Tanks Alot - Part 3
Everyone on the Juarez settled into the travel routine, of impromptu games, sports, contests, and bets. Travel time was the easiest, and hardest for everyone, because there was always the expectation of the next thing. In this case the next thing was Ares base where worth would be calculated, and divvied out, for either expenses or payment. The tank born would chip away at their construction costs and the rest would invest, or send to loved ones, or party like drunken sailors. Routinely everyone got rooms at the nice boarding facilities for pampering and comfort while the tank born still lived in their quarters on the Juarez, having only enough perdium for some other food and cheap entertainment.
When they were 3 days from Ares at dinner Cap cleared his throat to get everyone's attention. "I have been doing some calculations and if we do a quick turn at Ares our next trip will put us in the busier season where the shopping and entertainment will be better, and we can spend longer there.
Gary spoke up, "what kind of quick turn are you talking about, I was figuring two weeks on Ares at least maybe three this time"?
Cap looked at him and said "Three days".
Gary exploded, "Three days"! "An extra week or two won't matter in the busy season, in fact I think we will be deeper into it, if we wait a little now".
Hillary chimed in "Three days does seem a bit brief, Cap".
Theana stretched and offered up "It's fine with me, sooner back at it, sooner I won't be a nobody".
Gary snidely added "it's going to take more than a clean slate for that".
Spence looked at Gary with disbelief and loathing, while Cap interrupted, "stop being a jackass, this is what we are doing, If you don't like it I'm sure we can work out your transfer and replacement in those 3 days".
Gary locked eyes with Cap and knew this would adversely affect his promotion opportunities, "Fine, I guess we will party hard next time".
Cap softened his tone, "I know this will be tough so, I plan to personally get us some good food stores for this go around, and I'm sure Theana will do wonders".
Everyone smiled at that option, except Gary who held onto his pouting demeanor.
Later that night, while Donny was getting ready for bed, he asked Hiroko, "Does three days seems suspicious to you, this seems weird, something is up". Hiroko looked up from bed "Maybe, but it's not a big deal, we will have more time and more worth to play with during high season" Hiroko looked across the room at him and slowly removed the night shirt she was wearing. "Besides, this isn't so bad is it"? Donny smiled his wolfish grin and quickly joined her in bed. Hiroko thought, "So easily distracted".
Jeff sat with Spence in the Galley, "Ha" he exclaimed as he threw his cards down, "Got Ya" Spence looked and nodded, not really caring anyway, this helped pass the time and distracted him from fixating on Theana.
Spence wondered, "What is it about Theana that's so intoxicating"? His thoughts then went to the usual litany of features and qualities that rotated in his mind. However, as always it settled on her spirit, the fact that she came with what most would call a disability, and actively fought to continually overcome others prejudice of something that is completely irrelevant. That was admirable. "Well with us going back out so quick that will give me a chance to maybe get to know her better" dreamed Spence yet again. He then got an idea, "Hey Jeff, Where did you get those hot peppers you were talking about, last time we were in Ares"?
Back on earth Kenji Matsuo got a message from his sister wishing him a happy birthday and a picture of a puppy wearing a birthday hat. Cute dog he thought, but his birthday is weeks away. Hopefully this will contain information that will be the best present yet. Kenji decoded the message using his own memory stick and read the news that not only was an asteroid in motion, it will be big enough to destroy Ares. "Happy Birthday to me" he whispered. Time to send a message to his contact.
Tomorrow would bring them to Ares base. Uncoupling all the pans would take the better part of a day, then they could dock with the base itself. Ares had berths for 20 ships, but this time of the year there were usually only a handful unless one of the big shuttle carriers happens to be in town, those take up 4 berths. The big shuttle carriers operate all year round so that even in the off season there are pans to work with. In high season when the Earth is closest, multiple shuttles come and go depleting the bases of all the collected materials. That is known as high season when all the vendors move from base to base, offering all sorts of items that are not available any other time.
Ares base is mostly self sufficient, the large Iron/nickel asteroid is approximately 3 kilometers long and about 2 kilometers in diameter, with a fatter bulbous end. The skinny end is where the berths and storage are. Along the middle is where the large hydroponics fields are, that get reflected sunlight from strategically placed pans covered in a reflective coating. All access to Ares is on the dark side where the base itself protects from the destructive solar radiation. On the sun side is a magnetic field generator to help protect anything floating nearby. Inside the fat end are the habitation areas that have large modules rigged to a lattice that rotates to simulate gravity. All the habitation areas are contained in a huge hollowed out zone within Ares itself. The maintenance technicians call it the roller because it looks like a series of linked Ferris wheels side by side. Once inside you can't really feel the motion and it feels like gravity.
Between the hydroponics area and the stores of ice for water, Ares can easily sustain 5000 people indefinitely. Most of the comforts from home need to be shuttled in, but the trade is robust and lucrative, keeping the inhabitants quite comfortable. Typically Ares houses 2000 or so people off season, mostly tank born, and jumps up to 4000 or so in high season.
Cap waited impatiently for the Juarez to arrived at Ares and was finally in the unloading position. Tugs from the base would come and collect the pans and move them to the staging area along side of the storage platform. From here the pans would be unloaded into the assay production line and the ores would be separated from the waste. The first phase refined ore was then loaded onto pans to be shipped to the moon for final refinement and the waste was reloaded onto pans to be shipped back to the belt. The ratio of refined pans to waste pans was the indicator of how successful the trip was and was figured into the payment calculation.
A shuttle from the base came to collect the crew for transport to the habitation area, this was where all the officials were that needed to be conferred with as well as the more popular shopping.
Cap and the rest of the crew rode the transport to the habitation docking bay. Cap fidgeted, thinking, “This ride always seemed to take too long”, but since he was feeling the clock, it seemed particularly slow. The clamps made their locking sounds and the door finally opened. Cap was met by the Ingress Official, who he has known for about ten years. Cap smiled and said, "Hi Bobby, is Martin in his office"? Robert Johns tried to look official while holding Cap's gaze, but quickly broke into a smile. "Hi Marcus, yes he's in and waiting for you. How long will you be on station? Mandy and I would love to get together with you". Cap handed his ID over to be scanned and said "I'm not sure, I'm thinking of making a short turn so we can get more time in high season". Bobby nodded understanding, and added "OK Let me know".
Cap hurried on towards the station chiefs office, leaving the rest of his crew to go through the embarkation process. The office of station chief was up the stairs at the top of the mezzanine and through the double doors. The outer office had a cute young girl sitting at a desk as the first line of defense. Martin Scofield had been chief of Ares since it's construction, it was his baby. He let his receptionist deflect most of the bothersome riff raff but he still needed to talk to the captains. The girl looked up and recognized Captain Marcus Esposito from his many previous visits. "Hi Marcus, go right in he is waiting for you".
Cap walked into the inner office, and as always saw the big desk at the back of the large room, but more attractive was the large fish tank in the corner. This was a point of pride for Martin, it might be the only aquarium in space, he wasn't sure. Martin would brag this was the biggest salt water tank in space, full of corals and colorful reef fish, it even had an eel.
Martin looked up from his desk and smiled a warm greeting. Cap had been Martin’s exec 17 years ago on a smaller 42 pan ship, the Cancun. "Hi Marcus, good to see you. Do you have stuff from Anvil again"? Cap nodded and the started right in "Hi Martin, yes, I have 62 pans of high grade ore, my crew is very good at presorting". Martin leaned back in his high back chair, "You always do". Cap looked him in the eye "And, I want to unload quick and get back out, so since it's slow how about we double up the processing crews"? Cap reached into his pocket and said "I'll even make it worth you while". Then dropped 4 full cloves of actual garlic on his desk, the pungent aroma filling the air. Martin's eyes grew a bit bigger and asked, "is that real garlic"? Cap smiled and nodded. Martin snorted a small laugh and said "I will get you the extra crews even without the garlic, but we both know there is more to this".
Cap smiled his best nonchalant smile. "Nothing, just trying to be efficient so we can spend more time here in high season". Martin snorted another small laugh, "Bullshit, you found something didn't you and you want to get it before someone else"? Cap said nothing. Martin nodded, "OK, I'll get you processed fast, and good luck".
Gary and Donny were required to stay on board for the unloading process, The fact that Gary was stuck here and the tank born got to go on really pissed him off. "Well at least when I am eventually Captain, some other poor bastard will get this job" stewed Gary. Donny walked onto the bridge, and noticed Gary's more than usual sour face, his stare and exaggerated frown communicating to all his displeasure. "Who shit in your reconstituted breakfast"? asked Donny, knowing full well Gary will probably launch into some prejudiced rant. This was all the spark Gary needed to give voice to his ire. Gary spat back, "We are only here for 3 days and I got to stay on board most of one of those days while the rest of the crew including those useless tanks get to go and relax". "They should be here in their tugs, speeding this along"! Donny smiled to himself, and added, "Relax, we are the only ship being worked on and by my estimate we should be done in about 3 hours, they have double shifts working us for some reason". Gary looked at the screen and did some quick counting to realize, that Donny was right. Gary seemed somewhat placated and thought, "Well at least I can get us docked before the night shift starts at the Palace".
The Palace was Gary's favorite place on Ares, it was the only brothel that had real women in it as opposed to the lower places. He had to admit calling it the Palace was a bit of false advertising since it was a small bar and about a dozen rooms. The girls there knew him well and reluctantly would leave the well worn tables and benches to get up for the lineup. The place always smelled of a mixture of perfumes and cheap booze. The smell was unique for Gary and always made him think of how this place would handle his appetites.
Theana and Shila got on to the station without problem, tank born comprised the bulk of the population on the stations and there was much more acceptance. They went to the shopping area to see what was new and available within their meager budget. Shila stood still, her mind struggling with the debate to shop or drink? Theana looked at her confused, "What are you doing"?she asked. Shila glanced at her and said, "Let's shop real fast, they probably don't have much new, then lets hit the bar, we have only two nights". Theana considered her plan and smiled at it's merits, "I like the way you think, c'mon". The two batch sisters browsed quickly and found a few small items, mostly spices and a small bottle of perfume for Theana. She bought the perfume because it supposedly smelled like vanilla and she liked it’s fragrance. Theana saw Dris and Ty, heading to the human boarding house and wondered if the were going to try to get a room again. They seem to try every time it's slow season, "What a waste of time" she thought.
Shila started down the main passageway toward the back end of the habitable zone, this was where all the tanks congregated and had their own area of businesses and shops. Their favorite bar was overtly called “Getting Tanked”. It had a large seating area around a bar that snaked its way through two thirds of it, while still leaving a large area for dancing. Being that is was during the work time there were very few people having anything. Theana ordered her favorite drink, Pina Colada, the pineapple flavors were something she could only get on station, it was expensive but one of her few luxuries. Shila always had a taste for wine, Luna Red was her choice, always available and not to expensive.
Dris and Ty wandered in both laughing. Theana looked up and beckoned them over. "What's so funny"? asked Theana. Dris nodded in a silent agreement to share the joke. Dris laughed and said, "We always try to get a room in the regular boarding station because there is this guy, whose head practically explodes every time we walk through the door". "We argue that there is no rule that prohibits us, and he spouts his usual rhetoric" continued Dris. "It's just funny to us is all" added Ty.
Theana and Shila both smiled, probably at the absurdity of prejudicial treatment that followed the tank born even on a station where they were the majority. Dris also ordered wine and Ty ordered the best beer available. Ty asked Theana, "What else do you need to make the food better, That garlic stuff was really tasty"? Theana looked a bit surprised, but appreciated her interest. "Mostly spices, Spence is growing some herbs for us but there are still so many others". Ty nodded.
Three days later found them heading back out. The crew was subdued, all except Cap and Hiroko. The ship was on course to their new destination and all but Hiroko were in the Galley. Cap had called a meeting to brief the crew. He looked over the room and began, "I know all of you did not like the short turn at Ares, but there was a reason for it". The others looked confused but hopeful. Cap continued, "Before we left Anvil last time, Hiroko scanned a new metallic body hidden next to another bigger rocky one". Cap was enjoying dribbling out a little information at a time for the dramatic effect. "The metallic body is platinum, enough for about four trips, assuming the scans are correct". Suddenly everyone was talking at once, there had never been a find in this sector like that before. All of the tank knew immediately this would pay off their debt in one trip. Cap held up his hands for quiet, "I didn't tell you before because as far as I know we are the only ones who know about this, so it’s a race to mine it before someone else discovers it too". "I didn't want to take the chance of anyone accidentally tipping our hand". Gary nodded in understanding, assuming the tanks were the risk, and not knowing everyone else thought he would be the big mouth, trying to impress some girl, who actually only pretended to like him because of his money.
Cap went on, "I'm figuring we get two trips for sure, this one and one more because we can get a jump after unloading the first one. After that everyone will scan for it". The others nodded in agreement with the logic. "So for the rest of this trip no outside communication, unless approved". Cap smiled and added "Also as promised, I got us some real food, All the makings for real hamburgers". Cap just smiled watching everyone react to the good news, with shouting, clapping and other outbursts. He thought, “There was as much happiness at this news as there was about the platinum, maybe a bit more”.
The next night the whole crew enjoyed the best hamburgers they had ever eaten, for the tank born it was the only ones they had ever eaten. The conversations were happy and full of dreams about opportunities after payoff, Dris and Ty would open a bar on Ceres, Theana and Shila, would travel to earth and eat everything they could. Cap talked about seeing his daughter more and Hillary mentioned going to the beach. Gary kept his thoughts to himself, but let the tanks comment without snarky rebuttal.
The next six weeks settled into happy anticipation, with everyone checking gear and doing maintenance. Donny needed to build a new drone to replace the one they left back at Anvil, "At least we will have a spare whenever we get around to picking the other up" he thought.
Even with the busy work the days seemed to drag. Hiroko ran multiple scans as they got closer, each scan reinforcing the previous scan. Every scan seemed to indicate the mass was solid platinum. Donny began to retool the plasma cutters on the tugs, so they could slice off pieces efficiently.
Theana was working in the galley making tonight's dinner, a soy based mixture that was going to use up the last of the curry spice that Ty had gotten her, when Spence walked in and sat down at the nearest table trying to look nonchalant. Theana smiled inwardly, flattered by the attention of a human that didn't view her as a thing, but also knowing he was young and inexperienced. "He will outgrow this fairly quickly" she thought. Spence spoke out of the blue, "So Theana, I would like to make another deal for spices". Theana continued to stir, "OH, what do you have in mind"? Spence seemed a bit nervous, but also determined, "How about after dinner we go to the Hydroponics lab and you can see what I've got"? She looked at him, seeing an innocence that knew he didn't even realize the double meaning of his statement. "OK it's a date".
After a dinner that was well received, because of the last of the curry, Theana went to the Hydroponics lab and pressed the call button. Spence opened the door, and gestured for her to enter.
Theana walked through the door to a large area with rows of trays growing all sorts of vegetation. This was where the food were grown for extending their self sufficiency as well as air purification. Spence gestured for her to follow him as he went towards the back of the room and turned a corner into a small alcove. He extended his hand towards the trays in a theatrical "Tada" way. Theana was struck by the beautiful sight of multicolored peppers ripening on vines. Spence smiled "I got some seeds on Ares, we have Jalapenos, poblanos, bell, and habenaro". He pointed to the other side of the small room to indicate two tomato plants, just beginning to bloom. Theana had seen pictures of tomatoes before, but never in person.
Theana was blown away, and the look on her face of shocked appreciation was easy to read even for Spence. She stepped towards him and kissed him hard and passionately, Spence was caught off guard for a second but then responded with all the pent up passion his fantasies had been holding. Spence then pulled back from their kiss. Theana was confused why he was stopping. He looked deep into her eyes and without a word took her hand and guided her to his small bedroom. She didn’t recognize the confident man before her, but eagerly followed his lead. Their lovemaking was a mixture of the passion and endurance of Spence’s youth mixed with the experience and knowledge of Theana. They both lay there content and spent.