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so- Oh, I forgot, you don't know."
"Rescue party?" He started to sit up, but gravity and his ribs
kept him flat. He stifled a groan. "You mean you're coming to get
us?"
"No," said Mary. "You know better than that." He heard the
chill embarrassment in her voice. Some things weren't talked about.
There was an etiquette to being marooned.
So much for fantasy, Alex thought. They say Love Conquers
All; but it doesn't conquer the fuel-to-thrust ratio or the law of
diminishing returns. Peace and Freedom were barely hanging on.
There was nothing that could be spared; least of all the rocket fuel
needed to land and take off again, even if there had been a ship
capable of doing it. "I understand." He tried to keep the bitterness
out of his voice. It wasn't her fault he was here.
It was not that they wouldn't come that bothered him. They
wouldn't come to get him if he were Lonny Hopkins himself. But
Station Chief Hopkins would never have been on a dip trip in the
first place. You don't send indispensable personnel on potentially
one-way missions. Dippers were folks the station could afford to
lose. Good at what they did, but not particularly useful at anything
else. Janitors, gophers, day-care fathers, stilyagi like Gordon. A
brotherhood of mediocrity, he thought. The habitats would still
function without him. Even the variety of the gene pool, small as it
was, was unthreatened. Gordon and he had already made their
deposits at the sperm bank.
"Then who is coming to get us?" he asked.
"I told you we have friends on Earth. There's a team heading
for you right now. They have an illegal Navstar link, so they know
your precise bearing. The government search parties are still
wandering around on the Ice thirty kilometers to the northwest.
They don't have you located, yet. From what we can overhear of
their radio traffic, they got a bum steer from a local peasant who
couldn't estimate distances properly. But it won't be long before
they expand their search pattern. With any kind of luck, we'll get
you out of there before they read your position."
Alex grunted. Not with any kind of luck, he thought. It had to
be good luck, currently in short supply. "How long before this
rescue party arrives?"
"Make it half an hour. They got a late start onto the Ice. It
took them a while to find enough bedsheets. Watch for them to the
south of you. The team leader is code-named Robert."
Code name? Alex snorted. "Roger. I'll let you know when they
arrive."
He saw no point in asking which way was south. He couldn't
move, and all he could see through the windshield was a white wall
of ice. They would get here when they got here. Staring southward
would not make them come faster.
He closed his eyes. Maybe if he slept, he could forget how
much he hurt. And how cold the cabin was growing. The space
suit's heater ran on batteries. A half hour wouldn't exhaust them;
but he wasn't sure how long he would need them. He decided to
keep the heater on low. Just warm enough to remind him how chilly
it was.
Lying there, he had the oddest sensation that Piranha was
accelerating, hard; but that her engines were located under the
deck rather than aft. It was gravity, of course. Gravity was
acceleration and his body interpreted it as movement because one
kind of acceleration felt like any other.
He reminded himself that Downers would say "up," not
"forward." Crazy planet. Still, he remembered what gravity had been
like. He would get used to it again. It would just take a little time.
His eyes jerked open. Bedsheets?
The second time, he was wakened by the muted sound of motors
outside the hull. Alex listened carefully, holding his breath. Yes,
definitely motors. He tongued the radio. "Big Momma?"
"I'm here, Alex." Her voice came faintly through the spitting
and crackle. There was definitely something wrong with the radio.
He prayed that the comm would not fail.
"I hear noises outside. Friendlies or government?"
"It's the rescue party. I think they just spotted you. Look,
Alex, one thing.
"What?"
"Your rescuers. They may seem, well, a little strange at first.
Just bear with them. They're good folks. Considering how things
stand on Earth these days, they're risking a lot to help you."
And beggars can't be choosers. He hadn't known the space
dwellers had, any friends on Earth; let alone strange ones. "Roger.
Out."
He waited and listened uneasily to the sounds of feet moving
around atop the scoopship. Strange. What had Mary meant by
that? Sure, Downers were a different breed. Yet, how strange could
they possibly be? People were people, right?
A face appeared upside down in the windshield and stared at
him. Alex blinked. Someone atop the scoopship had leaned over the
cockpit and looked in. A hand appeared by the face. It waved.
Alex raised his right hand as much as he could and wiggled his
fingers. Greetings, Earthling. Take one to your leader.
The face turned away and he heard a faint voice shouting,
"Told you so. They're half-buried in the ice!" It turned back and
waved again. It was an effort to return the gesture, and after a
moment Alex lay back and waited for them to open the hatch.
There was more banging and stomping over his head. Strange,
Mary had said. So far they didn't seem strange. No stranger than
anyone who could move about freely in this horrible gravity.
Scoopship cabins were built for two people and Alex marvelled that
so many more had managed to crowd inside. It seemed as if they
all wanted to talk at once. They asked questions about the ship,
about the habitats and Luna City, about space travel. About
everything. Finally, an older man with bushy white hair and beard
hollered and drove them out.
"Let me apologize for my friends," he said as he crouched by
Alex's side. "They're a little excited at the idea of meeting you."
"Me?" Alex was surprised. "Why should that excite anyone?"
The other man raised his shaggy eyebrows. "Not many
spacemen stop here these days."
"Spaceman. I was born on Earth. Kansas."
The white-haired man grunted. "I don't think you're in Kansas
anymore, Toto. He set a black bag on the deck and opened it. Alex
twisted his head to look inside.
"Are you a doctor?"
"No, I'm a plumber. Lie still. Of course, I'm a doctor. Will
Waxman, M.D. We're not irresponsible, you know. We knew you
might be hurt; so I came along."
"Sorry."
"It was the house call that probably fooled you," he said,
unfastening the space suit.
Alex watched him reach inside the bag and pull out a
stethoscope. The black bag didn't float away like Newton said it
should. It stayed put. Gravity field. He would have to remember
that. Things wouldn't behave naturally groundside. His reflexes
would be all wrong. He wondered how Earthlings could teach [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]