Staring up at the red-tinted sky, I watched as a large rectangular ship broke through N2390’s atmosphere.
’Right on schedule,’ I mused as the hauler grew larger, drawing near the scrap yard.
“Looks like she be carrying a full load,” the older man beside me said with a grunt.
I nodded, observing the movements of the ship as it flew low over the dumping grounds.
I knew, just as Samson did, that the freighter docked star-side was the Prince Albert III. The vessel serviced the Xi’anu system, which was one of the wealthiest in the Federation.
Our planet was what some would call a junk planet. With its low habitability classification, the Federation used it as a large recycling center.
They shipped in metal waste from around the Federation-controlled planetary systems, then workers sorted, melted down, and shipped out the refined metal to be reused.
Those who lived on the planet had found they earned far more by salvaging the discarded tech in the scrap than by working in the factory, and several residents lived solely on their earnings from reselling repaired items.
I fought the urge to cover my ears as the sound of the approaching ship’s engines grew to a deafening volume.
Not possible with my helmet on, of course.
The helmet and my salvaged bodysuit did not have sound filtering capabilities, but what they did have was an oxygen filter, which was why when I found the Celestial IV body suit, I chose to keep it despite the high resale price.
N2390′s low atmosphere made it necessary to use a suit with oxygen filtering capabilities when outside the habitation zones. While the air was breathable, doing so for more than a few hours would have detrimental effects on a person’s health.
The suit had increased the time I could spend outside the habitation domes scavenging for repairable tech greatly, so over the past months, I had managed to earn more credits than ever before.
The suit had more than covered its potential sale price and was the reason I had almost a thousand and three hundred credits stashed away in my personal account.
Though I would need far more than that if I was going to buy myself a ticket off this desolate planet.
My father only earned five hundred credits a month, minus our accommodation fees, which were deducted from his wage. Even with me adding to our finances with scavenging, we were not well off by any measure.
The ground shook as the ship dropped its heavy cargo, causing the pile of metal scrap Samson and I had climbed on for a better vantage point to began shifting beneath our feet.
Leaping up, I engaged my suit’s thrusters to propel myself into the air, barely escaping as the pile started to collapse. Samson, who was slower to react, tumbled down the side of the scrap, swearing violently as he did so.
Laughing at the man’s misfortune, I moved to the next pile, landing only for a moment before leaping away as I headed towards the drop zone.
He should have known better.
Samson had been salvaging for far longer than I had and knew the piles were unstable at the best of times. I’d fallen off several when I was younger and had learnt not to remain on them when ships were unloading.
Even with my head start, Samson still beat me to the newly delivered scrap. His own suit was of much better quality, and he could fly directly to the new area.
My suit’s thrusters were only useful for short bursts, which meant I was one of the last to arrive.
Fortunately, there were still sections unoccupied by others, and I quickly laid claim to one.
There were several unspoken rules regarding scavenging on N2390.
You could not work an area occupied by another, nor was it acceptable to steal something salvaged by the person working that area.
Bartering and trades were permitted, though I was always careful about such things, lest I find myself on the losing end of the deal.
Cautiously, I worked through the pile I had claimed. It was heavy work, so I needed to be careful to avoid destabilizing the mountain of metal scrap.
Five hours later, I was struggling to contain my disappointment at the lack of any decent findings, but I would keep going until I had cleared the section of anything valuable.
I had heard the tale of more than one scavenger who had left a section, only to discover that another had found something of high value after they had departed.
I moved aside another chunk of scrap metal, then stared excitedly down at the rectangular device poking out from the pile.
Looking around, I made sure no one was watching then grabbed the thin rectangle shaped device. The scuffed and faded words ‘Beltran Flight Simulation module’ emblazoned on the side of the device made my heart pound rapidly.
Turning the device over in my hands, I examined the module for any visible signs of damage. It appeared to be physically intact from what I could see externally, and I breathed deeply, trying to calm my increasing excitement.
The Beltran company made some of the best training simulators and learning modules in the Federation.
All children had access to the basic learning modules. They were easily downloadable from the civilian interstellar network, but these kinds of advanced modules were not openly available to the general population.
This module in particular was something that was used by trainee pilots and was only accessible through a higher education institute.
I had previously contemplated the idea of trying to test into one of the higher learning institutions to train as a pilot, but the training was extremely cost prohibitive.
The chance that I might gain a scholarship was unlikely, as I had no piloting experience or knowledge beyond a basic understanding.
I stared in contemplation at the simulation module in my hand. If I sold it, then I could earn a lot of credits.
But what if it worked? Could I use it? If I could use it and get some basic training as a pilot, then maybe it could help me get into one of the piloting programs in a different system, or maybe even a job as a trainee pilot on one of the visiting freighters.
After slipping the module into my pack, I looked back towards the pile I had been sorting through, fighting the urge to race back to the residential complex.
I wanted to find out if the module was still operational. I knew my basic model simulation helmet wouldn’t be fully compatible, but I hoped I could still access the basic training features.
The United Astrum Federation provided an education simulation helmet for all children, it possessed basic functions and provided a visual and audio-based simulation.
When it connected with the child’s neural implant, the helmet would place the person into a virtual space.
For students, it was a personal classroom where they studied the education modules they were able to access.
There was a set number of modules that all children had to complete by the time they were eighteen.
The Federation tested all citizens just before their eighteenth birthday and gave those who scored well many advantages such as citizenship in wealthier and more populated planetary systems. High scores also meant better employment opportunities.
This was the goal I worked towards. Every night I would spend hours in my simulated classroom, studying every module I could access.
During the days I lurked in the scrap yard, seeking anything salvageable that I could sell, as just getting a high score on my basic education exams wouldn’t be enough to get me off this planet. I also needed credits, lots of credits.
Even an application for citizenship on a planet in the Manra system, which was only slightly better than my current home, was five hundred credits.
That was just to be considered, it was no guarantee my application would be accepted.
Then there was the cost of traveling off N2390, out of the Winaru system, and then living costs until I got a job.
I clenched my jaw and got back to work. I would finish this pile and then return to the residential complex.
Another four hours of work, and I was glad I stayed.
I had discovered the remnants of a high-end simulation helmet. The metal was dented and its visor cracked meaning the helmet itself was beyond saving, but that didn’t matter.
What was important was the neural connector and internal hardware. I could use those parts and potentially upgrade my own basic simulator helmet.
With luck, I would have an operational helmet that would be compatible with the flight module.
Turning my gaze to the sky, I stared up at the stars that had appeared in the last hour as night had claimed the planet.
The red haze, which covered much of the planet’s sky, was thinner this night so I could see more of them than was usual.
My father had once told me the explorers of old Earth would use the stars to guide them on journeys to far-off lands, much in the same way people now used stars to navigate the many planetary systems.
I often dreamed of the night when the reddish haze of N2390 would no longer obscure those stars above me.
Of the night when I would look up at the sky and the stars would not be these which I had lived beneath for almost eighteen years.
I would look up to see new stars, brighter stars, which would be a symbol of a better future than the stars above me now offered.