Jergan loved ships. Ever since he was a little mite he’d loved them, watched them, lusted over them–it was only natural that he become a pilot. He’d been a dock worker for years as a teenager, hauling and stacking crates, recalibrating spanners, and bugging any captains he could get a word with to take him into their crew. It never happened, of course. Everyone knew Jergan around the loading docks, knew that he cared more about the ships than about their cargo or crew. That was bad for business. Jergan was patient, though, and when he turned twenty-two he had finally made enough money to purchase his own ship.
Now it seemed like he might have to go back to hauling crates. Only a light-year from Borsen, Jergan’s baby had developed a shimmy, and halfway into the outer atmosphere sans attitude control, he was beginning to accept that it might be a lost cause. “I knew it would happen sometime,” Jergen said to his placidly plummeting ship, “But Borsa? Sweetheart, I thought I taught you class.” The ship wasn’t answering. Jergan went through the repair procedures a final time, but there was nothing to be done. The ship seemed determined to go to her death.
Jergan stood in the central cabin, one hand on the bulkhead. He’d raised this ship from a junkyard brat into a respectable salvage vehicle, but here she was, resigned to a fiery end. The atmosphere was beginning to redden outside the windows, and Jergan knew she wouldn’t last much longer. This was the moment all the captains had dreaded. This was the time when he’d have to choose.
“Well, babe, it’s been fun,” he said, moving to the hatch and fitting himself with an oxygen helmet. “You’re a beauty. I woulda loved you to the end. But I’m not gonna go down with you.” With a final pat, he moved through the hatch into the escape pod and jettisoned. Watching the ship explode as it careened into the atmosphere brought a pang to Jergan’s heart.
When he finally dragged himself into a port in Borsa, Jergan’s very first stop was the bar. He’d only gotten halfway through his third beer, however, when a tap on the shoulder brought him around. A man with hard eyes was peering down at him.
“Yeah?” Jergan slurred. “Whaddaya want?”
“You’re Jergan,” the man said. “Ship-lover who couldn’t get a job in Delwas, right? Went down over the Crater today?”
Jergan grunted and slumped over his beer. “Kinda busy right now, man,” he muttered. “Wanna take a hike?”
“Wanna take a hike, captain.”
Jergan turned his head and eyed the man in confusion.
“Captain Hennesey,” the man clarified. “It seems you’re out of work, and we’re a man short.”
Jergan blinked. “But… Delwas. I thought you said…”
Hennesey waved a dismissive hand. “If you want work, you’re hired,” he said simply. He glanced at Jergan’s beer and smirked, just a little. “We could use a pragmatist like you.”