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Postmark ganymede, p.1
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       Postmark Ganymede, p.1

           Robert Silverberg
 
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Postmark Ganymede


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  POSTMARK GANYMEDE

  By ROBERT SILVERBERG

  _Consider the poor mailman of the future. To "sleet and snow and dead of night"--things that must not keep him from his appointed rounds--will be added, sub-zero void, meteors, and planets that won't stay put. Maybe he'll decide that for six cents an ounce it just ain't worth it._

  "I'm washed up," Preston growled bitterly. "They made a postman out ofme. Me--a postman!"

  He crumpled the assignment memo into a small, hard ball and hurled it atthe bristly image of himself in the bar mirror. He hadn't shaved inthree days--which was how long it had been since he had been notified ofhis removal from Space Patrol Service and his transfer to PostalDelivery.

  Suddenly, Preston felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and saw aman in the trim gray of a Patrolman's uniform.

  "What do you want, Dawes?"

  "Chief's been looking for you, Preston. It's time for you to get goingon your run."

  Preston scowled. "Time to go deliver the mail, eh?" He spat. "Don't theyhave anything better to do with good spacemen than make letter carriersout of them?"

  * * * * *

  The other man shook his head. "You won't get anywhere grousing about it,Preston. Your papers don't specify which branch you're assigned to, andif they want to make you carry the mail--that's it." His voice becamesuddenly gentle. "Come on, Pres. One last drink, and then let's go. Youdon't want to spoil a good record, do you?"

  "No," Preston said reflectively. He gulped his drink and stood up."Okay. I'm ready. Neither snow nor rain shall stay me from my appointedrounds, or however the damned thing goes."

  "That's a smart attitude, Preston. Come on--I'll walk you over toAdministration."

  * * * * *

  Savagely, Preston ripped away the hand that the other had put around hisshoulders. "I can get there myself. At least give me credit for that!"

  "Okay," Dawes said, shrugging. "Well--good luck, Preston."

  "Yeah. Thanks. Thanks real lots."

  He pushed his way past the man in Space Grays and shouldered past acouple of barflies as he left. He pushed open the door of the bar andstood outside for a moment.

  It was near midnight, and the sky over Nome Spaceport was bright withstars. Preston's trained eye picked out Mars, Jupiter, Uranus. Therethey were--waiting. But he would spend the rest of his days ferryingletters on the Ganymede run.

  He sucked in the cold night air of summertime Alaska and squared hisshoulders.

  * * * * *

  Two hours later, Preston sat at the controls of a one-man patrol shipjust as he had in the old days. Only the control panel was bare wherethe firing studs for the heavy guns was found in regular patrol ships.And in the cargo hold instead of crates of spare ammo there were threebulging sacks of mail destined for the colony on Ganymede.

  _Slight difference_, Preston thought, as he set up his blasting pattern.

  "Okay, Preston," came the voice from the tower. "You've got clearance."

  "Cheers," Preston said, and yanked the blast-lever. The ship joltedupward, and for a second he felt a little of the old thrill--until heremembered.

  He took the ship out in space, saw the blackness in the viewplate. Theradio crackled.

  "Come in, Postal Ship. Come in, Postal Ship."

  "I'm in. What do you want?"

  "We're your convoy," a hard voice said. "Patrol Ship 08756, LieutenantMellors, above you. Down at three o'clock, Patrol Ship 10732, LieutenantGunderson. We'll take you through the Pirate Belt."

  Preston felt his face go hot with shame. Mellors! Gunderson! They wouldstick two of his old sidekicks on the job of guarding him.

  "Please acknowledge," Mellors said.

  "The iceworms were not expecting any mail--just themailman."]

  Preston paused. Then: "Postal Ship 1872, Lieutenant Preston aboard. Iacknowledge message."

  There was a stunned silence. "_Preston?_ Hal Preston?"

  "The one and only," Preston said.

  "What are you doing on a Postal ship?" Mellors asked.

  "Why don't you ask the Chief that? He's the one who yanked me out of thePatrol and put me here."

  "Can you beat that?" Gunderson asked incredulously. "Hal Preston, on aPostal ship."

  "Yeah. Incredible, isn't it?" Preston asked bitterly. "You can't believeyour ears. Well, you better believe it, because here I am."

  "Must be some clerical error," Gunderson said.

  "Let's change the subject," Preston snapped.

  They were silent for a few moments, as the three ships--two armed, oneloaded with mail for Ganymede--streaked outward away from Earth.Manipulating his controls with the ease of long experience, Prestonguided the ship smoothly toward the gleaming bulk of far-off Jupiter.Even at this distance, he could see five or six bright pips surroundingthe huge planet. There was Callisto, and--ah--there was Ganymede.

  He made computations, checked his controls, figured orbits. Anything tokeep from having to talk to his two ex-Patrolmates or from having tothink about the humiliating job he was on. Anything to--

  * * * * *

  "_Pirates! Moving up at two o'clock!_"

  Preston came awake. He picked off the location of the pirateships--there were two of them, coming up out of the asteroid belt.Small, deadly, compact, they orbited toward him.

  He pounded the instrument panel in impotent rage, looking for the gunsthat weren't there.

  "Don't worry, Pres," came Mellors' voice. "We'll take care of them foryou."

  "Thanks," Preston said bitterly. He watched as the pirate shipsapproached, longing to trade places with the men in the Patrol shipsabove and below him.

  Suddenly a bright spear of flame lashed out across space and the hull ofGunderson's ship glowed cherry red. "I'm okay," Gunderson reportedimmediately. "Screens took the charge."

  Preston gripped his controls and threw the ship into a plunging divethat dropped it back behind the protection of both Patrol ships. He sawGunderson and Mellors converge on one of the pirates. Two blue beamslicked out, and the pirate ship exploded.

  But then the second pirate swooped down in an unexpected dive. "Lookout!" Preston yelled helplessly--but it was too late. Beams ripped intothe hull of Mellors' ship, and a dark fissure line opened down the sideof the ship. Preston smashed his hand against the control panel. Betterto die in an honest dogfight than to live this way!

  It was one against one, now--Gunderson against the pirate. Prestondropped back again to take advantage of the Patrol ship's protection.

  "I'm going to try a diversionary tactic," Gunderson said on untappabletight-beam. "Get ready to cut under and streak for Ganymede with all yougot."

  "Check."

  Preston watched as the tactic got under way. Gunderson's ship traveledin a long, looping spiral that drew the pirate into the upper quadrantof space. His path free, Preston guided his ship under the other two andtoward unobstructed freedom. As he looked back, he saw Gundersonsteaming for the pirate on a sure collision orbit.

  He turned away. The score was two Patrolmen dead, two ships wrecked--butthe mails would get through.

  Shaking his head, Preston leaned forward over his control board andheaded on toward Ganymede.

  * * * * *

  The blue-white, frozen moon hung beneath him. Preston snapped on theradio.

  "Ganymede Colony? Come in, please. T
his is your Postal Ship." The wordstasted sour in his mouth.

  There was silence for a second. "Come in, Ganymede," Preston repeatedimpatiently--and then the sound of a distress signal cut across hisaudio pickup.

  It was coming on wide beam from the satellite below--and they had cutout all receiving facilities in an attempt to step up their transmitter.Preston reached for the wide-beam stud, pressed it.

  "Okay, I pick up your signal, Ganymede. Come in, now!"

  "This is Ganymede," a tense voice said. "We've got trouble down here.Who are you?"

  "Mail ship," Preston said. "From Earth.
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