The Accident on Titan

Do you know about the motor pub? The one on Vine Street? It’s a little hole in the wall, but it’s popular with people just passing through the area. 

I was there last Thursday, a bit early in the night. I had finished my research for the day and decided to celebrate before the place got too many customers. Well, when I was there I saw a man sitting alone at the bar, and you know me, I just had to chat with him. I love to chat with anyone I can and there is no one better to talk to than someone drinking alone. 

He looked like he was passing through. I had never seen him at the bar before, so I didn’t think he was a regular.e had a suitcase sitting next to his stool, with his foot wrapped around one of the handles. I admired his determination to keep his belongings safe, but honestly, all he’d get out of that situation would be a broken foot if anyone with any determination tried to take his stuff. But I digress.

I sat next to him and offered to buy him a drink. He thanked me and ordered a whiskey straight. He drank the whole thing in one gulp. Told him, “You didn’t wait for me, but I’m not buying you another.” I laughed.

He didn’t.

His expression sobered me a little, but I wanted to hear his life story. I asked the usual questions, starting with, “Where are you from?” 

“Chicago.” 

“What are you doing passing through?” 

“On my way north.” 

“What’s up north?” 

He didn’t answer that one, so I let it slide. I ordered both of us another drink, and once again, he finished his before I even got mine. He just let the whole bar hang in silence, didn’t even ask me anything in return.

Eventually I asked, “What exactly do you do, you know, for a living?”

He said, “I’m unemployed, but I used to investigate emergency supply shuttle crashes for Helios Shipping.” 

You know Helios; they run a lot of those supply chain ships for the colonies. Well, apparently various governments have contracts with them so they will send out emergency supplies to the colonies.

Anyway, I ask him to tell me his weirdest story, the weirdest thing he found while investigating. There is nothing more I enjoy than hearing the mysterious and weird from someone who has seen some shit.

He tells me, “You don’t want to hear any of them.”

“Don’t worry, I love things like that.”

He sighed and asked for another drink. I bought another round for us both. And once again the guy downs it in a single gulp, but he begins explaining.
“Well, the shuttles that we…they send out have extremely precise amounts of fuel based on their weight and the path they need to go on, their trajectory. Very little margin for error. I used to check to see if the calculations were wrong or if there was something wrong with a batch of shuttles, or user error.”

“What kind of user error?” I ask.

“Well, sometimes a pilot on these things will misread a gauge or override autopilot in a non-emergency situation, and muck the whole thing up, but the most common ‘user errors’ are stowaways. Tourists and thrill seekers who are trying to see the more remote corners of the colonies. Well, the rules are simple when you find a stowaway. If you kept them on the shuttle, the extra weight would completely derail the trajectory, leading to certain death for both of you, plus loss of the supplies. Since these things are sent out only in absolute emergencies, they cannot risk that. So, stowaways get air-locked. It’s called the TG Law, after the first pilot who died from a stowaway who wanted to visit her brother.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah, it’s not easy to do. Even though pilots are trained to know without a doubt that it’s the right thing to do, most pilots who do it even once, well, they retire. Quickly.”

He kind of lost himself for a second, staring out the window of the bar. I just let him sit in the silence.

Eventually, he turned back around and started his story again, “Well, one day I got a job to inspect a crash on Titan. Since it was so far away they sent a shell for me. Have you ever used a shell?”

“No.”

“Well, they absolutely suck. You plug in,” He pulled up his hair to reveal a spinal jack just below his hairline. “And then all your senses are replaced with the shell’s data, but it’s so damn slow and everything just feels off, cold, weird. 

“Well, I plugged into the shell and trekked toward the shuttle crash. Took me a week to get there from the nearest outpost, but much better than flying the whole way. 

“The shuttle is half buried into the rock and dirt and grass, so I start to identify the shards. This is the cockpit, this a stabilizer half a mile away, this pulverized pile of flesh is the pilot.

“It’s never pretty.

“My shell, it could upload a sample of the pile. It confirmed the DNA was the pilot’s, as expected. No other DNA, so no stowaway, our first concern. I moved on. Checked the data on the manifest, picked through the shards of the boxes and confirmed it was all here. Double checked the air-lock’s data to see if it opened when it shouldn’t have. Everything was in order. So finally I unplugged from the shell and started to go over the info downloaded from the black box.”

He looked toward his empty glass. I wanted to get him another drink, but I thought it had to be a bad idea by this point. As I was reaching for my wallet to consider it a bit further, he started talking again.

“I went through the black box data and it confirmed everything. Nothing was wrong with the shuttle, nothing malfunctioned. The atmospheric pressure at the time was stable, no storms. It should have landed.

“Well, that’s when I decided to check the camera feed.

“Right before entering atmosphere, the pilot, sitting in his chair, passed out. This was surely a fireable offense, but nothing else went wrong. The autopilot should have guided him.

“But then, the lights flickered, and behind the pilot, from a shadow in the corner of the screen, there was a woman. Civilian clothes, short cropped hair, gray eyes. Well, she dragged a box from the supplies, sat on it, and rested her head on the pilot’s shoulder and fell asleep.

“Sure enough, right after passing the umbra of that moon, 56kg was added to the ship’s weight from nowhere.

“But, her remains weren’t there. No one reported seeing her after the crash.”

The man sat there for a second, trying to mouth the words, and then stopping himself before he finally gave up and just sat there silently.


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