The Days of Perky Pat
At ten in the morning a terrific horn, familiar to him, hooted Sam Regan out of his sleep, and he cursed the careboy upstairs; he knew the racket was deliberate. The careboy, circling, wanted to be certain that flukers – and not merely wild animals – got the care parcels that were to be dropped.
We’ll get them, we’ll get them, Sam Regan said to himself as he zipped his dust-proof overalls, put his feet into boots and then grumpily sauntered as slowly as possible toward the ramp. Several other flukers joined him, all showing similar irritation.
“He’s early today,” Tod Morrison complained. “And I’ll bet it’s all staples, sugar and flour and lard – nothing interesting like say candy.”
“We ought to be grateful,” Norman Schein said.
“Grateful!” Tod halted to stare at him. “GRATEFUL?”
“Yes,” Schein said. “What do you think we’d be eating without them: If they hadn’t seen the clouds ten years ago.”
“Well,” Tod said sullenly, “I just don’t like them to come early; I actually don’t exactly mind their coming, as such.”
As he put his shoulders against the lid at the top of the ramp, Schein said genially, “That’s mighty tolerant of you, Tod boy. I’m sure the careboys would be pleased to hear your sentiments.”
Of the three of them, Sam Regan was the last to reach the surface; he did not like the upstairs at all, and he did not care who knew it. And anyhow, no one could compel him to leave the safety of the Pinole Fluke-pit; it was entirely his business, and he noted now that a number of his fellow flukers had elected to remain below in their quarters, confident that those who did answer the horn would bring them back something.
“It’s bright,” Tod murmured, blinking in the sun.
The care ship sparkled close overhead, set against the gray sky as if hanging from an uneasy thread. Good pilot, this drop, Tod decided. He, or rather it, just lazily handles it, in no hurry. Tod waved at the care ship, and once more the huge horn burst out its din, making him clap his hands to his ears. Hey, a joke’s a joke, he said to himself. And then the horn ceased; the careboy had relented.
“Wave to him to drop,” Norm Schein said to Tod. “You’ve got the wigwag.”
“Sure,” Tod said, and began laboriously flapping the red flag, which the Martian creatures had long ago provided, back and forth, back and forth.
A projectile slid from the underpart of the ship, tossed out stabilizers, spiraled toward the ground.
“Sheoot,” Sam Regan said with disgust. “It is staples; they don’t have the parachute.” He turned away, not interested.
How miserable the upstairs looked today, he thought as he surveyed the scene surrounding him. There, to the right, the uncompleted house which someone – not far from their pit – had begun to build out of lumber salvaged from Vallejo, ten miles to the north. Animals or radiation dust had gotten the builder, and so his work remained where it was; it would never be put to use. And, Sam Regan saw, an unusually heavy precipitate had formed since last he had been up here, Thursday morning or perhaps Friday; he had lost exact track. The darn dust, he thought. Just rocks, pieces of rubble, and the dust. World’s becoming a dusty object with no one to whisk it off regularly. How about you? he asked silently of the Martian careboy flying in slow circles overhead. Isn’t your technology limitless?