Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The bright yellow spaceship of the Sol Department of Transportation pulled up next to a two ton rogue asteroid. They deployed the grappling sling, and slowly maneuvered it toward the asteroid. After they secured it, the spaceship adjusted its orientation, fired its aft plasma engines, and launched the asteroid toward the center of the sun. The crew confirmed that the asteroid’s new trajectory was “terminal,” and then moved on toward their next target; a jettisoned escape hatch from a cargo vessel that had collided with a utility schooner.

Vir Quisquilia glanced over at his trainee, Josh Knoxx, who was sitting in the co-pilot seat. He was a good kid, but he was beginning to get on Vir’s nerves. He never shut up. He was always commenting on something, or questioning some department procedure (usually related to why Vir wasn’t following them). Vir momentarily reflected on his rookie year, and quickly concluded that he had never been like Josh; as best as he could recall.

“I don’t understand,” protested Josh, “why haven’t the ship designers figured out how to strengthen the forward deflector shields so they can handle a two ton rock. We could finish our route in a week if we only had to clear the really big ones.”

Vir mentally counted to ten before answering. The kid still didn’t see the big picture. Less work also meant fewer pilots. For now, he decided, he’d just explain the physics. “Listen, Josh, its all about mass and velocity. If a ship is only going 500 miles per second, the shields could deflect a 180 ton mass. But since the interplanetary velocity limit is 0.5c, we need to clear out all objects one ton and larger. Nobody is going the slow down just to make our job easier. Besides, you should be grateful that you were assigned to the Earth-Mars sub-light corridors. Imagine trying to keep the corridors clear through the asteroid belt? I covered a buddy’s run for a month. Hell, I’ll never do that again. The way the corridors constantly spiral to stay aligned with Jupiter and Saturn was a logistical nightmare.” He physically shuttered as he remembered the intricate space-dance he needed to choreograph to get Vista to shepherd a small cluster of asteroids out of Interplanet EJ-13.

They approached the drifting escape hatch and synchronized their orbits. Josh swiveled toward the sling panel to start the targeting sequence.

“Not the sling,” snapped Vir, somewhat more harshly than he had intended. “The hatch is titanium. It’s recyclable. It goes into the metals hold. Use the arm.”

“Damn, sorry.” Minutes later, the arm locked onto the hatch. As Josh maneuvered the hatch past the cockpit he yelled. “Oh God. There’s a dead guy holding onto the inside handle.”

Vir squinted at the arm monitor. “Yea, you’re right. I heard they couldn’t find one of the crew.” He sat there looking at Josh expectantly. “Well, come on,” he prompted, “get into your suit and pry his hand loose from the hatch. Store him in the biologic locker in hold number three. And ignite a thruster, it’s almost lunch time.”

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