My Favorite Bit of Heinlein

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They fell to talking shop, and Macdougal showed him the
new direct-reponse damping rig which had replaced the
manual vernier control which Rhysling had used. Rhysling
felt out the controls and asked questions until he was familiar
with the new installation. It was his conceit that he was still a
jetman and that his present occupation as a troubadour was
simply an expedient during one of the fusses with the com-
pany that any man could get into.

I see you still have the old hand-damping plates installed,
he remarked, his agile fingers flitting over the equipment.

“All except the links. I unshipped them because they ob-
scure the dials.”

“You ought to have them shipped. You might need them.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I think “

Rhysling never did find out what Macdougal thought, for it
was at that moment the trouble tore loose. Macdougal caught
it square, a blast of radioactivity that burned him down where
he stood.

Rhysling sensed what had happened. Automatic reflexes of
old habit came out. He slapped the discover and rang the
alarm to the control room simultaneously. Then he remem-
bered the unshipped links. He had to grope until he found
them, while trying to keep as low as he could to get maxi-
mum benefit from the baffles. Nothing but the links bothered
him as to location. The place was as light to him as any place
could be; he knew every spot, every control, the way he knew
the keys of his accordion.

Power room! Power room! What’s the alarm?”
Stay out!” Rhysling shouted. “The place is ‘hot'” He
could feel it on his face and in his bones, like desert sunshine.

The links he got into place, after cursing someone, anyone,
for having failed to rack the wrench he needed. Then he
commenced trying to reduce the trouble by hand. It was a
long job and ticklish. Presently he decided that the jet would
have to be spilled, pile and all.

First he reported. “Control!”

“Control aye aye!”

“Spilling Jet Three — emergency.”

“Is this Macdougal?”

“Macdougal is dead. This is Rhysling, on watch. Stand by
1o record.”

There was no answer; dumfounded the skipper may have
been, but he could not interfere in a power-room emergency.

He had the ship to consider, and the passengers and crew.
The doors had to stay closed.

The captain must have been still more surprised at what
Rhysling sent for record. It was:

We rot in the molds of Venus,
We retch at her tainted breath.

Foul are her flooded jungles,
Crawling with unclean death.

Rhysling went on cataloguing the Solar System as he
worked, “harsh bright soil of Luna,” “Saturn’s rainbow
rings,” “the frozen night of Titan,” all the while opening and
spilling the jet and fishing it clean. He finished with an alter-
nate chorus:

We’ve tried each spinning space mote

And reckoned its true worth:
Take us back again to the homes of men

On the cool, green hills of Earth.

Then, almost absent-mindedly, he remembered to tack on

his revised first verse:

The arching sky is calling

Spacemen back to their trade.
All hands! Stand by! Free falling!

And the lights below us fade.
Out ride the sons of Terra,

Far drives the thundering jet,
Up leaps the race of Earthmen

Out, far, and onward yet —

The ship was safe now and ready to limp home, shy one
jet. As for himself, Rhysling was not so sure. That “sunburn”
seemed pretty sharp, he thought. He was unable to see the
bright, rosy fog in which he worked, but he knew it was
there. He went on with the business of flushing the air out
through the outer valve, repeating it several times to permit
the level of radioaction to drop to something a man might
stand under suitable armor. While he did this, he sent one
more chorus, the last bit of authentic Rhysling that ever could
be:

We pray for one last landing

On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies

And the cool, green hills of Earth.

Robert Heinlein, The Green Hills of Earth

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