Salvage Marines (Necrospace Book 1)

SALVAGE MARINES

Necrospace – Book I

 

By Sean-Michael Argo

 

Copyright by Sean-Michael Argo 2014

All Rights reserved

 

Edited by TL Bland

Thruterryseyes.com

 

Table of Contents

 

Prologue..................3

 

1. Death and Taxes........5

 

2. Mining Unit 5597......28

 

3. Rest and Refit........82

 

4. Space Hulk............93

 

5. Storm and Void........116

 

6. Tetra Prime...........156

 

7. Points of View........199

 

8. Profit and Loss......214

 

9. Until that Day.......232

PROLOGUE

It is the Age of The Corporation.

The common man toils under the watchful eye of the elite and their enforcers. The rules of law have long been replaced by the politics of profit. For many centuries, the Covenants of Commerce have ruled mankind, from boardroom to factory floor, from mine deep to fertile field, upon the battlefields of heart, of mind, and of distant star.

The dark ages of feudalism have returned with capitalistic ferocity. There is no peace among the stars of mapped space; business is booming.

Impoverished workers drown in debt, laboring for subsistence pay. Mercenaries of every kind wage war, loyal to the banner of any company willing to meet their price. Everyone in existence is locked in a ceaseless struggle for economic dominance and survival. Scavengers and space pirates swoop in to loot what they can from the forgotten and unprotected.

To be a human being in such times is to be one among countless billions in a civilization spread across a vast universe, all ensnared in the same blood-soaked web of capitalism, most doomed to be ground to dust amidst the gears of progress.

There are some people, however, those rare few, who rise from the ranks of the faceless masses, to make their mark upon history.

This is one such tale.

DEATH AND TAXES

Samuel Hyst had been standing in line for nearly four hours, just behind his lifelong friend Ben Takeda. Both young men silently and grimly waited their turn to speak with the graduation administrator.

Now eighteen standard years of age and despite his academic scores being rather average, he had qualified for graduation. He was thankful for it. No one wanted to remain in the Citizen Academy for any longer than they absolutely had to.

Though he had few aspirations beyond graduation, he was positive that accruing more debt while he figured out those aspirations was not the most prudent choice. Each year spent in academy added another year of debt servitude for the average citizen who would, at best, go on to earn an average wage.

Samuel did, however, have a penchant for curiosity, and he often felt he was missing something in life, craving it even, though he couldn’t figure out exactly what it was that he sought. Like so many others in his age group, Samuel had been raised completely within the public system provided by Grotto Corporation, the company that was the ruling body of his world.

Samuel Hyst had been born on Baen 6, one of the eleven planets in the Baen System, which was owned and operated by the galaxy spanning mega-corporation known as Grotto.

Every other planet in the Baen system was simply named Baen, with a numerical modifier, the company obviously being more interested in efficiency than imagination when it came to the naming of planets.

The same held true for the names of people, machines, and many other elements of Grotto society. The primary business interest of Grotto Corporation was the exploitation of raw materials, ranging from gases, minerals, metals, or in Samuel’s case, human resources.

Due to the company’s focus on the base materials of industry, Grotto was one of the largest and most wealthy of the trade empires. It was also one of the most grindingly brutal with regards to its citizenry.

The masters of the corporation had created a debt-based society in which the citizens were charged by the corporation for compulsory education, health care, and housing requirements.

Citizens graduated from their compulsory education with anywhere from fifteen to eighteen years of accrued debt already logged against their credit lines. Including the costs of housing, health care and the everyday expense of being alive, resulted in subsistence level living conditions for the majority of the population as they labored for the company trying to pay off debt that would always outpace their wages.

People reached retirement age with little or nothing to pass on to their children except their own remaining debt, resulting in their offspring inheriting old debt from family members while accruing new debts of their own. These institutionalized debts were known as life-bonds.

In front of Samuel, Ben shifted impatiently. Always somewhat of a malcontent, he consistently found himself in trouble with academy authorities as a result of his inability to keep his mouth shut about any and everything that bothered him.

“You know there are elite families that exist at the top of this whole mess who inherit money, reserved spots at university and trade schools, even whole factories and planets, man,” Ben whispered harshly over his shoulder towards Samuel as the two of them waited for their turn with the administrator. “What kind of jobs are going to be left for normal folks like us if we can’t even get enough of a credit line after academy to buy training?”

Samuel nodded in agreement, partly out of habit, as it was the only way to get Ben to quiet down, but also because he actually did agree with his friend. While there were many trade empires in the universe that ruled their populations through debt-servitude, Grotto was unique in that the ruling class elites were also the skilled working class of Grotto society. Granted access by their extreme wealth to the expensive post-academy education, many of the elites of Grotto were trained in industrial trades and took a fierce pride in that fact.

“It’s like this bloodline workforce system keeps the low born down and the high born up,” grumbled Ben, whose demeanor had been growing increasingly sour the closer he got to the administrator, as if the eventual and inevitable fate of having his life-bond sealed was pushing him to new heights of philosophical fury. “If we can’t get trained for any jobs with wages that can get us out of the life-bond, then how are we going to get our kids into training either? It’s like I’m still a damn teenager and I already know that my kids are going to end up just like me. We’re trapped, man. Even your dad, I know he taught himself all that metalwork, but since it’s not accredited he still can’t get high wage work.”

“Ben, just take a deep breath and let’s get through today, we’ll worry about social injustice tomorrow, okay?” Samuel placed a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder, “And you’re wrong about my dad, he did some off-book fabrication for the forge steward at Assemblage 23 last month.”

“Seriously? What kind of credits did he pull?” asked Ben with an astonished, even if slightly admonishing, expression on his face.

“No money, just favors. Dad got him to set me up with a Tier 3 position on the line. It would have taken me something like five years to get a gig like that on my own.” He and Ben both saw that the person in front of them was finished and it was now Ben’s turn, “I promise you, buddy,” Samuel said, “if I ever get a chance to pay it forward, you know I’ve got your back. Like I said, let’s just get through today.”

Ben set his jaw and nodded grimly, then stepped into the booth of the graduation administrator. Samuel couldn’t hear what was being said on the other side of the sliding booth door, so he looked around the building to see how the rest of the lines were doing.

The domed building had been temporarily re-purposed for the graduation ceremony of Academy 427 and already nearly two thousand graduates had been processed.

Something slamming into the sliding door of the booth in front of him drew Samuel’s attention back to the line just before he was shouldered aside by a large man wearing riot armor.

The man was one of the proctors, the guards who maintained crowd control during graduation ceremonies and on the streets of Baen in general. Samuel had heard that sometimes graduation day was rough. There was something profoundly upsetting about the actuality of having the life-bond presented to you that weighed heavier on young people than the mere concept of it.

As the door opened, Samuel could see that Ben had bloodied the administrator’s nose and was screaming at him. In short order the proctor jabbed Ben with an electrified baton and the youth collapsed in a heap.

Samuel cursed under his breath, knowing that several nights in the youth detention center was only going to put a negative mark on Ben’s life-bond, which would make him even more undesirable to the various labor chiefs.

Inside, the administrator dabbed at his nose while another proctor arrived and the two men hauled out Ben’s unconscious body.

Samuel swallowed with nervousness and stepped inside as the administrator impatiently waved him in. Samuel followed the administrator’s silent invitation to sit down, and then the sliding door closed behind him.

“Samuel Hyst, son of Saul and Marion Hyst,” said the administrator, more to himself than Samuel it seemed, as he thumbed through the files on a handheld data-pad. “Let’s see what we have on you.” He murmured to himself as he read. “No inherited debts, as of yet. Both parents still living, median test scores. Ah yes, here we are, aptitude assessment scores.”

Samuel blinked in surprise. “I’m sorry sir, when did we take aptitude tests? I don’t remember that exam.” He leaned forward in a half-attempt to read the administrator’s screen.

“Oh, it’s not a single exam, young man. Data for the assessment is gathered from your first day in academy onwards, with additional data points coming from your family history, hab-block of birth, and medical records,” stated the administrator matter-of-factly as he scrolled through the arcane graphs and charts presented on his screen. “This information will inform us as to what your career options are within the Grotto workforce, which as you know is requisite to paying back your life-bond.”

“I’ve been thinking that I’d like to-,” Samuel started to say before the administrator cut him off sharply.

“Desire is irrelevant, young man. If desire dictated a person’s place in the workforce then the forges would grow cold, the lights would go dark, and the human race would go back to living in caves. Now, drop the questions and let me do my job,” spat the administrator as he pulled a second screen from his desk and flipped it around so that Samuel could see. “According to the assessments, you are an ideal candidate for waste disposal, janitorial, and food service. All three of those are our largest labor sectors, so we should have no problem placing your life-bond with a suitable labor chief.”

“What about working the line? My father is in the forge at Assemblage 23, he was told there would be a place for me there,” protested Samuel, who almost got out of his seat before remembering that there were likely proctors watching this particular booth after Ben’s outburst.

“Regardless of what opportunities may or may not exist at Assemblage 23, and that is conjecture, your life-bond is due today, and forge work was not an appropriate match for the data present in your aptitude assessment.” The administrator produced a hypo dispenser and held his open hand out, “Now, give me your hand and let’s get this life-bond administered.”

“That’s it? You just look at some data and decide my life?” grumbled Samuel. “No wonder Ben punched you in the face.” He held his hand out to the administrator.

The administrator stabbed Samuel’s wrist with the hypo and the needle deposited a small microchip in the young man’s wrist. Samuel already knew that the chip contained the sum total of his digital information, his academy scores, his medical records, his total Grotto debts, and now, his workforce assessment. Knowing about it, and seeing it, were very different, and he found himself deeply troubled in a way that he had not expected.

Grotto life was hard, and often disappointing, but his father had taught him to try do his best, to live today for today. As Samuel sat back and rubbed his wrist it seemed like a hollow piece of advice, like something a person would say to themselves if they were afraid to look past the boundaries of today and see that all the tomorrows would never change.

“Samuel, I understand that you may feel that you have more to offer Grotto than what exists within the limitations of your workforce assessment,” the administrator offered, his expression softening somewhat, “My advice is take the job you can get, and work hard, give yourself a chance to settle into a routine.”

Then the administrator opened a sliding drawer and handed Samuel a small digi-card. It was colored blue, and simply had the word REAPER stamped on one side. He knew that the card would activate and display whatever message or data that was stored within once he slotted it into a data-pad or wall terminal, though he wasn’t sure what it was for.

“What is REAPER?” he asked as the administrator stood up and gestured for Samuel to leave.

“The only job for which the aptitude assessment is irrelevant. If you find yourself unable to cope with your new life, much like that boy who assaulted me, then activate that card,” he said as the door opened and he gently pushed Samuel out so that the next person in line could enter, “Risk and reward young man, consider it an alternative to crime or suicide.”

 

It had been two long years since the graduation administrator had given Samuel the REAPER card, and though he still kept it, the young man had only activated it once. After what he had learned, Samuel had placed it high on a shelf in his room and did his best to forget it.

At the time, he had been struggling with disappointment over his workforce assignment. Not only had his father done fabrication work in exchange for a favor he could not call in, but because of Samuel’s limited workforce prospects, there was little hope of him paying off his life-bond, much less affording any schooling to better his situation.

Samuel had begrudgingly taken work in the food service sector. He spent most of his ten-hour shifts on an assembly line preparing and packaging bland meals of protein blocks, fiber sticks, and nutrient powder. Once the meals had been prepared, packaged, and crated, they were distributed by a fleet of transport skiffs to the various forges, factories, and refineries that covered the surface of Baen 6.

Samuel had no clear idea where the food came from-- likely some agri-world outside the otherwise harsh environment of the Baen system-- only that his plant removed bulk ingredients from off-world shipments and processed them for Baen workforce consumption.

Most Grotto labor sectors included a meal plan, which of course was compulsory and automatically deducted from each worker’s pay, regardless of whether or not they ate the meals. As a result, Samuel’s plant ran day and night to match the demand for calories from the planet’s workforce.

At least the work was easy, Samuel had managed to tell himself, even if monotonous. He had told himself this many times and he had managed to find a modicum of peace in it.

The pay for assembly line work was low, but since he was not rated for any other work, he was forced to make ends meet as best he could. For the first year, Samuel lived with his mother and father, as did most graduates for at least the first few years, assuming they ever accumulated enough to move out on their own. Samuel saved enough in housing payments that when he met Sura Kameni he was able to make the decision to move out on his own.

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