Crew member Marcus Anders, ostensibly captain, if only because no one else wanted the job, floated in zero gee, silently contemplating with deep aforethought whether or not to make the effort of leaving his station and getting some coffee in the mess. Anders didn’t hate zero gee, but he didn’t love it either. And though everyone swore blind that it made no difference to the taste, zero gee coffee just wasn’t the same. He was pretty sure it had something to do with all the fluid in his head blocking up his nose and filling his sinus but he was no doctor. He glanced at the clock, almost oh eight hundred hours ship time.
Ok, so it was pretty much breakfast time. Anders did hate one thing about zero gee: it might be a personal quirk but it always messed with his sense of time and ruined his sleep. He’d been up most of the night of course. There was no formal crew shift. No need with such a small crew and a ship centuries out of date. ‘Nothing on this bucket was smart enough to go wrong’, the resident engineer, maintenance jock and obvious ship joker James Stephenson, sometimes known as the other guy, was happy to report.
Anders scanned the console, seeing everything was pretty much at nominal status and the recently installed Terran Military high resolution sensor was running as expected. Busily sending petabytes of data back to scientists hoping to make their careers on the back of this research mission. He hoped it would make some kind of sense of what was going on because no one else seemed to have a clue. Oh there were plenty of theory’s going around. As many as there were assholes to spout them to anyone who would listen. Anders grunted to himself, if he was in danger of turning melancholy coffee was now a necessity, with or without the aid of gravity.
He dragged an arm across face as he gently pushed off the console when through bleary eyes he saw a small red dot appear beside an auxiliary system. He reached for the grab bar and pulled himself back for a closer look. He didn’t recognise the system. The ship seemed to have endless axillary systems doing who knows what and he hadn’t bothered to learn all of them. Just the main systems that kept them alive and moving. He’d tell Stephenson about it later, probably just an internal sensor needs replacing, something always needed replacing on the Harrison’s End.
He tapped comms, ‘Jones, I’m hitting the mess, nothing worth reporting’, his voice coming out as if he’d just chain smoked a pack of 40 cigarettes. ‘Roger Cap, Coffee?’, it was more a statement than a question really. El Jones, EVA specialist, pilot and comms officer knew Anders well enough to know his sleeping patterns and serial addiction to a morning, noon and midnight coffee. Hard not get to know your fellow crews habits in such close quarters. ‘Coffee’, Anders grounds out as he nods at the comms.
Just as he makes to push off the console there is a rumble, from somewhere distant in the ship and less a second later the bridge shudders violently for a brief moment that seems to last forever. The red dot blinks and a whole section of the console suddenly lights up in that red reserved especially to burn the fact that the shit has just hit the fan into the back of your eyes. It’s a red you’re going to spend the next few months revisiting every time you close your eyes, but it’s not the light that makes Anders body jerk involuntarily in the classic fight of flight response, it’s the claxon alarm no one in the depths of space ever wants to here. Especially someone carrying expensive sensitive Military equipment they wouldn’t be happy to have damaged. It was almost worth dying out here not to have to face the Terran Quartermaster. Almost. ‘Shit’, Anders recovers quickly and tries to make sense of the read out but it stubbornly refuses to make any sense. He hits comms again,’Stephenson’, but before he can complete the request he is dropped into darkness as everything shuts down.
The lights in the conference room slowly come up as the soft jazz fades into the background. The holo-video is over and projector hums quietly to itself as the group in the room start to talk amongst themselves. What was moments ago a solid seeming model of an advanced inter-galactic freight hauler wanes into translucency but remains hanging in the air between Aadi Sharma and the representatives of his most respected clients the Maxwell & Webster Group. This meeting was more or less a formality, the real terms of the deal being agreed behind closed doors by people on higher pay scales than Aadi Sharma, people with controlling interests, the ears of highly paid lawyers and politicians on the pay roll.
But that was fine, Aadi could live the dream, sell star ships to corporations and bask in the glory of association, living vicariously through his clients. It was a golden age of space exploration. Aadi believed in the future of the human race, really believed. And that belief and enthusiasm made him a great salesman. He knew the product so well he might as well have engineered it himself but he was a humble man and gave the engineers the credit they richly deserved for lifting humanity beyond the crowded horizons of Terra Firma.
‘Ah gentlemen, I am trusting that you are liking what you are seeing’, Aadi effused, ‘As you can see, the freighter is generously specified, exceeding the minimum regulations for space flight by a wide margin’. Aadi’s face still smiling turned more serious, ‘You will find all the numbers you might need in the design document provided and will be happy to note that she has met and surpassed your own requirements as per the brief in the initial commission. For instance throughput in the power conduits in the framework is a minimum seventeen percent above requirements’, turning up the wattage in his smile, for this was his favourite part Aadi continued, ‘And you will be happy to note, that we can provide such without going over budget, with construction ending comfortably before your claim to mine is undertaken’.
The executives around the table began murmuring among themselves. They had all read the numbers and knew the costs involved but to hear it aloud and from the mouths of the vendors themselves was still a little surprising. No one who had made it to this table was a fool and understood that if something seemed to good to be true, well, you just didn’t know enough about the situation. And even if this ship really could come in on budget, there was still a colossal amount of cash and credit on the line, and space was still by no means a risk free venture.
An unassuming middle aged man with a tight dark beard and a grey suit spoke up first, ‘Well Aadi, I think we can all agree this is very reassuring but how do you propose to keep costs down’, he leaned his elbows on the table and tented his fingers, all of a sudden he wasn’t quite so unassuming, ‘A project of this magnitude could easily spiral out of control and double costs without careful management, and our shareholders are not interested in absorbing those kinds of losses, how does Exegesis intend to mitigate there risks’.
‘Well Mr…’, Aadi paused gesturing politely towards the inquiring executive. ‘Webster, not The Webster, but not far off’, Robert Webster proffered, a slight smile playing across his features as this was usually enough to make a grown man sweat and had indeed radically changed the course of many meetings. Aadi was having none of it, still smiling that genuine, almost infectious smile, he continued, ‘Ah, Mr Webster! What a wonderful question to be asking. It is one we have been asking ourselves since the inception of our own prestigious Agency’. Robert cocked an eyebrow, motioning to continue with a slight nod curious about how nonplussed Aadi was. ‘Unlike many other Agencies in this business of creating industrial space craft we have standardised thousands of our parts across our entire fleet driving down both construction costs and of course future maintenance and repair costs. You will also find our maintenance contracts to be as competitive as our construction costs’.
Robert Webster leaned back in his chair, seemingly satisfied at this response, this wasn’t the time or place to get into the details of contracts or the bigger ramifications of cost impacts and project management. He wanted to see just how much buy in this salesman of space craft had. ‘Just one more thing if you don’t mind’, Aadi nodded, ‘of course Mr. Webster’, seeming to expect what was coming next, ‘Just how flexible is this vessel, a multi-purpose craft would be of greater value to us’.
Aadi’s dream of being part of a Space Agency was well tempered by the practicalities of corporate work was prepared for this, and a direct answer was best, without hesitating he responded, ‘First and foremost she is a freighter, and hauling goods will always be what she is best at. But we have anticipated your needs in this mater. Multiple configurations will of course be available, and beyond that the individual vessels will have the capability to mount an array of tools and sensors and incorporate a modular design so will themselves have the ability to be reconfigured as the needs of corporation themselves change’.
Now that Robert had his say, the rest of the table began asking questions of there own, each having their own precise concerns, no doubt related to their own departments. But Aadi knew he had them, he could practically smell their enthusiasm for the romance of space was something no man could truly resist.
For a moment all Anders can hear is his own heart beating double time as the darkness reminds him just how little stands between him and, well, nothing at all. It’s said that the sea is a harsh mistress, but she’s got nothing on the vagaries of space. Another sound, a sharp loud clunk, momentarily stops his heart as the dim emergency lights flickered on. He is suddenly lit by the console screen, throwing his face into sharp relief and eerie shadows around the small bridge. The system was booting up into safe mode, an old throwback to debugging processes from the days when the ship was still being tested.
Looking at the console go through it’s slow start up process Anders realised life support hadn’t come back online. The comforting hum of air-con fans keeping the air fresh and well circulated was missing. He didn’t have long to contemplate this new hell the gods of space and misery had thrown at him, he was distracted by a string of loud and angry curses, quickly followed by a loud and angry Engineer. Unfortunately in his frustrations he’d pushed off to fast and hadn’t thought to try to slow himself down so when he entered the bridge he missed the grab handle by the door entirely and careened into the back of the pilots acceleration couch, why did a freighter need acceleration couches anyway? And bounced of it managing to snag a grab handle before he crashed on the bulkhead.
Looking a little bit deflated but no less stressed out he managed to calm himself enough to talk. ‘What the fuck just happened?’, he glared at Anders, ‘What the fuck did you do to us?’. At this stage Anders had the time to think and get a grip on himself. In his previous life as a navy test pilot, you didn’t last long if you couldn’t think and act under pressure. ‘Can it Stephenson, we have bigger problems’, Stephenson himself by no means unused to working in high pressure situations, though his previous experiences were located in a more academic setting as opposed to in an old ship in the depths of space. He made an attempt to calm himself though it was obvious he was making an effort not to launch into another tirade of curses and blame throwing. ‘The console is booting, we won’t know what’s going on yet. It could be that someone isn’t happy about us taking this contract, or we could just be a victim of politics. Either way we won’t know till we get power going, and in case you hadn’t noticed. On top of those problems life support is down’, Anders nods at the console, ‘Can we speed this up?’.
‘Don’t worry about life support, we’ve enough air to keep us going until emergency power starts it up. Can’t do anything about the console. I’ll work on getting Helm control and sensors back online, fucking idiots in manufacture never linked it to the safe mode boot protocols and they need to be brought online individually’. Stephenson quickly and this time more deftly pulled himself over to the comms station and started pulling apart the facade muttering directions to himself as he tried to remember everything he needed to do to fast boot the systems.
El arrived to see Stephenson elbows deep and muttering to himself in what seemed like an unnecessary amount of circuit boards and cabling of varying thicknesses and colour. Looking to Anders who was staring intently at the main console which seemed to be reaching the end of its boot cycle start to show a lot of red as it’s readouts slowly started getting information from them rest of the freighter, ‘What’s the sit rep cap’. She often fell into the old rhythms of speech from her day in the Marines when the pressure started, she called it her business voice.
Still looking intently at the console he replied, ‘Power’s down, don’t know why. A lot of these readings aren’t making much sense’, he sifted through some of the sub menus and internal sensor reading, ‘From what I can tell some of these reading have to be wrong. Something is throwing them off’. From across the bridge and under the comms stations Stephenson joined in, ‘Comms and helm control on the way, be here soon. Loss of power will have knocked a lot of sensors out off calibration but they should recalibrate when the main console exits safe mode, bloody inconvenient that’. The comms consoled blinked into life and information immediately started filling it’s screen.
El pulled herself over to the comms station Stephenson had just vacated. ‘We’re drifting, not by much but it can’t be long before we’re in a tumble, control of attitude thrusters is offline, engines down, main sensors down, additional sensor is still running but I don’t have access’. ‘I don’t need more problems El, what can we do about it’, Anders snapped. ‘On it’.
Stephenson moved back towards the exit, ‘I’ll hit engineering, see what I can do from there, internal comms has been restored. As he pulled himself through the door the main console switched over from safe mode, with nominal functionality restored the screen blanked, refreshed and the readings started to make, some kind of sense, though Anders still couldn’t figure out quite what was going on he felt he had a chance now. Like mana from the heavens the life supported hummed into life. ‘At least we’re not going to die, right now’, El commented.
‘Wait…’, Anders stared intently at the new readouts, tapping comms, ‘Stephenson, are you in engineering yet?’. A brief silence, ‘Just arrived’, ‘Can you trace the source of the power loss’, another silence, ‘It could take hours, what about searching for a breach’. Anders took a deep breath, but El chipped in, ‘No power, no sensors’. Stephenson hit a few keys, ‘I can give you a section, get to work’, he tapped a few more keys in rapid succession and the data made its way to engineering.
‘Got it, but you’re not going to like this’, Stephenson hedged, ‘Multiple systems failure, we won’t be able to restore power fully until repairs are made’, a brief pause, ‘We can’t repair it internally’.
‘We’re now running on internal power captain, we’re flying under our own steam’, Helmsman Peters reported with a grin. The atmosphere aboard the EXG 005 was buoyant. Having just completed her maiden voyage and now heading back in system it was a good time to be a pilot.
Of course being a maiden voyage and such a young design not all the flaws had been ironed out yet. ‘Captain, getting fluctuations across the board. Within tolerances but I think we need to keep an eye on it’, comms officer was a cautious and fastidious man, no bad thing when you spend a lot of your life relying on ship systems to keep you alive. ‘Keep on it’, Captain Rickart wasn’t a man to take chances. Flying a state of the art space craft brought quite a bit of responsibility with it.
She was in her hauler configuration. Thousands of tons of recently mined Iron extruded into specifically chiseled cubes 50 meters to a side to fit neatly into the framework of the cargo section stretched in front of the bridge. Millions, in any currency, worth of cargo that would revolutionise Earths economy. From the right angle she looked almost like a massive oil tanker. Well, that might be romanticising her a little.You could never ignore the massive fuel tanks to either side of the bridge section, with hundreds of cables and fuel lines extending to the engine section, which couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. The massive reaction engine sprouted cables and cooling fins anywhere you cared to look. And was at least half as long as the cargo section. And extending from it, right where it connected to the control centre of the ship, the bridge and connected support section where the solar panels, almost like multiple tacked on air craft wings, nearly a kilometer tip to tip, providing secondary power to many systems across the ship and a fool proof power source to kickstart the engine should the tokomac drives, located in the engineering section below the bridge and extending out into the engine section, be out of commission for any reason.
The seven day return trip was plagued with hundreds of minor issues from broken light fittings to incorrectly calibrated sensors. The mechanicals where all fine. It was mostly electronics problems but no one was worried. This sort of this was to be expected, none of the systems had been bedded down yet. And even though the designers and engineers had done the math on the power supply and demand of the huge ship, nothing could truly prepare it for the real world. There where just to many interconnected systems, thousands, to be able to predict where every shortfall might be. Which is why many of he parts, especially the important ones, where over designed with multiple redundancies in case of emergency.
As she entered earths gravity well and parked in a low inclination medium earth orbit Captain Rickart was more that happy to report a highly successful mission to the media, returning with nearly 8000 metric tons (7880mt) of purest cast iron. While a drop in the ocean of Earths iron mining production there were several important differences. While the initial cost of setting up a mining venture on a barren asteroid millions of kilometers from Earth was terrifying, once you got over the initial cost, production cost was effectively negligible. The iron itself was already about as pure as you could want it so refining was also low cost. But most importantly this iron was already in space. There was no cost at all in getting it out of Earth gravity well. Humanity’s dream of reaching the stars had previously been a horrendously expensive venture, but now it was slated to become a hell of a lot cheaper with the rise of micro gravity refineries, technology and construction.
After dealing with what felt like a media frenzy Rickart put a call in to his bosses. His report went pretty much expected, the executives being pleased with the positive feedback they where getting from various media sources. And typically though Rickart reported that the minor issues where addressed by his own crew during thereturn flight he was told to play them down but since the construciton contract had a clause in it stating on such occurences the construciton company would do a post mainden voyage tune up and to get her into ‘dry dock’ as soon as possible before the clause passed it’s internal statute of limmitiation. Everyone has a boss, even the Captain of an intersolar space craft.
‘Without going out and having a look I still can’t tell you exactly what’s going on’, Stephenson explained. ‘No chance Stephenson, I need you inside. Besides, remember what happened to you last time you went EVA?’, Anders replied sardonically, ‘This is El’s gig, she’ll have her helmet cam, you can work over comms, where is she going?’. ‘Forward cargo struts, up by the new sensor, maybe twenty five meters bridgewards. Give me half an hour I’ll have most auxiliaries up and running, they really only need their calibration fine tuned, but we need to get outside and sort the main problem before we can fire the engines and get reliable attitude thrust’.
Out in the darkness of space the Harrison’s End began a tumble, as if in slow motion, taking the Military Sensor Array out of alignment. Further down the cargo section, towards the bridge a blue emergency light flickered weakly as a small plasma leak made its contribution to the ships weary movement. The array was compensating, moving on a Gimbal support pod powered by small motors intended for fine tuning its positioning, and it was obvious they wouldn’t be long before it reached the end of its axis.
‘Roger that, El, did you get that?’. ‘Sure did Cap. Cap, in less than an hour at this drift our benefactors big sensor won’t be pointed at the horizon. They won’t be happy and we can’t afford to loose this contract’, there was an edge to El’s voice. Everyone on board had a very personal stake in the successful completion of this contract. ‘Nothing more we can do here, I’ll help you suit up’.
Whomever had installed the Gimbal support either didn’t foresee the possibility or requirement of the sensor reaching the end of its axis as moments before it did the edge of the sensor hit the hull of the Harrison’s End breaching the bulkhead and destroying the delicate electronics underneath. Back in the computer core, buried in the heart of the ship a silent alarm was tripped and unknown to the crew, a countdown began.
On his disembarkation, Captain Rickart was met at the dock by some very serious looking military types. He was expecting them. On his last communication with the company execs they had explained to him the situation, and his lack of options therein. He was in shock. He had captained the EXG 005 for most of his career as captain and couldn’t see a future in which he didn’t captain her. He wasn’t interested in retirement, the EXG 005 was where he belonged and he had intended to stay until he was no longer fit to serve.
As a company man he had been dedicated, loyal to the company from day one. Giving them everything, including two marriages and a steady family life. He rarely saw his children and hadn’t yet met his grandchild. He was a stranger in his own family. All so he could follow his dream of captaining a successful space ship. He wasn’t military material so he was left with little choice in how he might realise this dream.
His dedication, loyalty and his proficiency in dealing with company politics saw him rise through the ranks and in less than 15 years he was at the helm of his first command. He would never forget piloting the EST 014, the two man orbital hauler that gave him his name in efficient and cost effective work and led him on to his next command. In those days the company was undergoing massive expansion as orbital factories and supporting space craft were churned out by earths megacorporations and conglomerates. They were constantly on the hunt for good pilots to command the new ships and supply of experienced manpower was short. It was a golden age for anyone who wanted to move up the ranks quickly, and Rickart had.
He had seen the EXG in every one of her configurations dozens of times over, and it was fitting that his last mission saw her in his favourite configuration, her original layout as an out and out cargo hauler capable of moving thousands of tons of materials if necessary. She was also at her more maneuverable in this state, well, unloaded anyway.
He docked her personally. Something he hadn’t done in a very long time. His crew watched as he performed every procedure himself flawlessly. He still had the touch and she docked with barely a clunk from the airlock connecting. He smiled, satisfied with a job well done. The crew were clearly confused, he hadn’t told them yet, he wanted to enjoy this one last journey as he had the first time he had taken her out on her maiden voyage so long ago, a lifetime ago.
‘This way sir’, one of the clearly subordinate officers announced giving him an unexpected salute. They knew what they were doing to him, at least they were showing some respect. He followed them down a narrow corridor, pulling himself effortlessly by the grab handles. They entered a conference room, the two subordinates taking positions at either side of the door. They must have had trouble with other captains, they weren’t all forewarned. The superior officer, a fellow captain as it turned out, handed Rickart a data pad and asked him to read it. He already knew what it was going to say.
‘I’m sorry Rickart, but she’s needed for the war effort’, the other captain said, in a genuine tone of regret. ‘She’s no corvette, what use could she be…’, Rickart trailed off, unable to maintain the tight control over his voice. ‘Strictly transportation of parts and resources I assure you, she won’t see any action’, he replied tonelessly, ‘I can’t say any more’. ‘Of course’, Rickart sighed signing off the transfer papers and watched his ships registry change to EXG 005 TM. Two letters is all it takes to make all the difference. There, it was done.
‘We will take delivery at eighteen hundred hours tomorrow, please inform your crew to remove all personal belongings or they will be removed and disposed of’, the same emotionless intonation. Rickart turned and left without a word.
Jones and Anders made their way to the airlock. The inner airlock chamber resembled nothing more than a large circular locker room, except where sport uniforms would hang, space suits took there place. Where you might find hockey sticks or footballs strewn around the room tools of various uses and sized where firmly tied down. There was a bench but that was a meaningless obstruction in zero gee. There was space for 9 suits but only four lockers had seen any use in years.
Extra vehicular activity suits had come a long way from the days when men launched themselves into space on the back of what was essentially a giant firework. They’d lost the bulk and gained a lot in terms of lightness and maneuverability. And while the could be put on by just the user it was far easier to have someone help you.
Jones had already donned the one piece pressure suit. A single black, slightly mottled garment that covered the entire body coming almost as high as the jawline with a neck ring build in that rested on the shoulders. Custom made for the user these suits literally hugged every curve, nook and cranny of your body, providing pressure where the soon wasn’t going to be any. Advances in materials technology meant that these suits could be flexible and proof against vacuum but they were still hot, tight and uncomfortable.
On top of this a silvered, thin elastic and cross weaved one piece. Looking like a flexible carbon fiber this was a temperature regulator and cooling unit designed to stop the user from baking in their own body heat, in the vacuum space heat had no where to go so it just built up unless you could do something with it. This also acted to protect the user against the unforgiving radiation endemic in EVA work, absorbing some while reflecting and deflecting others it was probably the most expensive and important part of any EVA suit, not that you could go without any one part.
The final layer was a harness was worn over the suits and composite armor strapped in place, a micrometeorite could hit an astronaut as easily as it could a ship. Gauntlets were also worn to give better grip through the two layers of gloves Jones was now wearing. She tied her hair up tight as Anders strapped her boots on and checked the various straps on her armor to make sure everything was tight and in place. He passed her a tool belt which she cinched around her waist loosely letting it hang slightly, as if she was wearing a revolver at her hip instead of a multi-tool and a laser welder.
She turned around so Anders could attach her backpack which contained her power and air supply as well as attitude jets at her waist and shoulders. Like everything else in the suit it was compact and could provide multiple functions, and as everything in it was completely standardised you could use it in many situation and over the course of its career had served many functions outside its original design.
The helmet resembled a motorbiking helmet with a gold visor taking up most of the front half. The bottom part of the helmet was made of the same material as the pressure suit and clicked neatly into the neck ring creating a tight pressure seal. Either side of the helmet sported a spotlight that could be widened or narrowed as needed and mounted on the front lip of the helmet was a small high resolution camera. At the back of the helmet extended multiple connections not least for air but also the cooling unit controller and a biometrics sensor built into the neck ring. A small flat, almost wing like aerial extruded at a 45 degree angle for communication and connection to the ship network.
Jones initiated the helmets systems, it booted quickly and ran a self diagnostics checklist on her heads up display. Anders did one more check of her vital connections, power, control and air. As the suit reached the end of its checklist each attitude thruster belched small blasts or nitrogen testing their efficiency so the on-board computer could correct accurately make course adjustments.
To look at her now she looked like a biker from some dystopian future, with her black armor painted with red accents and her loosely hanging tool belt she cut an intimidating figure. ‘Mic check’, she said over the radio. Verifying on a nearby console Anders replied, ‘Confirmed, comms are live’, checking the feed, ‘Camera is also live, biometry is on record, we are EVA ready’, he tapped her on the shoulder, ‘Safe return, take no chances’. Jones nodded as she moved into the airlock.
It was a small windowless airlock, two people might fit in it, though it would be uncomfortable. There was a bigger airlock at the back of the ship in engineering but it had a much longer cycle time and no one wanted to waste time on comfort now. The inside airlock closed and she was alone. Her heart was beating fast. This is what she lived for. That thrill from the danger that made your nerves sing and gave you a laser like focus on the present like nothing else could. Anders broke her reverie, ‘Take it easy Jones, an adrenaline rush won’t help you out there’. Like she was gonna be able to stop it. Decompression started and despite herself she got her game-face on, checking the readout on her HUD.
Before she knew it the airlock had cycled and the outer door opened revealing a beautiful star scape that could never be seen from the surface of any planetary body. She tethered herself to a conveniently placed grab bar and stepped out of the airlock and onto the surface of the ship.
It had been seven years since the EXG 005 had been pressed into military service. The War (it really did deserve a capital W) was over nearly two years, with massive loss of life on both sides and no clear winner. Who could really win an interstellar war anyway. Both sides eventually ran out of steam and the War sputtered out of life and both governments had gone into peace talks, which led to the opening of trade treaties and mutual Stephensonation. It seemed the economic impact of running a large interstellar navy wasn’t worth the effort and when leaders met to discuss a possible peace idealogical differences could be put aside and replaced with economic agreements and taxation settlements. In the end both governments gave in to big business as the war wasn’t as profitable as some thought it might be, some cynics said.
Gordon Peters didn’t really care about the war. To him it was a distant thing that happened to other people. In fact, he remarked that it made his career much easier. Jobs became much more fluid and if you knew what you were doing and where a bit ruthless you could climb the ranks pretty quickly. Peters was a cunning man and not averse to making some hard decisions if they were going to profit him. In the seven years since he had lost his position on the EXG 005 he had moved from company to company whenever it offered his a better position. He made a mercenary of himself, flying for whoever would pay him the most, or move him up in the chain of command. He wasn’t a bad crew member, just a transient one.
All these years later, all those decisions later he made his captaincy, and the irony wasn’t lost on him that this was on the very ship that set him on the path to command. He felt a small pang of guilt as he thought of Captain Rickart, the last commercial captain of this vessel, who had committed suicide 18 months after leaving the company, unable to adjust to civilian life back on earth. It puzzled Peters as Rickart would have been on a more than generous pension. Hell, he probably could have afforded a civilian craft if he really wanted a command. He put it out of his mind as the door to his small office hissed open and a Terran Military Captain entered.
He was a tall well built man, taller than Peters by at least six inches, which intimidated him though he didn’t let it show. He reached across the table hand out, Peters looked at it for a moment before realising he was offering him his hand, he took it and returned the firm handshake. ‘Captain Peters’, it sounded good, ‘I have all the paperwork and including the registry, all you have to do is sign’. Peters took the data pad from the him and looked it over for the first time. ‘It’s not original spec, is the company aware of this?’, he was slightly annoyed, he was hoping for the ship to be all original and all his. ‘The company is fully aware, we removed as much of our hardware as was practical. We had left some armor where it would have been too expensive and unnecessary to remove. You will find that we have left your ship with upgraded sensors where there was no legal requirement to remove them. And as agreed with and in accordance with the contract with the company we have left in place the newer, vastly upgraded I might add, propulsion system and power grid to match’, did he detect a sneer in his voice? ‘Even counting the extra weight you will find she flies more efficient then she ever had’, he concluded.
Peters wasn’t sure what to make of that but if the company had agreed to it there was precious little he could do about it so he wasn’t about to argue the point. He signed the papers and looked at the registry for confirmation. The ships tittle blinked into the screen, she was now The Harrison’s End EXG 005. ‘What’s this, Harrison’s End?’, not impressed with the new designation. ‘Yes sir, I wasn’t privy to this but I believe it was the previous occupant’s wish that she retain her name’. He said it with a straight face too. ‘Well, there isn’t much to be done about it now, I’m not about to pay to change the register again just for a name’, he replied trying to keep the frustration from his voice. The captain took the pad, and was gone. The ship was his now.
Out of idle curiosity he flipped his console to a view of his newly acquired command. He was a little shocked to see it, he almost hadn’t recognised the ship. In fact, he hadn’t recognised it at all. He had passed the hauler on the way to the dock on his inbound shuttle earlier in the week. To him, it looked the worse for wear. It had definitely seen action, there were scars from laser and maser impacts and hull repairs too scattered and almost random to be anything other than missile impacts. The armor and new engine gave her a meaner look he decided, he didn’t like it, it wasn’t a professional look. It didn’t matter, it looked like it was just another stepping stone on to a more respectable command.
Harrison’s End loomed above Jones like a skyscraper made of steel, or a bridge to nowhere. Her brain grappled to give her a sense of perspective, so she just decided the front of the ship was up and the vertigo faded now the decision had been made. She made a mental map of her route to the damaged area and then programmed it into her inertial guidance. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust her suits computer, out here you had to rely on it, she just preferred to map her own route as the computer wouldn’t take her the most direct route.
She started what she now considered the ascent, it was always easier going up, slowly paying out her line as she took care to move along the ship. From where she was now she couldn’t see the sensor array. She’d need to come around the the ‘top’ side of the ship. She wasn’t sure if she was imagining it or not but she could nearly feel the ship rotating slowly as she made her way up the bulkhead and on to the cargo struts. Stopping to change her tether point and reel in excess line. When she came around the side and saw the array jammed into the body of the ship she was less than impressed.
After 20 minutes careful climbing she made it to the damage site. Fifteen meters from the array as it turned out, close enough. It wasn’t difficult to miss. A panel had been blown clean off and plasma was venting from a conduit. ‘Ok guys, you getting this?’, she squinted at the plasma flow, ‘I’m not going to get anything done that in the way’, she bobbed her head and by extension the camera towards it. ‘Not a problem’, it was Stephenson, he’d been accessing the whole time, dying to get his hands into the ships innards, albeit vicariously, ‘access the panel before it and read me off the parts number on the connecting duct’. Out with the multi-tool, a few heavy duty screws later, ‘PSM 513e/48’. Silence from the other side, she looked over at the plasma and watched as it died down and went out completely.
Stephenson was back on the line, ‘Don’t approach yet, the heat distribution grid has been working over time keeping that area from melting off, it’ll handle the residual soon’. Jones wasn’t about to go anywhere near it. She pointed he wrist array at the vent and asked for a temp reading, it was still in four figures but the rate it was reducing was impressive.
After an interminably long four minutes it was safe enough for Jones to get in close. Underneath the blown panel, burst plasma duct aside it was quite a neat little compartment in place mainly as access to the conduits that ran the length of the freighter. Running directly beside the plasma duct was a large power conduit part of which had heated up enough to melt the covering, which acted itself like a welding torch on the plasma duct, slicing into it an releasing a jet of sun hot plasma powerful enough to put the Harrison’s End into a slow twist. The source of the twist was now gone but there still wasn’t power to the attitude thrusters so she’d keep spinning until Jones could get the lights on.
‘Ah, I think I get it’, Stephenson said. From the tone of concentration in his voice Jones could easily imagine him bent over the screen of his console, data pad with schematics in one hand. ‘Can you get a closer look, its should be safe to touch now’. Jones puller herself into the small compartment, legs hanging out in the void.
George Siemens was coming to the end of a long day. It had been, a long day. It had been a long week, and if you thought about it a long month. It was the last week of the month, which was always torture. Money was tight, which didn’t stop the bills coming in. He spent most of the week eating cheap curry noodles again. He was sick of curry noodles. He spent a brief moment fantasizing about a steak, a big bloody piece of fillet, mounded with onions and on a mountain of champ with an ice cold bottle of Mintner’s Special on the side. His mouth started watering, he swallowed, coming out of his reverie.
He looked up at the ship, the Harrison’s End. Someone was having a joke when they came up with that name and no mistake. She’d been in dry dock for the last month. She’d been contracted to the yard for what might as well be a full overhaul. Though the specifics, and the lack of credit meant a few things would be left out, but nothing important. Rumor had it that the previous captain had run the old girl into the ground trying to save money on maintenance by basically not having any and just getting his own engineering crew to make old parts last long past their maintenance schedule.
But space craft weren’t like old Nissan-Subaru’s, you couldn’t just keep flogging them till they fell over. A Nissan-Subaru might not start and delay you on your way to work. A old hauler like this would fail to respond and you’d be stuck in the void forever. Whatever the reason, when the company had learned the ship was quite literally years behind her maintenance schedule they hauled her in (get it?) for an almost overhaul. George wondered how that meeting had went, oh to be a fly on the wall though George thought the company was secretly happy to have saved the money while being able to scapegoat someone else, you know what these corporations are like.
George took his welder to the conduit. He was sick to death of conduits, he’d replaced to many now he’d long since lost count. All week, all he’d done was weld in new conduits. And one grey bar looks exactly like the last, and the one before that. But George had standards, and even though he was bone tired he concentrated as he drew the arc slowly across the alloys, sealing the metal in the way only stupidly hot temperatures could. Just before he came to the end of the weld he felt a bump at his elbow, knocking the weld off course.
He turned around to see what was going on, it was Daniels, ever the joker. ‘Fuck George, I thought you could weld’, he said with that strong latino accent of his. The girls loved it, too many Europeans around here. ‘Sabotage, weak move, you still behind?’, George gave Daniels a one fingered salute and a friendly grin. ‘You want to know about behind, you should see Osbournes ass eh’, he deflected. George just raised his hands in placation his grin turning to a smirk. ‘Let me finish here, I’ll talk to you later’, mock military tone this time. Daniels turned and headed for the locker room waving at George over his shoulder, chuckling to himself.
George looked back to his weld. It wasn’t a write off. He finished the end and left the scar, being more careful on the final weld in case any more of the lads got any ideas. Job done he took out his multi-tool and ran a diagnostic on the conduit and adjoining couplings. All nominal, not as good as it should have been but it would do. It’s not like a lot of power was ever put through these things anyway and checking the weld it did look solid. George has welded enough of these to know what he was talking about. Rubbing his eyes he picked up his gear and follow Daniels heading for the locker room.
Tonight wasn’t a night to spend playing poker for peanuts with the lads, definitely not Daniels if he was in that mood. He had managed to stash a few credits aside. Maybe a bottle of wine he could share with the wife. Things were tough now, but they wouldn’t always be. And she did look after him, put up with him more like. Gretta liked a nice white. Plans in hand, George made his way back to the locker room, Harrison’s End forgotten already, looking forward to the weekend.
‘Alright Stephenson, do your thing’, Anders wasn’t sounding at his happiest effectively being taken out of the loop on this one. There was very little he could do from the bridge right now that Stephenson couldn’t do better from Engineering, at least in this situation. ‘You know Anders, I’d love to be just sitting on my hands right now whistling Dixie but some of us have work do?’, he knew Anders hated it when people phrased statements as a questions, and Anders would know he was doing it on purpose.
Stephenson wasn’t normally an antagonistic person, but he didn’t like solving problems remotely either. It was irritating having to rely on other people when you knew you could do the job better yourself. Not that Jones would do an unsatisfactory job is supposed, she was good at what she did, and she could take direction. He just liked a job done just so. A personal quirk of academia perhaps. Shaking himself out of his introspection he stared intently at the screen.
‘Ok Jones, I need more contrast, could you turn up your lights a bit’, she did so without comment, having heard the little back and forth she decided silence was the better part of valor. ‘Yeah Ok, it’s definitely burned out, we won’t be able to use that again’, Stephenson mused. ‘Any ideas what happened there’, Anders broke in no trace of frustration in his voice. Damn, mustn’t have landed that one, but things to be done, no point in pushing him further. ‘Other than the power conduit burning out and cutting into the plasma flow duct no, I don’t. There is no real reason that should have a happened and to many possible causes. Could have been an errant micrometeorite but I doubt it’, how was thinking out loud now. He consider it like using a different part of your brain for his upper thought processes so his subconscious would have more room to get to grips with the real problem. ‘It still shouldn’t have caused such a catastrophic power shut down, it should have just been bypassed’, he tapped the data pad he was holding against his lips, and old habit when thinking hard.
‘Jones, can you pan for us, lets have a look at the rest of the compartment’, Anders didn’t like to hang about. The ship was almost at past ninety degrees from its original attitude and the sensor array was now pointing into the nothingness of space. Returning no information to the scientists, wherever they were. That was not good when their paycheck relied on getting data to them. ‘Good idea’, Stephenson chipped in, ‘Lets have a look around’. As Jones moved her head from left to right and back again it was becoming obvious that the inside of the compartment had taken a lot of local heat damage, probably over a long period of time.
Now that she was in the compartment they could see where heat damage had corroded, when had this compartment been subject to atmosphere? Stephenson watched as Jones reached over and tapped a slightly warped panel, it popped of as if under pressure bouncing around the little compartment before she caught it. Looking into it they saw rows of burned out circuit boards. ‘Spares’, Stephenson chirped again,’Not the problem, but I think I can see what’s going here, give me a minute’, Stephenson clicked off.
If flipped his data pad out of idle and started searching though the thousands of schematics that made up the Harrison’s End. Thankfully Stephenson was able to get his hands on the updated schematics. The originals where useful of course but she’d been altered on several occasions during her lifetime and it was times like this you needed to know exactly what was out there, not what should have been. He found the relevant section on the ship and zoomed in looking at specifications and part locations, bypasses and safety valves and of course, power routing.
He clicked back into comms, ‘Alright, I’m pretty sure I know what’s going on. Still no idea why but I can fix it, uh, Jones can fix it’. Jones sighed into the mic, ‘Team effort James, what do I need to do’. ‘Ok, the problem isn’t really here, just the cause, he was in lecture mode now, ‘it’s a simple job really. You’ll need to weld up the conduit and plasma duct but it can wait. There’s two panels you need to access. First is 3 meters towards the center of the ship, unmarked but it should be easy enough to find, it’s a meter across and hinged, inset handle’. Jones started moving, propelling her self gently along the surface with just the tips of her gauntlets, ‘Ok I see it, you’re loving this aren’t you’. ‘Shut up’, the panel came into view, Stephenson studied the screen as she opened it, ‘alright, the big lever on the right, flip it’s position and you’re done here’. Jones heaved the lever over, even on the screen you could tell it took some effort, once the lever reached the halfway point however something had obviously disconnected as it shifted easily into the off position.
Anders clicked in, ‘That’s it’, obviously relieved, ‘It’s showing as isolated, internal sensors are coming back online and starting calibration sequence’. Stephenson was quick on his heels, ‘Only sub systems right now, we need to open another conduit to route main power back to get the thrusters under our control’. Smart ass. Jones had closed the panel over while this was going, preferring to wait it out. ‘7 meters towards the bow, similar panel, more levers’. ‘Great’. The ships bulkhead moved across the screen as she made her way over. She opened another panel, this time two meters across. The lever’s maybe 3 meters in this time. ‘Ok, flip the lever marked PSM 520h/48 to the on position, there should also be a locking mechanism to keep the lever in place, lock it in, it’s kinda like a safety, the power won’t engage with the lock is in place’. ‘Why wasn’t there a lock on the last one’, Jones inquired lightly a smile playing across her face, they were almost back on track. ‘Don’t ask me, I didn’t design her!’, was that false indignance? it was hard to tell. Jones did as she was asked locking the lever in place, this one going into position much easier that the first.
‘Console is lit up like a christmas tree here guys’, Anders was clearly pleased, ‘Power to all systems, auto-diagnostics running, all green so far. Good job’, he blew out a sigh of relief, ‘Attitude thrusters returning nominal, will be back online soon’. ‘You’re welcome’, Stephenson play acting now everything was ok. ‘Shut up’, Jones replied. ‘Hey Anders, check your console, the array has breached the bulkhead not far from here, looks like it’s just by an empty cargo section, you got anything?’, Jones asked. ‘Console is a negative, must be superficial. We’ve had enough problems for one day. Head back. I’m going to burn when these thrusters give me the ok, won’t be long’. ‘Negative Cap, gonna weld up those conduits first, I’ll strap in, safe for burn’. ‘Roger that Jones, see you soon’. And with that, the horizon vanished, and all hell broke loose.