The Camera moves through the unkempt crew lounge, past the half table-tennis table pushed up against a wall, past the heavy work bench laden with tools and bits of discarded circuitry through the hatch into a narrow corridor spanning the width of the ship. Directly in front, is the open hatch leading into the engine room. The engine hums rhythmically, the microphones adapting to it and canceling their noise, and clanging sounds can be heard as the diminutive Rina Sebastian half covered in grease works at a stuck part, trying to coax it back into place against its will.
Interviewer: So, here we are in the engine room, and we find the Engineer. What are you working on there Rina?
Rina: (growling) Besides elaborate plans for your messy demise? The master router. Why?
Interviewer: I take it these old engines need a lot of work, is that why a ship here Out in the Black needs constant attention?
Rina grimaces and puts her tools down with exaggerated care and wipes her hands on a bandana, clearly irked at the interruption. She takes a seat at the console and answers the man, keeping an eye on the gauges.
Rina: It's true that the older a ship gets, the more finicky the maintenance, but new isn't necessarily better.
Interviewer: It must be a daunting thought to have the lives of everyone on the ship in your hands. If something goes wrong out here millions of kilometers from the nearest port, there's no one to call for help.
Rina: True. That's why vigilence is pretty much the order of the day. Of course, if I had a decent machine shop aboard, that would be less of a worry.
Interviewer: Now, you weren't originally hired on as Engineer, but part of a repair crew, is that right?
Interviewer: You've got a reputation in the space lanes... as something of a... how shall I put this (pause)
Rina: (snorts) pianzhi de jiuchayuan?[Stubborn Disciplinarian/Hardass]
Interviewer: Someone difficult to work with. I take it you don't like people messing with your engines. Don't you trust them?
Rina: Engines I trust. People, less so. Machines are much easier to understand and anticipate. Either they're broken or fixed, designed well or badly, new or old. And they rarely talk back if they don't like what you're saying. (quirks a brow upward, shrugs) People are more ....problematic.
Interviewer: Does that apply to the rest of your crew?
Rina: (grins) Sometimes.... It depends on the situation.
Interviewer: What do you mean?
Rina: Look, say you're in the market for a new car. Would you just pay the man and drive it off the lot without taking it on a test drive first? Or, to pull another analogy, would you just buy the biggest and baddest camera without researching its features first?
It's a matter of time and trust and experience. Same as anything else. But people aren't perfect. They're human and damned annoying.
Interviewer: Out here in the Black you spend a lot of time with your crewmates, certainly that gives you more than a test drive.
Rina: More than, yes. I'm pretty much sold on the car.
Interviewer: What was it about this crew that made you trust them?
Rina's eyes widen and she puffs out her cheeks.
Rina: We'd be here all night. Look, let's just say that after a few trips to the Rim and back you know if you're cllicking with the crew you're with or not. If you do, you stay and like any friendship over the long haul, you cement it through all the ups and downs. If you're not clicking, you get out as gracefully as you can and find another crew. You can't afford too much friction out here--it's a crew killer as sure as a faulty engine.
Although....having a thick skin helps.
Interviewer: Speaking of that. Care to reflect on your 'spacewalk' out in the Halo?
Interviewer: I can see that it is still affecting you. While you were adrift, did you doubt that Rick would come for you?
Rina narrows her eyes at him, cuts a look at the gauges and taps one. Looks back.
Rina: Actually, I was too busy calculating my trajectory and speed relative to anything I could possibly grab on my way past the station to give him a second's thought. I'm grateful Rick was there, and I've already let him know it. Next question.
Interviewer: So... even with a crew you trust, you're saying you still need to look out for number one?
Rina's jaw drops.
Rina: (mutters)Juh Shi Suh Mo Go Dohng Shee? [What the hell is this crap?](louder) Is that what you think this is? Jockeying for a stupid position on the ta ma de niao [goddamned] ladder?
Rina: The hell with the ladder. Out here there is no goddamned ladder. Don't you get it? You do your job, the best you're able and to hell with politics or personal feelings. You fall down on the job, people die. If I don't keep the engines or the ships systems going at their best capacity, it doesn't matter how hot-shot a pilot you are or how silver tongued a talker you are or how good you are with a godammed movie camera--you're all going to be dead the same way: STUPIDLY.
Out here, the ship is all you got keeping the Black from killing your crew. Dirtside, other factors come into play, but in space, it's all about the ship first and foremost. Keeping an eye on ladder position takes that eye off something else, something that could kill the crew if given half the chance.
You got anything to add to that?
Interviewer: Out in the Black death is always just out of reach, be it a few millimeters of fabric in a space suit, or a twice that of steel in the ship. The engineer is the gatekeeper, the guardian of the lives of the crew. You are from Meadow is that right?
There's a pause and a clang from the engine. Then...
She's still headfirst in the engine, but her shoulders are working, rising and falling as she does something out of sight.
Interviewer: Meadow is known for its engineers. But some say the people of Nova Rodina got a bad deal from the Alliance, what do you think?
Rina pulls free of the engine, holding something in her hands. It's mechanical and at the moment, it's trailing leads and wires. She pulls a small tool from a sleeve pocket and sitting right down on the deck she starts finicking with the part in her lap.
Rina: (talking to the engine part) I think some of the people are right.
Interviewer: Do you think that Meadow and the rest of the Border and Rim are just forgotten by the Core?
Rina: No. They'e slapped too many Mo Min Chi Meow [ridiculous] restrictions on both to claim to have forgotten them.
She tightens a connection, twists two wires together
Rina: It's certain the Border and the Rim haven't forgotten the Core.
She rises and sticks her head back into the engine, putting the part back into place.
Rina: Talking politics is the surest way to get into trouble, Jake. That's why I generally avoid doing it. Next question.
Interviewer: The crew comes from every corner, the Core, the Border and the Rim. Isn't it hard to avoid politics? The War?
Rina: Only when people keep shoving it in your face. (Straightens out of the engine, stows her tool back in her pocket) Most people don't care for it and give it a pass when it comes up. As a crew, you learn where the hot buttons are and if you're smart, you don't go hammering them. Remember what I said about friction ruining things? Restraint is the coolant that keeps everything running at an even temperature, tact is the lube that keeps the gears spinning smooth. Shooting your mouth off about politics and backgrounds is the biggest damned monkeywrench you can throw in the works.
It's good advice, and I've been lousy following it a time or two, God knows, but I generally don't pry.
Which kinda makes what you do for a living something of a problem, doesn't it?
Rina turns her back on him and goes to her tool chest, hefts one tool after another before deciding on something large, and goes back to the engine.
Interviewer: We are leaving on one of the longest runs yet. Four weeks between stops. What kind of pressures does that put on the ship?
Rina sniffs and goes back into the engine. Her answer comes in fits and starts, as she puts her back into her work.
Rina: Don't get me started. First....just about everything in here is old....and some of the parts have been jerry-rigged sometime in the past..... For instance, that valve over there? (Points without looking up) Aftermarket, and the wrong gauge. It's got a collar on it to make it match the pipe.....and I can see from here the weld job is for crap....(a grunt, a clang)....and that's for the fire suppression system. If I won the lottery and a year's vacation, I'd go over this ship....stem to stern....and make her over. (another clang and a possible curse) But we all know the odds of that happening....
She pulls out of the engine again, swaps out a tool from her chest, goes back.
Rina: You know how it is. You have a list a mile long of what you need, versus a list the length of your finger as to what you can afford. So, you make do. The stuff I've seen engineers come up with by the seat of your pants would keep any civvie up at nights.
Interviewer: Is it particularly worse on a long haul, or just the normal dad to day problems?
Rina: Depends. If you've got a good engineer and quarter master working together, you stock spares, or the material to make spares. Some ships have decent machine shops so you can scratch-build parts when they break down. Other ships are just one part away from catastrophic failure. Most are somewhere in between. I've worked them all. This ship, in case you're wondering, is a tick closer to "Fine" than "Not fine". Of course, the definition of "fine" tends to be fluid.
Rina pulls out another part from the engine and starts finicking with it as she had the first, sitting on the deck and making adjustments.
Rina: I'd love to have a decent machine shop. (peers critically at the part in hand) This one's about shot.
Interviewer: Does it worry you to leave the Core with its machine shops, parts, and service, for the distant ports where you might not see replacements parts, or a competent mechanic for months?
Rina: Yeah. It bothers me. (shrugs) Then again, if everything got handed to you on a silver platter, you'd never have a reason to haul your ass out of bed in the morning. There's something to be said for adversity.... Then again, there's the fun and the challenge of coming up with fixes on the fly.
Interviewer: So if you had an offer to engineer one of those New Century Liners, like the Floating World Class, or an Alliance Frigate, you'd say 'no thank you'?
Rina doesn't answer, fiddling with the part in her hands. She rises and goes back to the engine, and installs it. There's a snap and a flash of blue from the depths of the engine and the lights overhead dim and then brighten. Rina straightens and stands with her eyes closed, clearly listening for something. A minute later, she nods curtly and opens her eyes, closes the fairing on the engine, and pats it.
Rina: You know that saying, the one that warns you to be careful what you wish for?
She pulls her bandana out and wipes her hands and looks at the camera.
Rina: It's not just a saying.
She steps past him for the console, rights the chair, and sits down. A clipboard from a drawer follows next and a pen comes into play as she starts writing something down.
Interviewer: Just one last question, for now. What do you go back to? What did you leave behind?