Say you’re out in that big blue and the worst happens. Maybe a lightning storm fried you good. Maybe an unlucky debris hit. Maybe you limped away from a pack of raiders after giving as good as you got. Point is you’re floating dead two days from nowhere. Your emergency beacon is barking and the only thing keeping you aloft is physics and good weather.

You spot a brown splotch in the distance, too hard-edged and stable to be a wandering rock. As it get closer, it looks more like an animate pile of junk, a hodgepodge collection of functional (maybe) pieces welded into something resembling a ship. A pair of cutters detach from the whole and glide over to your would-be salvage pile, blinking out a friendly signal, since your comms are clearly shot.

Guess it’s your lucky day a band of Fixers found you first. You’d never be happier to see something so ugly coming over the horizon.

Fixer are the serendipitous salvation of many a stranded ship. Each Fixer band is centered around a big mobile repair and recovery ship called a hulk. There’s a handful of them around, traversing expanses and running circuits among the outer settlements and colonies, providing their services at a fair cost. They’re beacons of safety and recovery, hulks broadcasting a clear, true signal while always keeping an ear out for distress calls. If you’re in trouble, head this way. If you can’t, well, maybe one of their faster crews could swing out your way. Tug you somewhere else, or maybe fix you up on-the-spot. Meanwhile, they vacuum up the detritus and scrap left over from the Dissolution or other less storied downfalls.

In exchange? Money’s good. Materials might be better. Surely you have something of value lying around here, yeah? Debts can take any form you’d like. They ain’t picky. But they do expect at least a favor in return. That’s just the way of things.

I did a tour on a Fixer hulk a few years back. They were going where I was going and I didn’t mind how long it took to get there, while they didn’t mind having me around to yap away with my stories. Hulks are like little villages of their own. Some are independent minded fleets, co-workers at best. Others were big ole communal crews and families. Mine was a half-measure of both. The mothership hulk was the hollowed out remains of a cruiser so patched and modified that I couldn’t tell you the country of construction. Its decks and corridors were a mish-mash of original construction, bolted-on salvage, or redesigned areas from one Fixer chief’s master plan or another. The whole thing felt like an ecosystem in of itself, and wore a persistent aura of breakdown and repair, decay and rejuvenation.

Many a young mechanic or engineer has done a tour or two on a Fixer hulk, getting that taste of adventure and wanderlust while honing their skills. Whether they stay for a year or for the rest of their life, they leave part of themselves there in some form or another. After all, even if they don’t find anyone to help for a spell, the hulk itself always needs something repaired and renovated.

And yet it’s another fading way of life. The scrap and salvage business isn’t what it used to be, though keeping the sundry ships of the Northwest Frontier flying is still going strong. Fewer Fixer hulks are traversing the skies, and those still flying are less wanderers than cyclical patrols. There’s echoes of the Seeders in it all, but while Seeders went beyond the fringes to find places unseen and unknown, Fixers patch together what is and what once was. They’re another incidental but tactical bit of adhesive keeping this whole patchwork of places from breaking apart at the seams.

But a new land rush is on the horizon, the reopening of a northwest frontier of the Northwest Frontier. And the Fixers, in their own way, will be ready and willing to serve those pushing the boundaries out.

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Copyright © Michael L. Watson 2017