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Second Second Hand.

Posted on Mon Jul 13th, 2020 @ 11:55pm by Client The Narrator & Passenger Kol Wescott-Fitzgerald & Ships Engineer Delphi Jammer

Mission: Ticket To Rhea
Location: VRM Rocker Hopper, on approach to Asteroid 2011 UN63
Timeline: In Sync with 'Alms For A Barnacle'

At the dawn of humanities first steps into the void, they had used crude chemical rockets to escape the bonds of gravity. In point of fact, on Ceres Station at the Medina Level, there was a beautiful mural painted depicting those early days of yore. Of canvas space suits with accordion articulation at the joints, and of space stations that looked more like bamboo tree houses than pressure vessels. Inlaid below that mural, for all to see in glossy asteroid minded obsidian, was the phrase in Latin: Per patientiam proficere.

Through perseverance, progress.

The Rockhopper would have fit in on the mural alongside the dead language used to salute it. In fact, buried somewhere just below the pressure vessel for the reactor containment vessel, was a plate stamped with a manufacturing date two centuries beforehand. Part antique, part space ship, part collector's item, part deathtrap, and part close formation wreckage flying, it was a testament to all of the ancestors of space flight who came before it.

Especially those of the Soviet Space Program: those ships had been death traps too.

Delphi hated this ship. Which was saying something for her. She loved ships, all ships, almost all ships. But not this one. It was not the ship's fault really, but it's owners, her masters, it was their fault, and the ship was the closest bit of them she had access too and saw every day, so, because she hated them, she hated the ship. It also was not a good ship either, old, worn down, rusted out, falling apart. It had been past it's prime before much of the outer colonies had even existed. And it was her job to keep it flying, which she did, because she was on it and needed it working to stay alive, but she just did what she needed to to keep herself alive, keep the piece of junk from coming apart. That was what she was doing today.

"Piece fo kaka felota port thruster packs are kowl trashed. Mi ta showxa imalowda back ere base imalowda needed fo bi replaced, amash nooooooo." she grumbled in Belter creole. She had told them repeatedly to replace the port thrusters, but as usual, no one listened and now they were burned out, again, 3rd time on this trip.

"Oye, port thrusters are out again, gonna have to go out and fix them, gonna need to go on da float for a bit, sasa ke?" she spoke to the other inhabiting the small piece of junk ship with her, even when speaking english, her voice was very thick with accent, like anyone who always predominantly spoke Belter creole.

"Donno how long it'll hold up this time." she said, giving the palm up hand gesture that was a Belter shrug.

The ship was flying tea kettle, it didn't have an Epstein, and it would be easier for her to go out and work if the drive was off. Delphi was already in her vac suit, she always was when aboard this heap, her helmet safely within reach at all times.

"Attention crew of Vector Red prospecting vessel #334-B. Remember, downtime for maintenance takes away from your time repaying your debt to your corporate ledger. Clause Ba, section 4, of your Identured Employee Contract is the applicable legal framework supporting this. Vector Red Merchantile thanks you for your observation. Vector Red Merchantile: Working With Mars, For Mars."

The voice came out of the suit helmet, from the wall speaker, and down the short passageway to the closet with the controls in it graciously called a cockpit. Between here and there, bolted to the hull, was a shiny silver box painted a bright blood red. It was newer than the Rockhopper by an order of magnitude, implanted on the ship like a corporate tick in Vector Red livery.

Part transponder, part slave driver, its job was to motivate the workers with gentle reminders that they were barely cheaper than robots. And in the event of a catastrophic crew expiration event, it could alert any nearby traffic to the fact that there was a reward for returning the hull to its owners. With a bonus, if it was washed out first.

From within the “cockpit” the pilot. Aisling Dennehy, groaned, she was tired of their little chaperone, it made their jobs duller than necessary. Every aspect of their operation had been accounted for and costed, deviating from their predicted route could add days to her debt with Vector Red. That meant no fancy manoeuvres or sidetracking without approval, she felt like a train conductor. At least they had repairs to add a bit of variety to their assignment.

“Okay. Be careful, and stay in contact” Aisling finally replied, her voice projecting from the same speaker's Vector Red’s notification had. Aisling never took her helmet off when at the controls, the exposed wiring and monitors from various era’s were a constant reminder of how much of a patch job this hopper was.

"Warning! Proximity alert! You are within one hundred and seventeen kilometres of Asteroid 2011 UN63. Damage to Vector Red property will be tallied to your existing debt management ledger."

On one of the aged liquid crystal display screen a false colour image of the rock they were heading towards appeared. At just under six hundred meters from side to side, the roughly potato-shaped rock was not the crater poxed surface the comics and vid's depicted. It was a face of shear rock, cracked with sun warped fissures and spiney protrusions of ice that had formed from rising steam vents.

It also had a large rectangular trough carved out of the face they were approaching marking it as a clearly denuded branch with no fruit at the end. The mine cut was old, but there might be a few tons of low-grade ore still somewhere in the rock. A laser spectrometer, the newest and by far most expensive part of the Rockhopper, began to wash over the rock to try and find a vein of ore.

"Silca, granite, low temperature quartz, poly-alloy sheeting, benzine, carbon."

"Ya, ya, bera keep milowda ere da float." Delphi had been saying, talking over the ship's computer, their built in minder and local overlord. She hated the thing and just ignored it. What was it going to do? Yell at them and tell them not to fix the piece of junk ship they had supplied? Then the company would not get their cargo on time, if even at all.

Delphi cursed under her breath as she slammed her vac suit helmet on and slid the locks into place, then checked, double checked and triple checked her suit systems and seals, noting all the green telltales. She paused as the second notice came in about the asteroid. It was close, VERY close by space distances.

She switched on a display on the wall beside her and looked at the sensor data scrolling across the display. It was a mined out husk of a rock, but there was *some* useful ore left, going by what the sensors were picking up.

"Oye, we can scrape some stuff off that rock and maybe get a few extra credits off da bill" she said over the comm to Aisling. "Got enough thruster control left to flip and burn, then I can make repairs while we mine this rock, sasa?"

"I can see it, give me a second and I'll set a course" Saoirse replied as she took in the data being presented. Something didn't sit right in her stomach with the poly-alloy being present. There was a chance it had been left behind, but unlikely, most miners prefer not to waste money. It was too tantalising a treat though, it's value could shave days off of their time working for Vector Red. Each day that brought them closer to the end of their service was a step towards her sitting in the cockpit of a real ship.

Not at the helm of the space equivalent to a powered go-cart. "Make sure you're secure, once this program runs its course We'll flip" Saoirse said into her microphone as the calculations came back, not that she'd need them to flip this rust bucket, but at least if they logged it Vector Red would acknowledge they stuck to procedure even when deviating from their task at hand. If this paid off it would only serve to sweeten the honey.

"Ya, ya" Delphi replied as she slid into a crash couch and strapped herself in with the restraints, buckling them into place with ease of a life in space, despite the bulky red yellow and black vac suit she wore.

"All strapped in." she said once she was sure she was secured. "Ready fo da burn."



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