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"In science fiction one can say a great many things that are unpalatable, because it's expressed as science fiction you can slip it past their defenses."
- Frederik Pohl

Tagalong  
  A backpack with legs; a robot that will carry things for you and match your movements.  

The story takes place on Venus; in order to have free movement on the planet, it is necessary to carry your own air with you.

I was going out where there were no air stations on every corner, and so I decided I could use a tagalong.

Maybe you've never seen one. They're modern science's answer to the backpack. Or maybe to the mule train, though in operation you're sure to be reminded of the safari bearers in old movies, trudging stolidly along behind the White Hunter with bales of supplies on their heads. The thing is a pair of metal legs exactly as long as your legs, with equipment on the top and an umbilical cord attaching the contraption to your lower spine. What it does is provide you with the capability of living on the surface for four weeks instead of the five days you get from your Venus-lung

The medico who sold me mine had me laying right there on his table with my back laid open so he could install the tubes that carry air from the tanks in the tagalong into my Venus-lung.

From In the Bowl, by John Varley.
Published by Not known in 1976
Additional resources -

The fact that the tagalong is actually connected to you with an umbilical cord makes it a bit creepy; here's another quote with a description of how it looked in action.

Fifty meters doesn't sound like much. And it's not, on level ground. Try it sometime on a seventy-five degree slope. Luckily for us, Ember had seen this possibility and come prepared with alpine equipment. She sank pitons here and there and kept us together with ropes and pulleys. I followed her lead, staying slightly behind her tagalong. It was uncanny how that thing followed her up, placing its feet in precisely the spot she had stepped. Behind me, my tagalong was doing the same thing.

This machine makes me think of the many people I see who need supplimental oxygen; many of these people use a small wheeled tank that uses a plastic tube to convey the oxygen.

Thanks to an anonymous reader for suggesting this item.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from In the Bowl
  More Ideas and Technology by John Varley
  Tech news articles related to In the Bowl
  Tech news articles related to works by John Varley

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