Who would have thought that "Mayday" Merrick would have fallen for Olga Golenko? He the handsome, square-jawed pilot who regularly broke the hearts of sighing young women (it was said), she the formidable assistant cook at Olee's Bar on the edge of Ganymede Spaceport, noted for the perfection of her fried eggs and her ability to balance six beer kegs on her broad shoulders when unloading the quarterly supply transport from Earth.
A less likely match could not possibly have been devised by a thousand AIs generating random word combinations for a thousand Galactic cycles. And yet....
Buddy brought the grim news. He stumbled into the bar, pushed his way through the early afternoon crowd and sprawled across the counter, gasping for breath.
"Mayday's a gonner," he told his avid listeners, after they'd poured two beers down his throat to revive him. "He was flying out to Camp Nineteen on South Plateau. Magstorm came up fast, before he could get out of there." Buddy shook his head sadly and started on his third free beer. "And that was all Mama wrote."
The bar's customers might have commented then, but the same magstorm that had swatted Merrick's supply plane out of the sky hit the Spaceport, sending needles into the red. These murderous storms came two, maybe three times each orbit, when Jupiter's moody and unpredictable magnetic field reached out to slap her satellites hard. Nobody knew why, but the Ganny colonists called such storms Mariah. Staff and customers cowered under the tables as Mariah tried to shake the bar to pieces. The Van Allen defense shield activated, instantly flaring into the high violet. Would it hold? That was the question uppermost in everyone's mind. If the shield overloaded then it was frying time for every electronic component in the Spaceport. AIs, control systems, atmospheric recycling plants, heating units, even airlocks would all cease working. A colony's worst nightmare, and very possibly its death knell.
It was difficult to hear much of anything, what with the whole place bucking up and down and threatening to come apart, but heads turned and eyes widened when the throaty growl of a Turbocrawler’s engines rose above the magstorm’s howl. Olee staggered to a viewport and peered outside. His mouth fell open in shock. His beloved Turbocrawler, which had cost him a small fortune to have transported from Earth, circled around the bar and headed straight for the Van Allen shield wall. The unmistakable figure of Olga, his assistant cook, sat hunched over the controls. The TC plunged into the shield wall—and vanished from sight.
Merrick groaned as the dexymorphine2 shot slowly began to wear off and his broken legs throbbed painfully. Jupiter knew how long before he could expect help to arrive—if it ever did. Once the magstorm died down, the Company would probably radio the North Plateau mining camp and ask them to send one of their planes down, but Merrick didn’t know whether the North camp had any aircraft capable of making a thousand-klick journey, never mind setting down in the mountains to rescue him. Wait, didn’t Digger Hendrick fly a VSTOL plane? Merrick thought so, but it seemed unlikely that Hendrick of all people would risk his plane or the lucrative North Plateau supply contract just to save Merrick’s neck. If their positions were reversed, Merrick might feel exactly the same way. He’d probably find excuses not to go.
He shivered, even though his helmet display confirmed his pressure suit temperature was holding steady. Shock, he supposed. From the way the smashed control board lay across his legs, he guessed he’d maybe sustained compound fractures. Could he die of shock? That was a distinct possibility. Hardly had this unhappy thought passed through his mind when his plane groaned and shifted position, grinding against the rock face. Merrick gritted his teeth, expecting the wreckage to drop free of the jagged outcrop’s embrace and plunge into the darkness below—a darkness that concealed a ten-mile drop into a nameless canyon, according to his directional radar. Miraculously the plane snagged again and hung there.
[End of Excerpt]