The Scavenger vessel, Birth of Khalsa, out of Gurdwara station, picked her way through the asteroid field on delicate blasts of feathery gas. Khalsa was not a pretty ship but she was not designed to be. She was designed for places like this, where giant stones and debris were an ever present danger. She was a giant metal ovoid, patched and painted in gold and orange, her huge sublight drive units hidden within the thick armour that kept her safe. Her hull could easily withstand the constant small impacts, though her helmsman and first officer, Dev, was carefully keeping her away from some of the more massive stones which would crush the Khalsa like the gaudy egg she resembled.
On the Khalsa's bridge her captain, Jasvinder Singh idly toyed with his salt and pepper beard as he stared at the screens before him. This was the last apport he could afford before he returned to Gurdwara station and if he didn't find anything then he would either have to sell the ship or let the crew go and spend another year slicing code to save up enough to fuel and provision another trip. He didn't want to break this crew up, he liked them and in between the normal bickering and arguments of five humans cooped up in a cramped space they had worked hard and got on well. They were all ex-conclave military, like himself, although his engineer, Tariq and his metallurgist and cook, Green, had chosen to have their experiences of fighting wiped.
He didn't think any less of them for that, he'd often considered it himself.
Like the ship the bridge was utilitarian and bulky. Four blocky console stations with cracked and peeling acceleration couches were arranged in a loose ring about the captain's chair. Around that chair Jaz had enough screens to provide him with an overview of the current situation. He banged one of the screens and it let out a burst of static before greying out again. Jaz preferred screens to holo projectors, they gave the operator a sense of privacy that was a welcome gift on such a small ship. And, of course, they were cheap.
'Anything?' he said to the air, more to break the tension than from any real expectation of finding something.
'Nothing yet,' said Lammel, chewing her brown hair as she studied the screens on the the forward scanning station, at twenty-eight she was the youngest member of the crew an ex sniper with a keen eye and sharp temper.
Jaz silently thanked her for the hopeful way she spoke. He knew it was unlikely they'd find anything here. He'd only brought Khalsa to this field because there was nowhere else near enough for him to dive back through Fallspace to Gurdwara station with the fuel they had left, Lammel had backed him on his decision. But for exactly the same reason asteroid field Deca-beta-prime-alpa-alpha was unlikely to yield anything valuable as the other members of his crew had been quick to tell him. It had been two hundred years since the last engagement in this area and the asteroid field had long since been mined out of decent salvage. What he was doing was hopeless, he knew it, his crew knew it. Only the ships Ai was cruel enough to say it outright and for that reason he'd turned the bloody thing off.
'We're wasting our time here, Jaz, should have saved the fuel.' Almost only the ship's Ai. The rich, lilting voice of his second in command, Devlin o'Brian was something he couldn't turn off. Much as he wished to sometimes.
He'd been through thick and thin with the man though and although he could be intensely irritating he was always reliable. Whenever Jaz had to take a year off to save up for fuel then Dev did the same, putting his own money into the Khalsa's fuel tanks even though he had no stake in the hull. He'd served under Jaz in the marine's and unlike Jaz had never had the surgical power armour ports removed.
They'd been boys when they were signed up, Jaz for hacking a conclave Ai hub looking for pictures or data from lost Earth, Devlin for multiple acts of petty drug fuelled violence. They were an odd couple, the slender, bookish sikh boy and the hulking shaven headed thug. They'd undergone induction by Aiila, one of the the primary contact alien for humans. The Aiila were a species that lived in a gaseous atmosphere and looked like a picture Jaz had once been shown of an old Earth jellyfish. As the Aiila had lectured the new recruits on how this was a 'renewal of life' and all their illegal acts were 'now forgotted' Devlin had piped up; 'Great, I've been forgiven by a used condom floating a bucket.' Jaz had been the only one who laughed. They'd both been stunned by the induction sergeant and spent the night together in a punishment cell.
Jaz smiled to himself once more at the memory, twenty years ago, where had it all gone?
'Hope springs eternal, Dev,' he pulled down his sleeve to show their regiments motto tattooed on his wrist, 'never give up' see.'
'If you believe that shit your less of a man than I gave you credit for, captain,' he added the rank on belatedly and Jaz laughed to himself again.
'Captain,' said Lammel, 'I've got an odd reading on scope one.'
'You're shitting me,' said Dev.
'I'm not, but I don't know what it is. Looks like a couple of those big rocks collided and exposed something,' she pointed at her screen and pressed a button to bring the holoprojector online so everyone could see. 'Whatever it is is half buried in the one on the right.'
'Aw, christ,' hissed Devlin, 'getting shit out of an asteroid is a right ballache, lets hope it's not worth the cost of the EVA oxygen. Eh Jaz' There was a moment of silence before he repeated himself, 'Jaz?'
Jaz staried at the screen, he wiped his hand down his face and gripped his beard, almost unable to believe what he was seeing. Something in that asteroid was heavy, really heavy, exotic metals heavy. The sort of heavy that could make this entire trip worthwhile. More than worthwhile.
'If that's what I think it is, we just paid off all our loans,' he said.
'What is it, Boss?' asked Lammel.
'A Warshell, I think it's a Warshell.'
Devlin let out a low whistle.
'Must be from the battle that was fought here, the Conclave don't use AI drones in anywhere but the hottest areas. They'll want it back.'
'Better than that Dev, they'll pay to get it back.'
The big man behind Jaz smiled.'
'Oh aye, and pay well I imagine,' the smile dropped from his round face. 'Fuck, this means I've got to EVA don't it?' he said.
'Suit up marine,' said Jaz, 'we got a pay day to cash in.'