The Cleanup Crew

Livi snorted and shook her head as they approached what remained of the Rockhound.

Zora gave her a sideways glance and half a frown. “What?” She looked like a hard vacuum personified—cold, imposing, and entirely without a sense of humor.

“It’s just—you know—all that empty space out there and they still managed to hit something. Like, what are the odds, right? Kinda weird when you think about it.”

Zora turned back toward the hatch. “Then don’t think about it.”

They floated there in silence for another few minutes until the Woulda Shoulda Coulda came to a halt a safe distance from the wreckage. The inertial shift made Livi bump into Zora’s back and earned her another unenthusiastic frown. “Stay close, rookie, but not that close.” The hatch dialed open and they passed through the lock and into the infinite void beyond.

The Rockhound looked like a beer bottle forgotten in a freezer, split apart along unnatural seems, leaking froth and frozen gases. As they got closer, Livi saw that the froth contained a lot of bodies. When you’re flying at half a c, hitting a stray pebble does a lot more than crack a windshield. The entire mining crew would have been killed instantly, or at least within a minute or two, but lucky for them the onboard semi-AI had the power and the presence of mind to blast out a scatterburst message. That was years ago. The ship had long since lost power, and, ironically, the semi couldn’t be recovered. But the people—their minds, anyway—well, that’s what Livi was here to salvage. She followed Zora, her assigned “training buddy,” into the wreckage.

It was grizzly, but the stillness took a lot of the edge off. Not to worry though; Zora was all edges. She grabbed hold of the first body she came across, produced a small plasma wand, and swiftly liberated the head from the body.

“What the hell are you doing? Jeeze, aren’t they dead enough already?”

“Here,” she said, and handed Livi the head and a bag. “Don’t lose any.”

“What about the bodies?”

“Dead weight. We don’t need the ballast, and they’ll all get upgrades anyway.” She drifted as she spoke, grabbed the next body, worked with practiced quickness, and tossed the head to Livi who caught it in the open sack. “Seriously, if you lose one I’ll make you replace it.”

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