by Grace Bridges -
The little ship sighed around Mike as he adjusted his orbit slightly. The junknet billowed behind him and he felt a slight resistance as it collected a metal something that might once have been a piece of a ship. He flipped dials to haul the item into the small cargo hold at the back—but he’d have to wait until he got back to Avenir before he could inspect it. Might as well take another run at the junk-belt then.
Once known as Trail Boss, he’d wrangled cowboys on the ore trail from Sheba. But it was a hard, thankless task, and he’d lost one too many colleagues—and family members—to the violent physics they’d harnessed to herd the rocks across the expanse. Most younger than himself, too. You had to be good to get to his age in that business. Finally he’d seen sense and gotten out of it at the first chance, though space still called to him. He was a junkman now, collecting scrap metal from low planetary orbit.
Often he pondered how it came to be there—defunct satellites? Collisions? Pirate attacks? And—he sighed heavily—ore accidents, when the fragile gravity wells failed and pieces of rock flew everywhere. He made sure to stay safely away from the cowboy convoys now.
He turned the ship again and the Whale Star came level with his cockpit, bathing Eclectia and some nearby asteroids in a golden-white light. Perhaps someday he’d go down, put his feet on the dirt, but for now he was content to remain a spacer.