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Battle Station is a collection of short stories by Ben Bova, the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction.

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Battle Station

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Battle Station is a collection of short stories by Ben Bova, the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction.

At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429931144
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 4/1/2011
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,058,229
  • File size: 286 KB

Meet the Author

Ben Bova is the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction, including Able One, Leviathans of Jupiter and the Grand Tour novels, including Titan, winner of John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation in 2005, and in 2008 he won the Robert A. Heinlein Award "for his outstanding body of work in the field of literature." He is President Emeritus of the National Space Society and a past president of Science Fiction Writers of America, and a former editor of Analog and former fiction editor of Omni. As an editor, he won science fiction’s Hugo Award six times. Dr. Bova’s writings have predicted the Space Race of the 1960s, virtual reality, human cloning, the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars), electronic book publishing, and much more. He lives in Florida.
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Battle Station
Battle Station"Where do you get your crazy ideas?"Every science fiction writer has heard that question, over and over again. Sometimes the questioner is kind enough to leave out the word "crazy." But the question still is asked whenever I give a lecture to any audience that includes people who do not regularly read science fiction.Some science fiction writers, bored by that same old question (and sometimes miffed at the implications behind that word "crazy"), have taken to answering: "Schenectady!" There's even a mythology about it that claims that members of the Science Fiction Writers of America subscribe to the Crazy Idea Service of Schenectady, New York, and receive in the mail one crazy idea each month--wrapped in plain brown paper, of course.Yet the question deserves an answer. People are obviously fascinated with the process of creativity. Nearly everybody has a deep curiosity about how a writer comes up with the ideas that generate fresh stories.For most of the stories and novels I have written over the years, the ideation period is so long and complex that I could not begin to explain--even to myself--where the ideas originally came from.With "Battle Station," happily, I can trace the evolution of the story from original idea to final draft."Battle Station" has its roots in actual scientific research and technological development. In the mid-1960s Iwas employed at the research laboratory where the first high-power laser was invented. I helped to arrange the first briefing in the Pentagon to inform the Department of Defense that lasers of virtually any power desired could now be developed. That was the first step on the road to what is now called the Strategic Defense Initiative.My 1976 novel Millennium examined, as only science fiction can, the human and social consequences of using lasers in satellites to defend against nuclear missiles. By 1983 the real world had caught up to the idea and President Reagan initiated the "Star Wars" program. In 1984 I published a nonfiction book on the subject, Assured Survival. In 1986 a second edition of that book, retitled Star Peace and published by Tor Books, brought the swiftly developing story up to date.Meanwhile, from the mid-1960s to this present day, thinkers such as Maxwell W. Hunter II have been studying the problems and possibilities of an orbital defense system. While most academic critics (and consequently, most of the media) have simply declared such a defense system impossible, undesirable, and too expensive, Max Hunter has spent his time examining how such a system might work, and what it might mean for the world political situation.I am indebted to Max Hunter for sharing his ideas with me; particularly for the concept of "active armor." I have done violence to his ideas, I know, shaping them to the needs of the story. Such is the way of fiction.Another concept that is important to this story came from the often-stormy letters column of Analog magazine more than twenty years ago. Before the first astronauts and cosmonauts went into space, the readers of Analog debated, vigorously, who would make the best candidates for duty aboard orbiting space stations. One of the ideas they kicked around was that submariners--men accustomed to cramped quarters, high tensions, and long periods away from home base--would be idealfor crewing a military space station.So I "built" a space battle station that controls laser-armed satellites, and placed at its helm Commander J. W. Hazard, U.S. Navy (ret.), a former submarine skipper.I gave him an international crew, in keeping with the conclusions I arrived at in Star Peace: Assured Survival, that the new technology of strategic defense satellites will lead to an International Peacekeeping Force (IPF)--a a global police power dedicated to preventing war.Once these ideas were in place, the natural thing was to test them. Suppose someone tried to subvert the IPF and seize the satellite system for his own nefarious purposes? Okay, make that not merely a political problem, but a personal problem for the story's protagonist: Hazard's son is part of a cabal to overthrow the IPF and set up a world dictatorship.Now I had a story. All I had to do was start writing and allow the characters to "do their thing."The ideas were the easiest part of the task. As you can see, the ideas were all around me, for more than twenty years. There are millions of good ideas floating through the air all the time. Every day of your life brings a fresh supply of ideas. Every person you know is a walking novel. Every news event contains a dozen ideas for stories.The really difficult part is turning those ideas into good stories. To bring together the ideas and the characters and let them weave a story--that is the real work of the writer. Very few people ask about that, yet that is the actual process of creativity. It's not tough to find straw. Spinning straw into gold--that's the great magical trick! 
We should avoid a dependence on satellites for wartime purposes that is out of proportion to our ability to protect them. If we make ourselves dependent upon vulnerable spacecraft for military support, we will have built an Achilles heel into our forces.--Dr. Ashton Carter, MITApril 1984 
The key issue then becomes, is our defense capable of defending itself ...?--Maxwell W. Hunter IILockheed Missiles and Space Co., Inc. February 26, 1979The first laser beam caught them unaware, slicing through the station's thin aluminum skin exactly where the main power trunk and air lines fed into the bridge.A sputtering fizz of sparks, a moment of heartwrenching darkness, and then the emergency dims came on. The electronics consoles switched to their internal batteries with barely a microsecond's hesitation, but the air fans sighed to a stop and fell silent. The four men and two women on duty in the bridge had about a second to realize they were under attack. Enough time for the breath to catch in your throat, for the sudden terror to hollow out your guts.The second laser hit was a high-energy pulse deliberately aimed at the bridge's observation port. It cracked the impact-resistant plastic as easily as a hammer smashes an egg; the air pressure inside the bridge blew the port open. The six men and women became six exploding bodies spewing blood. There was not even time enough to scream.The station was named Hunter, although only ahandful of its crew knew why. It was not one of the missile-killing satellites, nor one of the sensor-laden observation birds. It was a command-and-control station, manned by a crew of twenty, orbiting some one thousand kilometers high, below the densest radiation zone of the inner Van Allen belt. It circled the Earth in about 105 minutes. By design, the station was not hardened against laser attack. The attackers knew this perfectly well.Commander Hazard was almost asleep when the bridge was destroyed. He had just finished his daily inspection of the battle station. Satisfied that the youngsters of his crew were reasonably sharp, he had returned to his coffin-sized personal cabin and wormed out of his sweaty fatigues. He was angry with himself.Two months aboard the station and he still felt the nausea and unease of space adaptation syndrome. It was like the captain of an ocean vessel having seasickness all the time. Hazard fumed inwardly as he stuck another timed-release medication plaster on his neck, slightly behind his left ear. The old one had fallen off. Not that they did much good. His neck was faintly spotted with the rings left by the medication patches. Still his stomach felt fluttery, his palms slippery with perspiration.Clinging grimly to a handgrip, he pushed his weightless body from the mirrored sink to the mesh sleep cocoon fastened against the opposite wall of his cubicle. He zipped himself into the bag and slipped the terry-cloth restraint across his forehead. Hazard was a bulky, dour man with iron-gray hair still cropped Academy close, a weather-beaten squarish face built around a thrusting spadelike nose, a thin slash of a mouth that seldom smiled, and eyes the color of a stormy sea. Those eyes seemed suspicious of everyone and everything, probing, inquisitory. A closerlook showed that they were weary, disappointed with the world and the people in it. Disappointed most of all with himself.He was just dozing off when the emergency klaxon started hooting. For a disoriented moment he thought he was back in a submarine and something had gone wrong with a dive. He felt his arms pinned by the mesh sleeping bag, as if he had been bound by unknown enemies. He almost panicked as he heard hatches slamming automatically and the terrifying wailing of the alarms. The communications unit on the wall added its urgent shrill to the clamor.The comm unit's piercing whistle snapped him to full awareness. He stopped struggling against the mesh and unzippered it with a single swift motion, slipping out of the head restraint at the same time.Hazard slapped at the wall comm's switch. "Commander here," he snapped. "Report.""Varshni, sir. CIC. The bridge is out. Apparently destroyed.""Destroyed?""All life-support functions down. Air pressure zero. No communications," replied the Indian in a rush. His slightly singsong Oxford accent was trembling with fear. "It exploded, sir. They are all dead in there."Hazard felt the old terror clutching at his heart, the physical weakness, the giddiness of sudden fear. Forcing his voice to remain steady, he commanded, "Full alert status. Ask Mr. Feeney and Miss Yang to meet me at the CIC at once. I'll be down there in sixty seconds or less."The Hunter was one of nine orbiting battle stations that made up the command-and-control function of the newly created International Peacekeeping Force's strategic defense network. In lower orbits, 135 unmanned ABM satellites armed with multimegawattlasers and hypervelocity missiles crisscrossed the Earth's surface. In theory, these satellites could destroy thousands of ballistic missiles within five minutes of their launch, no matter where on Earth they rose from.In theory, each battle station controlled fifteen of the ABM satellites, but never the same fifteen for very long. The battle station's higher orbits were deliberately picked so that the unmanned satellites passed through their field of view as they hurried by in their lower orbits. At the insistence of the fearful politicians of a hundred nations, no ABM satellites were under the permanent control of any one particular battle station.In theory, each battle station patrolled one ninth of the Earth's surface as it circled the globe. The sworn duty of its carefully chosen international crew was to make certain that any missiles launched from that part of the Earth would be swiftly and efficiently destroyed.In theory.The IPF was new, untried except for computerized simulations and war games. It had been created in the wake of the Middle East Holocaust, when the superpowers finally realized that there were people willing to use nuclear weapons. It had taken the destruction of four ancient cities and more than 3 million lives before the superpowers stepped in and forced peace on the belligerents. To make certain that nuclear devastation would never threaten humankind again, the International Peacekeeping Force was created. The Peacekeepers had the power and the authority to prevent a nuclear strike from reaching its targets. Their authority extended completely across the Earth, even to the superpowers themselves.In theory.Pulling aside the privacy curtain of his cubicle,Hazard launched himself down the narrow passageway with a push of his meaty hands against the cool metal of the bulkheads. His stomach lurched at the sudden motion and he squeezed his eyes shut for a moment.The Combat Information Center was buried deep in the middle of the station, protected by four levels of living and working areas plus the station's storage magazines for water, food, air, fuel for the maneuvering thrusters, power generators, and other equipment.Hazard fought down the queasy fluttering of his stomach as he glided along the passageway toward the CIC. At least he did not suffer the claustrophobia that affected some of the station's younger crew members. To a man who had spent most of his career aboard nuclear submarines, the station was roomy, almost luxurious.He had to yank open four airtight hatches along the short way. Each clanged shut automatically behind him.At last Hazard floated into the dimly lit combat center. It was a tiny, womblike circular chamber, its walls studded with display screens that glowed a sickly green in the otherwise darkened compartment. No desks or chairs in zero gravity; the CIC's work surfaces were chest-high consoles, most of them covered with keyboards.Varshni and the Norwegian woman, Stromsen, were on duty. The little Indian, slim and dark, was wide-eyed with anxiety. His face shone with perspiration and his fatigues were dark at the armpits and between his shoulders. In the greenish glow from the display screens he looked positively ill. Stromsen looked tense, her strong jaw clenched, her ice-blue eyes fastened on Hazard, waiting for him to tell her what to do."What happened?" Hazard demanded."It simply blew out," said Varshni. "I had just spoken with Michaels and D'Argencour when ... when ..." His voice choked off."The screens went blank." Stromsen pointed to the status displays. "Everything suddenly zeroed out."She was controlling herself carefully, Hazard saw, every nerve taut to the point of snapping."The rest of the station?" Hazard asked.She gestured again toward the displays. "No other damage.""Everybody on full alert?""Yes, sir."Lieutenant Feeney ducked through the hatch, his eyes immediately drawn to the row of burning red malfunction lights where the bridge displays should have been."Mother of Mercy, what's happened?"Before anyone could reply, Susan Yang, the chief communications officer, pushed through the hatch and almost bumped into Feeney. She saw the displays and immediately concluded, "We're under attack!""That is impossible!" Varshni blurted.Hazard studied their faces for a swift moment. They all knew what had happened; only Yang had the guts to say it aloud. She seemed cool and in control of herself. Oriental inscrutability? Hazard wondered. He knew she was third-generation Californian. Feeney's pinched, narrow-eyed face failed to hide the fear that they all felt, but the Irishman held himself well and returned Hazard's gaze without a tremor.The only sound in the CIC was the hum of the electrical equipment and the soft sighing of the air fans. Hazard felt uncomfortably warm with the five of them crowding the cramped little chamber. Perspiration trickled down his ribs. They were all staring at him, waiting for him to tell them what must be done, to bring order out of the numbing fear and uncertaintythat swirled around them. Four youngsters from four different nations, wearing the blue-gray fatigues of the IPF, with colored patches denoting their technical specialties on their left shoulders and the flag of their national origin on their right shoulders.Hazard said, "We'll have to control the station from here. Mr. Feeney, you are now my Number One; Michaels was on duty in the bridge. Mr. Varshni, get a damage-control party to the bridge. Full suits.""No one's left alive in there," Varshni whispered."Yes, but their bodies must be recovered. We owe them that. And their families." He glanced toward Yang. "And we've got to determine what caused the blowout."Varshni's face twisted unhappily at the thought of the mangled bodies."I want a status report from each section of the station," Hazard went on, knowing that activity was the key to maintaining discipline. "Start with ..."A beeping sound made all five of them turn toward the communications console. Its orange demand light blinked for attention in time with the angry beeps. Hazard reached for a handgrip to steady himself as he swung toward the comm console. He noted how easily the youngsters handled themselves in zero gee. For him it still took a conscious, gut-wrenching effort.Stromsen touched the keyboard with a slender finger. A man's unsmiling face appeared on the screen: light brown hair clipped as close as Hazard's gray, lips pressed together in an uncompromising line. He wore the blue-gray of the IPF with a commander's silver star on his collar."This is Buckbee, commander of station Graham. I want to speak to Commander Hazard."Sliding in front of the screen, Hazard grasped the console's edge with both white-knuckled hands. He knew Buckbee only by reputation, a former U.S. AirForce colonel, from the Space Command until it had been disbanded, but before that he had put in a dozen years with SAC."This is Hazard."Buckbee's lips moved slightly in what might have been a smile, but his eyes remained cold. "Hazard, you've just lost your bridge.""And six lives."Unmoved, Buckbee continued as if reading from a prepared script, "We offer you a chance to save the lives of the rest of your crew. Surrender the Hunter to us.""Us?"Buckbee nodded, a small economical movement. "We will bring order and greatness out of this farce called the IPF."A wave of loathing so intense that it almost made him vomit swept through Hazard. He realized that he had known all along, with a certainty that had not needed conscious verification, that his bridge had been destroyed by deliberate attack, not by accident."You killed six kids," he said, his voice so low that he barely heard it himself. It was not a whisper but a growl."We had to prove that we mean business, Hazard. Now surrender your station or we'll blow you all to hell. Any further deaths will be on your head, not ours." 
Jonathan Wilson Hazard, captain, U.S. Navy (ret.). Marital status: divorced. Two children: Jonathan, Jr., twenty-six; Virginia Elizabeth, twenty. Served twentyeight years in U.S. Navy, mostly in submarines. Commanded fleet ballistic-missile submarines Ohio, Corpus Christi, and Utah. Later served as technical advisor to Joint Chiefs of Staff and as naval liaison to NATO headquarters in Brussels. Retired from Navyafter hostage crisis in Brussels. Joined International Peacekeeping Force and appointed commander of orbital battle station Hunter
"I can't just hand this station over to a face on a screen," Hazard replied, stalling, desperately trying to think his way through the situation. "I don't know what you're up to, what your intentions are, who you really are.""You're in no position to bargain, Hazard," said Buckbee, his voice flat and hard. "We want control of your station. Either you give it to us or we'll eliminate you completely.""Who the hell is 'we'?""That doesn't matter.""The hell it doesn't! I want to know who you are and what you're up to."Buckbee frowned. His eyes shifted away slightly, as if looking to someone standing out of range of the video camera."We don't have time to go into that now," he said at last.Hazard recognized the crack in Buckbee's armor. It was not much, but he pressed it. "Well, you goddamned well better make time, mister. I'm not handing this station over to you or anybody else until I know what in hell is going on."Turning to Feeney, he ordered, "Sound general quarters. ABM satellites on full automatic. Miss Yang, contact IPF headquarters and give them a full report of our situation.""We'll destroy your station before those idiots in Geneva can decide what to do!" Buckbee snapped."Maybe," said Hazard. "But that'll take time, won't it? And we won't go down easy, I guarantee you. Maybe we'll take you down with us."Buckbee's face went white with fury. His eyes glared angrily."Listen," Hazard said more reasonably, "you can't expect me to just turn this station over to a face on a screen. Six of my people have been killed. I want to know why, and who's behind all this. I won't deal until I know who I'm dealing with and what your intentions are."Buckbee growled, "You've just signed the death warrant for yourself and your entire crew."The comm screen went blank.For a moment Hazard hung weightlessly before the dead screen, struggling to keep the fear inside him from showing. Putting a hand out to the edge of the console to steady himself, he turned slowly to his young officers. Their eyes were riveted on him, waiting for him to tell them what to do, waiting for him to decide between life and death.Quietly, but with steel in his voice, Hazard commanded, "I said general quarters, Mr. Feeney. Now!"Feeney flinched as if suddenly awakened from a dream. He pushed himself to the command console, unlatched the red cover over the "general quarters" button, and banged it eagerly with his fist. The action sent him recoiling upward and he had to put up a hand against the overhead to push himself back down to the deck. The alarm light began blinking red and they could hear its hooting even through the airtight hatches outside the CIC."Geneva, Miss Yang," Hazard said sternly, over the howl of the alarm. "Feeney, see that the crew is at their battle stations. I want the satellites under our control on full automatic, prepared to shoot down anything that moves if it isn't in our precleared data bank. And Mr. Varshni, has that damage-control party gotten under way yet?"The two young men rushed toward the hatch, bumping each other in their eagerness to follow their commander's orders. Hazard almost smiled at the Laurel-and-Hardy aspect of it. Lieutenant Yang pushed herself to the comm console and anchored her softboots on the Velcro strip fastened to the deck there."Miss Stromsen, you are the duty officer. I am depending on you to keep me informed of the status of all systems.""Yes, sir!"Keep them busy, Hazard told himself. Make them concentrate on doing their jobs and they won't have time to be frightened."Encountering interference, sir," reported Yang, her eyes on the comm displays. "Switching to emergency frequency."Jamming, thought Hazard."Main comm antenna overheating," Stromsen said. She glanced down at her console keyboard, then up at the displays again. "I think they're attacking the antennas with lasers, sir. Main antenna out. Secondaries ..." She shrugged and gestured toward the baleful red lights strung across her keyboard. "They're all out, sir.""Set up a laser link," Hazard commanded. "They can't jam that. We've got to let Geneva know what's happening.""Sir," said Yang, "Geneva will not be within our horizon for another forty-three minutes.""Try signaling the commsats. Topmost priority.""Yes, sir."Got to let Geneva know, Hazard repeated to himself. If anybody can help us, they can. If Buckbee's pals haven't put one of their own people into the comm center down there. Or staged a coup. Or already knocked out the commsats. They've been planningthis for a long time. They've got it all timed down to the microsecond.He remembered the dinner, a month earlier, the night before he left to take command of the Hunter. I've known about it since then, Hazard said to himself. Known about it but didn't want to believe it. Known about it and done nothing. Buckbee was right. I killed those six kids. I should have seen that the bastards would strike without warning. 
It had been in the equatorial city of Belém, where the Brazilians had set up their space launching facility. The IPF was obligated to spread its launches among all its space-capable member nations, so Hazard had been ordered to assemble his crew at Belém for their lift into orbit.The night before they left, Hazard had been invited to dinner by an old Navy acquaintance who had already put in three months of orbital duty with the Peacekeepers and was on Earthside leave.His name was Cardillo. Hazard had known him, somewhat distantly, as a fellow submariner, commander of attack boats rather than the missile carriers Hazard himself had captained. Vincent Cardillo had a reputation for being a hard nose who ran an efficient boat, if not a particularly happy one. He had never been really close to Hazard: their chemistries were too different. But this specific sweltering evening in a poorly air-conditioned restaurant in downtown Belém, Cardillo acted as if they shared some old fraternal secret between them.Hazard had worn his IPF summerweight uniform: pale blue with gold insignia bordered by space black. Cardillo came in casual civilian slacks and a beautifully tailored Italian silk jacket. Through drinks and the first part of the dinner their conversation was light, inconsequential. Mostly reminiscences by twogray-haired submariners about men they had known, women they had chased, sea tales that grew with each retelling. But then:"Damn shame," Cardillo muttered, halfway through his entree of grilled eel.The restaurant, one of the hundreds that had sprung up in Belém since the Brazilians had made the city their major spaceport, was on the waterfront. Outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, the muddy Para River widened into the huge bay that eventually fed into the Atlantic. Hazard had spent his last day on Earth touring around the tropical jungle on a riverboat. The makeshift shanties that stood on stilts along the twisting mud-brown creeks were giving way to industrial parks and cinderblock housing developments. Air-conditioning was transforming the region from rubber plantations to computerized information services. The smell of cement dust blotted out the fragrance of tropical flowers. Bulldozers clattered in raw clearings slashed from the forest where stark steel frameworks of new buildings rose above the jungle growth. Children who had splashed naked in the brown jungle streams were being rounded up and sent to air-conditioned schools."What's a shame?" Hazard asked. "Seems to me these people are starting to do all right for the first time in their lives. The space business is making a lot of jobs around here."Cardillo took a forkful of eel from his plate. It never got to his mouth."I don't mean them, Johnny. I mean us. It's a damn shame about us."Hazard had never liked being called "Johnny." His family had addressed him as "Jon." His Navy associates knew him as "Hazard" and nothing else. A few very close friends used "J.W.""What do you mean?" he asked. His own plate wasalready wiped clean. The fish and its dark spicy sauce had been marvelous. So had the crisp-crusted bread."Don't you feel nervous about this whole IPF thing?" Cardillo asked, trying to look earnest. "I mean, I can see Washington deciding to put boomers like your boats in mothballs, and the silo missiles, too. But the attack subs? Decommission our conventional weapons systems? Leave us disarmed?"Hazard had not been in command of a missile submarine in more than three years. He had been allowed, even encouraged, to resign his commission after the hostage mess in Brussels."If you're not in favor of what the American government is doing, then why did you agree to serve in the Peacekeepers?"Cardillo shrugged and smiled slightly. It was not a pleasant smile. He had a thin, almost triangular face with a low, creased brow tapering down to a pointed chin. His once-dark hair, now peppered with gray, was thick and wavy. He had allowed it to grow down to his collar. His deep-brown eyes were always narrowed, crafty, focused so intently he seemed to be trying to penetrate through you. There was no joy in his face, even though he was smiling; no pleasure. It was the smile of a gambler, a con artist, a used-car salesman."Well," he said slowly, putting his fork back down on the plate and leaning back in his chair, "you know the old saying, 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.'"Hazard nodded, although he felt puzzled. He groped for Cardillo's meaning. "Yeah, I guess playing space cadet up there will be better than rusting away on the beach.""Playing?" Cardillo's dark brows rose slightly."We're not playing, Johnny. We're in this for keeps.""I didn't mean to imply that I don't take my duty to the IPF seriously," Hazard answered.For an instant Cardillo seemed stunned with surprise. Then he threw his head back and burst into laughter. "Jesus Christ, Johnny," he gasped. "You're so straight-arrow it's hysterical."Hazard frowned but said nothing. Cardillo guffawed and banged the table with one hand. Some of the diners glanced their way. They seemed to be mostly Americans or Europeans, a few Asians. Some Brazilians, too, Hazard noticed as he waited for Cardillo's amusement to subside. Probably from the capital or Rio."Let me in on the joke," Hazard said at last.Cardillo wiped at his eyes. Then, leaning forward across the table, his grin fading into an intense, penetrating stare, he whispered harshly, "I already told you, Johnny. If we can't avoid being members of the IFF--if Washington's so fucking weak that we've got to disband practically all our defenses--then what we've got to do is take over the Peacekeepers ourselves.""Take over the Peacekeepers?" Hazard felt stunned at the thought of it."Damn right! Men like you and me, Johnny. It's our duty to our country.""Our country," Hazard reminded him, "has decided to join the International Peacekeeping Force and has encouraged its military officers to obtain commissions in it."Cardillo shook his head. "That's our stupid goddamn government, Johnny. Not the country. Not the people who really want to defend America instead of selling her out to a bunch of fucking foreigners.""That government," Hazard reminded him, "won a big majority last November."Cardillo made a sour face. "Ahh, the people. What the fuck do they know?"Hazard said nothing."I'm telling you, Johnny, the only way to do it is to take over the IPF.""That's crazy.""You mean if and when the time comes, you won't go along with us?""I mean," Hazard said, forcing his voice to remain calm, "that I took an oath to be loyal to the IPF. So did you.""Yeah, yeah, sure. And what about the oath we took way back when--the one to preserve and protect the United States of America?""The United States of America wants us to serve in the Peacekeepers," Hazard insisted.Cardillo shook his head again, mournfully. Not a trace of anger. Not even disappointment. As if he had expected this reaction from Hazard. His expression was that of a salesman who could not convince his stubborn customer of the bargain he was offering."Your son doesn't feel the same way you do," Cardillo said.Hazard immediately clamped down on the rush of emotions that surged through him. Instead of reaching across the table and dragging Cardillo to his feet and punching in his smirking face, Hazard forced a thin smile and kept his fists clenched on his lap."Jon Jr. is a grown man. He has the right to make his own decisions.""He's serving under me, you know." Cardillo's eyes searched Hazard's face intently, probing for weakness."Yes," Hazard said tightly. "He told me."Which was an outright lie. 
"Missiles approaching, sir!"Stromsen's tense warning snapped Hazard out of his reverie. He riveted his attention to the main CIC display screen. Six angry red dots were worming theirway from the periphery of the screen toward the center, which marked the location of the Hunter."Now we'll see if the ABM satellites are working or not," Hazard muttered."Links with the ABM sats are still good, sir," Yang reported from her station, a shoulder's width away from Stromsen. "The integral antennas weren't knocked out when they hit the comm dishes."Hazard gave her a nod of acknowledgment. The two young women could not have looked more different: Yang was small, wiry, dark, her straight black hair cut like a military helmet; Stromsen was willowy yet broad in the beam and deep in the bosom, as blonde as butter."Lasers on 324 and 325 firing," the Norwegian reported.Hazard saw the display lights. On the main screen the six red dots flickered orange momentarily, then winked out altogether.Stromsen pecked at her keyboard. Alphanumerics sprang up on a side screen. "Got them all while they were still in first-stage burn. They'll never reach us." She smiled with relief. "They're tumbling into the atmosphere. Burn-up within seven minutes."Hazard allowed himself a small grin. "Don't break out the champagne yet. That's just their first salvo. They're testing to see if we actually have control of the lasers."It's all a question of time, Hazard knew. But how much time? What are they planning? How long before they start slicing us up with laser beams? We don't have the shielding to protect against lasers. The stupid politicians wouldn't allow us to armor these stations. We're like a sitting duck up here."What are they trying to accomplish, sir?" asked Yang. "Why are they doing this?""They want to take over the whole defense network.They want to seize control of the entire IPF.""That's impossible!" Stromsen blurted."The Russians won't allow them to do that," Yang said. "The Chinese and the other members of the IPF will stop them.""Maybe," said Hazard. "Maybe." He felt a slight hint of nausea ripple in his stomach. Reaching up, he touched the slippery plastic of the medicine patch behind his ear."Do you think they could succeed?" Stromsen asked."What's important is, do they think they can succeed? There are still hundreds of ballistic missiles on Earth. Thousands of hydrogen warheads. Buckbee and his cohorts apparently believe that if they can take control of a portion of the ABM network, they can threaten a nuclear strike against the nations that don't go along with them.""But the other nations will strike back and order their people in the IPF not to intercept their strikes," said Yang."It will be nuclear war," Stromsen said. "Just as if the IPF never existed.""Worse," Yang pointed out, "because first there'll be a shoot-out on each one of these battle stations.""That's madness!" said Stromsen."That's what we've got to prevent," Hazard said grimly.An orange light began to blink on the comm console. Yang snapped her attention to it. "Incoming message from the Graham, sir."Hazard nodded. "Put it on the main screen."Cardillo's crafty features appeared on the screen. He should have been still on leave back on Earth, but instead he was smiling crookedly at Hazard."Well, Johnny, I guess by now you've figured out that we mean business.""And so do we. Give it up, Vince. It's not going to work."With a small shake of his head Cardillo answered, "It's already working, Johnny boy. Two of the Russian battle stations are with us. So's the Wood. The Chinks and Indians are holding out but the European station is going along with us."Hazard said, "So you've got six of the nine stations.""So far.""Then you don't really need Hunter. You can leave us alone."Pursing his lips for a moment, Cardillo replied, "I'm afraid it doesn't work that way, Johnny. We want Hunter. We can't afford to have you rolling around like a loose cannon. You're either with us or against us.""I'm not with you," Hazard said flatly.Cardillo sighed theatrically. "John, there are twenty other officers and crew on your station ...""Fourteen now," Hazard corrected."Don't you think you ought to give them a chance to make a decision about their own lives?"Despite himself, Hazard broke into a malicious grin. "Am I hearing you straight, Vince? You're asking the commander of a vessel to take a vote?"Grinning back at him, Cardillo admitted, "I guess that was kind of dumb. But you do have their lives in your hands, Johnny.""We're not knuckling under, Vince. And you've got twenty-some lives aboard the Graham, you know. Including your own. Better think about that.""We already have, Johnny. One of those lives is Jonathan Hazard, Jr. He's right here on the bridge with me. A fine officer, Johnny. You should be proud of him."A hostage, Hazard realized. They're using Jon Jr. as a hostage."Do you want to talk with him?" Cardillo asked.Hazard nodded.Cardillo slid out of view and a younger man's face appeared on the screen. Jon Jr. looked tense, strained. This isn't any easier for him than it is for me, Hazard thought. He studied his son's face. Youthful, clear-eyed, a square-jawed honest face. Hazard was startled to realize that he had seen that face before, in his own Academy graduation photo."How are you, son?""I'm fine, Dad. And you?""Are we really on opposite sides of this?"Jon Jr.'s eyes flicked away for a moment, then turned back to look squarely at his father's. "I'm afraid so, Dad.""But why?" Hazard felt genuinely bewildered that his son did not see things the way he did."The IPF is dangerous," Jon Jr. said. "It's the first step toward a world government. The Third World nations want to bleed the industrialized nations dry. They want to grab all our wealth for themselves. The first step is to disarm us, under the pretense of preventing nuclear war. Then, once we're disarmed, they're going to take over everything--using the IPF as their armed forces.""That's what they've told you," Hazard said."That's what I know, Dad. It's true. I know it is.""And your answer is to take over the IPF and use it as your armed forces to control the rest of the world, is that it?""Better us than them."Hazard shook his head. "They're using you, son. Cardillo and Buckbee and the rest of those maniacs; you're in with a bunch of would-be Napoleons."Jon Jr. smiled pityingly at his father. "I knew you'd say something like that."Hazard put up a beefy hand. "I don't want to argue with you, son. But I can't go along with you.""You're going to force us to attack your station.""I'll fight back."His son's smile turned sardonic. "Like you did in Brussels?"Hazard felt it like a punch in his gut. He grunted with the pain of it. Wordlessly he reached out and clicked off the comm screen. 
Brussels.They had thought it was just another one of those endless Easter Sunday demonstrations. A peace march. The Greens, the Nuclear Winter freaks, the Neutralists, peaceniks of one stripe or another. Swarms of little old ladies in their Easter frocks, limping old war veterans, kids of all ages. Teenagers, lots of them. In blue jeans and denim jackets. Young women in shorts and tight T-shirts.The guards in front of NATO's headquarters complex took no particular note of the older youths and women mixed in with the teens. They failed to detect the hard, calculating eyes and the snubnosed guns and grenades hidden under jackets and sweaters.Suddenly the peaceful parade dissolved into a mass of screaming wild people. The guards were cut down mercilessly and the cadre of terrorists fought their way into the main building of NATO headquarters. They forced dozens of peaceful marchers to go in with them, as shields and hostages.Captain J. W. Hazard, USN, was not on duty that Sunday, but he was in his office nevertheless, attending to some paperwork that he wanted out of the way before the start of business on Monday morning.Unarmed, he was swiftly captured by the terrorists, beaten bloody for the fun of it, and then locked in a toilet. When the terrorists realized that he was the highest-ranking officer in the building, Hazard was dragged out and commanded to open the security vault where the most sensitive NATO documents were stored.Hazard refused. The terrorists began shooting hostages. After the second murder Hazard opened the vault for them. Top-secret battle plans, maps showing locations of nuclear weapons, and hundreds of other documents were taken by the terrorists and never found, even after an American-led strike force retook the building in a bloody battle that killed all but four of the hostages.Hazard stood before the blank comm screen for a moment, his softbooted feet not quite touching the deck, his mind racing.They've even figured that angle, he said to himself. They know I caved in at Brussels and they expect me to cave in here. Some sonofabitch has grabbed my psych records and come to the conclusion that I'll react the same way now as I did then. Some sonofabitch. And they got my son to stick the knife in me.The sound of the hatch clattering open stirred Hazard. Feeney floated through the hatch and grabbed an overhead handgrip."The crew's at battle stations, sir," he said, slightly breathless. "Standing by for further orders."It struck Hazard that only a few minutes had passed since he himself had entered the CIC."Very good, Mr. Feeney," he said. "With the bridge out, we're going to have to control the station from here. Feeney, take the con. Miss Stromsen, how much time before we can make direct contact with Geneva?""Forty minutes, sir," she sang out, then corrected, "Actually, thirty-nine fifty."Feeney was worming his softboots against the Velcro strip in front of the propulsion-and-control console."Take her down, Mr. Feeney."The Irishman's eyes widened with surprise. "Down, sir?"Hazard made himself smile. "Down. To the altitude of the ABM satellites. Now.""Yes, sir." Feeney began carefully pecking out commands on the keyboard before him."I'm not just reacting like an old submariner," Hazard reassured his young officers. "I want to get us to a lower altitude so we won't be such a good target for so many of their lasers. Shrink our horizon. We're a sitting duck up here."Yang grinned back at him. "I didn't think you expected to outmaneuver a laser beam, sir.""No, but we can take ourselves out of range of most of their satellites."Most, Hazard knew, but not all."Miss Stromsen, will you set up a simulation for me? I want to know how many unfriendly satellites can attack us at various altitudes, and what their positions would be compared to our own. I want a solution that tells me where we'll be safest.""Right away, sir," Stromsen said. "What minimum altitude shall I plug in?""Go right down to the deck," Hazard said. "Low enough to boil the paint off.""The station isn't built for reentry into the atmosphere, sir!""I know. But see how low we can get."The old submariner's instinct: run silent, run deep. So the bastards think I'll fold up, just like I did at Brussels, Hazard fumed inwardly. Two big differences,Cardillo and friends. Two very big differences. In Brussels the hostages were civilians, not military men and women. And in Brussels I didn't have any weapons to fight back with.He knew the micropuffs of thrust from the maneuvering rockets were hardly strong enough to be felt, yet Hazard's stomach lurched and heaved suddenly."We have retro burn," Feeney said. "Altitude decreasing."My damned stomach's more sensitive than his instruments, Hazard grumbled to himself."Incoming message from Graham, sir," said Yang."Ignore it.""Sir," Yang said, turning slightly toward him, "I've been thinking about the minimum altitude we can achieve. Although the station is not equipped for atmospheric reentry, we do carry the four emergency evacuation spacecraft and they do have heat shields.""Are you suggesting we abandon the station?""Oh, no, sir! But perhaps we could move the spacecraft to a position where they would be between us and the atmosphere. Let their heat shields protect us--sort of like riding a surfboard."Feeney laughed. "Trust a California girl to come up with a solution like that!""It might be a workable idea," Hazard said. "I'll keep it in mind.""We're being illuminated by a laser beam," Stromsen said tensely. "Low power--so far.""They're tracking us."Hazard ordered, "Yang, take over the simulation problem. Stromsen, give me a wide radar sweep. I want to see if they're moving any of their ABM satellites to counter our maneuver.""I have been sweeping, sir. No satellite activity yet."Hazard grunted. Yet. She knows that all they haveto do is maneuver a few of their satellites to higher orbits and they'll have us in their sights.To Yang he called, "Any response from the commsats?""No, sir," she replied immediately. "Either their laser receptors are not functioning or the satellites themselves are inoperative."They couldn't have knocked out the commsats altogether, Hazard told himself. How would they communicate with one another? Cardillo claims the Wood and two of the Soviet stations are on their side. And the Europeans. He put a finger to his lips unconsciously, trying to remember Cardillo's exact words. The Europeans are going along with us. That's what he said. Maybe they're not actively involved in this. Maybe they're playing a wait-and-see game.Either way, we're alone. They've got four, maybe five, out of the nine battle stations. We can't contact the Chinese or Indians. We don't know which Russian satellite hasn't joined in with them. It'll be more than a half hour before we can contact Geneva, and even then what the hell can they do?Alone. Well, it won't be for the first time. Submariners are accustomed to being on their own."Sir," Yang reported, "the Wood is still trying to reach us. Very urgent, they're saying.""Tell them I'm not available but you will record their message and personally give it to me." Turning to the Norwegian lieutenant, "Miss Stromsen, I want all crew members in their pressure suits. And levels one and two of the station are to be abandoned. No one above level three except the damage-control team. We're going to take some hits and I want everyone protected as much as possible."She nodded and glanced at the others. All three of them looked tense, but not afraid. The fear was there, of course, underneath. But they were in control ofthemselves. Their eyes were clear, their hands steady."Should I have the air pumped out of levels one and two--after they're cleared of personnel?""No," Hazard said. "Let them outgas when they're hit. Might fool the bastards into thinking they're doing more damage than they really are."Feeney smiled weakly. "Sounds like the boxer who threatened to bleed all over his opponent."Hazard glared at him. Stromsen took up the headset from her console and began issuing orders into the pin-sized microphone."The computer simulation is finished, sir," said Yang."Put it on my screen here."He studied the graphics for a moment, sensing Feeney peering over his shoulder. Their safest altitude was the lowest, where only six ABM satellites could "see" them. The fifteen laser-armed satellites under their own control would surround them like a cavalry escort."There it is, Mr. Feeney. Plug that into your navigation program. That's where we want to be.""Aye, sir."The CIC shuddered. The screens dimmed for a moment, then came back to their full brightness."We've been hit!" Stromsen called out."Where? How bad?""Just aft of the main power generator. Outer hull ruptured. Storage area eight--medical, dental, and food-supplement supplies.""So they got the Band-Aids and vitamin pills," Yang joked shakily."But they're going after the power generator," said Hazard. "Any casualties?""No, sir," reported Stromsen. "No personnel stationed there during general quarters."He grasped Feeney's thin shoulder. "Turn us over,man. Get that generator away from their beams!"Feeney nodded hurriedly and flicked his stubby fingers across his keyboard. Hazard knew it was all in his imagination, but his stomach rolled sickeningly as the station rotated.Hanging grimly to a handgrip, he said, "I want each of you to get into your pressure suits, starting with you, Miss Stromsen. Yang, take over her console until she ..."The chamber shook again. Another hit."Can't we strike back at them?" Stromsen cried.Hazard asked, "How many satellites are firing at us?"She glanced at her display screens. "It seems to be only one--so far.""Hit it."Her lips curled slightly in a Valkyrie's smile. She tapped out commands on her console and then leaned on the final button hard enough to lift her boots off the Velcro."Got him!" Stromsen exulted. "That's one laser that won't bother us again."Yang and Feeney were grinning. Hazard asked the communications officer, "Let me hear what the Graham has been saying."It was Buckbee's voice on the tape. "Hazard, you are not to attempt to change your orbital altitude. If you don't return to your original altitude immediately, we will fire on you.""Well, they know by now that we're not paying attention to them," Hazard said to his three young officers. "If I know them, they're going to take a few minutes to think things over, especially now that we've shown them we're ready to hit back. Stromsen, get into your suit. Feeney, you're next, then Yang. Move!"It took fifteen minutes before the three of them were back in the CIC inside the bulky space suits, flexing gloved fingers, glancing about from inside the helmets. They all kept their visors up, and Hazard said nothing about it. Difficult enough to work inside the damned suits, he thought. They can snap the visors down fast enough if it comes to that.The compact CIC became even more crowded. Despite decades of research and development, the space suits still bulked nearly twice as large as an unsuited person.Suddenly Hazard felt an overpowering urge to get away from the CIC, away from the tension he saw in their young faces, away from the sweaty odor of fear, away from the responsibility for their lives."I'm going for my suit," he said, "and then a fast inspection tour of the station. Think you three can handle things on your own for a few minutes?"Three heads bobbed inside their helmets. Three voices chorused, "Yes, sir.""Fire on any satellite that fires at us," he commanded. "Tape all incoming messages. If there's any change in their tune, call me on the intercom.""Yes, sir.""Feeney, how long until we reach our final altitude?""More than an hour, sir.""No way to move her faster?""I could get outside and push, I suppose."Hazard grinned at him. "That won't be necessary, Mr. Feeney." Not yet, he added silently.Pushing through the hatch into the passageway, Hazard saw that there was one pressure suit hanging on its rack in the locker just outside the CIC hatch. He passed it and went to his personal locker and his own suit. It's good to leave them on their own for a while,he told himself. Build up their confidence. But he knew that he had to get away from them, even if only for a few minutes.His personal space suit smelled of untainted plastic and fresh rubber, like a new car. As Hazard squirmed into it, its joints felt stiff--or maybe it's me, he thought. The helmet slipped from his gloved hands and went spinning away from him, floating off like a severed head. Hazard retrieved it and pulled it on. Like the youngsters, he kept the visor open.His first stop was the bridge. Varshni was hovering in the companionway just outside the airtight hatch that sealed off the devastated area. Two other space-suited men were zippering an unrecognizably mangled body into a long black-plastic bag. Three other bags floated alongside them, already filled and sealed.Even inside a pressure suit, the Indian seemed small, frail, like a skinny child. He was huddled next to the body bags, bent over almost into a fetal position. There were tears in his eyes. "These are all we could find. The two others must have been blown out of the station completely."Hazard put a gloved hand on the shoulder of his suit."They were my friends," Varshni said."It must have been painless," Hazard heard himself say. It sounded stupid."I wish I could believe that.""There's more damage to inspect, over by the power generator area. Is your team nearly finished here?""Another few minutes, I think. We must make certain that all the wiring and air lines have been properly sealed off.""They can handle that themselves. Come on, you and I will check it out together.""Yes, sir." Varshni spoke into his helmet microphonebriefly, then straightened up and tried to smile. "I am ready, sir."The two men glided up a passageway that led to the outermost level of the station, Hazard wondering what would happen if a laser attack hit the area while they were in it. Takes a second or two to slice the hull open, he thought. Enough time to flip your visor down and grab on to something before the air blowout sucks you out of the station. Still, he slid his visor down and ordered Varshni to do the same. He was only mildly surprised when the Indian replied that he already had.Wish the station were shielded. Wish they had designed it to withstand attack. Then he grumbled inwardly, Wishes are for losers; winners use what they have. But the thought nagged at him. What genius put the power generator next to the unarmored hull? Damned politicians wouldn't allow shielding; they wanted the stations to be vulnerable. A sign of goodwill, as far as they're concerned. They thought nobody would attack an unshielded station because the attacker's station is also unshielded. We're all in this together, try to hurt me and I'll hurt you. A hangover from the old mutual-destruction kind of dogma. Absolute bullshit.There ought to be some way to protect ourselves from lasers. They shouldn't put people up here like sacrificial lambs.Hazard glanced at Varshni, whose face was hidden behind his helmet visor. He thought of his son. Sheila had ten years to poison his mind against me. Ten years. He wanted to hate her for that, but he found that he could not. He had been a poor husband and a worse father. Jon Jr. had every right to loathe his father. But dammit, this is more important than family arguments! Why can't the boy see what's at stake here? Just because he's sore at his father doesn't mean he has to take total leave of his senses.They approached a hatch where the red warning light was blinking balefully. They checked the hatch behind them, made certain it was airtight, then used the wall-mounted keyboard to start the pumps that would evacuate that section of the passageway, turning it into an elongated air lock.Finally they could open the farther hatch and glide into the wrecked storage magazine.Hazard grabbed a handhold. "Better use tethers here," he said.Varshni had already unwound the tether from his waist and clipped it to a hold.It was a small magazine, little more than a closet. In the light from their helmet lamps, they saw cartons of pharmaceuticals securely anchored to the shelves with toothed plastic straps. A gash had been torn in the hull, and through it Hazard could see the darkness of space. The laser beam had penetrated into the cartons and shelving, slicing a neat burned-edge slash through everything it touched.Varshni floated upward toward the rent. It was as smooth as a surgeon's incision, and curled back slightly where the air pressure had pushed the thin metal outward in its rush to escape to vacuum."No wiring here," Varshni's voice said in Hazard's helmet earphones. "No plumbing either. We were fortunate.""They were aiming for the power generator."The Indian pushed himself back down toward Hazard. His face was hidden behind the visor. "Ah, yes, that is an important target. We were very fortunate that they missed.""They'll try again," Hazard said."Yes, of course.""Commander Hazard!" Yang's voice sounded urgent. "I think you should hear the latest message from Graham, sir."Nodding unconsciously inside his helmet, Hazard said, "Patch it through."He heard a click, then Buckbee's voice. "Hazard, we've been very patient with you. We're finished playing games. You bring the Hunter back to its normal altitude and surrender the station to us or we'll slice you to pieces. You've got five minutes to answer."The voice shut off so abruptly that Hazard could picture Buckbee slamming his fist against the Off key."How long ago did this come through?""Transmission terminated thirty seconds ago, sir," said Yang.Hazard looked down at Varshni's slight form. He knew that Varshni had heard the ultimatum just as he had. He could not see the Indian's face, but the slump of his shoulders told him how Varshni felt.Yang asked, "Sir, do you want me to set up a link with Graham?""No," said Hazard."I don't think they intend to call again, sir," Yang said. "They expect you to call them.""Not yet," he said. He turned to the wavering form beside him. "Better straighten up, Mr. Varshni. There's going to be a lot of work for you and your damage-control team to do. We're in for a rough time."Ordering Varshni back to his team at the ruins of the bridge, Hazard made his way toward the CIC. He spoke into his helmet mike as he pulled himself along the passageways, hand over hand, as fast as he could go:"Mr. Feeney, you are to fire at any satellites that fire on us. And at any ABM satellites that begin maneuvering to gain altitude so they can look down on us. Understand?""Understood, sir!""Miss Stromsen, I believe the fire-control panel is part of your responsibility. You will take your orders from Mr. Feeney.""Yes, sir.""Miss Yang, I want that simulation of our position and altitude updated to show exactly which ABM satellites under hostile control are in a position to fire upon us.""I already have that in the program, sir.""Good. I want our four lifeboats detached from the station and placed in positions where their heat shields can intercept incoming laser beams."For the first time, Yang's voice sounded uncertain. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean, sir."Hazard was sweating and panting with the exertion of hauling himself along the passageway. This suit won't smell new anymore, he thought.To Yang he explained, "We can use the lifeboats' heat shields as armor to absorb or deflect incoming laser beams. Not just shielding, but active armor. We can move the boats to protect the most likely areas for laser beams to come from.""Like the goalie in a hockey game!" Feeney chirped. "Cutting down the angles.""Exactly."By the time he reached the CIC they were already working the problems. Hazard saw that Stromsen had the heaviest work load: all the station systems' status displays, fire control for the laser-armed ABM satellites, and control of the lifeboats now hovering dozens of meters away from the station."Miss Stromsen, please transfer the fire-control responsibility to Mr. Feeney."The expression on her strong-jawed face, half hidden inside her helmet, was pure stubborn indignation.Jabbing a gloved thumb toward the lightning-slash insignia on the shoulder of Feeney's suit, Hazard said,"He is a weapons specialist, after all."Stromsen's lips twitched slightly and she tapped at the keyboard to her left; the fire-control displays disappeared from the screens above it, only to spring up on screens in front of Feeney's position.Hazard nodded as he lifted his own visor. "Okay, now. Feeney, you're the offense. Stromsen, you're the defense. Miss Yang, your job is to keep Miss Stromsen continuously advised as to where the best placement of the lifeboats will be."Yang nodded, her dark eyes sparkling with the challenge. "Sir, you can't possibly expect us to predict all the possible paths a beam might take and get a lifeboat's heat shield in place soon enough ...""I expect--as Lord Nelson once said--each of you to do your best. Now get Buckbee or Cardillo or whoever on the horn. I'm ready to talk to them."It took a few moments for the communications laser to lock onto the distant Graham, but when Buckbee's face finally appeared on the screen, he was smiling--almost gloating."You've still got a minute and a half, Hazard. I'm glad you've come to your senses before we had to open fire on you.""I'm only calling to warn you: any satellite that fires on us will be destroyed. Any satellite that maneuvers to put its lasers in a better position to hit us will also be destroyed."Buckbee's jaw dropped open. His eyes widened."I've got fifteen ABM satellites under my control," Hazard continued, "and I'm going to use them.""You can't threaten us!" Buckbee sputtered. "We'll wipe you out!""Maybe. Maybe not. I intend to fight until the very last breath.""You're crazy, Hazard!""Am I? Your game is to take over the whole defensesystem and threaten a nuclear-missile strike against any nation that doesn't go along with you. Well, if your satellites are exhausted or destroyed, you won't be much of a threat to anybody, will you? Try impressing the Chinese with a beat-up network. They've got enough missiles to wipe out Europe and North America, and they'll use them. If you don't have enough left to stop those missiles, then who's threatening whom?""You can't ...""Listen!" Hazard snapped. "How many of your satellites will be left by the time you overcome us? How much of a hole will we rip in your plans? Geneva will be able to blow you out of the sky with groundlaunched missiles by the time you're finished with us.""They'd never do such a thing.""Are you sure?"Buckbee looked away from Hazard, toward someone off-camera. He moved off, and Cardillo slid into view. He was no longer smiling."Nice try, Johnny, but you're bluffing and we both know it. Give up now or we're going to have to wipe you out.""You can try, Vince. But you won't win.""If we go, your son goes with us," Cardillo said.Hazard forced his voice to remain level. "There's nothing I can do about that. He's a grown man. He's made his choice."Cardillo huffed out a long, impatient sigh. "All right, Johnny. It was nice knowing you."Hazard grimaced. Another lie, he thought. The man must be categorically unable to speak the truth.The comm screen blanked."Are the lifeboats in place?" he asked."As good as we can get them," Yang said, her voice doubtful."Not too far from the station," Hazard warned. "I don't want them to show up as separate blips on their radar.""Yes, sir, we know."He nodded at them. Good kids, he thought. Ready to fight it out on my say-so. How far will they go before they crack? How much damage can we take before they scream to surrender?They waited. Not a sound in the womb-shaped chamber, except for the hum of the electrical equipment and the whisper of air circulation. Hazard glided to a position slightly behind the two women. Feeney can handle the counterattack, he said to himself. That's simple enough. It's the defense that's going to win or lose for us.On the display screens he saw the positions of the station and the hostile ABM satellites. Eleven of them in range. Eleven lines straight as laser beams converged on the station. Small orange blips representing the four lifeboats hovered around the central pulsing yellow dot that represented the station. The orange blips blocked nine of the converging lines. Two others passed between the lifeboat positions and reached the station itself."Miss Stromsen," Hazard said softly.She jerked as if a hot needle had been stuck into her flesh."Easy now," Hazard said. "All I want to tell you is that you should be prepared to move the lifeboats to intercept any beams that are getting through.""Yes, sir, I know."Speaking as soothingly as he could, Hazard went on, "I doubt that they'll fire all eleven lasers at us at once. And as our altitude decreases, there will be fewer and fewer of their satellites in range of us. We have a good chance of getting through this without too much damage."Stromsen turned her whole space-suited body so that she could look at him from inside her helmet. "It's good of you to say so, sir. I know you're trying to cheer us up, and I'm certain we all appreciate it. But you are taking my attention away from the screens."Yang giggled, whether out of tension or actual humor at Stromsen's retort, Hazard could not tell.Feeney sang out, "I've got a satellite climbing on us!"Before Hazard could speak, Feeney's hands were moving on his console keyboard. "Our beasties are now programmed for automatic, but I'm tapping in a backup manually, just in--ah! Got her! Scratch one enemy."Smiles all around. But behind his grin, Hazard wondered, Can they gin up decoys? Something that gives the same radar signature as an ABM satellite but really isn't? I don't think so--but I don't know for sure."Laser beam ... two of them," called Stromsen.Hazard saw the display screen light up. Both beams were hitting the same lifeboat. Then a third beam from the opposite direction lanced out.The station shuddered momentarily as Stromsen's fingers flew over her keyboard and one of the orange dots shifted slightly to block the third beam."Where'd it hit?" he asked the Norwegian as the beams winked off."Just aft of the emergency oxygen tanks, sir."Christ, Hazard thought, if they hit the tanks, enough oxygen will blow out of here to start us spinning like a top."Vent the emergency oxygen.""Vent it, sir?""Now!"Stromsen pecked angrily at the keyboard to her left. "Venting. Sir.""I don't want that gas spurting out and acting like a rocket thruster," Hazard explained to her back. "Besides, it's an old submariner's trick to let the attacker think he's caused real damage by jettisoning junk."If any of them had reservations about getting rid of their emergency oxygen, they kept them quiet.There was plenty of junk to jettison, over the next quarter of an hour. Laser beams struck the station repeatedly, although Stromsen was able to block most of the beams with the heat-shielded lifeboats. Still, despite the mobile shields, the station was being slashed apart, bit by bit. Chunks of the outer hull ripped away, clouds of air blowing out of the upper level to form a brief fog around the station before dissipating into the vacuum of space. Cartons of supplies, pieces of equipment, even spare space suits, went spiraling out, pushed by air pressure as the compartments in which they had been housed were ripped apart by the probing incessant beams of energy.Feeney struck back at the ABM satellites, but for every one he hit, another maneuvered into range to replace it."I'm running low on fuel for the lasers," he reported."So must they," said Hazard, trying to sound calm."Aye, but they've got a few more than fifteen to play with.""Stay with it, Mr. Feeney. You're doing fine." Hazard patted the shoulder of the Irishman's bulky suit. Glancing at Stromsen's status displays, he saw rows of red lights glowering like accusing eyes. They're taking the station apart, piece by piece. It's only a matter of time before we're finished.Aloud, he announced, "I'm going to check with the damage-control party. Call me if anything unusual happens."Yang quipped, "How do you define 'unusual,' sir?"Stromsen and Feeney laughed. Hazard wished he could, too. He made a grin for the Chinese American, thinking, At least their morale hasn't cracked. Not yet.The damage-control party was working on level three, reconnecting a secondary power line that ran along the overhead through the main passageway. A laser beam had burned through the deck of the second level and severed the line, cutting power to the station's main computer. A shaft of brilliant sunlight lanced down from the outer hull through two levels of the station and onto the deck of level three.One space-suited figure was dangling upside down halfway through the hole in the overhead, splicing cable carefully with gloved hands, while a second hovered nearby with a small welding torch. Two more were working farther down the passageway, where a larger hole had been burned halfway down the bulkhead.Through that jagged rip Hazard could see clear out to space and the rim of the Earth, glaring bright with swirls of white clouds.He recognized Varshni by his small size even before he could see the Indian flag on his shoulder or read the name stenciled on the front of his suit."Mr. Varshni, I want you and your crew to leave level three. It's getting too dangerous here.""But, sir," Varshni protested, "our duty is to repair damage.""There'll be damage on level four soon enough.""But the computer requires power.""It can run on its internal batteries.""But for how long?""Long enough," said Hazard grimly.Varshni refused to be placated. "I am not risking lives unnecessarily, sir.""I didn't say you were.""I am operating on sound principles," the Indian insisted, "exactly as required in the book of regulations.""I'm not faulting you, man. You and your crew have done a fine job."The others had stopped their work. They were watching the exchange between their superior and the station commander."I have operated on the principle that lightning does not strike twice in the same place. In oldfashioned naval parlance this is referred to, I believe, as 'chasing salvos.'"Hazard stared at the diminutive Indian. Even inside the visored space suit, Varshni appeared stiff with anger. Chasing salvos--that's what a little ship does when it's under attack by a bigger ship: run to where the last shells splashed, because it's pretty certain that the next salvo won't hit there. I've insulted his abilities, Hazard realized. And in front of his team. Damned fool!"Mr. Varshni," Hazard explained slowly, "this battle will be decided, one way or the other, in the next twenty minutes or so. You and your team have done an excellent job of keeping damage to a minimum. Without you, we would have been forced to surrender."Varshni seemed to relax a little. Hazard could sense his chin rising a notch inside his helmet."But the battle is entering a new phase," Hazard went on. "Level three is now vulnerable to direct laser damage. I can't afford to lose you and your team at this critical stage. Moreover, the computer and the rest of the most sensitive equipment are on level four and in the Combat Information Center. Those are the areas that need our protection and those are the areas where I want you to operate. Is that understood?"A heartbeat's hesitation. Then Varshni said, "Yes, of course, sir. I understand. Thank you for explaining it to me.""Okay. Now finish your work here and then get down to level four.""Yes, sir."Shaking his head inside his helmet, Hazard turned and pushed himself toward the ladderway that led down to level four and the CIC.A blinding glare lit the passageway and he heard screams of agony. Blinking against the burning afterimage, Hazard turned to see Varshni's figure almost sliced in half. A dark burn line slashed diagonally across the torso of his space suit. Tiny globules of blood floated out from it. The metal overhead was blackened and curled now. A woman was screaming. She was up by the overhead, thrashing wildly with pain, her backpack ablaze. The other technician was nowhere to be seen.Hazard rushed to the Indian while the other two members of the damage-control team raced to their partner and sprayed extinguisher foam on her backpack.Over the woman's screams he heard Varshni's gargling whisper. "It's no use, sir ... no use ...""You did fine, son." Hazard held the little man in his arms. "You did fine."He felt the life slip away. Lightning does strike in the same place, Hazard thought. You've chased your last salvo, son.Both the man and the woman who had been working on the power cable had been wounded by the laser beam. The man's right arm had been sliced off at the elbow, the woman badly burned in the back when her life-support pack exploded. Hazard and the two remaining damage-control men carried them to the sick bay, where the station's one doctor was already workingover three other casualties.The sick bay was on the third level. Hazard realized how vulnerable that was. He made his way down to the CIC, at the heart of the station, knowing that it was protected not only by layers of metal but by human flesh as well. The station rocked again and Hazard heard the ominous groaning of tortured metal as he pushed weightlessly along the ladderway.He felt bone-weary as he opened the hatch and floated into the CIC. One look at the haggard faces of his three young officers told him that they were on the edge of defeat as well. Stromsen's status display board was studded with glowering red lights."This station is starting to resemble a piece of Swiss cheese," Hazard quipped lamely as he lifted the visor of his helmet.No one laughed. Or even smiled."Varshni bought it," he said, taking up his post between Stromsen and Feeney."We heard it," said Yang.Hazard looked around the CIC. It felt stifling hot, dank with the smell of fear."Mr. Feeney," he said, "discontinue all offensive operations.""Sir?" The Irishman's voice squeaked with surprise."Don't fire back at the sonsofbitches," Hazard snapped. "Is that clear enough?"Feeney raised his hands up above his shoulders, like a croupier showing that he was not influencing the roulette wheel."Miss Stromsen, when the next laser beam is fired at us, shut down the main power generator. Miss Yang, issue instructions over the intercom that all personnel are to place themselves on level four --except for the sick bay. No one is to use the intercom. That is an order."Stromsen asked, "The power generator ... ?""We'll run on the backup fuel cells and batteries. They don't make so much heat."There were more questions in Stromsen's eyes, but she turned back to her consoles silently.Hazard explained, "We are going to run silent. Buckbee, Cardillo, and company have been pounding the hell out of us for about half an hour. They have inflicted considerable damage. However, they don't know that we've been able to shield ourselves with the lifeboats. They think they've hurt us much more than they actually have.""You want them to think that they've finished us off, then?" asked Feeney."That's right. But, Mr. Feeney, let me ask you a hypothetical question ..."The chamber shook again and the screens dimmed, then came back to their normal brightness.Stromsen punched a key on her console. "Main generator off, sir."Hazard knew it was his imagination, but the screens seemed to become slightly dimmer."Miss Yang?" he asked."All personnel have been instructed to move down to level four and stay off the intercom."Hazard nodded, satisfied. Turning back to Feeney, he resumed, "Suppose, Mr. Feeney, that you are in command of Graham. How would you know that you've knocked out Hunter?"Feeney absently started to stroke his chin and bumped his fingertips against the rim of his helmet instead. "I suppose ... if Hunter stopped shooting back, and I couldn't detect any radio emissions from her ...""And infrared!" Yang added. "With the power generator out, our infrared signature goes way down.""We appear to be dead in the water," said Stromsen."Right.""But what does it gain us?" Yang asked."Time," answered Stromsen. "In another ten minutes or so we'll be within contact range of Geneva."Hazard patted the top of her helmet. "Exactly. But more than that. We get them to stop shooting at us. We save the wounded up in the sick bay.""And ourselves," said Feeney."Yes," Hazard admitted. "And ourselves."For long moments they hung weightlessly, silent, waiting, hoping."Sir," said Yang, "a query from Graham, asking if we surrender.""No reply," Hazard ordered. "Maintain complete silence."The minutes stretched. Hazard glided to Yang's comm console and taped a message for Geneva, swiftly outlining what had happened."I want that tape compressed into a couple of milliseconds and burped by the tightest laser beam we have down to Geneva."Yang nodded. "I suppose the energy surge for a low-power communications laser won't be enough for them to detect.""Probably not, but it's a chance we'll have to take. Beam it at irregular intervals as long as Geneva is in view.""Yes, sir.""Sir!" Feeney called out. "Looks like Graham's detached a lifeboat.""Trajectory analysis?"Feeney tapped at his navigation console. "Heading for us," he reported.Hazard felt his lips pull back in a feral grin."They're coming over to make sure. Cardillo's an old submariner; he knows all about running silent. They're sending over an armed party to make sure we're finished.""And to take control of our satellites," Yang suggested.Hazard brightened. "Right! There're only two ways to control the ABM satellites--either from the station on patrol or from Geneva." He spread his arms happily. "That means they're not in control of Geneva! We've got a good chance to pull their cork!"But there was no response from Geneva when they beamed their data-compressed message to IPF headquarters. Hunter glided past in its unusually low orbit, a tattered wreck desperately calling for help. No answer reached them.And the lifeboat from Graham moved inexorably closer.The gloom in the CIC was thick enough to stuff a mattress as Geneva disappeared over the horizon and the boat from Graham came toward them. Hazard watched the boat on one of Stromsen's screens: it was bright and shining in the sunlight, not blackened by scorching laser beams, unsullied by splashes of human blood.We could zap it into dust, he thought. One word from me and Feeney could focus half a dozen lasers on it. The men aboard her must be volunteers, willing to risk their necks to make certain that we're finished. He felt a grim admiration for them. Then he wondered, Is Jon Jr. aboard with them?"Mr. Feeney, what kind of weapons do you think they're carrying?"Feeney's brows rose toward his scalp. "Weapons, sir? You mean, like sidearms?"Hazard nodded."Personal weapons are not allowed aboard station,sir. Regulations forbid it.""I know. But what do you bet they've got pistols, at least. Maybe some submachine guns.""Damned dangerous stuff for a space station," said Feeney.Hazard smiled tightly at the Irishman. "Are you afraid they'll put a few more holes in our hull?"Yang saw what he was driving at. "Sir, there are no weapons aboard Hunter--unless you want to count kitchen knives.""They'll be coming aboard with guns, just to make sure," Hazard said. "I want to capture them alive and use them as hostages. That's our last remaining card. If we can't do that, we've got to surrender.""They'll be in full suits," said Stromsen. "Each on his own individual life-support system.""How can we capture them? Or even fight them?" Yang wondered aloud.Hazard detected no hint of defeat in their voices. The despair of a half hour earlier was gone now. A new excitement had hold of them. He was holding a glimmer of hope for them, and they were reaching for it."There can't be more than six of them aboard that boat," Feeney mused.I wonder if Cardillo has the guts to lead the boarding party in person, Hazard asked himself."We don't have any useful weapons," said Yang."But we have some tools," Stromsen pointed out. "Maybe ...""What do the lifeboat engines use for propellant?" Hazard asked rhetorically."Methane and Oh-eff-two," Feeney replied, looking puzzled.Hazard nodded. "Miss Stromsen, which of our supply magazines are still intact--if any?"It took them several minutes to understand what hewas driving at, but when they finally saw the light, the three young officers went speedily to work. Together with the four unwounded members of the crew, they prepared a welcome for the boarders from Graham.Finally, Hazard watched on Stromsen's display screens as the boat sniffed around the battered station. Strict silence was in force aboard Hunter. Even in the CIC, deep at the heart of the battle station, they spoke in tense whispers."I hope the bastards like what they see," Hazard muttered."They know that we used the lifeboats for shields," said Yang."Active armor," Hazard said. "Did you know the idea was invented by the man this station's named after?""They're looking for a docking port," Stromsen pointed out."Only one left," said Feeney.They could hang their boat almost anywhere and walk in through the holes they've put in us, Hazard said to himself. But they won't. They'll go by the book and find an intact docking port. They've got to! Everything depends on that.He felt his palms getting slippery with nervous perspiration as the lifeboat slowly, slowly moved around Hunter toward the Earth-facing side, where the only usable port was located. Hazard had seen to it that all the other ports had been disabled."They're buying it!" Stromsen's whisper held a note of triumph."Sir!" Yang hissed urgently. "A message just came in--laser beam, ultracompressed.""From where?""Computer's decrypting," she replied, her snubnosed face wrinkled with concentration. "Coming up on my center screen, sir."Hazard slid over toward her. The words on the screen read:From: IPF Regional HQ, Lagos.To: Commander, battle station Hunter.Message begins. Coup attempt in Geneva a failure, thanks in large part to your refusal to surrender your command. Situation still unclear, however. Imperative you retain control of Hunter, at all costs. Message ends.He read it aloud, in a guttural whisper, so that Feeney and Stromsen understood what was at stake."We're not alone," Hazard told them. "They know what's happening, and help is on the way."That was stretching the facts, he knew. And he knew they knew. But it was reassuring to think that someone, somewhere, was preparing to help them.Hazard watched them grinning to one another. In his mind, though, he kept repeating the phrase "Imperative you retain control of Hunter, at all costs."At all costs, Hazard said to himself, closing his eyes wearily, seeing Varshni dying in his arms and the others maimed. At all costs.The bastards, Hazard seethed inwardly. The dirty, power-grabbing, murdering bastards. Once they set foot inside my station, I'll kill them like the poisonous snakes they are. I'll squash them flat. I'll cut them open just like they've slashed my kids ...He stopped abruptly and forced himself to take a deep breath. Yeah, sure. Go for personal revenge. That'll make the world a better place to live in, won't it?"Sir, are you all right?"Hazard opened his eyes and saw Stromsen staring at him. "Yes, I'm fine. Thank you.""They've docked, sir," said the Norwegian."They're debarking and coming up passageway C, just as you planned."Looking past her to the screens, Hazard saw that there were six of them, all in space suits, visors down. And pistols in their gloved hands."Nothing bigger than pistols?""No, sir. Not that we can see, at least."Turning to Feeney. "Ready with the aerosols?""Yes, sir.""All crew members evacuated from the area?""They're all back on level four, except for the sick bay."Hazard never took his eyes from the screens. The six space-suited boarders were floating down the passageway that led to the lower levels of the station, which were still pressurized and held breathable air. They stopped at the air lock, saw that it was functional. The leader of their group started working the wall unit that controlled the lock."Can we hear them?" he asked Yang.Wordlessly, she touched a stud on her keyboard." ... use the next section of the passageway as an air lock," someone was saying. "Standard procedure. Then we'll pump the air back into it once we're inside.""But we stay in the suits until we check out the whole station. That's an order," said another voice.Buckbee? Hazard's spirits soared. Buckbee will make a nice hostage, he thought. Not as good as Cardillo, but good enough.Just as he had hoped, the six boarders went through the airtight hatch, closed it behind them, and started the pump that filled the next section of passageway with air once again."Something funny here, sir," said one of the space-suited figures."Yeah, the air's kind of misty.""Never saw anything like this before. Christ, it's like Mexico City air.""Stay in your suits!" It was Buckbee's voice, Hazard was certain of it. "Their life-support systems must have been damaged in our bombardment. They're probably all dead."You wish, Hazard thought. To Feeney, he commanded, "Seal that hatch."Feeney pecked at a button on his console."And the next one.""Already done, sir."Hazard waited, watching Stromsen's main screen as the six boarders shuffled weightlessly to the next hatch and found that it would not respond to the control unit on the bulkhead."Damn! We'll have to double back and find another route ...""Miss Yang, I'm ready to hold converse with our guests," said Hazard.She flashed a brilliant smile and touched the appropriate keys, then pointed a surprisingly well-manicured finger at him. "You're on the air!""Buckbee, this is Hazard."All six of the boarders froze for an instant, then spun weightlessly in midair, trying to locate the source of the new voice."You are trapped in that section of corridor," Hazard said. "The mist that you see in the air is oxygen difluoride from our lifeboat propellant tanks. Very volatile stuff. Don't strike any matches.""What the hell are you saying, Hazard?""You're locked in that passageway, Buckbee. If you try to fire those popguns you're carrying, you'll blow yourselves to pieces.""And you too!""We're already dead, you prick. Taking you with us is the only joy I'm going to get out of this.""You're bluffing!"Hazard snapped, "Then show me how brave you are, Buckbee. Take a shot at the hatch."The six boarders hovered in the misty passageway like figures in a surrealistic painting. Seconds ticked by, each one stretching excruciatingly. Hazard felt a pain in his jaws and realized he was clenching his teeth hard enough to chip them.He took his eyes from the screen momentarily to glance at his three youngsters. They were just as tense as he was. They knew how long the odds of their gamble were. The passageway was filled with nothing more than aerosol mists from every spray can the crew could locate in the supply magazines."What do you want, Hazard?" Buckbee said at last, his voice sullen, like a spoiled little boy who had been denied a cookie.Hazard let out his breath. Then, as cheerfully as he could manage, "I've got what I want. Six hostages. How much air do your suits carry? Twelve hours?""What do you mean?""You've got twelve hours to convince Cardillo and the rest of your pals to surrender.""You're crazy, Hazard.""I've had a tough day, Buckbee. I don't need your insults. Call me when you're ready to deal.""You'll be killing your son!"Hazard had half expected it, but still it hit him like a blow. "Jonnie, are you there?""Yes I am, Dad."Hazard strained forward, peering hard at the display screen, trying to determine which one of the space-suited figures was his son."Well, this is a helluva fix, isn't it?" he said softly."Dad, you don't have to wait twelve hours.""Shut your mouth!" Buckbee snapped."Fuck you," snarled Jon Jr. "I'm not going to getmyself killed for nothing.""I'll shoot you!" Hazard saw Buckbee level his gun at Jon Jr."And kill yourself? You haven't got the guts," Jonnie sneered. Hazard almost smiled. How many times had his son used that tone on him.Buckbee's hand wavered. He let the gun slip from his gloved fingers. It drifted slowly, weightlessly, away from him.Hazard swallowed. Hard."Dad, in another hour or two the game will be over. Cardillo lied to you. The Russians never came in with us. Half a dozen ships full of troops are lifting off from IPF centers all over the globe.""Is that the truth, son?""Yes, sir, it is. Our only hope was to grab control of your satellites. Once the coup attempt in Geneva flopped, Cardillo knew that if he could control three or four sets of ABM satellites, he could at least force a stalemate. But all he's got is Graham and Wood. Nobody else.""You damned little traitor!" Buckbee screeched.Jon Jr. laughed. "Yeah, you're right. But I'm going to be a live traitor. I'm not dying for the likes of you."Hazard thought swiftly. Jon Jr. might defy his father, might argue with him, even revile him, but he had never known the lad to lie to him."Buckbee, the game's over," he said slowly. "You'd better get the word to Cardillo before there's more bloodshed."It took another six hours before it was all sorted out. A shuttle filled with armed troops and an entire replacement crew finally arrived at the battered hulk of Hunter. The relieving commander, a stubby, compactly built black from New Jersey who had been a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, made a grim tour of inspection with Hazard.From inside his space suit he whistled in amazement at the battle damage. "Shee-it, you don't need a new crew, you need a new station!""It's still functional," Hazard said quietly, then added proudly, "and so is my crew, or what's left of them. They ran this station and kept control of the satellites.""The stuff legends are made of, my man," said the new commander.Hazard and his crew filed tiredly into the waiting shuttle, thirteen grimy, exhausted men and women in the pale-blue fatigues of the IPF. Three of them were wrapped in mesh cocoons and attended by medical personnel. Two others were bandaged but ambulatory .He shook hands with each and every one of them as they stepped from the station's only functional air lock into the shuttle's passenger compartment. Hovering there weightlessly, his creased, craggy face unsmiling, to each of his crew members he said, "Thank you. We couldn't have succeeded without your effort."The last three through the hatch were Feeney, Stromsen, and Yang. The Irishman looked embarrassed as Hazard shook his hand."I'm recommending you for promotion. You were damned cool under fire.""Frozen stiff with fear, you mean."To Stromsen, "You, too, Miss Stromsen. You've earned a promotion.""Thank you, sir," was all she could say."And you, little lady," he said to Yang. "You were outstanding."She started to say something, then flung her arms around Hazard's neck and squeezed tight. "I was so frightened!" she whispered in his ear. "You kept me from cracking up."Hazard held her around the waist for a moment. As they disengaged he felt his face turning flame red. He turned away from the hatch, not wanting to see the expressions on the rest of his crew members.Buckbee was coming through the air lock. Behind him were his five men. Including Jon Jr.They passed Hazard in absolute silence, Buckbee's face as cold and angry as an antarctic storm.Jon Jr. was the last in line. None of the would-be boarders was in handcuffs, but they all had the hangdog look of prisoners. All except Hazard's son.He stopped before his father and met the older man's gaze. Jon Jr.'s gray eyes were level with his father's, unswerving, unafraid.He made a bitter little smile. "I still don't agree with you," he said without preamble. "I don't think the IPF is workable--and it's certainly not in the best interests of the United States.""But you threw your lot in with us when it counted," Hazard said."The hell I did!" Jon Jr. looked genuinely aggrieved. "I just didn't see any sense in dying for a lost cause.""Really?""Cardillo and Buckbee and the rest of them were a bunch of idiots. If I had known how stupid they are I wouldn't ..." He stopped himself, grinned ruefully, and shrugged his shoulders. "This isn't over, you know. You won the battle, but the war's not ended yet.""I'll do what I can to get them to lighten your sentence," Hazard said."Don't stick your neck out for me! I'm still dead set against you on this."Hazard smiled wanly at the youngster. "And you're still my son."Jon Jr. blinked, looked away, then ducked throughthe hatch and made for a seat in the shuttle.Hazard formally turned the station over to its new commander, saluted one last time, then went into the shuttle's passenger compartment. He hung there weightlessly a moment as the hatch behind him was swung shut and sealed. Most of the seats were already filled. There was an empty one beside Yang, but after their little scene at the hatch Hazard was hesitant about sitting next to her. He glided down the aisle and picked a seat that had no one next to it. Not one of his crew. Not Jon Jr.There's a certain amount of loneliness involved in command, he told himself. It's not wise to get too familiar with people you have to order into battle.He felt, rather than heard, a thump as the shuttle disengaged from the station's air lock. He sensed the winged hypersonic spaceplane turning and angling its nose for reentry into the atmosphere.Back to ... Hazard realized that home, for him, was no longer on Earth. For almost all of his adult life, home had been where his command was. Now his home was in space. The time he spent on Earth would be merely waiting time, suspended animation until his new command was ready."Sir, may I intrude?"He looked up and saw Stromsen floating in the aisle by his seat."What is it, Miss Stromsen?"She pulled herself down into the seat next to him but did not bother to latch the safety harness. From a breast pocket in her sweat-stained fatigues she pulled a tiny flat tin. It was marked with a red cross and some printing, hidden by her thumb.Stromsen opened the tin. "You lost your medication patch," she said. "I thought you might want a fresh one."She was smiling at him, shyly, almost like a daughter might.Hazard reached up and felt behind his left ear. She was right, the patch was gone."I wonder how long ago ...""It's been hours, at least," said Stromsen."Never noticed."Her smile brightened. "Perhaps you don't need it anymore."He smiled back at her. "Miss Stromsen, I think you're absolutely right. My stomach feels fine. I believe I have finally become adapted to weightlessness.""It's rather a shame that we're on our way back to Earth. You'll have to adapt all over again the next time out."Hazard nodded. "Somehow I don't think that's going to be much of a problem for me anymore."He let his head sink back into the seat cushion and closed his eyes, enjoying for the first time the exhilarating floating sensation of weightlessness.Copyright © 1987 by Ben Bova
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