Back Roads

Growing up on a generational transport running the back roads of ITC territory, your transport becomes your home. Nathan and Isabella never considered leaving their home, until they realized leaving is what it took to save it. Suddenly thrown into one vastly different culture after another. Follow these two friends as they seek a new home, realizing what they had, as they seek to save it.

Does this description grab you? Does it make you think “WOW! I want to read that book!” or “That sounds cool, I’ll give it a shot.” What could be done to make it better? I’m requesting feedback on these descriptions so I can refine them.

This is the first chapter of the rough draft. This was also one of the experiments, the one about character short stories. This excerpt is part of 4k words I wrote. Originally began as a short story, the idea blossomed into a much larger and more intricate story than I had intended. What it really did was clarify the numerous ideas I had for spinoffs from this central storyline. I have already found a few issues with what I had written, but I’m gonna post the first chapter, warts and all, here so you can see what free writing looks like.

Chapter 1

Nathan flipped through the days checks on his tab when he felt a shudder in the deck under his feet. Rolling his screen out of the wall he checked the transports alarm system. There had been a microid impact in quadrant five, the transfusive shielding in that area would have to be replaced. Since they were so close to their destination, that repair might be held off if possible. Nathan tucked his tab into his coveralls and headed to quadrant five.

It took weeks to get these old transports up to top speed, which was only one half of luminal, and that was outside of any localized gravity wells. If they stopped to repair they would fall behind the expected schedule, and expedience made a huge difference when time came to barter.

A transport that could make the trip in faster time got a reputation, and that got more contracts. Traders wanted as little time as possible for their goods to be delivered. These backroad systems were only run by the oldest transports, but there was a friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) competition between all the crews.

Nathan’s father Reagan, didn’t care about such things though. He only cared about the best barter for his crew and transport. If it happened to be part of some competition, he couldn’t care less. As he said, “Life on the back roads gives you enough to test yourself, against yourself.”, which is probably why he was captain, crew and ship first.

His brother Ethan never seemed to learn that lesson, he was under the impression that Captaincy was inherited. Where he got that idea Nathan had no idea, half the stories told by the old shippers between shifts were about transports that got lost or had a mutiny because Captaincy was handed down from parent to child. Another of Reagan’s sayings, usually pointed at Ethan, “In the blood is very different from familial favoritism.”, which always seemed to elicit a roll from Ethan’s eyes, behind Reagan’s back of course.

Reaching the lift Nathan typed his maintenance code into the wall panel, unlocking access to the repair screen. Rolling it out he checked for the breach. The lift screen was much more detailed than his bunk screen, a slight oversight in the design but not one he could fault the builders for. Besides, it’s not like he could file a gripe against someone who had been dead for a few hundred years.

Even brand new this transport was pre quality control laws, back in the trader beware days of early space exploration. The poorly made transports of those days were either in a museum somewhere or sent through the recycler. A builder would get new orders based on their transports coming back. Which Nathan always thought was a bit unfair, crew was at least half the reason for a transport to make it’s journey. A bad crew could ruin a builders reputation before it could even get established.

That was also before the hand built days. According to the old shippers, there used to be these things called assembly lines that were explored for use after the Stations Uprising. Great speed could be obtained, but the supreme quality you got from making it by hand was nearly impossible to obtain. Some of the builders decided to accept lesser quality to get the vessels out in space. Some would not compromise their standards and built fewer, longer lasting vessels, this being one of them. Those hand made vessels coming back shipment after shipment, began the establishment of the hand quality culture the Interplanetary Trade Council was built on.

This particular screen Nathan himself built, the original had been swallowed by the recycler generations ago. Nathan brought himself back to the present and located the exact spot of the breach. It was worse than the screen in his quarters showed, they were getting radiation leakage. He would have to don a suit and throw a patch up, he tapped the maintenance station for that area, and the lift took off.

The lift slid to a stop but the doors stayed shut, Manual override required, excess radiation detected, please enter your access code, a common safety protocol designed to keep children from dangerous areas. Nathan read the radiation levels and judged them to be within acceptable limits for him to walk to the maintenance station as close as it was. He slid the screen back into the panel, and pushed the ‘manually open doors’ button, holding it down as per safety protocol.

Holding the button down enough to allow him out, the doors closed automatically and the lift zoomed off to the next destination in it’s queue. Nathan wasted no time making his way to the maintenance station, getting into his suit, seeing no one else had beat him to the station made him feel good, Ethan caused him to feel a bit of competition, in spite of his father’s advice.

Grabbing the general use tool kit, he added a few extra tools he knew would be needed for this particular job. He pulled the grav sled out of it’s storage space and keyed it on, then began stacking temporary shielding panels on it. They weren’t as sturdy as the transports main panels, and they wouldn’t transfuse the radiation to the fuel storage unit, but they worked really well in a pinch. They also wouldn’t become saturated, even at these speeds, before they reached the station.

Even if the leak showed to be bad enough to need emergency repairs that required an engine shutdown, he would have to install these panels to do those repairs. The panels were going up either way. Having stacked the amount of panels he figured he’d need, Nathan maneuvered the sled out the doors and down the corridor.

Again, the hand made design of the vessel paid off in dividends, the bulkheads were designed to accommodate the emergency panels, snap and seal, making emergency repairs so simple almost any of the crew could do it. It was little things like this that made this vessel so much higher quality than others, and easier to work on.

When they were coupled to the Tea Garden Station he explored his uncles vessel, being so young he didn’t remember much of his explorations, but he remembered his father talking to his uncle about these emergency panels. His uncle had acquired a design from a different builder, same generation as their vessel, but the builder wasn’t as thorough.

They had to weld the emergency panels in place to make them airtight, this vessel had been designed to eliminate the need for welding, which eliminated the need to grind or melt the welds off, which ate away the bulkheads on the other vessel over many years. Which required downtime for their inevitable replacement.

Nathan couldn’t install an emergency panel without remembering coming across his uncle’s ship, on their way back from The Tea Garden. The uneven surface of the bulkhead resulted in the need to glob weld into the ever enlarging gap to create a seal. One of those welds broke free, blowing the panel and the entire command crew into space. He was ten Earth Cycles old then, but that stuck with him. Ever since, he would search to understand why something was built a certain way, then see if he could improve on it.

He was nearly finished installing the emergency panels when his brother and father showed up. Ethan inspected his work looking for a flaw, Reagan just observed. “Almost finished I see, good job son.” He added after a short while. Patting him on the back, his father walked off. Reagan was a man of few words, but those words sent a clear message one way or another. You never had to wonder if he was displeased.

“These bolts are loose.” His brother added after their father was out of earshot, trying to find something wrong in his work. “I know, I tighten them up evenly once I’m finished, makes a more even patch.” Nathan replied without ever halting in his work. He learned long ago not to play his brother’s game. Knowing after a short period of ignoring him, his brother would move on.

“Did you inspect the damaged panels before you threw up the patch?” Ethan asked picking up the scanner Nathan had brought with him. “It’s all there, but it will also be in my report once I’m finished. If you leave me to my work I can get you that report faster and get started on my daily tasks.” Nathan added that last part as an out for Ethan to leave him to finish his work in peace.

After skimming the readouts Ethan tossed it into the bag and walked off, shooting back “Hurry up with that report, I’ve got things to do today too.” To which Nathan just snorted and kept working.

Once all the panels were in place Nathan began carefully tightening latches until he was fairly certain it was even. Then he scanned every seam for radiation leakage. Finding none, he packed his equipment back up and stored everything but the radiation scanner back in the maintenance station. He would make hourly trips back to check for any leaks, so he’d keep it on him. He didn’t expect to find any, but he would rather be over cautious than irradiated.

He sent his report to the maintenance supervisor ahead of the scheduled time expected for that job. His brother would be annoyed when he got it, ahead of schedule, no leaks, transfusion bypasses kicked in properly when the damage occurred, so no need to stop for repairs, it should hold until they reached the station. They were only a few days away.

Hourly checks continually showed no radiation leakage, his centerlines looked good, all in all a good days work. He didn’t look forward to the daily report, having to fend off more of his brothers insinuations that he couldn’t do the job. It didn’t help that he did the job better, Ethan’s ego didn’t like the competition.

After ensuring his daily checks had uploaded properly, he put the scanner in his locker, and headed for Ethan’s office. When he arrived, he was glad to see his father there, maybe this daily report wouldn’t be so bad, Ethan nit picked less when his father was around. Reagan noticed him and waved him inside.

His father beginning as he came in. “I read your report, you think the panels will hold until we reach the station?”

“I do. I’ve been doing hourly checks for any radiation leakage and everything seems secure. Those repair panels are good for a few days absorption, as you know. I’ve double checked the calculations, and barring any more impacts they should hold until we reach the station. Then we can just swap out those main panels as we would normally.” Nathan replied. Reagan and Ethan nodded, neither finding issue with anything he said.

Reagan turned to Ethan, “Make sure you add hourly checks into the schedules leading up to station docking.” To which Ethan nodded. “Already taken care of it, Nathan’s relief should be heading that way now.” His father nodded, clapped his hands together and smiled, “See you two at dinner.”, they both nodded and mumbled their affirmations.


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