First there were all the legal issues. Then came fights to get to the top, and the hassling with the ad people. And then came the accountants and brokers -- stock could go through the roof – and Fox Crampton had his line. "My beauty, my very own little beauty," he said softly, looking up at the fifty-foot rocket that would launch in two days to a record crowd of six million. That total included only the people who would be there personally, too, not just the millions who would watch the TV broadcast. He could see them now, each staring reverently at the ship, sighing with the knowledge that someday that could be them. Even after twenty years of this, the idea of space still excited people.
His bird, as he called her, was blue. Fifty-feet long, with three engine bays that would shoot out majestic columns of flame -- like a phoenix, he thought lovingly; she just keeps coming back – it was powered by a thrust that in this day and age was called "nuclear" by awed children because of the sound it made when it went up. NASA and the international station people might complain about "space tourism" and how tacky it might be, but they got a substantial cut of the pay and with the media coverage, their funding had grown by leaps and bounds during the past twenty years. That station on the moon that had been spoken of for years was there at last albeit in its beginning stages. SETI had a brand new station out in Nevada, with better equipment than ever before. All because of the Horny Jay. He now had twelve ships in his fleet, but she, his first, was his favorite.
"What a gal," he said lovingly, stroking a wall as he walked around before launch on a Wednesday in June, 2069. "What a gal. You know, you’re maybe the most famous ship in the world these days?" he crooned. "Out with that Titanic; you’re better built, aren’t you, Babe? Haven’t failed me yet. No, you’re more like the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria all combined; you’re going where nobody’s gone yet." Fox, whose real name was Will, had watched Trek religiously since he was a kid. The thought that he was actually doing something like his favorite Captain was a big thrill. Fox had had a few of the celebrities from the old series on his rides.
Now, he was going to fly the President. Oh, he’d flown Presidents before: Baker had gone up for a week, and the Chief of Staff to Mrs. Neal had gone six years ago. He even knew the current VP, Jack Onassis - who he teased constantly about his name. But this President was a little different. He wasn’t really flying her.
There had been a terrorist threat; several of them lately, as the man from the Pentagon with whom he’d spoken had said, and two had been carried out. One suicide had lunged a train right through Penn Station in NYC and another had attempted to launch a dirty bomb out on the Needle in Seattle. They’d had to close the area for blocks around for two weeks, while everything was cleaned and tested for radiation poisoning. This threat, they had no doubt, was just as real.
"You want me to be the dummy," Fox had said trying to recall a certain Trek episode. What would the Captain have said? The Pentagon official had just nodded.
"You are going to carry a Virtual Reality version of Ms Briggan," she said. "It will be on all the news channels, everywhere we can get it, and seem to be a media leak because ‘the CIA wants to keep the President secure in these times’. That sort of deal. The VR will be programmed into your ship computers and we’ll have somebody go up shielded by ‘lawyers’ and Secret Service people for effect. You understand the importance of this, Mister Crampton."
"I’ll do it," he said, feeling about to burst with pride. "For my country, I’ll do it." Imagine the ratings…
So Ms Briggan had been loaded in and so far in the past week, along with the weather reports and the worries about rioting in LA -- every few years, he sighed knowingly to himself -- and something about the Space Maniac cult -- oh yes he’d heard of them -- there were a few select clips about the President. Going to the station to visit for a while, of course. Bringing with her the good wishes of the American People… bla bla bla. He’d cut it off after a while and gone back to Trek reruns.
He came down into the launch bay, his "bridge", and bounced into the seat, looking around at all the instruments with which he was so familiar by now. A NASA guy was going around doing the usual official checkup. "You know the President’s going to be on board?"
"Yes, Sir." Young guy, maybe about thirty. Oh, when I was your age… The crewcut smiled at him. "She’ll be all fine f’ her, promise. Dunno how y’ve kept ‘er in such shape fer so long," he said admiringly.
"Got the best pilots and engineers, of course." Dave Gerran. Marty Cohen. Pauline Solweg. They were good folk, his people, Fox thought proudly. Good folk. Back when he’d first started, he remembered, he’d had a time finding them for this job. He’d had to weed through so many wannabes all of whom clamored to get into space at last. So far, these guys hadn’t let him down once.
"Y’ know, Sir," the NASA guy said thoughtfully as he poked around with some controls, "when I was a kid you were just starting business. My dad used ta make fun o’ you; said you was bringin’ space travel down, makin’ it lose the magic. But really, y’re only doin’ what the invention o’ the television did, like the United States of America did. Y’re bringing it to the people, so that one day everyone who wants to can go up in space." He grinned at Fox. "Damned if I won’t do it m’self one day, Sir."
"You saving up?"
"Nah, I’m in the Space Program; trainin’ to be an as-tr-onaut, Sir. I’m hopin’ to go to the Moon Station. But by that time, I don’t doubt y’ll have ships goin’ back an’ forth to thereabouts too."
"We’ll see," Fox said shrugging. Training to be an ASTRONAUT. Yes, that was still the little kids’ dream. ASTRONAUT, that was somehow a magical word even now. He didn’t care; he’d gotten here without that, hadn’t he? The ASTRONAUT-in-training left the room to go inspect the cargo bay, and Fox was left alone with his gadgets. "Ground control to Major Tom," he sang to himself, grinning. He was going to the Academy Awards in a few days, after this flight came home. He liked to go for the PR kick, liked to watch the stars on Earth, to hobnob with the other rich and famous. Good publicity.
Pauline poked her head in. "Hey, Fox?"
"Yeah?" She was wearing her lucky ivory wolf chain, he saw. It curled nicely down into her chest cavity. Pauline was a half-babe, by definition. She was also way too smart for him, and she never wore makeup which somehow made her look even better.
"I’ve gone through the engine bays; far as I know we’re all set."
"Good going, Lieutenant ," he said, using his nickname for her. His people generally humored him with this fanaticism of his. He knew they called him Trekkie behind his back. Okay, so he had posters all over the ship… for the ambiance, dammit.
"Sir?" she said uncertainly, poking her head back in. Braids was the hairstyle today. Fetching, really, he thought. She frowned a bit. "We’re really having the President on board?"
"Yep, that we are."
"Even with these terrorist threats lately? I would have thought it isn’t safe."
He grinned at her, beckoning to her to come closer. "A secret -- you aren’t to let any of this out, either, got it?" Well, his people had kept more secrets than the head of the FBI over the years. "She’s not coming on board," he whispered. "You might have noticed a couple things that looked like weird computer glitches? There’s a dummy who’s coming to the launch, who won’t go up with us but leave with the others just for show. The rest is going to all be VR, my dear. The Pres herself will be somewhere else, safe as can be."
"I see," nodded Pauline though she looked a bit uncertain about it.
"What?" he asked. "You don’t think so?"
She shrugged. "They could be feeding you a line too, you know, and really have her here."
"I’ve thought of it." He hadn’t, but that was not something he was going to tell Pauline. Of course it made sense: point-counter-point. Wasn’t there an episode about that somewhere? He’d have to think.
"No, you haven’t," she laughed. "I can tell by the way that you’re looking at me. Dave and Marty and I figured it out days ago. We’ve decided that whatever happens, we’re going to give her extra protection." She slowly unzipped the top of her jumper as Fox blinked. And then his eyes widened as he saw the arms that she was carrying in there, as she pulled out a huge luger. "Now," she said, leaning closer to him, "I’ve knives hidden in various places that the Service people haven’t found and won’t because they wouldn’t go in there. We’ll let you know where the arms are." She grinned in his face and kissed his cheek, rezipping herself.
"Tease," Fox gulped, taking a moment to collect himself. "You’re a horrible tease."
She laughed. "Must be the oxygen or something. Catch you later." She twirled out of the room and headed down the ladder back to engineering.
A real live space babe, Fox thought, shaking it off. She really got into her role too. Then again, Dave did Marvin the Martian impressions for the customers while bandaging their wounds. He also spent hours playing three-level chess with Fox while they cruised back and forth in the boring hours of the night. It was an even better game when you had low gravity, Fox had always thought. And Marty, well, their safety guy/pilot, he was just weird. Maybe it was from that shrapnel in his old brain, from back in the Gulf War. He was older than old now, but thanks to modern medicine still cranking like a thirty-year-old. Marty kept to himself a lot, had memorized just about all of Shakespeare’s plays, the writings of Chaucer, H.G. Wells and countless songs by the Grateful Dead and Bach, but he was the best pilot Fox could ever have had. Maybe, Fox thought, you had to be a little eccentric to want to get into space in the first place.
So what would he do if he really did have the President on board, and they really did attack the ship? He stroked the wall, sighing. "You blow, I’m going down with you, babe," he promised. But somehow he didn’t think the terrorists were liable to do that; it was just too cliched. If Americans had learned anything in the past seventy years, it was that terrorists always did the thing you never suspected they’d do, the thing that you weren’t thinking of.
Saturday. Takeoff. Secret Service people all over the takeoff place at Cape Canaveral, like flies, Fox thought. They liked to travel in groups of at least two, he’d noticed. Not like the Military folk who just ran around by themselves; these guys always came doubled. He watched as "The President" -- who knew who it really was -- dashed up towards the runway amid the flashing of photo bulbs. Then came the others: Teddy Dickson, a far-off cousin of the Kennedy family; Maureen McBennett, one of the nouveau riche who’d made her name in computers; Robert Samson, who was otherwise known as The Cooler (that was his wrestling name), who paused at the top of the ramp to raise his silver belt and holler something indistinguishable to the cheering crowd below; Alexa and Steven Hampton who owned one of the Guinness runoffs in the United States.
A reporter came running up to him as he himself headed up the platform, his team already there. "Is it true that there’s a scam going on to pretend to hide the President here?"
"Yeah, Fox, what game are you playing now?" laughed another. "What episode is this?"
"My friend," he grinned at the man, and waved to the crowd, "Only the director would know the answer to that question." The other reporters around burst into laughter.
Fox went around as he always did, checking on his customers in their straps, to make sure all were comfortable. One, two, three, four, five. Nope, no President. "She’ll be all right?" Alexa Hampton asked him. He nodded.
"We have her in a special room," he said and went to go check with Pauline and the others while the NASA folk disembarked and they all prepared for launch. "So it’s according to the original plan," he told them. "…politicians’re telling the truth for once."
"Five, four, three, two, one.. You are cleared for takeoff, Horny Jay." Fox fought the nausea as they jiggled and his brains turned to jello. Five minutes of hell were worth it, though. Marty was humming some Brandenburg Concerto or other. (Fox only knew the name of some of them because he heard them every time he was around the crazy old coot). Boop-de-boop.
And then they were in space. He took a deep breath and unstrapped himself, went to the intercom to alert his passengers. "Okay, folks, welcome to Fox Space," he said, feeling like a Greyhound driver. "To your left out the observation window you’ll soon be able to get your first glimpse of Earth; don’t miss it, I promise you won’t regret it. We are leaving the outer limits of the atmosphere as I speak, so if anyone left the oven on, you can forget it now." His standard joke. "Now, feel free to move around; it’ll feel weird at first, but the more you do it the more it will kick in. Honest. We’ve got about twenty-four hours before we reach the station, so relax.
"You are on a historical trip, you know. When I started with this line, the first people I took up included a President and one of the latest Nobel Peace Prize winners of the time. Only one ship then, folks, and this is she. This babe has seen more things than you will in a lifetime, probably. Now, we’ll be in good view of Earth for a few hours, but don’t stare too long; you’re liable to make yourself nauseous. Believe me, I have seen it and done it myself before. You’ve been briefed on using a waste-disposal system here, no doubt, yourselves; just make sure when you stick it into the dump cycle, you get the whole load in there. Believe me, you don’t want to see what happens next if you don’t. A final notice: my medical guy, Dave, will be checking in on you every four hours. It’s important you tell him anything odd you feel -- anything at all. That’s it, other than of course, NO SMOKING. Thank you for taking Fox Space, and have a nice trip." He grinned to himself and floated off, whistling.
Space was such a cool place, he thought, feeling like a kid. It was a high like no other. You were literally on top of the world in space. Someday, he thought as the moon came into view far off that way, there would be many stations all over that satellite, and regular people would live there. Oh, yes, people would live in space, he was sure. And this was the start of it all. Just like people used to think it was neat to go to foreign countries for visits, and then they began to move there…
"Hey, Fox, got a minute?"
"Sure, Pauline." He followed her to the engine room. She looked a little jumpy.
"See this?" She floated down around the engine itself, to a cord that led to something farther in, that was "it’s a bomb. I’m positive it’s a bomb."
He stared at her. "I thought you checked this over! I thought they all checked this over!"
"We did!" she hissed back at him. "They must have shoved it on board just before takeoff," she said intensely. "Or maybe one of their people is here."
"You’re telling me that little Mrs. Hampton is an agent for the terrorists?"
"Not necessarily, but it could be anybody."
"It could be you," he said, teeth clenched and was instantly sorry he said it. No, none of his crew. He knew his people inside and out; they were weird, yes, but they weren’t terrorists. "Okay, I’m sorry. But what the hell do we do now?"
She sighed. "Well, we have to alert Dave and Marty about this; otherwise keep an eye out. I guess. Any other ideas?"
"Not a one," he groaned.
The rest of the ride was tensely quiet. He and the rest of his crew feigned relaxation. He got into a long discussion with The Cooler about astronomy, something that the wrestler knew more about than Fox. The Cooler was a member of the Planetary Society and the SETI club, and he went constantly to talks by astrophysicists and space scientists. "You know, I love it up here," the huge man breathed, staring reverently out the window at the stars and reminding Fox of his first guest ever on this ride. He bet that the guy had requested Suzanne Kellogg’s room up at the station. "It’s so beautiful. If my wife could have she’d have come." Cooler’s wife Georgia was a blind paraplegic, paralyzed due to a car accident when she was a teenager. They were childhood sweethearts and had adopted six kids. "When I get home, I’m going to describe it all for her; I’ve been taping as much as I can."
"If you’re so into this stuff, why didn’t you go for the astronaut bit, or something?" Fox asked.
Cooler laughed. "Because I didn’t have a high enough IQ. You know that? Stupid, isn’t it? But these days you have to have a certain IQ to get here or there. Guess I’m an idiot savant or something," he grinned at Fox who laughed, floating beside him.
"We’re a lot alike, aren’t we, both showmen."
"Yeah," Cooler nodded. "So is it really true about the Kellogg girl?"
Fox grinned. When he had first started out, he’d taken up, along with a President and a madman, the great-granddaughter of George Kellogg’s illegitimate son. She had been a strange girl, one of those New Age people who believe in crystals and wear sun tattoos. When they got to space she had collapsed to her knees and wept at seeing Earth; after the four-day limit was up they had to practically pry her off the station. She’d gone back five more times and killed herself on the fifth. People still paid extra to get to spend the nights in her old room, which was purportedly haunted. "What – that she’s dead?"
"That her ghost is up there. My wife wanted to know, just for the interest factor." Yeah, sure. Fox grinned wider.
"Oh, well, I’ve never seen her myself, you know, but I’ve heard all the tales. They say she killed herself just so she could die up among the stars."
"Uh-huh, and it’s half promotion, isn’t it?" laughed the wrestler. "I know the way it works, Fox. Kind of like your ‘President’, there," he said confidentially.
For a moment Fox’s heart stopped. He was sure it stopped. "What do you mean?"
"Aw, c’mon, Fox, you know and I know that can’t be her. Right? Gal floating in the other room has to be a dummy. I mean, there’s no way."
"Right… hey, I’ll see you later, have fun looking at the stars," he called, swimming off fast. Cooler went back to taping descriptions of Earth from space.
"You seen her?" Pauline asked him breathless in a hallway. Fox shook his head.
"I just heard. So we really DO have her on board… well, I guess she figured it was safe to come out now or something. But she needs to be alerted about this weapon. Did you get it defused."
"That’s what I was coming to tell you! It’s not ON; it looks like it’s a timer bomb; I’ve been looking all over the place for Marty to see about it."
"You won’t find him," said the President. They stared at her. There was no one else around. The tall lady floated there looking very calm. "He’s not around."
"What do you mean, Ma’am?"
The President grinned. "Shoved him out a lock while you weren’t looking. It was very simple," she said.
Pauline and Fox looked at one another. Space Madness, she mouthed at him and he nodded slightly. "Well, Ma’am, I guess that was your prerogative," he said. It was always best to be careful with these people until you could tie them up and ensure they couldn’t cause more trouble. This wasn’t his first murder on board, at least, so Fox wasn’t that freaked. "Listen, we have a security issue…" In the back of his mind, he was figuring how good this news would be for his business. Better than Suzanne Kellogg, maybe.
"Yes," he said slowly. "Nothing you have to worry about, of course, but…"
"Fox! You have to hear this! A message from…" Dave stopped short as he saw her, banged into a wall. "Ouch." He stared at her.
"Dave, we have the President on board after all," Fox said. Dave nodded slowly.
"Right, so we do. Well, Ma’am, I need to do my medical exam on you -- a pity we didn’t know you were here before, or else I’d have been able to do it then, but well, it must be done, for your safety, you know."
"I’ll blow you up into little blue bubbles," she warned him pointing a finger like a gun.
"She has a bit of the Madness," Pauline said softly, confidently, to him. Dave nodded with a very serious look.
"Well, then, Ma’am, do you like juice?"
"Has to be frankfurter."
"Right," he nodded, fishing in his belt for a hypodermic. "One frankfurter juice -- you need daily shots, you see."
She didn’t even protest as he loaded her up with thorazine. Conked right out, and set to floating around the room like a corpse. Dave went limp and pale on the instant. "Phew."
"Poor thing," Pauline shook her head. "We should tie her down."
That brought Dave back to his senses. He grabbed Fox’s arm. "C’mon, you have to hear this. She’ll be out for a little while; she won’t care anyway. But come ON! You too, Pauline!"
They went to the secure room, which was down by the engine bay. "Dave, are you losing it too?" Fox asked. "I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this, man."
Dan shook his head and punched the comm. A message from Earth crackled in: "…You reading, Horny Jay? Repeat, this is New Mexico City, calling…"
"New Mexico City? They don’t have access to this line," Fox frowned. "Hey, isn’t that Onassis?"
"Dipshit! The SETI people aren’t stupid, you know. They can hack a line just as well as any tech," Pauline groaned. "What is it, Dave?"
"I don’t know, they just keep calling. It sounds important. You’d better answer."
"Why didn’t you?"
"Because I wanted everyone around. Where’s Marty?"
"Pushed out an airlock by our Mad President down there," grimaced Fox. Dave groaned.
"Figures. Of all the times."
"You do know something!" Pauline yelled. "What the hell?"
"Hey, what’s up in here?" Maureen McBennett poked her head in with The Cooler. "What’s all the yelling about? We aren’t off course, are we?"
"No, no, we’re fine," Fox said quickly, trying to silence the ongoing message from New Mexico City and the guy who sounded like the Vice President. Do you read, Horny Jay? Do you read? "All part of the program," he laughed nervously. "You know, the ambiance…. Hey, go up to the observation deck; the Arctic should be in good view by now."
"We’ve been there," said The Cooler, crossing his arms over his chest sternly. "The President’s sleeping body is floating up there right now."
Ohhhh, shit, thought Fox. He looked at Dave and Pauline. "Had to knock her out, she was going a little mad," Dave said finally. "You never know who will. Huh, there’s a story to tell your kids; how the President herself went a little space crazy…"
Maureen looked skeptical. "There anything else we need to know about?" she asked, "like this message?" he pointed to the comm.
"That? Ohhh, no, no, that’s just a routine check," said Fox. "You know, they do it all the time….."
"Then why isn’t it coming from Houston or Cape Canaveral? Why hasn’t anything come through from them in the past seven hours?" she demanded. "That line has been silent."
"You hacked my system?" Fox shouted.
"Well, SOMEBODY had to!" yelled The Cooler with all his wrestling volume, as he got right in Fox’s face. "We know damn well that you guys have to do checks every two hours and this time nothing is coming through! What the hell is going on, Fox?"
"They’re going to blow up the ship," Pauline said wearily. The wrestler turned to look at her, waiting. "We just found the bomb a few hours ago -- been trying to defuse it, but for some reason it isn’t on yet. It hasn’t been turned on or something; I was going to go and find Marty to try and see what he thought, because he’s really the security person, but when the President went mad, she shoved him out a lock."
"Hmm," Maureen frowned, arms crossed over her chest.
"They aren’t the ‘they’ you think," Dave began and Fox rounded on him again.
"What the hell are you doing, Dave?" he howled. "You going crazy? I already asked you once…"
"Okay, okay, just answer the call," Pauline said as she tried to extract them from the wall, where Fox was trying to pin his medical officer. "Just answer it." Fox turned and found the others watching him as well. While the comm continued to buzz helplessly.
"This is the Horny Jay," he said disgustedly dropping Dave, who floated off. "We read you, New Mexico. Who is this?"
A very relieved voice came on the line. "Fox! This is Jack. I’m talking on a closed line, don’t know how much longer I can do this for, I’m so glad I got hold of you…" He did have a flair for the dramatic, Fox thought.
"Cut to the point, man."
"You’ve got the President on board, you’ve noticed, no doubt."
"Hard to miss," he said ruefully. "We’ve also got a bomb."
"Oh, god, you found it!"
"You knew this was there?" Fox asked. He was trying real hard not to pay attention to Dave squirming in the corner over there. This couldn’t be good for his heart. "Listen, she’s gone a bit mad -- she killed one of my staff, you see… and now I have this bomb…"
"I know about the bomb, Fox."
Fox groaned. "How did I guess you were going to say that? Listen, it’s okay, they forgot to turn it on, so all we have to do is drop her off at the station, and we’ll be okay…"
"NO! No, listen to me, Fox! You can’t do that!" yelled Dave.
"Listen to him, Fox," said the Vice President. Fox looked at Dave questioningly.
Dave sighed. "I’m an agent that they wanted to make sure was on this ship, for security reasons," he said. "The terrorists didn’t put the bomb on board. We put the bomb on board."
"What the hell do you mean?"
"The government wanted to have one of their men on board at least, for their own reasons," said the VP. "So they made sure and got him as one of your staff."
"Twenty fucking years, and you’re telling me…" Fox glared at Dave. "You little…"
"We don’t have time for this now," the VP said and Dave shook his head. "Listen: several days before the launch, he came to see me, Fox. He was very uneasy about this flight."
"Sure! He’s going to blow it up!" Fox yelled.
"No, no, you don’t see…"
"You little fuck, when I get my hands on you!" Fox yelled at Dave who was hiding behind the Cooler. He smashed the comm system and the signal died.
At just about that point there was a noise and the lights blacked out on board. "Uhh, you didn’t do that," said Pauline as the auxiliary lights came on. The people in the room looked at one another.
There was yelling from upstairs. "Come on!" yelled the Cooler, pumping his arms to get up the stairs faster. There was the President with a gun, pointed at Mr. Hampton who was backed up. She kept it in his direction as they halted in the entry.
"Gotta die, he’s gotta die…"
"She was ripping out electrical units, Fox," Hampton said weakly. The Cooler looked like he was preparing to jump her.
"Firing a gun in here, you know…" he muttered to Fox who snapped that yes, he knew that was a dangerous thing to do. The wrestler shrugged. "Okay, Ma’am, why don’t you just put the gun down? I mean, c’mon, you don’t want to shoot him, do you?"
"Yes, she does," muttered Dave behind them as The Cooler moved forward slowly. "We’re all going to die anyway once it goes off."
"What in the hell are you talking about?" Fox hissed at him, keeping an eye on the drama before them. "That bomb’s defused, or at least it’s as good as that."
"Scheduled to start ticking off in five hours," Dave said, looking him straight in the eye. "Which you would have heard if you’d have kept on that call. It’s going to go off as soon as we are near enough the space station, so that it really looks like a terrorist threat."
"You’re insane," Fox threw up his arms. "All these years in space and you finally get the sickness yourself. Great."
"Then why did the VP know him?" Pauline put in. She looked at Dave. "So we’re actually acting as the terrorists here? Sacrificing the President? What is this, some PR stunt by way of the White House?"
"No, worse," he groaned and ducked as the gun went flying out of the President’s hands toward his head. They turned to see the Cooler had her in a head lock, though looking very apologetic about it.
"I’m sorry, Ma’am," he was saying to the President; "you’ll thank me one day for this - okay, maybe not thank me, but…"
"I’m going to shoot her up again," said Dave grimly, pushing forward and picking out a hypodermic. "This time we’re going to tie her up while she’s under," he muttered to the wrestler who looked doubtful.
"Is that really necessary?" asked Hampton nervously as the President subjected herself to the needle. "I mean, after all, she is…"
"The greatest national threat this country has ever faced," said Dave as she went limp. They stared at him.
Anybody born in this country could become the President. You had to be about 35 years of age at least, you had to know about law and have a lot of money. She had all of that; graduated top of her class at Harvard Law and worked in various senators’ offices. She was passionate about women’s’ rights, about building up the army "to gain victory at last over these horrible people", about education and free health care for everyone. She was popular. She managed to get at least half of what she promised done by the end of her third year in office.
And it was about then that the CIA got news of the slip; they noticed something odd about the location of her original campaign funding. It wasn’t that politicians didn’t do a little under the table, that was to be expected. Somebody in the file room noticed a name and passed it along, got himself a promotion. They checked it out, as months went by. As various terrorist campaigns went through that the government hadn’t had warning about. They began to watch her and her people, check them all out carefully. Check themselves out.
"She’s a terrorist," whispered Mrs. Hampton hysterically in the engine bay while the President slept away upstairs. "That’s what you’re saying? She’s a terrorist! I voted for this woman!! It isn’t possible!"
"We have to do something," said The Cooler grimly.
"We already are," Dave said glumly. "The CIA planned it that this ship was to blow up not far from the International Space Station. That way, it would look like a terrorist attack and the integrity of the Presidency would be protected. Meanwhile those with whom she worked in the Oval Office -- at least five members of her staff, that is -- will be indicted for having ‘planned this.’"
My beautiful ship, thought Fox, feeling the wall near him. They were eight hours from the Station; the bomb was due to start ticking any time now. "I don’t want to lose her," he said softly, and Pauline next to him squeezed his arm. "She means a lot to me, you know? This is the first ship I ever traveled in. Remember that, Dave? The first time?"
"Yeah, I remember," Dave nodded. He frowned. "That’s why we aren’t going to the station there."
They looked at him. "This is what I went to Jack about; I feel as bad about it as you do, Fox. I know you don’t believe me but I do. And he knows what I’m going to do."
"Kill her?" The Cooler said, his eyes smoldering.
"No," Dave shook his head. "But we aren’t going to the International Space Station with her. We’re going to the Moon. Right now, we’re still within the right trajectory to make the turn. Just barely, but I think we’ll make it -- quiet, Cooler, yes I know it’s a slim possibility at best but it’s still possible. We are going to turn this ship and float her so she’ll pass close by; we’ll be picked up part of the way there by the station on the moon, where I have men waiting."
"And then we get to kill her."
Dave groaned. "Pauline, for god’s sake! No, we’re going to abandon ship."
They stared at him. "I knew it!" cried Fox. "He’s gone fucking crazy! The little jerk has fucking lost it, after all this time!"
"Would you listen to me?" Dave yelled back at him. "Jesus, Fox, we’ve a bomb in there that’ll either blow your head off or it won’t. It’s your call."
"IT’S MY SHIP!!!!"
"She’ll be famous," Dave said quietly. "I’ll miss her as much as you will."
"And while we’re on the Moon, what do we do?" asked Maureen McBennett timidly. "I mean… till we get picked up…"
"We don’t," said Dave. "It has to look like this went down as the US Government approved it. We don’t have that many more options; they gave us a bomb that I have no idea how to defuse. This was the best Jack and I could come up with on short notice, once we found out what was up. So we either go this way, or…"
The room went deathly silent as they contemplated it. Somewhere, Fox fancied, he could hear the faint ticking of a bomb. "Well, well hey," he said weakly after a few moments, "hey, we’ll be the first colony on the moon! Isn’t that kind of cool… I mean, what the hell if none of our families ever see us again, we’ll be famous, won’t we? And we’ll be heroes. And we’ll colonize the Moon." He looked at The Cooler. "Hey, man, looks like you get to be an astronaut after all."
"Yeah, looks like it," said the big wrestler. Pauline was crying. Droplets floated away.
Twenty years, thought Fox as they exited the ship only six hours later. Twenty years I rode you, I drove you back and forth. Dammit, I made you. He wanted to go with her, to be with her when she died, his beauty. Ground control to Major Tom. They had to pull him off in the end.
"It’s the right thing to do," said Pauline sniffling quietly beside him as the airlock closed and he stopped struggling, looked back heartbroken at the big blue beauty already drifting away. His bird. "It really is. You’re saving lives." The mad President was tied up in the engine bay.
"Whatever happened to ‘let’s go down with the ship?’" he panted rhetorically through the oxygen mask. He punched a wall. "I mean, they used to do that long ago, didn’t they?" Dammit.
"Maybe they had a touch of space madness themselves," she shrugged. She’d blow up somewhere in between the orbits of the two now; the ship was on a drift course heading towards the sun. The intent would be picked up by the media at least, he thought. That was better than innocent people dying.
"So now we get to go down in history as unknowns?"
"Nah," she said, "The Cooler will record what happened, what really went down, I think. He really likes it here, you know. And someday our great grandchildren will hear about what we did, and the truth will come out. We’ll be like Kennedy; we won’t ever really die."
He just stood at the window and stared out at his ship as they moved farther and farther away from her, and she grew smaller and smaller. The others, tired from their ordeal, napped but he couldn’t.
Three hours later the first explosions began; he could still see her whirling away over to the left of them, far away though she was. He watched the rockets go, and saw the beautiful fires bloom around the sides, past the top. He heard the alarm siren, marking the incident. Slowly, he also heard his crew, the people he’d live with now for the rest of his life, gathering around him. New assignment for the captain. Demotion on grounds of terrorist supposition. The real truth would be revealed half an hour into the show and the problem solved in about fifteen minutes.
Bye, birdie, he thought. We had a good run, didn’t we?
"She was beautiful," said Dave behind him, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"Yeah, she was. So is freedom."
"May they have it for many, many more generations," said The Cooler tearfully next to him. Somewhere in space, Fox could imagine Marty humming God Bless America. Bye Marty, he thought. You’re going to be famous, you little fuck. How about that?
And for his ship, his beautiful ship, he cried.
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