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The Sky Trap

by Frank Belknap Long

Lawton enjoyed a good fight. He stood happily trading blows with Slashaway Tommy, his lean-fleshed torso gleaming with sweat. He preferred to work the pugnacity out of himself slowly, to savor it as it ebbed.

"Better luck next time, Slashaway," he said, and unlimbered a left hook that thudded against his opponent's jaw with such violence that the big, hairy ape crumpled to the resin and rolled over on his back.

Lawton brushed a lock of rust-colored hair back from his brow and stared down at the limp figure lying on the descending stratoship's slightly tilted athletic deck.

"Good work, Slashaway," he said. "You're primitive and beetle-browed, but you've got what it takes."

Lawton flattered himself that he was the opposite of primitive. High in the sky he had predicted the weather for eight days running, with far more accuracy than he could have put into a punch.

They'd flash his report all over Earth in a couple of minutes now. From New York to London to Singapore and back. In half an hour he'd be donning street clothes and stepping out feeling darned good.

He had fulfilled his weekly obligation to society by manipulating meteorological instruments for forty-five minutes, high in the warm, upper stratosphere and worked off his pugnacity by knocking down a professional gym slugger. He would have a full, glorious week now to work off all his other drives.

The stratoship's commander, Captain Forrester, had come up, and was staring at him reproachfully. "Dave, I don't hold with the reforming Johnnies who want to re-make human nature from the ground up. But you've got to admit our generation knows how to keep things humming with a minimum of stress. We don't have world wars now because we work off our pugnacity by sailing into gym sluggers eight or ten times a week. And since our romantic emotions can be taken care of by tactile television we're not at the mercy of every brainless bit of fluff's calculated ankle appeal."

Lawton turned, and regarded him quizzically. "Don't you suppose I realize that? You'd think I just blew in from Mars."

"All right. We have the outlets, the safety valves. They are supposed to keep us civilized. But you don't derive any benefit from them."

"The heck I don't. I exchange blows with Slashaway every time I board the Perseus. And as for women—well, there's just one woman in the world for me, and I wouldn't exchange her for all the Turkish images in the tactile broadcasts from Stamboul."

"Yes, I know. But you work off your primitive emotions with too much gusto. Even a cast-iron gym slugger can bruise. That last blow was—brutal. Just because Slashaway gets thumped and thudded all over by the medical staff twice a week doesn't mean he can take—"

The stratoship lurched suddenly. The deck heaved up under Lawton's feet, hurling him against Captain Forrester and spinning both men around so that they seemed to be waltzing together across the ship. The still limp gym slugger slid downward, colliding with a corrugated metal bulkhead and sloshing back and forth like a wet mackerel.

A full minute passed before Lawton could put a stop to that. Even while careening he had been alive to Slashaway's peril, and had tried to leap to his aid. But the ship's steadily increasing gyrations had hurled him away from the skipper and against a massive vaulting horse, barking the flesh from his shins and spilling him with violence onto the deck.

He crawled now toward the prone gym slugger on his hands and knees, his temples thudding. The gyrations ceased an instant before he reached Slashaway's side. With an effort he lifted the big man up, propped him against the bulkhead and shook him until his teeth rattled. "Slashaway," he muttered. "Slashaway, old fellow."

Slashaway opened blurred eyes, "Phew!" he muttered. "You sure socked me hard, sir."

"You went out like a light," explained Lawton gently. "A minute before the ship lurched."

"The ship lurched, sir?"

"Something's very wrong, Slashaway. The ship isn't moving. There are no vibrations and—Slashaway, are you hurt? Your skull thumped against that bulkhead so hard I was afraid—"

"Naw, I'm okay. Whatd'ya mean, the ship ain't moving? How could it stop?"

Lawton said. "I don't know, Slashaway." Helping the gym slugger to his feet he stared apprehensively about him. Captain Forrester was kneeling on the resin testing his hocks for sprains with splayed fingers, his features twitching.

"Hurt badly, sir?"

The Commander shook his head. "I don't think so. Dave, we are twenty thousand feet up, so how in hell could we be stationary in space?"

"It's all yours, skipper."

"I must say you're helpful."

Forrester got painfully to his feet and limped toward the athletic compartment's...

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