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Joe Lyons Had the World in His Palm—But He Yearned for Another Planet!

By H. L. Gold

Author of "A Matter of Form," etc.

JOE LYONS should have been glad to be so close to home. The Earth turned ponderously on his right and the moon lay stolidly before him-and behind him was the red pinpoint of Mars.

It had been three years since he had seen that sight, but there was no nostalgic lump in his throat, picturing himself, home at last with his mother and brother. Lyons had the important problem of approaching Earth at the correct angle, distance and speed.

His automatic distance-finder triangulated his position in space. The integrator figured his position in relation to Earth at his present speed and the angle at which he would approach it.

He made the slight changes the figures called for, blasting his bow tubes once at full speed, then at quarter capacity, and correcting his course by an eighth stern port blast that brought the ship pointing a degree over to the left of the moon. Earth was blowing up to an enormous, shining globe. At the right moment—

Nine times he circled the world, his speed gradually falling from miles a second to miles a minute; and then the all was screaming around the hull. He was over Africa. He turned the bow north, until he flew ever the Pacific.

He overtook California, the Rockies, the Middle-west; and in the distance he could see the Atlantic seaboard. Only then did he close the radio circuit, for instructions from the home port.

"Hello, Lyons!" an excited voice broke out. "Ronkonkoma calling Lyons. If you hear me, please answer—"

The sound shocked him into dumbeness, After three years of hearing no Earthly voice. . . .

Experimentally, he cleared his throat to test the quality of the sound it produced.

"Lyons speaking," he said uncertainly.

"Anything wrong, Lyons?" the voice rushed out in anxiety. "We spotted you four hours ago—been trying to get you ever since. "Anything wrong?"

"N-nothing wrong," he said in a careful monotone, though he was not sure his voice would not crack, squeak or stop altogether.

"Fine!" the announcer cried. "It sure is great to hear you, Lyons!" Then, suddenly businesslike: "Cut your speed, Lyons, Pittsburg just reported sighting you flashing overhead at a rate that'll shoot you right past us."

"Okay," Lyons said.

HE held down the bow studs until he could feel they ship sinking slightly with the loss of momentum. He leaned forward and stared at the keel visi-plate. Low, broad buildings, none more than forty stories tall; an unscientific hodgepodge of narrow and wide streets less than half of them mechanized, in spite of the three years he had been away.

"Isn't that Philadelphia under me?" he asked.

"Yeah. You should be here in about ten minutes, Brake when you cross Long Island City."

"Are you all clear down there?" Lyons asked.

The announcers next words mystified him. "Boy, are we! You're the only ship coming in here today, Lyons. Everybody else is rerouted over Ashokan."

"What's the-idea?"

"Don't ask questions, pal. Just keep a-coming, fast as you can. You can't get here too fast to suit us. But be careful, will you?"

Ronkonkoma, set aside just for his small ship? Ashokan would be mobbed, swamped with all the ships that usually landed and took off in both ports. It was senseless. They would jam themselves up with an unnecessary snarls of rocket traffic—

"Making repairs down there?" he asked puzzledly.

"Nope. The place was never in better shape. How does it feel to be back, pal?"

"Not bad," Lyons said abstractedly.

"That all?" the announcer shouted.

But Lyons was busy with his controls. The gigantic buildings, square- roofed for helicopter landings: webbridged; levels of mechanized ways and traffic streets; the lanes swarming.

Manhattan, and danger of collision. He nosed up, out of the air lanes, over the East River, free now of bridges, and across Queens. Steadily, he checked his rushing speed. The long oval of Lake Ronkonkoma lay directly ahead.

Lyons was not stolidly unemotional. He had a job of landing to do, and he had to do it efficiently. Any other Globe-Circler rocket pilot would have behaved the same way. The important thing was get your ship down safely—they represented an enormous investment.

Thinking of nothing but the job at hand, Lyons kicked up the stern, braked until the ship's bow fluttered over the hangars and angled down in a long dive, straight for the water.

Blackness, the tumbling, hissing, swooping blackness of water, drowned all his visi-plates, smashing along th...

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