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by Harry Harrison
Category: Science Fiction
Description: The Mark III Hyperspace Beacon was the earliest type of beacon ever built--by Earth, no less. It was located on one of the Proxima Centauri planets, and it wasn't working. This was one of those jobs when being an interstellar trouble-shooter wouldn't have been so bad--if he could have shot the trouble! A classic science fiction tale from the author of the "Stainless Steel Rat," "Bill the Galactic Hero," and "Eden" series!
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 1958 USA
eBookwise Release Date: July 2007
89 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [28 KB]
Reading time: 15-21 min.
I looked at the blueprints he handed me and felt my eyes glaze with horror. "It's a monstrosity! It looks more like a distillery than a beacon--must be at least a few hundred meters high. I'm a repairman, not an archeologist. This pile of junk is over 2000 years old. Just forget about it and build a new one."
The Old Man leaned over his desk, breathing into my face. "It would take a year to install a new beacon--besides being too expensive--and this relic is on one of the main routes. We have ships making fifteen-light-year detours now."
He leaned back, wiped his hands on his handkerchief and gave me Lecture Forty-four on Company Duty and My Troubles.
"This department is officially called Maintenance and Repair, when it really should be called trouble-shooting. Hyperspace beacons are made to last forever--or damn close to it. When one of them breaks down, it is never an accident, and repairing the thing is never a matter of just plugging in a new part."
He was telling me--the guy who did the job while he sat back on his fat paycheck in an air-conditioned office.
He rambled on. "How I wish that were all it took! I would have a fleet of parts ships and junior mechanics to install them. But its not like that at all. I have a fleet of expensive ships that are equipped to do almost anything--manned by a bunch of irresponsibles like you."
I nodded moodily at his pointing finger.
"How I wish I could fire you all! Combination space-jockeys, mechanics, engineers, soldiers, con-men and anything else it takes to do the repairs. I have to browbeat, bribe, blackmail and bulldoze you thugs into doing a simple job. If you think you're fed up, just think how I feel. But the ships must go through! The beacons must operate!"
I recognized this deathless line as the curtain speech and crawled to my feet. He threw the Mark III file at me and went back to scratching in his papers. Just as I reached the door, he looked up and impaled me on his finger again.
"And don't get any fancy ideas about jumping your contract. We can attach that bank account of yours on Algol II long before you could draw the money out."
I smiled, a little weakly, I'm afraid, as if I had never meant to keep that account a secret. His spies were getting more efficient every day. Walking down the hall, I tried to figure a way to transfer the money without his catching on--and knew at the same time he was figuring a way to outfigure me.
It was all very depressing, so I stopped for a drink, then went on to the spaceport.