Chapter Fourteen




The damned alarm woke me up. Damn them whores... always causing trouble when I’m in the middle of something, like a good night’s sleep. At least I’d gone to bed early last night, it was six in the damned morning.
But it wasn't the whores, it was a meteor shower. Fuck. I went to the pilot room.
The meteors were tiny but when you're going fast, well, when a meteor shower is coming you want to slow down.
       Or speed up. Usually it was slow down but not this time. I spoke into the fone. “Attention, passenger and cargo. Prepare for higher gravity in ten seconds.” Ten seconds later I gradually added thrust. We were almost at Earth-normal now, and man it was not the least bit comfortable. I felt like I weighed a ton.
After these long interplanetary trips it was usual to spend a week or two in a gradually faster centrifuge at one point three normal if you were landing on Earth, because after a few weeks of a third or less to three quarters gravity, Earth gravity was heavy as hell. While traveling, the gravity slowly changed from close to the body you left to a little more than the body you were landing on, whether a planet, a dwarf, or a satellite.
Except Earth, nobody was at a gravity higher than Earth. Of course, there are some planets heavier but you can't land on them or you'd get squished. Venus would feel like Earth but you can't land on Venus because it's just too damned hot, so the heaviest you were going to be was Earth. Even Ganymede was a lightweight, lots smaller than Mars and it's the biggest satellite in the solar system.
After a few days of the centrifuge after you reached Earth, Earth gravity felt pretty good. I think I saw something on the news about scientists researching ways to actually land people on Venus and maybe some day even terraform it like they were doing on Mars, but they can't even keep a robot alive for more than a few days there now.
Right now the gravity wasn't too comfortable, but we had to outrun those rocks. We'd be at point nine five seven gravities for the next hour, so it looked like I was going to be staying up this morning. I was glad I’d done the inspection late in the afternoon the day before or I'd worry about the engines and generators. It looked like today was going to be a really long day, anyway. I was glad we'd gone to bed early instead of drinking, this would have been hell with a hangover. I went to my quarters and made coffee, wishing again that robots could make decent coffee. Damned stupid robots.
I had the robots make scrambled eggs and bacon and flipped on the video in the dining room and saw the last quarter of the zero gravity football semifinals. That's one hell of a sport, too bad Memphis lost. Cleveland did play better, though, so they earned the win.
I was wishing we were back to half gravity again, just sitting here was tiring. When the game was over I headed back to the pilot room.
I couldn't get in; there were over fifty whores blocking the hallway, all of them stoned on those God damned drops. “You're all going to be confined to quarters for the rest of the trip if you don't let me through,” I said. “What you're doing is mutiny, you might even wind up in prison when we reach Mars.” I wondered why they were up this early, but I had made an announcement that we were going to get heavy. I wished I hadn't.
One of them laughed. “You and whose army? You think you can take us all on?”
I pulled out my taser. Most of them laughed. “Go inspect your boat, Joe.” I don't know why the whores call me that, they know my name. The woman continued. “This full gravity is great, Joe, and we ain't givin' it up!”
“Look,” I said, “this acceleration is going to need a course correction. I have to get in that pilot room!”
“Fuck off, Joe.” Scattered giggling from the whores, like I said all stoned on those God damned drops. Whoever invented that shit needs a good old fashioned ass kicking. I put the taser away and turned around and slunk off to the cargo area. I sure wasn't looking forward to this.
Damn but the cargo area for machinery and storage was a lot longer off than at half G. I finally got there, suited up, and went through the airlock, because it was only other way into the pilot room besides the door the mutinous whores were blocking.
My God but I was scared. With the boat's acceleration it was like hanging from the side of a skyscraper. With weights on you. In a space suit with clumsy gloves.
I hooked the A tether to the highest rung I could reach and climbed. When the tether was below me I hooked the B tether above and unhooked the A tether.
I don't know how long it took me to get to the houseboat but it took a long damned time. I was sure glad the airlocks were upstairs, climbing maybe two stories was bad enough. I had to stop and rest a few times. I was sweating so hard I was afraid I'd drown in my own damned space suit.
I finally got there, did the airlock thing and went inside. They need to find a way to keep helmets from frosting up as soon as you leave the airlock, you can't see shit until you get your helmet off.
I took off the suit and went through the dock into the pilot room, pulling the suit in behind me. I was soaked in sweat, and I wouldn't have been wetter if I'd been caught in a thunderstorm on Earth.
All of my muscles ached, on fire. Them whores was going to be floating in a minute, I was really pissed off at them God damned bitches. I strapped into the pilot chair and killed the ion thrusters. The asteroid threat had long since passed and we'd been at high G way too long. Damn, we were way off course.
Well, I'd fix that later. Right now I had a bunch of whores to lock up, and I wasn't about to be gentle. I was hurting like hell from the climb, I stunk, I was really pissed off at them God damned whores and almost hoped they'd give me an excuse to tase them.
I was also looking forward to a shower. I was nasty; I’d had to go straight to the pilot room from bed and hadn’t had my morning bath yet. And I'd had to climb up a God damned skyscraper at almost Earth gravity after being at only a little more than half for quite some time.
I checked the monitor – they were all still outside the pilot room, floating, trying to guard it from me, ignorant of how the houseboat was docked to the ship. I wonder what went through their heads when they started floating?
I pulled out my tasers and went outside. “All of you worthless God damned fucking bitches, hands behind your backs or God damn it I'm going to tase the shit out of you! NOW God damn it!”
This time they complied. It took half an hour to get them all cuffed and another half hour to get them to their rooms. I was going to miss the eight o’clock readings if I didn’t hurry. I stopped by my quarters for a second to make sure Destiny was okay and get coffee if there was any made or start a pot if it wasn't, it was quarter to eight.
She wasn't there. I called on the fone but she wasn't answering. I knocked on Tammy's door. She opened it and said “You're probably looking for Destiny.”
“Yeah, you seen her?”
“She was worried about you. She was heading toward the cargo bay right before we lost gravity.”
Holy hell, I hoped she hadn't tried to go outside the boat to find me, but she couldn't get into the cargo bay with the airlock, anyway; it was locked. If she had been able to, she would have probably been dead, or would be soon; that other suit hadn't had its air pack all the way filled and she'd have been out there almost an hour.
I kicked off as hard as I could towards the cargo hold, flying as fast as I could, glad that damned door was locked.
I tried calling her again but she still wasn't answering her fone.
The cargo hold door was open. That wasn't right, that door should always be closed. I had no idea how it got opened, they close and lock automatically when you let them close and nobody but me should have been able to get in. Whoever did get in must have propped it open. Did one of them whores hack the lock and throw Destiny over the railing? I went in, scared to death about her, looking over the rail for the bloody mess I was afraid I'd see. Nobody had been thrown over the rail, so I went in the next room, the one with an airlock and a docking bay.
The outside hatch of the airlock was open, which meant somebody was outside the boat. That relieved me a little, after I'd looked over the railing and not seen a bloody mess I'd worried that one of the whores had thrown her out of the airlock without a suit. But the open hatch said that thankfully hadn't happened.
It also said that I wasn't getting outside here. Thankfully there were three airlocks that doubled as boat docks. One was for the captain's houseboat connected to the pilot's room, and the other two were at opposite ends of the ship. Sometimes dozens of ships coupled like this traveled together. It's supposed to be cheaper that way for big loads.
I flew as fast as I could back to the pilot room, which was closer to both airlocks than either was to each other. I put on the suit again and went through the houseboat's airlock, closing it behind me. My suit was surely low on air, too, but I didn't worry about my air, I was too worried about Destiny's air.
The climb on the skyscraper-like boat was a lot easier without gravity. It was probably stupid of me and was way against company safety regulations, but I was in a hurry to get to Destiny, who was probably dying by now so I didn't bother with tethers, I just moved as fast as I could. She'd been out there a long time. My God but this woman was my life! The thought of losing her... I climbed faster.
Well, this time it wasn't like a climb; there wasn't anything pulling me down, there had been gravity the last time I was outside the boat. Right now there wasn't no such thing as down, although everywhere was down. It was more like running along the rungs with my hands and every step made me go faster. It's hard to explain.
I kept trying to call her on the suit radio, knowing it was useless. Her radio probably wasn't even turned on or she would have tried to call me rather than following me out.
After climbing for maybe ten or fifteen minutes I finally made it around to the airlock she'd left open and saw her floating about six or so meters from the boat. I hooked two tethers to a rung next to the airlock and one of them to my suit and pushed off towards her. She wasn't moving, and that worried the hell out of me. If she was conscious she'd be thrashing around in a panic. She was obviously out of air and maybe dead. Oh, God! Please don't let her be dead! I'm not religious but I prayed anyway. Jesus but I was terrified for her.
A suit alarm went off; my own oxygen was getting low; I'd been outside a long time on the first climb and hadn't filled my air or changed the filters. I hooked the second tether to her suit and climbed back to the boat on my own tether.
You would think climbing a tether without gravity pulling at you would be easy. You'd be wrong.
There's no gravity but there's still mass and the suit's gloves were bulky and clumsy. There was the mass of two humans and two suits, which weren't all that light. I climbed the tether to the lock and pulled her in behind me as the suit alarm went off again, this one saying I had too much carbon dioxide.
Finally we were inside the airlock, and of course as soon as the inside door opened I couldn't see because of the hoar frost that instantly condensed on the suit and helmet. Damned hoar! I shed my helmet and gloves and her helmet. She took a big gasp of air – she was alive! I got our suits off and a medic came in and took her away with an oxygen mask on her face.
Huh? Jesus, guys, they get around in zero gravity with compressed air. Why did they send you two guys? Jesus. They send two guys that ain't never been on a boat. What the hell?
I had a headache. That's what happens when you have too much carbon dioxide and not enough oxygen, and it makes it hard to think straight, too.
I floated back to the pilot room to make the course correction. It looked like the ship's inspection would be a little late today, but that's not “time critical” like the bureaucrats say. I thought it would be all right since I’d inspected twice the day before.
I was already really late for the eight o’clock adjustments, but it didn’t matter today because I was going to have to make a course correction anyway. A big course correction.
I should have inspected the ship first.


Chapter 13
Chapter 15

mcgrew publishing