I was trying to sleep off my hangover when the long-range radar annunciator went off. I had been dreaming of Crystal and was trying to hold onto the wisps of the dream as I groped for the tether. It wasn’t clipped to my belt. Then I saw it, floating gently, just out of reach a half a meter to my left in the weightlessness of the cabin.
This was frustrating. I have been a spacer for almost ten years now and had fallen for the most basic groundhog mistake. I hadn’t checked my tether before falling asleep. Now I was at the mercy of those pesky three laws from Newton.
On my second lift from Phobos we had a new recruit who had made the same mistake. He had flailed the air in a panic, slowing rotating while the rest of the off-duty crew laughed at his antics. Eventually someone took pity and snagged him. Now I knew how that recruit felt. Thinking of him I managed to quell my own panic.
Except that I was painfully alone since Crystal stormed out at our last stop three days ago. I was going to have to get out of this by myself. The air circulation system would eventually give me some delta Vee toward the bulkhead; it was designed to do so. But I didn’t want to wait for it. And the beeper from the radar was starting to get really annoying.
I tried to grab the tether, even though I knew it was out of reach. My legs reflexively kicked but there was nothing there to kick against and I again felt the rush of panic. “This is stupid,” I said aloud.
To settle myself, I took a look around to assess the situation.
Somewhere along the line I had picked up a little roll roughly along the line from head to toe and I could see the entire interior of my ship every couple of minutes.
I was in the sleeping area at the rear of the habitat and could see the control room at the front down the length of the ship. The light was flashing on the radar controller in tune with the beeper. I could be heading toward a collision. I had to get out of this and see what was going on.
The bulkhead opposite the tether was close but still just out of arms reach. If I could get turned around then I might be able to get close enough to get a little push with my feet.
It wasn’t any good. I could twist around and create rotation but I couldn’t move myself to a position where I could touch the inside of the ship. All of the twisting had me huffing and puffing and the pounding in my head was so loud that I had to stop for a few minutes to get my pulse rate down. Breathe in, breathe out. I closed my eyes to try to relax.
Closing my eyes increased the swirling in my head and my nausea instantly took over. I quickly opened my eyes and began swallowing saliva to quell the rising gorge. I’ve seen space sickness and its disgusting results and I knew that I did not want to spend the next several hours chasing down little balls of vomit. That sick little part of my brain, however, pointed out that the delta Vee of the outgoing projectile puke might be enough to enable me to reach the wall. It was not a convincing argument.
I had no choice but to wait for the air currents to push me to a place where I could get a handhold, a toehold, an anythinghold. Once I could get something to push against I could generate some delta Vee and get going the direction I needed to.
In the meantime that damn buzzer was just about to blow the top of my head off.
It seemed to take forever but eventually the nearer bulkhead rotated into the correct location. I pushed downward and felt a comforting resistance at the end with my toes. I slowly floated over to the other side of the bulkhead. Finally! I grabbed a handhold and launched myself forward toward the control room.
Living on a spaceship is a little bit like living underwater because you’re always giving yourself a little push and floating toward your destination. Spacers can make it the length of the ship with a single pull. The groundhogs use the handholds and crawl from section to section, their legs flopping uselessly behind them.
I killed the beeper and checked the screen as I grabbed the handrail around the control room to check my momentum. Proximity alarm. I had set the deep space radar at maximum when I had cleared the traffic around Ceres Base days ago and had promptly forgotten it after my row with Crystal. I pulled myself down into the seat, tightening the straps so that I wouldn’t drift away from the controls.
Something was in my neighborhood and I adjusted the radar screen to see what it was. The object was definitely metallic; its radar signature glowed brightly on the screen. I did a scan of the common frequencies. If it was another scout ship or some other traveler through the belt then it would show up on the EM bands. Nothing and, significantly, no markers. This rock was totally quiet across the spectrum. I started to get excited. If it was an undiscovered metallic asteroid then I could be rich.
I fired up the Doppler radar to get a fix on the object. After a few moments its bearing and location came in and I transferred the information to the astrogation computer then ran the location through to database. I was in luck; nothing matched my new neighbor’s location. I had to get closer. In order to file a claim with Ceres I would have to affix a marker beacon and provide accurate location data. I was grinning and my headache was forgotten as I updated my heading.
Nothing happens very fast in space. After I punched the course correction into the computer there was not much more I could do. It would be almost seven hours before interception. I pushed the console away and stretched. Fingertip to fingertip, I could almost reach the switches on opposite sides of the control room.
It’s not much of a control room. When I was an apprentice I got a chance to see the control room of one of the big space liners that ferry rich fat cats around the Colonies. It was larger by far than my whole ship, now. The whole habitable space of my ship is only about ten meters long by four meters in diameter and the inhabitants have to stash everything needed to live on in this volume. The control room on the liner had consoles for more than 25 people, ringed around a huge holoscreen in the middle. My ship was designed for two people, provided those two people didn’t mind being a little cramped. Still, it was a marvel of design with everything needed to be self-sufficient. And it had an amenity missing from the control room on the space liner; I had four portholes. It was a minor victory, however. There was nothing to look at except billions of stars.
I felt the gentle bump of the thrusters as the new course came into effect. The delta Vee always seemed out of place after long periods of weightlessness. I waited until the seat cushions stopped pushing back, and then unbuckled my straps. Grabbing the handrail, I pulled myself out of the seat and went back to the galley to fix some coffee and breakfast.
A few hours later I strapped back into the control seat and took another look at my target. I frowned as I sipped some coffee out of the bulb. It was small. So much for my dreams of fortune. As an independent contractor my share would be limited. It would take a big chunk of rock to pay off my ship and have enough left over to live on for a while and this couldn’t have been more than a few tens of meters in diameter.
Most people think that there are chunks of rock everywhere in the asteroid belt. I guess that’s true in a way, but space is vast and everything is relative.
All of the big objects are well known and active mining is taking place on many of them. You can sign up for a five-year contract with one of the companies to dig rock and return to Terra at the end with a fair chunk of money in your pocket if you can avoid the temptations of Nuevo Las Vegas during the layover at Mars.
Or you can complete that Degree in Mining so that you can sign a lifetime contract. Lifers have it pretty good and there are always a few of them on one of the space liners, ordering the staff around like they were back at the mines. At least that’s where I met them. They were the closest thing to aristocracy in the relative lawlessness of the belt.
Then there are the folks like Crystal and me, prospectors drifting through the belt looking for ore-rich rocks that are normally too small to be detected. Once located, we survey and analyze the find, set a beacon and send a claim back to Ceres Base for recording. Then we head off in another direction, hoping to bump into another rock.
If one of the companies buys our claim then we get to buy some more consumables and travel a bit longer. It’s boring, lonely work, which is why most prospectors are two-person teams. Crystal and I had put up everything that we had for this prospector ship and supplies.
We met on one of the satellite runs when I was apprenticed to the control room. Looking to stretch my legs, I wandered the various compartments of the ship ending up in one of the gardens. Crystal was there working on the watering systems and she caught my eye. Tall and slender, she had her dark hair cut into a bob to make it manageable in weightlessness. She was kind of tech smart and I was kind of geek smart and in a few days we were lovers. We had a good time and parted when we arrived at Ganymede. She was scheduled for the next leg of the journey and my contract had run out.
When she found me on Mars I needed help and she was looking for a change. We’d talked before of what we could do and it turned out that we had both thought about scouting the belt. With her savings and chits and cashing in her leave we had enough to live on while we searched for a decent scout ship. All of that hard work and I had blown it in my fight with her.
* * *
A few hours later I was back in the control seat trying to figure out my new neighbor. The radar still showed a bright spot and I used the coordinates to line up the optical telescope. I was close enough, now, to make out the shape of a ship, probably an ore freighter. Normally, though, there would be running lights and a purple glow aft from the ion pulse engines. This object produced no light.
Curiously, too, there was no radar signal from them. I was hitting them with both the distancing and the Doppler radar and I would have expected the same from them, at least to warn against collisions.
I sent a couple of hailing transmissions that went unanswered. I frowned and drummed my fingers on the console as I tried to think of what to do.
There were several reasons why a ship would show no lights and answer no hail and most of those were bad. Worst was a radiation leak from the ion propulsion units. Usually, though, those have a way of curing themselves by turning the engines (and all matter within a kilometer or so) into a brief flash of nuclear energy. Even at this range I would be too close for comfort. Fortunately, at least for now, the radiation sensors showed only the usual background counts. I reminded myself to keep an eye on them as I got closer.
It was also completely possible that this ship could have been attacked by an unlicensed ship. These modern-day pirates with well-armed crews have been known to hijack ore freighters and steal the cargo. The attackers usually leave the crew unharmed as long as they don’t put up a fight, disabling the radio so that no call for help can be sent. Even if an SOS could be transmitted, no help could be dispatched before the raiders slipped away to hide in the belt.
As I approached the ship it showed no sign of life. This didn’t look like pirates. The ship appeared to be intact with the exception of the forward empennage which appeared to have had some considerable damage. I was close enough now to see more details and I was getting more questions than answers.
Often objects under thrust use a roll along the longitudinal axis to maintain stability. But in addition to a light roll this object had a very slow rotation around its lateral axis. It was going to be tricky to come along side. I would have to pull up parallel to the other craft, and then try to match its tumble. When I would get all of that down I would then have to match its roll by establishing a lateral orbit. I ran the figures thru the flight computer and frowned at the answer. This was going to cost me a lot of fuel, seven or eight months worth. This derelict was becoming more and more costly to me and it had better pay off.
Anxious as I was for answers, I had to direct my attention to the approach maneuver. Because of the extra speed I had added I would have used too much fuel in my forward thrusters to slow my approach. So, I had to rotate my ship around and use a long burn on the ion thrusters to match speed with the other ship. It really didn’t matter what my orientation was when I arrived as I was going to have to make several maneuvers anyway. What was frustrating was that during that time my telescope would be annoying pointed in the wrong direction.
Soon I felt the push of the thruster against my back as the ion engines flared to maximum. It wouldn’t be long now.
I had dozed off during the deceleration and woke up with a start when the matching radar alarm went off.
* * *
After the braking maneuver was competed I rotated my ship so that I could see the derelict from the forward instruments. By this time I was close enough that I could make out considerable detail with just my field glasses. My hangover was a distant memory thanks to the nap and, now, the excitement of this find.
The rotation was slow enough that I could make out the extensive damage to the flight deck. They must have hit something full-on. Even if it only destroyed the control room the rest of the crew would have been doomed by the sudden absence of air and would have succumbed very quickly. Why hadn’t their radar picked it up? A ship of that size would have had a dedicated radar crew but, rare as they are, collisions do happen.
The cargo bay looked intact, however, and that is where my interest lay. Spacers seldom have time to worry about other spacers. We know the deal when we sign the papers, the weak and unlucky don’t make it and the rest have the chance of a lifetime. Even this chance is solidly against the average Joe. For every 1,000 spacers seeking pay rock only one will find it, on average. Some of them lose themselves in the vastness of the Asteroid Belt and get swallowed up by infinity, never to return. Most of them will spend every credit that they can lay their hands on for fuel, air, water and grub and spend a few fruitless years chasing ghosts until they limp back to Ceres to try to sell their ship for a ticket back to Terra. And some of these two-man crews go insane and many a salvage collector has recovered a scout craft with two corpses inside locked in a mutual death grip.
But still they come; the latest version of the pioneers who had worked their way west seeking a new life in the Americas so many years ago. Crystal and I had been caught up in that dream.
The blowup should never have happened.
While at Ceres Base we made a stop at the trading dome of Mr. Gower. He had built some converters that were connected to the solar wind accumulators and used this to supply fuel to the traders. He didn’t have enough capacity to open a full-scale recharge outfit but was content to offer departing scout ships a few Megajoules in exchange for buying his wares, and was known to buy certain gadgets that might pass through. It was a well-trusted relationship around the belt and we needed more outfits like his if we wanted a chance for a permanent colony. Right now we had Ceres Base pretty much running the spacing and mining operations, and primary supplier of equipment and supplies. But no matter how well The Organization tried, there were always things missing. Folks like Mr. Gower and his mercantile provided those missing things. Most were legal, some not quite as such.
Crystal had begged off, wishing to pick up some last-minute items. My afternoon with Mr. Gower had started off innocently enough. He and I caught up on old times while we sampled his various potents and smokems. Then he broke out the whiskey.
He then told me of one of his latest projects, a distillery. Spacers are nothing if not drunkards, (as my own history had shown,) and he could count on a substantial addition to his income by offering it to the crews passing through.
This was tempting. I had not tasted whiskey for two years and was sure that I could have a sample with no trouble. I had kicked the habit once; no problem if I had to do it again. I was strong enough to control myself. Except that I wasn’t.
I had a shot. And then I had another. After that I lost track as we continued to toast each other’s health. Before I left I bought two bottles.
I was quite pleasantly buzzed returning to the ship with my booty under arm. Crystal was waiting, angry and anxious at the same time.
“Where were you?” When I told her, she growled, “Are you drinking again?”
It went downhill from there.
My drinking had gotten me kicked off of the liners and I had run into Crystal again when I was trashed on Mars. When I bottomed out at Marsport she took pity on me and sobered me up. I stayed at her place and washed dishes by night while working on the scout ship that we had rescued from Salvage in the off time. We had been working hard for two years and it finally paid off with our launch outward to the belt and Ceres Base. I had stayed sober mostly because I couldn’t afford the cost of booze at Marsport but also because I was growing true feelings for this girl who saw more in me than I saw myself. The time was good for me and I felt better than I had for a long time.
When she saw that I intended to bring the liquor on board, she shook her head. “I thought that you had cleaned up your act,” she said. “First chance you get and you’re back to your old ways. Am I supposed to spend the next year locked up with a drunkard?”
Drunk and stupid, I stood my ground. We were going to be gone for a long time, I said, and who knows what adversity we might find.
“When I found you at Marsport I wanted to help you because I thought that you were worth helping,” she said. “It seems to me, now, that you have no regrets for your past. Until you face that and say that you are sorry to those whom you have hurt, you are going to repeat it.”
She touched me on the cheek with her hand. “Besides, my oh-so-serious bunkmate, you are worth saving even though you don’t have a clue as to why.”
She said she’d be staying with a friend and I stayed on board. Several hours later the ship lifted with a drunken me at the controls. I roamed a bit, and then began punching random course settings to the up-beat of ribald songs of my own making. It would have been a horrible thing to watch. I kept it up for a couple of days and had a great old time until the booze ran out. Then I passed out without connecting my sleeping tether.
* * *
The matching maneuver was going to be about the toughest that I had ever come up with. I had to match the tumble of the derelict about the longitudinal axis and also had to match the slow roll of the ship in order to pass a lanyard. It was this last procedure that had me stumped. I would have to circle that ship at a Vee that would not allow a stable orbit; our masses were too small. Every approach that I programmed became unstable after a few tries. This was frustrating! A potential fortune was a stone’s-throw away and I couldn’t mate up with it!
If I pulled in close then my angular velocity would throw me out. If I stayed at the limit of my tether then I would have to apply thrusters frequently to keep me aligned.
In the end I chose a compromise between the two options, far enough out that I could hold an orbit with minimal fuel expenditure yet close enough to allow the tether to give or take slack as needed. It meant the two ships would be chasing around each other side by side like a couple of movie theatre hot dogs in a warming shelf, only taking the same shelf and rolling it down a set of stairs long ways. After a couple of hours of sweat I finally was within reach of my destination. I was going to burn a lot of fuel per hour but I figured that I was going to spend minimal time around this ship, hopefully about half an hour or so.
I had to go through the EVA procedures carefully as I was alone. While very routine for two-man crews, I had to be extra cautious without someone to back me up. I had brought my craft to within ten or so meters of the derelict but it was still going to be a tricky transfer. In my mind, though, was only the thought of the contents aboard the spacecraft just outside my window. My headache and hangover were becoming a distant memory in my excitement.
I ran through the checklist as I donned my suit, acutely aware that I didn’t have a backup person as procedures required. I took longer than normal, double-checking the seals to make sure of my suit integrity but my heart was still pounding as I cycled the airlock. The magnetic boots were clumsy after months of free-fall and my legs struggled to make each step.
When the door opened I could see the derelict so close it seemed that I could touch it. When the tether was ready I aimed at the ship and fired. The cable shot across the separation until it contacted the other ship. The magnetic latch connected and the retraction wheel took up the slack as I attached it to my ship. Time to check out my find.
I connected the carabiner to the cable and prepared to launch myself across the void. “Piece o’ cake,” I told myself. I grabbed the cable and timed a pull to my jump to clear the reluctance of my magnetic boots.
As I watched the cable stream through the carabiner I though of how much depended upon those two pieces of metal, each less than a centimeter in diameter. I should have added a second carabiner for safety since I wasn’t using a thruster pack and didn’t have a backup watching me. Scout ships like mine (ours!) only have limited room for storage and thrusters were notorious fuel hogs which meant even more space for fuel. We carried the required emergency packs with a single fuel load each but we never thought about using them. Our task was to mark likely rocks with beacons from the cozy safety of the control room. EVAs were always risky and I was pushing my luck with this one.
In less than a minute my magnetic boots clumped to the surface of the derelict ship.
It took me a moment to find my balance. I had landed on my feet forward of amidships, with the control room forward to my left and the cold engines a hundred meters aft to my right. That was when it really sunk in how big this ship was. Even if the holds were empty I could sell the hulk for enough to keep me going in the dives of Marsport and Venusburg for a very long time. Depending upon how damaged this ship was, we could sell our scout ship to pay for the repairs and run our own freighter to the inner system. Why, hell, with no payment we’d be clearing maximum haul each direction. In no time at all we could have our own fleet traveling the Great Circle to the planets and satellites and Crystal and I could. . .
Oh, right. Crystal. . .
I unclipped the carabiner and turned left to clomp my way to the control room.
* * *
Before I could stick my salvage marker on the ship I had to ensure that there was no one left alive on board. Because of the rotation I had fastened my tether as close as I could to the center of mass and I was going to have to work my way forward to inspect the control room. It was bad enough that I was having to re-learn walking in the mag-boots and as I made my way I could feel the forces pushing on me. The increasing angular velocity was causing a spin on my inner ear that was only making my hangover rear its ugly head again. I had to force myself to not think about it; space sickness in a space suit is something to be avoided at all costs.
In addition I was increasingly feeling the centripetal forces making me feel more and more like I was going to fall forward onto my knees. I had to be careful of this as my only tie to the ship was the magnets in my boots. Once again I keenly felt the lack of a booster pack and a safety observer. There were no handholds at this part of the ship and I finally reached the point where I had to turn and back my way to the front of the ship. I stopped every few meters to note my progress and as I proceeded I began to see the damage that had disabled it.
When I felt I could go no further I got into a comfortable position and took a good look. These poor bastards had taken a boulder to the main control deck and had quickly lost their atmosphere. The same chunk of rock had caused the rotation that was making it difficult to hold my place. Why didn’t they see it coming? By a blind stroke of bad luck it must have come from an angle that is in one of the radar blind spots. I wanted to take a look at the forward radar but I didn’t feel that I could move another millimeter more forward. I had seen enough and it was time to scramble my way back aft.
The damage that I had seen was enough to convince me that there was no one left alive. The ship was mine! This in itself meant a small fortune. I wanted to look inside the hold to see if my small fortune was a large one, instead.
Walking was easier as I moved towards amidships and I soon arrived back at the tether. There was still a little bit of play in the take-up reel so I figured my course-correction software was working okay. A glance at my watch showed that I was doing well on time; my trip forward had taken less than ten minutes. I untied the marker beacon from my belt, twisted it to activate it and placed it on the hull of the derelict. Then I stood up and hooted and hollered and punched the space around me in joyous glee. I was rich! I had hit the triple sevens, the number on the wheel, the prize behind Door Number Three. All trace of the hangover had disappeared. This was shaping up to be a great day after all.
The outside controls for the hold access were around the waist of the ship where I stood next to the tether. I was going to have to walk about 20 meters or so up-spin which meant that Coriolis was going to pull me to the left and I was going to have to lean right to compensate. I concentrated on where I thought the control panel was and, when the panel rolled into sight I looked toward it. I had to concentrate on the fixed spot on the surface; if I tried to watch the stars I would soon be on my hands and knees suffering from extreme vertigo. It had to get the trajectory straight in my head (a tumbling rifled bullet) and match it to my own (start rollin’? or tumblin’?). I’m pretty sure that I saw Jupiter rise about three times from three different horizons.
Finally I came to the external control panel for the forward hold. This is what I needed. Freighters generally loaded their aft holds first for stability against the thrust and for protection from the radiation of the engines. If the forward hold was full then I needed to look no further; the ship was full. If the forward hold was empty it offered an interior way for me to check the aft hold. I was still uneasy with the mag-boots and was uncomfortably aware of how easily I could come off of the surface.
The controls were straight-forward and I quickly punched in the responses to the safeties and twisted the lever.
There was a shudder as dozens of dogs were forcibly removed from their latches and levers strained to release. Suddenly the last catch gave way and as the door jumped open several meters I saw ice crystals quickly form from the air suddenly released. The ship gave a sudden lurch forward and I reflexively fell on my knees to keep balance. The hold had air pressure! The interlocks on the controls normally would have kept me from being able to perform the sudden decompression but the emergency bypass had allowed me to do it.
The force of the out-gassing air was going to alter the delta Vee of the ship and my preset program was not going to be able to keep up. As soon as I realized this I stood up and began clomping back toward the tether point as fast as I could.
I could tell I wasn’t going to make it. I had twenty meters to close while wearing these dammed magnetic boots. Already I could see the tether stiffen with the new stresses. Only a few more meters to go, a couple of more seconds. I could see the tether straighten, tension, and then, horror of horrors, I saw the magnetic foot detach and spring away under the tension of the cable. I was running now, desperate to grab that cable. Five meters to go, three meters to go. It was near the level of my head. I straightened out my legs to push against the magnets in my boots and timed the last few steps, closer to leaps. Two, one NOW and I strained to reach the cable. I could feel the sensation of the cable brushing against the surface of my gloves but my desperate snatches could not make home. I found myself in a slow lateral revolution between the two ships and without any apparent means of approaching either one. And drifting slowly away.
* * *
It is probably best to not print the exclamations that I emitted in the next few moments. Let’s just say that I was frustrated, panicked and extremely angry at myself. At that exact instant I did not know where the ships were, much less the direction to the cable that would take me to at least one of them.
I forced myself to calm. I was still breathing hard from the exertion to reach the cable. I tried to settle my breathing.
I knew what had happened and I tried to assess the situation. I knew that I had missed the cable by a matter of centimeters, millimeters really, so I just had to get back to where I came from. I was probably less than a meter away and our Vee was in mostly the same direction. I probably only needed to cover the couple of centimeters to put me within reach of the cable.
I wiggled around to give myself some lateral rotation so that I could see where I was. The derelict was a few meters under my feet; my ship a seemingly impossible distance away and the tether, the tantalizing, tempting tether, less than a meter away.
I needed delta Vee. With sudden clarity I knew what I had to do. I needed a jet and I had but one way to generate it. Before I could talk myself out of it I reached over with my right hand and unscrewed my left glove. I could feel the atmosphere running down my arm and out my sleeve as I pointed my arm in the direction that I figured was opposite of the tether.
Several things happened at once. My ears instantly clogged with the change in pressure, and I instinctively swallowed to try to clear them. I felt an intense cold on my left hand that grew worse, the pain becoming intense. I suddenly had an alarm in my ear that I hadn’t had before, screaming about a pressure loss. And I was moving.
I knew that I had been rotating by seeing the stars out of the corner of my eye. The sudden rush of pressure out of my left sleeve was giving me the push that I needed, but was it giving it in the right direction? My question was answered almost instantly as I felt the tether rub against the back of my suit. I grabbed the cable, tucked it under my arm, and then fumbled to replace my glove.
I had a problem. The pressure under my skin swelled my hand so much that I couldn’t get my glove back on. The sound of the air rushing by was decreasing as I fought with it. I was letting air out of my lungs to match the pressure loss in my suit and pretty soon it wouldn’t matter; I was seconds away from blacking out. The air bottles could not maintain a breathable pressure with the arm hole open. I fumbled with it for a moment then gave up. There was no way that glove was going to fit over that monstrosity my hand had become. I noticed, however, that the swelling of the hand had just about sealed off the air leak and I was able to pull my arm against the cuff. In addition the insulation from my sleeve was clogging the air leak. This slowed the air loss enough that the bottles could keep up, giving me enough pressure to maintain consciousness. I’d deal with the hand later. Wrapping my arms around the tether I gave a mighty jerk and launched myself towards my ship.
The out-gassing from my sleeve was whirling me around as I held onto the tether for dear life.
The few seconds to travel to my ship seemed like hours. In order to get the door closed the tether had to be rewound and I gritted my teeth in pain and impatience as the cable retracted. As the airlock pressurized the stress and excitement caught up with me. I removed my helmet; the inside was already dotted with flecks of blood from my nose and ears. First I vomited, then I passed out.
I was only out for a moment, though, as the pain on my left arm brought me back awake. The agony was now up to the shoulder. The flesh was purple but much of the swelling had gone down under the air pressure of the ship. I slowly peeled my suit off as best as I could one-handed. I had a moment of worry that I wouldn’t be able to get the pressure suit past my wrist. I kneaded the battered flesh and was able to slowly slide my wounded hand through the ring at the end of the sleeve.
At last I made it to the medical station and injected myself with pain-killers. The hand looked pretty bad but I could painfully flex my fingers so I didn’t think that I would lose it. Now that I no longer needed to save fuel for prospecting I could shoot a direct course to the medical facilities at Ceres Base at maximum thrust.
In spite of the pain I had a grin on my face that would have been tough to wipe off. I had claimed a salvage ship with cargo and, more importantly, I had pulled myself out of a situation that should have killed me. I thought of Crystal and I wished she could have been a part of this special moment. No, part wasn’t enough; I knew how badly I needed her.
I had looked death in the face and knew how close I had come. I knew there and then the hurt that I had caused the person that I loved the most. My life was no longer a rambling search of existence; I now knew the value of sharing the best and the worst of life with someone who enjoyed it with me. I had hurt the person whom I loved the most very badly and I had to repair that damage. My drinking had caused every problem in my life. I had quit once before and I was now determined that I would control my own life. It was going to be a long haul but I was ready.
I sent two messages to Ceres Base. The second was the location and frequency of my marker beacon, along with the details of my salvage application. The first was a personal to a certain lady staying at Gower’s Landing. It was much simpler. All that it said was, “I’m sorry.”