Note: This is posted “as is”, no editing or proof reading involved, as part of the 30 Shorts In 30 Days project. During April I will be attempting to write and post a new short story everyday.
When you get two or more people together in a pub, after a few drinks, they will inevitably set about putting the world to rights. And in the morning as they sober up they’ll inevitably forget it all. Sometimes, however, the ideas are remembered and they then have to overcome the next hurdle in their development, apathy. You see, most people who sit in the pub, have a few drinks and then try to put the world to rights, are rarely in a position to do anything about it. But sometimes, just sometimes, the idea can be so great that the people that come up with it wonder how nobody ever did before. The morning after the night before, the idea still seems to be a good one. And sometimes, those very rare times, the people who come up with the idea are in a position to do something about it.
But first, there’s usually the drinking.
“I’m telling you, it’s the greatest source of salvage going. And we’d be doing humanity a favour, I’d be surprised if we couldn’t get a grant or something to help us do it too.”
“Steve, you’re pissed.”
“We both are, but seriously, point out the flaws. You can’t.”
Steve and Luke had been in the student bar since the lunchtime lecture they missed in preference for a quick pint. They’d now also missed the afternoon lecture as well as dinner, a few packets of crisps and peanuts had replace proper food.
“Okay,” Luke said. “How would you get up there?”
“In stages. The first would have to be the shopfloor.”
“Nope, first you’d have to get the living accommodation up there,” Luke pointed out. “If you’re going to have people working in orbit, you’re going to have to provide them with somewhere to live. And it’s going to have to be decent enough accommodation that you’re not shipping them back down every couple of months.”
“True, definitely true. So first of we get some living accommodation up into orbit, then we get the shop floor. NO!” Steve shouted to himself. “Next, next we get the collection units up there.”
“Collection units?” Luke asked.
“Yeah, to collect up all the scrap.”
“Nah, you’re getting ahead of yourself. You’d need some sort of workshop, just a small one, and a small collection facility,” Luke explained. “The big expense you’d be looking at is getting stuff from the planet up into orbit, but if what you’re reckoning is right, there’s enough stuff up in orbit to build what you’d need. As long as you had some way of collecting it, and changing it into what you needed it to be.”
“So, a small workshop, and an outdoor dockyard type thing? Yes! That’d work,” Steve agreed. “And then, with the bare minimum you build everything else you need.”
“You’d need to take up plants and stuff though, generate your own oxygen up there.”
“Yeah, but the bio-dome could be built from scrap that’s already floating in orbit.”
“Pretty much everything could be built from the scrap,” Luke agreed. “You know, I reckon you’re right you know. You could do this.”
Four years later and Steve and Luke weren’t sat in a student bar, but in a coffee shop. Steve was scribbling notes and drawings on his notepad when Luke joined him.
“We’ve got it! Steve we’ve got it!”
“You’re joking!? They went for it?” Steve asked.
“Enthusiastically. There’s some hoops to jump through, but they’ve agreed in principle.”
“We’ve got to set out a full timeline, what needs to be produced on Earth at which stage, how much it’s likely to coast, including forecast economic variations for those stages, and what we can use from the scrap in orbit,” Luke explained.
“Is that it?”
“Is that it? Have you any idea of the amount of work involved with that? Do you know how much scrap is in orbit, what it’s made of and what its actual orbit is?”
“Yeah, a lot,” Steve said getting out a thick folder from his rucksack. “This is a full list of all defunct, scrap or lost satellites and other space junk that I’ve been able to get from the US, UK, Russian and Indian space agencies. A lot of it was restricted and quite hard to get hold of, so I went to their insurance companies. The potential disaster cost if any of these lost their orbit or hit a live mission is astronomical. Seriously, the amount we’re asking for is a pittance to the potential payout the insurance companies would have to make. So, a chat with a few of their accountants and I got the lists.”
“And these lists tell you all the stuff about the satellites?” Luke asked.
“I wish,” Steve laughed. “No, these are just a list of the satellites. Now I guess we need to go through this, and get a list of what parts and materials they contain.”
“And then balance that against what we’ll need at each stage, and where each of these things is floating.”
“It’s a chore,” Steve pointed out. “But it’s doable. We can do this Luke, I know we can.”
The student bar gave way to the coffee shop, which in turn gave way to the board room. The idea had become a pitch, which in turn had become a plan, and now two middle-aged men sat at the head of the long table looking at the team they had assembled over the last ten years. They had spent the time well and had drawn to them the best minds that their enthusiasm could attract. Between them they had worked out exactly what needed to be built, and when. What would have to be built on Earth and what could be cobbled together from parts in space. Before them now sat the final plan, a five year plan that would see the first habitat unit taken up into orbit by rocket with the collector suits, a variation on the old space suits and jet packs that astronauts used to wear, through to the end goal of a fully working, orbiting space dock collecting the scrap that man had left to forever clutter up the atmosphere of its home planet.
Steve was right, the parts for most of what they needed could indeed be salvaged from the equipment floating around in space being a nuisance and a danger. The rest could be made by melting everything else down, reclaiming the precious metals used and rebuilding it into the parts needed. All being well, and five years from now the factory would be ready to start work. Another ten or twenty years and the first ships would be ready to take off from their orbiting dock to explore other worlds.
There was still a lot of work to do, but they now had the plan of how to manage it. They knew what they needed, and how to do it, and by then end of this meeting they would have the funding. There was no doubt about that, Luke and Steve had had private meetings and informal chats with the representatives of the various governments that had become their friends over the years. Funding was guaranteed, this meeting was purely a formality. The last small step by a few men towards a great project for humanity.