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Pushbutton War   By: (1931-)

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Illustrated by Schoenherr

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction August 1960. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

In one place, a descendant of the Vikings rode a ship such as Lief never dreamed of; from another, one of the descendants of the Caesars, and here an Apache rode a steed such as never roamed the plains. But they were warriors all.

The hatch swung open, admitting a blast of Arctic air and a man clad in a heavy, fur lined parka. He quickly closed the hatch and turned to the man in the pilot's couch.

"O.K., Harry. I'll take over now. Anything to report?"

"The heading gyro in the autopilot is still drifting. Did you write it up for Maintenance?"

"Yeah. They said that to replace it they'd have to put the ship in the hangar, and it's full now with ships going through periodic inspection. I guess we'll have to wait. They can't just give us another ship, either. With the hangar full, we must be pretty close to the absolute minimum for ships on the line and ready to fly."

"O.K. Let me check out with the tower, and she'll be all yours." He thumbed the intercom button and spoke into the mike: "RI 276 to tower. Major Lightfoot going off watch."

When the tower acknowledged, he began to disconnect himself from the ship. With smooth, experienced motions, he disconnected the mike cable, oxygen hose, air pressure hose, cooling air hose, electrical heating cable, and dehumidifier hose which connected his flying suit to the ship. He donned the parka and gloves his relief had worn, and stepped through the hatch onto the gantry crane elevator. Even through the heavy parka, the cold air had a bite to it. As the elevator descended, he glanced to the south, knowing as he did so that there would be nothing to see. The sun had set on November 17th, and was not due up for three more weeks. At noon, there would be a faint glow on the southern horizon, as the sun gave a reminder of its existence, but now, at four in the morning, there was nothing. As he stepped off the elevator, the ground crew prepared to roll the gantry crane away from the ship. He opened the door of the waiting personnel carrier and swung aboard. The inevitable cry of "close that door" greeted him as he entered. He brushed the parka hood back from his head, and sank into the first empty seat. The heater struggled valiantly with the Arctic cold to keep the interior of the personnel carrier at a tolerable temperature, but it never seemed able to do much with the floor. He propped his feet on the footrest of the seat ahead of him, spoke to the other occupant of the seat.

"Hi, Mike."

"Hi, Harry. Say, what's your watch schedule now?"

"I've got four hours off, back on for four, then sixteen off. Why?"

"Well, a few of us are getting up a friendly little game before we go back on watch. I thought you might want to join us."

"Well, I "

"Come on, now. What's your excuse this time for not playing cards?"

"To start with, I'm scheduled for a half hour in the simulator, and another half hour in the procedural trainer. Then if I finish the exam in my correspondence course, I can get it on this week's mail plane. If I don't get it in the mail now, I'll have to wait until next week."

"All right, I'll let you off this time. How's the course coming?"

"This is the final exam. If I pass, I'll have only forty two more credits to go before I have my degree in Animal Husbandry."

"What on earth do you want with a degree like that?"

"I keep telling you. When I retire, I'm going back to Oklahoma and raise horses. If I got into all the card games you try to organize, I'd retire with neither the knowledge to run a horse ranch, nor the money to start one."

"But why raise horses? Cabbages, I can see. Tomatoes, yes. But why horses?"

"Partly because there's always a market for them, so I'll have a fair amount of business to keep me eating regularly... Continue reading book >>

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