by Max Barry

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by The ᴛᴜʀɴᴇᴅ ɪɴᴛᴏ ᴀ ᴘᴀᴘᴀ ᴊᴏʜɴ's of Miranda-22. . 639 reads.

Port Manager Bertie Price (WIP)


A lawless lawman- an oxymoron
in the best of times.



    Port Manager, Miranda-22 Drift (2448 -)
    Position Est.

    Captain, CV9983 Iceman (2438 - 2448)
    Preceded by Kami Aguilar ()

Pers. Details:

    Born: 2401 (Age 62)
    Conrad Drift, Enceladus SLO

    Education: Conrad-Chelsea Technical
    - Certification in Spaceflight Operations

    No Spouses, No Children; Agnostic



Albert Price, more commonly known by the good folk of Miranda-22 as Bertie or "Good buddy, good pal, pass me another", is the de-facto leader of the station, based on two things: His possession of an M2102 Central silenced pistol and his proprietorship of the station's sole bar. His enforcement of any rule of law is, admittedly, quite lacking, though his armed presence and his four crewmen, his loyal Deputies, serve to keep the most violent crimes down and to make sure that the station doesn't fall apart around them- a task somewhat more difficult than it needs to be. Lawlessness and the harsh environment of space don't serve to accommodate themselves to each other particularly sweetly, after all.

Bertie is a self-described "jackass", and while the veracity of such a prognosis is questionable at best, it does hold at least some merit, as Bertie has adopted a rather firm hand in his mode of "rule" largely dependent on shows of force to keep people in line with his will and exercises disinterested dispassion otherwise. His experiences and rather wayward life have steadily forced him outward from civilized space, beginning at his birthplace around Enceladus and a life as a dock-worker and harbor pilot to crewman on a tramp freighter to ruler of a tiny keep at the edge of space surrounded by a few trusted friends and a number of barely-tolerated drunk hangers-on. He has become disaffected with life, any moral code beyond "keep Miranda alive" having been shorn away from him by the trials of time, and he will tolerate no threat to the only thing keeping him grounded in life, the station and its continued operation.

Easy Listenin': LinkSpace Asshole, Chris Remo


Albert "Bertie" Price, the man who would grow up to become absolutely nobody, was born in 2401 to Elise and Kamden Price, a marine biologist studying introduced bacteria and a low-level dock manager aboard Enceladus-LO-4 "Conrad" respectively. He could not have been born, in his parents' eyes, at a better- or worse- time. A child of the third of humanity's spacefaring generations, born during the very beginnings of the Stellar Renaissance, Albert- named for the husband of Queen Victoria, as Kamden was a bit of an Anglophile and Elise was a native of the Berlin State- grew up in as much of a middle-class life as the then-inner frontier could provide. He was educated at home by his mother, as she did not trust in the highly-technical school system put in place by the Enceledus CA to ensure her son would be able to thrive in an educated role, and feared he would be slotted into the position of a technician or a dock worker by station administrators if he was to be permitted to fall under their tutelage. However, she was a scientist, not a teacher, and his earliest schooling was best called imprecise, as more often than not Elise would rush him down paths she herself found interest in rather than those he needed to earn a complete, well-rounded education, disaffecting Bertie from such fields. In an at-first unwitting defiance of his mother's will for him, young Bertie was drawn to his father, a card-carrying Syndicalist and a dock manager, who spent his days navigating spacecraft through Enceladus' orbit and managing the busy lowport's docks rather than staring at test tubes, and would grow up emphasizing far more his father's actions and morals than his mother's, who expected more of him than he felt able to give.

As such, when he reached his sixteenth birthday- graduating two years early, thanks to his mother's constant pressuring for him to excel in his studies- he shocked her by enrolling at the Conrad-Chelsea School, the ECA's local trade school for spaceflight operation, EVA guilds, and the trade of the stars. Bertie was looking to strike out from home, a fact that did not strike his mother as a positive at all. She pressured his father to make him stand down. Kamden refused, having grown quite attached to his little hanger-on son, and would spend the rest of his life trying to reconcile himself with Elise for letting him go.

And so, off to Conrad-Chelsea young Bertie went, excited for the change of scenery from the drab walls of one spaceport to the drab walls of another. Joining the oncoming class of 2417, Bertie excelled in his first year in school, making good use of the skills his mother had taught him, though in the next years he would steadily decline in performance to merely an above-average student, graduating in 2421 with a certification in spaceflight operation and an intermediate EVA license. He also left with inroads made to the Enceladus System Operators' Union and the Saturnian Syndicalists, though his connection with the latter remained unofficial, given the group's poor standing with the local Colonial Authority. In fact, it was an ESOU rep who landed him his first job, a space traffic coordinator's assistant managing the launch of chemical-propelled tanker rockets from the surface below. He remained in good touch with his parents, particularly his father, who he sent a portion of his paycheck to every month, and grew more exposed to the social circles of the local syndicalists and to an extent their more revolutionary friends, helping to plan and pay for protests, lobbyists, and meetings. It was through this network that he would be forced into the first crux of his life- the Enceladus fuel riots.

In 2430, in the face of mounting traffic and thus mounting workloads on dock workers, STCs, and all manner of personnel involved in greasing the wheels that make space travel run around Saturn, the Saturnian Syndicalists organized a massive rally, primarily centered around Enceladus, the ice-mining hub of the system. As such, it was decided that all traffic to and from the system would stop. No ships would be given clearance to dock. No pilots would be dispatched. No one would work the unloading systems. The ECA would be brought to a halt, and would only resume when the Authority itself delegated to the dockyard companies increases in pay to the dock workers and greater protections for the workers' unions. After all, they were skilled workers, the lot of them, and deserved to be treated as such. And so, on September 10th, 2430, Enceladus shut down. No green-lights were given to launch. Ships coming in to dock were put into perpetual holding patterns. And in response, the Colonial Authority considered- for the briefest moment- bending the knee. If Saturn, the gem of the inner frontier, was so easily humbled by literal dock-workers, the bean-pushers at Goddard on Luna began to consider that it might just be worth it to consider the workers' demands.

And then they decided on a better course of action.

If Enceladus wanted to shut down the docks, then they'd shut down Enceladus. The Colonial Authority turned off the life support systems on Conrad, Chelsea, and Schleiden Drifts, the three major habitats in Enceladus' SOI. In doing so, they put those drifts, home to thirty thousand people all totaled, on an inexorable timer. They had days, maybe hours, until all the oxygen was consumed, or before the carbon dioxide built up to lethal levels. The people of the drifts turned against the unions rather quickly after that. In the weeks that followed, the Saturnian Syndicalists were all but run out of the system, the other unions doing their best to distance themselves from the strikers. Dozens of organizers were offered up to the CA as sacrificial lambs, to be tried for endangering the populations of three drifts through "gross negligence" of their mandated, not employed, duties. And Bertie, as a low-level organizer, was set to join them. So, he booked it, giving his parents as lengthy a farewell as he could manage before enlisting with a ship kept in dock by the strike and readying to make up lost time, no questions asked: the Iceman Sam, a tanker/freighter combination vessel captained by one Kami Aguilar.


Taken aboard the Iceman, Bertie found himself on an outbound trajectory from Enceladus and Saturn itself- a good thing, as there would have been nowhere in-system for him to hide if the Authority decided it was worth its time to hunt him down- and well on his way towards the edge of the Solar system itself. The Iceman wasn't just any freighter, no dead-minded trawler drifting from planetary body to planetary body on lazy Hohmann transfers, it was a Brachistocrone freighter, a nuclear ship geared for travelling long distances at fast speeds. It was an interstellar vehicle. That was somewhat less of a good thing. By nature, the process of traveling faster than light required... extensive investment. So much so that even in 2430, after over a hundred years of understanding the science behind creating FTL gateways, only three had been built around Sol, the Colonial Authority devoting the vast majority of its incredibly extensive resources solely to exponentially expanding the network rather than developing the home system. And so, travelling through one of these gates would represent a monumental step- there would be no easy return. Even if he could pay his part of the transfer fees, he would have to hitch a ride on another brachy freighter, then hope that freighter was heading to Saturn, then hope the Man wouldn't have it out for him at home when he returned. The odds were good that passing through the gate to Proxima, to which Aguilar had informed him the Iceman was headed, would be a one-way trip. Nonetheless, he was determined to go through with it, on the logic that it wasn't as if he could float the AUs back home on his own even before flinging himself light-years across spacetime- he would return home if the opportunity presented itself. In the meanwhile, he would go where space took him.

Aboard the Iceman, filling in the role of navigator's mate, Bertie came to what he felt was a most profound realization: There was no way for the power dynamic to ever be equal in space, if it started from an unequal footing. Everything he'd believed about the comparative success of collectives over individuals, the power of the people to affect change, the value of good living conditions, was all true, from a perspective where one could actually implement those changes. But in space, someone had to run the life-support and the atmospheric pumps, someone had to ship the CHNOPS, someone had to fund the launches- someone, the Man, had to be behind everything. There was no way that a space-based infrastructure could be started on an equal footing, and once it had been started, trying to change the power dynamic would be like a patient in an ICU trying to beat down a man holding the power cord to their life support. Escaping that power dynamic would be possible, he thought, but prohibitively difficult, and even now aboard the Iceman he was still living it. Bertie wasn't sure if the realization was an epiphany or a rationalization for his failure, but either way, it explained a hell of a lot, and it gave him closure on his actions, if not hope for the future. It also led him down a radically different path than any he had even considered before- that the only goal in life was to deal as best as one could with the cards they'd been dealt. That that was just the way things were. Live life, don't bother none, and get the best outcome you can.

Such a policy, of course, didn't lend itself to much success. Bertie spent the next eight years working aboard the Iceman, first as the navigator's mate and then the navigator, his now-expired license and what information he could glean from currently-certified STCs over the bottle enabling him to remain connected to the traffic-control and system navigator's network without actually having to get back into the Colonial Authority's certification programs. To keep out of the CA's sights was a necessity for him, still paranoid as he was about the possibility of an outstanding warrant on his head. That was the stated reason, at least- in reality, communication between stellar systems was often so slow and poorly-regulated it was unlikely that his involvement in riots years ago was recorded anywhere outside the deepest dredges of the Enceladus computing network. His staying away from any chance of returning home was the result of a deeper feeling, a belief that he had betrayed his family, his ideals, and his expectations for life. That he had wasted years in spacer's bars across eight solar systems, dozens of drifts, and the same old cubicle on a spacecraft hauling ice and hydrogen slurry across the stars like an oversized delivery van. He came up with an idea then, most likely over drink, that would see him able to make up these years wasted on pointless nihilism. He would have a chance again. If only he could get the money. And so he turned to that universal, age-old get-rich-quick scheme, smuggling.

Easy Listenin': LinkPushin' the Speed of Light, Julia Ecklar and Anne Prather, "Space Heroes and Other Fools"


Though the irony of a man looking to get back on the straight and narrow trying to do so through smuggling illicit goods wasn't lost on Bertie, he nonetheless went through with his plan, and three days from the sixth anniversary of his commission with Aguilar, he took an under-the-table hauling contract to sell off six pounds of cigars at various ports of call along the Iceman's route, wiring a percentage of the profit back to his seller after leaving each one. He would repeat this arrangement as often as he could at every station the Iceman docked at, taking on what contraband there was and that wouldn't cut into the ship's mass allowance (and there was quite a lot, as the Colonial Authority's best efforts was hardly enough to prevent people from bringing Earthly creature comforts with them into the cold black), selling what he could, and storing the rest in a vacuum-sealed inflatable stowed in the Iceman's external utility space. He made quite the profit on the side this way, but it wasn't enough, not enough by far. Seven and a half years into his commission with Aguilar, the Iceman had reached the end of the Third Circuit, the gate route terminating at lonely 18 Scorpio, he'd fulfilled less than half of the goal he'd set for himself to return home. If he passed through Sol without all the money, he'd have to return home in shame. More importantly, though, he would've in his mind at least sold his soul for nothing. The only choice would be to ride out the other end of the home system and hope his parents were still living fourteen years later. Elise would be 57 when the eighth year of his commission rolled around, Kamden 60. Would they still be there in 2452? He couldn't take that chance. More importantly, he owed certain sums to a train of people across the Circuit, whose goods he hadn't entirely sold, and he had just enough money to break even- but paying off those debts put him back in the same hole as before, without any money to show for what would ultimately be fourteen years he'd left his family in the lurch. It was unacceptable.

But it didn't have to be. He was the ship's navigator, its sole link of communication to space traffic control, and he'd greased the palms of a dozen controllers in as many systems along the Third Circuit, almost as many as he owed debts to. It would be easy to extend the journey until he'd found the money he needed. He could do it. And since mama always said a doer was worth ten times a talker's weight in gold, he did. Of course, the whole scheme couldn't last. It fell apart around Phi Serpentis, at- ironically enough- the Miranda-59 surveying station, by then expanded into the system's secondary mining hub. Aguilar, already suspicious at the detour to Phi rather than Lambda Serpentis, followed Bertie station-side while he was transferring, shall it be said, certain contraband items acquired at a previous port of call from his own storage to the station administrator's holds, and was found out by the administrator in the process. Kami was less disturbed by Bertie's illicit side hustle as she was by his deception, and confronted him in the airlock vestibule between the Iceman and the station. It is perhaps an understatement that this was the worst place to do such a thing, even worse considering the fact that they weren't alone- the station administrator wasn't at all pleased at the idea of a brachy freighter leaving port with the knowledge that he, an appointed agent of the Far-Black and Interim Authority's will, was engaging in activities decisively not in line with that will. His credibility and more importantly his position were on the line if he let a ship that he'd have no control over take that information and spread it to the stars. The threat had to be nipped in the bud.

Fortunately, that task was for him an easy one to take care of. The universal umbilicals on Miranda-type stations, especially the newer ones, had an... unfortunate reputation for slipping loose, a rare occurrence, but not unheard of, and at the moment the captain of the Iceman had intentionally locked herself in one of these unreliable devices. And so, when the lock behind her clicked shut and the station-side one slid open, Aguilar was well aware of the critical miscalculation she had made. She was presented with an ultimatum: turn herself in for indefinite detention or let herself and her navigator eat vacuum. She would never get a chance to decide, though, as a panicked Bertie made up her mind for her, with the aid of an M2102 Central silenced pistol acquired and never sold off five ports of call back. This would, of course, be a turn of events that directly benefited precisely no one but the station administrator, who would manage to keep his own hide, and which indirectly won Bertie the Iceman as a reward for keeping his secret. He was the second-in-command, after all, and with Aguilar out of the way, it was only natural for a more suitable figure to take up the helm ship-side. Reluctantly, Bertie agreed, and did his best to explain to his twelve crewmates that an unfortunate accident had led to Kami being caught on the wrong side of a depressurized airlock. He had been lucky to make it station-side in time. And the crew had to take his word for truth- after all, neither the station or the ship had windows, and Kami's body had been spaced before word could spread of how she'd really died.

Ultimately, though, this would mark the end of Bertie's cursed odyssey home- after coming to terms with his own actions he found himself completely unwilling to return to the inner systems. He was a long-haul spacer. His life and his ship were intimately intertwined. He had killed to win it, after all, even if he hadn't wanted to, and he could neither abandon it nor return to face his parents when he'd fallen so far. And so after transferring his crew off at his next port of call so as to shift attention away from himself, giving the Iceman a fresh coat of paint, and using up the last of his contraband in a bit of a bender that did very little for his health, he threw a dart at a star-chart of the middle frontier and decided to go wherever it would take him.

As luck would have it, that dart landed on what his computers told him was a useless, empty system, completely abandoned by any authority of any sort except a selection of miners and transit officials manning the Gates in and out, and an abandoned junker-station officially labeled as scrap. Well, he thought, it was certainly better than nothing.


Easy Listenin': LinkSam Jones, Cover by Leslie Fish, "Carmen Miranda's Ghost"


Bertie, however, did not immediately settle on Miranda-22 as his new home; in fact he had completely ignored the station itself as a potential target. The only plan he had in mind, the only purpose he had left, was to cross the Fourth Circuit and make his way to that lonely system, then to simply rest a while and think of what to do next. If anything he'd picked out the local Gate station as his new, temporary home upon his years-distant arrival But first there was still the matter of finding a crew. He couldn't keep Aguilar's old staff, clearly; they knew him as the navigator, not as the captain, and they were already suspicious of his, er, rapid ascension to a command role. Eventually, he knew, he would be found out, and when he was he would be lucky to not be deposited outside the freighter's hull without the courtesy of a suit to protect him. Thus he steadily swapped out his original twelve companions with new, smaller crews at each port of call, justifying it with diminished profits from each run mandating a tightening of the belt. This little detail wasn't wholly untrue- the Iceman hadn't picked up a full run of cargo for the past several months and was funding the ever-increasing unpaid fuel margin for each new brachy run off Aguilar's now-useless life-savings, passed to her trusted close friend Albert Price upon her own unfortunate, accidental passing. But nonetheless the diminishing of the crew's size served to give Bertie's repository of dosh a bit of a reprieve, eventually shrunk to just four- four maniacs willing to fly a ship designed for fourteen. Fortunately they were four more-or-less rather capable maniacs; a washed-up espatier with enough experience with spacewalks to keep the Iceman up on its inspections, an engineer without a ship of her own left to her, an electrical technician in desperate need of a new line of work after his last fell through, and a dockhand with far too many political opinions for her supervisors to be comfortable with.

Bertie assembled this motley crew over the course of literal years, dozens of potential replacements passing through the Iceman's airlock before he finally settled on a few he felt he could trust. They were hardly the best candidates for the job, but to some degree he found himself attracted to them for that reason. He did not feel he was entitled to any better, and besides, it wasn't like people with actual hopes and dreams in life were willing to go on a one-way journey to the ass-end of space with him. Thus he acquired his loyal crew of four, a skeleton group who he would pay in food, bunk, and occasionally, liquor. During this meandering journey along the Fourth Circuit he managed to discover a hobby he enjoyed at Lilia Nabatova, the dockhand's, request: brewing. It had long been a tradition in spacefaring circles for certain crews to maintain distilleries aboard their craft working the alcohols and ethanols used in some varieties of fuel to make moonshine, and Bertie found the craft much to his surprise something he actually enjoyed. It didn't hurt that spending several years in close quarters together with quite a bit of Bertie's libations being passed about managed to create some measure of camaraderie among the five. But however it happened the end was the same- Bertie found in his trip to planned self-destruction some measure of humanity. He had always been rather decent at finding friends in life, he realized, and his own previous bitterness at his own failure seemed now incredibly and profoundly stupid. He had been for the majority of his life right about precisely one thing: Keep your head down and the Man won't cut it off. But every derivation from it, the pointless nihilism, the pointless idealism, the pointless sour ignorance, had been the product of an idiotic, rage-filled man who didn't know what he was talking about. Now, though, he'd managed to in his middle age find actual friends, and from a certain point of view even comrades. If he was the captain, they were his mates; if he was the sheriff, they were his Deputies.

Eventually, with the Iceman turned into Bertie's very own floating semi-insane asylum and flotsam for socially challenged individuals, he managed to make his way to a system relatively close to his chosen nowhere. His entire fortune had been blown on the equivalent of a spacer's midlife crisis, but nonetheless Bertie found himself the most satisfied he'd been in years- since, he realized, Kami's death at his hands. He'd found a selection of people he could call friends, and apparently they were in it for the long haul, as none of them had at any point raised opposition to his proposal to simply travel to an irrelevant flyover and call it a day. And so, when in 2449 he piloted the Iceman through a gate only three systems away from his target, he came to the conclusion that despite the blood spilt, the moral codes dashed aside like nothing, and all the time wasted on irrelevant tangents, he hadn't done too badly in life, all things considered. The truthfulness of that statement notwithstanding, Bertie took his fortune in stead, and with his bland little dream only a month and a half's travel away he took the opportunity to refuel the Iceman and begin the descent to the system's opposing gate. This system, a red dwarf with little in the way of developed infrastructure and only a few drifts throughout its entire extent, seemed just as much a flyover as the one he'd intended to lay down and die in. Practically, there was little difference- such systems, not fortunate enough to be blessed with wealth or positioned at any important link in the gate network, were a dime a dozen. So, faced with the prospect of another month and a half in the Iceman as opposed to simply just stopping here, Bertie flipped the ship on its end and brought it to a stop, over the protests of his engineer, Dani Trinh.

Of course, there wasn't much that could be done to stop him from just bringing the Iceman to a complete halt- he was the captain, after all, and that meant that his word was final, no matter how informal his relationship with his crewmates was. Thus, the ship stopped. And when Bertie turned to examine his surroundings he found something incredibly interesting- an old surveyor station, positioned in the same orbital as two of the system's three gates, midway between them. An old, old, old surveyor station- an early Miranda. The Miranda program had been discontinued over fifty years ago by this point, as despite their versatility their organizational scheme had grown too chaotic, and as such the Authority chose to adopt a more decentralized mode of developing stations rather than continue with the program. That made sense, from a certain point of view: this system, Manzarek-14 or simply "Ernst's Star", had been according to its gate's database intended to be a connecting spoke in the Fourth Circuit. As such, its early designers had built it as a straight shot out from its neighbors, only developing the surrounding stellar geography after the basic outline of the circuit had been completed. But it hadn't been a useful system, especially considering its neighbors, all of whom were more interesting and more materially important than it. The initial investment the Authority had made in it had been discarded or moved, and Ernst's Star had been left as a testament to wasted money and dried-up dreams. All in all, it was incredibly fitting that he should have chosen to stop his pilgrimage early, Bertie thought. The man and the star had been made for each other.

But not all dreams in this place had been wasted, apparently- according to the Iceman's infrared telescope, the station's radiators were active, its power plant was more or less on, and its habitation rings were heated to a balmy twenty-three degrees Celsius. Evidently not everything around Ernst's Star had been abandoned- and, as Bertie and his soon-to-be Deputies would come to find, the people who had persisted aboard Miranda-22 were precisely the sort one would expect them to be.

That is to say, batshit crazy.



Easy Listenin': LinkSpacer's Home, Vic Tyler, "Carmen Miranda's Ghost"





Price's Likeness: Link123RF.