To Carolyn Ross
Who's a long way away, but only physically
June 1, Year 26 of Governor Halys
1000 hours, Venus time
"We can get one more aboard, Sal," called Tom Harrigan from the hatch of the lighter across the
temporary orbital dock from theGallant Sallie.
Captain Sarah—Sal—Blythe checked her vessel's hold and said, "No, let 'em go, Tom. We've got two
turbines and the crate of spare rotors left, so there'll be a part-load anyway. Tell them to start bringing the
return cargo on the next lift, though. We can have the last of this waiting in the dock and our hold clear by
the time they get back up."
The access tube connecting the lighter to the dock was three meters long. The valve at the inner end of
the tube opened automatically when the air pressure on both sides was equal. The system formed a
simple airlock while the outer end was attached to a ship's pressurized hold or cabin.
Technically the business of shifting cargo after a vessel docked was the responsibility of the planetary
staff, but Lilymead wasn't really set up to handle cargoes in orbit. The ships that traded to Near Space
colonies like Lilymead put down on the unimproved field and waited for tractors to haul lowboys full of
stevedores to them over dirt blasted by the exhaust of other vessels.
The huge freighters in which the North American Federation voyaged to the Reaches touched in Near
Space only when leakage and slow progress forced them to resupply their reaction mass and
atmosphere. Those monsters rarely dared to land on ports without hardened pads and full facilities.
Lilymead had a remotely controlled water buffalo to ferry water and air up to them.
Harrigan—Sal's mate—and the starboard watch of eight crewmen slid from the lighter's hold with the
delicacy of men experienced with weightless conditions. The Federation lighter's own crew of two wasn't
enough to handle cargo as massive as these turbines, even if Sal had been willing to wait while the locals
did the job. The dock was