193 lightseconds from Gavriel
Gavriel System, Inner Bellus Arm
The soft hum of the engines, vibrating through the ship, was lulling Captain Rebecca Calrose to sleep. The delicate white noise, that she normally tuned out, and the thick blanket of stars that filled her viewport were as good as any lullaby. It was always hard on the longer stretches. The auto-nav had control of the ship, and she was just taking her shift monitoring systems and counting the hours before they arrived at their destination.
The ship, formally known as the GRV-219, didn't have a proper faster-than-light drive on it. Such expensive technology was rather unheard of for a Garbage Retrieval Vehicle. The standard issue peak-drive sufficed to get their mass moving at nearly the speed of light. This was complex enough when trying to haul three or four waste disposal transports behind the ship in normal space. The faster a ship accelerates toward the speed of light, the more massive it becomes, therefore making it harder to get moving. The quantum vacuum point cell that powered the drive was like scaled down version from the massive power plants that ran Nexus Gates. It wasn't spectacular, but Calrose was happy for what she had. Anything less and the constant trips back and forth within the Gavriel system would take months rather than hours.
The lights in the cockpit flickered and died. The hum of the engine stopped and the sudden silence was almost deafening. For an odd frightening second, Calrose feared she had gone deaf and blind. But as her eyes adjusted to the nearly perfect dark, she could see the stars again through the viewport. Her confusion turned to annoyance.
"Dammit, Jett," she mumbled under her breath.
The captain reached up to shaved sides of her head. Her fingers tapped at the edge of a small device securely fixed to her skull. The comm-link encircled the top of the ear, sending a silent signal into her inner ear. It chimed inside her head to notify her it had activated with her touch.
"Jett," she said simply, her voice barely hiding her obvious frustration.
"Yeah, boss?" a nervous male voice returned over the device. The two words said little and yet conveyed to Calrose that Lazlo Jett knew exactly why she was calling.
"What happened to the lights?" the captain lazily asked the question, knowing full well she really didn't need to.
"Sorry 'bout that. A little glitch in the power reserves."
"Any day now, Jett."
"Should be up and running again in a few moments. The system just needs to cycle through..."
"These power outages are getting a little annoying," Calrose interrupted. She was usually curt and to the point, but a voice in her head did suddenly question if she was being grumpy because of the fatigue.
"Just a few hiccups in the latest upgrades, nothing I can't work out," Jett responded over the comm. His voice was always chipper and positive. He didn't hide that he was having a good time.
Calrose was often surprised that Jett's demeanor didn't annoy her. She was tired of the problems that arose keeping this old hunk of junk running, but Jett actually brightened her mood.
"I'm sorry," she sighed. "I'm just tired. We should have enough to trade in for a new hauler next time we dock at the Brick."
The Brick was the closest they had to a base of operations outside the ship. Calrose liked to think of herself as the independent free-flying captain she pictured herself as in her youth, but she did have to answer to the Gavriel Waste Management Bureau on WMS-6473. Leave it to human creativity to name a station that. To everyone else it was a giant planysteel box floating in space. Once you see it, The Brick, is about all you can call it.
"Aw c'mon, boss. You can't do that. I'll get everything running smooth as silk. For now, I just have to find all the lumps in the Gravy." Jett may have been on the other side of the ship, but she could hear his silly grin over the comm.
"I really wish you would stop calling it that."
Over the ansible, the short-distance comm-channels, or even on official forms, the ship was officially designated GRV-219. Jett loved his ship, but apart from the most official of circumstances, he refused to call it that. For as long as she had known him, and his rust-bucket, it was affectionately known as The Gravy. When they were in full haul, with the waste disposal transport canisters attached like links in a chain behind the ship, Jett couldn't help calling it 'the Gravy Train'. Calrose could never remember what that meant. Old Terran colloquialisms came from watching far too many ent-vids in her opinion.
- - -
Lazlo Jett brushed his black curls out of his eyes. The power outage left the maintenance tubes hot and humid. He pulled the top half of his work-covers down to the waist and tied the sleeves together. He could feel the sweat on his back evaporating as he emerged from the crawl space over the engine compartment. He clambered down the ladder, careful not to lose his grip on his diagnostic terminal or the rungs, despite sweaty palms.
"She's right you know." A young voice met him as he dropped from the ladder and turned into the engineering and maintenance bay. Leaning against the forward bulkhead, was a red-haired girl with pale purple skin, diligently tapping away at something on her wrist computer.
"Oh, hey Arabel." Jett responded before returning to his work station. He swiped at the readout on the diagnostic tool and it loaded all of its data to the work station screens. Jett stared intently at the information as it poured across the viewer.
"You do have a tendency to give things really stupid nicknames," the girl stated, her deep violet eyes not once looking up from the screen of her CDT. The crash data terminal was an incredibly useful device, but Jett often wondered how much one person could stare at it.
But Arabel was different. It wasn't just the purple-hue of her skin either. Body mods had been popular for centuries, and not just among numans like her, but even with regular humans like himself. Not that he would be rushing out to have his skin dyed or eyes replaced. Arabel was different because, despite being so young, she was a genius when it came to computer systems.
"The Gravy isn't that ridiculous of a name. Would you rather be spending all your time in Gavriel Unit GRV-219?" he said. He waived a tool around, unable to speak without the added excitement of his own flailing limbs. "Now that name is stupid."
"To be honest," Arabel actually looked up from the CDT. "I'd rather be a lot of places other than here."
Arabel sighed and let her eyes wander the cramped room filled with equipment and grime.
"Bel, come in," Captain Calrose's voice came over a small speaker in the CDT. Arabel obviously had her personal comm-link turned off, favoring the wrist device to the one strapped to her head.
"Yeah, Cap?" she responded, pressing down on a blinking command icon.
"I need you up here, we are making our approach."
- - -
WDCP-5 was their final destination and a renewed sense of energy filled Calrose's body when it finally came in sight. The Waste Disposal Collection Port was a massive station, built in the orbit around Gavriel, the solitary star in the system. The port was nearly a kilometer long, its surface littered with the jutting waste disposal canisters that ships like The Gravy were hauling from across the system.
Humans, numans included, are a messy species. Among the sentient races of galaxy, they are well known for their lack of technological skill and the wastefulness of their processes. To be fair, humans have only been a starfaring species for around ten-thousand years. And in systems where little technology exists from the other sentient species, there tends to build up a lot of waste. In fact, much of human-only occupied space is controlled areas specifically used for the mining of resources and the disposal of waste.
Calrose wasn't ignorant of this fact. She didn't come from human-only space. Heritage League controlled systems, especially, rubbed her the wrong way. Gavriel was far from the xenophobic control of such governments, but it was still just as lacking in non-human sentients. Then again, if there were other races around, their use of materials would be much more efficient, therefore putting her out of a job. She hated to see how much trash humans made, but she would haul garbage until the end of her days if it meant she could captain her own ship.
"GRV-219," a calm inhuman voice came over the short-distance comms, the unmistakable tenor of a synthetic being. "All docking terminals are currently at capacity. Please hold for docking procedure."
"Copy, holding at twelve kilometers," Calrose responded. She hated how rusty she was at official comm-chatter at the end of a long haul. The banter her crew had was low key and informal. With a small crew of only three, she couldn't expect more of them. But her military training often made her miss official protocols.
"Great. Now we have to sit here for gods know how long." Arabel slouched in her chair toward the back of the cockpit. There was seating for four crew, a pilot and co-pilot up front, and a terminal on either side for technicians. Arabel's terminal was lit up with every bit of information she could need about any part of the ship, but she just sat there, staring at something on her CDT.
"Bel, you knew what to expect when you signed on."
The numan girl blew a bright green bubble from between her thin lips. Who knows where she picks up that weird junk she is always chewing, Calrose thought. The captain sighed.
"I know it isn't glamorous, but that shouldn't be surprising for a ship that hauls garbage from one end of the system to the other," Calrose stated, her voice calm and patient.
The girl was half of Calrose's age, an age difference as small as the one between her and her own mother. She didn't know what kind of background Arabel had, if she was running from something or what she might be running from. She gave her the wide berth and patience she had wanted from her own parents. Arabel was mysterious, but she was good at her job. Complaints and teenage sarcasm aside, Arabel got results when it counted. And that is what mattered to Calrose. She was no military captain. Questions would be answered if and when Arabel wanted to offer them.
"Ugh," Arabel groaned, "I know. It's just been weeks since we saw any excitement."
"Well," the captain began.
"I know. I know. No excitement is a good thing on a GRV," Arabel's voice went deadpan as she aped Calrose's oft used response to this discussion. "The military teach you to sound like a data-loop?"
Captain Calrose turned in her seat, facing her entire body toward the purple-skinned teen. She looked at Arabel with concern, trying her best to hold back her questions. But like a stern, yet worried parent, she spoke anyway.
"I try not to ask you two too many questions. The past should stay in the past. But, I have to wonder, what you expected when you joined our little outfit?"
"I dunno, I just..." her words trailed off. She looked up from the screen on her wrist, but her eyes didn't move to meet Calrose.
"GRV-219," the robotic voice over the comms interrupted. "You are cleared for docking at...tszzzzzzhhh." The line broke into indecipherable noise.
Captain Calrose turned back to her controls, thumbing a switch and dialing back into the standard comm frequency.
"Say again? WDCP-5, repeat transmission."
The comms returned with only static.
"What the hell?" the teenage computer specialist muttered over the captain's right shoulder.
"What is it, Arabel?"
"I don't know. But there is something jamming comm transmissions," her hands were a blur over the controls and data screens as she took in the information at a lightning pace trying to source out the problem. "Scanners are on the fritz too."
"Dammit, Jett," Calrose cursed.
"No, this isn't something wrong with the Grav...err GRV. Someone is purposefully jamming all signals in the area. And they are making damn sure no one knows where they are."
Arabel looked over at the captain, only to see Rebecca Calrose's dark concerned eyes staring back. Calrose's face relaxed then, returning to its normal state of hard determination. The engines whirred and the cockpit shuddered with sudden vibration. The inertial dampeners built into the ship's gravity nets hid the fact that they were suddenly accelerating.
"What are you doing?" Arabel asked.
"I'm getting out of here," Calrose gritted through her teeth as she pushed the controls forward hard. "Something does not feel right about this. I value my hide a little too much to get ganked by 'rats over a few thousand tons of trash."
Arabel was concerned and confused by the jammed signal, but suddenly hearing her captain use that much slang in one sentence made her down right scared.