Chapter 01 - View From SolDock Five.
So here I am, up on the recreation deck. I've found a bar that overlooks the dry dock that she is being re-worked in. Cold beer in hand, hot meal nicely tucked away in my stomach.
She may only be a class three tug, limited in licence and tonnage, though physics itself dictates a limit on what I can move. I'm part of a dyeing breed. The new deep space catapults slowly putting the long haul riggers out of business. Huge magnetic tubes, aligned with the far reaches of space, shoot cargo at unimaginable speed to its destination like big cannons pointing into the void. Cargo lined up at one end is systematically fed in and slight variation in magnetic field sends it in various directions. The things are relentless, titanic, and fully automated. They make up the majority of the major space lanes now, constant flow of unmanned cargo bullets. You don't get in their way if you can help it. Most of the work now is the scheduled catching at the other end. Time and place, you go and wait and hope the inertia has bitten into the speed of the thing enough to hook it and engage retro thrusters to slow the damn cargo brick down sufficiently to be able to guide it to it's eventual destination to be broken down and shipped on as goods elsewhere.
I say last of a dying breed but that's just an affectation. I always wanted a rig all my life, so when I retired I sold the house on Mars and invested all the proceeds and the money from my pension into the rig, plus a couple of small investments I'd managed to build up. I couldn't afford one of the big interstellar deals, luckily it turns out, with the decline, so opted for a class three. I ply my way between certain solar stations and some of the outlying colonies. The Catapults being too expensive (and too powerful) to operate within the solar systems. I contract to catch one of the bricks maybe one or twice a month. That seems to cover my expenses. I don't think I could afford to do it as a serious job though. I make a small profit, just enough to make it worth my while. It's more an enthusiast practicing his hobby than a business man trying to take on Interstella Solar Mining GmBH.
It's getting to the point where most of us are either retired office jocks looking for something to do, or the burnt out, rejected, long haulers with no-where else to go. Downsized and emasculated, the long haulers, now and again one of them looses the will to go on, and just doesn't stop the brick, just puts the tug in the way. Not a nice way to go but a quick one. The cargo itself is almost indestructible so no real damage , or loss of profit, there. Just a bit of a shock to the rest of us as we sit there watching it happen. I've only seen a couple in the past few years I've been playing at the job, but you know what's happening. The position of the tug, the angle of approach, the attitude of the catcher. After a while you have a feeling for what's right, and you can see, or feel, when it's wrong.
Enough of this maudlin. I sit and glow with pride at my own little space ship. Part ship, part camper van, part floating apartment, part office cube. Actually a bit bigger than the condo on Mars. Command deck, lounge, galley, bathroom and toilet, and four state rooms. I can take passengers if I want but spend most of the time by myself, it suites me that way. The galley's huge, well the walk in freezer is about three times my old kitchens size. Of course you need quiet a bit of space to store six months worth of food and water etc. Beer, wine, spirits, you know the story. It all works by feeding coolant external to the hull into radiators in space. Much cheaper than expanding and contracting gasses, and fine because she never breaks atmosphere. Larder, fridge, freezer, wine cellar. It does for all functions. I've even converted one of the rooms into a library. I keep my collection of antique books, some of them even printed on paper, with my turn of the millennium classic films, all with me were ever I go. The water tank is a room in itself. I keep expecting to find alien eco systems in it every time I have to clean it.
The nasal, guttural drone of the local patois from two local dock workers at an adjacent table distracts me for a moment. Less English than many of the varieties I hear in my travels, I'm finding it hard to understand what it is they are finding so amusing. From the body language and mime in the conversation I'm guessing that a work mate trapped in some stupid, careless, accident seems to have lost a limb, the mock squealing and crying is obviously a great source of humour to his fellows. I'm sure the dock, or union, insurance will cover the bio rebuild for the dismembered individual. The dock workers stop talking, and I realise I've been staring and they have noticed. I tip my glass in their direction and smile. They grunt and nod back then continue to talk as I look out on the hustle and activity in the boulevard below the balcony.
I've chosen the Café Venue for a couple of reasons. First the excellent view of the dry dock, next the view over the Boulevard Hersham Star, so I can sit and watch the ebb and flow of humanity, if you can call some of the meta humans you get out here humanity, hybrids with animals that long since ceased to exist on their home worlds. The metas are an attempt to perpetrate the DNA to the future. A guilt payment for the terraforming and stealing of their home world’s resources, capitalist imperialism on a galactic scale.
Café Venue's not the most salubrious of locations, it's cheap, it's clean, and it's not quiet as ramshackle as some of the section twenty five industrial sector eateries. Please don't get me wrong, I'm not against eating ships rat, I just like mine to be cooked properly, with a nice sauce and some veg on the side. Section twenty five is more shanty town than anything else. Bolted on the side of the station almost like an after thought. Grown like a carbuncle from the constant influx of people from far and distant places. Silted like the slow part of the stream, having travelled light years at incredible speeds the flow of humanity slows down and sediment begins to form around the ports and cargo depots.
I can spend all day sitting here on the balcony. Quietly watching the flow of people. Quietly drinking their beer. My credit's good, and I only need to restock for a short haul, three months this time so plenty of slack in the budget.
If you sit still long enough the rest of the world starts to speed up around you, like some time-lapse scene from an old movie, the people start to move faster and faster, and you begin to see the patterns of the movement emerge. The lines of least resistance begin to appear. The pathways that people use subconsciously appear through the market below.
After a few hours I get bored. I've read all the vids I brought with me. I'm up to date on the SolDock politics, who hates who, who's in this season, who's out, who's killed who, and who tried, the new tech that's being sent down from Cygnus, and some of the other distance colonies. I may have enough from the next run to have some of the tech on The Lady upgraded after the next run.
I rise from the table. The waitress brings over the slate with my bill prominently displayed. I place my thumb on the bottom corner for fingerprint authentication and she scans the chip in my neck. A facsimile of my thumbprint appears on the bill where i touched it. Funds transferred, bill paid and a copy automatically picked up by my slate to transfer to the ship board accounts. Everything nicely logged and catalogued for the tax taken from any transactions undertaken in the industrial district. A different rate would apply if I had done the same thing in the habitat section. Downstairs and through the bar, out onto the street, hassled by vendors, bumped by fellow customers all eager to reach whatever bargain they have set their heart on today. as I move away from the Café Venue I hear the all to familiar sound of breaking glass and shouting as fight breaks out inside.
Now I need to find a water vendor to fill the tanks enough to give me six months grace before I have to start drinking re-syc again. Nothing quiet comes close to drinking your own re-cycled bath water, and sweat condensed out of the environment filters, let alone the toilet, but I try not to think about that.