The alarm beside his bunk began to blare. Had it not been for his inability to sleep as of late, Eames would have been taken by surprise. Instead, he had lain restless in his sheets for well over an hour, unable to drift out again. Begrudgingly, he swung his arm out onto the nearby dresser and cancelled the steady sequence of annoying noise. Eames arched his back and let out a deep yawn.
“Scheduled collection in T minus fifteen minutes,” announced a female voice over the intercom. It didn’t sound quite human, lacking certain inflections and pauses, though neither did it come across as robotic.
“Thanks SAM,” Eames halfheartedly replied.
“You’re welcome. Your morning coffee is being prepared in the mess hall. I must remind you that our supply of coffee beans is running low.”
“I know, I know. Estimation?” he asked as he climbed out of his bunk. Eames began to change out his clothing, throwing on a new shirt. This one had considerably less holes in it.
“Shit. When’s next pickup scheduled?”
“The next scheduled transference has been scheduled for April 5th 2175. Approximately forty-four days from now. I would advise you to refrain from consuming more than one cup per day.”
Eames began rubbing his eyes as he shuffled out of his room. “Yeah yeah, noted. Remind me to request extra next pickup.” He turned right down the adjacent corridor, the overhead lights casting a dull blue glow on the white-paneled walls.
“I’m afraid any additional amounts will exceed crew allowance for tertiary consumables. Any increases will require-”.
“Dock my pay.”
SAM paused for a few moments. “Understood.”
As Eames entered the mess hall, a series of lights erupted to illuminate the room. The sudden change stung his eyes, causing him to squint as he made his way past the neatly arranged sets of tables. A thin layer of dust had begun to settle on the surface of each table, some still bearing the marks of old haphazard stains. On the opposite wall of the room were the kitchen facilities where the coffee machine, still running, emitted a soft billow of steam. Eames impatience was clear as he paced by the counter. Seconds later, the machine dinged and extruded a full cup.
“Still a few seconds off,” criticised Eames as he snatched the cup. He took a careful sip. “You got the temperature right for once, though.”
“I will adjust the timing again for tomorrow's schedule.”
Eames turned to the nearby doorway and followed the hall leading to the elevators. Stepping into one already opened, he selected the control deck and propped himself up against the wall as the doors shut. The short trip upwards was marked only by a brief shuddering sensation accompanied by the screech of grinding metal.
“Shaft three is still warped on level four.”
“Worker units have been scheduled for maintenance at 1800 hours,” replied SAM.
Eames was unimpressed. SAM would routinely schedule crew compartment repairs behind everything else on station. One of these days that pod was going to get stuck, and he was the one who was going to get trapped in it.
A familiar voice was transmitting through on comms, their message mid-sentence as Eames entered the control room. One of the surface crew had their message on repeat, awaiting his response.
“KGA-331 calling Martens. Payload is ready for delivery, awaiting confirmation, over,” repeated Claire’s voice. Eames sidled over to the large chair in the middle of the room, leaning back as far as possible.
“SAM, are we in position?”
“Affirmative. We are currently positioned above the exit point with engines primed for acceleration.”
Eames pressed down the transmit button located on the left armrest. “KGA-331, this is The Martens, we are primed for retrieval.” There was a short wait before Claire’s crackled voice came through again.
“About bloody time. You get your beauty sleep?”
“I wouldn’t call it beauty.”
She laughed. “Well I’m glad I decided not to open with a video link this time. Don’t need to be lookin’ at your rough mug this early in the morning.”
“In a couple more cycles you’re gonna start seeing it in person. Best get used to it,” he jabbed.
“Beats spending forever on this rock, I’ll tell you that.” Another voice could be heard in the background, though Eames couldn’t make it out. “Ah, Samuels said we got the green light from SAM. Everything cool on your end?”
“I’m just here for the fireworks,” replied Eames, sipping his coffee. “Fire away.”
“Got it. Commencing sequence… now!”
A number of panels and screens began to light up as SAM chimed in over the intercom. “I’m tracking the payload through the pipeline. Calculating trajectory and adjusting course.”
“SAM’s got it,” said Eames. “I’ll let you know when she’s caught the thing.”
“Copy that. Claire out.”
Eames climbed out of his chair and moved to wall ahead of him. Pulling a lever suspended just below the roof, he watched as sections of the wall folded open to reveal a trio of windows. From here he was able to get a clear view of the planet surface below. The Martens, with its docking bay located at the bow, was currently aimed downwards in preparation to catch the multi-hundred tonne chunk of rock being funnelled through a fifty kilometer long railgun. A number of sturdy mechanical arms were unfolding from the bow, ready to catch and guide the payload upon arrival. Behind the control deck, and currently out of view, was the massive refinery hitched to the stern of The Martens. Much too large to tow from surface to orbit, and expensive to repeatedly duplicate, it had become much cheaper to simply fire large quantities of material into space than to constantly recreate entire refineries. As the payload made its way upwards, SAM was moving the ship into position.
Minutes passed by as Eames gazed out the window, slowly draining his cup. Before long, a large chunk of stone became noticeable as it approached the station. Wrapped around it was a sturdy mesh with sporadically placed thrusters across its surface. At least five thrusters were ejecting air at one time, which kept the payload from rotating. It edged closer and closer, and Eames could feel slight changes in movement while it neared. SAM was constantly correcting the positioning of The Martens in order to synchronise with the payload trajectory, and she was able to readjust far quicker than any human brain could react. Eames could just enjoy the view.
The arms clamped down around the payload, latching on and guiding it into the docking bay.
“Payload secured,” announced SAM.
“Great, we’re done here then,” said Eames, stepping back to his chair. He pressed the communications button. “KGA-311, Martens is confirming successful transfer. Payload secured.”
Claire’s familiar voice responded. “Copy that Martens. Oh and don’t forget, tonight’s cards night on vid comms. I’m not letting you weasel out of my chance to win back my last paycheck.”
“Key word being chance.”
“Just you wait. KGA-311 over and out.”
Eames rose from the chair and began to exit the room. Before he could, he felt the floor begin to vibrate with increasing intensity. As he turned to face the windows, the entire station heaved out from under him, knocking him forward. He stumbled into the metal flooring, feeling his right wrist break as he tried to catch his own fall. His head collided with a nearby console soon after, leaving him in a pained daze.
Outside, the net containing the payload had ruptured open, debris exploding outwards. It appeared as though something had detonated from within, rupturing both the net and a couple meters of solid rock. The break in containment was located on the side facing The Martens, resulting in multiple pieces of debris being flung towards the station.
“Breach detected. Brace for impact!” SAM blasted over the intercom. In response, the metal blinds retracted over the windows and locked into place. Still hazy, Eames did his best to prop himself against something solid, planting his feet down to keep his position firm. He held his breath and shut his eyes, trying not to panic as the control room continued to shake with each reverberating thud against the outer hull.