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[Illustration: We call them trouble shooters. They called 'em Gypsies. Either way, they were hep to that whole bit about....]

Hansen was sitting at the control board in the single building on Communications Relay Station 43.4SC, when the emergency light flashed on for the first time in two hundred years.

With textbook recommended swiftness, he located the position of the ship sending the call, identified the ship and the name of its captain, and made contact.

"This is Hansen on 43.4SC. Put me through to Captain Fromer."

"Fromer here," said an incredible deep voice, "what the devil do you want?"

"What do I want?" asked the astonished Hansen. "It was you, sir, who sent the emergency call."

"I did no such thing," said Fromer with great certainty.

"But the light flashed "

"How long have you been out of school?" Fromer asked.

"Almost a year, sir, but that doesn't change the fact that "

"That you're imagining things and that you've been sitting on that asteroid hoping that something would happen to break the monotony. Now leave me the hell alone or I'll put you on report."

"Now look here," Hansen began, practically beside himself with frustration, "I saw that emergency light go on. Maybe it was activated automatically when something went out of order on your ship."

"I don't allow emergencies on the Euclid Queen," said Fromer with growing anger. "Now, if you don't "

Hansen spared himself the indignity of being cut off. He broke contact himself. He sighed, reached for a book entitled Emergency Procedure Rules , and settled back in his chair.

Fifteen minutes later the emergency light flashed on for the second time in two hundred years. With its red glow illuminating his freckled excited face, Hansen triumphantly placed another call to the Euclid Queen.

"This is Hansen on 43.4SC. Let me speak to Captain Fromer, please."

"Er the Captain has asked me to contact you. I'm the navigator. I was just about to call you. We have a small problem that "

"I'll speak to the Captain," Hansen repeated grimly.

"Now see here. I'm perfectly capable of handling this situation. Actually, it's hardly even an emergency. You were, it seems, signaled automatically when "

"If you'll check your emergency procedures," Hansen said, holding his thumb in the Rule Book, "you'll note that the Relay Station Attendant contacts the Captain personally during all emergencies. Of course, if you want to violate "

"Look, old man," said the navigator, now sounding on the verge of tears, "try to realize the spot I'm in. Fromer has ordered me to handle this thing without his assistance. He seems to feel that you have a grudge of some kind "

"If you don't put me in touch with Captain Fromer in five minutes, I'll put through a call to Sector Headquarters." Hansen signaled off contact. If he knew nothing else about the situation, he knew that he had the upper hand.

Five minutes later Captain Fromer called him back. "I am calling in accordance with emergency procedures," Fromer said between clinched teeth. "The situation is this: We are reporting an emergency "

"What class emergency?" Hansen interrupted.

"Class?" asked Fromer, obviously caught off guard.

"Yes, Captain. There are three classes of emergencies. Major class, which would include death and injury. Mechanical class, including malfunction of Hegler units and such. And General class "

"Yes, yes, of course, General class by all means," Fromer said hurriedly. "You see, it's hardly even an emergency. We "

"Just what is the nature of the trouble, Captain?"

"Why, uh, well it seems that we were doing a preliminary landing procedure check, and ..."

"Yes, go on."

"Why, er, it seems that we can't get the door open."

It was Hansen's turn to be taken aback. "You're pulling my leg, sir."

"I most certainly am not," Captain Fromer said emphatically... Continue reading book >>

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