Erinyes Salvage Yard is a living, breathing creature. Its form is vast, spanning an imperfect sphere several thousand kilometres across. A jump point makes its gaping maw and wrecked vessels are its body.
At any given time, hundreds of parasites crawl across it, salvage ships plying their trade. Blazing beams of light mark the progress of those salvagers as they cut and process the ruined ships.
Here, dead ships are torn apart, their innards neatly arranged for shipment to Aetna Shipyard.
There, they will serve mankind again.
â€œRelease on my mark.â€
A flurry of tugs detached from the wreck of In Valour United, a pre-extinction dreadnought, at the harbourmasterâ€™s order. Only a few remained to brake the vast vessel, bringing it to a halt in the emptiness of space. The Yard was always busy, evidenced by the swarm of salvagers that followed the tugs closely like a cloud of flies.
Derek Neller was one such salvager. He sat at the controls of his ship, humming to himself as he brought his vessel down to the hull of In Valour United. He approached, thrusters shuddering as the hull ahead of him grew larger and larger until it appeared to be a wall stretching in every direction.
In Valour Unitedâ€™s corpse would be picked apart by him and others just like him. Conductive wires would be ripped out and spooled into cylindrical drums, armour plating would be melted down and stacked. The salvagers would feed on the corpse like vultures of their long gone Earth, first picking at plating and soft electronic innards. Some would jostle for the eyes, seeking to secure a claim on the shipâ€™s sensor clusters.
They would rip into this alloyed corpse, until only the bones of hardened support struts remained then those too would be processed.
He reached to his left and snagged a bottle of Metaxa. Not the Rim-shit they peddled on Hades 9, this was Bakkusi Metaxa, aged and perfected. The fact that the great Bakkusi vineyards were now barren wastelands only made his drink all the sweeter with the knowledge that every sip made him part of a privileged few. When he was done with it, he resolved to fill the bottle up, recork it and sell it. A genuine bottle, like the one he was polishing off, cost more than his ship, a less than authentic bottle would attract a pittance amongst the sommeliers of the Ring.
But Hadesâ€™ Rim citizens wouldnâ€™t know the difference.
Ignorance was bliss. Derek thought that idiom was especially apt in these times. The Navyâ€™s official line was that In Valour United was a classic remnant of the extinction, a ghost ship. After the extinction had swept through mankindâ€™s colonies there were plenty of soulless wrecks left trapped in orbits of empty worlds.
Only a fool would look at the cratered hull in front of Derek and think that starvation and asteroid impacts explained the damage that scarred In Valour Unitedâ€™s empty shell. Derek was no fool, he knew well the difference between random asteroids impacting a shieldless hull and targeted fire.
But with Hades two jumps away, the vast station that supported what remained of mankind had a great many fools.
While the others had gone to work cutting away at the hull, he steered to one of the gaping tears on the dreadnought and anchored his ship. A short spacewalk in his survival suit and he was in.
A powerful shoulder lamp lit his way as Derek pushed inside. He passed a silent gun battery, found Navy men and women dead in their seats. Not a single one wore a survival suit.
They were caught by surprise then, enough time to muster, not enough time to fight. He left the dead behind, pushed on.
Without power the shipâ€™s internal shuttles were just as dead as the rest of the crew. Derek felt every step acutely as he looked longingly at the useless shuttles.
It took him half an hour to reach his intended destination.
Every Navy ship had a bridge. Dreadnoughts typically had two, a bridge for the shipmaster and an Action Information Centre (AIC) for the tactical officers. Derek had not spent over an hour in a ship filled with the flash-frozen dead to visit a glorified driver. He had headed for the shipâ€™s core, where the AIC was tucked away. If the vast fusion engines at the shipâ€™s stern represented the vesselâ€™s heart, then the AIC represented In Valour Unitedâ€™s mind.
The AIC was just as silent as the rest of the ship. Perfectly preserved corpses hung in the zero-gravity environment, though more than one remained in place, held down by mag-boots that did not know their owners did not need them anymore. Derek pushed past them, calmly moving aside a dead ensign whose body drifted slowly away from him. Heâ€™d seen enough in his time salvaging.
He didnâ€™t want ensigns.
A smile erupted on his face as he spotted the epauletted uniform of a man halfway through the process of putting on his survival suit. He would never finish the process.
If there was one distasteful aspect of Derekâ€™s work it was fighting a corpse with rigour mortis, shoving and if necessary breaking arms to gain easy access to the head. A laser scalpel appeared in his hands as he began cutting, peeling away skin and bone.
They, the nameless group that everyone on Hades swore by, liked to say that knowledge was power. Derek wasnâ€™t sure he believed that. Mankindâ€™s science hadnâ€™t saved them from the extinction. If anything, he had heard rumours of quite the reverse.
But Vattek believed it. And Vattek Corp would pay handsomely for the implant of a dead Admiral. Like the one he now had in his hands.
Vattek, Navy, Erinyes Salvagers, they all understood the most important facet of life on Hades.
Waste Not, Want Not.
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- Short Stories
- April 10, 2018