I just can’t face the gimbals….

“WCM Transfer Station, this is the Shady Lady, requesting docking permission.”

“One second, commander, checking available bays.”

“Proceed to bay 14, you are cleared for landing”

Vin glanced right as the station passed alongside him, clicked the landing gear lever and braced as the ship shuddered to a crawl.

Turning and banking hard, the letterbox swung into view.

“Not too shabby…” he spoke to thin air.

A drone from a ship’s engines gained in volume as a Cobra boosted past his head on entry to the station, clipping the edge of the letterbox and spinning, uncontrolled into the dock.

Passing through the entrance, the familiar hum as he passed into “atmosphere” buzzed through the atmos speakers. Those same speakers rendered the noises from inside the station – clangs and bangs from landing ships, the echoing voice of the station commander, the odd laser blast from outside the station.

For the last two weeks, he had been testing the latest expanded areas for Frontier, developing trading runs, running landing simulations time and time again and occasionally overindulging in the rum from the Shady Lady’s glove box.

Whatever Resonating Separators were, they were netting him a comfortable and unvarying 19k a run. Pity the return journey was so unprofitable. Both Aulin and WCM were close to the jump point and he had the turn around for trading to 5 an hour, including breaks for heading to the heads..

As he’d left Aulin station, a pair of Anacondas had decided to get a little Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee about access to the letterbox. Either that or one of them had stolen the other’s girlfriend in the bar. Whichever way, the two of them had been going at it hammer and tongs outside the station.

It was a little disconcerting seeing a pair of ships that large throwing themselves around like sumo wrestlers full of red bull.

Wisely, he’d kept well clear.

Bringing the landing back into focus, the lit pad approached at a sedate speed, he thumbed the thrusters and dropped with only a quiet clang.

“Docking successful,” came the ship’s computer over the headset. A huge fight (again – why was he never surprised) had broken out in the station bar at Aulin yet again. This time over the ship’s voices. One of the guys had admitted that when his “mrs” spoke, he listened thoroughly for fear of getting it wrong. The next guy had called him a hen pecked hauler pilot and told him to man up and get a butch voice on the computer.

Vin’s only care was that in the long reaches of space, having female company, even synthesised artificial female company was better than talking to himself. Something he did far too much for his liking.

The next batch of testing crews had arrived at the various stations – whole new sections of the structure had been dedicated to the simulator rigs and for the third time, Vin had endured the same conversations in the bar. The same criticism of gimballed weapons, the same repetition of “rail guns are o/p” and the same (mostly) tosstesterone fuelled big swinging laser contests.

Frontier had also begun releasing “News” updates to the test pilots. Not that it was anything other than artificially injected information.

The milk run on Stem Cells (ok, they had a fancy name, but the protestors had seen right through it) had come to an end.

A hardcore group of docking and landing crew had realised what they were loading and as with many things in the Universe, they had found a common subject to complain about. Not on the basis of religion, nor of science, purely as a result of some misguided slippery slope argument that “this way leads to human engineering”.

Stepping down from the Shady Lady, Vin had to stretch as he handed the pad with the cargo manifest to the nearest docking hand. The unions still had a hold on docking operations, fiercely resisting any attempt to automate the process any more than was necessary.

“Giant vibrators. Again.” He said to the lead dock hand.

“No hard drugs, booze or hookers?”

“Only if you’re buying.”

Since sorting the run between Aulin and WCM, he’d taken some temporary quarters at the poor end of the run. The Orbis was too expensive, at least for anything approaching salubrious accommodation but at WCM he could have a room that was actually large enough to swing a cat. A big cat. Amazing what you could wave around in low gravity.

Pity it left stains when it hit the wall.

Sliding open the door (he didn’t trust the automated ones, he preferred a good old fashioned hinged door, complete with key. None of this computer lark. He’d met too many of the system hackers and ship’s cleaning robots to trust his door lock to a magnet and a few lines of code), the lights rose to a comfortable ambient level.

Usual routine. Pad on the table, flip the cabinet open, pour a rum. Flight suit to the floor, kick it into the corner. Pile into the shower. Clean, well pressed clothes and a jacket.

Neck rum.

Back out of the door, lock it and stuff the key in the breast pocket of his jacket.

*******

Kicking back in one of the chairs looking out surrounding the docking entrance, he could watch ships drift, boost and jump away. Sometimes not away, but in, to, on, through and at the station in messy ways.

Foolishly, he’d taken some time over at Beagle to kit the Shady Lady out.

Pair of beams. Great. Right up until they overheated then toast.

Pair of beams and a pair of railguns – you could use the Lady to give free tanning sessions using her vents.

Multicannons. Awesome noise. “Take that, fiendish pirate.” and other such (probably less polite) phrases. Bloody useless against shields, but once they fell, it was like shooting a nailgun at soggy carboard. With more clanging.

There had to be a compromise somewhere. He just couldn’t face going back to the gimballed pulse lasers. They worked and he hated them for it.

For years, the pulse laser was the starter weapon. The beginner’s toy. The thing NOT to take on even a Gecko with.

Simply put, he couldn’t fit one to his ship with any pride at all.

Vin looked up as a few familiar faces drifted into the lounge and in typical bloke fashion, grunted, pointed at a chair and were invited to sit down using nothing more than a pair of raised eyebrows and a nod.

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