LAST CHANCE GAS – Part I
Universal Media Syndicate
TITAN – It is always there. A reminder of how far we have come and perhaps a warning as to how far we may safely go. Viewed from Titan’s south pole and always locked with its moon’s synchronous orbit, Saturn looms like a wall blocking further exploration of the solar system and beyond.
“Oh yeah, man, that big old gasbag can seem a little oppressive,” sighs Jimmy Singh, president and sole proprietor of Titan Last Chance Gas. “I mean, it’s there. Always. But so is the potential to move beyond (it) and that’s where the money is and that’s why I’m here. Right now, we’re at the absolute edge of the human boundary; my traffic’s mostly science and research vessels. But they have to turn back, you know?” Singh gestures toward a porthole. “So, I can envision a casino out there, bars, amenities. And eventually, space tourists.”
The Titanic vista outside the Last Chance Gas modular steel complex is not pretty. The gravel dunes crumble toward the lapping methane lake. On the far shore the industrial spaghetti lattice and piping of the fuel synthesizing plant begs for some type of skin to conceal its immodest angular frames. Farther beyond is a plumbed plain of heat-seared and wind-swept landing pads. The view is further tainted by the cast of the porthole’s night-vision lens; what is not green is black.
Singh’s own quarters are more Spartan than five-star. Even though the re-circulatory ventilation network is going full blast the air is stale with gree-gree vapour and human funk. There is an elaborate exercise machine, a health staple in distant low gravity stations. There’s a console, an ergonomic chair and a ‘hot bunk’ hammock, shared with Singh’s Number Two, who is currently on a scheduled tailings pond measurement excursion among the dunes. Amid the cluster of CCTV monitors and computer screens on the dull metal walls are centuries-old signs, relics from a simpler age. One reads LAST CHANCE GAS. “I found that in a junk shop in New Mumbai,” Singh says. “It gave me an idea.” The other is in the shape of a heraldic shield and if one peers at it long enough there are traces of red and blue stripes to be seen and the embossed phrase ROUTE 66. “That’s a highway sign of some sort,” Singh allows. “But from where, I don’t know. Maybe part of the Old Silk Road?”
And the whiff of gree-gree? “Earth laws don’t apply this far out,” Singh chuckles. “They’re unenforceable. This is the frontier.” What about supply? “You would not believe the contraband smuggled aboard cruisers. Pallets. If you’re into that stuff, Titan is paradise.”
Which is perhaps why, Singh, one of the new breed of so-called ‘galactic’ entrepreneurs, is betting heavily that his Titan operation, despite its incredibly harsh, claustrophobic and utilitarian environment, will become an adventure destination for Earth’s bored and wealthy elite.
Copyright UMS 2414.
Part one of a series.