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Slingshot   By:

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Illustrated by Emsh


The slingshot was, I believe, one of the few weapons of history that wasn't used in the last war. That doesn't mean it won't be used in the next!

"Got a bogey at three o'clock high. Range about six hundred miles." Johnson spoke casually, but his voice in the intercom was thin with tension.

Captain Paul Coulter, commanding Space Fighter 308, 58th Squadron, 33rd Fighter Wing, glanced up out of his canopy in the direction indicated, and smiled to himself at the instinctive reaction. Nothing there but the familiar starry backdrop, the moon far down to the left. If the light wasn't right, a ship might be invisible at half a mile. He squeezed the throttle mike button. "Any IFF?"

"No IFF."

"O.K., let me know as soon as you have his course." Coulter squashed out his cigar and began his cockpit check, grinning without humor as he noticed that his breathing had deepened and his palms were moist on the controls. He looked down to make sure his radio was snug in its pocket on his leg; checked the thigh harness of his emergency rocket, wrapped in its thick belly pad; checked the paired tanks of oxygen behind him, hanging level from his shoulders into their niche in the "cradle." He flipped his helmet closed, locked it, and opened it again. He tossed a sardonic salute at the photograph of a young lady who graced the side of the cockpit. "Wish us luck, sugar." He pressed the mike button again.

"You got anything yet, Johnny?"

"He's going our way, Paul. Have it exact in a minute."

Coulter scanned the full arch of sky visible through the curving panels of the dome, thinking the turgid thoughts that always came when action was near. His chest was full of the familiar weakness not fear exactly, but a tight, helpless feeling that grew and grew with the waiting.

His eyes and hands were busy in the familiar procedure, readying the ship for combat, checking and re checking the details that could mean life and death, but his mind watched disembodied, yearning back to earth.

Sylvia always came back first. Inviting smile and outstretched hands. Nyloned knees, pink sweater, and that clinging, clinging white silk skirt. A whirling montage of laughing, challenging eyes and tossing sky black hair and soft arms tightening around his neck.

Then Jean, cool and self possessed and slightly disapproving, with warmth and humor peeping through from underneath when she smiled. A lazy, crinkly kind of smile, like Christmas lights going on one by one. He wished he'd acted more grown up that night they watched the rain dance at the pueblo. For the hundredth time, he went over what he remembered of their last date, seeing the gleam of her shoulder, and the angry disappointment in her eyes; hearing again his awkward apologies. She was a nice kid. Silently his mouth formed the words. "You're a nice kid."

I think she loves me. She was just mad because I got drunk.

The tension of approaching combat suddenly blended with the memory, welling up into a rush of tenderness and affection. He whispered her name, and suddenly he knew that if he got back he was going to ask her to marry him.

He thought of his father, rocking on the porch of the Pennsylvania farm, pipe in his mouth, the weathered old face serene, as he puffed and listened to the radio beside him. He wished he'd written him last night, instead of joining the usual beer and bull session in the wardroom. He wished . He wished.

"I've got him, Paul. He's got two point seven miles of RV on us. Take thirty degrees high on two point one o'clock for course to IP."

Automatically he turned the control wheel to the right and eased it back. The gyros recorded the turn to course.

"Hold 4 G's for one six five seconds, then coast two minutes for initial point five hundred miles on his tail... Continue reading book >>

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