"Whoa, this is your pod??" Skip gasped, as they reached bay 59.
"Yamanaka Mark VII, right?" Skip remarked, as he poked his head into the hatch. "Fast craft - very nice." His smile fell immediately when he noticed the charge levels on the energy packs. Dozens of scenarios ran through his head. The solution space was huge for a single person, but for two, the curves all converged on a single answer.
"So, when can you have mine ready?" Jeena asked.
"Even if I wanted to, there aren't spare energy packs that I could swap in. See over there? When they evacuated, they took all the exchange packs with them."
"Well, it's not like my packs are totally empty. I’ll just go slowly, that’s all. Anything is better than hanging around here.”
"No solution. Your packs are at 23%. If you burn hot in the beginning, you'll be moving fast, but will run out of energy long before you reach the City. If you burn gentle at the start, your energy will last longer, but you'll be moving so slow, you'll be even further from the City when you finally run out. Either way, you eventually do get to the City - as a frozen corpse."
"I could make it," she insisted. "I don't need any energy for stopping. When I get in range of the City, I'll call for emergency deceleration."
"Great. So I’m stuck here another two hours while the packs recharge in dock," Jeena pouted.
“Maybe you didn’t know,” said Skip, “but when you park your pod and go off shopping, there’s a robot or an actual guy that comes in and swaps your packs with full ones. The dock charger is just a trickle, and would take days. Suicide, in other words. The Metalocusts will turn the station into a sieve by then. If you WANT to die, there are a lot less painful ways."
"And, naturally, you have a better idea."
"Yup," Skip began, "and it's simple, too.
"We take all the energy packs from both our pods and put them into one, stripped-down pod. Then, except for a life support reserve, we burn everything to tear out of here as fast as we can. We want maximum distance from the Metalocusts when the Fans go off."
"Together. Well THAT figures,“ Jeena remarked sarcastically. "Are you SURE this isn't some sort of sick, twisted scam to get a date with me?"
Until that point, Skip had let Jeena's subtle (and not-so-subtle) insults slide by. He knew he was no Adonis -- not that it really mattered, anyway. But no one could accuse him of premeditated inaccuracy. Accuracy was the Mengs' most deeply sacred value; distortion was anathema. All five points of the Oath related to accuracy in some way. An inaccurate Meng was like a Healer that did harm, or a teacher that molested his students. It was so sick, so perverted, it was unthinkable.
"SURELY, you're not suggesting that I would engage in willful distortion!" Skip said in a rising voice trembling with emotion. "Why don't you just check me against your fancy pod's five-proc Mind? Go ahead, ask it!"
"FINE, whatever," Jeena sighed dismissively. “Looks like you've got it all figured out, so call me when you've got it set up."
"Scenter," Skip interjected firmly, "this is the Outback. We don't have a non-working social class, here. If you're not planning to help, speak up now. With all the packs to myself, I'll have an easy trip out."
Jeena stood with arms crossed, glaring at him contemptuously. She refused to continue without an apology.
Skip waited patiently for her to get in touch with reality. He didn't dare look away from her - that would be yielding. Oh, no. He knew that look. He'd seen it too many times on his punk little sister. Impasse. Damn! I’m going to have to knuckle under. He hated surrendering when he was in the right, but realized he hated dying even more.
Skip took a deep breath, exhaled, and began.
"Look, Jeena, can we start over? I'm ... sorry I spoke so harshly to you. But I really do need your help. Our chances of making it out of here will be really poor unless we both put in one hundred percent. Please.”
Jeena seemed to be considering it, so Skip continued gently, "I'll start stripping unnecessary gear out of my pod; you can help by bringing over your energy packs. You can do it, 14 kilos isn't that heavy on Solon."
Jeena paused for a moment, perplexed. Why take the energy packs out of her pod? Unless...
"I KNOW you don't think we're taking YOUR pod!" she screamed. "That piece of junk isn't even hermetic!"
"It's nearly hermetic."
The last thing Jeena would have expected was partial agreement.
"What??!!” she cried. “Nearly? What do you mean, Nearly? Are you saying your pod actually has a GAS LEAK??"
"A really small one. Not a problem, it's been there over a year. The air recycler's a little weak, but has enough reserve to compensate."
"This is crazy," Jeena said. "My brand-new Yamanaka is obviously the better choice. It's comfortable, fast, safe . . ."
"Aside from being heavier, your sports pod is so small, we'd barely fit. And there's only one chair, so you'd be on my lap, or I'd be on yours. Now as incredible as this might seem to you, I don't think I'd enjoy it -- and I suspect you'd enjoy it even less. So unless you want to give me a two-week lap dance, I suggest we take my pod."
Jeena mulled over her choices. Option A: Probable death in a decrepit pod that could fall apart instantly, or worse, slowly asphyxiate her by air loss. Or, option B: fly in a safe pod, with her most intimate parts in close proximity to a dork for over two weeks.
"I'll take death," she muttered.
When Jeena didn't answer, Skip began estimating payload.
"Energy packs, 8 at 19.2 kilos each, processor modules, 3 at 0.6 kilos each, ... hey, what's your mass?"
Jeena shot him a look that would have liquefied Nitrogen.
Skip thought to himself, Why all the modesty when you have a perfect body? However, he vocalized a more interesting response: "You know, you're cute when you're angry."
"AAAUUUUUUGGHHH!!" Jeena screamed.
He felt a guilty pleasure in her reaction. Why did he enjoy irritating her? Skip took a quick appraisal up and down her body, being careful not to dwell on any politically incorrect areas, and continued, not quite inaudibly, "One stuck-up City skank, 60 kilos, . . ."
"54.3!" she fiercely interjected.
Skip suppressed a grin, and continued, “Hmm, the water will recycle, or course, but we should search for food." He descended into thought, unaware that his defocused gaze was again directed squarely at Jeena's chest.
"Hey, you won't find any down there, Dork!" Jeena seethed.
"I told you, I don't go by that."
"I'm not calling you Dork, I'm calling you A dork."
He had to grant that she was intelligent. A bitch, but a witty bitch.
"The galley is that way," said Skip, pointing down the corridor.
YOU ARE READING
Last Pod out of SolonScience Fiction
Mengs are selected for their innate math aptitude. They may be male or female, and span the spectrum of physical attractiveness. Scenters, on the other hand, are invariably female. Moreover, they are VERY female... --- The photo on the cover is c...