We’ll get right on that, then.
From: Lt. Samuel Biggs
To: Sgt. Anton Maieux
Timestamp: 2154-07-07 06:07:11 EST
Subject: Re: (no subject)
We considered your request, but unfortunately, it must be denied. While Andromeda is in high berth, we’ll need every man onboard for inspections and extra duties. Additionally, Mars STC cannot handle any more traffic since Phobos is being developed. Advise next opportunity at Jupiter rendezvous.
> Some of the boys and i were thinking of heading
> planetside for some r&r. We’ve been in spce for several
> months, and it’d improve morale
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The best nuclear engineers are bachelorettes.
Beth nudges her tiny spaceship on RCS power the last 100 km to Haven, the orbiting metropolis dangling perilously by space elevator from Pasiphae, one of the outer retrograde moons of Jupiter.
“Haven approach, U.F.P. Willow cleared for docking, junction 900 E. Advise no open-cycle nuclear propulsion within 100 klicks.”
“Duh,” Beth thinks. “Why do you think I changed orbits with docking thrusters? That’s the only other burner this thing has.”
“It’s not much,” she reflects as the dull clack, felt through the berthed ship, signals the dry dock closing behind her. She’s carrying a brown paper bag filled with treasure: Tellurium superconducting wire, spare plasmabrick for reactor lining, even a canister of propulsion-grade Xenon.
It’s a high-quality, if small, collection. It will fetch a good price, but it’s getting harder. There’s simply not much left unsalvaged. And sometimes you spend delta-V and months of transit time to intercept with a derelict that’s already been picked over. 4000s is pretty good ISP for a NTR, but after months chasing wrecks in interplanetary space, that’s still an awful lot of Hydrogen and Uranium-Hex to buy at a gas giant—to say nothing of food.
Ed. note: we first saw Beth here.
“Last I heard, you were dead.”
“So I hear you like curries.”
“That’s not funny. You know I hate how space erodes your sensitivity to taste.”
“Fair enough. The rations, which are, by the way, spicy precisely to counter that effect, hit the spot for me, at least. It’s too bad there isn’t more to go around.”
“It’s a long flight and every gram counts. Cut it with water.”
“Ugh. I hate drinking our own rad shielding.”
“The rubbery taste is a bit off-putting, I’ll grant. But the ammonic tang of lightly reprocessed piss isn’t any better.”
“True enough. Pass the water. And also the aloo matar.”
Ed note: c.f. spacecoach concept IRL.
I guess there’s time for sightseeing.
“No Visitors”, reads the scrawled lettering on the thin, corrugated metal. Beth grimaces remorselessly and turns the handle.
Inside is static chaos. Everything bolted down bent. Everything stacked or hanging fallen. The table, the lamp, the picture frame with the occupant’s daughter, all lie in a broken heap. Chaos.
And covered with dust.
The thin, fine, dangerous dust that you get from manufacturing defects, from micrometeorite punctures in your ventilation system, leaking precious, life-giving air into the clutches of nothingness. From monopropellant from ruptured tanks coating the suffocated interior of a small freighter, one of thousands spinning lonely in the dark.
Beth plays her flashlight over the rubble. Nothing here. No Tellurium on the engine deck either. Already picked over.
On a whim Beth reaches for the picture frame. Then smiles. The girl would be about 230 now. Still, she’s a pretty echo of the long dead.