Jun 1

INN Fiction: It’s a Dangerous Business

Hey Indiegogo supporters, it is time for another installment of “It’s a Good Day to Die”… or not! We can’t thank our supporters enough and hope you enjoy this timely view of life on the fringe carving riches out of rocks. It is, to be sure, a dangerous business.

IT’S A DANGEROUS BUSINESS
_______________

THE COCKPIT
S.S. HEPHAESTUS
Orion-class Mining Ship

“I’m telling ya boss, sump’n ain’t right. Look at these results.”  Despite the cold, Shellen was sweating.

Augustus Kron took the datapad and glossed over the numbers. All he saw was gold. Not real gold mind you, but palladium, which was even better. He’d never seen so much of it in one place, much less stuffed inside one rock. He tossed the tablet aside. “Don’t stress your brain Shellen, you’re liable to hurt yourself. Just keep the boat steady.”

Kron leaned forward over the commander’s console, thumping his fist down on the intercom. “Talk to me Lumi!”

Several seconds ticked by before the ComLink clicked on, filling the cockpit with the whine of a heavy mining laser. Lumi Maywind shouted back over the din. “Laser’s running a buck fifteen; we’ve already burned out one refractor but I’m getting squat on the face cut. Gonna try to work a seam and see if I can crack a piece off it. Where the fuck’s my cooling?”

Kron scanned the MFDs that tiled the command console. If you knew how to read them you could watch the length and breadth of the massive Orion-class mining ship as it carved riches out of hunks of floating ore. He scanned both ship and crew.

Wilic was jocking the pair of tractor beams that held several thousand metric tons of rock a fixed distance from the nose of the Hephaestus. Lumi was working the main laser; more a chainsaw than a scalpel, trying to carve away the dense rock that enclosed a gargantuan vein of palladium. Tosen was down in the guts of the boat, struggling to keep engines, lasers, tractors and the all-important cooling systems in balance.

When he wasn’t bitching about one thing or another, pilot Elias Shellen was supposed to be managing ship orientation relative to the prize, and watching the Big Eye; miner-speak for the cluster of scanners that tried to peer inside the depths of the asteroid. Thats where the good stuff was, but it was where the bad stuff lurked as well. Gas pockets. Half-frozen LPG slushed like a blue-white propane slurpee under massive pressure. All shit that reacts really badly when sparked by a twenty-megawatt laser.  Carving treasure out of an icy rock is like working a jack-in-the-box, but the clown that jumps out could be holding a grenade.

“Tosen!” Kron barked at the ComLink, pushing Lumi’s question verbatim. “Where the fuck’s my cooling?  If the beamer shuts off that big fuckin rock out there is gonna cool back down to zero and it’ll be start-over time.”

“Shut yer gob ya twat.” Lliam Tosen’s brogue rolled over the mic, a tone from the old country that gets thicker when he gets angry. “If ye think you can get it any faster haul yer bloody arse down here—“

Kron switched the ComLink back to Lumi’s bay and yelled “Two seconds Lumi.”

Shellen looked up, concern on his face, but Kron waved him to silence as he clicked the ComLink offline. Kron took a deep breath, sighed, then said to the pilot “I just need her to keep pushing. If she comes off that thing we’ll be hours, hell days, trying to get back to this point.”

Shellen knew that arguing with Kron was useless, and he had to admit that thus far, the Old Man was invariably right. They had made some pretty good money over the last eighteen months, all too often hanging their asses out the window way too far. Shellen reminded himself that Kron had a sense of these things, said he came from a long line of miners or some such shit. The pilot glanced at the thick, lightning-like vein of palladium that stretched and forked through the massive chunk of ore. Even half of that was a record haul. His share would pay off the house, hell it would put Chris through college and buy a new bike and…

The tone caught his attention just a second before the flashing red letters WARNING. A second jagged thunderbolt of color was moving through the rock, rendered in the vivid blue of super-chilled liquid. As the rock cracked it surged forward, filling a void, splitting off the domed roof of the cavity. Driving sharp left, the icy spike carved a path towards the searing laser. As if long-starved for heat in the endless cold of space, the frozen lance drove through the rock and fingers of fire and ice touched.

 

_______________________________________

PRIMARY LASER BAY
S.S. HEPHAESTUS
Orion-class Mining Ship

 

The blast hit the ship like a sledgehammer. Without warning the laser control panel leaped up and smashed Lumi in the face, launching her backwards across the cabin. She skipped off the deck and slammed into the aft bulkhead, dazed and bleeding. With a groan Lumi rolled, trying to push to her feet when the lights went out and the floor suddenly drifted away from her.

“Dead in space…” The words flickered through the blur of her mind. Emergency lighting was flickering up and down the corridor, creating tiny glowing pools in a mansion of black.  On befuddled instinct she crabbed, swam, dog-paddled for a moment, hands and feet doing nothing more than flail through the air as she drifted weightless towards the ceiling. A grimace creased her face.

Think, Lumi, think. Get your shit together.

Lumi took a deep breath, thankful at once that this big tin can still had air in it. That meant whatever holes were likely punched in the hull were not catastrophic. But the silence, if you could call it silence over the electrical shorts and blaring claxons, was troublesome. Kron should be on the ComLink counting heads. No lights, no grav… Hephaestus was dead in space.

A voice crackled over the Com. Despite the blanket of static there was no mistaking the relentless torrent of profanity. The flow of vulgarities crossed three languages and suggested obscene acts Lumi thought certain to be impossible, but it was the most beautiful sound in the ‘verse.

“Tosen!” Lumi screamed, flailing even more madly to reach the closest wall.

It was a toe that touched first, her slow rotation bringing boots close to the ceiling. She triggered the magnets in her boot-soles, her foot sucking flat against the ceiling with a dull thunk. She squared herself, eyeballed the emergency Com panel and kicked hard, launching herself across the darkness. Lumi grabbed the chairback, arrested her motion, and thumped her fist against the button. “Am I glad to hear you.”

“You as well lass,” Tosen said, his growled tone giving way to a note of warmth. “I’ve got the whelp here with me, but ah’v heard nothin from the bridge.”

Lumi nodded, not that anyone could see her. The blast had been a big one, the Observation Deck would have caught it full in the face. Loyalty to her captain was one thing, but keeping everybody else alive was another. The blast that crippled her ship might not be the only one coming out of that rock.

“Can Wilic recall the drones?” An idea flashed through her brain.  A moment of silence passed before the reply “Aye, it’ll take a few minutes.”

“You’ve got two,” she barked, then shoved herself towards the aft hatch. In a series of magboot lunges and hand-over-hands she propelled herself down the corridor, collecting three oxypacks on the way. She reached the evac pod, chucked the airpacks inside, then tore the PLB off her vest. A tiny green light blinked in the unit’s center.

“Wilic, you got my beacon?”

“Yeah Lumi, but what the fuck? Don’t tell me you’re headed outside?” The Personal Locator Beacon was a failsafe for recovery if an EVA went bad. Lumi had come up with an altogether different application.

“Put the drones on a two minute delay, then send ‘em to the beacon. I want a lock and drag towards the nearest shipping lane.” She was shoveling supplies through the open hatch. “Hit the timer and haul ass down here.”

Another dull thud slammed against the hull. The rock was bleeding liquid gas that expanded out in a growing cloud. Hitting ignition sources, like superheated rock or sparks from a bitch-slapped space shit, well… that was a bad mix. “C’mon guys, move,” she muttered, heaving a brick of protein bars after a six litre brick of water.

Wilic rounded the bulkhead, propelled by Tosen’s immense bulk. The mechanic pushed Wilic into the pod, then grabbed Lumi by the back of her collar. “I just need to —“ her words were cut off as Tosen yanked her into the escape pod. He punched the launch button so hard Lumi thought the ham-sized fist would shatter the glass. The door slammed shut with an air-seal hiss and the small windowed cabin kicked out from the side of the stricken ship. It drifted, a slow tumble, as Hephaestus slid away.

Lumi gasped at the damage as the ship rolled belly-up. The command center was gone; most of the observation deck had been peeled back like a half-eaten onion. Whatever remained of Kron and Shellen would be plastered along the inner walls.

The serpent of haze caught Lumi’s eye, a thick ropy tentacle of vapor that reached out almost lovingly from the asteroid towards the dead ship.

A thunk, heavy and metallic, echoed above her head, then another to her right. The drones.  Three of the unmanned vehicles clamped hold of the escape pod, their engines blazing as they struggled to do what they were designed to do, haul weight. The distance from the ship slowly began to widen.

Too damn slowly, Lumi thought, as the blue-grey finger of death stroked the ravaged nose, reached into the sparking wreck.

The flash burned back to the rock like a massive rope of detcord going off. The rock followed suit, the entirety of its gaseous core detonating like a baby nuke. Lumi had the vague impression of Hephaestus disintegrating.  Then everything outside settled into darkness.

Wilic patted Lumi on the shoulder, his weary nod all the thanks he could manage. Lumi leaned back against a wall of warm, Tosen’s chest it turned out, and he put his beefy arm around her shoulder. In the soft butane-blue burn of the drone’s exhaust, Lumi closed her eyes as a million chunks of glittering palladium scattered across the galaxy.

About the Author:

Michael "Marksman" Marks got busted in the 6th grade for writing sci-fi during math class. He had to read it aloud in front of the class, who then voted his 'punishment' was to finish the story because everybody wanted to know how it ended. That just threw gasoline on a fire; he's been hooked ever since. His military sci-fi novel Dominant Species is available here: http://www.amazon.com/Dominant-Species-Michael-E-Marks-ebook/dp/B002SG7OVW/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1459398282&sr=8-7&keywords=dominant+species

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