The money from the licenses had been pouring into the bank that handled the accounts. While they were not yet rich enough to buy Connecticut, each of them could probably afford a small county in Mississippi or Arkansas.
Having a lot of money was both a curse and a blessing, as Rip and Charley discovered. They didn't need regular jobs, which meant that they had a lot of free time. Charley taught Rip to fly, and after he got his private license they had flown all over the country, leisurely traveled the world and finally returned to Missouri in midsummer.</ol>
After a few more weeks of aimless loafing, Charley jumped at a job offered by Pierre Artois, who was heading the French effort to build a space station on the moon. One morning she shook Egg's hand, hugged him, gave him a kiss and left. Her departure hadn't come as a surprise. He had known she was bored, even if Rip hadn't figured it out.
"I sorta miss Charley," Egg said now to Rip, who didn't respond.
Inside the barn Egg seated himself on a hay bale in the sun. Rip stood scuffing dirt with a toe, then finally seated himself on the edge of a feed-way.
"What are you going to do with your life, Rip?"
"I don't know."
"Buying toys won't help."
"The Extra is quite a plane."
"Everybody needs one."
"Toys won't help what's ailing you."
"You could help me with this conference, if you wished," Egg continued, his voice strong and cheerful. "They keep asking questions about the saucer-you know as much about it as I do, maybe more."
"Don't want to answer questions about the saucer," Rip responded. "Talked about it enough. Time to move on to something else."
"What?" Egg asked flatly.
"I don't know," Rip said with heat. "If I knew, I'd be doing it."
"You aren't the first man who ever had woman troubles. Sitting around moping about Charley isn't going to help."
That comment earned a glare from Rip.
"The launch is going to be on television this evening," Egg continued blandly. A French spaceplane had been launched every two weeks for the last six months, shuttling people and equipment to the new French base on the moon. Charley Pine was scheduled to be the copilot on the next flight. Since an American was going to be a crew member, the American networks had decided to air the launch in real time. "Are you going to watch?"
"She's going to the moon and you want me to watch it on television. How should I answer that?"
Egg sat on his bale for another moment, decided he didn't have anything else to say and levered his bulk upright.
"Sorry, Unc," Rip told the older man. "My life is in the pits these days."
"Maybe you ought to work on that," Egg said, then walked on out of the barn.
"Well, it is a mess," Rip told the barn cat, who came over to get her ears scratched. "After you've owned and flown a flying saucer, been everywhere and done everything with the hottest woman alive, where do you go next?"
The galling thing was that he knew the answer to that question. To the moon, of course! And he was sitting here in central Missouri twiddling his thumbs watching television while Charley did it for real.
Terrific! Just flat terrific!
Charley Pine had just lived through the busiest six weeks of her life. From dawn to midnight seven days a week, the French had trained her to be a copilot in their new spaceships.
Unwilling to bet lives on just one ship, the French had built four of them. Two generations beyond the American space shuttles, the French ships were reusable spaceplanes, launched from a long runway in the south of France. They carried two large fuel tanks, one on either side, which they jettisoned after they had used the fuel. They then flew on into orbit, where they rendezvoused with a fuel tank, refilled their internal tanks and continued on to the moon. After delivering their cargo, the spaceplanes returned to earth orbit and reentered the atmosphere. They landed in France on the runway they had departed from and were readied for another voyage to the moon.
Bored with doing nothing, unable to interest Rip in anything other than sitting around, Charley had instantly accepted Pierre Artois' job offer. She didn't tell Rip until the following morning. Then she broke the news at breakfast and was gone fifteen minutes later.
Sure, leaving Rip had been hard, but she was unwilling to retire at the ripe old age of thirty. Sooner or later, Rip was going to have to figure out life. When he did, then she would see. If he did.
Pierre Artois believed in maximum publicity. The French government was spending billions on the lunar mission, so he didn't miss many chances to get all the good press he could. This evening, six hours before launch, he and his lunar crew stood in front of a bank of television cameras to answer questions.