Author : Helstrom

Lousy food, filthy lodging, and a loan to pay for my trip up the skyhook. It was a bad deal by any standard, but I’d taken it. If you were born on a Venus colony, there were only three places to go: down into the atmosphere, up to the space stations, or sideways to one of the other colonies. I’d chosen up – it had better exit opportunities.

Now I was upside-down, insofar as you could call it that in free-fall, stuffing dunnage bags behind a cargo container. It was amazing how many ways people had tried to make square blocks fit into round holes over the years. This container was hexagonal, for some unfathomable reason, and making it fit into a semi-spherical cargo bay next to cubic ore pellets was no small task. Worse, I had to figure out the mass distribution on the fly, because this ship’s captain was apparently such a cheapskate he didn’t have his own cargo master. If the distribution was off, the ship would wobble during burn and the trip to Earth orbit would become both uncomfortable and expensive.

Joe’s voice cracked into my ears: “Don’t get yourself wedged in there. Too close to chow time for me to come pullin’ ya out.”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t worry. You hired me because I’m small.”

So small, in fact, I wore a rigger’s harness over my spacesuit to keep it from billowing out in all kinds of unflattering and dangerous ways. ‘One size fits all’ said the optimistic label in the collar; and under it, courtesy of one of the suit’s previous owners: ‘duct tape and rubber bands not included.’

“Nope. Hired you ’cause you was the only son of a bitch what would take the job.”

Speaking of cheapskates, Joe’s picture should probably be next to that particular entry in the dictionary. He hired out most of the longshoremen at Eltoo Station and achieved stellar profit margins by cutting every corner he could and a few more besides.

The crane handed in the next container. Triangular. For Christ’s sake.

After a ten-hour shift and the obligatory one-hour exercise designed to strain your bones, stretch your muscles and race your blood, I was wracked. Before going to sleep I sat myself down in the Eltoo Saloon with a cup of barely potable moonshine. To my surprise, I was joined by a man I didn’t know who brought a couple of bottles of decent Earth-import beer to the table.

“You Joe’s longshoreman?” He said, “Packed the Galloper today?”

“I am,” I replied, and took the beer, “And you are?”

“Zeke Klein – Galloper’s my boat.”

I smiled – folks didn’t often say thanks, let alone bring a beer for the occasion: “Here’s to a job well done then, eh?”

Zeke didn’t smile. “Not as well as it might have been.”

I shifted in my seat: “Look, if there’s a problem, I’m sure Joe…”

“With a cargo master of my own. Seems to me you got an understanding of packing. Work hard too. Finish that beer and I’ve got an offer for you.”

Lousy food, filthy lodging, and a loan to pay off Joe. It was a bad deal by any standard, but I took it. If you worked the dock on a Venus station, there were only three places to go – down to the atmospheric colonies, up into interplanetary space, or sideways to another station. I chose up.

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