Marta choked down the last of her NutriPack and dropped the wrapper into the recycler. She looked around her place, a small dormitory cramped among thousands of others, and grabbed her bag from its hook in the closet. She walked to work and didn’t lock the door behind her. No one in the barrio locked their doors. Not because it was a safe area, street crime was high on Oaxaca, even though the residents of the barren moon didn’t have much to steal. So she didn’t bother, after all, what were they going to take? Besides, a locked door suggested the owner had something to protect, and Marta didn’t want to replace another splintered door frame.
Her twisting route to Liso Ship Repairs was a grey and brown blur. After 20 years, one row of dirty buildings looked much like the next, and the next. Marta hugged herself to keep warm. Before sunrise Oaxaca was frigid, at midday it was hot. Very hot. A few vendors pushed their hover-carts to market, they nodded, Marta waved as she passed.
Oaxaca was the most populous moon in this quadrant. If the supply ships were two weeks late, half the population would starve. After three weeks, the supplies wouldn’t be necessary at all. Oaxaca only had one redeeming feature to draw settlers, craftsmen, and traders: its location. The moon orbited through two sectors, five superpowers, and innumerable thieving bandits. Weapon fire lit the night sky far brighter than the stars.
Constant battling, especially between well-funded armies, fed the industries on the ground. Need a place to dock and set an ambush? Want live positioning data from your enemies’ ships? Want to celebrate after a hard-won victory? Or buy more ammunition? Or have your ruined ship repaired at reasonable rates? Then Oaxaca was the place for you, and your men, and anyone else willing to pay. Marta had worked as a mechanic for six years, after four more she could retire here, after 14 more she could retire somewhere decent.
The sign in front of Liso Ship Repairs read:
Maintenance, Reconstruction, Null-G Emergency Services
Guild licensed since 274
“Morning Lorenzo,” Marta punched the time clock and set her bag down on her workbench, “any news?”
“Nothing yet,” he replied, eyes fixed on the main computer, “the Flemish and the SDA are still maneuvering.”
“No contracts yet?”
“No, but these repeat clients might both call for help.”
She rolled her stool closer to the turbine she’d been working on yesterday. Somehow, a shot punched through the shield and outer casing, cut a coolant line, and overheated the system. Temperatures soared and the damn thing locked up. Fused metal wasn’t easily manipulated, so Marta had to replace a lot of parts. But it was a big job, and you don’t complain about big jobs, they keep the shop in business.
Three hours later, Lorenzo’s squinty eyes widened. “We have contact!” he called to the mechanics behind his office in the open hangar, “they’re tearing into each other too…”
Marta washed her greasy hands as the phone rang. Lorenzo took the call so fast his chin wobbled and his modified chair squealed. Seconds later, he slammed the receiver down and flicked on the speakers.
“That was the chief engineer of the Flemish Dreadnaught Bergen, their starboard engine blew. It’s still hot up there, but they contracted one emergency mechanic for immediate repairs. Marta, prep for launch.”
“I’m still working on this turbine,” she objected.
“Now Marta, they’ve already paid the first half, if they get shot down we’ll never get the rest of their credits.”
Fine, she pulled her short black hair into an untidy knot, “I’m on my way” and my cut had better be worth it.
Marta leapt into the service ship, checked the instrument readouts, and secured the cargo bins. The white exterior and red pair of crossed wrenches supposedly guaranteed safe passage to and from the client’s ship. The laser burns and shrapnel dents proved that wasn’t always the case.
“This is Marta,” she called through the shop’s radio channel, “all systems green.”
“You’re looking for the Dreadnaught Bergen. It’s the big grey one, lots of smoke and flames coming from the starboard engine,” Lorenzo said. “Coordinates should be on your screen.”
She checked, the blue dot was right in the middle of the battle. “We still need to talk about that raise you promised.”
“Very funny chica. Once you dock, find Sergeant McGregor, he’s our point of contact on this job. You’re clear for launch, don’t hurt my ship.”
Just take it out of my pay like everything else, Marta hit the big red button and flew into the fray.