Each week we are taking a look back at the authors, stories, and poems that captivated us in 2019. Today we offer you an excerpt from ‘Rules of Salvage’ by Margot Spronk, from Issue 21, Winter 2019.
Rules of Salvage
by Margot Spronk
Auron huffed explosively. She was uncomfortable. The paper jumpsuit chafed, her scalp itched with a few days’ growth, the cuffs trapping her wrists and ankles together were too tight, and her hands and feet ached with a surfeit of blood. She couldn’t see her interrogator. Her body floated in the null-G of the tiny brig, her face revolving away from whatever stood on the other side of the glass. She willed her muscles to still. The tiniest movement acted like the firing of micro-thrusters, and she couldn’t brake herself with an outstretched hand or foot. She bounced off the rear wall, smacking an already bruised thigh, and slowly came about. “Take the hog-tie off, then,” she said.
Laughter floated over the brig’s sound system, tinny and insincere. Auron winced, wishing she could cover her ears.
“What’s a hawg?” the speaker burbled. “And why would I want to tie one?”
“A hog, you idiot, is the animal pork used to come from. An extinct species.”
“You’re kidding me.”
A man popped into Auron’s peripheral vision as she swung about. About forty years old, thin, eyes sunk into cheeks made bulbous by weightlessness, he stood planted in grav-boots as if he was a sapling bending in a breeze. Instinctively, she hated him.
He frowned, scrunching furry brown eyebrows. “No, you’re staying tied up and behind an RF screen.” His lips turned up in a caricature of a smile. “Unless, of course, you sign over your ship.”
Auron sighed. “You give humanity a bad name. Can’t I be interrogated by an AI?”
He chuckled and slapped his knee. “How do you know I’m not?”
“An AI would have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Earth history.”
“An AI would know that you would think that.”
“What do you want?”
“The Ceres Materials Council wants your signature on a salvage offer.”
“You coerced this salvage. We’re an independent asteroid mining venture, and you have no right.”
“A dying breed.”
“And legally grandfathered. You can’t take our ship, or our leases.”
“We can if you require rescue.”
“Rescue? From what? Self-determination?”
“From the vacuum of space.”
“Fuck you.” Auron wished she could fold her arms across her chest and turn away, but her wrists were fixed to her ankles, and the vagaries of momentum kept her facing the asshole.
“This Extractor-class ship we rescued you from — wasn’t this its maiden voyage? And now … sadly …” He tipped his head from side to side, the effect made ridiculous by the comic mobility of his caterpillar eyebrows. “It goes the way of the first Lady. Didn’t it have an unfortunate accident too?”
“She. The Lady II is a ‘she’.”
“Ship AIs have no gender.”
“Ours does. She thinks of herself as a ‘she’.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have stuffed that antiquated AI into a new ship.”
Antiquated? The Lady may be old, but she still had a few tricks. Auron froze her face, afraid an inadvertent smile might give her away. Fear. Anger. That’s what she needed to show.
He held up a tablet and snapped it open. “Maybe this wouldn’t have happened if you had the sense to see the way things are.”
Auron gasped before she could stop herself. The tablet projected an image of space onto the glass between them and zoomed toward the distinctive hambone shape of 2856 Helicon. The Lady II clung like a barnacle to the asteroid’s larger end. Extractor-class ships look like the contents of a spilled junk drawer at the best of times. Borers, hoppers, and vacuum suckers bulged from the bottom of their hulls, and an assortment of comm arrays, odd knobs, and depressions festooned the topsides. But this! Pristine green paint blistered to black, thick steel plates crumpled and torn as if they were tinfoil. Shredded insulation, sheaves of cut wire, and trails of white condensate ringed gaping holes in the hull.
Auron clamped her teeth and closed her eyes, remembering. She’d been stewing in the brig for two days. Three days ago she’d been on the Lady II and full of hope, or was it hubris?
Lapsed pilot, retired air traffic controller, cancer survivor, and graduate of Simon Fraser University’s The Writers Studio. With all that behind her, Margot Spronk now has time to write. After grinding out a speculative thriller, she’s currently enjoying the rush and challenge of writing short stories. Her story ‘Biophilia’ was the first runner-up for 2018 Surrey International Writers’ Conference Storyteller’s Award, and appears in Pulp Literature Issue 23, Summer 2019.