Coffee Break Read – Furnace

The downside was that living on Invercallus was like living in a furnace.
Jaz hated that you couldn’t go out in the daytime without wearing full on protective gear to shield from the heat and solar radiation. But at night it was very different. The air was cool and clear and the red rocky landscape looked beautiful. Even so the only habitable zone was at one of the poles – it was the only place water didn’t all evaporate away and the only place some stubby plants had managed to put the odd splash of colour on the dull ochre-grey background.
Jaz had never figured why they didn’t go full dome for the settlements here. Instead people shifted their way of life and spent the days sleeping and the nights transacting whatever of business or labour they needed to do. Maybe that was because many here came from Thuringen and were well used to days that were nights.
There were plenty of domes. But not connected in any proper way. The entire settlement was pretty much a huge spaceport and nothing else. Except unlike most spaceports, each bay had its own attached residential mini-dome. Maybe some of the privately owner-occupied ones had lavish fixtures and fittings, but as the Tarams didn’t even really live in theirs it was pretty basic. Jaz could compare it with the kind of comfort level he’d endured in barracks during his time with the Specials – except the food here was a lot better.
Much of the time, Jaz had the place to himself. Thuringen was a short hopper ride away and, like most else of the people who called Invercallus home, the Tarams preferred to be there, or anywhere else, as much as they could. He wasn’t surprised. Going over what they had was depressing enough. The bulk of their finances were tied up to pay for the bay. The ship, such as it was, belonged to them. And that had been the first big row – Day One of the new plan.
“Sell it. We need something newer, faster. Something that you don’t need to worry if it’s going to break up from gravity stress each time you hit into FTL.”
He had been sitting with Marche going over the team’s resources. Big lists on remote screens all over the walls. She shot up, her face snarling like he’d said something to insult her.
“It’s my ship. It’s all I got. If I sell we’d have to lease a ship and that’d eat more than we can raise from the work we got offering.”
Jaz ignored her snarling tone.
“The work you had offering. You might recall we agreed you’re not taking that kind of thing anymore.”
Marche had her fists tight and for a moment Jaz was calculating where he’d need to go to put her on the ground without hurting her too bad or damaging anything. But she didn’t attack. Just stood there glaring.
“So,, we spend out on a lease ship and pay for it with what?” She gestured to the bleak land beyond the dome. “Sand? ‘Cos that’s all we’d be left with. We’d not even be able to pay the rent on this place.”
“You would. Even at breakers’ prices your flying scrapheap’s going to be worth enough to keep this place and pay the lease on a decent ship for half a year – and get you some specialist gear. But, I’m thinking you’ll likely find some scrimping freetrader willing to pay over that base. Besides, you got no choice. That deathtrap is getting to the point it’s going to cost you more to run it for a year than it’s worth. It’s holding you back, like a fucking great stone.”
Marche looked like she’d run into a wall. “Specialist gear? You mean more than standard stuff?”
Jaz nodded, trying to put as much conviction as he could into his words. “That’s what you need. Something you can offer others can’t. Something you can make a name for. The big mistake most teams make starting up is doing what you’ve been doing – taking whatever’s on offer and not thinking strategically.”
She was gawping at him now, like she wasn’t sure if he was looped or genius.
“And if we don’t make enough money in them six cycles?”
Jaz shrugged.
“Then you know you’re not good enough to cut it, and you go find a decent team that’s already established and sign up with them instead.”
“But if we still had the ship -”
“You could turn freetrader instead. ‘Cos by that time, with the big advantage you got in having me along on this, if you can’t make it as a team you’ll never make it.”
He could see she was unhappy. Chewing it over like the remains from a day old synth-meal.
“And if I say no?”
Jaz shook his head.
“If you say no, I’ll still give you some basic training. But won’t bring you much. Maybe get you the chance to tag on some mediocre commander’s reserve list in the long run. That’s the closest you’ll get to what you want to be.”
She’d still baulked.
“I need to think. Ask the others. It’s not just my future.”
“Take the time you need. Just not too much of it.”
She hadn’t needed much. He’d still been going over the lists, checking prices, juggling figures and looking into what kind of work was most in demand – or at least most in demand and not going to get them all stint in the Specials if they got caught doing it.
Marche came back with the others close behind, looking like school kids being up for misbehaviour in front of the class. Jaz wiped off the screens and stared at them expectantly. Shit. Just standing there, freshfaced, they made him feel ancient.
“We’re in. We’ll sell the ship.”

From Iconoclast: Not To Be a Fortune’s Fools book by E.M. Swift-Hook

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