Science Fiction

She was larger than life, her stride confident, her head high. She greeted everyone she passed, many by name. It didn’t matter whether they were security, mechanics, pilots, cleaning crew or just surprised, random strangers.

“Kai,” she called with a wide smile, “see anything I should worry about?”

“Nope. You were right on the reactor coils, though. I replaced ‘em all during the overhaul.” He held out a data pad for her signature.

“Thanks. Not too expensive, I hope?”

“Don’t worry about that, Edria. You’ve still got credit remaining with us, and I gave you a discount.”

“I told you, Kai, just call me Ed.” She thumbed the pad, recording her print and approval. “And tell that kid of yours I’ll bring back a piece of asteroid for her.”

“She’ll love that. Safe trip, Ed.”

She walked to her ship, where a dock worker was disconnecting the charging and fueling lines. “Hey Tam! How are you feeling after last night?”

“Not too bad,” she said. “I’m a little tired, but it was a good party.”

“We’ll have to do it again when I get back.” Ed winked.

“I don’t know how you do it,” Tam said. “It would drive me nuts being out there alone for a month at a time.”

Ed laughed. “We all make our sacrifices,” she said.

“You’re all set,” Tam said, giving her a thumbs-up.

“Thanks, Tam. Tell the rest of the crew that the first round’s on me when I get back.”

She settled into the pilot’s seat of her scout ship and checked that all instruments were green. “Ground, long-range scout Jackal requesting clearance for lift-off and immediate self-initiated jump.”

“Long-range scout Jackal, ground control. There’s an increased mandatory clearance of 250,000 kilometers from the jump gate for self-initiated jump.”

“Roger, ground, 250,000 K clearance. How are things, Jules?”

“Things are good, Ed. You are cleared for lift-off and vector seven-zero by one-four by three-five-eight off-plane for immediate jump once past minimum clearance. Have a good trip.”

“Thanks, Jules. Scout Jackal lifting off.”

After an initial burn of four gee, Ed broke orbit at a steady one gee acceleration for two hours, putting her at the minimum distance to make her jump to warp. Once she had initiated the jump, she turned on artificial gravity and slouched in her seat with a sigh.

The hum of the reactor, the sigh of the air handlers, even the rattle of the toolbox tie-down that she hadn’t gotten around to tightening…these were the sounds of sanity. She’d been in dock for five days, and it had worn her to nothing.

She had nine days to system R-795, then another twenty days of taking asteroid samples before she needed to return. Prospecting for mining companies wasn’t a terribly glamorous job, but it suited her. Time alone, time to recharge.

“Um, hi?” The voice behind her was quiet, timid.

Ed spun around in her seat. “Who are you? How did you get on board?”

“Hi Ed, I’m Sil,” the slight woman said, “and I overheard in the bar that you were leaving this morning and wouldn’t be back for a month. If you can drop me off at the other end, I’ll work for my passage.”

Ed groaned. “Unless you want to be dropped off on an asteroid in an unsettled system, there is no ‘other side’ on this trip.”

“Oh.” Her head dropped. “So, you’re going back to Parvati. Shit.”

“What are you running from?”

“I owe someone,” she said, “and it’s bad.”

“Well, there’s plenty of food, if you don’t mind ration bars, and we’re not going to run out of water or oxygen.” Ed turned her chair back toward the control console. “Just give me peace when I ask for it, and we’ll figure something out.”

“The way you were in the bar, and the way everyone talks about you, I thought you’d be more…outgoing.”

“That’s an act. As long as I’m friendly with everyone there, I get better deals on maintenance, get bumped to front of the line for clearance, and get more contracts. It…takes a lot out of me, though.”

“You prefer being alone?”

“Very much so. And now is one of those times where I need to be.” Ed checked the console, even though there was nothing for her to do at this stage of the trip. “The food locker is the green door down next to the galley; you can sleep in crew room three.”

“Thank you.” Sil left the bridge and searched for the crew quarters. Room one was open; lived in but clean and orderly. Room two was stacked with storage containers. Room three contained a cot with a mattress, pillow, and a single blanket. It had its own air shower and toilet and was just across from the galley.


The following days were awkward. Ed felt it was taking longer than usual to get back to normal. Even when she didn’t see Sil in the crew quarters hallway, or hear her in her room humming, or more often, sobbing, she still knew she was not alone on the ship. Her ship. Her quiet place.

By the last day in warp, Ed was feeling more herself. She took a deep breath and turned on the intercom. She’d never used it but was glad to see that it worked. “Sil, we’re breaking warp in ten minutes. Be prepared for a moment of zero gee, then meet me in the galley when gravity comes back on.”

She clicked through the procedures and artificial gravity cut out as the ship diverted power to the shields before stripping the warp bubble. The gravity came back with a clatter from the toolbox. I really need to tighten that strap.

Sil was waiting for her in the galley, standing in the corner. Ed pointed to the small table. “Take a seat. I have a post-warp ritual.” Without waiting for a response, she pulled out prepped ingredients and began cooking. She was silent as she measured, heated, stirred, spiced, and tasted for balance.

Setting two paper bowls of a hearty bean soup with a soft-cooked egg on top, Ed said, “Real food.”

“Thank you.” Sil’s eyes were red from crying, and Ed took her first good look at her. She couldn’t be more than twenty.

“Tell me more about your debt.”

“I…borrowed some money to pay off a gambling debt, but….” She stared into her soup.

“You gambled that away, too.”

Sil nodded.

“How much?”

“Two hundred thirty credits.”

Ed pursed her lips. It was sizable, but not insurmountable. If this job got her a normal finder’s fee, Sil’s debt plus fuel, oxygen, water, and food would leave her at break-even. If not, she still had a thousand credits in the bank. “What did you do in your mandies?”

“Man…mandatory service? I was a freight loader.” Sil sniffled as she ate the soup, taking her time with it.

“Familiar with what a mining scout does?”


“We catalog and measure the asteroids, test their gravitational pull, and determine their mass. Based on mass, we can guess pretty well what they’re made of. If it’s metallic, we take a sample and move on to the next.”

Sil nodded. “Makes sense.”

“Most of it is record-keeping.” Ed drained her bowl and dropped it into the recycler. “If you can keep up with the record-keeping part, I’ll pay off your debt when we get back.”

“Th—thank you.”

“Don’t start crying now, please. I don’t know how to handle it.”

Sil sniffled. “Sorry.”

“Enough of that. Let’s go to work.”


They fell into a rhythm by the end of the first week. Ed would pilot the drone to catalog asteroids and measure mass while Sil recorded. They’d break for lunch, then Ed would pilot the drone back to any promising asteroids to drill a sample. She drilled a couple extra for Kai’s daughter while she was at it.

In the evenings, Sil would take a turn piloting the drone, getting the feel of the controls. She said she didn’t need as much sleep as Ed and would use the extra hours scouting. Ed was sure she was just trying to make up for the promise of paying off her debt.

It was the middle of the second week when Ed rose and found Sil waiting for her with wide eyes. “You find something?”

Sil passed her the data pad. “I think so.”

Ed looked over the data. “Where is this? 6,000 kilometers radius, 1.1 gees. It’s the size of Mars and heavier than Earth. Sounds like the core of a planet. There’s nothing like that in the belt.”

“Largest moon around the gas giant we passed last night.”

Ed checked the navigation logs. “You pulled us out of the belt for this?”

“Sorry. It was giving me weird gravimetric readings when it came out from behind the giant. I had to check it out.”

Ed grunted. “Make me some coffee, and let’s get a closer look.”

As the Jackal pulled into a stable orbit around the heavy moon, Ed fired up the ship’s sensors. There was plenty of data they could pull from here, but more would be available if they landed. She didn’t want to land if it was dangerous, though, and it was clear right away that it was.

“I want to land there and get a sample, but I can’t.”

“Why?” Sil asked.


“There must be a lot of fissile material in the core.” Sil’s eyebrows furrowed. “Can the drone take a sample?”

“It could,” Ed said, “but it would never make it back into orbit. Its max is 0.2 gees.”

“Well, at least we have some data.”

Ed smiled. “Yes, and these readings are enough to bump my pay for this job to about four times normal.” She looked at Sil. It was the first time she’d seen Sil smile. “Half of that is yours, since you were up to catch the readings.”

“Thanks.” Her smile dropped. “I’m sorry I stowed away and took your alone time. I…like alone time, too.”

“Maybe that’s why you aren’t on my nerves,” Ed said. “Anyone else, I’d have gone crazy and spaced them by now.”

“So different from how you seemed at the bar.” Sil shook her head. “I could never do that; be friendly and loud like that.”

“Sure you could. It’s just pretend.” Ed sipped at her coffee. “The trick is to get out before you’re too tired to pretend anymore. Getting the reactor overhauled meant more time than usual in dock, and I was at my end by the time we left. Sorry if I was a bitch to you.”

“Ed,” she asked, “do you think I could work for you for a while? I—I mean, after this?”

“You’re getting pretty good with the drone.” Ed pondered. “I thought about getting a pet. Just because I don’t like being around crowds doesn’t mean I don’t get lonely. You might be a better choice, though. You can feed yourself; you can hold a conversation on the rare occasion I want one, and we can get more work done together than I can alone.”

“Is that a yes?”

“On one condition.” Ed finished her coffee and dropped the cup in the recycler. “No gambling.”

“It was my way to hide, when I couldn’t stand the crowds,” she said. “No one thinks twice about a person staring at their cards and not talking.”

“We’ll work on that,” Ed said. “This is where I hide, so I understand. The usual scout job is twenty days on site, unless it takes longer to find anything worth mining.”

“I suppose we have enough to go back now, huh?”

“We do,” Ed said, “but I’d rather spend the full twenty days out here.”

Sil smiled for the second time. “Thanks, I’d prefer that, too.”

Ed broke orbit and returned to the belt. “I think we’ll get along fine.”

July 24, 2021 20:46

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John Hanna
17:48 Aug 01, 2021

Interesting story and thanks for taking the time to describe the science involved without overdoing it


Sjan Evardsson
20:40 Aug 01, 2021

Thanks for reading and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I have to watch myself, or I'll start diving deep on the technology and science and turn it into a sci-fi text book! :P


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18:28 Jul 29, 2021

I love this story!! It's very well written. The dialogue is some of the best I've seen thus far on Reedsy; it's very authentic and matches the characters perfectly. As for the story itself, it felt like I was teleported to another world! Absolutely amazing, I look forward to reading your other stories :)


Sjan Evardsson
21:41 Jul 29, 2021

Thank you so much for the kind words!


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