A Need for Maintenance
The freighter Space Pirate Harrington perched in an unloading bay, receiving Victor Chelan’s baleful glare. He’d researched the name; it referred to a late-twenty-first century video whose heroine had slept and fought her way into becoming Empress of the Galaxy. There were surely more believable plots, this one being sustained by the extremely large amount of highly attractive skin her combat costume revealed. Parked next to it was the Mighty Transporter, whose peeling paint revealed even more skin, well, bare metal, to the open sky. Those are all titanium plates, he thought; there is actually no danger of rust.
The undersides of both ships, and the rail cars into which they were unloading, were under a shroud, something sound-absorbent enough to reduce a deafening din to a deep rumble. Elaine Bell, he thought should be here someplace. She said she would be finishing her inspection of the Mighty Transporter soon. It would certainly be impolite to phone, ignoring that radiotelephones worked poorly through spaceship hulls, when she might be in the midst of inspecting something delicate. All well and good. He could take a few minutes to watch the waves break far below.
He had barely had time to watch a pair of swells roll in from the Pacific and break thunderously against the shore when his communicator chimed.
“Chelan here,” he said.
“Bell here. I’m just coming down the exit ramp. Sorry I’m slightly late, but I found yet another maintenance issue.”
“I walked over,” Victor answered. “It’s a few minutes, and I needed the exercise.”
“Walk is good. I’m not fit to share a vehicle with anyone. That ship was filthy. Almost as bad as the shop spaces were. When I get home tonight I get to decide if I wash these clothes, or burn them. Disgusting!”
“I somehow thought, Elaine, that spaceships were always spotlessly clean, and robots and life support systems kept them that way.” Victor wondered what they were getting into now.
“The key engineering spaces, power and drives, actually were sort-of clean,” Elaine said. “The life support system would not pass my inspection, but it was working. I think. The rest of the ship was dreadful. I didn’t check the robots.”
“What do you recommend?” Chelan asked.
“We need to see what shape the other three ships are in, but it’s a safe bet they’re all the same.” She paused. “Allston insisted he had the best maintained ship in Bulger’s fleet. In that case, even ignoring the ore theft issue, you can fire the lot of them for failure to adhere to sanitary standards. It’s a safety issue. “
“Leaving me with ships and no crews,” Chelan said morosely. “These characters are going to prison anyhow, so I shall not complain.”
“New crews? Same place you found me,” Elaine answered. “Space Guard retirees. The Space Guard had a fair number of hulks flying on gamma cores, ships that could maintain a gee on a good day. Their crews were excellent. Well-trained. Serious. Not their fault their equipment was so mediocre. I can pick out the good people, of whom you need 70 or 80.” “Not 48?” Chelan asked. “Twelve per ship? I am out of my expertise.”