Salvage – Chapter 1

After the war between the UN and China the empty void of space became littered with broken and destroyed satellites and spaceships.  Along with that were plenty of ship captains and soldiers out of work and many with no home left to go back to. At first scavengers roamed the open universe picking apart whatever they found. But once the governments figured out that the scavengers were selling parts off ships to the enemies,  the rights to salvage was auctioned off  and each property floating around space would be protected for the proud owner.

                  Some salvagers made a new trade of their existence, taking pride in making the most money of all parts down to the bare bones. Those were the ones that became rich off the broken parts of a long drawn out war. The idea of making good of what hurt so many seemed like the best thing to do.  While the average person tried to move forward and spread out into the colonies, politicians moved back to old ways, creating turbulence that would slowly make their way further into space behind the people.  Those people who believed they left the war behind and all the wounds it incurred would be the first to be drawn back in.

                  Boyce Dean, captain of the salvage ship Dublin liked his drink, a lot that is. He liked to party and he liked his women. Each outer homestead offered a new world of possibilities and parties.  So when he decided to send the Dublin on its way to the next salvage it wasn’t out of the ordinary. His second mate had taken charge many times while Boyce finished up business. Nothing seemed different. This was the routine; move on to the next job and make enough money for his 30 crew members and maintain the ship.

                  Boyce liked this particular little rock a little more than the others, maybe it was the closest to being like Earth out of all the other colonies. He hadn’t seen Earth in 10 years and probably would never see it again. Many people who left Earth after the war rarely went back.  For others after watching telecasts of the war between the UN and China rage on for so many years they wanted to get as far from it as possible and stay there. Most felt it was an unnecessary war, over some forgotten treaty that was signed hundreds of years before. But when they decided to expand their fighting to the outer worlds constituents on both sides took it into their own hands to finish it before everything the people had accomplished in space was destroyed.

                  Then again most of the colonies were created and maintained early on by corporations not governments. Wealthy business men saw it as a means to make money off of adventurous individuals looking for a new start away from Earth and their pasts. Then the mass migration began as each planet that could possibly be redesigned or remotely habituated opened up to the human population. Earth became a four letter word, leave the wars behind and find peace working for the various corporations that owned the vastness of space.

                  Those corporations were Boyce Dean’s biggest customers. The ability to peer into the workings of the technology the governments kept behind closed doors paid well on parts trade market. And there was plenty of salvage to be had. Boyce’s operation wasn’t the only one out there and by far wasn’t the biggest but he was a great salesman and knew very well how to pick clean any salvage carcass he could out bid for.  Life was good and he toasted each drink to prosperity out of hardship of others.

                  Boyce knew how long it would take for him to shuttle out to the Dublin, he just had to make sure he had enough time to be there when they hooked up the gravity spinner and peer into their new treasure. This one would be a first for the Dublin, an entire Worm Jumper. These ships were strong enough to withstand the pressures of worm holes at almost impossible speeds. All other ships including the Dublin had to reduce their speeds going in and out of the worm holes or their complete hulls could be literally sucked like skin off a bone.

                  When Boyce decided to bid on the ship he felt a tinge of joy and excitement like boy with a new toy. He had never felt like they had enough money to spare to go after the big ones. There were outfits that only went after the high dollar salvages even if they knew it might be too damaged to produce much more than a deficit in their bank accounts. Boyce didn’t have a bank account, at least not a legal one and if he went for broke and came up short it wasn’t a bank coming after him.

                  He wanted to cave to being anxious and give up his final hours on Holfax and fly straight out to the Dublin, his thoughts raced to what possibly could be left of one of China’s biggest space liners. He probably wouldn’t know what anything was inside, he never learned Chinese while on Earth and really didn’t care. That’s what technicians were for and he prided himself on having some of the best in their field. No sense in having a salvage operation if you can’t figure out how to pick it clean and sell everything possible.

                  Holfax was a popular coming and going place for salvage operations. It was the closest colony to the last and most costly battles of the war. Plus it was closest to the Meridian Worm Hole. From there it was wide open space with 10 new colonies and many more to come. Meridian Corporation held all rights to the hole and the colonies and many felt past that worm hole was the safest place in the universe.

                  Boyce had never been through it only the one from Earth to the first colonies but some say that it’s as if it was built by the hand of god and not some random spectacle. He probably never go through it, but was always fascinated by how professionally done Meridian had created a whole vacation spot just watch ships come and go through it. This must be what the Panama Canal was like when it first opened.  A modern marvel built by the hands of men.

                  The other salvage operators were mostly friendly with each other. There was never much animosity between those who bid for the same salvage. There was plenty to be had. Boyce knew that some owners took more than their share of the profit, leaving their crew to fend for themselves. One more than one occasion he had hired good workers off of other owners who were underpaid. He wasn’t the best boss, usually hexed and harsh toned but he paid well and took care of the families when needed.

                  Many of the owners sat around and talked shop about the interesting things found on ships or run-ins they had had with law officials with parts that they rightfully owned. Under the final treaty act between the salvage union and all government policies strictly state that the winner of any bid for salvage can keep and sell to whomever they wish. By posting a bid on property discarded in space a government entity forfeits all rights to their property.  Unfortunately most governments especially the UN and China don’t have the funds to research each property before putting it up for bid. It’s not until some number cruncher on Earth spots a red flag and gives a big oops. By then it’s too late but they never fail to try and bully the salvager into giving up their bounty.

                  Sometimes it’s not as easy as saying no. Boyce has more than once given up salvage and lost good money on it because of threats. He’s not the only one and it won’t be the last time for him he’s sure of it.  There are some owners he knows who have contacts on Earth and others who sit quietly in the dark, doing their part to keep good men employed without drawing attention.  He’d like to be one and stay that way.  On Holfax there is only one port and with it one bar, his favorite spot for one last drink before he shuttles out.

                  That night he’s like a teen about to have his first real drink. The air outside has cooled and winter is coming to that rock. He hates winter and probably won’t return to Holfax after he’s done with the salvage, time to hit somewhere with a warm season. Holfax has two seasons. It’s rotation unlike anything anyone had ever seen for a moon. Its mother world is a barren rock that is only good for mining. Holfax though the size half that of Earth was perfect for a port world. Enough viable land for a minor amount of settlers and a good place to start before heading out through one of the ten worm holes to a whole new life away from Earth.

                  As he went to enter the bar one of the people standing outside that night noticed him shiver as he breathed in the cool air. He grinned and laughed at Boyce. The seasonal salvagers never got use to the cold months. They moved on to places like Paradise Landing, all sun all the time.

                  “Thin skin Dean? So where will you head off to next, Paradise Landing?”

                  “That’s not a bad idea, the crew would appreciate that. If we can make enough off this next salvage then maybe I can make that happen. That place has become a real Monaco these days. They should open a hole closer to it with the number of tourists it generates.”

                  “Myself, I’m heading through Hole 7 in a few days, going to see the family. It’s summer on Dendrege. Funny how we go to a different world to escape the change of seasons where everyone at home just goes to Florida.”

                  “You know I never thought of it that way. Guess Paradise Landing is like going to Bermuda.”

                  Boyce could hear even from outside that it was a loud night in the bar. Usually it was only captains who had a few too many drinks which normally included him. But tonight its tone appeared serious. He pushed open the door and slid quietly through the crowd to the bar. The bar tender turned and looked at him and immediately poured him a shot of gin, he was there enough for him to know exactly what he wanted.

                  “So what’s going on tonight, someone else lose another  salvage to the feds?”

                  “Where have you been Dean I know you’re sober enough to listen to the news sometime, too busy in the bed to turn on the sat tv?”

                  Boyce gave the bartender a sly green, the truth had been spoken. He was never keen on the news. He’d rather just enjoy his time off without worrying about everyone else’s affairs.

                  “Maybe, fill me in.”

                  “Another salvage blew to bits out past Hole 2. The Saturn Dream and its entire crew blown to high kingdom. That’s the 4th ship to go.”

                  “All ships, no satellites? I’ve heard of pirates rigging satellites to catch shlps off guard.”

                  “This is no pirates. All class 1 ships, full salvage rights. All bid out through anonymous stakeholders.  Some of the captains are petitioning the UN send representatives to investigate but some would rather take matters in their own hands. That is if there were any information on these “anonymous holders””.

                  “You say anonymous stakeholders? That’s not uncommon not to know who the owner is that is putting it out for sale.”

                  “When’s the last time you didn’t know who the owner is?”

                  Boyce just sat there. This was a good question. For the last few years the governments had been upfront on who was getting their money. Made it easier for them to come back and take the property if there was something they wanted off it. They could easily say they owned it first. But with anonymous owners it was usually someone who bought the rights and decided not to salvage it but didn’t want anyone to know how much they originally paid for it.  This rarely happened, except the last bid he won, the Worm Jumper. He just figured the person bought it and realized they didn’t have a big enough operation to really get everything it was worth from it.

                  “You said Class A ships, does that include Worm Jumpers?”

                  “Yep at least two of them were Jumpers that were through this hole. Something wrong Boyce? Son you are looking mighty green, if you’re going to chuck, march yourself outside and do your business.”

                  Boyce could barely look at Doc. He stomach was beginning to twist into knots faster than his brain could comprehend his fear and anxiety.

                  “Doc I got to run, I’ll pay my tab once I’m at Paradise Landing.”

                  Boyce took a large gulp of the gin and ran out of the bar. All he could think about was the Dublin. All his excitement over his first major salvage, he never once thought about the bid. He never thought about how strange it was for so many anonymous bids to come up all at once.  He needed clearance quickly from the tower.  No until he was in the air and out of the interference from the worm hole could he make contact with the Dublin.

                  Boyce could only think the worst. He tried contacting the tower, yelling through the com. He wanted to explain but didn’t want to come off like a fool if nothing was really wrong. All he wanted was to fly out to the ship and have it sitting there already busy at work taking the scrap piece by piece but in his heart he knew that wasn’t going to be the case.

                  But what would trigger this horrific occurrence that may not be happening. Would it be the initial repowering of the generators, the gravity spinner?  He just needed to tell them not to start the spinner. With no power the ship would still just sit there. Why would anyone do this if they weren’t pirates?

                  His hands were sweating profusely to a point where he could barely type the coordinates. He waited as patiently as possible to receive word to go through Hole 7 but what could be delaying them for so long. He clicked on the microphone again, his voice cracked as he requested clearance to take off. He mumbled under his breath “God damn it, open that thing up and let me out of here.”

                  “Tower, I was supposed to get orders twenty minutes ago. What’s taking so long?”

                  “I’m sorry Captain Dean, looks like someone has taking priority fly through the hole. Looks to be local guard patrol.”

                  “What is their reasoning?”

                  “Emergency on the other end I believe. High clearance only they say. That’s all I got, looks like you’re grounded for now.”

                  “Tower I need to fly through with them, I need permission to do so right now.”

                  Boyce’s heart felt like it was jumping out of his chest, he needed to get through that hole.

                  “We can’t allow that, the guard has stopped all travel through Hole 7.”

                  “I must do this, my ship is on the other in, something is wrong.”

                  At that point, Boyce had already started his engines. He had never done anything rogue. But he wanted desperately at that moment to be with his crew no matter what condition the Dublin was in.     The tower knew Boyce and even if he didn’t know for certain what had happened they did. Standing in front of his shuttle was Doc. The tower had called out the cavalry.  He sat there his eyes looking at the monitor. He shut down the engines and placed his head in his hands. If he hadn’t needed to chuck in the bar he was about to now. He could hear the cargo had open. He didn’t want to move, just stay in the shuttle, screw everyone outside.  Boyce felt paralyzed. What had he done?

                  Tower officers had made the bystanders go back to the bar or back to their ships. Many knew that flights would be suspended now until the guards released them. Claire Long stayed outside the bar, she had been inside earlier listening to the others discussing what had happened to the other ships.

                  She had been out salvaging satellites for a fellow salvager when she had heard about the first one. At first she figured it was just some pirate willing to take the remains of two destroyed ships but now she was thinking otherwise. She had already contacted acquaintances on Earth to see how long it would take to get an actual investigator out this far, but now maybe they would work a little harder.

                  She knew it was going to take a while for Doc to get Dean out of the shuttle. She knew something was wrong when he ran out of the bar nearly falling over himself. It was as if he knew something was wrong. Maybe it was Doc’s talking about anonymous owners that caused the reaction.          That had her thinking about the last three purchases she made all with the same thing.  She decided to go inside and start sending the boys home for the evening. The last thing they needed was more alcohol in their system to get them stirred up. It was one thing to hear about these things but to see it first hand was another. Boyce Dean and his crew were one of them. They all ported out of Holfax.  She knew some of their crew and they were good people. Someone would have to console the families once word got out.

                  Claire couldn’t imagine losing her crew to such extremes. She knew she’d have to confront this issue with them in the morning. For now she took to helping clean up the bar while Doc did the consoling. It was his job not just to own the bar but to be a go between with the captains and crew and the port authorities. The tower officers knew Boyce wouldn’t do anything if Doc calmed him.

                  During the early wars, many men had served under General “Doc” Davies. He led hundreds into battle and consoled just as many wives when their husbands didn’t come home. He had seen it all right up until the Treaty of New York. Claire never served under him but over the years she had grown to appreciate his advise and leadership even if he was now just a bar owner on a small moon.

                  By the time Claire had finished up and sat for a drink of her own, Doc came back in with Boyce. His face was puffy and still a little green. She nearly broke into tears as she sat in the corner. Boyce glanced over at her and turned to the bar. Doc came over and gave her a big hug and kiss, thanking her for helping out.

                  “Claire you’re such a doll. Go get some sleep you have some big choices to make in a few days.”

                  “Not just me Doc half this community.  How do we know it’s safe out there now?” Money or lives? “

                  She looked over at Dean who had sat down at the bar with a drink, he seemed to have calmed down, almost numb.

                  “Will he be okay? Don’t need to tie him to a chair or anything? I can stay and help.”

                  “Nah get some sleep, it’s late. He’s going to stay with me here tonight. Hopefully in the morning we can get some answers from the guards on what happened.”

                  “Do you think he will want to go out there? If there is anything left remaining of the Dublin?”

                  “I don’t know, would you if you were him?”

                  Claire didn’t want to know. She had fifty standard crew members on the Snow White. At any point in time she could have somewhere between twenty to eighty crew members, depending on the size of the salvage. Each one of those members had family who lived permanently on Holfax. It was her job as captain to get them back safe with money in their pockets. She knew Boyce Dean, he was a good captain and cared for each of his crew.

                  “If you need help contacting family members let me know. I know that some of my crew were friends with his. I’ll speak with them in the morning; see if they want to help arrange something. Let Boyce know we can help. We’re all family here.”

                  “Claire you always seem to be thinking about someone else instead of your own worries. Go home, we can figure this out in the morning.”

                  She couldn’t stop thinking about Boyce as she walked back to her apartment. She kept wanting to insert Snow White into the place of the Dublin. That ship and crew was Boyce’s life. Claire didn’t know him well but she knew his reputation as a fair business man and employer. He was like the rest of them, soldiers come home from a war no one really won.

                  Claire knew sleep wasn’t going to come easily. She’d take one last drink before falling asleep. The next day she’d meet with the crew to make the big decisions for down the road.