• Contributing Author

Tanks Alot - Part 2

Chapter Two

Theana Or Luna maneuvered her tug towards the floating pile of recently mined debris, and her fingers moved efficiently over the controls that separated the debris into valuable ore chunks and useless rock. The separation was easy since the asteroid they were mining was almost entirely nickel and iron.

This particular asteroid they had nicknamed Anvil because of its composition. This elongated nearly solid metal body was approximately 2 kilometers by 1 kilometer in diameter, and there was enough material here for the Juarez to make another 100 or so trips before it was exhausted.

The Juarez was an older Cargo/miner with 62 pans and a crew of 12. This was home to Theana and her batch sister Shila. Theana's job was to operate tug 1 and separate the ores from the waste. Shila operated tug 4 and packed the ore into the pans. Tugs 2 and 3 where operated by Dris and Ty that processed Anvil into manageable pieces. All of the tugs were operated by tank born, Although a skilled person was need to operated the tugs, these jobs were almost always given to tank born. The dangerous environment of deep space operations made the expendable tank born perfect resources.

Theana and her coworkers had been at this for about ten hours now and were finishing up this shift’s activities. They only had 5 more pans to go then they would head back to Ares base for some relaxation and payment. She calculated for the thousandth time that this and 6 more trips to Ares would finally pay off her construction cost. She fumed at the indignity of that description, "construction cost", yes she was tank born, but like any human she didn't ask to be born. She just was, and now her existence must be paid for with her servitude. Theana shook off these thoughts, they always end up the same, with her in futile anger. Once she is out of debt she and Shila will finally be able to start making their own worth.

Shila's voice came over the radio, "OK that pan is full". A few seconds passed and Cap's voice broke the silence, "Roger, put that one back and grab tomorrows pan, the rest of you head on in".

Theana deftly moved the tug to docking station 4 and awaited the clamps to secure her vessel to the Juarez. As the docking process made the usual metal on metal sounds, her thoughts wandered to what she was going to make for dinner. Spence promised her to grow some herbs in the hydroponics bay and hopefully the thyme and bay leaves would be available now. Fresh herbs were the one thing that made her cooking great. the rest of the crew no longer made their own premade reheated meals and let Theana make larger collective portions that they all shared. Her food preparations made the food go from barely edible to actually tasty. It was a point of pride that the Juarez had some of the best meals in the fleet, rivaling the huge command ships quality.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the secure docking chime, and green light indicating she could exit the tug. As she entered the Juarez docking bay she was met by the sight of three people. Donny the chief engineer and Jeff his mechanic assistant, working on some electrical panel, and Spence the newest member of the crew and her fresh herb connection. Spence looked at Theana like a lovesick puppy and she knew he would be willing to grow all sorts of things for her.

She was used to this sort of thing, many humans felt they could be overtly suggestive with tank borns, but Spence seemed to be genuinely attracted to her and not just creepily horny like Gary the exec. Theana had no problem with the sexually charged innuendo that some people threw at her, she liked sex as well as the next person. The fact that many humans looked at tank borns as a piece of meat, didn't bother her, she looked back at them the same way.

Spence was unknowingly shifting his weight from one leg to the other and hemming and hawing about how to talk to her when she took pity on him. Theana approached him and said, "Spence, so good to see you, tell me you have good news and my herbs are growing like the weeds you always worry about"? Spence took a deep breath not even realizing he appeared nervous, "Yes, I have some basil and thyme available and the garlic needs to dry a bit". Theana smiled and reassured Spence, "excellent I owe you". Donny offered from the other side of the docking bay, "better collect Spence, I hear good things about her gratitude". Jeff sniggered like he actually knew what Theana's gratitude would be like, but had no personal experience with her. She was used to this type of exchange with people. She knew Donny was not being an ass, he was actually very nice and treated her well, he was just teasing the new guy. Theana also knew Spence was often staring at her, unaware he was being so obvious, "tell you what" she whispered into his ear, "you bring me some dry garlic and I will let you pick out what outfit I cook in". She almost laughed out loud as his eyes became saucers. He quickly nodded and hurried off to the hydroponics lab. She rolled her own eyes and thought I hope I didn't misread him I could end up naked.

The other bays doors opened up and Dris and Ty entered from their tugs. Dris looked over at Theana, "whats for dinner I'm starving"? Theana looked thoughtful, "how about fake beef with real garlic and some peas" Ty smiled and said "that sounds amazing, where did you get real garlic"? Everyone accepted fake beef as a staple but real herbs was a treat. Theana nonchalantly said "Spence grew it in the lab, and hes working on other stuff, so our meals will be better for awhile". Ty nodded and smiled and grabbed Dris's hand to lead him to their quarters to clean up.

The last tug bay opened and a tired looking Shila wandered in, her blond hair falling into her eyes. Theana looked at her batch sister, and smiled the smile of understanding that misery loves company. Theana had known Shila her whole life, having been born in the same batch and they have been inseparable ever since. "Hey Shy, I am making beef with real garlic tonight". "oh, and some peas" The look on Shila's face was a mixture of surprise and excitement. Theana went over to her and said "lets get cleaned up and have a nice dinner". Shila looked at her and nodded her relief.


Chapter Three

Hiroko Matsuo sat at her console and arched her back to stretch the day’s boredom from her muscles. She estimated it would be another two or three days before they could head back to Ares. That would be plenty of time to finish the scan she initiated into another area of the belt. Everyone on earth thinks the belt is full of rocks and looks like a gravel road, but its actually quite vast and the distance between asteroids is enormous. At that moment two different chimes sounded on her console, one indicating her scan was done and the other that she had an incoming personal message.

She accessed the message and was pleased to see it was from her brother Kenji. It was the usual correspondence asking how she was doing and then he started to reminisce about when they were children and played a card game where she loved to play the spy card, that had the effect of a unit attacking its own base. He also mentioned that Uncle Hanso loved when she did that. Hiroko knew Kenji was cryptically telling her to contact him with their secure communications method since they did not have an Uncle Hanso.


Hiroko knew Kenji was cryptically telling her to contact him with their secure communications method since they did not have an Uncle Hanso.

The other item of interest to her was the scan that she assumed would show more rocky bodies. However she did a double take and saw that the scan found a small metallic body right next to a larger rocky one. The metallic body registered as mostly platinum, one trip to that would be worth 40 trips to Anvil. Hiroko reset the scanner to isolate and gather specific information concerning the new find. Hiroko played most any strategy game for fun and learned long ago that information was key to success, she would keep this new scan to herself until she had more facts.

Marcus Esposito had been captain of the Juarez for 17 years now, and his latest crew was one of the best that he has ever worked with, or maybe he was getting complacent and liked them because they didn't cause any trouble. He even liked that everyone was informal and called him Cap and they pretended not to notice his vast hair loss that he knew his old cowboy hat did nothing to hide. The tugs had finished their work for the day and soon Theana would be making dinner, He thought "I hope there is enough for seconds I'm starving".

Gary Graham walked onto the bridge, as Exec he had been on the Juarez for 2 years and was biding his time till a captaincy opened up he could bid on, or better yet if Cap would finally just retire. Then he could run things tighter than Cap does. He would keep the tank born in their place first off, and maybe try to get a new Doctor. Hillary Springer was a competent enough Doctor, but she sure did bend over backwards to accommodate the plague that was tank born. "All the tugs are docked and tomorrows pan is in position".

Cap nodded acknowledgment. "OK, I think that will do it for today". He got up and stretched, with an audible groan. Gary turned without a word and headed out of the bridge. Cap noticed his departure and thought once again, "How did that dickhead ever get promoted, not his winning personality"? Cap yawned and muttered, "well I guess I will see you at dinner ".

Hiroko nodded without responding, and watched Cap shuffle out the door, leaving her alone on the bridge.

Hiroko had arranged methodology to communicate with Kenji years ago when she joined the fleet. She would send some innocuous picture and embedded in it would be the code telling which cipher to use. She sent a picture of her current physical distraction, Donny, and told how they were getting along well and other banality. Embedded in the picture was many random numbers that seemed like gibberish but ending in the stream that told Kenji to use his copy of Sun Tzu's Art of War to decode.

Once the communique was sent, she went to change into her workout clothes. A quick workout and shower before dinner would help keep her in shape and be enough of a distraction, to not obsess about Kenji's message.

Hiroko rounded the corner and ran right into Donny, he automatically grabbed onto her to keep her from falling,"Hey babe, what's the rush"? She knew he was in love with her, and she played the part of adoring girlfriend well. "What's my rush, you ran into me big guy"? Hiroko quickly looked around for witnesses and gave him a fast kiss on his cheek and a smile. "I'm going to do a short workout and shower before dinner, my back is stiff from sitting at my station all day". Donny nodded his sympathy, adding "OK, I gotta do a quick up date on the bridge consoles so I'll see you at dinner".

Hiroko went through the motions of her workout and shower, but her plan for distraction failed miserably. She could not stop her mind from wild speculation about that cryptic message. Who was uncle Hanso? Did Kenji have some opportunity and what could she possibly do way out here?

It would all just have to wait, so she dressed in the clean version of the functional outfit she had on. Her style was practical and deliberately not showy. This helped perpetuate the appropriate look of someone in a relationship and kept Gary from to much staring. Unlike the slutty look of Theana, who seemed to always flaunt a bit more skin in her outfits.

She headed towards the galley and heard Dris and Ty coming down the corridor behind her. The tank born were a necessary component of space mining, but they still creeped her out. Then the smell hit her coming from the galley, "was that garlic she smelled"? As the Galley opened up before her, the sight of Theana wearing a short skirt and a very low cut top showing to much cleavage to be professional, caught her off guard. This was excessive even for her.

The galley was a room big enough to hold the cooking area and with its supply station as well as one long table that every one could fit in. There were also a few separate tables if someone felt like being less social. The main table currently sat Cap, Shila, Hillary, and Spence. They all seemed to be in good spirits especially Spence for some reason. Dris and Ty wandered in, with Dris smelling the air and asking "So that's garlic I smell"?

Dris laughed and asked, "What's with the new look Theana"? Theana, looked up and matter of factly said, "I made a deal with Spence, that if he brought me garlic I would let him pick my outfit". "Tada", "I may have misjudged the man". Everyone was amused by the fact that quiet and shy Spence, seemed to have another side to him.

Chapter 4

Hiroko sat down at her console, arriving early for the day’s activities, to check her scan and messages in private. The scan was almost complete and she had some time to check her message.

The communication from Kenji was platitudes and filler along with a picture from their childhood of the game they played as children. She knew embedded in it was a string of numbers that she could decode with the proper reference. Her digital copy of Art of War was the right reference. She quickly and quietly inserted her own copy of the decoding program contained on a memory stick into the access port.

The message popped up on her screen.

Greetings Little One, We have an opportunity for great worth and advancement. I have made a deal with a rival corporation for embarrassing Adidas. If you can maneuver a small asteroid to smash into Ares base and seriously damage or better yet destroy it. We will be generously and quietly compensated. I have a tank born agent on Ares base that will blind their scanners to the incoming rock but we only need to know when it will hit to time the hack. This is the slow time for Ares so our window of opportunity is small but real. I look forward to good news.

Kenji

This was an unexpected message from her brother, Hiroko thought. Does he think she can just throw rocks around from her console? However his ignorance, is irrelevant since she can do just that, this particular time. Assuming her scan of the platinum body is accurate she can persuade the crew to go there next for a fat payoff. She could get one of the large debris chunks form Anvil accelerated to sufficient velocity to do major damage, but if she got Anvil itself going, that would destroy the base. The loss of life would be significant, but about two thirds were tank born. The other portion were mostly tank sympathizers anyways, so no big lose there either. She would sleep just fine after that, and most likely in a much nicer room.

Hiroko’s console chimed that her scan was done. Her delicate fingers moved deftly over the console to bring up the particulars. Her initial scan was accurate and the platinum chunk appeared to be about 400 meters around and partially embedded in a much larger rocky body that must have a slow rotation otherwise it would have been picked up by previous scans. Regardless there it was and she knew there is no chance Cap won't jump at the chance before another ship finds it. She quickly calculated, if we finish here tomorrow and head back to Ares, that will take about 5 weeks. Once at Ares, it usually takes about 2 days to unload and reacquire the loaded pans for dumping. We have spent a month relaxing in the past during the slow time, but I bet Cap will want a quick turnaround time.





Cap entered the bridge and slowly walked to the command chair with his cup of coffee. He sat down with an audible groan, and a sigh. "Morning Hiroko, you're up early", he said as he started to sip the steaming beverage, making small talk.

Hiroko looked up, her mind made up on how to proceed with her plans. "I was here checking on a scan I initiated yesterday". Hiroko looked directly at Cap, and added "I didn't want to say anything till I was sure, but I found something".

Cap raised his eyebrows with the unspoken question of "What"? Hiroko smiled and looked excited, playing the part she thought would sell it. "I found us a small ball of platinum"!

"Platinum, Are you sure? How big? How much? How far? Where? Cap paused after his rapid fire questions. Hiroko laughed and answered. "Yes I am sure”. “It's about 400 meters across and partially embedded in a larger rocky body”. ‘It's about 2 weeks from here but about 6 weeks from Ares". "Assuming the information from the scans are correct, then I estimate we have about 4 full trips there".

Cap was grinning and threw his head back so fast his cowboy hat fell off "Wow, this will be the biggest find in this sector". His expression suddenly changed to one of concern. "Wait, who else knows about this"? Hiroko looked conspiratorially at Cap "No one but us". Cap smiled and whispered "lets keep this to ourselves till after Ares, then the crew will be pleasantly surprised about our new destination". Cap looked both stern and pleading at Hiroko. "If this information gets out some other ship will beat us to the punch".

Hiroko, looked directly into Cap's eyes and said "I swear to you, No one will know we are not going back to Anvil next trip". She added "We should be able to get two trips for sure, one when we arrive at Ares with full pans of platinum, and the second when we go right back out". "After that, it will just be a race". Cap nodded agreeing with her assessment, "Well, at least the next few months will be exciting anyway".

The rest of the day’s mining and packing en devours went on schedule, leaving just two pans to go for tomorrow morning and they would be on their way to Ares by lunch. Hiroko had much to do to prepare for the next day’s activities.

Donny showed up unexpectedly, right before shift end. "Hiroko, I still have to run the update on your console and change out the backup power supply, so if you are done, this will only take a few minutes"'. Hiroko saw no problem with hardware swap, so she smiled sweetly and said "Yep, all done". Cap looked at her questioningly and she smiled confidently. "Well I guess that's it for the day" Cap said with a yawn and stretch. "See you at dinner Donny".

Everyone left the bridge leaving Donny alone with his work. As a precaution Donny always backed up the data files so If there's a power surge he wont have to redo the entire console. His hardware swap went without problem and he was done in 10 minutes. Donny thought, while smiling, if he hurried maybe he could catch Hiroko in the shower before dinner for his favorite appetizer.


Chapter 5

Hiroko worked out all the math for her plan, it was going to take some time and she would need the thrust from one of the drones as well. The timing would be tight but she had a plan. The drones are usually recalled and loaded last, so after all the tugs were docked she sent an interference signal to drone 6 and waited.

Donny's voice came over the speakers, "Cap, drone six is not responding, I think we need to send a tug to get it".

Cap rolled his eyes with the frustration of the delay, and sighed about to give the order to go get it. Hiroko offered up, "we could suggest leaving it and pick it up next time, no one will question that and Donny can build another one on the way to the new target when everyone knows". Cap thought about that and agreed its a perfectly acceptable plan, now the clock was ticking on the platinum discovery. "Leave it Donny, we will get it next trip back".

Down in the docking bay Donny heard the order with confusion, it would only take another hour or so to get it, what's the big deal? He looked at Jeff who didn't care one way or the other. Shrugging his shoulders he transmitted, "In that case we are good to go"

Up on the bridge, Hiroko had a slight hidden smile to herself, step one, check. Now to get rid of Cap. She pressed a button that sent the message from Cap's daughter to his console. The message came in yesterday but she did not forward it till the time was right. She knew Cap adored his daughter sending most of his pay to her. He always took her messages right away.

The chime on Cap's chair lit up indicating a message from his daughter. Hiroko piped up, "I know that's from your daughter, if you want to go and read it privately I'll get the ship headed to Ares".

Cap smiled relief, "Thanks Hiroko, I'll do that, You still know the way he teased her"? She smiled, "I think I can find it". They both laughed, "OK I'll see you at lunch then" Cap walked out of the room. Hiroko smiled openly this time. "Step two, check".

Now her real work began. She slid into her navigation console and quickly reactivated the drone positioning it on the other side of anvil with a directional thrust program. Then she adjusted the Juarez magnetic field to create a pull.. By redirecting the magnetic field they were more exposed to solar radiation, but between the pan shielding and the short duration, it was an acceptable risk. Between the two efforts the huge iron/nickle body began to move. According to her calculations by time the drone burns out, the trajectory will be established and Anvil will continuously be accelerating. In the 17 weeks it takes to get to Areas it will be moving too fast to stop. Now the last thing is to loop the scanner to show Anvil still in place on their screens. Check.

With everything in motion now she activated the controls to send Juarez towards Ares.

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