Life Pod

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Two men escape from their damaged spaceship, each in a separate life pod. One of the men directs the other to a damaged life pod to get even for a past grievance--stealing his girl.
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  By Donald SullivanErnie Jensen watched as the mining crew unloaded the last supply container fromthe ship. The foreman, who had been checking off supplies as they wereunloaded, signed for the supplies and handed the clipboard to Ernie.“Everything’s there,” the foreman said. All signed and ready. You guys can headback to Earth now. I know you must hate to leave our beautiful asteroid belt, butall good things must come to an end.” He grinned. “How many asteroids did youvisit this trip?”“Counting yours,” Ernie replied, “we supplied six mining crews on four asteroids.We’ve been out here nearly three weeks, and as much as we like it here, we’re gladto head back to terra firma.”“You guys are lucky,” said the foreman. “Our crews have to stay on these rocksfor one year tours.” He winked. “If it wasn’t for the money, I’d quit.”“Hey, Ernie, you gonna gab all day?” It was the voice of his copilot, MacMcGinnis, coming through his headphones. “Let’s get away from this forsakenplace, pronto.”Ernie laughed as he stepped through the airlock. “Ready when you are.”*****The ship’s chronometer indicated forty-two hours had passed since leaving AsteroidAlpha Kay. Ernie had just finished his coffee and was ready to relieve Mac at theControls when the ship went crazy. The ship shuddered, as an aircraft does whenit hits air pockets. Bells sounded and lights flashed.Ernie raced to the control cabin to find Mac getting a readout on damage. Macturned to Ernie.“A small meteoroid went through the ship,” he said. “A one in ten million chance,and it hit us.”Ernie looked at the readout. ABANDON SHIP. LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM DAMAGED. MANLIFE PODS IMMEDIATELY.“We’re near enough to Alpha Kay that we can make it in a life pod easily,” saidErnie. “Give them a call that we’re on our way.”“I’ve been trying,” Mac replied. “Looks like our communications are knocked out.We’d better grab a pod before life support goes out completely. One of the pods,LP-I, was damaged, but the remaining two are OK. Be sure you don’t take that one.”The two men sped to the pod launcher. Mac leaped in one of the pods. “I’ll takeLP-II,” he said.Ernie reached Bay III, and was ready to jump in the pod before he noticed that thebay, which should have held LP-III, actually held LP-1. Damn! A maintenanceworker had mixed up the life pods and placed them in the wrong bays.A siren went off indicating that only seconds of life support remained. Erniequickly jumped into the remaining pod and activated the launcher. Seconds laterhe was launched from the supply ship.Ernie tried to contact Alpha Kay with the pod radio, but without success. “Mac,are you reading me?”“Loud and clear, Ernie. Pod-to-pod communications seem to be okay. We must be alittle too far from Alpha Kay for the range of these radios.”“We’re damn lucky to be near enough to the asteroid to make it in these pods,”said Ernie. “We’d have been up the creek without a paddle if we’d been muchfarther out.”Mac was quiet for a few seconds, and then spoke.“Ernie?”“Go ahead.”“How you feel?”“Okay. No problems. Why do you ask?”“Before I tell you why I ask, I want to remind you of something. Remember whenyou stole Judy from me?”  Ernie wondered why Mac was brining this up. “Mac, I thought that was allforgotten. Anyway, I didn’t steal her. You know that. Judy’s got a mind of herown.”“Before you came along, she was mine. We were deeply in love and engaged to bemarried. But you changed all that. You enticed her away from me. You stole her,Ernie. You were my friend, and it was a dirty low-down thing to do.”“I thought we were still friends, Mac. I thought this was settled long ago. Judyand I were attracted to each other from the start. We just gravitated toward eachother, that’s all. We’re going to be married soon. Why the devil are youbringing this up now?”“Because I’m going to get even with you now. You wanted to know why I asked howyou felt. I asked you that because you are in the damaged pod, my friend. Yourlife support will be going out soon. You see, it was LP-III that was damaged, notLP-I as I told you.“When I saw the readout indicating that LP-III was damaged, I decided that fatewas giving me a way to pay you back. When I get back Earthside, I’ll reclaimher.”“Mac, this is crazy. Look, there’s still a way out of this. These are one-manpods, but are designed to carry two in an emergency. We cam still link up the twopods. Let me aboard your pod, and I swear there won’t be another word said aboutit. The two of us can make it to Alpha Kay in one pod easily.”“Judy should see you now. The great Ernie Jensen begging. C’mon, Ernie, beg somemore. Grovel. I like to hear it.”“Dammit, Mac, be reasonable. What will you gain by this?”“I’ll get my girl back. And I’ll get to hear you sniveling and begging. I wishJudy could hear you whining now. But don’t worry. I won’t tell her that youwhined. I’ll tell her how you died bravely while I tried to rescue you.”“C’mon Mac. This has gone far enough. Let’s link up the pods. Let me aboard,and as far as I’m concerned this never happened.”“Even if I gave in to your groveling, we couldn’t link up. I saw to that bysabotaging the linkup mechanism in my pod. I’m afraid you’re stuck on LP-IIIuntil the end, my friend.”“Mac?”“Yeah.”Just before we left the ship, I noticed something. The pods somehow got mixed upand were not placed in their matching bays. LP-I was in Bay III. I jumped intothe pod in Bay I. I was in a hurry, and didn’t notice which pod was there, but Iam looking at the ID plate in my pod, Mac, and I see LP-II. That means that LP-III, the pod you jumped in, was in bay II. The computer is linked directly to thepods, not the bays, so the readout you saw was correct. You are in LP-III, Mac,the damaged pod. Check your ID plate.After a moment of silence, Mac’s voice came over the radio. “Hey look, I was onlykidding about sabotaging the docking mechanism in my pod. It works fine. Don’tleave me, Ernie. You said you’d be willing to forget what happened, remember?”“We’ll discuss that later. But right now we’d better start docking maneuvers.”“Please hurry.” Mac’s voice was urgent. “The warning light just came on. I onlyhave about a minute until life support fails.”They completed docking maneuvers, and Ernie activated the docking mechanism. Ared light flashed: DOCKING MECHANISM OUT OF ORDER.“Mac, we can’t link up. My docking mechanism doesn’t work.”“Damn, Ernie, this is no time for games. My life support’s going.” Mac wasgasping. “Please, Ernie. I’ll die...do something. Help me.”“It’s for real, Mac. I’m not playing games. The mechanism isn’t working.”Mac was sobbing. “Please, please Ernie. Can’t you do something?”“Sorry, Mac. There’s nothing I can do. But I promise to tell Judy that youdidn’t whine, and that you went bravely.” ***THE END***
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