This week’s challenge from Chuck Wendig was to pick a random song title and use it as the title of our flash fiction story. I had trouble working out how to do this random thing. I could get my iPod out, or randomly select a CD from the shelf, but I thought it would introduce bias. I was watching Strictly Come Dancing while I mused on the problem, and decided to use the title of the next song that came along. Thank you Ashley and Ola, I think this was what they called your song. It goes with the rhythm, anyway.
A couple of weeks ago I introduced you to Pete and the Swede, minor characters but thoroughly involved in the Orichalcum Library. I suspected I’d use them again. I think I could write a big book starring these two. This story is 999 words.
On the Wings of an Angel
Mining orichalcum is no picnic. It is rare, and occurs in places inaccessible, dangerous, or both. Three out of the four rock types that hold it react with pure orichalcum to produce a substance hazardous to all powered objects. They stop working. Nobody has worked out why, and the Swede reckons that whoever invents a shield for it will make a fortune.
The Swede mused as he painstakingly drilled a hole in the rock at the space end of the tunnel they were working in. The drill was an antique design they’d found pictured in a book. A real book. His partner, Pete, had come across The Reader’s Digest Household Repair Book, dating from the 20th Century, while browsing through the library on Happy Valley. It showed something they termed a drill, which sure enough had a drill bit at the business end, but to make it revolve you turned a handle on its side, which made a couple of cog wheels engage. The other hand steered it in the right direction. If it sounded complicated, it was. The Swede swore again as the drill slipped off the rock face.
He was drilling holes to fix a net across the tunnel. It was a new boulder, about the same size as their spaceship, nominally part of V223, an island floating off to one side of the large rock-and-ice asteroid. They arrived a few days ago, located a suitable depression, and started hollowing it out with picks. Working with picks in a spacesuit isn’t an easy job. Pete had done about an hour’s work before he decided to go back to the ship and drain the sweat out of the suit. The Swede lasted another hour, but his mask was misting up. There was also the danger of accidentally piercing the suit. Suit material was tough, but the picks were chipping away rock. The safety lines attached to their suits got in the way, and as they progressed inside the asteroid, the longer lines became likely to tangle. This net would catch the miners if they screwed their momentum-direction or, more likely, hit a pocket of gas in the rock that would express them along the tunnel as fast as a bullet. There was a good chance of grabbing the net as they went past it, even if it pulled away from some of its ties. Then they could launch themselves back to the ship. Working in zero gravity, or near enough, was fun, but required special techniques.
The Swede finished tying the first side of the net to his carefully laid pitons, and rested with one hand on the tether to the ship. Vibrations along it made him check. Pete was waving at him, twanging the tether. He secured the rest of the net and went hand over hand down the tether.
“Pick-up strange signal,” Pete commented as the Swede took off his helmet, then his suit.
Pete waved his now naked partner over to the comms unit. The Swede was the comms expert, so Pete left him to it. He cleared away the suit, draining it into the water recycling, and put it in the sterilising cupboard. They had a routine; one on, one in the steriliser, one waiting to go. Times two. They’d invested in the stretchy waisted ones when they were last on Happy Valley, so despite their differences in size, in didn’t matter who took which. One size really did fit all, or both, at any rate.
He grabbed a couple of beers and floated them back to the office, as they liked to call the control centre. He slid into the chair beside the Swede.
“Great,” sighed the Swede as he took a slurp from the beer’s neck. “Signal’s a distress call – someone heading our way – not miner – no IDs.”
“Hm.” Pete frowned as he twiddled some toggles on the control board. “How decode it?”
“Double demodulation,” replied the Swede. It wasn’t that either of them were short on conversation, they just left out unnecessary words.
The Swede traced some patterns on the view screen in front of them and pointed the answer to Pete. Mass 200 kilos, velocity 80 kph. Arrival less than two hours.
“Small and slow,” commented Pete.
The next 110 minutes saw the pair set up for a collision with a human-sized space object, travelling at high manoeuvring speed. Three additional tethers held them to their latest mining object, and one balloon anchor drifted towards the asteroid itself. If the space object pulled them out of position, the rock and the asteroid should save them from going too far away. Of course if they did, they would be able to use their engines to manoeuvre back, but it would take at least a day to recover, two to get back to work.
The ‘safety net’ Pete suggested was rather more interesting. A piece of special equipment, this was designed to use solar winds, very handy when no other power was available. It was huge and strong.
Pete launched the safety net away from their rock, into the path of the space object. They watched on the view screen as it unfurled, a golden sheen spreading itself over the vastness of visible space.
“There!” Pete said as they admired their net, pointing at right angles to it.
“Right!” The Swede tapped a second view screen to verify their observation of a point of light heading their way. He magnified it ten times, and whistled. Pete leaned over.
Speeding towards them was a silver-clad shape, with two white wings sprouting from its shoulders. It hit the net and pulled it into folds around itself. The miners suited up as they started to retract the net, going outside to retrieve their catch.
“Thank you so much!” said the silver-suited arrival, shaking their hands. “The name’s Gabriel. Had a slight mishap. I don’t suppose you’ve got any glue to fix my wing, have you?”
(c) J M Pett 2013