by Lee Correy
“Fill her up again, Martin.”
Marlin, the bartender, looked coldly at him, pursed his lips, and said slowly, “Sorry, Enright. No more.”
“Put it on the cuff, Martin,” Henry Enright replied in a bluff tone. “My credit’s good.”
“Yeah? You ain’t paid a cent over this bar for two months,” Martin pointed out, wiping his hands on his apron. He then put his hands on the wet bar top in front of Enright and went on indifferently, “The boss just told me no more. Ya see, he just made an agreement with the bank: they don’t sell liquor, and we don’t lend money. We don’t run no hock shop, either; so don’t try to gimme your watch for a drink.”
Enright was just a bit tipsy, but that was not unusual. He had a vague recollection that this had happened before in other bars. In fact, he realized he would not be drinking here in this dark and dirty dive except that, up to now, Martin and his boss had been easy on him.
He pushed back his stool and let it fall to the floor. Looking slowly all around, he addressed the five other patrons, each as shabby as himself. His voice was loud and his words slurred with alcohol. “Did you hear that? Martin just said my credit’s no good! Me, the best rocket engineer in the business! Why I’ve burned up more alcohol in sixty seconds than this lousy joint’s ever poured! Now I can’t even get two ounces! I’ll take my business somewhere else!” He staggered toward the dim outlines of the door and thrust his way out into the murky twilight.
One of the customers jerked his thumb toward the door as it slammed shut. “That guy must be nuts, Mart. They ain’t no such thing as a rocket engineer any more, is they?”
Martin was calmly wiping the bar with a dirty rag around the place where his former customer had been. “Nope. But that guy will always be one.”
The cool air of evening served to clear Henry Enright’s head as he walked down Larimer Street toward the Denver railroad yards. Everything’s going to be all right, he told himself as he walked. Old Hank Enright’s still the best engineer in the business. Wasn’t he the expert and authority on rocket propulsion? O.K., he admitted to himself, the business is in a slump. But it’ll bounce back. It’s got to, he reasoned. There’s too much invested in it. The space station’s still up there, and they’ve got to have rockets to supply it, don’t they? This is only temporary; it can’t last.
But in the back of his mind he knew he was lying to himself. He knew, as he’d known for the last two years, that the science of rocketry was dead.
He looked down Larimer Street, raising his eyes from the dirt and poverty, in time to see a silvery blob of light catch the evening sunlight as it rose. He followed it until it finally faded from sight into the purple sky at the zenith.
“Hey, Mac, get outa the street!” the shout of a cop brought him back as traffic started to stream past him with a roar of motors and a blast of horns. He scrambled out of the middle of the intersection and made it to the curb miraculously unscathed. Then he looked up into the sky again. Venus was shining brightly up there above the Rockies.
He swore loudly and bitterly, partially at the flowing mob of people that pushed and jostled him, but mostly at the silvery blobs of light still rising from South Denver Port toward the moon and planets.
Once there had been tall, sleek rockets climbing up to the satellite, shaking the ground as they reached for the sky. Now, the space craft of the new order were rising silently and easily to the planets themselves.
All this because of Bill O’Neil, Enright thought bitterly. A rocket technician who went and destroyed the science of rocketry, the very thing he worked with!
It was painful to think about. Bill O’Neil had been a good rocket technician in spite of his lack of formal education. In his time, he had known all the little tricks and idiosyncrasies of rocket motors and the fiery pits in which they were tested. But O’Neil had been other things, too.
Enright thought back, letting his memories of the long years keep him company as he walked his solitary way through the crowd.
He’d first met O’Neil… let’s see, when was it? Back at White Sands in ’63. He could never forget the Form 57, Application for Federal Employment, that had landed on his desk that day. There were fifteen sheets listing Bill O’Neil’s experience tacked onto it. He had chuckled as he noticed that O’Neil had been a tractor mechanic, a crop-dusting pilot, a chicken farmer, communications officer on a Pacific tramp steamer, a detective story writer, a trumpet player with three name bands and the New York Philharmonic, a journeyman welder, a news photographer, a rig foreman in the Peruvian oil fields, a summer camp counselor for Indian lore, a special-effects man in Hollywood, overseas computer repairman for IBM in Europe and Arabia, and a machinist for Reaction Motors. Enright had O.K.’d his application because of the last-named job.
O’Neil also claimed in the application to have held a patent on a transistor-switching circuit, an improved trumpet mouthpiece, and a modified color-film process for which he was receiving a small royalty.
Enright, remembered the personal interview with equal clarity. He had been amused at the time. O’Neil had admitted he didn’t have much experience in rocket motor testing, that he wanted to learn it anyway, that he was here because he liked the climate, and that he would most probably stay in rocketry because it was new, changing, and had a lot of promise. What really cinched the job for him was when he told Enright he’d been interested in space travel for a long time and wanted to get in on it now that he had the chance.
Enright put him to jockeying a wrench on Test Stand No. 9. In fourteen months, he was crew chief. Two years after he’d first walked into Enright’s office, he was chief mechanic over all test stands and Enright’s righthand man. Together, the two of them ran the largest testing operation in the country, and there was not an hour during the day when the now-silent Organ Mountains had not echoed back the blast of static firings and splashed the flowing flames from their granite slopes.
White Sands was now slowly blending back into the desert from which it had risen.
Then O’Neil had gone with Enright to help found Propulsion Research in Denver. He had been indispensable to Enright in those days. He was full of new ideas and ways to improve the thundering monsters on which they worked. He was quick to grasp new concepts and eager to simplify, improve, and attempt new things. Enright had to restrain him, for the technician wiped out half a million dollars worth of rocket motor and equipment one day trying out a new and faster starting sequence of his own devising. The stand plumbing and not the sequence itself turned out to be at fault, however, and together the two of them finally got the bugs out of the oxygen-hydrogen motors and developed them to such a pitch of perfection that they started and went to full thrust in less than a second. At the big test stands near Devil’s Head, they evolved the most powerful and efficient motors of the time. Henry Enright and Bill O’Neil were the best team Propulsion Research had; they
In the meantime, Bill O’Neil took a Denver mine equipment company for about a million dollars because he’d worked out a method of improved flotation processing which gave a better yield. And an offshoot of this, a method of getting germanium out of old mine tailings, started bringing in royalties from RCA and Western Electric. But O’Neil stayed with his babies, the big test stands at Devil’s Head, because the satellite was out there by then and he wanted a bottle of Martian canal water.
The test stands at Devil’s Head were now mute monuments to the past, their concrete walls and flame pits crumbling under the forces of wind and water.
The mere thought of it almost made Enright weep as he trudged along with the night deepening around him. But the darkness seemed almost artificial in the spots where the glare and glow of the neon lights cast shadows into the alleys. A chill wind swept down the street, and there was just a hint that there might be snow before morning. Enright pulled his jacket tighter about him and shivered, wishing he had not pawned his overcoat. And if it did snow, there would be no heat in his shack unless he was able to pick up some driftwood along the Platt River. There was very little lump coal along the railroad tracks any more.
A sign in a pawn shop window, brilliant and garish in fluorescent plastic letters, attracted his attention. He stopped to view the display it heralded.
GENUINE MOON ROCK
Guaranteed to contain uranium, gold, silver, tungsten, and other rare metals.
All Pieces Souvenirs Of The First Moon Expedition!!!
YOUR CHOICE: $1.00 EACH!!!
There were a few pieces of black rock which could have been basalt from the nearby Rockies. And there were a few chunks of metal allegedly parts of the ship. And, prominently displayed, there was the much-publicized and very familiar picture of Bill O’Neil, clad in a spacesuit and holding aloft the wire-braced flag of the U. N. with Mount Pico in the background. Their shadows were sharp and very dark, the shimmering disk of the Earth hung over the lunar mountain, and in the corner of the picture was a segment of a squat, fat, disklike ship, the
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