“Why are we out here again?” Margaret asked to no one in particular, even though the only other person in the cockpit of their cargo ship was her husband Bob.
“We are going to be spending the next year making the solar system a safer place by mapping the outer solar system objects. Plus we are looking for new deposits of minerals.” Bob replied without looking up from autopilot controls. “Remember, ‘We are doing a great service to our people, making space travel to the outer system safer for all!’ At least that’s what the guy with the space agency said.” Bob added with a bit of sarcasm.
Margaret turned in the pilot’s chair and looking right at Bob said, “No, really, why are we out here?”
This caused Bob to stop what he was doing and let out a small sigh. Turning to face her, he said, “You know as well as I that we were desperate for the money. With the big companies moving into the shipping business, it is getting harder and harder for the small little outfits like us to get work. We have hardly had any work in the last year. Even though the pay is not all that great, they did pay for fuel and provisions. This one run will get us all caught up with our creditors. If we take another trip like this next year, we will be completely in the black.”
“I know, I know. I just cannot believe we are going to be stuck on our ship for a year with those eggheads. They have next to no personality and no sense of humor.”
“Come dear, this is only the second week of our trip. We won’t even reach the outer system for another 4 weeks.” Margaret responded to Bob’s words by putting on her best pouty face. She really was not that upset, but she did like being comforted by Bob.
Seeing the pouty face, Bob put on his best smile, walked over to her, and held her in his arms. “There, there dear. It’s going to be all right. I’ll protect you from the big bad humorless scientists.”
Bob and Margaret had been married for over 10 years and they still loved each other very much. They had met in the air force and after they were both out, they were married. Although they had no children, they considered their ship, the Meriwether, their baby. It has taken them 5 years to save enough for the down on it and they had spent the last 5 years running the more lucrative, but risky outer planets cargo routes. These jobs paid better as they were very long duration runs and much of the space ways were not charted. The risks had been worth it as they were still married and the Meriwether was almost paid for. The Meriwether might be a 50-year-old ship and out of date by modern standards, but it was their pride and joy and they would not allow anyone to talk bad about her.
After a minute of holding her, Bob loosened his hug and looked down into her brown eyes. Whenever Bob was mad at his wife, all he had to do was look into those eyes and he would remember why he loved her so much. “All better now?” he asked her.
She nodded, trying to look as sad and cute as possible. She loved the attention he gave her and she knew that this look melted his heart. Many people considered Bob a gruff and hard man, but in her arms, he was like softened butter.
“Good. Now back to flying this ship. I wouldn’t want to crash into a planet because you were busy loving on the co-owner.” It was a running joke they had. It was almost impossible to crash into a planet as there would be major collision warnings before they even got close. “Besides, I have to finish programming this Autopilot. We’ve only been out this far twice and I don’t trust the charts the government gave us.” He walked back to what he was doing.
She turned back to the controls and said with a wry smile, “Fine, be that way, but how do you know crashing into a planet is such a bad thing?”
“You said the scientist don’t have a sense of humor? Hmmm, maybe I should start spending time with them.”
The only reply he got to the comment was to have a piece of paper thrown at him. The little exchange had made both of them smile.
It was at that moment that the collision klaxon began to sound. The alarm made Bob turn towards his wife. “You WERE just kidding about crashing into a planet, right.” He said in jest.
Annoyed by the comment, she replied “Of course.” Examining the sensor display, she said “Looks like we have a small asteroid heading our way. We will cross its path in 6 hours.”
“An asteroid already?” he said turning to the computer to check the charts. “There is nothing in the charts about it.”
“Well, it looks like the eggheads have their first rock. Want to let them know?”
“Sure.” Bob turned to the intercom control and told Dr. Langley that they had the first rock for them to examine. Dr. Langley was an older scientist and Bob was sure he must have pissed someone off to be stuck on this trip with a bunch of college graduates to baby sit. Yep, this was going to be a very long year. Turning back to his wife, Bob said, “I wander what it’s made of? Maybe it’s solid gold?”
“Hmm.” was the only response he got from his wife.
With a little concern in his voice, he said, “What is it dear?” He had learned over the years that ‘Hmm’ from Margaret could mean something interesting to something deadly. This far out in the system, he did not care for either.
“Oh, well it’s that asteroid. I am not sure it is an asteroid at all. Look here at the scans of it.” She pointed to the screen, moving so Bob could look over her shoulder to see. “The mass isn’t right and see this?” She pointed to the screen. “That looks like it could be an antenna dish.”
“You think this might be a piece of an old wreck?” He asked
“Either that or maybe an old space probe.”
“Really?” Bob said as he looked up and out the front window. “Let’s see what the eggheads find out. Maybe we can salvage it and sell it to some museum. Our contract does say we have salvage rights to anything man made we find on this trip. I don’t think the government thought we would find anything out here.”
“Salvage rights?” Margaret said with some excitement in her voice. “I just might start liking those eggheads after all. Let’s just hope they say the right things.” She said, raising her eyebrows the way she did when she could feel a big payoff coming. She turned back to the display screen, trying to see what she could make of the object.