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A Fine Fix   By:

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Generally speaking, human beings are fine buck passers but there's one circumstance under which they refuse to pass on responsibility. If the other fellow says "Your method won't solve the problem!" then they get mad!

Illustrated by van Dongen

The leader climbed sharply in a bank to the left, and the two others followed close behind. Their jet streams cut off at very near the same time. Before their speed slowed to stalling, the rotors unfolded from the canopy hump and beat the air viciously, the steam wisping back in brief fingers.

Under power again, they dipped playfully in tightening circles toward the plot mottled earth. The fields expanded beneath them, and the leader brought up and hovered over a farm road whose dust already stirred in the disturbed air.

They settled as one in the rolling dust clouds from which emerged a coveralled figure who had driven the battered pickup truck to meet them.

"Y'sure got back in a rush," he addressed the major, who was just jumping from the plastiglas cabin.

The major nodded and put his attention on seeing that the general descended safely. He then indicated the farmer.

"He's the one," the major said.

The general grunted socially.

Taking the opening, the farmer said, "Out there in the wheat, general." His tone carried eager importance. "My kid saw the light come down this morning feedin' the chickens. I felt the ground jump, too. Called the sheriff, first off."

"All right, you were a hero," said the general shortly. "Now, Grant, will you take me to it? I can't mess around here all day."

The party of six men, two of them technicians, waded into the field from the road. The farmer remained to watch, frowning.

When they had progressed well into the wheat, he shouted after them ruefully, "And watch where you're steppin', too!"

The group paused on the rim of newly gouged earth, clods and dirt that had splashed from the center of the crater. It was nearly four feet deep. The man the major had left on guard had uncovered more of the blackened object, which lay three quarters exposed and showed a warped but cylindrical shape.

"Let's have a counter on it," the general ordered.

A technician slid into the crater and swept the metal with his instrument. The needle swung far over and stuck.

To the other technician the general said, "Get a chunk for verification of the alloy." He kicked a small avalanche of dirt down the crater side and turned back to the road, adding, "Although I don't know why the formality. Even a cadet could see that's an atomjet reactor, beat up as it is."

The major absorbed the jibe without comeback. An hour ago he had informed the general of his indecision over the object's identity, though he had suspected it to be the reactor.

"We may find more when we get it examined in the shop," the general mused, swishing by the wheat. "But at least we know they do come down some place, and it wasn't flash fusion. On this one, anyway."

"What do you think about instituting a search of this vicinity for other parts, general?"

The officer growled negatively. "Obviously, the reactor was the only part not vaporized in the fall because of its construction."

"That's assuming the ship entered the atmosphere at operational velocity and not less than free fall," the major qualified.

"How can anyone assume free fall? Way outside probability."

"Yes, sir, but there are degrees of velocity involved. He could have used reverse thrust and entered at a relatively slow speed."

"All right, all right let's say possible, then. Pull off your search if you want to. I'm in this thing so deep now, I'll try anything to get going. I've got Congress ready to investigate, and some senator yesterday put pressure on to cancel the United Nuclear contract. I'll try anything at this point, Grant!"

The big man's voice had risen to anger, but Major Grant Reis had not missed the vocal breaking in the last syllables.

"I'm First Lieutenant Ashley and I've an appointment to see General Morrison... Continue reading book >>

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