As his car neared observatory headquarters, he glanced through its bubbletop and found the red beacon light that was Mars. People there too, nowadays. An old thrill tingled. Yes, man does not live by bread alone, nor by economics and politics. It was the vision of ships flying through heaven that got us back into space in earnest. Damn it, this time we'll stay, and keep going!
He reached the topside turret, linked airlocks, crossed over, and descended. The corridor below felt doubly drab by contrast. However, he could move fast along it, enjoying the long, lowgravity lope. Ordinarily an officer of the United States Aerospace Force was expected to be more formal.
He had called ahead. The director awaited him in her office. She greeted him a little warily, offered him a chair, told the outer door to close, and sat down again behind her desk. For a few minutes they exchanged ritual courtesies how were things going here, how were things back home, how had his flight from Earth been and his drive from Port Apollo?
Then Helen Lewis leaned forward and said, "Well, I'm sure your time is as valuable as mine, Colonel. Shall we get directly to business? Why have you requested this meeting, and why did you want it to be confidential?"
He knew she shared the distaste for the military that had been common among intellectuals at least since the Siberian Action. His best approach was straightforwardness. "You seemed to prefer it that way, Dr. Lewis. May I be frank? You've entered a request for a large expansion of your facilities. The wideorbit interferometric system, especially, would count as high priced even in free and easy times, and you know how tight budgets are at present. I'm afraid a wish list of research projects won't open any purses soon. After all, you're still discovering marvelous things with the equipment on hand. What do you really want to search for?"
Her gaze challenged his. "Why do you, why does your service, want to know?"
"Because we've gotten hints that this may be something we'd go for, too." Muramoto lifted his palm. "No, please, not with any idea of warlike application. If our guess is right, it is an area that concerns us strongly, but 'we' are not just a few men and women in uniform. We include civilians, scientists, and certain members of the President's Advisory Council."
She flushed beneath the gray hair. A fist clenched. "My God, does that clique decide everything these days?"
Muramoto had his own wistfulness about the republic that Jefferson helped found, but it wasn't relevant today. "Myself, I hope your request will be approved. Yes, and I'd like it to be an international undertaking, as you've proposed. So would my superiors, partly to save American money, partly on principle. We aren't blind chauvinists,"
Taken aback, she sat quiet for a while before she murmured, "I ... presume ... not."
"But you haven't given us reasons to fight for what you want," he said. "If you'll tell me what you have in mind and why it shouldn't be publicized" he smiled - 'you'll find we military are pretty good at keeping our mouths shut."
Lewis reached a decision. She actually returned his smile. "The truth is nothing desperate. It's bound to come out in due course, and certainly should. But the potential for sensationalism" She drew breath. "You see, our latest observations lie at the limits of sensitivity available to us at present. They could be in error. An announcement, followed by a retraction, would do worse than wreck several careers. It would harm this whole institution,"
Excerpted from Starfarers by Poul Anderson. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher. Published by Tor Books. No part of this book can be reproduced without permission from the publisher. Copyright (c) 1998 Poul Anderson,
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