Stakeout could be a peaceful, lazy, catch-up time. Arteria hadn't done stakeout in years. She played a box of cassettes from Books by Mail while she watched and waited.
Some science fiction was still approved. The box was labeled as "The Sheep Look Up" by John Brunner.
She had a perfect site, on a hill high above the old Rogers Dry Lake. Her binoculars and telescope camera lenses could see most of Thunder Ridge.
Vehicles came: vans and campers, six to ten passengers each. Numerous grocery bags went into the concrete buildings. Nothing heavy. The tanker trucks had vanished into a garage; they certainly hadn't come down the hill again. Vehicles came and went. Some stayed.
Lot of manpower there. What work would need all those hands? Most of it must be going on in the hangar. Meanwhile, a city of tents and campers was going up on the desert.
It had been like this in the days when the shuttle landed. Much larger crowds then, of course. Several square miles of Nature's own parking lot, with guides to set them in rows. Campers, tents, a line of huckster tent-booths selling food, drink, badges and patches, photos and paintings, commemorative mugs and T-shirts. At night, little coal fires, music, sometimes a whiff of marijuana; tiny parties and profound silences, while hundreds of thousands of people waited for dawn.
Everybody else always saw it first. Then there it was, nose pointed way down, the world's boxiest glider. You'd hear BooBoom, a double sonic boom from the nose and the awkward bulge at the tail.
Afterward the Air Force raked up their several square miles of garbage and ran a roller over the black spots where fires had been, and it was as if the crowds had never been.
Twenty to thirty of them, now; no more. No spacecraft would be landing tomorrow. Were they singing? Did they tell old stories? Lee Arteria the outsider, the watcher, watched and wondered what she was waiting for.
Wheep! Wheep! Wheep! Captain Lee Arteria tore off the fax sheet and spread it.
WE'RE HERE AT GEORGE AFB. TWO SQUADS AIR POLICE, TWO PILOTS, YOUR HELICOPTER AND ME. STANDING BY FOR ORDERS. COLONEL MURPHY WANTS TO KNOW WHERE THE HELL YOU ARE. I TOLD HIM YOU HAD A BIG CASE BUT I'D FIND OUT.
Yeah. I'm going to have do something pretty quick or get off the pot. But when? By waiting she got license plates and photographs of conspirators: half a dozen cars and trucks with a dozen people-—sensitive fannish faces on Thunder Ridge.
But what good was this doing? Especially now. One call, and the Air Police would surround the place. Her chopper would come. Imagine the consternation when she landed!
So far there were no decisions to make. The astronauts-—she was quite certain that was who they were-—had made no attempt to leave the base. Everyone else could be identified and tracked down.
So what are you waiting for, dear? Lee Arteria had always liked the chase better than the kill; but this was different, very different.
The motorcycle started, was coming down the hill now. Two people on it. The usual overweight bearded driver. No guitars. It was just dusk, not much light, and they were moving too fast for her to see the face of the rider, who was wearing a helmet anyway, but it clearly wasn't the thin older woman who usually rode back there.
There was a tool kit strapped to the luggage carrier. The motorcycle reached the bottom of the hill, but instead of turning north onto Rocket Site Road-—on her new, map it was labeled Ecology Ruin Drive-—the motorcycle turned west. That road led around Rogers Dry Lake and down to the south entrance of the base, into the area still guarded by the Air Force. What in the world would they be doing there? They'd need papers-—
When the road turned southwest, the motorcycle continued due west. It passed just under Arteria's hill and continued out across the dry lake. Curiouser arid curiouser-—
. . . Night was falling fast now. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. What in hell can they be planning?
She got out her best night glasses. There was just enough moonlight to let the big binoculars follow the unlighted motorcycle across the lake-—
They stopped about a quarter of a mile from the fence, left the bike, and went on foot to the fence.
Not quite to the main fence. To a smaller fenced compound outside the main base. The two figures huddled near the fence on the far side from the base. No one was likely to see them-—no one not watching them in the first place, anyway. In a few minutes they were inside the fence and alongside the corrugated aluminum building. Either the door wasn't locked or they were good at lockpicking, because it didn't stop them for long.
They went in. Arteria timed it: nine minutes and a couple of seconds. Then they were out again, out the door, pause to repair the fence, then out on the lake, running to the bike. They walked it for half a mile, then started it up and drove without lights. The desert wind covered the sound as they drove back up to Thunder Ridge.
Arteria got out her map of the base. It took a while to find the area that the bandits had visited, but there it was:
HYDROGEN PIPELINE VALVE CONTROL BUILDING
A main hydrogen pipeline led down from the north, across Edwards, and on toward Los Angeles. Two smaller lines branched off at Edwards. One went from the valve building into Dryden. The other went around the dry lake and up to Thunder Ridge.
* * *
"Slicker'n ary weasel," Harry said. "Got in, broke the lock, turned on the valve, and epoxied the lock back so nobody'll notice even if they look."
"They can find the hole in the fence," C.C. Miller said.
Bob Needleton said, "We did a pretty good job of restoring the fence, too. It's like the lock, if they know to look they'll find it, but that's the only way. The real question is, is the hydrogen coming through?"
"There's pressure," Hudson said. "We're bleeding out air now, but if there's pressure, we'll have hydrogen by morning. OK. Well done. Tomorrow comes the real work."
Harry was weeping. "Shame," he said. "Goddam shame." He crawled out of the tank, painfully, like the first fish that tried to conquer the land. He was wearing white coveralls, white socks, and a big white painter's hat. His face and beard were nearly covered by white cloths, and he wore white gloves. He stood up in the sunlight, leaning heavily on Jenny Trout, and blubbered. "Goddam crying shame."
"How horrible. All that scotch." Fangs voice echoed like a thousand metal ghosts. His head popped out of the opening, swathed in white like Harry's and smiling a goofy smile. "Liter . . . rary reference."
"It's in a good cause," Hudson said. "Harry, you're supposed to clean that tank, not drink the solvent."
"I didn't drink one damn thing. Not one," Harry blubbered. "Poor LASFS. Nothing to drink anymore. All they had."
"Drink, no," Fang said. "Woosh! But a man's got to breath. Doesn't he? Hee!"
"Anyway, I think that's enough for Harry," Hudson said. "You, too, Fang. Who's next?"
" 'How horrible! All that scotch!' Mad magazine, fifties," Fang said. "When the oxygen comes in, we should breathe summa that. Hangover."
"I'll take a turn," Jenny said. "I'm with Harry, though. Distilling the alcohol off good scotch and bourbon is a hanging offense." She took Fang's protective garments as he wrestled them off. "Cheer up, Harry. You've never been so drunk, and the LASFS paid the bill."
The noise began at noon, the high-pitched scream of a jet engine. Arteria's camp was fully three miles from Thunder Ridge, but it was still noisy. She swept her binoculars over the area. The fans had clustered around one of the big cylindrical tanks, had opened it up and gone inside two and three at a time. They came out staggering. Now they had the tank sealed off and they'd started the big jet engine on a stand next to the other partially buried tank. Other fans were carrying things into the big hangar that housed the rocket Arteria had never seen.
There was other machinery running, too. A big diesel engine belched smoke on startup, and still put fumes into the air. That one seemed to be attached to the larger of the two fuel cylinders. After a while the lines from the diesel began to smoke.
Not smoke. Condensation, even in this dry air. LOX! They're making LOX, which would explain their working on the tank, cleaning it out. LOX, and hydrogen.
Lee had never seen anyone liquefy gasses, but it was clear that's what they were doing. They must be entirely crazy-—like the Jonestown massacre, whole communities do go mad, and this little clump of madmen must think-—but why did they think they could-—
Starfire! Starfire! We can know the promise of the stars . . .
Unless I stop it. I'm supposed to stop it.
She was still watching when the Green Police car drove onto the base.
* * *
The car glowed iridescent green like a bottlefly. It wound up the side of the hill toward Thunder Ridge. Harry dove into his saddlebags and came up with a pistol. Jenny produced one from her boot.
"No, dammit," C.C. Miller said. "Put the damn hardware away." He had to shout, almost to scream, to be heard over the sound of the compressor.
"They're police!" Harry said.
C.C. was bobbing and weaving to stay out of the line of Harry's weaving revolver. Harry hungover wasn't much better than Harry drunk. "Harry, we don't have time. Shut up and get yourselves under cover! We'll fix it!"
"We'll be watching," Jenny threatened. She pulled Harry into the blockhouse.
"So damned close," Hudson said. "Another couple of days-—"
"Come and meet them."
"Meet them on their own territory. At their car. It's supposed to be reassuring," Miller said.
The Green car pulled up and two men got out. C.C. Miller waved to one of them, a short man with a beard so black that it looked dyed. "Hello, Glen!"
"Hello. This is official. Captain Hartwell, Green Police. Dan, this is C.C. Miller. That's Gary Hudson. He's in charge here."
Hartwell was tall and thin. His look was grim as he stared at the let engine. "What is this?" he shouted.
Hudson indicated the office area. "It's quieter in there." He led them inside. With the door and windows closed they could almost talk.
"All right," Hartwell said. "What's going on?"
"Hydrogen economy experiments," Hudson said. "We're liquefying hydrogen and oxygen. Then well burn them. If we can increase the efficiency of hydrogen burning by ten percent, we can save enormous amounts of energy. Just enormous. And with the winters getting longer, and everything colder-—"
"You mean the glaciers coming," Hartwell said.
"Well, yes, but I wasn't sure you guys believed in them," Hudson said. "I've talked to some-—"
"Some fuggheaded Green Police," Hartwell said. "Yeah, but you can't judge us by them! Niven's law. No cause is so noble that it won't attract fuggheads."
"Well-—yes," Hudson said. "But wouldn't expect you to believe that either."
"We're not all fools," Hartwell said. "Man, that noise pollution is savage, and the smoke isn't much better. If you can really justify this you'd better tell me, quick, because someone is sure as hell going to notice."
* * *
Just as well I didn't move, Captain Arteria thought. The Greens got there even faster than I'd have guessed. They'd have beat me in.
And now what? Call the helicopter, go down, and claim them. It's still an Air Force base. Wait . . . hell, now who's come to join the party? She swung the binoculars to the point of a dust plume just starting up the hill. More Greens? Oh, Lord, it's Earth First.
Black letters on the car's iridescent green flank read REMEMBER THE GREAT ALASKA OIL SPILL!
"They should change that bumper sticker," Sherrine said to C.C. "You knew one of them."
C.C. said, "Glen's ours, roughly speaking-—" And then Glen Bailey had nearly reached them. C.C. yelled above the jet roar, "Where's your friend, Glen?"
"Hudson's still lecturing Hartwell. Some fur haters called in a violation in the Mojave, so I grabbed him and came. Hartwell was never in fandom, he just used to read the stuff, so I've got no strings on him, but he kind of caught the bug. He'd wipe out all the polluting factorties if we have to, but he'd rather put them in orbit and on the moon where they can't hurt anything and turn the Earth into a park like the good guys wanted to do in Spirals and-—"
C.C. held, up both hands. "Okay, okay. Sherrine, what were you-—"
"The bumper sticker," she said.
"It looks . . . All right, the Great Alaska Oil Spill. I was in grade school," Sherrine said. "I remember my father shouting at the television and cutting his Exxon credit card into strips. He shouted in my face about greed and profit. The Sound was going to be polluted for years. So the next summer I asked him why the TV people didn't go back to Alaska and show people how polluted it still was. Daddy gave me a funny look and never mentioned it again. The Greatest Oil Spill in History, and it wasn't worth a one-year"later follow-up."
Glen was still looking at her. She said, "Then Saddam Hussein covered the Persian Gulf with oil and made it all moot. So our bumper sticker looks fairly silly, doesn't it, Inspector? And in ten minutes an Earth First police van is going to be up here and on our asses-—"
C.C. was shaking his head and smiling while Inspector Bailey said, "You don't get it. Hussein doesn't listen. I mean he's dead, of course, but he didn't listen any better when he was alive, let alone to infidels from Satan's own United States. Why would anyone be yodeling in Iraq's ear when they don't listen? Corporations listen. McDonald's switched from paper to plastic even when it would hurt the environment, because the Greens told them to. Remember the boycotts against South Africa? The Soviets made them look like choirboys by any civilized standard, but they just didn't fucking listen, sowhat would be the point in—"
"Enough, Glen," C.C. said. "Did you get enough from Gary? Can you talk to Earth First about hydrogen experiments?"
"Yeah, have some faith, Cissy, I'll have them dying to put their support behind-—"
"Yeah, good, good." Then they all ducked as the Earth First van pulled up in a wave of dust.
* * *
A boy and a girl, both tall and lean and dark-haired and well under twenty, spilled out of the van and pointed and jabbered. Noise! Smoke! See? See? Three uniformed Earth First cops, two women and a man, followed them out more slowly. Glen walked up to join them.
Sherrine said, "Those kids must be the ones who turned us in."
"Sherrine, I don't want to be recognized, but one of us should be there," C.C. said. "We don't want them thinking Glen's a flake."
"Perish the thought!"
"It's not like that. He's bright, but there's a glitch in his programming. Too much LDS in the sixties, like Mister Spock." Sherrine laughed, but C.C. went on earnestly. "He can't stop talking by himself. He has to be stopped."
Glen talked. The Earth Firsters nodded. The boy and girl listened, ready to offer what they knew.
Hudson and Hartwell came out of Hudson's office and sauntered toward the Earth First van.
The kids had moved closer to the compressors. The noise was horrendous, and the girl had put her hands over her ears as she stared at the spinning jet turbine. Sherrine watched as the girl moved around toward the front of the engine. The danger area was clearly marked off with a low rope barrier, but it would be easy to step over it. "Hey!" Sherrine screamed and ran toward the girl. "Stop!" The screen over the jet intake would keep out birds, but it might not be strong enough to hold a one-hundred-pound girl. Talk about mixed emotions! Sherrine thought.
The boy had moved closer to the exhaust, and now stood with his nose wrinkled as he held his hands over his ears. Eager to be offended. When he saw Hudson and the others gather near the police van, he got the girl and led her over. Good. They did not need an injured civilian.
An Earth First cop talked while Glen smiled and nodded.
Sherrine strolled up; but what would she say?How do you talk about hydrogen? The ashes are water vapor, utterly pollution free, and what else is there? Now Glen was talking again. "So, Michael. You were on your way from Las Vegas to L.A. for a, what, a demonstration?"
"Yeah, outside the premiere," the tall boy said. "Anyone wearing fur, she'll at least know what we think of her! The rest of us went on in the other car, but Barb and I thought we'd better report what we saw Jeez, you can smell it, the filth they're putting in the air-—"
"Kid," said the male Earth First cop, "have you noticed it's getting chilly lately?"
"Sure, the Ice is coming." The boy named Michael looked elaborately around him at the heat of the desert. "Okay, I've seen them on TV, the glaciers, but they don't affect the principle, they don't affect the blood spilled. Wearing fur was murder when the goddam scientists were still whimpering about global warming, and it's still murder today!"
"I don't question that, but it seems to me," Glen said to the speaker, "that all of your targets are women. Isn't that sexist? I mean, men wear fur, too, not often, but-—"
An Earth First policewoman said, "He has a point, kid. Sexism is politically incorrect, too. I think you need to target an equal number of fur-wearing males."
Now Barb was glaring at Michael. The boy said, "Uh . . ."
"And why just fur?" said Glen. "Leather is the skin of a dead animal, too!"
Earth First glanced down at their boots. So did both of the kids. Sherrine hadn't had to say anything at all. Glen let them argue-—fur versus leather, wild free beasts versus beasts held prisoner until their deaths, hide and meat versus fur alone. The teens' respect for uniforms was fading. The cops were getting angry.
Glen said, "What we could do is, we should station teams outside biker bars and throw dye on leather-clad men as they come out."
The jet motor roared in a sudden silence.
"That would be more correct," the girl called Barb bellowed. "We'd include men as well as women. And it would show that we care as deeply about homely cows and other leather-producing animals as we care about cute, furry rabbits and minks."
Michael said, "Barb-—"
Oh, that would be fun, Sherrine thought. Glen was right: the attacks on fur-bearing upper-class women were sexist. Let's see what leather-clad bikers do when Michael and Barb spit on their jackets. Sherrine was trying to swallow a grin . . . and Earth First turned to face Hudson and Hartwell with evident relief.
* * *
Nobody seemed to be under arrest. Just a shouting match. Lee Arteria still didn't see that her presence could swing events one way or another.
She watched the Earth First cops begin a search. Hudson would have his papers in order, of course assuming the cops even recognized the spacecraft. Presently they drifted back. Still the desert roared and black smoke drifted, and still there were no arrests.
Now the cops got back into their van; the teens argued, then got in, too. The van drove off. Minutes later, the Green car followed.
How the hell did they work that?
And where did it leave Captain Lee Arteria?
Sanity check: they were still liquefying hydrogen and oxygen. They had come to see Phoenix . . . possibly they'd had contingency plans, but they'd come to see Phoenix first, and what they saw must have looked like a working spacecraft. Crazy amateurs . . . but they had Gary Hudson to tell them whether Phoenix was in any way crippled, and they'd judged Hudson sane.
They were planning to launch.
They were still gathering. The grandest gathering of pro-technology buffs ever to pour jet-engine roar and hot kerosene exhaust into clean desert air was still gathering. Fuel and oxydizer, the stranded dipper pilots as passengers, maybe Hudson himself as pilot . . . what else did they need? Cargo? That's what the fans were up to, all that weird stuff!Cargo for the space habitats! There had been a lot of stuff, boxes, paper bags, at least one cooler. Course programming: they must have that solved. Copies of the programs stored away. So. What else would they need to launch?
Lee Arteria smiled. Yes!
BILLINGS, TELL COLONEL MURPHY THAT WE'RE ABOUT
TO MAKE THE MOST IMPORTANT ARREST OF THE DECADE.
BOTH SPACEMEN PLUS THE WHOLE NETWORK THAT SMUGGLED THEM ACROSS THE COUNTRY. USAF AND OSI WILL GET EVERY BIT OF THE CREDIT.
TELL HIM TO HANG ON FOR THREE MORE DAYS AND WE'RE SET. THIS WILL GET HIM A BRIGADIER'S STARS. NOT TO MENTION PROMOTIONS FOR YOU AND ME.
* * *
They only turned on the lights in the hangar when they had to, and never at night. The lighted windows must be visible for tens of miles. It was near dusk, and the daylight through the windows was dimming, but Harry Czescu and Bob Needleton continued to move cargo. "Sarge" Workman helped for awhile, but he was the only jet mechanic they had, and they needed him to keep the turbo expander working properly. Gordon joined them, got tired and quit.
Nothing was large, nothing was heavy. They climbed about within the cabin space, tethering everything with lightweight nylon cord. Heavier stuff on the bottom, then sturdy metal cages. Guinea pigs and guinea hens and rabbits expressed anxiety in their diverse fashions.
"Make sure you don't cover up the front of the cage," Bob said. They need air."
"Teach your grandmother to suck eggs . . ."
A net would cover everything once it was all in place. The paper in the cages would come out just before they closed up the Phoenix. Or maybe not. The cages stank, but after all, organics were organics . . .
Another load in place. Back out, and down to ground level. Harry lit a cigarette. He was just about the only one on Thunder Ridge who smoked. He took two puffs and inched off the end, put the butt back in the package. "OK, do we want to glue the mat in now? Or wait?"
Bob didn't answer.
"Lighten up, Pins. Nobody thinks-—" Harry looked up. "Hi, Sherry, C.C. Alex, they brought you an exercise mat."
"Hi, Harry." C.C. rubbed his hands together briskly. "Okay. What can we give up? Alex, those mice are gengineered to produce juvenile growth hormones. That'd let the Angels grow their bones back, right?"
"That's what I'm told," Alex said.
"You need the seeds a lot, the guinea pigs and guinea hens and rabbits not as much. The diet supplements, of course. No bull semen, to bowdlerize a phrase. Sausage packed in dry ice?"
"Sausage, no. Eat it before we take off, if it's that good and won't keep. Dry ice, hell no. Carbon we want, but oxygen comes almost free from lunar rock. Did anyone think of sending lamp black?"
C.C. ran his eyes down the list. "I don't think so. I'll see what we can get when. How badly do you want these metals? And the honeycomb blocks? They re heavy."
"It's not really my department, C.C."
"Alex, you and Gordon are the only ones who can make these choices. And five passengers . . . Where the hell is Gordon?"
Alex waved toward the shadows where he had seen Gordon with Jenny Trout. "I told him we needed him, but-—"
Bob Needleton said, "I confess I do not see why the fifth wheel has to be me." His ears and nose were noticeably pink.
Alex said, "Gordon. Sherrine. Hudson. Me. You. Shall I take the exercise mat?"
Bob was having trouble pulling the words out. "We pulled you off the Ice. The rest are gone. There's only me and Sherrine left-—"
Alex said, "Hold it."
"Hold it, my foot. You and Sherrine have been-—"
"You wanted to know, Bob. Sherrine had the right to know. Sherrine has to go into space because I slept with the Commander's wife."
Needleton gaped, then, grinned. "We-ell. That's a better story than I expected."
'Well, it's true. Sherrine doesn't go, the Station Commander says he won't pick me up. Maybe you can live with that, but I won't volunteer to stay. I won't."
Bob looked at Sherrine. "All right-—"
"He already told me."
"I didn't ask, Sherry. But why not six? Gordon's got a woman, too. What are we going to give up for Barbara? Dammit, where the hell is Gordon?"
Two voices echoed oddly, as if the entire hangar space had answered-——"
"Wanted fan on Chthon and Sparta and the Hub's ten million stars, Wanted fan for singing silly in a thousand spaceport bars. If it's what we really want, we'll build a starship when we can; If I could just make orbit then I'd be a wanted fan."
"Enough of this," Alex said. "Excuse me." He walked toward were Jenny and Gordon were leafing through notes, nodding, singing:
"Wanted fan for building spacecraft, wanted fan for dipping air,
Sending microwave transmissions, building habitats up there.
Oh the glacier caught us last time; next time we'll try to land!
And when Ice is conquered, it will be by wanted fans!"
Jenny said "Gordon, that's nice. A little premature, maybe, hi, Alex, even a little overoptimistic-—"
"Hi, Jenny. Gordon, we're deciding your fate while you play. This is how you came here in the first place, remember?"
"And this is why I stay," Gordon said. "That verse I wrote for you, Alex. And when the stars are conquered, it will be by wanted fans!"
Alex became aware that the others had followed him. He said, "Gordon?"
"I am stilyagin, Alex. Nothing has changed. But there is room for poets here, and novelists, and I can always catch the next flight with Hudson's wife. My voice is needed here. I stay. Four seats, four passengers. Tell my family I kiss them from below. No, let me word that again," he said, while Sherrine and Bob and Gary Hudson looked at each other. "Wait, now-—"
Sherrine took Alex's arm and led him into the shadows. She said, "Do you see what I see?"
"Oh, sure. If the Phoenix went up missing me and Gordon, it'd be a disaster. Lonny couldn't be voted dog catcher. So you don't have to come, but why don't you come anyway? Please?"
Sherrine smiled. "Okay."
"Stop toying with my affections and give me a straight answer."
"I'll come if I have to sit in your lap. Now we need to finish loading. Alex, didn't you say you didn't want the plastic corn?"
"Yeah. I appreciate the work that went into getting it, but we don't need plastic that much and we've got better use for the soil, and it doesn't even breed!"
"Well, it was here. Some dedicated fan sneaked it aboard."
"Damn. We'd better find it before it gets buried."
They climbed the scaffold. Sherrine asked, "How do you make love in free fall?"
Alex laughed. "Superbly. It takes a tether."
They eeled into the cabin. "Look inside things," Sherrine said.
"Yeah. Sherrine, this could be your last chance to make love in a gravity field."
"We could even find a, what did we call those things, they were soft and you spread a sheet over them-—" You're kidding, right? Bed."
* * *
Hudson laid out a map of the Dryden Research Center portion of Edwards Air Force Base and pointed to a building. "In there. Room G-44. There are three security containers in the room, and the IMU is in the lowest drawer of the middle one."
"And you're sure?" Bob Needleton asked.
"Yes, of course I'm sure. Actually, there are five of the damned things, but that's where they keep one of them, the one that's been tested most recently."
"And when was that?" Sherrine asked.
"About a year-—no, more like two years. Twenty months ago. Major Beeson brought it over and we ran tests on the whole Phoenix electronics system. Worked like a charm, too. Then they took the IMU back, packed it in foam, and put it in the safe."
"And it hasn't been moved since?" C.C. Miller asked.
"Not that I know of," Hudson said. "And why would it? Its where it stayed between tests last time."
"When's the next test?" Needleton asked.
"Maybe never. Beeson was transferred. There's a civilian named Feeley in charge of technology studies at Dryden now."
"Yeah, the troops call him Touchy Feeley, of course. He's a Green."
"And brain dead, I suppose," Miller said.
"He's not brain dead, he's soul dead. Everything's kept in order, though, all the lab tools put away every day, all the reports filed on time."
"Hell of a way to run a lab," Needleton said. "But I suppose it's as well. Makes it likely your IMU will be right where it belongs." He studied the map. "Harry, it looks like we can go in from the hydrogen valve compound. Get inside there, and then open a new hole into the main base. Fang, you've been watching the base, did you ever see patrols at night?"
"Nothing," Fang said. "Guards at the gates, some people in the operations building, some night crew at the flight line. Nothing else."
"Not much to guard anymore," Hudson said. "One time, they had the hottest airplanes and pilots in the world here. Spaceships, too. Now-—"
"Yeah," Needleton said. "OK, Harry, I guess we're set. Let's do it."
They laid the bike on its side next to a mesquite bush and walked the rest of the way to the fence. The twisties holding the fence together hadn't been disturbed in the three days since they'd broken in to start the flow of hydrogen. Thunder Ridge was fifteen miles away, and the sounds of the compressor and turbo expander were lost in the howl of the desert wind.
"Damn moon," Harry muttered. "I like moonlight, but there's too damn much of it."
Nearly full, Bob Needleton thought.
By God! Ten hours! Dawn tomorrow, and I'm up and out of here, off this Earth. If my heart doesn't pound so damn hard it wakes up the guards . . . Sherrine would be going, too, but not the way he'd thought. Oh, well. I get the best consolation prize there is. Free trip, too. Four seats, and one's mine!
The Hydrogen Valve building had its own fence, but there was a gate from that area into the main Dryden compound. Harry inspected the gate and its lock, then whispered, "Damn good lock. It might be easier to cut a hole in the fence, but that'll be more noticeable when there's light. What should I do?"
"Whatever's quickest. By the time there's light everyone in the country will know." Bob took out his wire cutters and started in.
Room G-44 was in a temporary building constructed in the glory days of the 1950s. Like the engineering room on Thunder Ridge, it had space for far more desks and drawing boards than it held. Even so, many of the desks seemed unused.
A bank of three security cabinets stood against one wall. Harry went over and rubbed his hands in anticipation. "The middle one," he said. He ostentatiously took out a nail file and began to rub it over his fingertips. "No sandpaper-—"
"Harry, damn it, get on with it," Needleton whispered. "Right." Harry opened the tool kit and took out a drill, pliers, crowbar. "Well-—here goes-—but you know, just in case-—"
Harry pulled on the drawer. It opened.
"Like I said, just in case. And there's your gizmo, I think." He lifted' out a plastic box and set it on the desk. "Let's see-—"
"Harry, be careful, don't drop it-—"
"Not me. Yep." He took out a smaller box that had been nested in foam packing. "And here we are. One IMU-—"
The room lights came on.
"Harry, damn you-—" Needleton shouted.
They turned. An Air Force captain in combat fatigues stood at the door. The captain's submachine gun didn't quite point at either Harry or Needleton.
"Oh, shit," Harry said.
"Now what?" Needleton said. He eyed the distance to the gun. There were two desks in the way. He glanced at Harry, who nodded slightly.
"Death will not release you," the captain intoned. The submachine gun was pointing straight at Harry's navel.