19: Leaky Boat
“More, more more, moooooore….”
Joanie knew her love of ancient ballads shat most of the crew but she could not help herself. Alone in engineering, the sound bounced around the walls like it was the real thing, and it was not like anyone else ever came down here. Funnily enough, though he never said it, she knew the cap liked it too; maybe not quite the aficionado like her but she’d spotted his foot tapping away to the beat more than once.
The Callisto, 10,000 tons of freighter with 10,000 tones of cargo, was 3 weeks out from from the next port on it’s way to the belt. 90 years old, it was showing its age and at times seemed that it was being held together with tape and whole lot of hope and luck. The company had started scrapping the fleet of Glaub Industries’ WA class hulls, ‘Mercs’ to those that flew them, and was replacing them, or so they’d been told. She’d yet to see one, or know of anyone manning one of the new boats. For now though, they were plodding their way through the deep void, at not any great rush, in a 90 year old can that was well past its prime.
Joanie’s father used to work the VXs back in the day, when heading out into space was even more of a ride into the unknown than it was now. Nothing more than a stick he used to say, with the drive at one end and the crew box at the other. She remembers the mad stories he used to tell of crews trying to jump up the drives only to have the entire hull come apart at the slightest provocation. He saw the tail end of the VX class, which at his time must have been floating death traps – they were never designed to remain in service as long as they had. So when he moved into the first generation of the WA, he said it was like being reborn… And here she was, manning practically the same boat he’d thought was a godsend, thinking what a pile of junk it really was.
“Enter night blabalbala…..”
The change in baseline snapped her out of it. ‘Damnit, day dreaming again’ she said to herself and got back to watching the spooling readouts. The Callisto was the sort of ship you needed to keep an eye on, just in case it decided to do something it shouldn’t without warning. At least it kept her ‘interested’ on these hauls, the idea of being stuck on the bridge, looking out into black for weeks, months, at a time, was something she’d prefer not to think about too much…
The pressure hatch hissed. Looking up she could see the cap floating down the ladder.
“Hey Cap. Whatcha doing down low?” The cap pretty much never came ‘down’ to engineering; no need to really, there was nothing for him to do. So when he did, it was usually to tell her some news first hand. At three weeks out, what news could there be?
“How’d you like a new can to get your hands dirty on?”
“What, they giving us another rust bucket?”. The company had done it before, twice in fact – promised them a new ship but when they turned up to collect, it was something actually worse than what they already had. The Callisto was a prime example. At least three steps backwards from what they had before, which was not great, they’d been stuck it with for the past 18 months, counting the days until something went really wrong.
The cap smiled “Nope, this time they have us a shiny new one and it’s waiting for us at port”.
That got her attention
“At port? What, they are giving us a new can in the middle of a delivery? That’s a bit strange isn’t it…?”
Dropping into the port’s birth three weeks later, a ballet that seemed impossible for a fully loaded 20,000 ton ship, the cap nudged her and chinned out manual port “There it is”.
Joanie looked out; a rare treat being in the forward nav for a docking. The cap was right, it was brand new and very shiny. Bathed in the floodlights, the massive slabs of compsteel coloured in the bight green and red checker livery of the company’s fleet, the ‘Flux’ loomed like the 90,000 ton monolith it was. Craning her neck as they floated by , Joanie could just see the 4 enormous serpentine outlets of the Expansion drives trailing out the back, looming like monstrous snakes. This thing was no joke.
But as if he read her mind before she managed anything else, and without looking back, he said very flatly “They have a new mission for us….”
‘Always a fucking catch with these bastards’ she thought to herself.
“Hope you don’t mind Rip hopping…”
Yea, that was a good catch.
Looking for Gods in Maschines:
Spans of the known:
A collection of hard science fiction tales written and illustrated by Gerard Thomas.