“You know these little settlements, these ditchwater colonies. They don’t even have the ships and pilots to escape if there’s trouble, much less fix their own damn satellites.”

“So that means I get a bonus then, does it?” Stanwicke said. He swiveled his suit’s thrusters to get a better angle on the communications relay satellite. The planet yawned dizzyingly above–or below–him.

“I put the paperwork through, like you asked, but you’re not gonna like it,” continued Ralston in Stanwicke’s ear. “It’s a 417.”

“Charity case,” Stanwicke hissed. “Damn.” Section 417 of the Code stipulated that skilled technicians were required to donate their time to colonists or vessels in distress, at the risk of losing their operating license from the UNSC.

“They can still tip you, you know, and that’s not bound by the union pay scale,” said Ralston, clearly trying to be optimistic. He wasn’t winning the Oscar for acting anytime soon.

“Oh yes, like the time I was tipped with a chicken by that hippie colony,” groused Stanwicke, his complaints lightly fogging his faceplate for a moment. “Or the time that town passed the hat for me and I came up with a whopping seventeen. I did the math on that, you know: it was .000001% of what I needed to cover my expenses.”

Ralston didn’t say anything; Stanwicke could all but see him settling into his chair with a deep sigh. It wasn’t his fault, but that wasn’t enough to keep Stanwicke out of a foul mood.

“There, done.” Stanwicke made the last few plasma welds and connected the power source. A few diagnostics later, and the satellite was working perfectly, re-establishing communications with the ground-based settlement. The triple-thrusters on his suit rotated again, and began to bear the repairman back to his ship.

“Are you sure?” There was a note in Ralston’s voice that Stanwicke didn’t like.

“Yes, and if you’ll give me half a minute, I can get back to the beacon and complain at you in person.”

“Stan, I’m not getting any comm traffic from the colony. None.”

Stanwicke would have shrugged if his suit wasn’t a hard and unyielding shell. “Well they can call anytime they want to.”

“You know what this means, a 417 with no ground contact.”

“Yeah, I know,” Stanwicke sighed. “I have to go down there.”

“That’s not all,” said Ralston. “I’ve been analyzing the imagery you sent, and…well, it looks like the satellite was deliberately disabled. Sabotaged.”

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