Free Flash Fiction Friday: Handshake

Requesting docking from a registered station was lengthy, and boring. ID handshake and telemetry verification, rocket drones for assisted docking, queues determined from the moment of system entry. It was a fixed routine, and it worked.

Docking at a free can also was a routine, and worked, and contained enough edge of danger to make it exciting. The risk was taken on solely by the docking ship, of course. No station master risked anything more than they had to, and with low incoming traffic and high counts of layered defense, it was standing orders to slag first and never question.

It was a series of handshakes, no rocket drones here and no remotes, just here’s your course and follow that line. Took too long in responding to that first handshake, or too much delay, or the station master just figuring “eh, too close”? Slagged. Telemetry data not matching the handshake? Slag. Too long in getting in line? Slagged. Not reporting malfunctions or nagging bits keeping you from on-the-bounce response? Slagged.

Free can or registered, once you were docked it didn’t matter. Spacer not on their ship was just more station meat, captain of Not Leaving Til the Master Says, where someone who’s maybe never left the system barks ordered to convoy commanders and freetraders. It’s their rules. Don’t care you got a cutter licenced to make planetfall, if the Master wants you to take their steamengine instead, you buckle up and buy your ticket.

A lot of graft happened between captain and Master, and between Master and Master with the captains getting fat crumbs the exchange for courier services. Fattest balance gig wasn’t hauling exotics or arbitrage or data bouncing, it was playing Fetch between the three registered stations and lone free can out in Oshia. Captain might finish their contract buyout with cred to spare for retirement in 4 years of that route, if they didn’t piss off any Master and didn’t get scrubbed from the dock by some other eager cap looking to get rich soonest.

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Eli Jones
Eli Jones is a spectulative fiction writer and database administrator from the Pacific Northwest.