“Tagashaka, get me that second pad.”
I was prepping another part for our mining pod, the Device. Maintenance was a big problem out here on the belt. It helped to have a body like mine though. It was broken, oh so broken, in close to zero Gs that didn’t matter so much.
“O’kay, Singe. I got pad 2. Want me to boot it?”
I thought as I worked on the computer to put the next few lines of code. The systems that are key to life in space are often said to be fragile. In reality they often had more backups than a lawyer in a well paid custody battle. You did everything you could to get it working right about 7 times, then did one thing before the computer died again. The mining bell was a great little craft when it was working, but so much work had to go into making sure it did.
Tagashaka booted the pad and the Device finally came to life.
Our collective relief could probably be felt on the moon.
It was time for the next trip.
I took a deep breath, this was the bit that was actually hard. Saying goodbye to my husband.
“Well I will see you in a few.”
Tagashakas big blue eyes looked at me “Yeah”. He played with his hands a little then looked at me, it was the love I knew. “Be careful.”
“You know me. I don’t do anything a normal couldn’t do.”
“Singe. I am serious. I need to know you’re going to be careful out in that thing.”
“Are we all floating rocks? Seeing a new bit of moss grown on our surface makes us feel new and old at the same time. I’m a man of my means and out here in the belt my means are you and yours.”
I hid behind little bits of poems like this now. So many times I used a poem to express my true feelings rather than being wholly truthful. It was one of our things we have always done as a couple.
“I love you”. I finally blurted out. Why did this never get easier? Expressing myself? Was it my youth? My psych might say so.
Tagashaka and I kissed. Awkward at first as he came down to me in my low G wheelchair, then we grabbed onto each other and it got more passionate. It got more rough and our tongues started to tie knots around each other. Tagashaka then hoisted me from the kiss into the mining bell. He broke off and gave me one of his gentle Japanese smiles. A smile like that could make me want to take his pants off, but I knew better. We had work to do. I smiled back and got into the mining bell shutting the hatch. I roll the Device’s wires and started to get into the pilots chair.
“Look. It’s so hard for me to say this. I love you. You know that. But we have to do this. Otherwise we may as well be at the moon. Or back on Earth. Where I can’t even rooster a G to walk.” Talking over the two way video wasn’t as nice as real life, but it had its advantages.
Tagashaka looked ashamed, his face looked old for a second then he opened the airlock near the Device and pressed the button for the auto to start working. He walked out of the airlock shutting the other hatch behind him. “Singe. Just come back in one bit. It’s hard to be here worrying about what’s going on in that belt.”
“I always come back in one bit. You keep yourself in one bit two, this is our last run before we head home. We can afford the really nice saunas on Luna this time.”
Sex in zero G saunas is fantastic.
I smiled at that thought and I pressed the launch button on the Device.
The whole thing shook and their was a slight whooshing noise as I started it up.
In outer space, everything is like gold for me. It’s freedom like the best drink in the bar mixed with angels tears. It’s like having everything open for a moment and you can do everything. It’s like your first lucid dream. Your first real kiss and your first taste of your favourite meal. You can just think and you’re doing it. In truth the computer on the Device let me do this. It was Mark IV mining bell; it had three arms and two grappling legs. It had more different sorts of lasers than a true space jockey could want. It had cutters, bolts, sanders, and the best set of fusion engines and thrusters in the Sol. Of course it was a bugger to keep running though, the computer crashed so often and we had a lot of our code in it to keep it going. But it was the best ship for me.
You had total control in the suit. My brain was all it needed to work. I didn’t need to move my legs and arms. I was a part of it. It was a part of me. I suppose that’s what actually scared Tagashaka about me going out in it. He would never be able to have me like this. Free.
Even in zero G, I couldn’t move my legs. My arms were fine as long as it was under .5G and everything else worked as well as it could, considering. I was born with a genetic disorder that causes nerve loss to the extremities. It works slowly over your life, getting worse as you age. There is no cure, though the genetics people have tried. Everyone with it has different results. It’s only in the not so aptly named Y chromosome, so I’m my father’s son, unfortunately.
My little sister was next to me in bed. The night was the worst time. She would hug and hug me. While he shouted at Mum. Shout and shout. There was hitting too. Abuse. Then at 3ish he would finally tired and go to bed and lock his door behind him. Mum would sit in the kitchen, or lounge crying till we came out and hugged her too. We all went to the big bed and tried to sleep. Hoping that He wouldn’t wake. That it would be a good night. That we would get some rest before he started again. Mum would say “He is sick, he loves us he just has this job, he cares for us. We have food we have shelter. It’s going to be okay”
She would lie to us every time. He would hurt her and she would take it. Because she knew he would hit us if she couldn’t.
That night mum seemed like she was meeting the end. The day she couldn’t take it anymore. I knew I had to do something. I had use of my arms and legs still and had worked out how to pick the lock on Dad’s door. I estimated I had one chance. I had to take it. For Mum. I went to the kitchen and got the rolling pin. In his room. Maybe sleeping, maybe awake. He wasn’t my dad. He was some guy who hurt mum. That’s who is now. All he is. I had to make him dead. If I managed to do that we wouldn’t have to cry anymore. We could live for once.
I walked slowly towards his door. Got my lock picks out silently. Left. Right. Up. Down. Click.
The room was lit. Was he scared as we were? That was my first thought. He was sleeping. On a red sofa. Knife next to him. Bear like mussels on his arms and chests his legs a useless atrophied mess. I knew I had his genes.
I would be like him one day.
No use of my legs. I had to escape. I had to kill him.
There just was no other way.
I took the rolling pin and got ready. First blow had to do it. I had studied the method I needed on the Internet. I was ready as I could be.
I took a deep breath.
Dad’s one dark brown eye opened. It was blood shot and full of veins. I had no idea how he lost the other one. His chest full of pain he grumbled like a mountain full of lava, ready to become a volcano. The noise was horrid. He looked at me. Just stared and all my courage left me.
My rolling pin wasn’t even in my hand anymore. My dad wasn’t even in control.
Then I realized it.
His terrible reality. It wasn’t a strength thing. It was control. He couldn’t control himself.
He needed control. It was all about making things be under control the way he needed it. I realized it then as he woke. I’m going to need something to get that same control.
Perhaps he had tried to stop.
He exhausted himself as much as possible at work. He went as much as he could. Moved bricks. That’s all he did. In a big modified wheelchair. Then he got home and was tired but still couldn’t control his anger. At everything. Unfair life.
His wife wasn’t his anymore. Mum had been cheating with some delivery guy for years, didn’t even try to keep it a secret.
His son and daughter; one of them doomed to have his condition, the other scared by his anger.
No. He wasn’t scared of us.
He didn’t lock the door as he feared we would kill him. He locked the door as he feared he might lose even more control and kill us.
One moment was all it took. He had me. His big hand around my tiny throat. I’m choking.
“Son. You idiot! You pathetic idiot. You could have done it. Ended it. I woke. Just die now you fucking waste!”
Did he want me to kill him? Make it stop? I think as I choke.
I couldn’t breath. I’m seeing red then suddenly on the floor and the world isn’t quite so dark. It’s kind of a yellow colour like memories of good times. Not that I had many.
Suddenly mum was there. Hitting him with a frypan.
His head caved in on the third blow.
The world went a blue and red. Then dark. I was still having trouble breathing. Before my eyes closed I saw dad die.
There was a lot of blood. My dad died slowly. He bled out before the cops arrived though.
Police took their time in the district we lived in. Probably preferred to clean up then break up. Breaking up stuff meant danger.
They took my sister and me to hospital. Mum as well. As soon as she got out she killed herself. I was still in hospital. She sent me letter, but I never read it. I felt I would know what it would say. Would it be lies? Stuff about how he wasn’t strong anymore and I was the strong one now? I don’t know I was a kid I didn’t want to know. I felt it wasn’t what I needed. Never would be. It was when I decided that I had to get off planet Earth. Be as far away from these people as possible. It was then I decided to become an astronaut regardless of any disability I would inherit from my father. He wasn’t going to win. I would get my control in space. I just didn’t know how yet.
A carbon rich asteroid was a rare find. I took my ship in closer.
The freedom out here was almost deafening, if such a thing was possible. It’s like being in a bath. A big bath full of the rare little bit of soap or a little bath toy. Each one a different color and composition. Almost every asteroid was worth mining. Miners on Earth got excited by a purity rate of 2-8%. Out here it could be as high as 60%. Once I got an asteroid that had a purity of 86%. Full of iron and copper so pure it barely needed smelting.
I looked at this one. It was almost like dust, only just held together by gravity. I charged the holding lasers. It was a lot easier to just scoop these ones. Lots of water, carbon rich compounds, what scientists called organics. It wasn’t alive but it was really precious. Out in space fresh water could fetch as much as 20 credits a liter. Carbon rich soils almost as much. I called Tagashaka.
“Hi, found one?”
“A slime ball. Real pay dirt.”
“Winch it in. You know the drill.”
“Keep it cool”
It was wise to keep chatter to a minimum. Pirates might be out here too. Maybe close, maybe not. The channel couldn’t be kept secure because I wouldn’t follow a standard route in the mining bell. I used a laser communications beam to strike a claim as soon as possible though. Law was you had to touch the asteroid before you could get a claim. You could protect a section of space from intruders while you claimed a whole bunch though. The big companies used to use tracker robots, then they got nicked by the Red Clan pirates. Started mining carbon rich asteroids and making TNT before going back to the company freighters and blowing everything sky high. Bunch of space pirates. It was really now only a people job. People were just as easy to control but had the advantage that they generally wanted to live. Robots don’t care, no matter how much “artificial intelligence” they had. They also fought better than robots could, at least for now.
I got the first rocks into the analyst and sent the secure laser beam to Chronos. Then I started the grinders. I was working on that when Tagashaka called.
“..Inge we… Prob.. the…. Piz….”
I switched the radar on. There were six ships nearby. When the fuck did they get there? Was I so out of it on freedom that I didn’t see them? They didn’t respond on the IFF, which meant pirates. Most likely Red Clan.
I released the asteroid and turned around and fired the fusion drive.
The first half of the journey back was just maneuvers. The six Red Clan ships were all smaller than the Japanese freighter me and Tagashaka used. It was going to be a battle like a bunch of ants fighting over a big bit of discarded chicken.
I noticed that our freighter and Tagashaka had already been hit. The freighter was venting. Fuck.
I had to have a plan. I had the advantage of maneuverability. Not much else. My lasers were designed for power and accuracy. Not range.
I checked my drive power. It was just enough. Ok let’s do this. If Tagashakas was still alive he’s was going to be hurt.
They will know I am here now from the Radar bleep. It’s going to be them or me. I’m at the mercy of my own skills and the ship. Kinda wish I thought of a better name than Device for my craft. To late for that now.
I thrust up, left, yaw, yaw, forward. I was behind the first Red Clan ship. I fire the lasers and damage its thrusters and its engines. It’s not able to fire back. I aim for the antenna and take that out too. One down.
The second one takes a pot shot at me. I manage to dodge it and get on its flank. I take a shot at its weapons and hit.
“Ha! Blossoms up your bum!” I yelled triumphant.
Suddenly I’m hit. My left laser arm actuator had been damaged. I can barely use it. I don’t panic though. I am used to this kind of disability.
I take a quick yaw then roll and go left. It was on my 6 and 8, right up my flank. I thrust up and see a small ‘roid in the way, I aim at it then dive under.
The driver of this pirate ship was smart and didn’t take the bait. I hide there for a little then drive back to the right and up on a whim. I was right, it was trying to outfox me, but I take my left arm and release it straight into his right side and then fire a timed detonator. It blows and the ships a little pile of dust.
I thrust toward the freighter. I notice a blip on the radar.
Two of the Red Clan ships try to take me on at once with the third behind me. I use the small asteroid I coasted before as a pretend hiding spot.
“Ha! Haven’t any of you fuckers seen Star Wars?”
I pull my Han Solo maneuver off without a hitch. The pirates are sitting ducks in space where I have left three detonators just after the little ‘roid to stop them seeing them. They blow.
The last ship takes off into the distance reading the cards at play.
I was safe.
I’ll admit, I thought Tagashaka was lovely when I first met him. Having only just come to terms with my progressing disabilities and my homosexuality (plus my past), it was hard to admit at first a hidden like for this lanky bald Japanese bloke with more tattoos than a motorcycle gang.
The universities LGBTI club was surprisingly active and I had kept myself busy for months helping the organiser and trans woman named Amy get quite a few things going. We had weekly catch ups, a university wide ‘Zine and Holomail lists for all the interests we could get more than a few members for. We also had lists of interests that might get going if we had a few more members. One was a space excursion list.
I was doing astronautical engineering and had more than a few contacts that could get us on the space elevators in Indonesia or Ecuador. It wasn’t nearly as expensive as it used to be now there was two of them. The fund raising Amy could sort like a bee could gather pollen. She had this instinctive skill almost when it came to getting cash for the club.
We were doing a catch up and I was sitting next to Amy looking at the funding documents when Tagashaka came into the dodgy Uni pub we used as a venue. I’m pretty insensitive so I almost wrote him off as a whole bunch of no straight away.
He sat next to Steve who was a genderqueer asexual doing a librarianship degree. Instantly he says “Greetings and salutations to you all. I am Tagashaka. I’m gay. I’m in Uni. I want to become a member of your little band.”
I finally gave him a decent look. I notice his eyes.
Oceans of blue in a sea of milk. A moonlit beach in spring. The trade winds are blowing and the Palm leaves are gently shaking like little chimes. A small wave pushes the rocky sand. The sun starts to set.
“Hey I don’t take it personally but you’ve been staring at me for an entire hour.”
“Shit! Sorry!” I gasped as I realized I had fallen in love at almost first sight. This sort of thing only happens in stories! I’m not that kind of guy am I?
We organized to talk over coffee.
“I’m doing astronavigation. They say there is gold and other metals out in the belt. So that’s where I am going.”
“Heh. Need a pilot?, I’m doing astronautics!”
I realized I practically told this guy I wanted to be with him always at that point. It’s not even a date!
“You are in a wheelchair? How will you pilot?”
“This? Oh. I just need my head to pilot! But it still needs training.”
“Need to know about the… delta V?” Tagashaka was still learning English.
“All sorts of physics and stuff yeah. Hard, but hey its worth it if I get to be free out in space.”
“Free of what?”
“Heh. I will tell you if you get me a drink.”
Later on we managed to start properly dating.
Reading poems in Saunas. Organizing club stuff. Getting Tagashaka’s tattoo body suit finished. His artist was a man by the name of Keno who had six generations of tattoo artists in the family. Tagashaka mostly got big fish and ocean scenes and absolutely loved to get a new part of the tattoo and show it off. Often in bed, or in Saunas. I asked him if he wanted me to get tattooed at one point and he answered in poetry. A little haiku about a fish. I had the poem tattooed on my back with copies of some of the big fish he had nearby. After that every time we had an issue we used poetry to help.
Getting our degrees just seemed to happen.
“Hey what are you guys doing after Uni? It’s a big world out there now they have got to Ceti.”Amy asked one day.
They had just invented a good star drive. It had got a crew of sixty to Tau Ceti in a week. They had discovered a planet in its early Industrial Age. Humans were already there. It was a scary thought. But it made sense when the found out they all were related to a crew they had experimentally sent at some earlier point, it was hard to say exactly which experimental craft it had been. They had thought them all dead. Clearly they made it and had started a colony. Humanity was now starting to spread. Really the future was looking brighter by the day.
“We are going into the mining business. Asteroids.”
“Need someone to do your finances? I have the knack it seems. Since I transitioned I’ve done nothing but maths and accounting they want me to do a masters. But I need a better income for um… You know.”
Tagashaka, always the charmer said. “We would gladly employ such a skilled lady as yourself.”
“Wow. We just formed a corporation. What do we call ourselves? I’m not so great at names.”
“How about Jupiter Mining Corporation?” Amy said.
“Hey isn’t that from an old Sci fi?”
“How did you know that?” Any asked.
“I have a thing for old 2d TV shows and now poetry thanks to Tagashaka the charmer here.”
“Singe, pilot. Tagashaka, Navigator. Amy, accountant.”
That’s how we got into the mining business. Thanks to Amy we soon had ships and a loan bigger than a new lawyers overdraft. In a few weeks I was mining. In a few months we had already paid back the loan in triplicate and had 20 staff. It was crazy. But I loved it and I loved every minute I could spend with Tagashaka.
I docked the Device and check the freighters systems. A leak in the coolant system. Life support down. No detected life forms.
“Tagashaka.” I whimpered. Tears already flowing outwards in the low G.
I get in inside. He’s right in the pilot seat. Dead?
The Pirates had killed him.
I took his body to the infirmary. It was useless. His brain had been without oxygen too long. They hadn’t even needed to really aim on this big Japanese freighter. It was designed to carry big shipments of ore. Thrown out in big balls of raw metal that hung like breasts on the ships long metal arms, the carbon organics and water in stored big tanks or in blackish blocks. It was not designed for combat, or defence. It was almost 20 years old now, the pirates weren’t a real problem when we bought it.
You just point at the cockpit and the whole thing depressurised. You got about zilch warning.
Tagashacka looked peaceful. Resting. I know it wouldn’t have taken long for him to die. The hole in the hull was about the size of a large baby. Big enough to have let all the air out in a matter of seconds. If he hadn’t been strapped into his chair, he would have been in space, a floating mess.
I clicked the stasis pod on. His body should go back to his parents in Japan. Half the profits from this hall of ore too.
I felt empty. Minor repairs made. Life support back on. Rolling towards my cabin in my wheelchair. I could control the freighter from there. It could be pressurized and sealed. I didn’t need the cockpit as I could be under suspension the whole trip. I used the secure laser too Chronos to tell the authorities what happened. I had no idea what I would do when I woke.
I thought little as the suspension booth came on.
I finally decided on a name for the mining bell.
I got in my cabin, shut the seal and hit the autopilot to fire the fusion engines for a Chronos/Mars orbit.
I fell asleep crying.