Categories > Original > Sci-Fi2 Reviews
Earning money is not easy in the future. Take it from these guys. This story was originally written for a shared RPG universe called "Particle Black" but unfortunately, the makers closed shop b...
The marauders were still a few miles away when Jake spotted them. Jake was our best pair of eyes in the whole town... which made him the best choice as our lookout. Jake was all happy with the decision since it meant less time down below. People neglected to tell him that it also meant he was the first one above ground if there was any trouble.
The alarm blared across the mine, alerting everyone of us down below. We had gone through the drill millions of times before. Diggers were carefully powered down and stashed together in designated corners of the mine. If all else fails, the foreman would remotely detonate all the diggers, causing the mine to collapse. If we were going to go down, those low-level bandits won't be getting anything to benefit them. They'd have to work for it.
I joined my buds in the rush towards the weapons locker. The armsmaster was already on the alert, barking out orders to the first men to reach the locker. Particle rifles and small knives were handed out in quick succession. Once we got our weapons, me and my buds were already in line to the transit shafts. In a few more minutes, we were already in our position at the barricade in front of the mine entrance.
They couldn't wait until an hour more until we've finished eating, eh? Wasted pussies.
Weapons on the ready, we took the time to check out the invading force. Imagine our surprise to see that there couldn't be any more than fifty of them. Someone in their group must have messed up their intel. There was no explanation as to why they decided to attack a group of more than a hundred with only fifty men.
Well, except for stupidity, of course.
We waited until they were well within our sights before the foreman shouted the order to fire. We were in high spirits from seeing the odds and eager for little stress-reliever after half a day down below. Plus, the adrenaline racing would be good for the appetite. The poor sods would have never stood a chance.
It was quick, decisive, and bloody--mostly on their side. The stupid gits managed to lose half of their men before they turned tail and ran.
Ten men were chosen by the foreman for scavenger duty. I don't envy them in their job, even if they did get to keep 10% of their scavenged goods. I wouldn't want the extra money anyway if it meant being knee deep in freshly-butchered bloody corpses. The stench alone should take care of any appetite generated during the fight.
That was our third battle these last four sols. We were lucky this time, escaping with no casualties and only minimal damage on our shields. The first attack we fought off four sols ago injured a third of our men. Only half of them were able to return to duty just yesterday. The second one resulted in the collapse of a few subsidiary mine shafts when our former foreman detonated one of the digger piles in panic. Six people died in that collapse, not including the number of casualties from the fight. The foreman was sentenced to death afterwards for his mistake.
Such was a week in the mines of Daedalus.
Oh, it wasn't so bad. Sometimes, the other towns don't attack for a week. Sometimes, whoever our foreman was at the time would order a few of us to stage raiding runs on the nearby mines.
Other times, the magnetic storms were so fierce that all everyone could do was huddle in our cots and hope that the shields held out. One time, they almost didn't. We didn't sleep soundly for a few sols after that, almost on alert in case we had to evacuate.
With the lunch break over and our stomachs filled with enough protein substitutes to last another five hours, we headed back to our posts. Mining the particle black did not exactly require a lot of brain power. All you needed were four limbs, good balance, and your digger.
All of us on digger duty were each given a digger. The digger was a machine barely four feet long and cylindrical in shape. Yet, it was extremely lightweight for its size. A well-maintained digger was capable of excavating nearly a hundred times its weight in ore on a good day. The digger was powered by the same ores that we were mining: particle black.
I would hear stories from the old-timers about the old technology they used before the particle-based ones were developed. They always said that we had it easy... that in the old days, the diggers were heavier and less reliable. Those machines were as much likely to break both of your arms as dig through the rock, they said.
The old-timers were well-respected by most within the mines... and with good reason. Anyone who had lived through both the Miners' Wars and the mega-storm had to be tough as nails and wily as a CEO. You wouldn't have survived otherwise.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. Simply put, a digger was a miner's best friend inside the mines. You could not do your work without yours. Take good care of it and it would keep you producing and earning. Take really good care of it and its smooth operation would probably save your life in the long run.
It would also help if you didn't try to think about the detonator attached to each one. You wouldn't be able to concentrate on your job if you did.
Every time I would power up the digger, its low drone would remind me of the soft hum of the ship engines that I used to maintain. That other life seemed like a lifetime ago. I would wonder if I could still repair a particle power coil? But afterwards, I would just shake my head and get back to work. It didn't help to slow down or they'd dock your rations or part of your pay.
Sometimes, when I worked, I would pick up one of the particle black ores and marvel at it. Even unrefined, the thing was a sight to behold. It was almost like it had an unnatural glow... so hypnotic. Everyone who could read the news or watch the holo-vision feeds would be aware that this one ore was capable of being used in medicine, in weapons, in ship engines, in food production... anything you could imagine. It is no wonder that the megacorporations--those large impersonal lords that governed our lives--would place so much importance and resources on such an element.
Yet, sometimes, I wondered... were we really meant to find out about this element, particle black? Were we really better off finding it? Or would things have been better if it never existed in the first place?
One thing I knew for sure: I had never thought I would end up doing this, mining particle black in this wasteland desert. It was only a few years ago that I was a pulse drive engineer on board the Nautilus, one of the transport ships of Altaira. Altaira and I had both been on hard times lately... and we both had that freak mega-storm to thank for it.
I remember it as if it was yesterday. I don't think I could ever forget that day even if I tried. I remembered the Nautilus captain shouting into the intercom that we were going down to the planet to retrieve our people. Engineering was put on double-time in maintaining the engines. They screamed as we pushed them; our ship was not designed for fast movements and descents. Inside that engine room, I could almost imagine the smell of burning shield plates as our ship made its fast descent down the atmosphere of Daedalus.
We weren't aware of the mega-storm erupting on Daedalus until we actually hit it. Our ship jolted; waves of electromagnetic energy lanced through the hull and struck two computer terminals inside our room. It was a stroke of good fortune that the engines were untouched and still operating. However, with the terminal monitoring the power levels among the two destroyed, we were forced to make repairs on guesswork. The panic started to get to my companions. I must admit it had started to affect me, too.
Someone on the bridge must have been panicking as well. The next thing we knew, the intercom came to life with the first officer's voice shouting that we had zero visibility. A fierce exchange between him and the captain followed: the captain wanting to continue the pick-up, the first officer shouting at him to turn back and save the ship.
That was when our engineering supervisor snapped.
With a fierce yell, he started to hit the main engine connections with a large steel pipe. I and someone else struggled to pull him back and calm him down, but his panic-crazed energy was overwhelming. After seeing him raising his pipe and getting ready to strike me, I had no choice but to react. I ran my work knife through his torso.
He gasped once before falling down dead. His eyes, still open and staring accusingly at me, would haunt my dreams for months.
Suddenly shocked into alertness, my companions and I continued to work furiously on the engines for a few more hours before our first officer's voice came out of the intercom again. The mission was futile: Altaira's settlements were too heavily damaged and there were no signs of survivors. We were bailing out.
We learned later that the captain and half the bridge crew were also dead from an errant electromagnetic pulse that lanced across the bridge. The first officer
I was not punished for the supervisor's death, but I lost my job with Altaira. No one wanted to work with a known killer, it seemed. No one cared that I could have saved everyone with just that one death. I was a nobody even in the newly created New Callisto, spending my time drifting from level to level looking for scraps or whatever work is available.
When the reformed Altaira put out a call for miners on Daedalus, no references necessary, I signed up. I was desperate. I had no choice. I had nothing else.
Those words were music to my ears. I wiped the sweat from my brow and powered down my digger. The machine's incessant hum slowly died down.
I hauled the digger up on my back and made my way to the transit shafts. Already, there was a line forming since the elevators couldn't carry more than 5 men with their diggers at a time. It's just a good thing that those elevators were fast--able to make return trips in less than 2 minutes--or else we'd have a riot on our hands.
I was looking forward to shore leave. In a few hours, I would be joining the latest particle black ore shipment headed for New Calli. I had two sols to spend there... a time out.
My first trip would be to the Altaira office to collect my creds for the past thirty sols on-planet. Then, next would be to the Central Bank to deposit three-quarters of it, keeping a quarter for myself for expenses.
The bank would take care of sending my money to the settlement on Metion. My kid there would receive it within thirty sols, at least, that was what it said in their brochures. It took a while-almost thirty sols as well, in fact--for his letters to reach me and let me know that he received the money.
I never told him about the incident on the Nautilus and what I was doing now. There was no reason to. For all he knew, I was still working on board a ship, instead of risking my life every day on some forsaken desert planet, mining an ore that could both kill me and heal me. I just hope that he's happy on Metion.
I miss him.
Yes, I was so looking forward to shore leave.