Commander Walters stood at the viewport watching the mighty Polaris slide alongside the black ship toward the coupling devices that would lock the two ships together in space. "A little more!" said Walters. "About twenty feet!" "Short burst on the main jets!" Strong called into the intercom. "Aye, aye!" shouted Astro from below.
At first there was no change; then Bart realized that the stars, through the viewport, had altered abruptly in size and shade and color. They were not sparks but strange streaks, like comets, crossing and recrossing long tails that grew, longer and longer, moment by moment. The dark night of space was filled with a crisscrossing blaze.
The thin haze of Mars' atmosphere came rushing up, while the blast lashed out. Then they were in the outer fringes of the sky and the blast was beginning to show a corona that ruined visibility. He turned to the flare computer and back to what he could see through the quartz viewport. He was going to land about half a mile from the village, as nearly as he could judge.
"And what do you think you did to us?" snarled Roger. Barret flushed and turned away. "You can't scare me," he muttered. "Go ahead. Let him swear to whatever he wants." Connel stepped back grimly and turned to Astro and Roger. "All right, boys," he said. "Take him below and see if you can't get some different answers out of him." The hardened spaceman turned his back and walked to the viewport.
Someone was pushing at him, babbling words in Lhari, but he heard them through an ever-increasing distance: Vorongil's face bent over his, only a blurred crimson blob that flashed away like a vanishing star in the viewport. It flamed out into green darkness, vanished, and Bart fell through what seemed to be a bottomless chasm of starless night.
Although the ship seemed to be behaving perfectly, he wanted check tests to make sure the relays were not being burned, which would keep them from responding properly. By rerouting the current around each relay, Arcot checked them one by one. It was just as they had finished testing the last one that Fuller yelled. "Hey! Look!" He pointed out the broad viewport in the side of the ship.
But when the stars steadied and took on their own colors, the blaze of a small green sun was steady in the viewport. "Meristem," Vorongil said, taking the controls himself. "Let's hope the place is really uninhabited and that catalogue's up to date, lads.
Mekinese missiles were swerving crazily to try to anticipate and destroy the curving, impossibly-moving objects that went out from where the Horus had ceased to be. They failed. Clouds of new trajectiles appeared.... A flare like a temporary sun. Another. Another. Others.... Bors turned from the viewport and glanced at the radar-screens. There were thirteen vaporous glowings where ships had been.
In the temporary grandstands at the north end of the field, thousands of spectators from cities all over Earth leaned forward, hushed and expectant. "Are you ready Star Lady?" Strong called, his voice echoing over the field. A light flashed from the viewport of the ship. "Stand by to raise ship!" roared Strong. "Blast off, minus five, four, three, two, one zero!"
"By the craters of Luna, this is the last time I'll take this nonsense from Manning!" He jerked around and stood facing the viewport. "I'm sorry, Steve, but there have been more reports from Titan. The situation is serious. I've had to start evacuation. And then to get this smart-alecky behavior out of Manning. Well, you know what I mean."