Fallen angels larry Niven Jerry Pournelle Michael Flynn



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CHAPTER TWENTY

A Fire in the Sky


Jenny Trout stared down the road. "Where the hell are they?"

"Maybe the lock was tougher than Harry thought," Sherrine said.

"It wouldn't be the lock," Jenny said. "Harry's good with locks. I'm sure glad Bob went along. Where the hell are they?"

"There's something coming." A light, a long way away. Fantastic, how far you could see out here.

"Two lights! It's a car!" Jenny shouted. "Get Hudson."

"Jenny, for God's sake put that gun away!" Sherrine said. "Gary!"

C.C. Miller came running out of the office. "Jenny, for God's sake, shooting people isn't the answer to everything!"

"Cissy, sometimes it is!"

"Not this time," Gary Hudson said. "Look, if you start a firefight there'll be a hundred Air Police up here long before any possible launch window." He stared moodily at the approaching headlights. "Whatever we do, it has to be done quietly."

"Oh. Okay." Jenny put the gun back in her boot.

Miller edged closer to Fang and spoke in a low urgent voice. "Stay with her, just in case."

"We can't just give up now!"

"No, and we won't," Miller said. "But there're more ways to futter a cat than just to stuff its head in a sea boot."

"Eh?"

"Ted Sturgeon's other law. Just go wait with Jenny."



The car was a small gray sedan, totally inconspicuous if you didn't notice that it had six antennas. It pulled up in the pool of light in front of the office, and Bob Needleton got out on the driver's side. He was moving slowly, carefully. Harry got out of the passenger's side, moving e same way, as if they were underwater.

"What the hell is going on?" Gary Hudson demanded. Somebody slid out of the back seat, lithe and quick like a striking shark.

Bob Needleton said, carefully, "Gary Hudson, this is Captain, Lee Arteria, U.S.A.F. Office of Special Investigations."

"Oh, shit-——"

"Death will not release you." Captain Arteria's voice carried even over the roar of the let engine. Headlights glowed on the intruder's blue uniform and compact machine gun and sharp white smile. The Air Police captain moved like a man in free fall, Alex thought. Like Steve Mews. Strong and dangerous.

Harry Czescu and Bob Needleton had stopped moving. The night seemed to wait. C.C. cleared his throat and said, "Even if you die."

"Pay your dues! Pay your dues!" Was that a man's

voice or a woman's?

"Lee Arteria?"

"Right. You're . . . Miller? C.C. Miller. Director of the LASFS.

"Chairman now," Miller said.

Gary Hudson demanded, "Will someone please tell me-—"

"She's a LASFS member," Miller said.

"Or was," Bob Needleton said.

Lee Arteria said, "Nobody leaves the LASFS. Death did not release me, nor fafiation. It took me a while to figure that out."

"Which is all very well, but where is the IMU?" Hudson said.

"I have it here." Arteria handed across a box. She held her weapon like a prosthetic attachment. Hudson took the box while trying to evade the machine gun's snout.

"And you better get it installed fast." Arteria glanced at her watch. "It's twenty-three forty-two now. By oh-eight-hundred, oh-eight-thirty tops, this place will be crawling with police. OSI, blues, Greens, Army, Immigration agents, Post Office inspectors for all I know."

"Yes. OK." Gary Hudson held the box gingerly, like a hot potato. Small wonder, Alex thought, considering what-—who-—had come attached to it. "Okay. And, Alex, you'd better tell Jenny to stand down."

Alex went.

The hangar was larger from inside than it had looked from across the ride. Phoenix stood proudly, enshrouded by scaffolds now. They turned on all the lights. That was safer than using flashlights. Furtive lights might be investigated immediately. Working lights could wait until morning.

"God, it's beautiful," Lee said.

"Not as beautiful as when she flies," Hudson said.

"It really will work, then."

Hudson gave her a sour look. "I don't want to seem ungrateful, but you're about the hundredth person to ask that. Yes, Phoenix is ready. More precisely, I'm enough convinced that it will work that I'm going up with it."

Hudson took the IMU and climbed up into the well above one of the landing legs. The opening was barely large enough to admit him. A few moments later he came out far enough to take a wrench out of his pocket, then climbed back in. Finally he emerged with a big grin.

"All's well?" Lee Arteria asked.

Hudson grinned wider. "Yeah. Now let's check things out." He led the way up the ladder.

The cabin was crowded. The only empty spaces were the four seats, which could just be reached from above. Chickens protested the disturbance when Hudson turned on the lights. Lee watched from the hatchway as Hudson wormed into the command chair and pulled the panel toward him. He threw switches. Lights blinked yellow, then green, and the readout screen came alive. Hudson typed furiously at the keyboard.

"Hot damn," he announced.

"All's well?" Lee asked.

"Like a charm." He typed more commands. "There. I've got it in a test loop, but I don't expect any problems."

"And you can launch when?" Lee asked.

"In about ten minutes, or at oh-six-forty. We won't be ready in ten minutes."

"Six and a half hours," Lee said.

* * *

Jheri Moorkith was trying to be polite. After all, this was an Air Force Base, and he was talking to Air Force officers. It wasn't easy, though.

"Dammit, she lied to me," Moorkith said.

"How?" Lieutenant Billings asked.

"She said that message on the sermon board, 'Sermon by Nehemiah Scudder,' would lure them in."

"And it didn't. What makes you think they went anywhere near your church?" Colonel Murphy demanded.

"We know they went through Denver, and they crossed the California border at Needles four days ago. Four days! And you've known it all this time, and didn't tell me!"

"I sent you a memo," Billings said.

"Through channels," Moorkith said through his teeth. "Yeah, and we all know how that game is played. All right, but it's played out now. I have a directive here from the National Security Council putting me in charge of finding these enemies. Do you acknowledge my authority?'

Murphy braced. "Yes, sir." He didn't pretend to like it.

"Good. Where is Captain Arteria?"

"We don't know exactly," Billings said. "She's communicating through the Mount Emma relay station. That serves the entire Mojave Desert. She could be anywhere out there, but for all I know she's here in Victorville. This is where she told me to wait for orders."

Moorkith grimaced. "Colonel, I am ordering you: find her. I want to know where Captain Lee Arteria is."

"Why?" Murphy demanded.

"Because I think she has gone over. Find Arteria, and we'll know exactly where those astronauts and their fannish friends are. I'm sure of it. So find her!"

* * *

Wheep! Wheep!

Lee tore off the fax sheet, read it and handed it to C.C. Miller.



BOSS IT'S GETTING STICKY. MOORKITH IS HERE WITH FULL AUTHORITY FROM THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL TO TAKE CHARGE. THE CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL TOLD HIM TWO MILKHEIM TRUCKS CROSSED THE BORDER AT NEEDLES FOUR DAYS AGO. MOORKITH IS UPSET. MOORKITH IS VERY UPSET. MOORKITH IS FURIOUS. HE'S SCREAMING AT COLONEL MURPHY. THE COLONEL IS SCREAMING AT ME.

DIRECT ORDER FROM COLONEL MURPHY: CAPTAIN ARTERIA, YOU WILL REPORT YOUR LOCATION AND CIRCUMSTANCES IMMEDIATELY. MURPHY.

COLONEL MURPHY SAYS I HAVE ONE HOUR TO FIND OUT WHERE YOU ARE AND GET A FULL REPORT AND THEN HE'S SENDING THE AP'S LOOKING FOR YOU.

HE SAYS THAT BUT I THINK HE SENT THEM OUT ALREADY.

I HOPE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING BECAUSE ITS GETTING HOTTER THAN HELL AROUND HERE.

BILLINGS



Miller read it, then handed it to Bob Needleton. They all stood in a group around Lee's car, reading in the light from the office windows behind them.

"That does look sticky," Bob Needleton said.

"It is sticky," Lee said. "Up to now I might just get away with saying you overpowered me. I'd look like an idiot letting you and Harry get my piece away from me after the way you telegraphed your moves, but I could talk my way out of a court martial. Now I have direct orders to tell my colonel where I am and what I'm doing. That's not a game anymore. That's Leavenworth."

"So what will you do?" Miller asked.'

She looked around at their faces as they stood in a circle around her car. At the desert beyond. Then at the open door to the hangar. She could just see the base of Phoenix.

She still held the submachine gun. She stood for another moment, then got into the car, laid down the machine pistol, and began to type furiously at her fax machine.

Harry looked at Miller. They both looked at Hudson. Hudson shrugged.

Arteria got out again and retrieved her weapon. "There. Take the big tank trucks to the oil fields at Taft and abandon them. Have somebody follow in a car to take the drivers, then call this number and tell the duty sergeant where you left the trucks. Get away from there fast. Keep going on north to wherever you want to hide. Meanwhile, I've got the Air Police watching Cajon Pass to San Bernardino. About the time they get that covered, they'll get the tip about the trucks in Taft. Go on, move! This ought to buy us a few hours."

Hudson nodded warily.

C.C. said, "Sarge, Mark, a truck each. Bjo, you've got a hydrogen car? Fuel up and follow them and keep moving. Sarge, you're in charge."

"Right."

Lee Arteria stood up briskly, The gun had never left her side. "Now as to my price."

"So what's your price?" There was something in Bob Needleton's voice that said he already knew. What had passed between them in the car on the way here?

"I'm going up," Lee Arteria said.

Hudson shook his head emphatically. "We don't have time to repack. It's packed for four and we're only six hours from liftoff-—"

"Your seat, Pins."

Needleton said, "Captain, I never said I wasn't going."

"I heard what you told me, coming here. You're staying to teach, you're staying to fight, you're giving up and leaving, you're not sure what you'll do up there, you'll be locked in a can with the woman who kicked you out and the man who took her. You're in a quantum state, Pins. Well, I'm flipping you over."

Arteria was moving forward; Bob Needleton was backing up. He didn't seem to be aware of it. His jaw thrust out mutinously. "If I give up my seat it'll be to something that's needed up there. What are you doing?"

Arteria was opening zippers. She was wearing lots of zippers. She said, "I've done too much to cover for you. I go up, or I go to Leavenworth. I caught you people! Fair and square, and then I covered for you."

"So you have to go underground. So do most of us. You can hide as easy as me. Easier. You know more about how to do it."

"Not good enough," she said. "You can't stop me."

"I can try. Maybe I can kill you before you summon help, maybe I can't."

"I don't have to summon anyone. If I don't report in, they'll know where to look."

"I don't believe you-—"

Arteria laughed softly. She was moving toward him while dropping things: the submachine gun. Her leather jacket. A holdout gun from one boot, a knife from the other, then the boots. Handcuffs, the fancy pin in her hat. Bob Needleton watched in horror, retreating, and nobody else moved.

"Maybe it's a bluff. Maybe you, couldn't alert your squad because you waited too long." Bob's threat might have been more effective if he weren't backing up toward the Operations Planning Room.

"Every cop on Earth knows my face." Handcuffs, a mace delivery system, a horrifying armory. And her pants. Blouse. "They're all going to think . . . know I betrayed them."

She looked quite dangerous, Alex thought. She had muscles . . . smoother than Steve's, but powerfully differentiated. She looked to Alex like an alien life form, and more female every second.

Arteria was almost nose to nose with Bob Needleton. He'd backed up against a flat surface. She wasn't wearing anything at all now. She said, "What about a woman of childbearing age?"

"Okay," Bob said, "you're a woman."

"Open the door," she said.

"Door?" Needleton became aware of the flat surface behind him. He found a doorknob and turned it and backed through.

Lee Arteria said, "I'll be taking your seed with me."

"I don't, uh-—"

"I didn't ask."

Slam.

Gordon was smiling broadly. "Wonderful! Just like `God's Little Acre.' "

"Shouldn't we be trying to rescue him?" Sherrine looked at the stunned faces around her.

* * *

Hudson climbed out of Phoenix and gathered the others around him at the ship's base.

"All right," he said. "It's set. We launch at oh-six-forty-four on the dot. Commander Hopkins has the rendezvous set. He'll go when we report success."

"Who do you need here for the launch?" Miller asked.

"Once we get the roof opened, no one. We'll open that in half an hour, then you people scatter, and I mean scatter. Get off the base and take off in all directions. Can anybody go straight north across the desert?"

"We can," Harry said. "But maybe Jenny and I ought to stay. Stand guard."

"And do what? Not that I need to ask," Hudson said, as Jenny reached toward her boot. "Look: just now I won't be wanted for anything but stealing my own spaceship. I can land in a foreign country and the lawyers can take care of it. Kill somebody and they'll have extradition warrants out everywhere we can land! Not to mention that a bunch of Air Force johnnies who right now sympathize will be gunning for me. I have to come back to Earth to get Annie! No, thanks, Harry."

"No last stand?" Jenny said.

"No."

"Imagine my relief," Harry said. "Look, we'll be going out last, right? I'll take a coil of that stainless steel wire and close off the gates. We can drop broken glass on the road up, too."

"Well, that's all right," Hudson said. "But nobody gets hurt!"

"Except maybe us," Jenny said.

"If that's what it takes to get this ship up-—"

"Yeah, Harry," Jenny said. She put the pistol back in her boot. "Where's that wire?"

"Now. One more thing," Hudson asked. "Where's Arteria?"

Everyone looked at each other. "She's still-—" "She's with Needleton-—"

"It would help to know her weight," Hudson said. "Harry, go ask."

"Well, all right-—" Harry walked across the square from the hangar to the engineering building, and stood on the porch outside the closed door to the Operations Planning Room.

He stood there a while, then came back. "Actually, you won't be very far off if you say a hundred and fifty pounds."



Gary Hudson activated the speaker system. It wouldn't matter now, voices wouldn't add to the noise of the turbo expander. "MINUS EIGHTY MINUTES AND COUNTING," the computer said. Damn, it feels good to hear that again!

The door to the Operations Planning Room opened, and Lee Arteria came out wearing the silk kimono that Hudson kept in the shower in his office suite. "Yours, Hudson? I like your taste," she said. "But someone seems to have moved my clothes."

"Next room. You won't need all the weapons, you know."

"I don't need any, do I?"

Hudson frowned. "Not by me. But I haven't told them upstairs about the change in the passenger list. Not too late to rethink it."

"Nothing to rethink. This career's over."

"So you run away. What do you think you'll do up there?"

She shook her head. "I'm not useless you know. I have an engineering degree. Air Force ROTC. I wanted to work in the space program. I got my commission, but they didn't need engineers, and they did need police investigators. I was good at that, but I can learn anything." She smiled slightly, a thin, wistful smile. "I can make babies. My biological clock is going tick, tick, brrinnggg!"

"OK, you convinced me. I gather you already convinced Dr. Needleton."

"Let's say he's no longer objecting."

* * *

"All right, the hour's up. Where is she?" Moorkith demanded.

Colonel Murphy looked embarrassed. "She ordered the helicopter to meet her at an area above Cajon Pass, but the place was empty when they got there. We're searching the area."

"Searching the area."

"Yes, Mr. Moorkith. She may be hurt, or taken prisoner."

"I don't believe one word of that," Moorkith said. "And neither do you. She's gone over. Helping them! That's what's happened. Now, Colonel, unless you want to explain all this to the Secretary of Defense, you will cooperate with me."

"What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to think! What could have persuaded her to help the Angels? She must know they'd be caught."

Lieutenant Billings had been listening quietly. Now he drew in his breath sharply.

Moorkith looked at him. "Well, Lieutenant?"

"Nothing, sir. Just a thought."

"Out with it," Moorkith said.

Billings shook his head. "Sir, it was nothing-—"

"Tell us," Colonel Murphy said.

"Maybe they won't get caught, sir."

Murphy frowned. "Billings, there's no way! There's no place in this country, on this continent-—oh.

"What in hell are you talking about, Colonel?" Moorkith demanded.

"Nothing, sir."

"God damn you people! You know something, you know something-—" He stopped and looked thoughtful. "So. Not on this continent. Not on this planet, right? They have a way to get back to orbit, don't they? What is it? Where?"

"No place," Murphy said. "It's silly."

"Silly or not, Colonel, this is a direct order from me acting with the authority of the National Security Council: how might they get those Angels back into orbit?"

Murphy and Billings looked at each other helplessly. Finally Murphy said, slowly, "Phoenix."

"There's a rocket ship in Phoenix?"

* * *

"MINUS FIFTY MINUTES AND COUNTING. TAKE YOUR LAUNCH STATIONS. CLEAR THE BASE AREA. CLEAR THE BASE AREA."

Bob Needleton was buttoning his shirt as he came out of the Ops Planning Room. Everyone carefully looked away as he came out onto the porch. "Where is she?" he asked.

"Getting aboard," Harry said. "Uh-—you're not going to make trouble?"

"Huh? No. She goes. I'll be staying here to fight the danelaw."

He went down to the Phoenix hangar. The roof was open now, open to the stars burning brightly in the high desert. The moon was just going down, and there was the faintest tinge of dawn to the east, but straight above was cold and dark and clear.

Sherrine and Arteria were climbing up the scaffolding. Hudson and Alex stood at the top, sixty feet above.

"Go with God," Gordon shouted.

"Yo!"

Bob Needleton waved. "Good-bye, Sherrine. Captain Arteria . . . Lee. Name them after the kids in Doc Smith's Children of the Lens. Guys, I'm hungry."

"There's food left over," Harry said. "Look we've all got our escape assignments. You're to go in Lee's car. They thought that would be appropriate. If you're-—Sandy here will drive, he knows the area."

Hudson got into the ship.

"CLEAR THE BASE AREA."

"Guess that's it, then," Bob Needleton said. "Seems like an-—I guess it's over. From the Ice to the Desert." He stood at the door to the hangar, reluctant to leave, until Harry pulled him away.

They reached the car. Sandy Sanders was already in the driver's seat.

Wheep! Wheep!

The fax machine startled them.



CAPTAIN LEE ARTERIA THIS IS COLONEL ANTHONY MURPHY. OFFICIAL. MISTER JHERI MOORKITH WITH AUTHORITY OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL HAS ASSUMED COMMAND OF OPERATION FALLEN ANGEL. HE HAS DECIDED THAT THERE WILL BE AN ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE OUR JURISDICTION BY ILLEGAL LAUNCH OF A USAF EXPERIMENTAL SHIP CALLED PHOENIX AT PRESENT HELD IN A USAF MUSEUM AT EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE. YOU ARE HEREBY ORDERED TO DO ALL IN YOUR POWER TO PREVENT THE LAUNCH OF THE PHOENIX ROCKET. FYI MOORKITH LEFT HERE TEN MINUTES AGO WITH LIEUTENANT BILLINGS IN YOUR HELICOPTER, DESTINATION EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, REPEAT, DESTINATION EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE.



"Holy shit," Needleton said. "How do we tell Hudson?"

"Cissy and Gordon are still in the blockhouse," Harry said. He looked at his watch. "I think they are."

"Harry, run this over," Bob said. "Have him read it to Hudson."

"Then what?" Sandy asked.

"Then nothing," Harry said. "Hudson ordered us not to fight, and it don't matter anyway. We can't fight a chopper. Can't even mess up the landing areas, there are too many up here. Get Bob out of here, Sandy."

Sandy looked to Needleton. Bob nodded. "Let's go," he said. "Who knows, if enough of us run away, maybe they'll chase us. Let's go."



Miller read the fax and shook his head. "I've got a bad feeling about this-—" He punched the intercom button. "Phoenix, we have a problem." He read the fax.

There was a long pause.

"Okay, we got it," Hudson said. "Not that there's much we can do. We wait. Know any prayers?"

"Edwards," Lee Arteria said. "Moorkith said Edwards, so that's where they're taking him! I know Murphy, if they were coming to Thunder Ridge he'd have said Thunder Ridge. I think we're going to make it!"

"Cutting it damned close," Hudson said. "Miller, get your people out of here. We may be able to shave a few minutes off the launch time. I'll talk to Commander Hopkins. You people, get out. Now! Go!"



"MINUS TWENTY MINUTES AND COUNTING," the computer said.

"And who do you think it's talking to?" Sherrine asked.

"No one, I hope," Gary said. "But you never know about fans. And Harry."

"We're blind in here," Arteria said. "If I'd been thinking we could have rigged up a way to communicate with whoever's in my car-—"

"Bob Needleton," Hudson said.

"Alex, is it always like this?" Arteria asked. "Waiting? I'm beginning to know what criminals must feel like-—"

"Phoenix, this is Freedom," a woman's voice said.

"Roger, Freedom."

"I am patching in a relay. Stand by."

"Alex, this is Gordon. We relay to you."

"Roger, Gordo. Good to hear from you. What's up?"

"Not you, but Air Police helicopter has landed at Edwards main base."

"Eighteen miles from here," Hudson muttered. "Ten minutes flight-—"

"Five," Arteria said.

"And they'll hear the compressor," Hudson said.

"I don't think so," Arteria said. "We drove a good halfway here before we heard it-—but you can see the lights up here with no trouble at all."

"Oh, shit," Hudson said.

"MINUS FIFTEEN MINUTES AND COUNTING."

* * *

"All right, now where is this Phoenix?" Moorkith demanded.

"Phoenix, sir?" the operations sergeant asked. The name tag on his coverall said "MacDaniel." "It's in a museum up on Thunder Ridge."

"Thunder Ridge? Where's that?"

The sergeant pointed. "You see them lights up there across the lake? That's Thunder Ridge."

Moorkith turned to Billings. "What in the hell are you up to?"

"Sir? You asked to be taken to Edwards. We're at Edwards."

"God damn you, you knew I wanted to get to the Phoenix!"

Billings kept a straight face. "Sir, you told Colonel Murphy I was to take you to Edwards. I took you to Edwards. I assume you want to clear this activity on U.S. Air Force property with the base commander. Sir."

"And where is he?" Moorkith demanded.

The operations sergeant looked at Billings, then back at Moorkith. "Sir, he's in Rosamond. He doesn't live on base."

"Then who the hell is in charge here?"

"Sir, that would be the Officer of the Day, Major Cobb."

"And where is he?"

"In the Operations Office, sir."

"You bastards are going to give me a runaround all night, aren't you?" Moorkith demanded. "You're all in this together. You're finished, Billings, you and Murphy and Arteria, you're all finished!"

"Yes, sir. Did you want to see Major Cobb, sir?"

"No, I want you to take me up to Thunder Ridge."

"Yes, sir. Sergeant, see that this chopper is fueled up and-—"

"Damn it, NOW!"

"But, sir, we're low on fuel. And, Sergeant, I thought I heard a funny noise in the main bearing. Probably nothing, but you better check it out."

Sergeant MacDaniel fought with a grin and almost won. "Yes, sir."

"Space cadets," Moorkith said. "Sergeant, get me a car. That car. Right there. Are the keys in it? Good. You two, you guys with the guns, come with me. Now. Lieutenant, when you get your helicopter working, you can use it to get up on that ridge and stop that launch or you can stuff it up your ass. Either way, Billings, either way, you are finished. Done. Do you understand me?"

"Well, not quite, sir. Now I suppose it's pretty astonishing that a bunch of Air Force people would have an interest in space-—"

"And you can quit stalling, too," Moorkith said. "All right you men. Get in the car. I'll drive. Sergeant, open the fucking gate, and don't give me any problems about that."

Sergeant MacDaniel shrugged. "Yes, sir. Give me a moment to get the keys."

* * *

Inspector Glen Bailey drove the Green Police car through Mojave and east on Highway 58, keeping his eyes on Thunder Ridge more than on the road. Any moment now, he thought. Any moment.

As he drove he sang softly to himself.



"And the Earth is clean as a springtime dream,
No factory smokes appear,
For they've left the land to the gardener's hand,
And they all are orbiting here . . ."



* * *

Bob Needleton looked at his watch. "Stop," he said. Sandy pulled over to the edge of the road. Needleton got out and leaned on the car. He looked south, to Thunder Ridge, and waited. It was just before dawn, a few stars left in the west, none in the east, but it was still dark on the ground. Not quite dawn, Needleton thought. Not by Mohammed's definition, can't tell a black thread from a white one-

There was a flash on Thunder Ridge. Then another, even brighter.



Jheri Moorkith could see the big hangar through the fence. The base area of Thunder Ridge was deserted, but there were lights everywhere, and the roof of the big building two hundred yards away had been swung open. The Air Police car stopped, and Airman Joey Murasaki got out. "Gate's locked," he shouted. "No keys."

The hangar was just ahead, but there was no way through the locked gate. Jheri Moorkith was tempted to scream, but managed to be calm. "Shoot the lock off," he ordered.

Sergeant Malcolm Lincoln sniffed. "Sir, that works better in movies than the real world. Maybe I should get a hammer out of the trunk and open it with that?"

"I don't care how you do it, open that gate!"

Two blows of the hammer smashed the lock, but the gate still wouldn't open. "It's wired shut," Sergeant Lincoln said. "Joey, get me the bolt cutters out of the trunk."

There was a bright flash from the hangar. The corrugated aluminum walls shook, and there was thunder.

"Hurry!" Moorkith screamed.

The hangar walls fell outward. Phoenix began to rise, slowly, majestically. Moorkith turned to face the Air Policemen, who were staring at the slowly rising rocket. "Shoot it!" Moorkith ordered.

"Shoot it?" Sergeant Lincoln asked.

"Yes! Shoot! Shoot! Damn you, I order you, shoot it!"

"Sir-—"

"Give me that damn gun!"

Malcolm Lincoln never took his eyes off the ship as he unslung the submachine gun. Then, exactly as he'd been taught, he slipped the clip loose and opened the bolt. He handed the empty weapon to Moorkith.

Jheri Moorkith fumbled with the cartridge clip. He saw nothing as Phoenix rose.

Sergeant Malcolm Lincoln watched with a faraway look as Phoenix flew upward, faster now. Thunder washed across him, and his ears hurt but Lincoln was grinning like a thief. As the rocket climbed she caught the growing light of dawn, but the jets were brighter than the dawn as Phoenix rode a fire into the sky.



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