Author : Leland Stillman
Dustin is dusting off the cutting-torch. I am pulling on my space boots. It is odd to think that we are farmers, the true first profession, now done only on space platforms.
“We’ll be cuttin’ a while,” he says to me.
Space hooligans have mangled our dairy equipment. They come up from the surface, wielding crow bars from fumbling space-suit hands, and laughing lonely in the silence of space. But their friends in the waiting orbit cars laugh with them when they return, so I can understand why they do it.
It doesn’t mean I’m not pissed as hell that hundreds of gallons of milk aren’t floating out into oblivion, to burn up in atmo or hit some hapless spaceman who will wonder who is masturbating out the airlock.
“I’ll prime the second tank,” I say, and I reach over to open the valve on our reserve oxygen tank. I pull on my helmet, and tap Dustin’s face plate to signal I am ready. He hits the red button, and the airlock hisses shut behind us, the air sucking through to leave us in our vacuum. And then the front door starts to open. We hung a wreath on it, for a joke, and it now flies wildly as the door judders open.
We crawl out, careful not to launch ourselves into oblivion, and edge toward the hemorrhaging milk tanks. I swear inside my helmet. My microphone is off, and I do it for my own satisfaction. Few spacemen abstain from talking to themselves. We are the best company around.
He flies past me, and before I can radio Dustin the space hooligan has knocked him off the platform roof and into space. I swear as Dustin’s oxygen cord snaps. Precious gasses spew out into space, until his fail safe kicks in and it stops. His air will last thirty minutes. His transponder is already flashing, and he has wisely stopped all motion, knowing it will conserve oxygen. But there’s no reason to worry. These are not the crazy days of early space farming, where a bad jump could send you to your grave on Mars or Pluto, your bones to be puzzled over later, after being scoured by wind into something unrecognizable and so, the scientists will say in ecstasy, possibly alien. The space patrol will home in on his transponder and rescue him.
The hooligan is climbing back into space using a belt mounted jet pack, towards the waiting orbit car, where I can see his friends pumping their fists and slapping each others’ shoulders, and laughing.
I feel my own cutting-torch in my hand. If I throw it, the planet-siders will just send a new one to their brave space farmers. I am a pretty good shot with these things. We spacemen have competitions, every so often, sending broken equipment slowly spinning into space and we send tools hurtling after it, to be picked up by the magnetic fields of scrap-metalers that we call beforehand.
I think of throwing my cutting-torch, a lonely riposte that I alone will enjoy. I wish Dustin were here. Then I’d throw, or we’d both throw, and laughing we would scamper back inside to grab more cutting-torches, because milk is still billowing at four dollars a gallon into space.
I crawl toward the milk cloud, cutting-torch still in hand, wondering where I will need to fuse the pipes shut.