Illustrations for Frank Samuels, Maintenance Man

Frank Samuels, Maintenance Man
Our captain's orders to leave the usual trade route wasn't particularly unusual. Captain William Smithson, a licensed captain of twenty-three years with the Kirgallon Fleet, had probably made this run at least thirty times without any serious incidents. At least I had never heard him tell stories regarding the forbidden zone. He would have. He is a friendly guy. The captain of the ship I serve on. A man very much trusted by the crew.
Once, one of the times that Captain Smithson and myself shared the run through the forbidden zone, we did run afoul of a pirate ship. They didn't spot us so, after a half day of quietly hiding out on a dusty world that is known to hide even the most notorious of criminals, we quickly went on our way.
The run through the forbidden zone is something we often do when our cargo is urgently needed (and the appropriate rush fees are submitted), and the penalties for late delivery are specific and substantial. This route was meant to shave time from the crossing as the go-around route was substantially longer and, even that route was not without its own dangers. Just not the kind of dangers facing anyone who journeys into the 'forbidden' zone. Calling this area 'forbidden,' however, is a misnomer as no captain or crew is ever prosecuted for crossing. The information for the crossing is recorded in the ship's log, and passed on to Fleet headquarters and that ends it. Foreboding might have been more accurate.
The decision was to make a close pass to the uninhabited planet Danshe (pronounced, danSHÄ“, I know, I'm a transplant here too) in order to hide from what has become a problem in this area of space--a rebel group who seemed intent more on killing innocent merchants than taking cargo. I think the entire crew was in agreement with our captain's orders to avoid a possible confrontation with what everyone has been calling the Mermins.
Oh, by the way, my name is Frank Samuels, I do maintenance on this craft and have been here for nearly eight years. She is called the Alfred Benson. Apparently she was named after someone at Kirgallon Fleet corporate who was later, after the naming, disgraced for fondling children. One would think they would change the name of this craft. I hear he changed his and lived happily ever after on another planet for an additional fourteen years. The company tried to change the legacy by stating that the craft was named after an obscure politician from some place called Cansas several hundred years ago, but no one in my social group has ever heard of such a place.
In any event, the Alfred Benson nearer and dearer to my heart, didn't have it so good. Even before the lettering had dried on the name of the vessel being painted on the outer bulkhead of the ship, and certainly before anyone was aware of Mr. Benson's peccadilloes, a workman was crushed to death under a large piece of material as it had come loose from its hoist. There were quite a number of incidents--enough to brand the Alfred Benson 'Cargo Ship of Death' even before it had left dry dock.
. . .
We were supposedly to make our rendezvous with Danshe at about 2:00 today. It is about 2:00 now. Usually, I can feel the change in direction, particularly when it means entering the gravitational field of a large nearby planet such as Danshe. But I had not felt the shift. Oh well, we must be late. The Captain hasn't consulted me on plan details in like, never. So, if changes were made and they failed to alert the crew to such a change, none of us down here would be aware.
But then the shift came, it was 2:22. Twenty-two minutes late.

Segments (follow-on writing based upon the seed Frank Samuels, Maintenance Man)
Rendezvous with Disaster
The Alfred Benson makes the close pass into the atmosphere of Danshe only to run into trouble on the way back into space.
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The Taking of the Alfred Benson
After dropping into the atmosphere of Danshe, the doomed captain and crew were confronted by the reason for all the subterfuge.
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