by Miriam English

Her name is printed on her helmet above her visor: Cherry. Her features are Asian. She is a white, space-suited figure, small and fragile clinging to the enormous curved hull of the exploration ship Snoopy. That vessel is in turn dwarfed by the armed patrol ship clamping Snoopy to its belly. And they're both insignificant specks in the vast blackness of space.

When Cherry presses her helmet against the hull she can hear the whine and wheeze of the airlocks operating; Snoopy is being boarded. She can visualise the armed guards pouring through the airlock into Snoopy like angry ants. The ship would be searched for smuggled goods and illegal passengers.

She remembers meeting the owner of Snoopy at one of the outer station nightclubs where she was waitressing. She was a sturdily built middle-aged woman, sharp-eyed and earnest. They met when Cherry finished work that night and again the next night and for every night of her 16 day stay. They enjoyed each other's company without sex intruding; talking and visiting some of the other stations and seeing 3Ds.

Cherry smiles gently as she remembers one occasion in the station's conservatory. The woman is lying on her stomach along the edge of a pond watching the carp as they nibble at her fingers in the water. Cherry sits nearby, legs crossed on the lawn. "Would you take me out to the asteroids with you when you leave?"

She doesn't answer immediately, "It's dangerous, If they catch you, you're dead. They just eject you from the ship into space... unless you have the money to bribe them." She is frowning when she looks back up to Cherry.

She looks away from the older woman to the reeds and waterlillies. This could almost be somewhere on Earth except for the dome superstructure above. "Money is why I need to go. Here I barely earn enough to survive on; out there I could save for a small ship of my own."

Now here is Cherry, holding onto a maintenance rung on the side of this spacecraft somewhere outside Mars orbit while the patrollers inspect the interior.

She closes her eyes. Seeing again the chaos when the patrol ship was detected: the alarm siren and computer voice warning and people scurrying to throw their caches of booty out the airlocks away from the approaching ship. Everybody smuggles.

Cherry is an illegal passenger. She dons her space suit and heads for an airlock, clipping her helmet on as she runs.

The only noise out here is her breathing and the occasional message over the suit radio.

Suddenly the bulk of Snoopy begins moving away from her. She grips the rung tightly. The ship is accelerating, trailing Cherry.

They must be impounding the entire ship, she realises with despair,

Cherry hangs on in terror for what seems ages. The impression of her dangling from the gigantic, smooth belly of the ship over the yawning abyss of eternity is so strong her mind reels with vertigo.

Eventually, she can no longer hold on as the ship continues to accelerate. She slips, screaming, falling away. Falling, falling, falling.

The ship races away above, shrinking, shrinking, to a fleck, then gone, while she falls alone in the silence of space.

copyright ©1989 by Miriam English