The Planet Strappers
The Planet Strappers
THE ARCHER FIVE CAME IN a big packing box, bound with steel ribbons and marked, This end up-handle with care . It was delivered at a subsidized government surplus price of fifty dollars to Hendricks' Sports and Hobbies Center, a store in Jarviston, Minnesota, that used to deal mostly in skin diving equipment, model plane kits, parts for souping up old cars, and the like. The Archer Five was a bit obsolete for the elegant U.S. Space Force boys-hence the fantastic drop in price from two thousand dollars since only last June. It was still a plenty-good piece of equipment, however; and the cost change was a real break for the Bunch.
By 4:30 that bright October afternoon, those members who were attending regular astronautics classes at Jarviston Technical College had gathered at Hendricks' store. Ramos and Tiflin, two wild characters with seldom-cut hair and pipe stem pants, who didn't look as if they could be trusted with a delicate unpacking operation, broke the Archer out with a care born of love, there in Paul Hendricks' big backroom shop, while the more stolid members-and old Paul, silent in his swivel chair-watched like hawks.
"So who tries it on first?" Ramos challenged. "Dumb question. You, Eileen-naturally."
Most Bunches have a small, hard, ponytailed member, dungareed like the rest.
Still kidding around, Ramos dropped an arm across Eileen Sands' shoulders, and got her sharp elbow jabbed with vigor into his stomach.
She glanced back in a feminine way at Frank Nelsen, a tall, lean guy of nineteen, butch-haircutted and snub featured. But he was the purposeful, studious kind, more an observer and a personal doer than a leader; he hadn't much time for the encouraging smiles of girls, and donning even an Archer Five now instead of within a few hours, didn't exactly represent his kind of hurry.
"I'll wait, Eileen," he said. Then he nodded toward Gimp Hines. That the others would also pick Gimp was evident at once. There were bravos and clapping, half for a joke.
"Think I won't?" Gimp growled, tossing his crutches on a workbench littered with scraps of color-coded wire, and hopping forward on the one leg that had grown to normal size. He sort of swaggered, Frank Nelsen noticed. Maybe the whole Bunch swaggered with him in a way, because, right now, he represented all of them in their difficult aim. Gimp Hines, with the nylon patch in his congenitally imperfect heart, and with that useless right underpinning, had less chance of taking part in space-development than any of them-even with all his talent for mechanics and electronics.
Two-and-Two (George) Baines, a large, mild person who was an expert bricklayer in his spare time, while he struggled to absorb the intricate math that spacemen are supposed to know-he used to protest that he could at least add two and two-bounced forward, saying, "I'll give yuh a hand, Gimp."
Mitch Storey, the lean colored kid with the passion for all plant life, and the specific urge to get somehow out to Mars, was also moving to help Gimp into the Archer. Gimp waved them off angrily, but they valeted for him, anyhow.
"Shucks, Gimp," Storey soothed. "Anybody needs assistance-the first time..."
They got his good leg, and what there was of the other, into the boots. They laced carefully, following all they had learned from books. They rolled the wire-braced silicone rubber body-section up over his torso, guided his arms into the sleeves, closed the zipper-sealers and centered the chest plate. While the others checked with their eyes, they inspected the nipples of the moisture-reclaimer and chlorophane air-restorer capsules. They lifted the helmet of clear, darkened plastic over his head, and dogged it to the gasket with the automatic turnbuckles. By then, Gimp Hines' own quick fingers, in the gloves, were busy snapping this and adjusting that. There was a sl