Suit In High Orbit; Strong Stench Of Terror
Gradually, I came out of it to see the face of Founder’s Landing tumbling overhead. A little at a time it started coming back to me; I was… I was… cargo?
OSTRICH TO CARGO, DO YOU COPY, OVER — OSTRICH TO CARGO…
Even as I clicked my mike in response, it came to me I’d been hearing them for a while. Suddenly, I realized where I was and what was happening. I’d passed out after all. I checked the timer — no, still on schedule. Thank the gods.
The little case was still securely strapped to my left gauntlet; good thing we’d taken that precaution, or this would all be for nothing. Now, where was the target ship… There! The computerized display on my face-screen picked it up no trouble, a fuel carrier in parking orbit dead ahead. That was good shooting on Sonny’s part; apart from slowing as I got close, I’d barely need to maneuver.
It took what seemed an eternity to close with the battered old tanker, but the suit’s internal clock said it was more like half an hour. High orbit in nothing but a drop suit is no place for anyone with vertigo, or agoraphobia. Me, I’m cursed with far too much imagination, and once I’d programmed the thrusters there was nothing left for me to do. Should have brought a book, I guess — though how to keep the pages from flash-freezing in the vacuum and shredding in my armored fists…
The thrusters kicked on, snapping me out of my reverie. The suit flipped, then started decelerating slowly. Game time.
My magnetic boots snapped on just as the thrusters kicked off. There was a double click, audible through the suit. I was on the hull of the parked ship, just forward of the vast fuel tanks it had in place of a cargo hold.
There’s a trick to walking on a ship’s hull. A beginner can do it by leaving the magnets on and just sliding his boots along, but that makes a hellacious racket. Worse, it scrapes up the paint — and that’s no joke when the ship’s only armor is thin enamel over sheet steel. More primitive suits, you cut off the magnets manually, one boot at a time, taking turns as you move forward — but there, you’d risk separating from the ship. Recent example should tell you what happens if there’s even a little spin on the hull.
But my suit was smarter than that — smarter than I was in a lot of ways, though not so good with the witty repartee. Shift your weight a certain way, rock the boots as you step, and presto! Walking is as easy as pop! pop! pop! and, before you know it, there you are at the airlock. Reach down and activate the manual release — some are locked, but if you think about it there’s really no point — then step inside, seal the hatch, switch on the pumps. Easy peasy and here we are; no sweat.
Or this time, maybe a little sweat. I was standing just inside, looking down the barrels of two hand disruptors, each held by a crewman. Guess it was my day to be facing guns.
“Oh, please!” I said through the suit’s speaker. “It’d take you half an hour to burn through my armor, and that’s if I was polite enough to stand still. Why don’t you put those silly things down and let me finish my delivery?”
“Do forgive them, won’t you?” came a cultured voice — one I knew! But — that was impossible! What the hell was going on here?
Don’t ask me; I’m mystified too — and I’m the one writing this! Join me next time so we can both find out!
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