“Golly,” Parkhurst gasped, his red face tingling with excitement. “Come here, you guys. Look!”
They crowded around the viewscreen.
“There she is,” Barton said. His heart beat strangely. “She sure looks good.”
“Damn right she looks good,” Leon agreed. He trembled. “Say – I can make out New York.”
“The hell you can.”
“I can! The gray. By the water.”
“That’s not even the United States. We’re looking at it upside down. That’s Siam.”
The ship hurtled through space, meteoroid shields shrieking. Below it, the blue-green globe swelled. Clouds drifted around it, hiding the continents and oceans.
“I never expected to see her again,” Merriweather said. “I thought sure as hell we were stuck up there.” His face twisted. “Mars. That damned red waste. Sun and flies and ruins.”
“Barton knows how to repair jets,” Captain Stone said. “You can thank him.”
“You know what I’m going to do, first thing I’m back?” Parkhurst yelled.
“Go to Coney Island.”
“People. I want to see people again. Lots of them. Dumb, sweaty, noisy. Ice cream and water. The ocean. Beer bottles, milk cartons, paper napkins – “
“And gals,” Vecchi said, eyes shining. “Long time, six months. I’ll go with you. We’ll sit on the beach and watch the gals.”
“I wonder what kind of bathing suits they got now,” Barton said.
“Maybe they don’t wear any!” Parkhurst cried.
“Hey!” Merriweather shouted. “I’m going to see my wife again.” He was suddenly dazed. His voice sank to a whisper. “My wife.”
“I got a wife, too,” Stone said. He grinned. “But I been married a long time.” Then he thought of Pat and Jean. A stabbing ache choked his windpipe. “I bet they have grown.”
“My kids,” Stone said huskily.
They looked at each other, six men, ragged, bearded, eyes bright and feverish.
“How long?” Vecchi whispered.
“An hour,” Stone said. “We’ll be down in an hour.”
The ship struck with a crash that threw them on their faces. It leaped and bucked, brake jets screaming, tearing through rocks and soil. It came to rest, nose buried in a hillside.
Parkhurst got unsteadily to his feet. He caught hold of the safety rail. Blood dripped down his face from a cut over his eye.
“We’re down,” he said.
Barton stirred. He groaned, forced himself up on his knees. Parkhurst helped him. “Thanks. Are we…”
“We’re down. We’re back.”
The jets were off. The roaring had ceased… there was only the faint trickle of wall fluids leaking out on the ground.
The ship was a mess. The hull was cracked in three places. It billowed in, bent and twisted. Papers and ruined instruments were strewn everywhere.
Vecchi and Stone got slowly up. “Everything all right?” Stone muttered, feeling his arm.
“Give me a hand,” Leon said. “My damn ankle’s twisted or something.”
They got him up. Merriweather was unconscious. They revived him and got him to his feet.
“We’re down,” Parkhurst repeated, as if he couldn’t believe it. “This is Earth. We’re back – alive!”
“I hope the specimens are all right,” Leon said.
“The hell with the specimens!” Vecchi shouted excitedly. He worked the port bolts frantically, unscrewing the heavy hatch lock. “Let’s get out and walk around.”
“Where are we?” Barton asked Captain Stone.
“South of San Francisco. On the peninsula.”
“San Francisco! Hey – we can ride the cable cars!