Shuttle Run

19 April 2020

Lunar shuttle runs are the shit-job of Lightwave Consolidated.

A trip between the Earth and Moon is only four hours long. Just a couple hours at gee, a twenty minute float for the ship flip, then another heavy two hours. Not bad in itself, but Lightwave requires two runs a day. Moon to Earth, then Earth to Moon. They clock you at flight time, so you get 8-hour’s pay. Of course, you’re still working between flights. Sure, the pilots are only on 8 hours, but the flight staff? We’re boarding passengers, loading baggage, fetching food and drink. You name it. Lightwave promises white-glove service, and passengers expect it. So you’re really putting in 14-hour days and getting paid for 8. It’s downright theft.

Then there’s the fact that Corporate make us do a 3-1 shift each month. Three weeks on ship and one week groundside. The flight schedule is such that you do an out-and-back each day, then spend the night in orbit. Three weeks of weightless nights. Hell, by the first week your bones are groaning when you hit gee in the morning. By the end of the week you feel like you’ve aged ten years. You spend shore week in pain, just trying to get your strength back. And, of course, Lightwave prefers you to layover Moonside. It’s cheaper than hauling your ass up from Earth’s well. If you layover Earthside they dock you half a day’s pay.

Lunar shore leave is fine for the Lunies, but for Earthers it’s just the fast lane to the grave. I pay for Earthside every month. It’s worth it. I try to tell the pups to do the same, but they won’t listen. That half day of cash is another good night of drinking, or a friendly companion for the night. They’ll regret it when they are 35 and trying to get citizenship on a Jovian moon because Earth’s gravity brings them nothing but pain.

I never intended to be doing Lunar shuttle runs at 40. That wasn’t the plan. The plan, back in my heady youth, was to do the run for three years. Four tops. With good service, I could get on a Venus ship by 25. Most hold out for a Mars run, but that’s a fool’s dream. Mars is the sexy run. Everyone wants to go to Mars. But Venus pays a bit better, and that’s what really matters. Stash the difference and you can retire at 40.

Everyone thinks getting the Mars run means Martian shore leave every month. That’s true, but shore leave on Mars for workers isn’t like the holovids. Mars is expensive. You either burn through a month’s waves, or you plant your ass in an overcrowded hole just to save some scratch. Then there’s the fact that Mars-pull is still only about a third of Earth’s. Not as bad as Lunar pull, but still bad.

Venus, on the other hand, is ideal. It’s a boring run. The good kind of boring. Most of the passengers are traveling for business. They don’t expect to be treated like lords. Just food, rest, and a free drink now and then. A bit of peace from their nagging boss, a bit of civility, and they are happy. And since Venus is a 2-day run each way, just like Mars, you sleep every other night under your own weight. The wells of Venus and Earth are about the same, so you can pick either for shore leave with no dock in pay.

So the plan was to leverage the Lunar run to a Venus ship, then work the line until about 40. Save as much as possible, then retire. And it almost worked. Got a job on Aphrodite II after only three years with the company, and started saving for the long haul. It went really well. After a while you start learning a few tricks to maximize income. For me it was free drinks.

You see, the business drones get to expense meals, but not alcohol. Companies will pay for over-priced steak, but not a beer. So I figured out that I could give them a beer, and they tipped better. Unlike some of the workers, I didn’t just nip it out of ship stash. I payed for it myself. The tips always earned me more than it cost me. I wasn’t stealing.

But that’s what got me. Six years in, Lightwave did an audit, and saw how much booze I had on ship. Corporate figured I must have been drinking it all. Liters of beer and eight bottles of scotch each week? I’d have been dead in a month. I offered to take an alcohol test. Even explained my little scheme. But they wouldn’t hear it. Said I was drunk on duty, and docked half my pay. And I was banned from interplanetary service.

Convenient that last part. With nearly a decade of experience, I wasn’t much good for anything but ship work. And without planet runs, that left the Lunar shuttle.

So here I am. Almost a decade on the Lunar shit-job, a month away from 40. Happy Birthday to me. At 40 I can retire, but I don’t know that I will. If I stay on a couple more years, I might be able to get a small plot of land. Probably not Antarctica, but maybe Siberia. A bit of decent farmland, rent the robotics, and it practically runs itself. It just needs to have a pond. Then I can retire under Earth’s pull. Food and weight under my feet, air that doesn’t smell of steel, and a pond to float in when my sore bones groan.

And one last thing. The best bottle of scotch from Aphrodite II. The one I didn’t pay for. I look forward to cracking that open very much.