, but I wouldn't make any bets. That landing stunk, Mac."
"Damn it, I did my best."
"I know you did, Skipper. Forget it."
But the passenger was alive and conscious although bleeding from the nose and with a pink foam on his lips. He was feebly trying to get himself out of his cocoon. They helped him, working together.
"Where are the vacuum suits?" was his first remark.
"Steady, Mr. Harriman. You can't go out there yet. We've got to give you some first aid."
"Get me that suit! First aid can wait."
Silently they did as he ordered. His left leg was practically useless, and they had to help him through the lock, one on each side. But with his inconsiderable mass having a lunar weight of only twenty pounds, he was no burden.. They found a place some fifty yards from the ship where they could prop him up and let him look, a chunk of scoria supporting his head.
Mcintyre put his helmet against the old man's and spoke. "We'll leave you here to enjoy the view while we get ready for the trek into town. It's a forty-miler, pretty near, and we'll have to break out spare air bottles and rations and stuff. We'll be back soon."
Harriman nodded without answering, and squeezed their gauntlets with a grip that was surprisingly strong.
He sat very quietly, rubbing his hands against the soil of the Moon and sensing the curiously light pressure of his body against the ground. At long last there was peace in his heart. His hurts had ceased to pain him. He was where he had longed to be – he had followed his need.
Over the western horizon hung the Earth at last quarter, a green-blue giant moon. Overhead the Sun shone down from a black and starry sky. And underneath the Moon, the soil of the Moon itself. He was on the Moon!
He lay back still while a bath of content flowed over him like a tide at flood, and soaked to his very marrow.
His attention strayed momentarily, and he thought once again that his name was called. Silly, he thought, I'm getting old – my mind wanders. -
Back in the cabin Charlie and Mac were rigging shoulder yokes on a stretcher. "There. That will do," Mac commented. "We'd better stir Pop out; we ought to be going."
"I'll get him," Charlie replied. "I'll just pick him up and carry him. He don't weigh nothing."
Charlie was gone longer than Mcintyre had expected him to be. He returned alone. Mac waited for him to close the lock, and swing back his helmet. "Trouble?"
"Never mind the stretcher, Skipper. We won't be needin' it.
"Yeah, I mean it," he continued. "Pop's done for. I did what was necessary."
Mcintyre bent down without a word and picked up the wide skis necessary to negotiate the powdery ash. Charlie followed his example. Then they swung the spare air bottles over their shoulders, and passed out through the lock.
They didn't bother to close the outer door of the lock behind them.