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COLLISION ORBIT

BY K. MACLEAN

The mountain men who opened up the frontier
in the west weren't settlers, they were trappers,
traders, fighters and gunmen—the men
who didn't fit back home. The kind of men who
will be needed on the frontier of space....

I was drowsing when I heard the airlock clanking and banging. Anyone can come into my ship, glance through the magazines, play the films and select food from the stock without me bothering to wake up until they're ready to buy something, but this sound was different. By the way they were clanging and cursing and trying to get the airlock to work, they were strangers. I came wide awake.

Last month's load of news from Earth had some interesting stories. Four convicts were missing from New San Quentin. There had been a bank robbery three days later with a really terrific haul of money taken. After that the Earth to Moon lift ship had taken off with apparently a full load, but six of the passengers never reported in on the Moon after the ship landed and were considered to be missing, and one of them had been found dead on Earth a mile away from take off point.

An hour and a half after the Lift ship had landed at Luna, the space ship Phobus, of the Luna to Phobus-Mars run, took off suddenly without waiting for cargo, and vanished into space with only her pilot and first engineer known to be on board.

The news was a month old by the time it got to me, but it was easy to add those three items up. The convicts had the ship and were heading for the Asteroid Belt.

Well here they were at the Asteroid Belt. First stop, Sam's Place. I grinned slightly and unscrewed two of the knobs, on the radio screwed one back in the wrong place and put the other under the counter. Then I switched the radio on to Send, in spite of the fact the knob said Receive. They were coming. Yawning, I swung around on my revolving chair.

"Careful with the airlock. Air's not free around here."

They crowded in, four figures muffled in heavy spacesuits with green globes concealing their heads.

"Don't move, Mister." Two guns were suddenly pointed at my middle.

"Good evening, Gentlemen," I said amiably. "I was expecting you would drop in. What can I sell you?"

"You didn't expect us, Fatty," said one taking off his helmet and showing a young haggard face that needed a shave. He snickered nervously, put out his hand and was given a gun by one who reached up and began taking off his own helmet. The young one was nervous hut not stupid, for with the gun pointing steadily at me he moved quickly to one side as far as he could get. He leaned against the front wall to cover me from the opposite direction of the other gun holder. Whatever ideas I'd had about maneuvering one in front of the other and grabbing a gun vanished right then.

"Shove that funny-talk, Mister....

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