Outward Bound
Chapter 4

Copyright© 2020 by UtIdArWa

After the end of the Earth-Mars war, many naval personnel, from both sides, ended up in the Martian system looking for work. Some of these ex-military people ended up mining the asteroid belt. If you listened to the corporate recruiters, everybody working for them had made fortunes in the belt. If you checked around, you would soon find that working for a corporation was a form of slow suicide. Better to take a walk outside without a suit.

The corporations also hired their own “Security Forces” usually unemployed FN marines. Men who wouldn’t question orders or tell tales.

Then there were the independent operations. Huge privately-owned mining ships. They did hire temporary workers usually for a run-out and then back. The typical contract was for anywhere from 5 to 10 years. But once you were out there, you couldn’t change your mind. There was no bus service in the belt.

Then there were the jobs with the regular cruise liners running between Earth, Luna, and Mars. But the primary qualifications for officers in those positions seemed to be appearance. An eyepatch and sexy accent, Real or at least believable, would improve the chances for employment. These positions had nothing to do with command. The real Captains, with few exceptions, were friends or family of the owners. Or long-term employees that had worked their way up the system.

The other hot job was running refined metals from Mars orbit to the Lunar orbit. A job that most considered about as difficult as commanding a rubber ducky in a very shallow bathtub. Plus, the pay for this job was minimal and generally meant spending a year with only two other crewmates. Because of the lack of space, both storage and living. Meals were prepackaged and quickly became monotonous. Finally, because of the water limitations, hygiene became minimal at best. After a year of eating the same food, with two other, often obnoxious, crewmates who never bathed, it became an excellent way to go crazy. And the main reason they needed pilots.

Then there were the hiring halls. If you were a guild member in good standing. Which meant you were up to date on your dues. You could put your name on the list. And depending on the job, and how many others were on the list, you could ship out tomorrow or next month. Depending on how much of a ‘gift’ the guild broker wanted.

Then there were unofficial independent employment brokers. They could be found in the bars taverns and go-go joints. In the good old wind and sail days, they were called the shanghai specialists. A quick micky finn or blackjack, and you wake up on a year-long unpaid journey around the pacific. Nothing much has changed, except the length and location of the cruise.

There were also legitimate employment brokers. But these folks worked out of offices. Had regular hours and didn’t smell of stale beer and desperation. They were easy to tell apart. The legitimate brokers carried cards, not knives.

I am ex-FN Captain Henry Sullivan. A cashiered and exiled remnant of the Earth/Luna war. When hostilities had ceased, and the parties involved had come to a mutually agreeable cease-fire. The FN had provisionally reopened the trade routes. There had also been the not unexpected reductions in naval forces. In those situations, it was to your best benefit if you had patrons in high places. Unfortunately, the few patrons I had were inside the FN itself. And in these trying times, it took political patronage with a capital POLITICAL.

There was also an unfortunate situation when I followed my conscience. If I could have used those 1500 people I saved as personal references, life might have been different. As it was, I was offered a choice. I could resign and claim that I was forced to leave because of being excess to needs. Or I could spend the rest of my life in a FN Prison at hard labor. With a choice like that, my decision was simple. Once I signed my resignation, I got a handshake and directions to the employment office.

April, my wife had followed me out mainly based on the unsavory rumors that had been going around about a certain new Captain that was requesting her as his xo. Rather than wait for the admiral’s mast, she also resigned her commission. Right now, she was piloting milk runs to the various stations in Mars orbit and the belt. It wasn’t much, but it covered our needs barely.

On this day, I was in Wong’s Cantina, a semi-sleazy Mars station dive. Their clientele generally drifted to the enlisted navy ratings looking for a quick and cheap buzz. Then there were the occasional unemployed deckhands, low on cash, looking to ship out. That is, the ones that couldn’t go through the hiring hall for various reasons. Usually involving a criminal warrant or abandoned family somewhere. This was a no-name crowd. John one day, Sam the next.

I was in Wong’s more for economic reasons than employment. Wong’s sold the safest cheap beer on the station. Some bars you could be taking your life or eyesight into your hands if you drank the offered beverages, brand name or not. I was nursing a very foul but cheap local beer when I was interrupted by an elderly woman. She exuded wealth from the thousand credit custom kimono to the jewelry she wore. There was enough glitter on her to finance a cruiser.

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