Author : G. Grim

Jim could hear chanting over his headpiece. “Blessed Saint Elmo, who walks in the high places, defend us from being cast down into the darkness of the void…”

Bunch of superstitious crap. Didn’t they outlaw shamanic religion a few cycles back? It wasn’t like some dead Homeworlder was going to protect any of them if their tethers failed. And besides, if there really were gods none of them would have ended up here, sentenced to spend the rest of their lives scouring grit off the side of a remote observation float.

“Why here? Damned space dust gets everywhere,” he muttered.

“Buckle up and blast out, lads. Pels, quit with the praying. If you’re so scared of space, maybe you shouldn’t have defaulted on your loan.”

Pels finally shut up. Jim felt bad about it – it’s not like selling disposables pays enough for surgery – but he was glad not to have the chanting distracting him. Blast out was always the worst part. Miss your tethering window and you’d be stuck for ten hours holding on with one hand and scouring with the other. And if you fell off, it was a long, cold fall.

Too soon he was at the airlock. The foreman made a perfunctory check of his suit before pushing him out. It wasn’t like they were too concerned about losing him, and the suits were as expendable as the scouring men, but it’d be months before Homeworld would ship out a replacement for either. One… Two… NOW. As he drifted out, he reached for the frame and clipped his tether into place, nice and easy.

If he could just get through this shift, they’d be off for the next five rotations. The techs in their shiny new suits needed to recalibrate something outside the float, and they sure as supernovas weren’t going out while the scouring men were. They could be clipped onto their tethers while Jim had a break for once. Maybe even a hot meal. Maybe even a shower.

He scoured as he thought about getting all the way out of his suit, paying little attention to anything outside his own head. Then he heard Pels start up the chanting again. It was different, though. Faster. Urgent. He looked over and saw a chunk of debris floating towards him. He looked around him for a handhold and realized to his horror that he’d drifted away from the frame, leaving nothing but his tether holding him in place. He reached for the tether, pulling himself hand over hand to the frame as fast as the clunky suit would let him.

Too late. He ducked instinctively as the debris passed by him, but he couldn’t pull the tether out of the way. It was crushed briefly between debris and float, the vibration of metal on metal transmitted up the wire to his hands. And as the wanderer bounced away, Jim felt himself drifting, carried away from the float by his own momentum.

He reached out for something, anything, hands flailing in a desperate attempt to stop the endless fall. Then, just as the float passed out of his sight, his tether jerked. He looked back to see Pels, chanting in earnest as she pulled him back by his broken tether.

Jim grabbed the frame tight. He’d worked without a tether before. He could do it today, cold sweat notwithstanding. He nodded his thanks to Pels, and as he started scouring again, he whispered, “Blessed Saint Elmo, who walks in the high places, defend us from being cast down into the darkness of the void.”

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