* * * * *
"Another day, another cred," Jorge said with a sigh to his best friend Ricky as they lugged their personal mining gear through the airlock and into the combined storage area and locker room. Ricky chuckled and shook his head. "You get a whole credit?" he asked in mock surprise.
They shared a fatalistic laugh and exchanged more banter as they stored their stuff in their respective lockers and headed for the shower. After they were clean and dressed in the off duty green coveralls with their name on a badge stitched into their breast that was standard wear for members of the colony, they left the locker area and passed through a bulkhead into the small colony's command and control deck.
"Hi daddy!" Officially children were not supposed to be waiting in the C&C but in a colony this small and this isolated rules tended to be bent and broken with regularity to make the life of the miners a little more bearable. Jorge's 6 year old daughter Tess ran up and into his arms and he picked her up and swung her around and she giggled. "Hi uncle Ricky!"
"Hello Tess," he responded warmly. The colony had only 22 people on it and only Jorge and his wife had children, young Tess and and her teenaged brother Gim who was waiting sullenly in a chair be the hatch to the corridor. The boy was looking unhappy at being forced to watch over his little sister. "What trouble could she get into on this rock?" he asked angrily many times before.
Jorge put his daughter down ("She is growing so big!" he thought with a touch of sadness) and turned to pick up a clip board to sign his team out for the day. "All went well," he told Stephane who was manning the C&C control panel, "we sent about 20 m3 ore into the smelter."
Stephane, in his blue coveralls denoting he was a member of the colony administration staff, ignored the other as he concentrated intently on his screens. "Steph?" Jorge called again. Steph looked up as if he was surprised to see him or anyone else there and said, "Oh Jorge! Quick, come take a look at this."
Puzzled, Jorge and Ricky moved over to the screen and looked up at the rarely used local space grid view. There in the centre was an icon representing the large asteroid where the colony had been established to mine scordite, and off to either sides were the other local asteroids that the colony mined as well, gravitationally locked in their familiar positions. Today, however, a new icon had appeared, a red triangle off in the corner. While the men processed this new strange sight it moved slightly a few pixels across the screen.
"What is it?" Ricky asked the controller.
"It appears to be a ship of some sort. I'm not picking up any thrusters or scanners. I'm not picking up anything at all. It just coasted into view a little while ago and hasn't done anything but coast since. Its not very big. Bigger than a lifeboat but not an industrial or mining ship." They were all afraid that a mining ship was going to show up someday and strip their small find of all useful ore despite the legal contract claim they had purchased from the Republic.
"It might be someone in trouble," Ricky said, "I think we should light them up and see what's going on."
"No no no," Steph shook his head emphatically. "Let's just let them drift out of view. We don't need any trouble."
Jorge was torn. On one hand he wanted to help people that might be in trouble but on the other hand he too was worried about outside interference of the colony. Their life might not be easy there but at least it was their life and their decisions. But he thought how he would feel if his family was in trouble and others ignored them and that made up his mind. "We got to see what's going on, Steph. If people are in trouble we are obligated as human beings to try and help them."
Steph shook his head and sighed, but nevertheless activated the controls for the scanner to send out LADAR beams and illuminate the mysterious object. They went out and returned at the speed of light and in moments the computer started constructing an image of what we were looking at.
"A Rifter!" Gim exclaimed from behind the adults. The Minmatar Republic designed frigate warship resolved on the screen as the light beams had more time to scan it. "It looks damaged, see the scorch marks here and here?" Ricky pointed out on the screen. "It's venting gases too," Steph added, "but no detectable radiation or activity."
Jorge realized the other men were waiting for him to make the next decision. Although the colony had no official leader per say, Steph was usually the final word on shifts, vacations, selling the processed ore to the market, and arranging for a warp capable ship to bring supplies and shuttle people to and from the outpost. This, however, was beyond his ken and he was not comfortable with that. As the head of the only family on the station and the oldest man, the others deferred to Jorge.
"Alright, let's go get the tug Ricky. We'll see if anyone is on there that needs our help. Kids, go tell your mom what's going on."
* * * * *
"The generator looks like it shut down automatically when the capacitor bank blew," Ricky observed. They moved further into engineering, their mining suits working sufficiently in the airless corridors of the frigate. "But the warp core is still whole," Jorge observed.
"Yeah, but why are their no bodies? The escape pods are still in place. Its creeping me out, Jorge. Maybe Steph is right, maybe we should just get out of here now that we know there is no one here."
"No Ricky, we need to find the ship logs. If this ship has been floating out here for longer than a month, then it's free to salvage. Think of how much money we could get for the parts of this ship!"
"I dunno Jor, this is a warship, not some industrial."
They rounded a corner into the back of the engineering compartment and Jorge let out an "Ah ha!"
"Well that explains the lack of any crew," Ricky said. There in the middle of the room was the bulky interface for an empty capsule dock, with cables leaving it in all directions to interface with the rest of the ship.
* * * * *
"Gim, pass me that hammer."
The teenager scooted below a hanging power conduit and grabbed a mallet with a rubber head from the tool box. "This one, dad?"
"Nah, I need the ball peen hammer. This bolt is stuck in harder than an Amarrian's wallet in his pocket." Gim laughed at the joke and Jorge marveled again at how the project of stripping the Rifter of its useful parts had opened the sullen boy up out of his shell.
Jorge felt good; spending time with a happy son and improving the life of his fellow colony members. Some parts of the ship would be sold as scrap salvage and other parts used to update the old colony's computers and equipment.
Ricky slid down a ladder. "Got that warp core mount off yet?"
Jorge hammered with all his might despite being cramped below a bulkhead support behind the device. The stuck bolt finally shot free and the ringing stayed in his ears for a few seconds. "Yeah, finally!" he moaned.
"Awesome! This is going to bring a nice chunk of change in for us!" Ricky rubbed his hands together with a gleam in his eye. "I'm going to use my share to buy a real holoreel projector."
* * * * *
"That's my ship," the electronic voice stated. Steph took turns sweatingly staring at the control panel and glaring Jorge.
"I understand that," Jorge told the avatar on the screen, "but we were well within our rights to salvage it. CONCORD law states..."
"That's MY ship," the avatar growled menacingly.
"Jorge..." Ricky muttered in warning.
"You can't have it!" Gim shouted defiantly from the back of the room. "BE QUIET!" his father yelled at him from over his shoulder. "Daddy?" Tess said with fear in her voice and tears brimming in her eyes. "Its OK honey," he lied.
He turned back to the monitor. "Look, we already salvaged and sold most of the parts. But we will pay you the credits we got for it. Please, we are just miners and our outpost is defenseless. We don't want any trouble."
The avatar was silent for a moment. Then it spoke, "I don't need your pathetic credits," and terminated the connection.
"He's locking us," Steph whispered.
Jorge turned to run to his children at the back of the room when the first salvo of missiles tore through the colony.