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Far from Home   By:

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Illustrated by Emsh

"Far" is strictly a relative term. Half a world away from home is, sometimes, no distance at all!

Someone must have talked over the fence because the newshounds were clamoring on the trail within an hour after it happened.

The harassed Controller had lived in an aura of "Restricteds," "Classifieds" and "Top Secrets" for so long it had become a mental conditioning and automatically hedged over information that had been public property for years via the popular technical mags; but in time they pried from him an admittance that the Station Service Lift rocket A. J. "Able Jake" Four had indeed failed to rendezvous with Space Station One, due at 9:16 Greenwich that morning.

The initial take off and ascent had gone to flight plan and the pilot, in the routine check back after entering free flight had reported no motor or control faults. At this point, unfortunately, a fault in the tracking radar transmitter had resulted in it losing contact with the target. The Controller did not, however, mention the defection of the hungover operator in fouling up the signal to the standby unit, or the consequent general confusion in the tracking network with no contact at all thereafter, and fervently hoped that gentlemen of the press were not too familiar with the organization of the tracking system.

At least one of the more shrewd looking reporters appeared as though he were mentally baiting a large trap so the Controller, throwing caution to the winds, plunged headlong into a violent refutal of various erroneous reports already common in the streets.

Able Jake did not carry explosives or highly corrosive chemicals, only some Waste Disposal cylinders, dry foodstuffs and sundry Station Household supplies.

Furthermore there was no truth in the oft revived rumors of weaknesses in the so called "spine and rib" construction of the Baur and Hammond Type Three vessel under acceleration strain. The type had been discontinued solely because the rather complicated structure raised certain stowage difficulties in service with overlong turnabout times resulting.

There may have been a collision with a meteor he conceded, but, it was thought, highly unlikely. And now, the urgent business of the search called, the Controller escaped, perspiring gently.

Able Jake was sighted a few minutes later but it was another three hours before a service ship could be readied and got away without load to allow it as much operating margin as possible. Getting a man aboard was yet another matter. At this stage of space travel no maneuver of this nature had ever been accomplished outside of theory. Fuel thrust mass ratios were still a thing of pretty close reckoning, and the service lift ships were simply not built for it.

The ship was in an elliptical orbit and a full degree off its normal course. A large part of the control room was demolished and there was a lengthy split in the hull. There was no sign of the pilot and some of the cargo was missing also. The investigating crew assumed the obvious and gave it as their opinion that the pilot had been literally disintegrated by the intense heat of the collision.

The larger part of the world's population made it a point to listen in on the first space burial service in history over the absent remains of Johnny Melland.

Such a small thing to cause such a fury. A mere twenty Earth pounds of an indifferent grade of rock and a little iron, an irregular, ungraceful lump, spawned somewhere a billion years before as a star died. But it still had most of the awesome velocity and inertia of its birth.

Able Jake, with the controlling influence of the jets cut, had yawed slightly and was now traveling crabwise. The meteor on its own course, a trifle oblique to that of the ship, struck almost directly the slender spring steel spine, the frightful energy of the impact transmuted on the instant into a heat that vaporized several feet of the nose and spine before the dying shock caused an anguished flexing of the ship's backbone; thrust violently outward along the radial members and so against the ribs and hull sheathing on that side... Continue reading book >>

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