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beyond the last star   a bird in hand

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...so, how ARE we going to get into space? During an era of terrorism and commercialism, what happens when the two come together unexpectedly?

The Ballad of the Horny Jay

by JA Howe


by J.A. Howe

First there were all the legal issues. Then came fights to get to the top, and the hassling with the ad people. And then came the accountants and brokers -- _stock could go through the roof_ - and Fox Crampton had his line. "My beauty, my very own little beauty," he said softly, looking up at the fifty-foot rocket that would launch in two days to a record crowd of six million. That total included only the people who would be there personally, too, not just the millions who would watch the TV broadcast. He could see them now, each staring reverently at the ship, sighing with the knowledge that someday that could be them. Even after twenty years of this, the idea of space still excited people.

His bird, as he called her, was blue. Fifty-feet long, with three engine bays that would shoot out majestic columns of flame -- like a phoenix, he thought lovingly; she just keeps coming back - it was powered by a thrust that in this day and age was called "nuclear" by awed children because of the sound it made when it went up. NASA and the international station people might complain about "space tourism" and how tacky it might be, but they got a substantial cut of the pay and with the media coverage, their funding had grown by leaps and bounds during the past twenty years. That station on the moon that had been spoken of for years was there at last albeit in its beginning stages. SETI had a brand new station out in Nevada, with better equipment than ever before. All because of the Horny Jay. He now had twelve ships in his fleet, but she, his first, was his favorite.

"What a gal," he said lovingly, stroking a wall as he walked around before launch on a Wednesday in June, 2069. "What a gal. You know, you're maybe the most famous ship in the world these days?" he crooned. "Out with that Titanic; you're better built, aren't you, Babe? Haven't failed me yet. No, you're more like the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria all combined; you're going where nobody's gone yet." Fox, whose real name was Will, had watched _Trek_ religiously since he was a kid. The thought that he was actually doing something like his favorite Captain was a big thrill. Fox had had a few of the celebrities from the old series on his rides.

Now, he was going to fly the President. Oh, he'd flown Presidents before: Baker had gone up for a week, and the Chief of Staff to Mrs. Neal had gone six years ago. He even knew the current VP, Jack Onassis - who he teased constantly about his name. But this President was a little different. He wasn't really flying her.

There had been a terrorist threat; several of them lately, as the man from the Pentagon with whom he'd spoken had said, and two had been carried out. One suicide had lunged a train right through Penn Station in NYC and another had attempted to launch a dirty bomb out on the Needle in Seattle. They'd had to close the area for blocks around for two weeks, while everything was cleaned and tested for radiation poisoning. This threat, they had no doubt, was just as real.

"You want me to be the dummy," Fox had said trying to recall a certain _Trek_ episode. _What would the Captain have said?_ The Pentagon official had just nodded.

"You are going to carry a Virtual Reality version of Ms Briggan," she said. "It will be on all the news channels, everywhere we can get it, and seem to be a media leak because `the CIA wants to keep the President secure in these times'. That sort of deal. The VR will be programmed into your ship computers and we'll have somebody go up shielded by `lawyers' and Secret Service people for effect. You understand the importance of this, Mister Crampton."

"I'll do it," he said, feeling about to burst with pride. "For my country, I'll do it." _Imagine the ratings..._


Copyright © by JA Howe . All rights reserved unless specified otherwise above.

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