Elsewhere in Kythera System

Kythera System, near Lunar Transshipment One
OTV Mucker’s Bucket
Líse Varavelen, captain-owner.

“…object appears to be a fragment of nucleonic battery casing, damaged by internal explosion. Remaining piece bears serial code gilek-two-four-eleven-nine-one-illegible-corse. Further identity not confirmed. Object stowed aboard for return. Entry ends, mission elapsed time six, twenty-one, fourteen, mark. What’s up next?”

“Unknown metallic debris fragment, smallest size class by radar return. Range two-six-niner, through controlled space. Maneuver on your glass now.” The computer voice paused for a moment, then added, “Quandry Versine.”

“Leaves today on a shardcruiser, won’t be back in these orbits for more’n a year. Hm. Far side of the lane.” The commander of the tiny vessel reached up and flipped a switch. “Lunar Transshipment One, Station Ops, this is OTV Mucker’s Bucket on contract to Lunar Dejunkers, operating free-flight. Request clearance to cross outbound lane lirek tarse at downrange two-five-zero-zero, course zero-three-four desc one five station prograde relative, estimated dwell two point one five. Over.”

Mucker’s Bucket, Station Ops. We need you to hold or divert, estimated wait one niner one, we have an outbound freighter wishing to make transit. Specify intentions. Over.”

“Station Ops, Mucker’s Bucket. Check your debris feed, guys, our target will be into the lane in one six three. It’s under k-min for the lane, but we’d rather not have it stirred up, read? Over.”

“Wait one, BucketMucker’s Bucket, Station Ops, you are cleared to transit lane lirek tarse outbound one at downrange two-five-zero-zero, clearance valid from mark plus four to mark plus seven, at which clear lane for approaching traffic. Station Ops, clear.”

“On your glass now,” the computer said quietly. “Warming up the main drive. Tessil Lirendocius?”

That mudhog? If you’re that far off the axis, I should fly this on full manual.”

“Twelve pulses, running the count.  I thought he bought you lunch last week?”

“Yeah. And then,” her finger flipped up the shield over the burn key, and punched it as the count flipped to zero, raising her voice over the clatter and hiss of the main jet, “he dropped me at the airlock ‘cause he didn’t want to go outside. Who lives on a space station and can’t take a walk in space?”

“Coming up on skew-flip.”

“Cut.” Expert hands released the burn key, gripped the reaction controllers, flipped the OTV end for end, and punched the key again. “And burn. Why’re you working so hard to set me up, anyway?”

“I’m your friend, Líse.” The ship paused for a moment. “And our efficiency’s been down almost a whole percentage point this last month.”

“And for that, you’re trying to get me laid? Station Ops, Mucker’s Bucket, we’re clear of the lane. Returning to free-flight. Over.”

Mucker’s Bucket, Station Ops. Clear of the lane, back on free-flight, acknowledged. Good hunting. Clear.”

“There may not be causation, but there is correlation. Target on the glass, range one four at oh-nine-eleven asc three.”

“Spare me the graphs, and give me manual translation control.”

“Done and done.”

A clatter of reaction jets. “Go to station-keeping, and fire up the arm.” The trigraphic representation of the OTV’s manipulator arm wrapped itself around Líse’s hand. “Let’s see, now. Give me a point-five plus-X and hold.”

“Executed. Rotation?”

“No, I can match it with the grappler at this angle. And… got it.” With a twist of the arm, she brought it up before the pilot’s viewport. “And log retrieval: object is a bolt key with an IN stock label, reading corse-lirek-four-one-three-ten-six. Object stowed for return. Entry ends, mission elapsed time six, thirty-two, eight, mark. Next up?”

“Kirill Meliane’s just arrived back on-station.”

“She and I were pretty good friends last time our orbits crossed, but there’s a bit of an interface problem there, ship.”

The computer emitted an electronic chuckle. “Picky, picky. Always with the little details. Besides, the lifelog I’m looking at says she’s been a he for six months now.”

“Oh, fine. Then invite him for lunch next time we’re both off-shift, and give me the next item off the feed. This junk won’t clear itself.”