Saturn Traffic Control detects Amari's ship. Just in time?
You may wish to start at Chapter One :-) here it is...
Chapter Four: First Responder.
Nearly six months later
Chief Technician Hamish Petersen buzzed around the Saturn Traffic Control Centre, (known as the STC) peering over his technicians’ shoulders or looking up at the projections of local space on the surrounding monitors. He’d been promoted to lieutenant now, but he didn’t understand why— or care.
Hamish only cared about traffic.
He lived and breathed traffic patterns. Working overtime without noticing and sometimes forgetting to eat—which accounted for his skinny body and stick-like arms, constantly gesticulating at the monitors. He rejoiced at the synchronicity achieved by manoeuvring all the pieces in the puzzle so that ships arrived and departed on time, always a safe distance apart and never straying from their designated space lanes. He drove his team to despair, by overriding their instructions and issuing new ones to ships that saved ten seconds in an hour. Just because he could.
Most of the personnel in the STC thought Hamish was on medication. Or that he should be. A running joke suggested that he just needed to get laid, but the chances of completing that act were slim—he’d be too busy issuing manoeuvring instructions to his partner.
The STC orbited Saturn on the same axis as the Delta V Space Station, but ten thousand kilometres further out. In the early years of the “Vee’s” construction, one of the larger chunks of ice-rock in Saturn’s outer ring had been pushed into its own orbit with thruster packs for the purpose of hosting the STC. The traffic control centre clung to this rock like a limpet, staffed by a small crew of twenty. AI’s were getting so intelligent that each year more control was handed to them, requiring fewer human staff, but never total control. Just like cargo ships always had to have at least one human on board. Any questioning of this policy would be met with a mumbled warning about the dangers of something called “Skynet”.
STC called the shots on every movement in the system from the orbit of Mars outwards. Mars Traffic Control, MTC, looked after all traffic on the “sun side” of Mars and handed over responsibility for any outbound ships as soon as they left that sphere. No ships got anywhere near Saturn space unless STC said so.
With traffic slow, even Hamish couldn’t resist checking the view outside.
Saturn’s rings have long been described as the most beautiful sight in the solar system. At least by Earth folk. Spacers would disagree. They’d contend that the most beautiful sight in the solar system was their space station, the Delta-V.
Relative to her surroundings the “Vee” was a mere dust mote, smaller even than some shards that made up the Saturnian ice ring she floated outside of. But up close, the rotating station became a majestic gold wonder, that reflected light from the nearby ice. From some angles, it looked for all the world like a golden wedding ring slowly turning in space.
One hundred and fifty years in the making, and it still wasn’t finished.
Housed within its curving walls, the political and administrative machine of the FSCS hummed with the sound of thirty thousand Spacers living, working, and surviving.
Cargo ships transferred freight here, and mining ships returned home loaded with minerals. Deals were done, people fell in and out of love and in and out of fortune, all within its walls.
The Vee was where humankind had raised a proud flag in space and shouted to the eternal blackness, “We’re on our way!”
The job of assembling a station the size of Delta V this far from Earth’s factories had been a mammoth task. But the actual task of collecting the chunks of life-giving ice and thrusting them into the station’s processing plant in its central hub was simple. Attach a remote-controlled thruster pack to any object already in space, and you can move it anywhere you like.
Archimedes had said, “Give me a lever long enough, and I can move the world,” a Spacer would say, “Gimme a thruster pack and hold my beer.”
The Vee provided something else — gravity. Large enough and rotating smoothly enough, it produced a gravitational pull towards its perimeter roughly fifty percent as strong as Earth’s. Mag-boots and shoes were still used by nearly everyone, lest they pushed off a surface a little too vigorously and floated past the person they were talking to.
Outside the station, even smaller dust motes floated around it, like flies around a doughnut— maintenance ships, drones and somewhat larger cargo vessels coming and going on their various errands.
Those are all my babies. Hamish thought to himself, watching each ship follow the instructions that his traffic controllers had given it.
The smallest traffic didn’t come under the control of the STC. On the side of the station facing the ice ring, the bravest of Spacers, known as ice-rock “Pushers” used manual thruster packs to direct large chunks of ice towards the station’s bowl-shaped processing plant in the central hub. Proximity sensors helped avoid collisions, but sometimes these maniacs relied on simple line of sight.
The processing plant melted the ice, discarded the rock to the space ward side of the Vee and pumped the resulting water to the living quarters. Or the farming modules, or the cargo depots via one of the three massive spokes connecting the central hub to the outer circular tube.
Each spoke carried a nuclear power plant, and the three combined plants powered everything on the Vee. The thrusters dotted along the spokes fired in sequence, to maintain the rotation that gave everyone their much-loved gravity.
When the ping of a distress beacon from way out past Saturn’s orbit came up on the monitors, Hamish was all over it like a rash. Something like that could stuff up the perfect traffic pattern he’d been building for the last few hours.
One of the first rules of Space copied the old rule of the sea —The nearest ship must respond immediately to any other ship in distress. But no one did anything without STC direction. Hamish scanned the screens to see who he should designate as “First Responder”.
A controller with the handle “MeMe”, (a nickname earned by being the first to raise her hand to answer every teacher’s question) removed her headset and leaned over the back of her chair to tug on Hamish's shirt.
“Sir, that distress signal is from a P-pod on LMX-three-niner-four. It’s one of our diplomatic shuttles coming back from Tranquillity… but it’s supposed to be empty. It’s the final one to come back from the summit last year.”
“Interesting,” Hamish jiggled about even more now, “have you determined who our first responder will be?” He had already done so himself but wanted to test his tech’s aptitude.
“Can you give me a few seconds, sir? I can do it!”
MeMe swung back to study her monitor, but she could feel him hovering over her shoulder, which didn’t help at all.
Half a minute later, by which time Hamish was nearly wetting himself, she declared, “The first responder should be the Liu Xin sir! A cargo lifter coming all the way back from Triton One. She’s still twenty-three hours away from the shuttle if she adjusts course as soon as she receives our command, but next in line is the survey ship around Dione. They would have to break orbit and I calculate they’d be ninety minutes slower.”
“They’d be ninety-three point five minutes slower MeMe,” Hamish declared gleefully, “but great job! Please send the rescue command to the Liu Xin.”
Part of the reason for Hamish’s glee, as well as solving the equations needed to determine the first responder, was that none of this would mess with his traffic patterns. Only two ships were involved, well outside local traffic. No real disruption then, nothing to worry about. Except for the puzzle of why an empty shuttle was carrying a pinging preservation-pod. Those pods didn't ping by accident; being the most sophisticated piece of tech built. He pondered this while gazing at the main screen, enjoying the delicate ebb and flow of the traffic.
My traffic, he thought proudly.