by H. B. Fyfe
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Orbit volume 1 number 2, 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
SHE WAS JUST A CRAZY BRAT—OR WAS SHE?
With over an hour to go before he needed to start braking for his landing on Luna, Pete Dudley sat at the controls of the rocket freighter and tried to think of anything else that needed checking after his spinning the ship. He drummed absently with the fingers of his right hand upon the buckle of the seat strap which restrained him from floating out of the padded acceleration seat.
"Let's see, tail's right out there in front. I got the angle perfect. Guess everything's okay."
He noticed his fingers drumming, and stopped.
"Cut that out!" he told himself. "Get nervous now and Jack'll be sending some other vacuum on the next Mars run. There's Ericsson dead center in the screen, waiting for you to plop down beside the domes. You couldn't miss a crater that size if you tried."
He leaned back and stared speculatively at the curving tip of the Lunar Rockies that ended in one of the largest craters on the far side of Luna. His eyes squinted slightly and there was a crease between them, as if he spent much time peering into instruments. There were deeper lines beside his mouth, but the thin lips and pointed chin neutralized that evidence of frequent smiling.
"Are we nearly there?"
Dudley's brown eyes opened so wide that the whites gleamed in the dim light from his instruments. Then he shut them tightly and shook his head quickly.
He had thought he heard a woman's voice, and of course he couldn't have. Freight rockets were checked out of Terran spaceports with only a pilot aboard. A lonely job for a man, but it was really only a way of keeping in practice. He made six round trips to Luna a year, but the big one was the three-month kick to Mars.
Then he smelled the perfume, so out of place in the machine-crowded compartment. He turned around slowly.
She stood with one hand gripping the lead of a computing machine to keep her feet on the deck. Dudley stared her up and down two or three times before he realized his mouth hung open.
Slim and about five-feet-four, she looked like a nice little girl making her first disastrous experiments with adult make-up. The slack suit of deep blue, revealing a soft white blouse at the neck of the jacket, was in the best of taste, but her heavy application of lipstick was crude.
And her hair isn't naturally ash-blonde, Dudley thought. Yet she looks like such a kid. Not pretty, but she might be in a few years.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded harshly.
For a second, her eyes were scared. Then the expression was supplanted by a hard, make-believe confidence, leaving him merely with a fading sense of shame at his tone.
"Same as you," she said boldly. "Going to Luna."
Dudley snorted. "Then relax," he growled, "because I can't stop you now. Where the devil did you spend the last thirty-six hours?"
She tried a grin. "In the little room where the things are that pump the air. I sneaked in the galley once, when you were asleep. Did you miss anything?"
"No," he admitted, thinking back.
"See? I'm not enough trouble to be noticed!"
Dudley eyed her sourly. There was trouble behind this somewhere, he was willing to bet, or else why had she stowed away? Running from a family fight? When the port checkers at Ericsson saw her—!
"How old are you, kid?" he asked.
The answer was too pat and quickly given. Even the girl seemed to realize that, and she continued talking. "My name's Kathi Foster.