Cavity Search Engine
Wherein I take a band name from Scalzi’s Next Band Name list, and spend no more than 20 minutes writing the story with the band name as a title.
Zeb leaned to the right as moved the stick to the right while concentrating on the screen in front of him. His eyes were flicking almost wildly as he caught movement on the screen and maneuvered the ship to avoid the spots. Both feet were moving to adjust the flight, and his left hand rested gently on a lever to his left. Zeb’s relaxed pose was at odds with the intense look on his face. “Yippee ki yay,” he said softly, almost whispering the words.
Zach, sitting next to Zeb, doubted Zeb even knew he said it. Zeb had a number of small quirks that made Zach smile, his yippee-ki-yays being only one of the more recent ones he’d noticed.
Once Zeb had the ship moved into place next to the large asteroid, matching veloicity and spin, he turned on the auto-pilot and released the tension even Zach couldn’t tell was there until it was gone.
“Impressive,” Zach said.
“At how amazing I am in the middle of an asteroid field?” Zeb asked, turning to Zach with a dazzing smile across his face.
“No, at how much like recruiting you sound like when you’re concentrating.”
“Yippee ki yay!” Zach called out, mimicking the video that all kids saw during their Saturday morning video watches, the one that inspired hordes of young men and women to try for the Space Corps once they hit puberty. Few wanted secondary school when the opportunity for space travel called to them.
Except the recruiting video never talked about the months being stuck in a tin can, having only a screen telling you what the outside might look like. Recruiting never told you about not seeing your family for years, never told you about the bone loss from weightlessness, or the discipline required to learn how to walk on land again. They never mentioned that it didn’t take many years for the pull of Earth’s gravity to be too much to earn back, and the whole planet was lost to you forever.
No, they just gave you “Yippee ki yay!” and a dazzling smile, much like the man across from him, Zach thought, a smile forming on his face, too.
“Indeed. Just like they taught us.”
The two of them traded activities for the next four hours as the automated sensors took stock of the asteroid next to their ship. Zach enjoyed watching the data stream into the systems, watch the images form as the data reassembled outside what they couldn’t see from the inside. Zeb floated into the back half of the ship took care of his necessities, pulling out a nutrient gel pack and a bag of water on his way back.
After the last of the data came back and was processed, the large screen splashed their asteroid beautifully rendered, and the small screen in Zach’s hand went green. Zach looked up at Zeb floating over him, and pushed a few more buttons without looking at his hands to finish the data transfer to the microdrones and launch them away.
“All set then?”
“I think so,” Zach commented. “XR-43-2 appears from first scan to have the correct elemental make-up, but it has too many cavity echoes to be certain of its profitability. We should probably head around to the other side and see if there’s an opening.”
“Pretty sure that’s why we were assigned this rock.”
“Sucks to be the best,” Zeb commented as he twisted back into his reclined V and started strapping himself back in.
“Nah. It’s great to be the best. It’s the second best that sucks. I just get to watch you.”
“Sucker,” Zeb teased back.
“Yep,” Zach responded with the ease of the decade long friendship. He and Zeb had been on too many runs to count, and always the hard ones. The two of them had met in line on the first day of their Space Corps training, standing in the back of the line together, bonding over both having having two Zs as their initials.
Zach strapped back in. Zeb pulled the stick back, adjusted his feet to begin the side movement and began to move the ship along the face of the asteroid.
They hadn’t gone very far before the they heard the first ping.
“There’s the other thing they don’t tell you about in the recruiting video,” Zeb commented, as another small ping echoed through the small ship.
“Those shouldn’t be getting through, though,” Zach commented.
He hated when rocks made way through the perimeter and hit the ship’s hull. Death by tiny debris and a million holes was more common than any other space-related death. And each ping meant some dent on the hull, possibly a hole. No, no one ever talked about that at recruiting.
It was a risk they took with every job they ran in the asteroid belt, Zeb knew. He also knew that today wasn’t the day their luck ran out. “We’re fine,” he said. “Start the search engine.”
Zach looked back to Zeb with nothing but relief. Yeah, they’d be fine on this run. “What’s the over under on the cavity count before I fire it up?”
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