Saucer: Savage Planet

Saucer: Savage Planet

3.6 5
by Stephen Coonts

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Aliens are coming!

A year after young engineering student Rip Cantrell discovered the first flying saucer buried deep in the sands of the Sahara, another saucer is brought up from the bottom of the Atlantic. The recovery is funded by a pharmaceutical executive who believes that the saucer holds the key to an anti-aging drug formula that space travelers

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Aliens are coming!

A year after young engineering student Rip Cantrell discovered the first flying saucer buried deep in the sands of the Sahara, another saucer is brought up from the bottom of the Atlantic. The recovery is funded by a pharmaceutical executive who believes that the saucer holds the key to an anti-aging drug formula that space travelers would need to voyage between galaxies. But one of his technicians, Adam Solo, an alien marooned on Earth for a thousand years, steals the saucer, hoping to summon a starship to rescue him. Unfortunately, the stolen saucer has damaged communications gear.

Solo goes to Rip Cantrell and his partner, ex-Air Force test pilot Charlotte "Charley" Pine, and Rip's uncle Egg, for help in summoning a starship. Meanwhile, as a terrified world fearful of space invaders approaches meltdown, big pharma moguls and their thugs are hot on the trail of the foursome.

In a world turned upside down, it may be the arriving aliens who offer limitless possibilities. Rip and Charley face an incredible decision: Do they dare leave the safety of earth to travel into the great wilderness of the universe? Full of UFO's, futuristic technology, edge-of-your-seat flying scenes and unforgettable characters, human and otherwise, Stephen Coonts' Savage Planet is classic storytelling at its best . . . and pure, unadulterated fun.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Coonts belatedly concludes his lackluster Saucer trilogy (following 2003’s Saucer and 2006’s Saucer: The Conquest) with a burst of unlikely fireworks and a thud. Doughty engineering student Rip Cantrell discovered a flying saucer in the Sahara desert, aided by lovely former Air Force test pilot Charlotte Pine and Rip’s brilliant inventor uncle, Arthur “Egg” Cantrell. A year later, the team is called in to study another saucer embedded in the Great Barrier Reef. Meanwhile, pharma mogul Harrison Douglas has retrieved the Roswell spaceship, which was stolen from Area 51. When Douglas’s saucer expert, Adam Solo, steals the spaceship, Douglas vows revenge. Solo allies with Rip and his friends, revealing he is an alien marooned on Earth for over a thousand years, and he uses Rip’s Sahara spaceship, to call for help, but they’ll all need to hide from U.S. government agents and Harrison until rescue arrives in one week’s time. Tissue-thin characters and heavy-handed plotting make this forgettable story one of Coonts’s less successful outings. (Apr.)

[A] fast-paced…superb…combination of thriller and sci-fi.
The New York Times Book Review

Coonts knows how to write and build suspense.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Saucer , #3
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1 MB

Read an Excerpt

Adam Solo wedged himself into the chair at the navigator’s table in the small compartment behind the bridge and braced himself against the motion of the ship. Rain beat a tattoo on the roof over his head, and wind moaned around the portholes. Although the seas weren’t heavy, the ship rolled, pitched and corkscrewed viciously because she was not under way; she was riding sea anchors, being held in one place, at the mercy of the swells.
Through the rain-smeared porthole windows Solo could see the flood and spotlights of another ship several hundred feet to port. She was also small, only 350 feet long, roughly the size of the ship Solo was aboard, Atlantic Queen. She also carried massive cranes fore and aft, was festooned with floodlights that lit the deck and the water between the ships and was bobbing like a cork in a maelstrom.
Through the open door to the bridge Solo occasionally heard the ringing of the telegraph as the captain signaled the engine room for power to help hold his ship where he wanted her. Johnson was the captain, an overweight, overbearing slob with a sneer engraved on his face and a curse on his lips. He was cursing tonight as he wrestled the helm; Solo ignored the burst of mindless obscenities that reached him during lulls in the wind’s song and concentrated on the newspaper before him.
“Possible Alien Starship Found in Australia,” the headline screamed. Beneath that headline, in slightly smaller type, the subhead read, “Wreckage buried in coral reef moved ashore for study.”
Beside the story was a photo of two men and two women posed in front of a massive pile of unidentifiable junk. Solo studied the wreckage. It was not possible to even determine what the original color might have been. The two men were identified in the caption of the photo as Mr. Rip Cantrell, a young man in his early twenties, and Mr. Arthur “Egg” Cantrell, a rotund, balding man in his fifties. The woman, lean and athletic with her hair in a ponytail, was identified as Charlotte Pine, a former U.S. Air Force test pilot. Beside her stood an Australian archaeologist. Solo studied their faces in the photo, then read the article as rain pounded on the windows and the ship rode the back of the living sea.
The article mentioned that this was not the first spacecraft Rip Cantrell had discovered. About a year before, as a young engineering student on an expedition to the Sahara, Cantrell had uncovered a perfectly preserved saucer in a sandstone ledge and had even figured out how to make it fly. He almost lost his life when greedy thugs tried to steal the saucer and its valuable technology. Only with the help of former test pilot Charley Pine had he managed to save that saucer and keep it safe. Soon after, a Frenchman named pierre Artois, an evil genius bent on world conquest, had even managed to steal the famous Roswell saucer the air force had kept hidden for decades at Area 51. Once again, Charley Pine had saved the day when she chased the Roswell saucer and it crashed into the ocean as millions watched on TV. Since then, saucer technology had been revolutionizing the world economy. Great leaps forward in alternative fuels, antigravity and computer technology, solar power, metal fabrication—all these advances in man’s knowledge were leading to new products and improvements in old ones.
Solo was a trim man with short black hair, even features and skin that appeared deeply tanned. He was below average in height, just five and a half feet tall, and weighed about 140 pounds. Tonight he was dressed in jeans, work boots and a dark green Gore-Tex jacket.
He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes, savoring the movement of the ship.
Ah, once, long ago, he had been out on this ocean in winter, in a vessel much smaller than this one. How the wind had howled in the rigging; spindrift showered the men and women huddled under blankets and skins, trying to stay warm, as cold rain stung and soaked them. Occasionally the rain turned to sleet, and the ship and people were soon covered with a layer of ice.
The motion of this ship brought the memory flooding back. Most of those nights he spent at the steering oar, because he was the best helmsman aboard and he was the captain. In that roaring, wet, absolute darkness the trick was to keep the wind in the same quadrant, keep the unseen sail drawing evenly, feel the way the ship rode the sea, actually become one with the ship. If he held the wind just so and the motion of the ship remained the same, he was steering a straight course. If the sail luffed or the motion of the ship changed, he would hear and feel it.
Without a compass, without the moon or stars, raw seamanship was the only way a course could be sailed. Adam Solo had been good at it then, and after a week of storms and clouds and wind brought them all safely to land.
Solo’s chin was on his chest when the door opened and a heavyset man wearing a suit and tie came in. He tossed a foul-weather coat on the desk.
“Doctor,” Solo said in greeting.
Dr. Harrison Douglas, the chairman and CEO of World Pharmaceuticals, was so nervous he couldn’t hold still. “This is it, Solo,” he said as he smacked one fist into a palm. “This flying saucer we are bringing up is the key to wealth and power beyond the wildest dreams of anyone alive.” Douglas added, almost as an aside to himself, “If it’s still reasonably intact…”
“You’re sure?”
“If it holds the secrets I think it does, then yes.” Douglas braced himself and glanced out the porthole at the heaving sea between the ships. “You still think you can make the computers talk to you?”
Solo nodded. “Yes, but you’ve never told me what you want from them.”
“That’s right. I’ve kept my mouth firmly shut.” Douglas took a deep breath, looked around the little room, then fastened his gaze on Solo. “This saucer crashed into the ocean. May be torn all to hell, smashed into bits, but there’s a sliver of a chance…”
Douglas turned to the porthole and rubbed the moisture from the glass with his sleeve. “… A sliver of a chance that one or more of the computers are intact. And if one is, I want you to find the formulas for any drugs that are in the memories.”
“Are there formulas for drugs?”
All the experts agreed that interstellar distances were so vast that a starship crew would die before they got to their destination unless their lives were artificially extended. Somehow.
“Yes, there are drugs,” said Douglas. “Enough said. You know our deal. I’ll pay you ten million cash.”
“And make billions.”
“I sincerely hope so,” Harrison Douglas said. He jammed his hands in his pockets and stared out the porthole into the night with unseeing eyes.
Yes, he did hope to make billions, and if ever there was a drug to generate that kind of money, a drug that prevented aging was undoubtedly it. Well, Douglas was in the Big Pharma business. If arresting aging involved drugs, by God, World Pharmaceuticals could figure out how to make them. Every man and woman on the planet would like to stop the aging process, or if that proved impossible, at least slow it down, preserve quality of life and extend it free from the diseases that aging causes or enables. An extra ten good years—how much would that be worth to the average Joe? Or twenty? Or thirty? America, Europe, Arabia, India, Japan, China … the possibilities were awe-inspiring.
Harrison Douglas twitched with excitement.
Douglas smacked a fist into the palm of his other hand. Yes, the people of the saucers must have possessed an antiaging drug.
Douglas was musing on how much money such a drug would make World, and himself, of course, the CEO who made it happen, when he heard Captain Johnson give a shout.
Douglas glanced through the porthole. He saw waves washing over a shape even darker than the night sea.
“It’s up!” he said excitedly. With that he grabbed the foul-weather coat and dashed through the door onto the bridge. He went straight through, right by the captain, onto the open wing of the bridge and charged down a ladder to the main deck.
Adam Solo slowly folded the page of the newspaper that contained the story of the Australian artifact and placed it in his shirt pocket. He pulled on a cap and stepped onto the bridge. Ignoring the captain at the helm, Solo walked to the unprotected wing of the bridge and gazed down into the heaving dark sea as the wind and rain tore at him. The wind threatened to tear his cap from his head, so he removed it. Dr. Douglas was there on the main deck at the rail, holding on with both hands.
Floodlights from both ships lit the area between the ships and the heavy cables that disappeared into the water. From the angle of the cables, it was obvious that what they held was just beneath the surface. Snatches of the commands the chief on deck shouted to the winch operators reached Solo. Gazing intently at the scene before him, he ignored them.
As Solo watched, swells separated the ships slightly, tightening the cables, and something again broke the surface. It was a mound, dark as the black water; swells broke over it.
As quickly as it came into view, the shape disappeared again as the ships rolled toward each other.
Over the next five minutes the deck crews aboard both ships tightened their cables inch by inch, lifting the black shape to the surface again, then higher and higher until finally it was free of the water and hung suspended between the ships. The spotlights played upon it, a black, saucer-shaped object, perfectly round and thickest in the middle. It was not small—the diameter was about ninety feet—and it was heavy; the cables that held it were taut as violin strings, and the ships listed toward it a noticeable amount.
Solo stepped back into the sheltered area of the bridge and wiped the rain from his hair with his hand, then settled the cap onto his head as he listened to the voices on the bridge loudspeaker. The deck chiefs of this ship and the other vessel were talking to each other on handheld radios, coordinating their efforts as the saucer was inched over the deck of this ship. The ship’s radio picked up the conversation and piped it here so that the captain could listen in and, if he wished, take part in the conversation.
A moment later Dr. Douglas came in from the bridge wing, pulling the door shut behind him and brushing water from his coat.
“Well, we got it up, Doctor,” Captain Johnson said heartily. “And they said it couldn’t be done. Ha! You owe us some serious money.”
“I will when you have it safely on the dock in Newark,” Douglas replied.
“We’ll get ’er there, you can bet on that,” Johnson said confidently. “The company has big money ridin’ on it. They promised every man in the crew a bonus, including me. Gonna be nice money, and I’ll be damn glad to get it.”
It took twenty minutes for the deck crew to get the dark, ominous ovoid shape deposited onto the waiting timbers on Atlantic Queen’s deck and lashed down. The saucer was so large it filled the space between the bridge and the forward crane and protruded over both rails. It seemed to dwarf the ship on which it rode, pushing it deeper into the sea.
When the cables that had lifted the saucer from the sea floor had been released, the sea anchors were brought aboard and the ship got under way. Solo felt the ride improve immediately as the screws bit into the dark water. The other ship, which had helped raise the saucer, had already dissolved into the darkness.
“There you are,” Johnson said heartily to Douglas, who had his nose almost against the window, staring at the spaceship. “Your flyin’ saucer’s settin’ like a hen on her nest, safe and sound, and she ain’t goin’ noplace.”
Douglas flashed a grin and dashed for the ladder to the main deck.
Solo went back into the navigator’s shack. He emerged seconds later carrying a hard plastic case and descended the bridge wing ladder to the main deck, where the sailors were milling around, inspecting the saucer while they rigged ropes across it and chained the ropes to padeyes in the deck. Several of them were touching the machine … and marveling.
As Douglas watched, Solo opened his case, took out a wand and adjusted the switches and knobs within, then donned a headset. Carrying the instrument case, he began a careful inspection of the saucer, all of it that he could see from the deck. He even climbed the mast of the forward crane to get a look at the top of it, then returned to the deck. As he walked and climbed around he glanced occasionally at the gauges in his case, but mostly he concentrated on visually inspecting the surface of the ship. He could see no damage whatsoever.
Douglas asked him a couple of questions, but Solo didn’t answer, so eventually he stopped asking. One by one the tired sailors left the deck, heading for their berths. They had been hard at work for almost twenty hours and were exhausted.
Solo crawled under the saucer and lay there studying his instrument. Finally he took off his headset, stowed it back inside the case and closed it.
One of the officers squatted down a few feet away. This was the first mate. “No radiation?” he asked Solo. The sailor was in his early thirties, with unkempt wind-blown hair and acne scars on his face.
“Doesn’t seem to be.”
“Boy, that’s amazing.” The mate reached and placed his hand on the cold black surface immediately over his head. “So this is the one that went straight into the ocean like a bullet from over a hundred thousand feet up,” said the mate, whose name was DeVries. “Yeah, I heard all about it on TV. Saw all those reruns of the saucers chasin’ each other over Manhattan. Bet this thing made one hell of a splash when it hit! I didn’t figure we’d find it in one piece, I can tell you. An impact like that…”
Solo studied the belly of the saucer as the raw sea wind played with his hair. At least here, under the saucer, he was sheltered from the rain.
“Everything inside is probably torn loose, I figure,” DeVries continued, warming to his subject. “Scrambled up inside there like a dozen broken eggs. And that crazy Frenchman flying it must still be inside, squashed flat as a road-killed possum. Couldn’t nobody live through a smashup like that. He’s gotta be as dead as Napoleon Bonaparte and getting pretty ripe, I’ll bet. This thing’s been in the water a whole month.”
The first mate turned to Douglas and asked, “So, Doctor, how come you’re spending all this money raisin’ this flyin’ saucer off the ocean floor?”
Douglas said matter-of-factly, “Scientific curiosity.”
“Eight million bucks is a lot to pay to scratch that itch,” DeVries said thoughtfully, a remark Douglas let pass without comment. The salvage operation was going to cost Douglas at least that much.
As those two watched, Adam Solo had placed his hand on the hatch handle and held it there. Now, after ten seconds or so, he pulled down on one end of the handle and turned it sideways. The handle rotated and the hatch opened above his head. Water began dripping out.
Not much, but some. The saucer had been lying in 250 feet of water; if the integrity of the hull had been broken, seawater under pressure would have filled the interior. This might be leakage from the ship’s tank, or merely condensation. Solo wiped a drip off the hatch lip and tasted it. He was relieved—it wasn’t saltwater.
Now Solo inspected the yawning hole. He stuck the wand inside and studied the panel on his Geiger counter. “Background radiation,” he told Douglas, who smiled in a self-satisfied way and rubbed his hands together, a gesture that Solo had noticed he used often.
Solo turned off the Geiger counter. He carefully wrapped the cord around the wand and stowed it in the plastic case, then shoved the case up into the dark belly of the saucer.
DeVries craned his neck, trying to see inside. “Like, when you going to climb into this thing?”
A smile crossed the face of Adam Solo. “Now,” he said. He raised himself through the hatchway into the belly of the ship.
Harrison Douglas bent down and crawled under the ship, then squirmed up through the hatch. Then the hatch closed.
The first mate slowly shook his head. “Glad it was them two and not me,” he said conversationally, although there was no one there to hear him. “My momma didn’t raise no fools. I wouldn’t have crawled into that thing for all the money on Wall Street.”
*   *   *
The first mate made his way to the bridge. Captain Johnson was still at the helm. “Well, did you ask him?” the captain demanded.
“Scientific curiosity, Douglas said.”
“My ass,” the captain said sourly. “Oh, well. As long as we get paid…” After a moment the captain continued, “Solo’s weird. That accent of his—it isn’t much, but it’s there. I can’t place it. Sometimes I think it’s Eastern European of one kind or another, then I think it isn’t.”
“All I know,” DeVries said, “is he ain’t from Brooklyn.”
The captain didn’t respond to that inanity. He said aloud, musing, “He’s kinda freaky, but nothin’ you can put your finger on. Still, bein’ around him gives me goosebumps.”
“They got money,” DeVries said simply. In his mind, money excused all peculiarities, an ingrained attitude he had acquired long ago because he didn’t have any.
“World Pharmaceuticals is gonna have to push a lotta pills to earn back eight million smackers for deep-sea salvage.”
“I say it’s a good thing,” the mate said lightly. “Some of this saucer money is finally trickling all the way down to us.”
“Amen,” the captain said, and both men laughed.
Then Johnson’s mood changed. “Solo is gonna try to fix that thing up and they’re gonna fly it,” Johnson said darkly. “That’s gotta be it.”
“You gonna call somebody?”
“After Douglas gets his saucer safely ashore, I don’t think he gives a rat’s patootie who we tell.”
“It’ll never fly again,” DeVries said with finality. “Bet it’s nothing but wreckage inside. Maybe if somebody like Boeing worked on it for a year or two they could get it in shape to fly again, but one guy ain’t gonna do it with hand tools.”
The captain lit a cigarette one-handed. “Tell you what,” he said after his first full puff. “I don’t care a whit if it flies or not, or what Douglas hopes to do with it. Guy’s got a screw loose.”
The mate couldn’t take his eyes off the saucer. “Thing’s heavy as hell. Like to never got it up. We almost lost it a dozen times.”
“Notice how the Queen’s ridin? Lot of weight up high. Hope we make harbor before the sea kicks up.”
DeVries grunted. After a moment he said with a touch of wonder in his voice, “A real, honest-to-God flying saucer … Never believed in ’em, y’know?”
“Yeah,” the captain agreed. “Thought it was all bull puckey. Even standing here looking at one of the darn things, I have my doubts.”
*   *   *
The only light inside the saucer came through the canopy, a dim glow from the salvage vessel’s masthead lights. It took several seconds for Solo’s eyes to adjust.
As the first mate predicted, the corpse of Jean-Paul Lalouette was there. The force of the impact had caused the seat belt and shoulder harness of the pilot’s seat to tear though his body, the major pieces of which were lying on the floor under the instrument panel. There was blood everywhere, but it had congealed and now had the consistency of dry paint.
After a glance, Solo ignored the corpse.
Harrison Douglas thought he ought to do something, so he clasped his hands in front of his ample middle and stood for a moment with head bowed and eyes closed. He stood like that for at least ten seconds. Then he opened his eyes and looked around again like a lucky Kmart shopper. The compartment was round, with a pilot’s seat on a pedestal and other seats arranged at floor level along the rear wall. The canopy gave the pilot a view forward and a bit of a look to both sides.
The instrument panel, if that was what it was, consisted of white panels. There were a few knobs. Five of them. There was a control stick for the pilot—at least it looked like a stick—and a lever of some sort on the left side of the pilot’s seat. Two pedals where the pilot’s feet could reach them. Rudder pedals, maybe.
How it all worked Douglas couldn’t imagine. Nor did he care. “Where are the computers?” he asked Solo.
Adam Solo nodded toward the instrument panel.
“Can you get at ’em?”
“I’ll try.”
“Amazing,” Douglas said under his breath, then said it again, louder. Trying not to step in the dry bloodstains, he reached out to touch things.
Solo removed a flashlight from his pocket and snapped it on. He began moving the beam around the interior of the ship, inspecting for damage. There was some. The glass in one of the multifunction displays in front of the pilot was broken.
“Dr. Douglas, I know you’ve had a long day and have much to think about. My examination of the ship will go much faster if you leave me to work in solitude.”
Douglas beamed at Solo. “I didn’t think it could be done,” he admitted. “When you told me this ship could be salvaged and you could wring out its secrets, I thought you were lying. I want you to know I was wrong. I admit it, here and now.”
Solo smiled.
“So this is the saucer they found in Roswell, New Mexico, back in 1947,” Douglas said, shaking his head. “And the air force kept it hidden for all these years in Area Fifty-one.” He looked at Solo. “Is it what you expected?”
Solo looked around thoughtfully. “Pretty much. I studied everything I could from one of the other saucer’s computers. Mr. Cantrell was very generous with access.”
This was a lie, but Harrison Douglas swallowed it right down. Egg Cantrell had allowed academics from all over the world access to the contents of the computer removed from the saucer his nephew Rip found in the Sahara. That saucer was a smaller version of this one, everyone said. They were indeed alike in many ways, Solo knew, but there were significant differences. This one was more technologically advanced. He didn’t bother to explain these messy facts to his patron, however.
“I leave you to it,” Douglas said. “If you will just open that hatch to let me out.” He took a last glance at the remains of the French pilot. “He doesn’t stink as much as I thought he would,” he muttered.
Solo opened the hatch and Douglas carefully climbed through; then Solo closed it again. He stood inside running the beam of his flashlight back and forth, looking carefully at everything. It had been many years since he was inside a saucer; the memories came flooding back. Good memories and bad. He tried to clear his head, to concentrate on his inspection, to look critically at what he saw.
After a moment, Solo opened the access door to the engineering compartment and disappeared inside. He was inside for an hour before he came out. With his flashlight he again inspected every square inch of the cockpit’s interior, opened access doors and looked inside, and when he had examined everything he could access, he took stock.
Charley Pine had apparently used the antiproton weapon in the other saucer on this one, attempting to shoot it down. The one-armed corpse on the floor had bled profusely from a cavernous wound in his leg. Solo found the hole in the water tank and repaired it with duct tape.
Fortunately the water tank could function at a very low pressure. If he ensured the pressure stayed low, maybe he would be okay. The reactor provided power to several generators, and they seemed intact. The electrical power was used to separate the water into hydrogen and oxygen—these tanks were highly pressurized and intact—and mixed the gases in the rocket propulsion system. The generators also provided power for the antigravity system. A display on the panel was wrecked, but there were three more, which should be enough. Apparently none of the antiprotons had met a proton in the reactor. If it had, there should be a detectable radiation leak.
Of course, if he powered up the reactor and there was actually was internal damage from antiprotons or the crash into the ocean, Adam Solo and everyone else on this salvage ship would soon be dead.
Solo rubbed his chin as he glanced around one more time.
Well, there was only one way to find out.
Solo retrieved the headband that was still wrapped around the dead Frenchman’s head. He wiped it off without emotion and put it on his own head.
“Hello, Eternal Wanderer. Let us examine the health of your systems.” Before him, the instrument panel exploded into life.
*   *   *
The first mate, DeVries, strolled the bridge with the helm on autopilot. The rest of the small crew of Atlantic Queen, including the captain, were in their bunks asleep. The rain had stopped, and a sliver of moon was peeping through the clouds overhead. The mate had always enjoyed the ethereal beauty of the night and the way the ship rode the restless, living sea. He was soaking in the sensations, occasionally strolling across the bridge from one wing to the other and periodically checking the radar display and compass, when he noticed the glow from the saucer’s cockpit.
The spaceship took up so much of the deck that the cockpit canopy was almost even with the bridge windows. As the mate stared into the cockpit, he saw the figure of Adam Solo. He reached for the bridge binoculars. Turned the focus wheel.
Solo’s face appeared, lit by a subdued light source in front of him. The mate assumed that the light came from the instruments—computer presentations—and he was correct. DeVries could see the headband, which looked exactly like the kind the Indians wore in old cowboy movies. Solo’s face was expressionless … no, that wasn’t true, the mate decided. He was concentrating intensely.
Obviously the saucer was more or less intact or it wouldn’t have electrical power. Whoever designed that thing sure knew what he was about. He or she. Or it. Whoever that was, wherever that was …
Finally the mate’s arms tired and he lowered the binoculars.
He snapped the binoculars into their bracket and went back to pacing the bridge. Occasionally he glanced at the saucer’s glowing cockpit. The moon, the clouds racing overhead, the ship pitching and rolling monotonously—it seemed as if he were trapped in this moment in time and this was all there had ever been or ever would be. It was a curious feeling … almost mystical.
Surprised at his own thoughts, DeVries shook his head and tried to concentrate on his duties.
*   *   *
Adam Solo used the onboard computers to examine the state of every system in the saucer. The long-range communications equipment refused to come online or self-test. He opened the access plate under the instrument panel and stuck his head in. He found the modules he wanted … and found himself staring at one bulged box.
An antiproton exploded in there.
He backed out and closed the panel, then slowly climbed back into the pilot’s seat, fighting back his disappointment. Well, there was nothing for it but to play the cards he had.
Thirty minutes later, satisfied that the comm gear and one instrument display were the only casualties, he opened the hatch and dropped to the deck. He closed the hatch behind him, just in case, and went below to his cabin. No one was in the passageways. Nor did he expect to find any of the crew there. He glanced into one of the crew’s berthing spaces. The glow of the tiny red lights revealed that every bunk was full, and every man seemed to be snoring.
In his cabin Solo quickly packed his bag. He stripped the sheets and blankets from his bunk and, carrying the lot, went back up on deck. Careful to stay out of sight of the bridge, he stowed his gear in the saucer. Spreading the blankets on the cockpit floor, he carefully laid the remains of the French fighter pilot on the sheet and wrapped them tight. Using a roll of duct tape, he bound the bundle as tightly as he could and eased it through the open hatch.
Adam Solo unfastened one of the chains that bound the saucer to the deck and wrapped it around the bundle. As he dragged it to the rail, he said, “You probably weren’t the first man to die in that ship, but I hope you’re the last.” With that he pushed the bundle over the side. The mortal remains of Jean-Paul Lalouette disappeared with a tiny splash.
A hose lay coiled near a water faucet, one the crew routinely used to wash mud from cables and chains coming aboard. Solo looked at it, then shook his head. The water intake was on top of the saucer; climbing up there would expose him to the man on the bridge, and would be dangerous besides. He had come so far, had waited so long—now would be a bad time to fall overboard, which would doom him to inevitable drowning.
He removed the tie-down chains and restraining straps one by one, lowering them gently to the deck so the sound wouldn’t reverberate through the steel ship.
Finally, when he had the last one off, he stood beside the saucer, with it between him and the bridge, and studied the position of the crane and hook, the mast and guy wires. Satisfied, Adam Solo stooped and went under the saucer and up through the hatch.
*   *   *
The first mate was checking the GPS position and the recommended course to Sandy Hook when he felt the subtle change in the ship’s motion. An old hand at sea, he noticed it immediately and looked around.
The saucer was there, immediately in front of the bridge—but it was higher, the lighted canopy several feet above where it had previously been. He could see Solo’s head, now seated in the pilot’s chair. The saucer was moving, or seemed to be, rocking back and forth. Actually it was stationary—the ship was moving in the sea way.
DeVries’ first impression was that the ship’s motion had changed because the saucer’s weight was gone, but he was wrong. The antigravity rings in the saucer had pushed it away from the ship, which still supported the entire mass of the machine. The center of gravity was higher, so consequently the ship rolled with more authority.
At that moment Harrison Douglas came up the ladder, moving carefully with a cup of coffee in his hand.
He saw DeVries staring out the bridge windows, transfixed.
Douglas turned to follow DeVries’ gaze and found himself looking at Adam Solo’s head inside the saucer. Solo was too engrossed in what he was doing to even glance at the bridge. For only a few seconds was the saucer suspended over the deck. As the salvage ship came back to an even keel the saucer moved toward the starboard side, pushing the ship dangerously in that direction. Then the saucer went over the rail and the ship, free of the saucer’s weight, rolled port with authority.
“No!” Douglas roared. “Come back here, Solo! It’s mine. Mine, I tell you, mine!” He dropped his coffee cup and strode to the door that led to the wing of the bridge. He flung it open and stepped out. The mate was right behind him. Both men grabbed the rail with both hands as the wind and sea spray tore at them.
The lighted canopy was no longer visible. For a few seconds Douglas and DeVries could see a glint of moonlight reflecting off the dark upper surface of the spaceship, then they lost it. The saucer disappeared into the night.
“If that doesn’t take the cake! The bastard stole it!” exclaimed Harrison Douglas, and he shook his fist in the direction in which the saucer had disappeared. “I’ll get you, Solo, and I’ll get that ship back. So help me God!”

Copyright © 2014 by Stephen P. Coonts

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