Chapter 1: Emergency landing.
Liam Et'unt awoke seconds before the alarm went off, silencing it halfway through its first shriek. He sighed as he clambered out of his bunk and floated up to the cockpit to relieve Ueme, who'd been piloting the small asteroid mining rig for the past three days.
“Go get some rest Ueme, your shift's up and I’m eager to fly my ship again.”
She jumped, startled at the sudden sound in the otherwise dead silence. “Jeezus Liam, give me a heart attack why don't you! Is it time to change already?”
“Yah, I think Nals'll be up to relieve Brenan soon so if you wanna stop him in the halls and--”
“Thanks! But I gotta get some rest!” she cut him off.
“Heh, well catch some sleep while you can Ueme!”
He watched her jump out of the command chair, and with a quick push, glid effortlessly out of the cramped cockpit and towards the crew quarters. Hmm, Nals is lucky she took such a liking to him, he thought as the last bit of her tail disappeared through the hatch. Time to get to work I guess, he keyed the mic to see if Brenan was still running the mining laser.
“This is Liam, Nals meltin the rocks now, or is Brenan still up there?”
“I’m still here, XO is probably flirting with Ueme in the hallway if you already kicked her outta the pilot's seat.”
“Yah, probably, so how’re we doin Bren?”
“We’re at 20% coolant capacity, and 50% cargo, so we’re gonna probably hav’ta start home without a full hold unless you wanna risk damaging the laser.”
“Hmm, well we could just orbit a larger rock and laze it in short bursts so it doesn’t overheat. How’s the tractor beam holding up?”
“Let me check…”
A few minutes passed before Brenan keyed his mic again.
“Uh, we might have a problem Captain”
“What’s goin on, Bren?”
“Some of the dust from that last storm must have cut into the external wiring, I’m only seeing one battery powering the ship!”
“Damn! Shut down the laser and go find Ueme, She’s better than you or Nals with the electronics even when she’s exhausted.”
“Can do Capt’n.”
Liam sat there looking over the Tyche’s readings trying to figure out how three battery cells could go offline without tripping the sensors.
The Tyche was a Schooner Class Mining Vessel co-owned by Liam Et’unt and Isok “Nals” Nalrque. Like many independent mining companies they worked in two man teams. Liam had hired Ueme Cerik and Brenan Tos, so they could stay out in the belt longer.
Ueme was a skilled electrical technician from Lua’s Grimaldi Dome who was injured in the Navy and jumped at the chance to go back into space. Brenan had gone to university with Liam, dropped out to work private security for a small corp and had reconnected a few years after Liam graduated. He was a hell of a shot and could keep a level head in the tensest of situations… Liam’s reminiscing was cut short as Ueme called over the Comms system.
“Li, this is Ueme, what’s the closest bubble word to us right now…”
Looking at the screen he quickly found their position on the starmap.
“We’re about forty three hours out from the 52 Europa Asteroid Colony at optimal speed. Why, is something wrong?”
“We may need to do an emergency stop and get some repairs done.”
“What’s goin on up there Ueme…”
“It would appear that one of the external access hatches was ripped off and debris got into the system, I can’t be sure of the extent of the damage until we’re in a dry dock, but it’s sufficient enough that it knocked out the hazard alarms.”
“Shit, okay, get back in and get Nals down here, I need a navigator.”
“Wilco, Ueme out.”
Liam started mapping the approach vectors for 52 Europa while everyone got into positions. Nals floated into the cabin and grabbed the comms headset as he sat himself in the copilot’s seat.
“Hey Li, how was your sleep?” Liam could see the worry in Nals’ eyes, He never did like being off planet for too long, he thought.
“I slept alright, ready to help me land this thing?”
“Yeah… Shouldn’t Ueme or Bren be helping with this, you know I hate flying...”
“That’s why you’re navigating, and no they’ve been up for days, they need to rest.”
“Just don’t crash us, I want to be safely back on Earth when I die!”
“Well if we’re crashing, I’ll aim fer a planet then.” he said with a smirk. Isok just looked uneasy at the comment. “You know I’m just messing with you Nals…” He gave Liam an uncomfortable smile and refocused on the approach vectors in silence.
They had started out as a two man team in the beginning. Isok couldn’t even stand flying in a taxi planetside let alone in space, but the money was too good to pass up. He would just hide in his cabin during takeoff and landing, but every now and then he’d have to co-pilot with Liam, and he’d sweat bullets every time. Liam aligned the ship with 52 Europa’s projected location with a two day travel time, powered up the small onboard mass driver, and began propelling the ship up to speed where the Bussard Ramjet could propel them. It took about two hours to reach speeds where the electrostatic ion scoop could begin powering the ramjet. They would stay at Ramjet speeds for a few hours before shutting down the Ramscoop and letting the drag of the interstellar dust slow them to a good cruising speed. After around forty hours had passed Liam fired the attitude thrusters to invert Tyche and then fired the mass driver to begin slowing them down, occasionally purging small amounts of air from the attitude jets to make slight adjustments so they could hit the docks on 52 Europa Colony dead on.
Liam had told Isok to go to the crew quarters a few hours ago and had called Brenan up to assist with landing and docking. Ueme had joined them in the small cabin so she could get to work on the ship as soon as it reached dry dock. Trying to hit a single point on a 300 Km asteroid was difficult enough without two others taking up the little extra space he had in the cabin, though Liam was happy the others were keeping relatively quiet. The minutes crept by as the facilities came into view and the ship slowly came to a stop in its docking rig. Once they were finally pulled in and attached to the artificial atmos of the customs dome, the crew stepped out of their small ship for the first time in nearly two months. Nals jumped out, thankful to no longer be in free fall, even if 52 Europa only had 1.43% earth’s gravity, having just a little bit of G was a welcome change.
Ueme got straight to work on the ship while Liam went to the commerce center to look for the parts Ueme needed, the list she sent him was updating every few minutes as she found something else that needed to be repaired or replaced. Isok had gone off to try and sell what little ore they had managed to extract before the emergency stop. Liam had brought all the parts he could get back to Ueme before he went to one of the pubs for a drink and some food. I can’t remember the last time I had real food, he thought as he walked into a shady little hole in the wall called The Limping Spirit. The dingy little restaurant had folks from all walks, everyone needed to eat and it being this close to customs it saw its fair share of Earthers like Liam, Luans, Native Belters, and even the odd Martian. Belt stations like this were a great place to network with other crews and maybe even a Corp employee looking for a contractor.
He walked over to the corner and slumped down into a small booth. After a few minutes of looking through the menu a cute waitress walked over to take his order. She was a short girl with mouse-like features with a radiant purple mohawk, like many others who couldn’t afford the expensive Biomods she had undergone gene splicing to attain animal features, most folks just took on heightened senses and specific traits, but others like this girl and Liam himself had modified their bodies as well. Liam had gone with the full Rachke Anima Spacer package and taken on the physical appearance of a Slovak Cuvac after college, figuring the thick fur and keener senses would be useful for an aspiring Belter. Earthers tended to look down on people who got full Anima Mods, generally preferring cybernetics, or the far more expensive Biomods and only a handful of doctors would perform the modifications at all outside of the belt.
Liam ordered a pint of their house beer and a chop steak, wanting to keep his bill low. It wasn’t the best steak he’d eaten, but it was quite good for a pub steak, after he finished he left his payment on the table and tipped the mouse girl before heading out to walk around the station and see the sights. Before he could get too far Ueme called him on his comm to get a status update.
“Hey Li, were you able to find any of the other parts I needed for the ship?”
“I told you when I dropped off earlier that that was all there was.”
“Well that could be a problem. Unless we can get a new coil the EM shield won’t operate at full capacity and the second we get to ram speeds the dust could tear a hole in the hull. And we burnt out the battery that was still working during our entry. I’m working on rewiring the other three, but as of now, we only have solar and life support backup power.”
Liams heart sank as he looked at the image of the shikoku inu girl on the comm screen.
“How long would repairs take if we can’t get new parts?”
“It would cost more to fix these old parts than to buy newer models, but I could probably get her in shape to fly to another commerce hub in two weeks or so.”
“Can you send Nals or Bren to see if you we can order the parts and get them here faster than that?”
“I suppose so, but we’re still stuck here for a bit either way.”
“Damn, well I’ll let you break it to the guys, I’m gonna go try to relax for a bit, and fer the love of god don’t spend all of our credits, we still need to refuel and I have to pay you three.”
“I’ll only spend your and my shares Li, don’t worry.”
“Yeah, talk to you tomorrow Ueme.”
He shut off the wrist phone before she could respond and reached for his thermic lance. Although normally used for cutting through materials by heating a steel rod and blasting it with oxygen, the thermic lance also made a hand self defense weapon for miners when in close quarters. Liam spun around towards where he heard the footsteps from and scanned the dark streets, his augmented eyes letting him see deeper into the darkness than whoever was lurking. He spotted the silhouette of someone a few meters away from him and started up the lance, pointing it in the direction of his would-be assailant. The pressurized air helped to heat up the steel quickly and the area lit with a reddish glow. The mouse girl from the tavern nearly jumped out of her skin as the cutting tool lit up the alley.
“Please! I didn’t mean any harm!”
Liam quickly shut off the lance and set it down to cool rushing over to help the woman off the ground.
“You were my waitress at the bar, what are you doing out here at this time of night?”
“I… I just wanted t… to talk to y... you but--"
"Calm down, take a deep breath. I'm sorry fer that, but you came outta nowhere and scared me. Lets start over, I'm Liam, and what's your name?"
She introduced herself and they moved to a more well lit area to continue their conversation for a while before deciding to get off the street. They went back to The Limping Spirit, got a booth away from the crowds and talked the evening away.
Liam woke up in an unfamiliar room, looking around he quickly remembered that he was in Marisa's apartment. After sharing stories and a few drinks they had gone to the mouse girl's apartment and enjoyed a wonderful night together. Liam took the ladder down to her kitchen to find a note apologizing for leaving him in her apartment, saying she had to open the bar. Liam chuckled to himself and wrote his ship ident and comm number on a loose piece of paper should she want to call him again. After helping himself to some water and fruit he took his leave, making sure to lock her door. As he made his way back to the Tyche he got a call from Isok.
"Hey Nals, what's up buddy?"
"Where the hell have you been all night?" Isok screamed through the wrist phone’s tiny speaker.
“Jeezus, calm down! I happened to have been spending some time with a lady friend. Why, is everythin okay?" Isok's eyes pierced Liam soul through the tiny screen.
“We’re going to be stuck here until Ueme can repair the ship. No one will order us the parts for how few credits we have, and the closest mercantile center is one AU away and moving further out by the day.”
“Simmer down Nals! Ueme told me she could get the Tyche up in two weeks time, just enjoy your time on this rock while you can.” He could see the worry growing in Nals’ yellow eyes.
“You know everythin works out for us in the end bud. Oh, and how much did we fetch fer the ore we had?”
“Only 3600 creds.”
“That’s not half bad for under half capacity! You and Bren get 900 each, and we have an extra 18 to put towards those parts.”
“I guess, but what are we supposed to do for two weeks? In that time we could mine the rest of that field we have a claim on!”
“C’mon Nals, think of it as time off. Go relax, finally ask Ueme out, enjoy a break from being cramped in the ship.”
Once he was finished talking to Isok, Liam returned to the ship to get an update from Ueme on the repairs and was again told, be it with less yelling, what had before, that they would be stuck on 52 Europa for no less than two weeks time, and there was a possibility of it taking longer than that. Liam called the others and told them to look for odd jobs so they could earn some creds in the meantime, they both knew, and had already started asking around, but Liam always felt it was good for a captain to address his crew properly.
After he hung up, he thought about calling Marisa to see if she was free that night, but decided he'd wait a day or two. Instead he caught up with Brenan who was on his way into a fast food joint. Liam ordered a burger and talked with Brenan about how he was going to spend his two week reprieve, and Brenan told him one of the merchants needed a freelance programmer and he'd jumped at the chance. After his dinner Liam wandered down through the markets and asked about any need for extra hands and got a few offers for less than average pay. Any pay is better than none at all, he told himself.
The weeks went by slowly, Liam worked for many different merchants during the day and spent most of his nights with Marisa, he even offered her a position as cook on the ship. She was grateful but declined, not wanting to leave the place she'd called home for so many years. He pressed Ueme for updates every other day or so, and even offered to help hew with the repairs himself. Horrified by the thought, she reminded him of his ‘igneous’ quick fix for a blown coupling he’d whipped up before hiring her, and the price tag of the ancillary systems that it had damaged. Liam quickly relented, while he owned the Tyche, Ueme being the one who kept it alive and afloat was the only one who could truly call it her ship.
Finally on the seventeenth day he got a call from an overjoyed Isok letting him know that Ueme was confident the ship would be able to make it to Earth where they could get the proper repairs. Liam stopped by The Limping Spirit to say his last goodbye to Marisa and then made his way back to the Tyche. After paying the dry dock owner for the time they'd spent there Liam used the last of the money he'd earned on 52 Europa to have the Tyche loaded into the colony's mass driver, basically a large railgun used to launch ships at high speeds, and slingshotted towards Earth. It was great to be back in his ship again after a little over a fortnight of being landlocked. He calculated all the flight vectors himself, just in case the mass driver’s aim had been slightly off, a few nanometers at the bubble colony would be a few hundred kilos by the time they got to Earth. He sent a massage laser burst to the facility they were set to land at to confirm their time and estimated coordinates.
As with most small ships, the Tyche could not maneuver very well in atmosphere, so landing consisted of using simple jump jets to crash into a large water tank. There were EM nets you could land in, but that always risked damaging vital systems, and was mostly used by smaller transport ships, or by companies that could afford top of the line EM shielding. The Tyche had a simple Faraday Cage built into the hull with an external EM field generator to stop solar radiation from tearing the ship apart. The trip only took half a day, and Ueme spent the entire voyage in the cockpit with Liam worrying about this and that, hoping she didn't make a mistake that would cause their untimely demise.
As they started on their final approach Liam adjusted the in-atmosphere boosters to slow their descent. The small jets slowed them to just under terminal velocity and it was enough to save the ship from a catastrophic impact with the water in the landing station. Once they bottomed out and floated back up to the surface, a crane lifted the Tyche out of the pool and loaded it on the back of a truck that took the crew to the nearest launch port for dry docking. Ueme had updated the list of required parts needed to update the Tyche; newer generation EM shielding, a Gen II mining laser, updated comms systems, and the latest coils for the mass driver were just a few of the things she wanted bought and installed. Liam looked over the list, priced it, and started making calls to place orders. By the end of the day he was nearly bankrupt, but in a few weeks time the Tyche would be capable of traveling further into the belt for longer amounts of time, so the investment was worth it.
Liam kept in contact with Marisa via comm laser during the month it took to get everything delivered and fitted. Isok, as he did every time they landed on Earth, debated selling his share of the ship to Liam so he could stay safely on a planet, and as it happened every time, Liam convinced him not to leave. It took Ueme and Liam half a day to re-calibrate the ship's systems, and even then they'd have to calibrate again once they were out of Earth’s gravity. With all of their new tech installed, and their rations stocked for several weeks of travel, Liam called the crewmembers to report back to the spaceport the following day so they could launch.