TheSpirit of Americawas big. She was the largest object ever to be lifted from a planetary surface by
rocket power, or any other power, unless one believed the theory that Venus had been flung out of the
planet Jupiter or that Earths moon had been spun off from Earths mass during planet formation aeons
past. She was a complicated collection of millions of parts, mechanical and electronic, and Captain
Duncan Rodrick knew that in any mechanical or electrical system lay the foundation of Murphys
Law: If something can go wrong, it will.
Humankinds eternal task, when dealing with machines, was to see that the malfunction didnt occur at
crucial time such as when landing megatons of mass balanced on the pillars of fire of one hundred
Systems check, Rodrick ordered in his laid-back, informal command voice. Communications
operative, Lieutenant Jacqueline Garvey said.
Computers operative, said little Japanese-American Emi Zuki.
Ito Zuki, Emis husband, spoke from his seat directly beside his wife. Navigation system operative.
Landing sequence programmed.
Chief Engineer Max Rosens voice came soft and lazy to Rodrick through the communicator. Rodrick
had come to know and value Max Rosen during the years in space, and he knew that Maxs tone of
voice indicated tension.
Rocket engine firing system armed and ready, Rosen reported.
Rodrick smiled. He could almost picture Rosens face, screwed up into its perpetual expression of pure
Hull cooling system operative, said the electrical engineer, Sage Bryson.
Weapons system armed and ready. Lieutenant Commander Paul Warden, the old jock, was stationed
behind the thick armor plates of Stphierit of Americas weapons control center, ready to blast any
threatening entity with beams, rays, projectiles, and rockets.
It was easy, Rodrick thought, for some to forget that a ready weapons system was an integral part of
the landing procedure. After all, Jack Purdy, chief scout, had been down on the planet s surface for
twenty days, and a sizable group of passengers had already been shuttled down to join him. These two
hundred plus people, who now sat on a low, grassy hill to watch the ship come in, were another
indication of Rodricks innate cautiousness. TShpeirit of Americahad never been landed. Should
anything happen on the way down, there would be a solid core of people safely on the surface, to
assure survival of the colony.
All this was going through Rodricks mind as he heard Paul Wardens voice reporting the status of the
ships weapons systems, and thinking of Warden in weapons control made Rodrick feel better. He
liked the man, drank with him on occasion, called him, with affection, the no-neck monster because
Warden was built like a wrestler, with a thick chest, big arms, and highly developed deltoid muscles,
which made it look as if his head sat directly on his shoulders.
First Officer Rocky Miller, whose function it was to stand ready to fill any position on the control
bridge in the event of emergency, looked at the captain out of the corner of his eye. Miller was taller
than Rodrick, and more muscular; he spent long hours in the gym. Rocky Miller had not agreed with