“EVERYBODY ALL SET?” Young Ross Jenkins glanced nervously at his two chums. “How about your camera, Art? You sure you got the lens cover off this time?”

The three boys were huddled against a thick concrete wall, higher than their heads and about ten feet long. It separated them from a steel stand, anchored to the ground, to which was bolted a black metal shape, a pointed projectile, venomous in appearance and an ugly rocket. There were fittings on each side to which stub wings might be attached, but the fittings were empty; the creature was chained down for scientific examination.

“How about it, Art?” Ross repeated. The boy addressed straightened up to his full five feet three and faced him.

“Look,” Art Mueller answered, “of course I took the cover off, it’s on my check-off list. You worry about your rocket, last time it didn’t fire at all and I wasted twenty feet of film.”

“But you forgot it once, okay, how about your lights?”

For answer Art switched on his spot lights; the beams shot straight up, bounced against highly polished stainless-steel mirrors and brilliantly illuminated the model rocket and the framework which would keep it from taking off during the test.

A third boy, Maurice Abrams, peered at the scene through a periscope which allowed them to look over the reinforced concrete wall which shielded them from the rocket test stand.

“Pretty as a picture,” he announced, excitement in his voice. “Ross, do you really think this fuel mix is what we’re looking for?”

Ross shrugged, “I don’t know. The lab tests looked good, we’ll soon know. All right, places everybody! Check-off lists, Art?”




“And mine’s complete. Stand by! I’m going to start the clock. Here goes!” He started checking off the seconds until the rocket was fired. “Minus ten . . minus nine . . . minus eight . . . minus seven . . . minus six . . . minus five . . . minus four. . . .”

Art wet his lips and started his camera.

“Minus three! Minus two! Minus one! Contact!”

“Let it roar!” Morrie yelled, his voice already drowned by the ear-splitting noise of the escaping rocket gas.

A great plume of black smoke surged out the orifice of the thundering rocket when it was first fired, billowed against an earth ramp set twenty feet behind the rocket test stand and filled the little clearing with choking fumes. Ross shook his head in dissatisfaction at this and made an adjustment in the controls under his hand. The smoke cleared away; through the periscope in front of him he could see the rocket exhaust on the other side of the concrete barricade. The flame had cleared of the wasteful smoke and was almost transparent, save for occasional sparks. He could actually see trees and ground through the jet of flame. The images shimmered and shook but the exhaust gases were smoke-free.

“What does the dynamometer read?” he shouted to Morrie without taking his eyes away from the periscope. Morrie studied the instrument, rigged to the test stand itself, by means of a pair of opera glasses and his own periscope. “I can’t read it!” he shouted. “Yes, I can — wait a minute. Fifty-two — no, make it a hundred and fifty-two; it’s second time around. Hunderfiftytwo, fif’three, four. Ross, you’ve done it! You’ve done it! That’s more than twice as much thrust as the best we’ve ever had.”

Art looked up from where he was nursing his motion-picture camera. It was a commercial 8-millimeter job, modified by him to permit the use of more film so that every second of a test could be recorded. The modification worked, but was cantankerous and had to be nursed along. “How much more time?,” he demanded.

“Seventeen seconds,” Ross yelled at him. “Stand by, I’m going to give her the works.” He twisted his throttle-monitor valve to the right, wide open. The rocket responded by raising its voice from a deep-throated roar to a higher pitch with an angry overtone almost out of the audible range. It spoke with snarling menace.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83

Categories: Heinlein, Robert