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Thursday, February 01, 2018

EXCERPT: First on the Moon

FIRST ON THE MOON by Jeff Sutton. Available in ebook and audio editions.

The room was like a prison–at least to Adam Crag. It was a square with a narrow bunk, a battered desk, two straight-back chairs and little else. Its one small window overlooked the myriad quonsets and buildings of Burning Sands Base from the second floor of a nearly empty dormitory.

There was a sentry at the front of the building, another at the rear. Silent alert men who never spoke to Crag—seldom acknowledged his movements to and from the building—yet never let a stranger approach the weathered dorm without sharp challenge. Night and day they were there. From his window he could see the distant launch site and, by night, the batteries of floodlights illumining the metal monster on the pad. But now he wasn't thinking of the rocket. He was fretting; fuming because of a call from Colonel Michael Gotch.

"Don't stir from the room," Gotch had crisply ordered on the phone. He had hung up without explanation. That had been two hours before.

Crag had finished dressing—he had a date—idly wondering what was in the Colonel's mind. The fretting had only set in when, after more than an hour, Gotch had failed to show. Greg's liberty had been restricted to one night a month. One measly night, he thought. Now he was wasting it, tossing away the precious hours. Waiting. Waiting for what?

"I'm a slave," he told himself; "slave to a damned bird colonel." His date wouldn't wait–wasn't the waiting kind. But he couldn't leave.

He stopped pacing long enough to look at himself in the cracked mirror above his desk. The face that stared back was lean, hard, unlined–skin that told of wind and sun, not brown nor bronze but more of a mahogany red. Just now the face was frowning. The eyes were wide-spaced, hazel, the nose arrogant and hawkish. A thin white scar ran over one cheek ending.

His mind registered movement behind him. He swiveled around, flexing his body, balanced on his toes, then relaxed, slightly mortified.

Gotch—Colonel Michael Gotch—stood just inside the door, eyeing him. A flush crept over Crag's face. Damn Gotch and his velvet feet, he thought.

The expression on Gotch's face was replaced by a wooden mask. He studied the lean man by the mirror for a moment, then flipped his cap on the bed and sat down without switching his eyes.

He said, "You're it."

"I've got it?" Crag gave an audible sigh of relief. Gotch nodded without speaking.

"What about Temple?"

"Killed last night–flattened by a truck that came over the center-line. On an almost deserted highway just outside the base," Gotch added. He spoke casually but his eyes were not casual. They were unfathomable black pools. Opaque and hard. Crag wrinkled his brow inquiringly.

"Accident?"

"You know better than that. The truck was hot, a semi with bum plates, and no driver when the cops got there." His voice turned harsh. "No… it was no accident."

"I'm sorry," Crag said quietly. He hadn't known Temple personally. He had been just a name–a whispered name. One of three names, to be exact: Romer, Temple, Crag. Each had been hand-picked as possible pilots of the Aztec, a modified missile being rushed to completion in a last ditch effort to beat the Eastern World in the race for the moon. They had been separately indoctrinated, tested, trained; each had virtually lived in one of the scale-size simulators of the Aztec's space cabin, and had been rigorously schooled for the operation secretly referred to as "Step One." But they had been kept carefully apart. There had been a time when no one—unless it were the grim-faced Gotch—knew which of the three was first choice.

Romer had died first–killed as a bystander in a brawl. So the police said. Crag had suspected differently. Now Temple. The choice, after all, had not been the swarthy Colonel's to make. Somehow the knowledge pleased him. Gotch interrupted his thoughts.

"Things are happening. The chips are down. Time has run out, Adam." While he clipped the words out he weighed Crag, as if seeking some clue to his thoughts. His face said that everything now depended upon the lean man with the hairline scar across his cheek. His eyes momentarily wondered if the lean man could perform what man never before had done. But his lips didn't voice the doubt. After a moment he said:

"We know the East is behind us in developing an atomic spaceship. Quite a bit behind. We picked up a lot from some of our atomic sub work–that and our big missiles. But maybe the knowledge made us lax." He added stridently:

"Now … they're ready to launch."

"Now?"

"Now!"

"I didn't think they were that close."

"Intelligence tells us they've modified a couple of T-3's–the big ICBM model. We just got a line on it … almost too late." Gotch smiled bleakly. "So we've jumped our schedule, at great risk. It's your baby," he added.

Crag said, "I'm glad of the chance."

"You should be. You've hung around long enough," Gotch said. His eyes probed Crag. "I only hope you've learned enough … are ready."

"Plenty ready," snapped Crag.

"I hope so."

Gotch got to his feet, a square fiftyish man with cropped iron-gray hair, thick shoulders and weather-roughened skin. Clearly he wasn't a desk colonel.

"You've got a job, Adam." His voice was unexpectedly soft but he continued to weigh Crag for a long moment before he picked up his cap and turned toward the door.

"Wait," he said. He paused, listening for a moment before he opened it, then slipped quietly into the hall, closing the door carefully behind him.

He's like a cat, Crag thought for the thousandth time, watching the closed door. He was a man who seemed forever listening; a heavy hulking man who walked on velvet feet; a man with opaque eyes who saw everything and told nothing. Gotch would return.

Despite the fact the grizzled Colonel had been his mentor for over a year he felt he hardly knew the man. He was high up in the missile program—missile security, Crag had supposed—yet he seemed to hold power far greater than that of a security officer. He seemed, in fact, to have full charge of the Aztec project—Step One—even though Dr. Kenneth Walmsbelt was its official director. The difference was, the nation knew Walmsbelt. He talked with congressmen, pleaded for money, carried his program to the newspapers and was a familiar figure on the country's TV screens. He was the leading exponent of the space-can't-wait philosophy. But few people knew Gotch; and fewer yet his connections. He was capable, competent, and to Crag's way of thinking, a tough monkey, which pretty well summarized his knowledge of the man.

He felt the elation welling inside him, growing until it was almost a painful pleasure. It had been born of months and months of hope, over a year during which he had scarcely dared hope. Now, because a man had died….

He sat looking at the ceiling, thinking, trying to still the inner tumult. Only outwardly was he calm. He heard footsteps returning. Gotch opened the door and entered, followed by a second man. Crag started involuntarily, half-rising from his chair.

He was looking at himself!

"Crag, meet Adam Crag." The Colonel's voice and face were expressionless. Crag extended his hand, feeling a little silly.

"Glad to know you."

The newcomer acknowledged the introduction with a grin–the same kind of lopsided grin the real Crag wore. More startling was the selfsame hairline scar traversing his cheek; the same touch of cockiness in the set of his face.

Gotch said, "I just wanted you to get a good look at yourself. Crag here"—he motioned his hand toward the newcomer—"is your official double. What were you planning for tonight, your last night on earth?"

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17 Comments:

Blogger rws February 01, 2018 8:46 PM  

This does not show up as an ebook on Amazon or as a KU title.

Perhaps I'm too eager...

Blogger VD February 01, 2018 8:50 PM  

Click on "ebook" above. It is not KU; public domain books are not eligible for KU.

Blogger rws February 01, 2018 8:59 PM  

I tried that, Vox. Could be because I'm not an Amazon.com user, rather a mutt from the dregs of the Amazon universe.

Anonymous WaterBoy February 01, 2018 9:14 PM  

Shows up for me @9:10pm EST....

Blogger Sterling Pilgrim February 01, 2018 9:22 PM  

OT... I hope this community can serve as an intellectual "trial by fire" for a personal epiphany I had during a workout...

Thesis: Christianity is the single most effective and influential engine of inequality in world History. It inherently creates those "set apart" and it's spiritual effects turn in to practical effects which then ripple out to the community/culture/civilization.

Please poke holes where they exist. Thanks.

Anonymous Causal Lurker February 01, 2018 9:27 PM  

Purchased this one, going into the reading queue.

I remember a lot of mid-grade tech thrillers similar to this. I read them as moderately used books, or old library copies. They're not Great Literature, but good stories with plot and action, easy to read in your spare time. These are a good way to build reader interest through inexpensive books that call to younger readers: action, adventure, retro scenes.

Interesting gambit. I wonder how many of them are about good enough to "Keep up the Skeer" on the Classic Hugo side of awards? Profit is fine, but profit plus 10% more REEEE is better.


Blogger Ken Prescott February 01, 2018 9:31 PM  

Vox, are you planning on publishing more of Sutton's work?

Blogger maniacprovost February 01, 2018 10:02 PM  

@5... "Good" and "evil" create the only objective inequality there is. Insofar as Christianity promotes Good, it promotes inequality.

Blogger Sterling Pilgrim February 01, 2018 10:46 PM  

maniacprovost wrote:@5... "Good" and "evil" create the only objective inequality there is. Insofar as Christianity promotes Good, it promotes inequality.

Exactly... and that inequality Good vs. Evil expresses itself across civilizations, often as Savage vs. Civilized, and we all now who took the lead in the game.

Anonymous Esmar Tuek February 01, 2018 11:04 PM  

Looks good, I find "Crag" irritating, but I'll just replace it with something that flows, "Craig" I expect. Is it just me, or do other people change names so they can read faster? A result of reading too many books with weird character names when I was a kid.

Blogger Resident Moron™ February 02, 2018 12:14 AM  

Deuteronomy 28 lays out that same principle.

And yes, the physical is a symptom of the spiritual. The spiritual is primary, fundamental, cause. The material is secondary, derivative, effect.

Blogger Resident Moron™ February 02, 2018 12:20 AM  

OT: 5 invaders shot in Calais brawl between Erotreans and Afghans.

Anonymous Jeigh Di February 02, 2018 1:10 AM  

I used to read Jean and Jeff Sutton's stuff as a kid, but I'm not familiar with this piece. Harks back to the days when masculinity was still valued. I hate to think of what that scene would be if it were written today. I have no doubt that Colonel Gotch would be a woman...

Anonymous GodEmperorMemes February 02, 2018 1:12 AM  

I recall a friend saying something similar, twenty years ago. I think his exact words were, "The rise in scientific understanding that followed the spread of Protestantism is no coincidence."

Blogger Noah B The Savage Gardener February 02, 2018 4:45 AM  

@12 The growth of scientific knowledge was much more attributable to the printing press than Protestantism. The Renaissance preceded Protestantism, and by then the trend of technological advancement in the West that continues to the present day was well established.

Blogger JaimeInTexas February 02, 2018 8:07 AM  

Ah. Good ole cold war intrigue and action. Good read.

Anonymous GodEmperorMemes February 02, 2018 1:49 PM  

Which Book did the invention of the printing press make widely available for commoners to read?

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