Fiction Friday: [Salvaging for Hope]

Despite living with a rowdy crew and the staleness of its recycled air, it was docking that Shapiro hated the most. The Vulture was an old girl, decommissioned before he was born. The odds of her dock being compatible with another ship was slim to none. The seesawing to make it work always left a queasy pit in his stomach. He learned the hard way not to look out the window. The lurching sent the stars dancing in non-rhythmic streaks and sent his head swirling. Shapiro wasn’t built to be a salvager. But life loved to throw curveballs.

As a civil engineer on Pis Aller Colony II, he spent his entire career at a desk. He worked hard to create a world that was not only functional, but beautiful. But, as with anything involving human nature, there were those who disagreed. A faction of underground rebels made it clear they weren’t happy with the government’s vision for one of the last remaining colonies. From stolen equipment to strategically placed bombs, setting work back for months, their presence had everyone on edge.

Shapiro stayed out of his colleague’s conspiracy theory discussions, preferring to keep his head down and complete the work of making a better world for his wife and daughter. But, from the day Katerine and Mela were kidnapped, he regretted his lack of fraternization. Maybe if he had joined in, he would have realized his job put his family in danger. He would have realized he needed to take steps to ensure their safety. But he hadn’t. He failed them.

Worse, the faction was rumored to have fled the colony soon after. Unconfirmed sightings of them off-planet was how Shapiro found his way onto the rusty, clunker known as The Vulture. If his family was out there, he would find them.

A loud, metallic clang filled the ship and vibrated under his feet. They had docked. Already suited up, Shapiro waited anxiously for the door to open. While the rest of the crew sought out items to gain them favor and bonuses, he set off for clues that could lead him to his family.

Debris peppered the floor and somewhere in the distance, water dripped. He swept his light over the rust-dripped walls and rivets until his beam caught something up ahead. Shapiro stopped in his tracks, confused. As the newbie, he was always sent the furthest from living quarters because quality personal effects fetched the highest trade value. But, up ahead, according to the plaque on the door, was the holy grail of salvagers…Captain’s Quarters. The civil engineer in him argued the implausibility of what he was seeing. The ridiculousness of a ship’s Captain hunkering down this deep in the belly of his ship. But he pushed those thoughts aside because he had work to do.

The door eased open with an ear piercing squawk. The room smelled of mold and metal, adding to the war already raging in Shapiro’s stomach. He zigzagged the light from wall to wall and along the floor. The room was waterlogged and everything in it was soaked in shades of black, gray, and brown. Then the light’s beam caught a flash of pink in the far corner. It was only a tiny peek, but in the den of drab it shined like a beacon.

Shapiro carefully sloshed his way across the room, kicking aside long-forgotten debris. Memories that had once meant something to someone, now disintegrating and floating in rust water. The closer he got, the more he worried that his OxyBreather was faulty. But common sense pointed him toward the truth.

The temperature on Pis Aller Colony II was a steady sixty-eight. Always. His daughter never left home without her favorite pink jacket. The one that was the same shade of pink peeking out from under the layers of dirt and water stains.

The combination of hope and fear shortened his breath. The addition of the heat from his tears threatened to fog his view as he reached his gloved hand toward the corner. The first tug sent something into the water heavy enough to splash the glass of his helmet, but Shapiro didn’t care. He tugged again at the fabric that could potentially spin his world into overdrive. This time it slid out with ease from its watery grave.

The zipper glinted under his light. The sleeves hung slack and heavy, dripping. His gasping cries echoed hollow in the helmet as he clutched the jacket to his chest.  

This find wouldn’t get him in his bosses favor or garner him a bonus, but to him, Shapiro had just salvaged the most valuable thing on the ship.