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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 Earth’s moon had been spun off from Earth’s 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 Murphy’s
Law: If something can go wrong, it will.
Humankind’s eternal task, when dealing with machines, was to see that the malfunction didn’t 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, Emi’s husband, spoke from his seat directly beside his wife. “Navigation system operative.
Landing sequence programmed.”
Chief Engineer Max Rosen’s 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 Max’s tone of
voice indicated tension.
“Rocket engine firing system armed and ready,” Rosen reported.
Rodrick smiled. He could almost picture Rosen’s 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 America‘s 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 Rodrick’s 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 Rodrick’s mind as he heard Paul Warden’s voice reporting the status of the
ship’s 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
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