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Title: Satellite System
Author: Fyfe, Horace Brown, 1918-1997
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Satellite System" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                         Transcriber's Note:

 This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction October 1960.
 Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on
 this publication was renewed.


                              SATELLITE

                                SYSTEM


                            By H. B. FYFE


         _Fyfe's quite right ... there's nothing like a satellite
          system for a cold storage arrangement. Keeps things handy,
          but out of the way...._

                        Illustrated by Summers

       *       *       *       *       *



Having released the netting of his bunk, George Tremont floated
himself out. He ran his tongue around his mouth and grimaced.

"Wonder how long I slept ... feels like too long," he muttered. "Well,
they would have called me."

The "cabin" was a ninety-degree wedge of a cylinder hardly eight feet
high. From one end of its outer arc across to the other was just over
ten feet, so that it had been necessary to bevel two corners of the
hinged, three-by-seven bunk to clear the sides of the wedge. Lockers
flattened the arc behind the bunk.

Tremont maneuvered himself into a vertical position in the eighteen
inches between the bunk and a flat surface that cut off the point of
the wedge. He stretched out an arm to remove towel and razor from one
of the lockers, then carefully folded the bunk upward and hooked it
securely in place.

With room to turn now, he swung around and slid open a double door in
the flat surface, revealing a shaft three feet square whose center was
also the theoretical intersection of his cabin walls. Tremont pulled
himself into the shaft. From "up" forward, light leaked through a
partly open hatch, and he could hear a murmur of voices as he
jackknifed in the opposite direction.

"At least two of them are up there," he grunted.

He wondered which of the other three cabins was occupied, meanwhile
pulling himself along by the ladder rungs welded to one corner of the
shaft. He reached a slightly wider section aft, which boasted
entrances to two air locks, a spacesuit locker, a galley, and a head.
He entered the last, noting the murmur of air-conditioning machinery
on the other side of the bulkhead.

Tremont hooked a foot under a toehold to maintain his position facing
a mirror. He plugged in his razor, turned on the exhauster in the slot
below the mirror to keep the clippings out of his eyes, and began to
shave. As the beard disappeared, he considered the deals he had come
to Centauri to put through.

"A funny business!" he told his image. "Dealing in ideas! Can you
really sell a man's thoughts?"

Beginning to work around his chin, he decided that it actually was
practical. Ideas, in fact, were almost the only kind of import worth
bringing from Sol to Alpha Centauri. Large-scale shipments of
necessities were handled by the Federated Governments. To carry even
precious or power metals to Earth or to return with any type of
manufactured luxury was simply too expensive in money, fuel, effort,
and time.

On the other hand, traveling back every five years to buy up plans and
licenses for the latest inventions or processes--_that_ was profitable
enough to provide a good living for many a man in Tremont's business.
All he needed were a number of reliable contacts and a good knowledge
of the needs of the three planets and four satellites colonized in
the Centaurian system.

Only three days earlier, Tremont had returned from his most recent
trip to the old star, landing from the great interstellar ship on the
outer moon of Centauri VII. There he leased this small rocket--the
_Annabel_, registered more officially as the AC7-4-525--for his local
traveling. It would be another five days before he reached the
inhabited moons of Centauri VI.

He stopped next in the galley for a quick breakfast out of tubes,
regretting the greater convenience of the starship, then returned the
towel and razor to his cabin. He decided that his slightly rumpled
shirt and slacks of utilitarian gray would do for another day. About
thirty-eight, an inch or two less than six feet and muscularly slim,
Tremont had an air of habitual neatness. His dark hair, thinning at
the temples, was clipped short and brushed straight back. There were
smile wrinkles at the corners of his blue eyes and grooving his lean
cheeks.

He closed the cabin doors and pulled himself forward to enter the
control room through the partly open hatch. The forward bulkhead
offered no more head room than did his own cabin, but there seemed to
be more breathing space because this chamber was not quartered. Deck
space, however, was at such a premium because of the controls,
acceleration couches, and astrogating equipment that the hatch was the
largest clear area.

Two men and a girl turned startled eyes upon Tremont as he rose into
their view. One of the men, about forty-five but sporting a youngish
manner to match his blond crewcut and tanned features, glanced quickly
at his wrist watch.

"Am I too early?" demanded Tremont with sudden coldness. "What are you
doing with my case there?"

The girl, in her early twenties and carefully pretty with her long
black hair neatly netted for space, snatched back a small hand from
the steel strongbox that was shaped to fit into an attaché case. The
second man, under thirty but thick-waisted in a gray tee-shirt, said
in the next breath, "Take him!"

Too late, Tremont saw that the speaker had already braced a foot
against the far bulkhead. Then the broad face with its crooked blob of
a nose above a ridiculous little mustache shot across the chamber at
him. Desperately, Tremont groped for a hold that would help him either
to avoid the charge or to pull himself back into the shaft, but he was
caught half in and half out.

He met the rush with a fist, but the tangle of bodies immediately
became confusing beyond belief as the other pair joined in.

Something cracked across the back of his head, much too hard to have
been accidental.

When Tremont began to function again, it took him only a few seconds
to realize that life had been going on without him for some little
time.

For one thing, the heavy man's nosebleed had stopped, and he was
tenderly combing blood from his mustache with a fingertip.

For another, they had managed to stuff Tremont into a spacesuit and
haul him down the shaft to the air lock. Someone had noosed the thumbs
of the gauntlets together and tied the cord to the harness supporting
the air tanks.

Tremont twisted his head around to eye the three of them without
speaking. He was trying to decide where he had made his mistake.

Bill Braigh, the elderly youth with the crewcut? Ralph Peters, the
pilot who had come with the ship? Dorothy Stauber, the trim brunette
who had made the trip from Earth on the same starship as Tremont? He
could not make up his mind without more to go on.

Then he remembered with a sinking sensation that _all_ of them had
been clustered about his case of papers and microfilms when he had
interrupted them.

"I trust you aren't thinking of making us any trouble, Tremont,"
drawled Braigh. "Give up the idea; you've been no trouble at all."

"Where do you think this is getting you?" demanded Tremont.

Braigh chuckled.

"Wherever it would have gotten you," he said. "Only at less expense."

"Ask him for the combination," growled Peters.

Braigh scrutinized Tremont's expression.

"It would probably take us a while, Ralph," he decided regretfully.
"It's simpler to put him outside now and be free to use tools on the
box."

Tremont opened his mouth to protest, but Braigh clapped the helmet
over his head and screwed it fast.

"You'll never read the code!" yelled Tremont, struggling to break
free. "Those papers are no good to you without me!"

Someone slammed him against the bulkhead and held him there with his
face to it. He could do nothing with his hands, joined as they were,
and very little with his feet. It dawned upon him that they could not
hear a word, and he fell silent. Twisting his head to peer out the
side curve of his vision band, he caught a glimpse of Peters suiting
up.

A few minutes later, they opened the inner hatch of the air lock and
shoved Tremont inside. Peters followed, gripping him firmly about the
knees from behind.

"Here we go!" grunted Peters, and Tremont realized that he could
communicate again, over their suit radios.

"You won't get far, trying to read the code I have those papers
written in," he warned. "You'd better talk this over before you make a
mistake."

"Ain't no mistake about it," said Peters, pressing toward the outer
hatch. "So you chartered the rocket. You felt you oughta go out to see
about a heavy dust particle hitting the hull. You fell off an' we
never found you."

"How will you explain not going yourself? Or not finding me by
instruments?"

Peters clubbed Tremont's foot from the tank rack he had hooked with
the toe.

"How could I go? Leave the ship without a pilot? An' the screens are
for pickin' up meteorites far enough out to mean somethin' at the
speeds they travel. So you were too close to register, leastways till
it was way too late. You must have suffocated when your air ran out."

Tremont scrabbled about with his feet for some kind of hold. The outer
hatch began to open. He could see stars out there.

"Wait!" shouted Tremont.

It was too late. He felt himself shoot forward as if Peters had thrust
a foot into the small of his back and shoved. Tremont tried to grab at
the edge of the air lock, but it was gone. A puff of air frosted about
him, its human bullet.

       *       *       *       *       *

The stars spun slowly before his eyes. After a moment, the gleaming
hull of the _Annabel_ swam into his field of view. It was already
thirty feet away and the air lock was closing. He caught a glimpse of
a spacesuited figure with the light behind it.

Then he was looking at the stars again.

The small, distant brilliance of Alpha Centauri made him squint in the
split second before the suit's photoelectric cells caused filters to
flip down before his eyes. Then it was stars again, and the filters
retracted.

"They can't do this!" said Tremont. "_Peters!_ Do you hear me? You
can't get away with this!"

There was no answer.

The rocket came into view again, farther away. He had to get back
somehow. Forgetting the bound position of his hands, he attempted to
check his belt equipment. Holding his arms as far as possible from his
body was not enough to let him get a look at the harness from within
his helmet.

He tugged violently at the cord holding the thumbs of his gauntlets,
and thought it gave slightly.

_Maybe it just tightened_, he thought.

To free his hands, he drew his arms in through the wide armpits of the
suit sleeves, built that way to enable the wearer to feed himself,
wipe his brow, or adjust clothing or heating units within the suit. He
felt more comfortable but that got him nowhere except for the chance
to consult his wrist watch.

Set at the lunar time of Centauri VII-4, it told him that when he had
gone out of the airlock five minutes before the time had been 17:36.
It did not strike Tremont as being a very promising bit of
data--warning him merely that when he began to feel the want of air,
it would be about 21:30. He longed for a pen-knife.

"_There's_ one thing I'm going to ask about on my next trip to Sol--if
I make one!" he muttered. "Has anyone developed a reliable, small
_suit_ air lock, so you can pass things out from your pockets?"

He thrust his hands once more into the arms of the suit, and felt as
far along his belt as he could. He did manage to reach the usual
position of the standard rocket pistol. The hook was empty.

"Well, that's that!" he groaned. "They didn't forget. I have nothing
to maneuver with."

He pondered worriedly. Perhaps the air--if he dared to waste any, it
would make a small jet. Slow, but he had all the rest of his life!

He settled down to picking at the cord about his thumbs with the tips
of the other fingers in his gauntlets. It seemed possible that he
might in time chew it up to the point where it could be snapped.

The stars streamed slowly past his line of vision as he spun through
the emptiness. Two or three little bits of the cord chipped off and
drifted away. Tremont realized that it was frozen and brittle. He
redoubled his efforts. After a few minutes of clumsy clicking of
fingertips against thumbs, he strained to pull his hands apart.

The cord parted and his arms jerked out to their full spread with such
suddenness that he felt his backbone creak. For a moment, he hung
motionless inside his suit, wondering if he had hurt himself.

Recovering, he groped about, checking for his equipment. He discovered
that nothing had been left. No knife, no rocket pistol, no line with
magnet for securing oneself to a hull.

_Well, at least I can reach the valves of the air tanks_, he reassured
himself.

He watched for the ship, so as to judge his direction. Several minutes
passed before he allowed himself to recognize the truth of his
situation: he could no longer see the gleam of Alpha Centauri on the
hull!

He was already too far out to dare to waste air. He might give away
his last four hours of life just to send himself in the wrong
direction.

"How did I get myself into this?" he groaned.

       *       *       *       *       *

He set himself to thinking back to his meetings with the others.
Dorothy Stauber had landed from the same starship after passage from
Sol, but he had not become acquainted with her during the trip except
to pass the time of day. He seemed to remember that she had turned up
in the Customs dome to ask his advice on travel....

"Ye-ah!" he growled to himself. "_After_ I phoned to lease a rocket.
She must have known, but how?"

Someone in the shipping office? Well, why not Peters, the pilot? And
then Braigh had come along, pretending to have been on his way back to
Centauri VI and hoping to buy a fast passage on a small vessel for
business reasons. He had been free and ready with his money, leading
Tremont to consider cutting his own expenses on the charter.

It seemed, on the face of it, that the three of them had never met
until the _Annabel_ lifted.

"But they had, all right!" Tremont told himself. "That was no chance,
anywhere along the line. I've been very neatly highjacked!"

The girl must have trailed him to make sure they picked up the right
man. Braigh had never explained exactly what he was doing on the
satellite; he could have arranged for the assignment of the rocket, or
perhaps of the pilot, when Tremont called. Then they had gathered
around to hitch rides, and had been in control ever since.

Tremont looked at the slowly progressing constellations and cursed
himself. He began to have the feeling that there would be no way out
of this. They would regret pitching him into space in such an offhand
manner, he reminded himself, when they opened his case. It would be
too late as far as he was concerned.

_Come to think of it_, he considered, _that Braigh looks pretty smart,
under that idiot-kid pose. He might just break my code, given time.
And the parts made up of model photos or drawings he can sell almost
as is._

When he came to think of it, Tremont was surprised that no one had
tried the same racket before. He had laid out a fortune for what the
three thieves were stealing from him.

He drew in his left arm again and raised the wrist to the neck of his
helmet. By looking down his nose, he discovered to his surprise that
he had been out nearly an hour. He had wasted more time than he
thought in reviewing his earlier encounters with Dorothy aboard the
starship and the others at the spaceport.

He raised the water tube to his mouth and sucked in a mouthful. The
taste was stale.

_I could do with a beer, if this is the way I'm going out_, he
thought. _They can joke all they want about dying in bed after
traveling to the stars; but you could order a beer even if it killed
you._

It gradually dawned upon him that the hazy light he had accepted as
being a nebula must be something closer. He watched for it, and
discovered after a few moments that it was growing brighter. It
continued to do so for half an hour.

"It might be another ship!" he breathed, then he began to shout,
"Mayday! Mayday!" over his radio.

He kept it up for nearly a quarter of an hour, even after the outline
was definitely recognizable as a rocket. He found himself drifting
across its course near the bow. It was hard to estimate the distance,
but he guessed it to be something like a hundred yards.

_Drifting?_ he asked himself. _It should be going past me like a
shooting star! Unless they took exactly the same curve from Centauri
VII--_

Then he could read the numbers he feared to see. AC7-4-525. His own
ship.

He had gone out of the air lock mainly on a puff of air, with some
fumbling help from Peters. That had been enough to send him out of
sight of the ship--in space, not necessarily very far--and now he was
back, after two hours.

_A long, flat orbit in relation to the ship_, he told himself,
remembering in time to avoid speaking aloud that Braigh might be at
the ship's radio, _but actually weaving back and forth across the
rocket's course, just nipping it at this end_.

He edged a hand inside the suit again and turned off his radio. If he
found an answer, it would be fatal to be overheard mumbling about it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The ship now seemed to be rushing at him, and Tremont deduced that his
orbital speed had increased as he approached the focus represented by
the _Annabel_. He would doubtless pass near the air lock at about his
expulsion speed.

"Here's the chance!" he exulted. "A little air let out to slow down ... or
even just to veer close enough to lay hands on something! You launched me,
Peters, but you didn't lose me."

Getting through the airlock should be easy enough. He might be well up
the shaft before the others emerged from the control room. In fact,
unless Peters were on watch, the air lock operating signal might flash
unnoticed on the board.

"And I'll be cracking skulls before they know what's up!" he growled.

It struck him with a flash of ironic amusement that he had not felt
half so much hate when believing himself doomed. After two hours of
sweating out his helplessness, he had discovered a lively resentment
of the vicious callousness with which he had been jettisoned.

He was only about twenty-five yards away now, seemingly circling the
ship. Peering closer, he saw that actually he was sweeping in toward
it.

_Now, be ready with the air tank valve, just in case!_ he warned
himself.

The great fins loomed to his right; the hull blotted most of the sky
from his view. It looked as if he would curve down to a spot beside
the same air lock from which he had been expelled. It seemed to be
still open.

Then he saw the shape of a helmet rise around the curve of the ship.
Someone was out on the hull.

Tremont switched on his radio and listened.

The spacesuited figure climbed completely into view. There appeared to
be a line running from the belt into the air lock, and the figure
carried a long pole of some sort.

"Oh, there you are, Tremont!" came Braigh's voice over the receiver.
"I've been waiting for you."

The chuckle that followed made Tremont curse, which in turn provoked a
hearty laugh from the other.

"You didn't think I'd forget you?" asked Braigh. "We figured out what
happened as soon as we heard you putting out those distress calls.
After that, it was just a matter of timing. Have you had an amusing
trip?"

"Have you found out you can't make anything of those papers yet?"
countered Tremont.

"Oh, the coding? It might take a little time, but we have plenty ...
now, now, Tremont! That kind of abusive language will get you
nowhere."

Tremont had drifted to a point above the other's head, almost within
reach. He was kicking out in little motions that betrayed his
eagerness to come to grips with Braigh or _something_ solid.

"Why, Tremont! I do believe that you thought I came out to bargain
with you," chuckled the blond man. "Not at all! I told you that you'd
be no trouble. I just came out to finish the job Peters bungled."

Tremont saw the pole jabbing upward at his stomach. Instinctively, he
grabbed at the end. Braigh was not disturbed.

"Take it with you, then!" he laughed, letting go his end with a
powerful push. "Let me know if you're alive the next time you come
around, so I can come out again."

Tremont began to swear at him, then got a grip on himself long enough
to snap his radio off.

He had begun pulling himself down the pole when Braigh had shoved.
That sapped some of the force, but it was still enough to send him
spinning out into the void once more.

The ship receded slowly. He saw Braigh return to the air lock and
enter. A moment later, that light was cut off, and Tremont began to
back off into space as he had the first time.

_They know all about it_, he realized. _They could leave me any time
just by burning a little fuel. Peters wouldn't care about wasting
it--I paid for it. Maybe he's just too lazy to calculate the course
correction._

If so, he decided, the pilot was right. Tremont might drift back, but
two more hours from now, when he would be at his closest, would be too
late. He would be too near the end of his air to use it to make sure
of the last few feet.

He looked at the pole in his grip. It was an eight-foot section of
aluminum from the cargo racks.

"Maybe ..." he muttered.

Whirling the pole around by the end, he managed after considerable
trial and error, to slow his wild spin enough to keep the ship in
view.

The only question then was whether he dared to take the chance; and he
really had but one choice. The full orbit would be too long a period.

He estimated as well as he could the direction of his progress,
allowed a few degrees which he fondly hoped would curve him in to a
closer approach at the meeting point, and hurled the pole into space
with all his strength.

After that, there was nothing to do but wait and hope that he had cut
his speed enough to bring him to the ship ahead of schedule by a
shorter orbit.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tremont finally gave up looking at his watch when he found himself
peeping every three minutes, on the average. The immensity of space
was by now instilling in him a psychological chill, and he drew both
arms in from their sleeves to hug an illusion of warmth to him. The
air pressure in the sleeves gradually overpowered the springs of the
joints, and extended them to make a cross.

As far as he could tell from the gauges lined in a miniature row
along the neckpiece of the suit, his heating system was functioning as
designed. The batteries had an excellent chance of lasting longer than
he would.

He began to dwell upon thoughts of squeezing Peters in the steel grip
of his gauntlets until the pilot's fat face turned purple and his eyes
popped. Another promising activity would be to bang Braigh's head
against a bulkhead with one hand and Dorothy's with the other.

_Wonder if they found the gun in my locker?_ he mused.

Finally, only a lifetime or two after he hoped to see it, he sighted
the ship again. His watch claimed the trip had lasted less than ninety
minutes.

He encountered unexpected trouble approaching the hull. Realizing that
he was lucky to come close at all by such a guess, he tried to steer
himself with brief jets from his air tank, and wound up on the verge
of bashing directly into a fin. He avoided that, but had to use more
air to spin back for a more gentle contact.

The metal felt like solid Earth to him as he seized the edge of a fin
and planted the magnets of his boots firmly on the hull.

It was perhaps twenty minutes later, when Tremont was beginning to
worry again about his air supply, that the hatch of the air lock began
to open.

Crystals of frost puffed out as the water vapor left the air. Braigh's
helmet appeared, then the whole spacesuited figure floated up before
the spot where Tremont was watching. The highjacker dropped the
magnet of his life line against the hull and started to turn around.

Tremont grabbed the edge of the hatch with one hand, yanked the magnet
loose with the other, and kicked Braigh in the right area.

The spacesuited figure shot off, tumbling end over end, into the void.
A startled squawk sounded over Tremont's receiver.

"See how _you_ like it!" he snarled.

He ignored the begging of the suddenly frightened voice, and dived
into the air lock. In seconds, he had the outer hatch shut and was
nervously watching the air pressure building up on the gauge.

_If they notice at all, they'll think it's Braigh coming back!_ he
exulted.

He made it into the central shaft without meeting anyone. Pulling
himself forward in the bulky suit was an awkward task, but well worth
it for the expression on Peters' face when Tremont burst through the
control-room hatch.

After dealing with the pilot in about two minutes, most of it spent in
catching him, Tremont went back along the shaft and found Dorothy in
her bunk. Before she could release the netting, he folded the bunk
upon her and secured it to the hook. Only then did he allow himself
the time to remove his helmet and make free of the ship's air.

"What are you going to do?" demanded the girl, rather shrilly.

Tremont realized that she must have seen the unconscious Peters
floating outside in the shaft.

"You won't like it!" he promised.

"Tremont! I didn't know they'd do anything to you. Can't ... you and I ...
make some kind of ... deal?"

Tremont stared at her levelly.

"But I'd have to really sleep sometime," he pointed out gently. "How
can I trust you...?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He was hardly a million miles out from the satellite system of
Centauri VI when the Space Patrol ship he had called managed to put a
pilot aboard to land the _Annabel_ for him on the largest moon.

Tremont returned wearily from helping the man in the air lock--which
he did with a practiced efficiency that surprised the pilot--to resume
his talk with the patrol-ship captain waiting on the screen.

"We could have done it sooner, you know," said the latter curiously.
"Well, now that I see him beside you, perhaps you'll explain your
request to delay, and also what those pips trailing you are."

"It's all the same story," said Tremont, and explained his
difficulties.

The patrol captain frowned and expressed a wish to lay hands on the
highjackers.

"Well, they're due back in"--Tremont consulted his watch--"about two
hours. I wanted them near the ends of their orbits as you approached."

"You mean there are three bodies out there?"

"Live ones, in spacesuits," said Tremont. "Experience is a great
teacher. As soon as I sighted Braigh coming back, I set up a regular
system."

He explained how he had removed all tools from the three spacesuits,
added extra tanks, and stuffed the trio into them, either unconscious
or at gunpoint.

"Then, having fastened the ankles together and wired the wrists to the
thighs so they couldn't move at all, I launched them one at a time
with enough pressure in the air lock to give four-hour orbits. That
gave me sleeping time."

"And what about them?" asked the captain.

"Oh, at the end of that period, they'd come drifting in at one-hour
intervals. Counting all the necessary operations, each of them got
thirty minutes actually out of the suit to eat and so on. Then out
he'd go while I fished in the next one. They didn't like it, but they
weren't so tough one at a time."

"Let's see--" mused the captain. "Every four hours, you'd have to
spend ... why, only two hours processing them. As a result, you kept
complete control and came shooting in here with your own satellite
system revolving about you."

"And your friends? How have they been passing the time?"

"Well, either figuring out how to take me next time," guessed Tremont,
"or wishing they were moving in more honest circles!"

END

       *       *       *       *       *





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Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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