Clements stretched out on the Vibrolounge and turned it on.
"The president," he began, as the machine went to work, "has called an arbitration meeting. Everyone's in on it ... Darius, Flack, Criswell, Wamboldt, Larkin and the Lord knows who else. They are supposed to come to some sort of agreement as to what's to be done. The minutes of the meeting are expected to take the form of a recommendation to congress for action. By way of the Advisory Committee for Astronautics with Darius introducing the motion, of course."
"Of course," echoed Jordan. "Who else could?"
The door opened, and the huge glasses of Gerry peered in.
"Get on your telephone and finagle a way to route the first press release from this big arbitration meeting direct to my DeskFax. Can do?"
"No sweat, boss," she said and backed out.
"Now," said Jordan, returning to Clements, "you can get your overweight carcass out of my chair and let me into it. Sit on the hot seat for a while. I'll relax and you read the news when it comes in. It'll be your bad luck, not mine."
The facsimile machine gave a little chug and began unwinding a pale green, endless sheet. Clements began to read from it.
"In an unprecedented session at the White House today the President revealed that a unanimous decision had been reached regarding the fate of '58 Beta will be placed in the the congress for action it was recommended that a solid copy of the historic satellite, complete with meteor pits, be made and placed in a special display in the Smithsonian Institution. The original itself, '58 Beta will be placed in the third stage payload compartment of the Smithsonian's Vanguard missile and ... in an historic re-enactment of the first launch ... will be injected into permanent orbit about the Earth."
There was a loud snap as Jordan turned off the Vibrolounge. In a single, convulsive movement he was on his feet and around the desk.
"Get out of my chair," he yelled at Clements. "Let me at that phone! Get Gerry in here! Get Flack on the telephone ... try to catch him at the White House if you can! And get Administration to send over some forms!"
Clements started for the other phone ... then stopped and stared at Jordan.
"Forms?" he repeated slowly. "What kind of forms?"
Jordan's answer rattled the windows.
"Resignation forms, you idiot!"
General Criswell walked briskly to the front of the conference room. He took chalk in one hand and pointer in the other. He rapped sharply on the desk with the pointer and sent a keen, Air Force type glance over his assembled staff.
"Gentlemen, by direction of Congress and under orders issued by the Secretary of Defense the Air Force has been assigned the mission of relaunching satellite '58 Beta. The launching vehicle will be either the Smithsonian exhibit Vanguard or a duplicate if the old one proves to be structurally unsuitable.
"To help you understand the magnitude of the problem involved and, of course, to give you guidelines for additional staffing, I will review for you the major techniques utilized in the original Vanguard launchings. I have had copies of the 1958 launch documentary films printed for each department. They represent excellent source material for your planning sessions.
"Now, gentlemen ... the original Vanguard was the classic example of what we now call, somewhat facetiously I'm afraid, the hybrid propulsion system. It utilized chemical fuels throughout ... liquid oxygen and kerosene in the first stage, fuming nitric acid and unsymmetrical dimethyl-hydrazine in the second stage and an unknown form of solid propellant in the third stage."
A buzz of nervous comment ran through the assembled officers, and sitting in the back row, Jordan felt his blood run cold. Where, he wondered in a sort of dreadful daze, would they even find a crew to work on this project. No sane Launch Monitor he had ever known would even go near such a bomb, much less work on it.
The General rambled on.
"Now the guidance system, gentlemen, may at first strike you as rather incredible. However, it worked remarkably well in the original, and there seems no reason to suppose we cannot force it to repeat. I foresee some difficulty in finding manufacturers whose shop practices are flexible enough ... or sloppy enough, if you prefer ... to turn out a piece of mechanical gear to such low tolerances. However, we will ask for bids and award to the lowest; that should do it. It always has in the past at any rate." He paused to allow the chuckles to subside.
Jordan crept quietly out and headed for his office.
Clements was busy supervising the placement of two new file cabinets. When he saw Jordan's face, he turned directly to his desk, poured a lemonade and handed it to his chief. Jordan took the glass, paused thoughtfully, opened a drawer and added a couple shots of gin.
Clements raised his eyebrows encouragingly, but Jordan simply drank and shook his head dully.
"Horrible," he said. "Horrible, horrible."
He turned and walked slowly back to the conference.
By this time General Criswell had a film showing in progress.
"This, gentlemen," he was saying, "was the famous launch attempt of December sixth, 1957."
Jordan had never seen the film, and he watched in fascination as the launch crew scurried about their duties. Propellants and explosives people appeared, waddling in grotesque acid suits. Liquid oxygen boil off made a hazy lake in which men walked with apparent unconcern.
Then, from a fixed and apparently unattended camera came a steady, portentous view of the rocket ... sleek and so incredibly slim that Jordan wondered why on Earth it didn't simply topple over and be done with it.
The sound track came to life with sudden, brassy violence. Someone was counting backward. When he reached zero, the first stage engine burst into life, the rocket lifted off its platform, slowed, began to tilt slowly to one side and settled back into the stand. No, it kept right on going through the stand. The rear section began to crumple. Then there was a horrible burst of flame which engulfed the lower part of the rocket and then, with perfectly savage violence, erupted in great billowing bursts of fire until only the extreme tip of the missile was visible. The conical top of the first stage fell off and disappeared into the inferno rather like an ice cream cone falling into the sun. The film stopped at this point.
"That," said General Criswell matter-of-factly, "was the end of the first launch attempt. You will note, gentlemen, that not only was the vehicle structurally weak, but it also burned well, once ignited. These two points, I dare say, will exercise considerable influence over our handling of this project."
Jordan, sick to his stomach, got up again and left the conference, this time for good.
Once begun the program proceeded feverishly. A corps of designers rooted through every available shred of data: microfilm, old blueprints and ancient engineering notes from files so old that no one knew why they still existed. Films, recorded data, technical histories and newspaper reports ... nothing was spared.
Slowly at first and then with almost magical speed, the ancient Vanguard came to life. Her structure took shape. Her tankage and guidance were reproduced. Like long atrophied nerves and muscles her controls and electrical system once more hummed with power. Her engines were duplicated and tested (though not without an explosion or two), and her gyros were run in (by shuddering engineers who were accustomed to hitting Marsport on the nose with a box half the size). And tiny Beta, her wee antennas and Hoffman solar cells carefully fitted into place, now had a twin sister enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution.
Jordan reflected that it was a solution bordering on genius even though he was forced to admit that Senator Darius was its foremost architect. His feeling for the old coyote was still something less than brotherly, though forced association had revealed unsuspected and valuable negotiative skills.
One morning several weeks later Jordan sat before his desk which was piled high with unanswered correspondence. He drank lemonade and glared across at Clements whose desk was piled even higher.
"I told you this was going to be your baby," Jordan said, "but I guess I can't make it stick. There's too much of this stuff." He waved at the stacks of paper. "Where does all this junk come from?"
Clements picked up a letter at random.
"This one," he said, "is from the Dupont Chemical Corp. They want us to send them the quality control specification for the hydrazine that was used as fuel in the first launch. They say they can't proceed till they have it."
He tossed the letter aside and picked up another. "Here's a purchase request for four hundred yards of sailcloth. Now what the hell do you suppose they want sailcloth for?"
"Maybe it's for another project," said Jordan, cramming half a doughnut into his mouth. "I found one yesterday for hypodermic needles. On top of that it wasn't signed."
"That figures," said Clements tossing the letter aside and picking up another. "Now, how's this ... good grief! The Ancient Order of Hibernians, if you please, formally requests that ... since '58 Beta was launched on St. Patrick's day ... to do otherwise with this launch would be unthinkable, sacrilegious, treasonable, etc, etc."
Jordan froze in his chair.
"That's the one!" His voice sounded faintly strangled. "That's the one that'll kill us, right there! I have a feeling for these things. How long till St. Patrick's day?"
Clements looked at his desk calendar. "Three weeks."
Jordan's eyes rolled upward. "We're dead!" he said, buzzing for Gerry. "Dead as mackeral."
Gerry answered, and Jordan asked for General Criswell.
A fine seabreeze was whipping ashore at Canaveral Space Port; not strong enough to be a nuisance, but strong enough to blow Senator Darius' emerald green tie persistently around behind his neck. He was still puffing a little from his climb up the steps to the balcony on top of the Space Control Center. As soon as he caught his breath he tugged at Jordan's elbow and said, "Mr. Jordan, I have the great honor to introduce to you Mr. Patrick McGuire, president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians."
Jordan shook hands, noticing as he did so that Mr. McGuire was carrying something that closely resembled a hip flask. It had a bright green silk ribbon tied around the neck.
"It's a pleasure," he said. "What's in the bottle?"
Mr. McGuire laughed a rich bellow.
"That, me friend," he said in a brogue so carefully cultivated that Jordan winced almost visibly, "is a bottle o' wather from the River Shannon, fer the christening', b'dad 'n' bejabers."
"The christening?" Jordan echoed hollowly.
"Indade, the christenin' ... with the Senator's kind permission I'll now step down and officiate. One piddlin' smash at the nose of yonder rocket is all I ask. One smash and a Hail Mary, and she's off to Glory!"
"Jordan ..." began the Senator.
"Now, Senator ..." began Jordan.
But the bullhorn above them drowned out everything and effectively stalled the plans of the Hibernians by announcing in deafening syllables that everyone was to clear the launch area.
In the distance Jordan observed dozens of tiny figures scuttling from the gleaming Vanguard toward something that looked vaguely like a turtle but which he had heard was called a blockhouse.
"I think," he said in unutterable relief, "that we're about ready to launch."
Jordan finally found Clements in the milling throng. They stood at the balcony rail staring fixedly at the Vanguard as the count progressed downward with what seemed dreadful slowness.
"How long is a second, anyway?" growled Jordan peevishly.
The countdown proceeded to minus twenty minutes ... minus fifteen minutes. Then came the quick announcement, "The count is T minus twelve minutes and holding."
"Twelve minutes and holding?" repeated Jordan jumpily. "What does that mean?"
"It means," answered Clements with just a touch of superiority, "that they have stopped the count at T minus twelve minutes because something is wrong. It will delay the launch."
Jordan wrung his hands fretfully.
"Something wrong? I never heard of such a thing. What could possibly go wrong?"
"Oh," ventured Clements, "I suppose there are a few things about this rocket that could fail to function under unusual circumstances." He snubbed out his cigarette. "After all, your watch stops sometimes, doesn't it?"
"Sometimes," Jordan admitted sourly, "but never at T minus twelve minutes."
After a short time the bullhorn shook the area with the news that the count had resumed. Jordan borrowed Clements' binoculars and stared fixedly at the abandoned Vanguard. Suddenly he started violently. "My God, Clem," he yelled, "it's on fire! There's smoke flying out right there in the middle. Look!"
Clements took a quick glance.
"Relax, chief," he said reassuringly. "It's oxygen coming from a vent. They can't seal the oxygen tank till just before launch, or it'll blow up."
"Oh, it can't blow up," quavered Jordan, going to pieces. "But it will. I feel it in my bones. It's going to blow up ... ker BOOM!"
Clements patted him on the back.
"Stop worrying, chief. It's going to work just fine. You wait and see."
Jordan shook his head in disbelief. "kerBOOM!" he said faintly.
The bullhorn announced T minus four minutes. To divert Jordan's attention Clements suggested that he watch the pilots of the photography ships who were about to board. With some difficulty Jordan focussed the instrument and observed the two pilots walk across the apron in front of the main operations building and climb into their small ships. A blue halo formed softly around the stern of each as they cut on the engines and brought them up to idle.
Then suddenly the count was a T minus ten seconds. 9 ... 8 ... 7 ... 6 Jordan thought he was going to faint ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 Zero!
There was a dazzling flash of igniting kerosene and lox which caused Jordan to jump into the air, a terrible burst of smoke and dust and then an overwhelming, harsh shattering roar such as had not disturbed Canaveral Space Port in more than a hundred years.
Deafened Clements looked at Jordan; saw his lips form the work "ker BOOM."
But in spite of all the evidence to the contrary the Vanguard was off the launcher, balancing with unbelievable, rocklike steadiness on that flickering, fiery column. Slowly, almost painfully the thing rose, gathered speed, pitched slowly eastward and bored triumphantly into the sky. Beside it, a thousand yards to the north and south, sped the photo ships, their drive haloes still scarcely brighter than when idling on the ground. With cameras whirring they escorted '58 Beta into space for the second time.
There was considerable confusion, some hoarse cheering and a great deal of milling around. Clements got a grip on Jordan and steered him to the AstroBar where two quick ones put him back together again.
"Now, what we should do," Clements suggested, "is to go down to the trajectory section and find out the latest word on the launch analysis."
"Why?" he said, a little belligerently. "What's to analyze? We got it launched, didn't we? What more d'they want? Besides, I like it here."
Forty five minutes later the reports clattered in from Cairo and Woomera. In the Port Commander's private briefing room a young woman brought a sheaf of papers to the Commander. He began to read aloud. The audience leaned forward in strained attention.
"Preliminary flash report on the re-launch of satellite '58 Beta. The launch phase was eminently successful. The hold at T minus twelve minutes was not due to any malfunction in the missile itself, but rather to a disorder of another kind ... the engineer who was functioning as Launch Monitor had fainted in the blockhouse. The count was picked up under the direction of the Assistant Launch Monitor. After launch the three stages of the rocket separated properly, and injection into orbit occurred at the predicted altitude."
He paused and shuffled the papers.
"Now I have here," he continued, dropping a sheet and picking it up, "the description of the orbit now occupied by '58 Beta. We have a perigee of six hundred twenty five miles and an apogee of twenty nine hundred miles, and ... oh, my word; this is a tough break! Well, gentlemen, we can't win 'em all. As you know, we had hoped for a permanent orbit. However, according to our computers, while '58 Beta is now in an orbit, it is a degenerative one. She will unfortunately suffer a progressive perigee drop on each resolution and after three hundred forty eight years, seven months and approximately nineteen or twenty days she will re-enter the atmosphere and burn up. I am heartily sorry, gentlemen."