Cluster

Free Cluster by Piers Anthony

Book: Cluster by Piers Anthony Read Free Book Online
Authors: Piers Anthony
choice, they would keep a very close eye on him. And the planet-ransom they had already expended in fetching him here suggested the answer. He could put that to the test, and might use it to bargain with. If they really thought he was prepared to die rather than submit to transfer, they just might treat him kindly in an effort to bring him around. And the greatest kindness they could do him would be to mattermit him home to think it over.
    His decision was made. He would gamble his life and sanity on the assumption that he was really important. That two-trillion dollar investment suggested better odds than the fifty-fifty of freeze-traveling.
    The capsule would not go all the way to the spaceport. Like his thoughts, it sheered off from the target unless really pressed. Was the spaceport off limits?
    All right. Flint pushed buttons until the capsule, confused by conflicting directives, stalled in place. Like a dinosaur, it wasn't very smart. Then he forced open the lid, exerting pressure he knew was beyond the capacity of most civilized men. He climbed out and dropped to the wire. It was guyed at regular intervals–how the capsules got past those connections he wasn't sure–and poles went to the ground. It wasn't as handy as a vine tree, but it wasn't difficult either. The gravity of this planet was slightly less than at Outworld, giving extra buoyancy.
    Solarian pedestrians stared as he came down. It was not his green skin that impressed them, for the natives of Earth were of several colors themselves; it was rather his agility that claimed their attention. They were advanced culturally, but regressed physically. He could fathom their weakness just by looking at them, and it disgusted him. So he ignored them and made his way at a lope toward the spaceport. Naturally his whereabouts would soon be reported, if they didn't have a spy-beam on him already. However, that was the idea. He was acting exactly as they would expect him to. If they really wanted this savage, they would close the net quickly and thus provide him his leverage.
    Starships were always in need of strong men for hull repairs en route and things like that, the Shaman had said. The dust of space constantly pitted surfaces, and sometimes larger debris gouged out little craters that had to be patched. Maybe that was why so many freezers were lost; no one to patch up the damage. It was not the big meteors that took out ships, but the steady accumulation of microscopic abrasion that could finally hole the hull if not watched. They'd take him aboard, no questions asked.
    To one side of the spaceport, there was an incredible expanse of water. Flint had never seen water in greater amount than a temporary flood lake before. This was monstrous, stretching from the spaceport all the way to the horizon. And it had waves: large traveling ripples that moved to the shoreline and dissolved in thinning froth. It was hypnotic, and he quickly tore his eyes away lest he fall into a trance. So much water!
    Then he saw something just inside the fence. It was a moving pebble—no, it was alive! A blob of flesh dragging along a housing of something like bone. In fact—his memory trotted out one of thy myriad incidentals the Shaman had mentioned—this must be a snail.
    Earth certainly had its wonders. But there was no time to gawk now. He had business to attend to. “'Bye, snail,” he said, for the moment childlike in his discovery.
    He navigated the fence easily, avoiding its electric shock by leaping, straightened out his ludicrous tunic, and walked boldly into the little office. “I'm looking for work,” he said, imitating the heavy Earth accent as well as he could.
    The man at the desk didn't even look up. “Next ship's for Vega. Computer parts. Fifty year haul. Standard enlistment bonus. No stops, sterile girls. Burial in space if you don't make it.”
    So they gave money for signing up, and provided playgirls for the fifty year trip. The

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