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Take an intergalactic journey with science fiction luminary Harry Harrison. In The Repairman, Harrison recounts the travails of a lone skilled laborer who is charged with the frustrating task of making a crucial repair to malfunctioning equipment on a far-flung planet.
21 pages, with a reading time of ~0.5 hours (5,490 words), and first published in 1958. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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The Old Man had that look of intense glee on his face that meant someone was in for a very rough time. Since we were alone, it took no great feat of intelligence to figure it would be me. I talked first, bold attack being the best defense and so forth.
“I quit. Don’t bother telling me what dirty job you have cooked up, because I have already quit and you do not want to reveal company secrets to me.”
The grin was even wider now and he actually chortled as he thumbed a button on his console. A thick legal document slid out of the delivery slot onto his desk.
“This is your contract,” he said. “It tells how and when you will work. A steel-and-vanadium-bound contract that you couldn’t crack with a molecular disruptor.”
I leaned out quickly, grabbed it and threw it into the air with a single motion. Before it could fall, I had my Solar out and, with a wide-angle shot, burned the contract to ashes.
The Old Man pressed the button again and another contract slid out on his desk. If possible, the smile was still wider now.
“I should have said a duplicate of your contract–like this one here.” He made a quick note on his secretary plate. “I have deducted 13 credits from your salary for the cost of the duplicate–as well as a 100-credit fine for firing a Solar inside a building.”
I slumped, defeated, waiting for the blow to land. The Old Man fondled my contract.
“According to this document, you can’t quit. Ever. Therefore I have a little job I know you’ll enjoy. Repair job. The Centauri beacon has shut down. It’s a Mark III beacon….”
“What kind of beacon?” I asked him. I have repaired hyperspace beacons from one arm of the Galaxy to the other and was sure I had worked on every type or model made. But I had never heard of this kind.
“Mark III,” the Old Man repeated, practically chortling. “I never heard of it either until Records dug up the specs. They found them buried in the back of their oldest warehouse. This was the earliest type of beacon ever built–by Earth, no less. Considering its location on one of the Proxima Centauri planets, it might very well be the first beacon.”
I looked at the blueprints he handed me and felt my eyes glaze with horror.