“Assaying office, Bridger here.”
“Jake, this is Craig Johansson in communications. Jimi Anderson is on a scout and would like to speak to you.”
“I’m a little busy right now Johansson. What does he want?”
“He didn’t say. I’m assuming it’s about the roid he working.”
“Damn it kid, I don’t have the time to deal with every roid-rider that’s unhappy with the assay report. Find out what he wants and call me back.”
Slamming the phone down, Bridger muttered under his breath and returned to the latest issue of ‘Jugs’
3 minutes later, the phone rang again. “goddamn it.” yanking the handset up, he yelled “WHAT?”
“Bridger, Jimi Anderson here. You blow me off again and the council is going to hear about your unauthorized porno commlink.”
“WHAT, how...” Bridger sputtered.
“Calm down Jake, I could care less about your titty mags, But I do need to know about this roid I’m working. How good was the assay?”
“Hang on, I’ll pull it up, what’s the code.”
Anderson read the numbers off.
“Ok here we go, standard roid readings on the scope. It looks like about 20 gigatons of low-grade iron, some copper mixed in. some frost, but no ice to speak of. No atomics’.”
“Yeah, I’ve got that. Who did the survey?”
“Let’s see ... Tooney did it. He’s new this run, but seems competent.”
“When was the last survey done?”
“About 6 months ago. Why the interrogation? Did you find something?”
“I see. Well thanks for your help Jake. Why don’t you meet me in the canteen later? I think we should have a private talk.”
“Ok, sure Jimi whatever you say, um would you, perhaps, be bringing the, um, refreshments.”
Chuckling, Anderson replied, “Sure thing Jake. I think I can find some punch.”
After he cut the connection, Jimi Anderson sat back in his command chair and began chuckling to himself. “Oh, you sweet, wet, sumbitch”
Jimi reached over and increased the resolution on his scope. What he saw was a broad white scar on a dirty grey background. Recently something had hit, revealing what was under the rock and dust.
Jimi had found a dead comet. At some point in its ancient past, it’s stellar wandering had come to a halt. Either it had hit something, or been captured. Jimi didn’t care, it was his. He was looking at 10 to 15 gigatons of pure water.
Now the real problems started. First and foremost was how to get this monster home. Ordinarily you could grapnel onto a roid, set your anchors and using gentle thrust, get the rock heading the way you wanted.
With a giant snowball, the mechanics of the issue changed immensely. First off, anchors would pull loose, if it didn’t break the roid up. Not to mention that magnetic grapnels didn’t have anything to grab onto.
The easiest way was to bring a refinery in and work it in place. The problem with that plan was the rent you had to pay to the ship. Including the wages for the workers.
The worst part was the discovery clause. Normally the assay office taxed 1 percent of estimated return value. But if the real return value was greater than 10 percent of assay value, they taxed 25 percent, which went straight to the ship.
The only way around it, if you could demonstrate a 50 percent or better return. Minus operation costs. In that case the ship only charged 10 percent.
The best, optimistic, option for Jimi, was, 70 percent, minus refinery rent and wages,
IF he could tow the roid in to the collection zone. He avoided the refinery rent, And worker wages.
The problem was how to do it. The best way was to spider web the whole roid with cables, to hold it together. Then put a couple of thrusters on it and slowly push it the way you wanted it to go.
Jimi knew that if he tried to requisition enough cabling, and big enough thrusters, questions would be asked. When the truth came out, the requisition would be turned down and he would be forced to rent a refinery.
It wasn’t that Jimi was greedy, but this monster could set him up for life. Hell, he might even be able to start his own ship.
While all this was going through his mind. Jimi was watching his scope. He had placed himself in a loose orbit. Far enough to be safe, but close enough for a good picture of the surface.
Sitting bolt upright, Jimi grabbed the scope joystick. Panning backwards, what appeared to be a landing pad, shuttle, and habitat came into view.
“Damn it,” Someone was already here. that meant there was a claim on the roid. Jimi was confused though. He hadn’t seen any claim markers on the way in. The radio had also been quiet. The standards required visible paint blazes on the cardinal points. Also, not required, but strongly recommended, was a low power transmitter putting out a broadband claim announcement.
Realizing that he was probably being tracked, and possibly targeted, Jimi keyed up his broadband transmitter.
“Scout 289 from the independent ship ‘Sutter’s Mill’. Calling the claimed roid I’m orbiting.”
Jimi waited a minute or two, then repeated his hail. After getting no response, he double checked the radio settings and tried 2 more hails. Still getting no response, Jimi sat back and considered the situation.
There could be a couple of reasons why someone wouldn’t answer a hail. Equipment failure, the radio’s might not be monitored, or, maybe, some kind of emergency prevented a response.
At this point Jimi had options. The first was to back off and continue his sweep. The other was to ground and see if they needed help. The first option was the smartest, if not safest. But Jimi remembered his own rescue by the ‘Sutter’s Mill’. Captain Lee could have continued on course, ignoring Jimi’s damaged scout.
Jimi’s final option was to ground, introduce himself and see if he could broker a refinery deal. If he could set that up, he would get 1 percent of the ships take. Plus, whatever commission he could get. All that, and no work on his part.
Swearing to himself, Jimi started setting up to ground on the pad. At the same time, He transmitted his intentions, just in case they were monitoring, but couldn’t, or wouldn’t answer.
Expecting trouble, Jimi secured his helmet. Then scavenged his cabin air. During his approach he repeated that he was coming in for a health and welfare check. As he grounded, he noticed that the shuttle was definitely an antique. The only time he had seen that model had been in vids and books.
“Great, this guy is some old-time deep spacer. Probably crazier than a bedbug.”
After waiting 10 minutes, Jimi decided he was going to have to check things out. Grabbing a wrench, he cycled through his airlock.
The closer he got to the habitat, the more it looked like a deep spacer shack. Nothing on it looked standard. In fact, it looked like it had been put together from trash.
When Jimi got to the airlock, he thought to himself. “Better knock and see if anybody’s home.” as he banged on it with the wrench. Seeing no movement through the port, Jimi spun the wheel and entered the lock.
After he was in the airlock, he looked for the cycle control. Once again it was an obviously make do set up.
Opening the inner hatch, he was surprised at the darkness. The only light was from an observation port in the ceiling. Normally the interior lights came on when the inner lock door opened. But even then, there should be indicator lights on the equipment.
Jimi pulled up his external environment display. It showed the correct atmosphere mix. The pressure was thin, but breathable. The big shock was the temperature. It was at outside temps.
Turning on his helmet spot, Jimi scanned the room.
Seated in the middle of the room, facing the airlock was a man. Jimi jumped, then relaxed. Whoever he was, it was obvious he was dead. Anybody, sitting in his skivvies, in this cold, had to be dead.
The corpse appeared to be about 60 years old. His hair and beard were long, unkept and wild. his body had a glassy, even crystalline look.
Jimi continued his scan of the room. While cluttered, he could see the attempt at organization. He also noted the control bank. It had obviously been scavenged from the shuttle outside.