Alien RPG - An Easy Run
Junction Station, 289 G. Hydrae, Near the Arcadian Asteroid Belt
The suit walked away from them briskly, his fancy wood soled shoes clacking loudly on the metallic floor of Junction Station’s cargo bay ninety-four. He had finished his job, signing up a quartet of suckers, that is, a quartet of entrepreneurs who were absolutely certain they were about to go out into the galaxy and get rich trucking around on the frontier. He doubted they would ever make enough to make their payments, much less somehow survive out there. Junction Station was about as much space as this particular Weyland-Yutani rep wanted to get.
Three men and a woman stood on the deck, admiring their new ship. It was just a standard Bison-class star freighter, but it was their star freighter. She was brand new, equipped with a halfway decent FTL drive, ten cryotubes for hypersleep, a halfway decent medbay and cargo bays for twenty thousand metric tons of, well, of whatever they could find to put in her.
“We did it. I still can’t believe it,” Jacob Harrison said to the others, blinking a slightly shaking his head as he spoke. He kept his hair short and his face clean shaven, to navy standards, though he was no longer in the navy. Jacob was pretty average height and build, but neither physicality nor brains were his best attributes; he just had a way with people that made them listen to him.
Liz Darkglider looked back at him with that arrogant, almost condescending look that she gave him so often. In all fairness, she didn’t just do it to him; she did it to almost everyone except the big guy she’d brought with her into the partnership. Liz was a pilot, and a damned good one at that. She could pilot a hundred meter wide freighter through a fifty meter wide tunnel without scratching the paint, but along with such skill came a cockiness that was apparent in her walk, her stance and her eyes even though they were constantly obstructed by mirror shades.
“You can’t believe it?” she asked. “It seems pretty easy to believe. We wanted to get a ship, they came and signed us up. Seemed pretty easy to me. We better find a job to pay for this thing.”
“I pulled some likely candidates off the ICCS Uplink,” Jacob said, handing her a ripped off piece of continuous feed printout.
She squinted at the hard to read print, tens of tiny dots printed close to each other to form parts of letters. She grimaced, but low tech was often still the most reliable tech. Liz handed the printout to the tall man to her right, asking, “What do you think?”
His name was Liam Mulhaney, and he was big – about six four and strong as a bull. They had met years ago in a bar on some shitty planet, on some shitty mission, him a marine and she a pilot. They became friends for about five minutes before she shipped back out, and now he was on Junction Station. He’d left the Colonial Marines, and he didn’t talk much about it. He didn’t talk much about anything. Mulhaney shrugged noncommittally.
“Let me see,” the last of their number said as he grabbed excitedly at the printout. Jacob winced as Malcolm Torrence half crumpled the paper in his hand while he read the potential employment options. They had worked together on some garbage scow of a ship. Torrence was some kind of a scientist – Jacob wasn’t sure what kind, exactly, but the guy was good with technology, had some medic know how and seemed generally pretty smart, if not a little… eccentric. “What do you think, Jacob?”
Jacob pointed at an entry on the sheet, making a mental note to reprint it first chance he got so that he had a pristine copy. “I like that one. It’s in system, so it should only take us a couple of days each way at most. We won’t need to go into the freezers and shouldn’t have to spend too much money on supplies. Plus, it pays the most.”
“Pays a lot just to run some equipment out to some mining platform less than a day away,” Liz mused. She turned toward Mulhaney and asked, “What do you think?”
Liam shrugged, and the dark gray of armor came momentarily into view under his beige tunic. He bent over and picked up a duffel bag and trudged over to the ramp leading up into the ship, the muzzle of a large rifle just barely poking out of the unzipped corner.
After a few seconds, Jacob asked with a nod toward the ship, “Doesn’t say much, does he? Where did you find him?”
“None of your business. We needed some muscle, he was available. We can count on him when the time comes.”
“Better be able to. You wouldn’t sign on unless we made him an equal partner.”
“Hey, don’t complain about who I brought, when you’re collecting strays,” Liz rebutted with a finger flipped toward Torrence, and then she swaggered her way after Mulhaney.
“I’m not a stray!” Torrence called after her, running a hand over continuously disheveled hair to no avail.
“Ignore her,” Jacob advised, and then he added once he was sure she was out of earshot, “She’s a pain in the ass. I already sent a message to this Paul Larson guy that we’re taking his job offer. Let’s go find him.”
Jacob and Torrence stood on the sheet metal deck of the elevator as it shunted them upward at over twenty feet per second. A metal gridwork wrapped around them, allowing them to look out of the elevator as it went. Three sides contained no view except that of the shaft, but the front of the elevator showed them persons from all different levels of Junction Station as they went about their lives and tasks.
Junction was an engineering marvel of the late twenty second century - over eight hundred levels, each one circular and about a half mile in diameter, making the station one gigantic cylinder. The United Americas designers, architects and engineers, their names lost to history already, had the truly genius idea of making one end of the station almost modular in design. This allowed new levels to be constructed in space and virtually snapped on to the “bottom” of the station, allowing it to ever expand to meet its ever expanding needs. Level one was at the top, and the level numbers increased the further “down” one went. As a general rule, the lower your floor number, the higher up in wealth or status one was. Station Management occupied levels two through four, and their contact, one Mr. Paul Larson, was to be found on the fourth level.
About fifteen minutes after entering the lift, their progress slowed a bit and then came to an abrupt halt with a snapping of steel locks on the cables. A hiss accompanied an uncomfortable feeling in their inner ears as the elevator equalized the pressure with the interior compartment, causing the pair to swallow and click their ears. The airlock door in front of them bore the markings “Level 4: Junction Station Management”, and with the hum of heavy motors, it slid upward, and as it did so, they caught a glance of a second interior door sliding open to their left.
“Are you just gonna stand there?” asked a woman behind a nondescript, gray steel desk before the door had even been open more than a second or two.
Sheepishly, the pair stepped through the doorways, finding themselves in a relatively small and plain square room. Gray metal met their eyes everywhere they looked, excluding the woman behind the desk. She had dyed blond hair with brown roots showing, obnoxiously red lipstick and couldn’t have been more than twenty. She chewed gum loudly, blowing and snapping a bubble as she stared at the two men.
“We’re here to see Paul Larson?” Jacob ventured.
“Are you sure?” she replied with the look of someone surrounded by idiots.
“Yes, we’re here for the cargo job he posted on ICCS.”
“Yeah, yeah, hold on,” she said, almost cutting him off. She pressed a button on her vid-phone, looked down and said, “Mr. Larson you have some gentlemen here to see you.”
She then looked back up at Jacob and Torrence, “Mr. Larson will be out to see you in a moment.” Perhaps ten seconds went by before she added, “Are you just going to stand there?”
“Where would you prefer we stand?” Torrence asked.
“Over there,” she replied, pointing to the left, and then she pointed the other direction, “or over there. I don’t care, just not in front of my desk.”
Jacob raised one eyebrow at Torrence in a half-amused shrug, and he nods his head over to one side. The two stepped off to the left side of the desk and took a seat on a bench that matched the rest of the drab, gray metal décor of the room.
Within a few minutes, they heard the sound of business shoes on the metal floor, not too dissimilar from that of the Weyland-Yutani rep’s in their docking bay, though the gait was a bit slower. They stood as a man well under six feet tall approached them. He wore an inexpensive, but decent gray suit with a skinny black tie that matches his shoes.
“Good morning. I’m Paul Larson.”
“Hello Mr. Larson. I’m Jacob Harrison. I sent you a message about the cargo run?”
“Oh, great!” Larson’s brown eyes lit up, “This way.”
He led them down a hallway into a tiny office, only a few feet wider than the desk that took up most of the room’s square footage. “Thank you for coming so quickly,” Larson said as he turned sideways to edge around the desk, the surface of which was covered by numerous papers, a computer terminal and his phone. He sat in a minimalist rolling chair on the far said and half whispered, “Now where’s that contract?”
“So Mr. Larson, you have us delivering equipment to Mining Platform Two? It looks like it’s in the asteroid cluster on the far edge of the system?”
“Correct,” he replied as he located the paperwork he sought, “Let’s talk about that for a moment.”
“The equipment you’re delivering is both very sensitive and proprietary. The containers that will be loaded into your cargo bays are not to be tampered with or opened in any way. When you arrive at the mining platform, they’ll be inspected by the supervisor there - ummmm, Perez is his name. If he determines any tampering or anything, he won’t sign off on your pay. Are we clear?”
“Crystal, Mr. Larson. Uh, I do have a question.”
“Sure,” Larson replied enthusiastically.
“The job said it was half up front, the other half on delivery?” Jacob asked.
“Oh, yes of course! That’s thirty eight thousand I’ll get transferred to your account right away. Which bay is your ship in?”
“Ninety four. Perfect,” he almost mumbled as he wrote it down, “annnnd, what is your ship’s transponder registry code?”
“Charlie sierra foxtrot mike seven two two nine one.”
“Ship name?” Larson asked, and he looked up at them when an answer didn’t come right away.
“Ummmm, one second. We literally just signed the paperwork on the ship.”
“Oh, entrepreneurs! How fantastic! Good luck to you out there. I hope you get rich.”
“Liz, you there?’ Jacob asked into his comms as he turned away to face the hallway. It was a pointless gesture, but somehow gave him the feeling of privacy. “Did you decide on the name? Of the ship, yeah. Air what? How do you spell that? Okay, thanks.”
“So what are we going with?” Larson asked, pen in hand, his pleasant smile never fading from his face.
“S.S. Ariadne. Alpha romeo india delta november echo.”
“Ariadne,” Larson repeated softly to himself, then he looked back up at them, “sounds like I’ve heard that name somewhere.”
“It’s from Greek mythology,” Torrence suddenly piped up, receiving a surprised look from Jacob. “Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete. She helped Theseus find his way back through the labyrinth after he slew the minotaur.”
“Oh,” Larson replied with a furrowed brow, “I thought it was a star system.”
“You’re probably thinking of one of the Eridani systems in the Eridanus constellation,” Torrence explained. “It -”
Jacob held a hand upright to cut Torrence off before he put them both through astronomy class. “We better register our name with Colonial Authority, huh?”
Paul smiled widely, “I’ll handle it for you. Just make sure you add it to your transponder signal on board. Okay, you’re all set,” he declared, handing a packet of paperwork to Jacob. “Our people will be delivering to your ship shortly. Make sure there’s someone there to receive it. Supervisor Perez will sign off on everything once he’s inspected the delivery. Just bring that back for the balance of the payment. Good luck out there, and see you soon.”
As Harrison and Torrence started their trip back “down” through the decks, Jacob hit his comms again. “Hey, Liz, can you add our ship name to the transponder? Thanks. The cargo should be there shortly. Malcolm and I are going to the commercial decks to pick up supplies. Yeah. Yeah. Yes! You and Mulhaney can hit it before we leave.”
“Jesus, what is that?” Jacob asked Liz, his eyes resting on the huge revolver hanging off her hip.
“It’s a gun.”
“No, this is a gun,” he replied, motioning to his own pistol - a standard issue M4A3 nine millimeter. Then he pointed over at Malcolm’s new weapon, also an M4A3, “That’s a gun, too. You’re wearing a cannon. What do you need that for?”
“I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it, but when I put a bullet in something, I don’t want it still standing.”
“We’re not going anywhere we’ll need bullets.”
“Whatever,” she replied, turning her attention away from him and to the flight controls. She opened up her mic and said, “Junction Flight Control, this is S.S. Ariadne, ready to depart.”
“Understood, Ariadne, please stand by.”
An intermittent siren sounded throughout the bay, accompanied by yellow flashing lights. A robotic, but pleasant female voice came across the loudspeaker system and Liz’s headset. “Clear bay immediately. Atmospheric depressurization in sixty seconds. Forty five seconds. Atmospheric depressurization in thirty seconds. Final warning, atmospheric depressurization in ten seconds. Atmospheric depressurization commencing.” Two enormous vents, each about ten feet square, opened to vent all of the air out of the bay and into space. The voice returned, “Depressurization complete. Opening bay doors.” The bay’s overhead lights went out, the safety of bright white light replaced with the flashing warning of yellow as the three hundred meter wide doors split horizontally at the middle, opening upward and down to reveal the blackness of space, the stars merely pinholes in its dark curtain.
“Take us out, Liz,” Jacob said once the doors had opened all the way.
“You know I don’t take orders from you, right?” she asked rhetorically, but she expertly piloted the ship out of the bay. Once clear, she boosted the thrusters just a bit to start gaining some distance.
“Ariadne, this is Junction FC,” the voice came across their headsets once they were about two hundred meters out, “you are clear and free to navigate. Bon voyage.”
“Liz, FTL whenever you’re ready.”
“Course laid in. I’m gonna give Mother a minute to double check the math,” Liz said as she climbed out of her pilot’s seat and headed for the door.
“Wait, where are you going?”
“I gotta pee, if that’s okay,” she replied, and she passed through the door and headed away from the bridge, not waiting to hear if Jacob had a reply.
Within a few minutes she found herself in one of Ariadne’s massive four cargo bays, staring at containers that looked locked up tighter than a nun’s britches. They were stacked, packed and racked tightly, and each container or pod had an electronic locking mechanism on the door. Liza looked closely at one of them for a moment. She was no comtech, but she recognized transmitters when she saw them. If anyone attempted to hack the terminals, she was sure some sort of signal would be broadcast out continuously and then picked up when they arrived at the mining platform. She frowned slightly, fixed her ponytail and sauntered back to the bridge.
Liz dozed in the pilot’s seat, her head leaning against her left hand. She had a bunk in the common area staked out, just like the rest of the crew, but she preferred the pilot seat. She always preferred the pilot seat. While she was there, she could ignore anyone else around her. People generally sucked; ships on the other hand…
She awoke when the thrumming through the ship suddenly changed, and she knew instantly that the FTL drive had disengaged. A warning light started to blink on her control dash, accompanied by an intermittent high pitched beeping. Liz reached over and hit her commlink, “Harrison, you better get up here.”
Jacob’s sleepy voice answered, “What is it?”
“I don’t know yet. Mother’s dropped us out of FTL, and there’s another ship approaching.”
“Got it. I’m on the way. Call the others to the bridge.”
Less than two minutes later, Jacob had made it to the bridge. He moved quickly, a man with purpose, though he still rubbed at eyes with dark rings underneath them. Malcolm Torrence trailed behind him, wide eyed and interested.
“Whatcha got, Liz?” Jacob asked.
“I’m not sure yet. It’s definitely a ship, moving slowly. At our current speed, we’ll be able to intercept in twenty four minutes.”
“Checking,” Torrence answered, checking a terminal to Liz’s right. “In range. Small vessel. No active transponder signal.”
“That’s very odd.”
“Pirates,” Liz stated flatly.
“Maybe,” Jacob thoughtfully agreed, but he then replied to Torrence, “Hail them on standard channels.”
“This is S.S. Ariadne contacting unidentified vessel. Please respond.”
“Intercept in twenty two minutes,” Liz reported as Torrence repeated the same message on multiple channels.
“No response?” Jacob asked Torrence, receiving a nod in reply. “All right, let’s get past them as quickly as possible.”
Liz smiled just barely, the corners of her mouth edging upward, and the thrumming vibrations in the deck began to increase as she diverted more power to the thrusters. Though there was no point of reference visually when looking into “empty” space, Ariadne’s velocity increased fifty percent as she piled more and more on. If they were pirates, she was going to zip by them before they even knew what was going on.
“Intercept in fifteen minutes.”
“Where is Mulhaney?” Jacob asked, looking around the bridge as if he had misplaced the keys to his ship.
“I... think he’s asleep in his bunk,” Torrence answered.
Jacob hit the intraship system and called loudly, “Liam Mulhaney, respond.”
After about thirty seconds and another announcement, a tired voice answered, “Yeah?”
“Dammit, Mulhaney, we’re intercepting an unknown ship in fifteen minutes -”
“Fourteen,” Liz corrected.
“Fourteen, and I need you up and ready,” Jacob said into the intercom in his best flight officer’s voice. “Be armed and ready at the airlock. If they somehow dock with us, I want you ready to take down anyone who tries to come through.”
“Affirmative,” Mulhaney the soldier replied, all sound of lethargy gone from his voice. Just two minutes later, he announced, “In position.”
Jacob stepped over to the security station and clicked through the available internal cameras - medbay, cargo bay one, two, three, etc. etc. - until he finally found Mulhaney. He was less than twenty feet from the airlock, compactly arrayed on one knee and to the side of the corridor, his M41A pulse rifle trained on the door.
Jacob returned to his seat and worked to control his breathing as he felt the adrenaline begin to surge. Torrence seemed jittery as well, but Liz merely sat in her pilot’s seat, her eyes hidden behind those mirror shades of hers. She always seemed cool as cucumber, as Jacob thought the saying went, though he wasn’t exactly sure he knew what a cucumber was. Some kind of pickle maybe…
“There it is!” Torrence announced excitedly with an outstretched finger pointed out the bridge’s front viewport at a tiny speck some hundred miles or more away.
“Good eyes,” Jacob said as he stood from his chair again to stand right beside Liz, leaning over her left side. “Liz, can you bring that up on a monitor, zoom in on it if you can.”
She went to move her left hand and found her range of motion decreased by his closeness. She indiscriminately threw her elbow - not hard enough to hurt him, but just enough to make her annoyance plain - as she manipulated a few switches. One of the black, eight inches screens crackled to life with a display of static, which abruptly collapsed into itself from the top and bottom of the screen. It had returned to black, but a different kind of black - the kind where the screen was on, but simply had nothing to show. A tiny pinprick of white appeared in the middle of the screen, and as she flipped one final switch, the image magnified. A ghostly blue-white, pixelated view of a ship filled the screen. It tumbled through space slowly, spinning in multiple axes with no sign of control.
“She’s a Starcub-class shuttle,” Liz said.
“Is this the best you can get?” Jacob asked, squinting to make details out of the fuzzy image on the tiny screen.
Liz sighed, “Yes. Mother’s doing the best she can to combine the sensors with what little the cameras can see at this range. We’ll have to get closer.”
“All right, let’s check her out. Slow us down,” Jacob ordered, and he then said into the intercom, “Mulhaney, I think everything is okay. You can stand down, but stand by.”
Liz suppressed an annoyed grimace at Jacob as she began to reverse thrust. Ariadne bucked, causing Jacob and Malcolm to steady themselves on whatever was handy. As the ship slowed, a strange reverse hum sounded through the ship’s decks and bulkheads.
“We’re still closing,” Jacob stated the obvious, looking out through the viewport. “Can you bring us to a stop, and then match her vector and spin?”
“Did you really just ask me that?” Liz replied. She sounded annoyed, but a hint of a lopsided smile was on her face. Within minutes, the two ships were alongside each other, both tumbling wildly from the view of a third party in space.
“Jesus, what happened to her?” Jacob asked rhetorically. Then he pointed, “You see that? A hull breach on her starboard side.”
“That’s near the galley,” Liz nodded. “S.S. Graceful. Can you look up anything we know about S.S. Graceful, Torrence?”
“One moment,” Malcolm Torrence replied as he clicked a keyboard and awaited for an answer.
“No power,” Liz muttered.
“She has no power. Engines are cold. Hull breach. There can’t be anyone alive over there.”
“Graceful left Junction three months ago on a personnel run to New Galveston,” Torrence reported. “She arrived on schedule, but never returned to Junction. Her position and status is listed as unknown.”
“Not anymore,” Liz muttered.
“Liz, line us up for docking. Mulhaney,” Jacob shouted into the intercom, “get suited up to connect our umbilicus.”
“What are you doing?” Liz asked with a sidelong glance.
“I wanna check her out, see if we can figure out what happened.”
“With what suit?”
Jacob paused for a moment, suddenly unsure as if he had forgotten something very important, but then he slowly replied, “The Mark Fifty in your locker?”
“You mean, my Mark Fifty?”
“Yes, your Mark Fifty. It’s the only suit we have on board.”
“Yep, and it’s mine.”
“Liz, can we please borrow your suit so we can go over there and see what we can find?”
“I,” Liz started to argue, but then she took a deep breath. “Fine, but if anyone messes that suit up, you’re buying me a new one.”
“Fine. Mulhaney, suit up in Liz’s Mark Fifty. She’ll have you lined up to connect the umbilicus in a moment.”
“Affirmative,” came the reply.
“He really doesn’t say much, does he?” Jacob asked Liz.
“People don’t always have to talk all the time.”
“Just keep her steady. C’mon, Malcolm, let’s go. We’ll monitor Mulhaney from down there.” A few minutes later, they stood at the main airlock, with Mulhaney ready to go. Jacob pointed at the M41A pulse rifle slung over the big man’s back. “Do you really need that?”
“Better to have it and not need it -”
“Than to need it and not have it, yeah I know,” Jacob grumbled. “Do you have your cutting tools? Okay, good. And take my maintenance jack. It may be easier to coax some of the doors open than cut them open.”
Mulhaney nodded as he took the tool and clipped it to his belt before turning toward the airlock door. Jacob opened it for him, and the former marine stepped inside. The interior door closed shut with a metallic hum, and then the airlock itself decompressed. Mulhaney opened the exterior door and proceeded to connect the umbilicus to the other ship some twenty meters away.
“I can’t use the jack on the airlock door, proceeding to cut through.”
“We’re watching you. Be careful,” Liz called from the bridge, receiving a grunt of reply.
They all watched the clock as almost four minutes passed while Liam Mulhaney moved a tiny blue flame around the ship’s exterior airlock door. Finally, he cut the torch off and inspected his handiwork. With a grunt, he pushed his right shoulder up against the door. Metal scraped on metal as the massive slab of steel finally budged inward into the ship and simply floated from the lack of gravity.
“Okay, Mulhaney, Starcub’s are not very big ships. The airlock should open right onto the bridge.”
“Affirmative. Everything is off. No power. One moment,” Mulhaney said almost absently, and his voice sounded miles away through the bridge’s speaker. A beam of light flashed across the Starcub’s bridge as he switched on a flashlight. “There was an explosion.”
“Affirmative. I’d say it was a grenade,” Mulhaney replied as he looked over the damage on the bridge. The flight controls and several other stations had been obliterated, and the viewport glass was gone, leaving the bridge open to space.
Jacob and Liz glanced at each other for a moment, catching each other’s gaze. They both seemed to ask, “Explosion?” with their eyes.
“On the far side of the bridge should be a door to the computer core. Do you see it?” Jacob asked.
“Affirmative. It’s closed.”
“See if you can get in there. Maybe their Mother is still intact.”
“Affirmative,” he replied, followed by the sounds of heavy breathing and the occasional grunt as he used the maintenance jack. The middle of the door slowly parted, the panels sliding into the wall on either side. “There was an explosion in the core.”
“Are you in?” Jacob asked.
“Negative, only about half way, but the computer core is destroyed. There’s something else. Someone bled out inside there. No body.”
“Probably blew out when the ship was breached,” Liz mused.
“There is a lot of blood here. It’s frozen to the deck and crystalized in the air. I’m going to head toward the crew mess.”
“The man has ice in his veins,” Torrence mumbled.
“He was a Colonial Marine,” Liz explained. “He’s probably seen guys cut in half by machine guns.”
“Everyone shut up,” Jacob snapped, Liz giving him a sharp glare as a reply.
“Crew mess is empty. Table is clean. Hmmm…”
“What is it, Liam?” asked Liz, leaning forward.
“Nine millimeter casings floating around in here. Bullet holes in the wall.”
“They were shooting at something,” Jacob said, his brow furrowed, “inside the ship?”
“And set off a grenade. Must have been bad, whatever it was,” Liz agreed. “Anything else in the mess?”
Mulhaney’s voice crackled back, “A hole in the bulkhead. Right out into space.”
“Negative. I… I don’t know. Looks like... something corrosive. Bunks are empty. Personal effects probably blew out, too. I’m heading to the engine room.”
“Liam, you should walk right by the EEVs. Check ‘em out,” Liz suggested.
“Affirmative. One pod gone. The other appears to be intact. Moving on,” he replied. After a moment, his distant voice returned, “Engine room is wrecked. Looks like the engines overloaded.”
“Check for radiation,” Jacob said to Torrence, his commander’s voice kicking in automatically.
“Normal background radiation,” Torrence replied after a moment. “Reactor must be completely cold. He should be fine.”
Liz leaned forward again. “Liam, any idea what happened?”
“No way to tell. Damage is extensive.”
“There’s definitely no one on board.”
“Anything we can salvage?” Liz asked.
Jacob killed the line for a moment as he transfixed Liz with a look, “Salvage? Are you kidding?”
“The ship’s dead in space and empty, been missing for months. Salvage rights -”
“We don’t have a tow hitch, even if we did try to claim her, but something happened here. We owe it to whoever was on this shuttle to report it to the authorities.”
“Fine, do that,” Liz replied with no hint of concession in her voice, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t pull some parts off her. They’re just gonna scrap her anyway.”
Jacob rolled his eyes, but gave her the point. “Fine,” he said, reopening the link to Mulhaney’s suit. “What about it? Anything of use over there?”
“I can salvage some components, given a few hours.”
Jacob checked the flight watch on his wrist with a sigh. “Okay, we have some time. Come back to Ariadne to refill your air, then see what you can do. We need to be back underway in six hours.”
“Is that it?” Torrence asked, pointing at a tiny brown speck some visibly immeasurable distance away. It was barely indistinguishable from the black space around it.
“That’s it,” Liz confirmed.
The radio crackled to life with some static, followed by a voice with an unmistakable old Texan accent, “This is Mining Platform Two. We have you on approach. Please identify yourself.”
“Mining Platform Two,” answered Liz, “this is S.S. Ariadne out of Junction Station with a shipment of equipment for Supervisor Perez.”
The channel went silent for several minutes, causing Ariadne’s crew to glance back and forth at each other nervously. On some level, they knew it was nothing; whomever answered them from the platform was probably just locating this Perez guy and getting confirmation. The tiny brown speck of dust that was Mining Platform Two hadn’t grown any larger when the response came, “Ariadne, you’re cleared for approach. Land in bay one. Just follow the markers.”
“Affirmative,” Liz responded.
The mining platform grew exponentially in size as Ariadne approached, eventually filling their viewports with its industrial vistas. Where Junction Station was all gray, silver and chrome alloys and plasteel, this facility showed nothing but shades of brown, reflecting the weak light of the stars so far away. A large rectangular base was built right on top of a massive asteroid, and four enormous pillars extended from it several hundred meters. What their precise use was, the crew of Ariadne wasn’t certain, and tubes criss-crossed between the stacks, allowing transport between them. Four huge cargo bays ran left to right across the facility’s front, and it was the left most that opened, bright white piercing the night of space. Marker lights blinked intermittently as the ship approached.
“That’s ummmm…” Jacob hedged nervously as he eyeballed the width of the bay’s open door, “are we going to fit?”
“I got this. Relax,” Liz said as she gunned the thrusters, pushing the M-class starfreighter forward.
The shift in momentum nearly knocked Jacob Harrison off his feet, and he fell back into his chair almost as if he meant to sit. He began to sweat as the ship barrel rolled its way entirely too fast toward the open bay. “Ariadne, decrease speed. Ariadne, come in! Show down, immediately!” came the calls from the mining platform, but Liz only reached forward to turn the comm system off.
Jacob was absolutely sure the ship was entirely too big for the open cargo bay door, to say nothing of the speed at which they approached. The sides of the cargo bay would breach the ship, scraping large chunks off the hull on either side. At the last possible moment, Liz flattened the roll and pushed the port side thrusters while reversing the thrust to starboard. Ariadne spun wildly to the left, the view changing to the vastness of space. As quickly as the spin began, it stopped with an opposite blast of port and starboard thrusters. Instead of being pushed back in his chair, he was now almost thrown forward out of it. Only a hasty fumbling of the seat’s straps kept him from landing face first on the deck. His head banged backwards violently as the ship decelerated at breakneck pace, and then Ariadne settled gently on the cargo bay deck, the softest landing any ship had ever had.
“I’m going to be sick,” Torrence almost shouted, covering his hands with his mouth and running from the bridge.
“What the Hell was that, Liz?” Jacob demanded, disengaging himself from the straps.
“A landing. A good one,” she answered, not bothering to take her shades off.
“And exactly what the Hell was that, Captain Harrison?!” the man named Perez nearly shouted at him. The man had hair that had to have been dyed black if the silver goatee was any indication, and deep, dark rings under his eyes. A thick neck connected his head to a thicker body, the body of a man who had worked with heavy equipment his entire life.
“My pilot is… eccentric,” Jacob replied as calmly as he could. “I understand your displeasure, believe me -”
“Displeasure?!” Perez cut him off. “I’m fucking pissed! If I ever catch you flying around my platform like that again, I’ll…”
“Completely understood, Supervisor Perez. I’ve already censured her,” Jacob lied. Well, it was sort of true, in its own way.
“If that cargo is damaged…”
“I checked it all right after we landed. Everything is perfectly secure.”
“If you tampered with it in any way…”
“No, sir, Mr. Larson was very clear. We just want to get paid.”
“Let’s check it out,” Perez said, and he started up Ariadne’s ramp. Two men followed him, two men apparently cut from the same physical mold as he, though they were younger. As they entered his ship, Jacob’s eyes narrowed on the sidearms they all carried on their belts.
Why would asteroid miners need pistols?, he wondered. Once they were aboard, Jacob introduced Torrence and Mulhaney, the latter of which all three of the miners eyeballed warily. He added, “They’ll take you gentlemen through the cargo bays so you can check your cargo.”
“You’re not coming with us?” Torrence asked, wide eyed.
“No, I want to go talk to our pilot again about that stunt.” He started up the corridor away from the five men, and once he turned the corner, he whispered into the nearest comm terminal, “Liz, are you monitoring all this?”
“You wanna talk to me about that stunt, do you?”
“Shut up and listen. Something’s not right here. Perez is aggressive as Hell, and they’re all armed.”
“Just keep an eye on everything, and be ready to get us out of here.”
“Through a closed cargo bay door?”
“Figure it out,” Jacob hit back. “I’m trying to do one thing and one thing only - get Perez’s signature as quickly as possible so we can get back to Junction and get paid.”
“Well, you better get over to cargo bay one then. It looks like Malcolm is having an argument with one of Perez’s guys.”
His boots clanging on the metal deck, Jacob ran back to the main airlock, and his momentum caused him to bounce off the bulkhead as he turned right for the starboard cargo bays. He slowed the run to a stop just before reaching the door leading to bay one and breathed deeply a few times to slow down his heart.
The door opened with a motorized hum as he stepped through into the bay. Sure enough, Torrence was in a shouting match with one of the roughnecks. Mulhaney stood behind them with his rifle braced up against his shoulder. The other man had drawn his pistol and was talking into his radio.
“Sign off on it first!” Malcolm shouted.
“I ain’t signin’ shit until I check it all out!” the bear of a man shouted back.
“Okay, okay, everyone calm down,” Jacob called as he approached slowly, his hands held palms out.
“What’s going on here?!” Perez thundered from behind him, immediately grabbing everyone’s attention.
“They won’t let us check the cargo,” accused the guy with the pistol.
Malcolm shook his head vigorously, “No, no, no, that’s not true.”
“Then let us check it!”
“They need to sign off on it, first,” Malcolm argued. “Once they’ve started opening it up, they can claim we opened it!”
“Harrison, get your men in line,” Perez growled with a nod at Mulhaney. “I don’t like guns being pointed my direction.”
“I agree,” Jacob replied calmly, almost soothingly, “let’s figure this out. Your man has to put his pistol away, too, right?”
Something flashed in Perez’s eyes for just a moment, and then something in the man’s resolve faltered as he agreed, “You’re right. Put the weapon away, Meadows.”
“But -” Meadows began.
“I mean it! Gun away!”
“You, too,” Jacob said to Mulhaney, “Safety on, put it away.”
“Never took the safety off,” Mulhaney replied, as he released the rifle and slung it over his back.
“Okay, we’re good, right?” Jacob asked with outstretched hands, receiving a nod from Perez. “So look, you’ve visually inspected the containers, right?”
“Not all of them,” Not Meadows replied, “just this first bay.”
“Okay, did you see any evidence of tampering?”
“No, but -”
“But we need to see inside the containers to be sure,” Perez finished for him.
“I get it, and I want you to,” Jacob continued, “but you have to understand where we’re coming from. Everyone’s been hammering on us that if the cargo is tampered with at all, we’ll forfeit half our pay. We want our money, and we’ve done exactly what we’ve been paid to do. So let’s do this - let’s visually inspect the rest of the cargo. If it all looks good on the outside, you sign off that the cargo appears good to go. Once we’ve both agreed on that, we can open it up together.”
“No can do,” Perez disagreed. “That hardware is proprietary, Our eyes only.”
“Then we won’t look inside. We’ll just observe that everything stays on the level,” Jacob replied easily. “Remember, we just want to get paid. That’s all we care about.”
Perez relented, “Agreed.”
Liz cocked her head to one side, and mused aloud, “They were awful twitchy about some mining equipment, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I think so. I don’t know why miners are carrying guns, but you know what?”
“I don’t care what that was about. We did what we were hired to do.”
“How long for us to get back to Junction?” he asked.
“About twenty hours.”
“Perfect. I’m gonna hit my bunk for a few hours,” Jacob replied, turning to leave the bridge.
Just as the door opened, Liz called after him, “You did good.”
Jacob Harrison paused for just a second, but opted not to reply.