2950-02-15 – Tales from the Inbox: A Spacer’s Ruination
Looks like we didn’t get a story into the feed system before ingest time this week. That probably means our embed team aboard Saint- Lô has not been near a hypercast relay for at least eight days.
This is an expected consequence of wartime maneuvers and operations, and as such your Cosmic Background Embed Team has prepared a number of interesting accounts to publish in advance should the vagaries of war cause a lapse in communication with the greater interstellar datasphere.
Most likely, last week’s entry warned that this might be the case; if not, Duncan or Nojus will give an account of what’s been happening on the battle front in weeks to come.
The names used in this account are all pseudonymous (for reasons you will shortly discover), and the events described took place many months ago.
Ramiro W. slumped against the bulkhead near the airlock, letting the data slate in his hands fall to the pitted deck plating. He had been pacing the length of his tiny ship for hours, trying to come up with a way of escaping the fate he and his ship had fallen into. Even if he drained his savings, went as far into debt as his credit line would allow, and sold every unnecessary item aboard, he still couldn’t pay what it would cost to get Jen Daley spaceworthy again.
Selling off his poor vessel to the shipbreakers would earn Ramiro enough money to get home and get his feet under him, but he hated the idea of returning to Madurai in defeat. He’d left that world five years prior, hoping never to see the planet of his birth ever again. The Galactic West small-colony cargo circuit had for a time proved lucrative enough to keep his little ship running and even to turn a small profit, but as more and more independent outfits moved in from the war-torn Coreward Frontier, Ramiro had found himself struggling to stay competitive.
For a while, he’d simply reduced his profits, and then operated on a break-even basis in order to keep his routes. After all, he’d reasoned, the war couldn’t go on forever, and the ships and spacers displaced by the conflict would leave again when it was over. His profits from prior years had given him a comfortable buffer of savings in case something went catastrophically wrong.
Something had indeed gone wrong. Jen Daley’s ancient, reliable fusion reactor had begun to fail on the return trip from remote Holst’s Run, finally scramming for the last time just after the final jump into the outer Philadelphia system. Limping into port on only the power provided by the auxiliary solar panel arrays, he’d been forced to pay out to replace the old, destroyed machinery after four different starship mechanics had failed to wake the fusion plant. His savings had covered the new reactor core, but only barely.
Three runs later, Jen Daley’s heat sequestration systems had gone out, threatening alternately to boil and then freeze Ramio as the ship approached and then withdrew from the stars which gave life to Galactic West’s many habitable planets.
He’d put up with the discomfort without repairing the system for nearly a month before finally giving in and having it worked on. For one glorious week everything aboard Jen Daley had seemed to be in perfect working order, and then everything had gone to Hell.
Most likely, the heat sequestration had been broken by an electrical fault in the main power system routing power from the ship’s brand-new, high-performance core transformers through critical sensor components. Ramiro only knew this now, since the same fault had eventually recurred, this time subjecting the star drive to the electrical might of a miniature artificial sun. The folder nodes along the sides of the bow had melted, and droplets of molten metal had flowed down inside their housings, connecting things in unholy and unplanned ways until the whole hull was part of one gigantic high-voltage circuit, ruining every sensor, thruster, gyro, antenna, and other small outward-facing apparatus aboard.
Fortunately for Ramiro, this time the fault happened when he was only a few hundred kilometers out the grand Amadei Philadelphia transfer station. Unfortunately for him, repairing his ship this time would cost nearly double what he could manage to pay, and no repair team on the station would allow an independent spacer to pay in installments.
Sighing, Ramiro stooped to pick up the data slate, undamaged by its collision with the deck. He had been offered one alternative to consigning his ship to the breakers, but it was an alternative he couldn’t possibly accept. Better to return to Madurai for another decade of credit-pinching than to sell his soul and future to her.
Ramiro he keyed open the airlock and headed into the station to find a shipbreaker’s representative. A moment later his comm pinged. Scowling, he shoved the earpiece into his ear. “Answer.”
“Ramie, don’t do it. You know I can help you.”
“No, Liv, you can’t.” He didn’t bother wondering how she knew what he’d decided – perhaps it was as simple as having a camera watching his ship’s airlock. “I’d rather go back to the dirt than fly on your terms.”
“I find that hard to believe.” Livia Farran’s silky voice carried a note of mock concern. Ramiro and Galactic West’s most innovative con artist had plenty of run-ins over the years, most of them unfriendly. “You’d rather keep flying, even if it means compromising a little bit.”
“A little bit?” Ramiro’s hands balled into fists. “I won’t help you swindle colonists.”
“Any more colonists, you mean. You’ve already done it once.”
Ramiro winced. He’d taken on Livia Farran as a passenger early on in his career as an independent spacer thinking her a mining expert and only learned her credentials and results were a total sham after she’d been paid nearly a million credits by three hardscrabble colonies to give them the locations of nonexistent formations of rare minerals.
“Anyway, Ramie, I’m on to something new. Something I think won't bruise your precious scruples very much at all. No more stealing sweets from the babies.”
Ramiro sighed. Could it hurt to listen? “You have sixty seconds, then you’re blocked again.” He’d comms-blocked Liv more times than he could count, but she had more official identities and datasphere footprints than he could easily find. Even if he did it again, all she’d need to do was use one he hadn’t seen before.
“Well, I was thinking. You know who’s got a lot of money these days and who won’t go crying to the authorities if they’re idiots who get that money stolen? The Ladeonists.”
Ramiro stopped in the middle of the corridor, traffic pushing past him on both sides. “You’re insane. Authorities? They’d send a kill team.”
“Probably not, especially if we did it in a way that would make them look too much like idiots. Hey, look at it this way, you’d be doing your part in the war effort. You know those guys are getting money from the other side.”
Ramiro’s shoulders slumped. He wanted very much to tell Liv off, to continue on his way to the shipbreakers’ office, but he couldn’t do it. Swindling Ladeonists was bad news, but he had very little issue with the idea morally. “Anyone going along with you has got to have a death wish.”
“So you’re in, then.” Liv’s smile was audible through the comms circuit. “I’ll wire you just enough to get that rusty tub fixed up. I’ll be along in a few days, then we can talk details.”
Ramiro sighed. “I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?”
“Oh, certainly. But I promise we’re only going to steal from people who totally have it coming.”
Ramiro cut the channel. He knew just how little to trust Livia Farran’s promises, but he knew he had to take that chance.