Here Rip pushed the stick forward, eased back on the throttle and slammed the stick sideways. The plane rolled vigorously as it accelerated straight down in a wild corkscrew motion. The controls are incredibly sensitive, he thought, marveling at the plane's responsiveness to the slightest displacement of stick or rudder.
A glance at the altimeter, center the stick and pull some more, lifting that nose toward the horizon. The Gs were intense now; he was pulling almost six. He fought to keep his head up and blinked mightily to keep the sweat running down his forehead from blinding him. In seconds the plane was level. Rip eased off on the G and pulled the throttle back to idle.
The piston engine's moan dropped to a burble, and the plane began a gentle, descending turn to line up on the runway. With the power at idle, the plane floated into a perfect three-point landing, kissing the grass.
Rip steered his craft to a stop in front of the large wooden hangar beside the runway and cut the engine. He opened the canopy, snapping the safety line into place so it wouldn't fall off, and unstrapped. Still in the pilot's seat, he took off the helmet and swabbed the sweat from his face.
One of the men sitting on a bench beside the hangar heaved himself erect and strolled over to the Extra.
"Well, whaddaya think?"
"It's okay," Rip said. Lean, tanned by the sun, he was about six feet tall and in his early twenties.
"You sure fly it pretty well," the guy on the ground said enthusiastically, cocking his head and squinting against the glare of the brilliant sun.
"Save the flattery. I'll buy it."
The next question was more practical. "You gonna be able to get insurance?"
"I'm going to pay cash," Rip said as he stepped to the ground. "Then I don't have to insure it, do I?"
"Well, no. Guess not. Though I never had anyone buy one of these flying toys that didn't want to insure it. Lot of money, you know."
"I'll walk up to the house and get the checkbook. You figure out precisely what I owe you, taxes and all."
"Sure." The airplane salesman headed back to the bench beside the hangar.
Rip walked past the hangar and began climbing the hill toward his uncle's house. It was one of those rare, perfect Indian summer days, with a blazing sun in a brilliant blue sky, vivid fall foliage, and a warm, gentle breeze decorated with a subtle hint of wood smoke. Rip didn't notice. He climbed the hill lost in his own thoughts.
His uncle Egg Cantrell was holding a conference at his farm, so the house was full to overflowing. He had invited twenty scientists from around the world to sort through the data on the computer from the saucer Rip had found in the Sahara and donated to the National Air and Space Museum the previous September. Egg had removed a computer from the saucer and kept it. Its memory was a storehouse of fabulous information, which Egg used to patent the saucer's technology, and even more fabulous data on the scientific, ethical and philosophical knowledge of the civilization that constructed it.
The visiting scientists shared Egg's primary interest, which was computer technology. He had spent most of the past year trying to learn how the saucer's computer worked. The Ancient Ones knew that progress lies in true human-computer collaboration. They had promoted computers from dumb tools to full partners capable of combining known information, new data and programs of powerful creativity and logic techniques to generate and test new ideas. In effect, the computer could do original, creative thinking, a thing still beyond the capability of any computer made on earth.
Egg and his guests were having a wonderful time. They spent every waking minute with a dozen PCs containing files Egg had copied from the saucer's computer or talking with colleagues about what they had learned.
Egg was on the porch in an earnest discussion with two academics from California when he saw Rip coming up the hill with his hands in his pockets, eyes on the ground. He had been like this since his girlfriend, Charlotte "Charley" Pine, took a job with the French lunar expedition. She had been gone for six weeks, and a long six weeks it had been.
Egg excused himself from his guests and intercepted Rip before he could get to the porch. Egg was in his fifties, a rotund individual with little hair left. His body was an almost perfect oval-hence his nickname-but he moved surprisingly quickly for a man of his shape and bulk. He had been almost a surrogate father to Rip after his real dad died eleven years ago.
"Good morning," Egg said cheerfully. "Heard the plane. Is it any good?"
"It's okay. The guy is waiting for me to write him a check."
"He can wait a little longer. What say you and I take a walk?"
Rip shrugged and fell in with Egg, who headed across the slope toward the barn. "It's been quite a year, hasn't it?" Egg remarked. Actually more like thirteen months had passed since Rip donated the saucer from the Sahara to the National Air and Space Museum. They had indeed been busy months for Egg as he mined the data on the saucer's computer, filed patent applications with his, Rip's and Charley's names attached and licensed the propulsion technology.