I headed over to the quartermaster’s office to see how the delivery prep was coming, and found Bojan working on his timetable. He was programming the deliveries into the system.
“Did you need something, Captain?”, he said, looking up.
“Nope, carry on. I was just curious how this works. I’ve always had to unload and deliver by hand.”, I said, looking down into the cargo hold, where I noticed that piles of containers were moving around with the help of a variety of small mobile skids. It was a vast improvement over doing it by hand, one skid at a time. Bojan was very busy writing the instructions and pathways for the mobile skids and cranes to handle.
Now was a good time to go find the contact and discuss remuneration. I was owed a lot of money for this, and it’s harder to get paid when the customer has all the goods. It looked like about five percent of the load had been delivered so far.
Entering the gangway, I had to move aside as a loaded skid went zipping past with a whirr of electronic propulsers. There were six more in a queue behind it, so I just followed along. They went directly to a holding facility just inside the station, which appeared to be a receiving area. I was immediately stopped by a station security agent.
“Excuse me, nobody is allowed in this area.”, the enormous creature said. I had no idea what it was, but it looked almost like a combination of a cereb and something with huge quantities of muscle and hair. It was a bit intimidating, if I’m honest.
“This is cargo from my ship, I’m just making sure it gets offloaded ok”, I said.
“Move along then”, was the clipped response.
I decided that was probably fair, so I headed towards the office coordinates I was given. Down a couple corridors and up one lift closer to the hub, where the gravity was noticeably different. This whole centripetal/centrifugal thing was not much to my liking. Everything felt weird and off, and there was a sensation of movement that was a bit nauseating. The entryway was marked by a fairly non-descript door, Estebán and Associates, Ore Syndicates picked out in stainless steel. I pressed the door chime, and it opened at once. The receptionist smiled blandly at me, some sort of bot in a suit that was designed to look like a non-specific bipedal species. Weird.
“I’m captain of the Thrack Yar. My ship is offloading the ore shipment right now, and I wanted to come see to the payment.” the bot looked at me, then the eyes blinked slightly off time with each other.
“Yes, Captain. I see that the escrow account shows only seventeen percent has been delivered. Is there some problem?”
“No, I just wanted to make sure that everything was handled.”, I said. A little surprised for how this was done. Generally I walked up to the door with the order (sometimes a few times), and got paid. What the hell was an escrow to do with this?
“Very well. The escrow funds have been deposited, and they show fully cleared. When the escrow agency releases the ore, they will also release the payment. Good day”, with this the bot went completely blank, back to doing whatever it had been doing.
Nothing blanked you like a bot, I came to realize. They could simply turn you off as far as they were concerned.
I walked out of the office. This must be part of that whole “shipping business” side of space trucking I’d never really been involved with. Always a small-time guy, you know? Strictly cash and carry. I felt a little stupid. Nothing some fine refreshments wouldn’t cure!
I went to the bar which was located entirely too close to the hub and was over forty decks closer to the hub than the docking platform was. It had a tremendous feeling of movement, and I didn’t think I could even stomach food right then. I gave it a scan for any shady traders, and saw to my dismay it was empty. As I was leaving, however, I did have a small aquatic creature in an air suit stop me.
“I believe you’re a captain, is that so?” it, well, I guess ‘said’ is the right term. Really it was addressing me over a sort of hydrophone. I nodded.
“I’d like to discuss a little business with you. If you’d come over here, I’ll buy you a drink”, it said. I had never dealt much with the aquatic types, but I was pretty sure their money spent like anyone’s. I followed it to a table, and a drink was brought over for me.
“For some time I’ve been looking for transport from this station to Gama Entreides system, but there’s no refueling station there compatible with airbreather ships. Our touchdown facilities are fairly rudimentary when it comes to other species. I’m given to understand your ship would be capable of a jump there and a jump back without refueling?” It kept making movements in the suit that gave me the impression it was never entirely still. Probably required movement to breathe, or could just be nervous. One had to allow a lot of leeway for odd species. And customers.
“Sure, I can do that. Jump fuel isn’t cheap, though. I’d have to charge you for 2 rods, after all, unless there’s other business for me in that system.” I figured I’d start the negotiations from the basics.
“No trouble at all, Captain. As a matter of fact, we have a considerable amount of materials that have been waiting for a cargo ship capable of handling them. Primarily grasses and other livestock feed that we harvest and dry for transport. We simply don’t get the sort of traffic we need to move them.”
“Tell you what, if you have a buyer lined up for that feed already, I’ll be happy to handle shipping it for standard shipping rate. That’s transport costs + 1% of the cargo value + 20% bonus for early delivery. I won’t even charge you for the cost to get you there, provided you have sufficient cargo for me to deliver.” Standard deal, seemed reasonable.
“Agreed. I will wait until you have concluded you business here. I will not require substantial accommodation, as the Jump gate is very close to the planet. I will have my transport container sent to your ship.” We both agreed to my standard contract boilerplate on my PDA, and I headed back feeling good. This could turn out better than expected!
I headed back to my ship, and contacted Bojan to make sure the deliveries were going well. Almost seventy percent was delivered already. I opened my PDA to look up the deal there, and checked out the details. It showed that there was an escrow account involved, but really nothing more. I looked at the fruit delivery contract, and scheduled it just before the new livestock feed contract and delivery. I was willing to drag that aquatic fella a couple more solar systems to make sure I got my twenty percent bonus on the fruit. Besides, they might be interested in a couple tons of fruit. Never knew, right?
I took a break in my quarters, waiting for the delivery to complete. A soft chime alerted me that it was done, and that I had been paid. That was a real relief. I made a pretty huge profit on this one, so I scheduled a quick refuel request, and let our aquatic friend know we were preparing to leave. It responded promptly to let me know that it was ready for me to pick up its transport container, or I could wait a few hours for the scheduled delivery. I replied to the message that we’d be happy to wait, and then I prepared to head off onto the station while it was refueled. Bojan met me in the gangway, and we regarded the ship through the small windows while the refueling tanker moved up.
It was pretty normal practice to refuel ships with everyone off board, the Jump rods were extremely dangerous, and though the chance of serious mishap was small, it was still pretty common to hear of two or three ships a year totally destroyed by some sort of gravitational accident. We headed over to the waiting area just in front of the gangway entry, far enough to be clear if things went poorly.
“So, how did that delivery go? Everything working ok on the new ship?”, I said, just trying to pass the time and stress a little bit.
“It went fine. The ship has adequate facilities and systems for it. I would like to recommend a few upgrades when we have time, and perhaps are somewhere a little more civilized.”, Bojan said, not even attempting to hide his distaste for this distant and antique station. If I had wondered why he wasn’t interested in exploring the station, I need wonder no more.
The refueling ship moved off and we headed back down towards the gangway entrance. The safety doors were just starting to roll back as we got there, and we were soon joined by a lifting rig carrying what seemed to be a large, sealed tank. I assumed this was our passenger. Bojan looked at me briefly, but gave no indication of what he was thinking.
“We’ve got a passenger, heading for an aquatic planet after we deliver the fruit.”, Bojan nodded.
Bojan helped me get the aquatic tank secured safely in the other stateroom, because putting a paying passenger in the cargo hold seemed a bit tacky. I set the systems for departure, and the gangway cleanly detached and retracted. I was so happy to see it roll on back, and we backed away from that ancient spinning station.
It was time to go see some people about some fruit.