This week Chuck asked for ideas, and I suggested taking the last line of last week’s flash as the first in next week’s, but in a different genre. The alternative would be to use the first line and write to it as a last line, which is what I’m doing today. And to make it a different genre, I’m leaving out Sir Woebegone, so I have “A lump of tin lay in the grass, flies buzzing around it.” You may recognise my heroes. It’s 1300 words, but I’ve added a postscript free of charge..
If noise could travel through a vacuum, the asteroid belt would be a cacophany of screeches, whines, clashingly off-key drill squeals, and thundering tumbling rock. Even close-up, in the confines of a man-sized tunnel meticulously bored into the solid ore that made up the best asteroids, there was no sound. Vibration of cutters, shuddering as the drill-bit hit home, eddies of dust caused by the miner’s motion and the wasted energy from the process, sound energy was transformed into motion and heat. In the bitter cold of space, a miner’s tunnel was a warm place.
Lars Nilsson, nickname The Swede, manhandled the last of the larger rocks into a grab sack, and attached them to the tether. This close to an orichalcum-rich asteroid, there was a danger of all electricals failing on the spacecraft. A hydraulic drill worked, clockwork worked, but electrical power tools were useless. If the spacecraft got too close, everything inside it failed. Lars and his partner, Pete Garcia (nicknamed Big Pete), kept a box of archaic implements that came in useful when that happened. It didn’t often happen. Pete and The Swede were careful. Ultra-careful. And careful made them the best orichalcum miners around.
Lars signalled Pete with one of their special hand-signals, developed over years working together, and the sack of rock disappeared up the tether, to be replaced by something remarkably like a large snake. Lars grabbed the end as it arrived, extended it into the tunnel he’d been working in, waved at Pete and crawled forward. The dust and small fragments in the tunnel were sucked into the tube. Lars collected a few that blocked the hose’s open end and stuffed them in a sack over his shoulder. In less time than it takes to vacuum a room he was retreating to the tether, signalling to Pete to shut off the hose. The hose slithered back up to the spacecraft, Lars activated a quick-release knot on the tether, and pulled himself up the rope hand over hand, a job made more complicated as the end came free from the asteroid, and the space craft started to drift away. He reached the halfway point on the tether and attached a d-ring to his suit. A few seconds later, the wire attached to the d-ring tightened, and Lars let go of the tether and let Pete reel him in.
“Great,” was his simple greeting to his partner as he climbed through the airlock. Pete double checked the external arrangements on the spacecraft, ensuring the tether was fully stowed, and hit a few buttons to secure all outside hatches. The pair leant against opposite sides of the airlock as air pressure was gently restored, signalling to each other.
Another day’s processing.
Sleep for a bit.
Drink – anything tasty left?
Pete shook his head. They were near the end of their expected tour, and anything tasty was long gone. Both men licked their lips imagining a brew at Zito’s bar as soon as they arrived at Pleasant Valley.
“You guys! How come you always make it back in time for a party?”
Zito put two liters of his best brew on the bar as soon as they walked in.
“What party?” Lars asked, coming up for air after his first draught took the level of the froth halfway down the glass. He put his head back down as Zito explained.
“Fiesta. Something new. Parades, dancing, maybe a little jiggy-jiggy…”
The spacers appeared unimpressed, simply pushing their glasses across the bar for a refill.
“I’ve got a new girl for you, too. Name’s Dolores. Cooks good food. She’s done dinner parties for me. Even for the best guests. You won’t be disappointed. Wonderful assets. Such skills. Bright, too. Dolores, I was just telling Big Pete and the Swede about you,” he added, as a tall, well-shaped woman in a russet-coloured halter-neck jump suit that matched her wavy hair and emphasised her assets strolled over to join them.
“Greetings,” she said, with a smile to each of the miners. “Zito suggested I keep you two company this vacation.”
“What do you cook?” asked Pete.
“What do you like?”
“Nilsi beans the Arganian way.”
“With a fruit sauce or spicy?”
Pete smiled. “Either. Both.”
“Any way you’ll take it, eh, big boy?” she grinned archly, raising a matching grin from Pete.
Lars looked from one to the other and shrugged. “Suits me, as long as you can do freshly caught fish, too.”
“You catch, I fillet and fry, or maybe saute, grill, steam, coddle, with a little herb oil, fresh crushed Vervian salt…”
“You’re hired,” Lars held up his hands in surrender. “Is Maggie coming too, Zito?”
“Yes, she’s preparing the apartment already. I thought you might want to do the Skyfall tomorrow.”
Blank looks from both men encouraged Zito to explain the skydiving competition the next day, with expert advice from Dolores.
It was simple enough. Each competitor jumped out of the flyer at the prescribed height and position, and the one that landed nearest the target in the arena won two thousand credits. The only stipulation was no powered assistance, which ruled out jetpacks, floamers, steerboards and a dozen other methods of single-person flight. Most people were awkwardly manoeuvring folded kite-wings, micro-lites or parachutes into the body of the big cargo flyer. Each wore a coloured bib with a letter on it. Some were muttering incantations or other messages to their gods. Most displayed signs that the blood had left their faces; white, green, pale mauve and generally wan.
“Ready to jump!”
The competitors stood in line, clutching their chosen method of descent. Pete was in the line of green bibs. He half turned to give Lars, dressed in blue and wearing a distinctive crash helmet, a thumbs up sign as the line shuffled forward to the open cargo deck, wind roaring as the flyer continued circling the drop zone.
Being weightless in space is nothing like being weighted in Pleasant Valley gravity, plummeting feet first towards the planet’s surface. Pete reached for his parachute release and relaxed as the jolt of the chute filling slowed his descent. The ripping roar of the air died to a gentle breeze, and he looked around at the scene below, the spaceport, the city with its warren of adobe buildings and towers, the warehouses on the outskirts, the rubbish dumps beyond them steaming in the sunlight. The incongruous green of the arena floor amongst the browns and yellows of the near-desert planet. An easy target.
He eased on his control strings and calculated the angle needed to counteract the wind. The arena would probably set up a vortex. Angling in and turning head to wind would help. As long as he could avoid the other idiots landing completely out of control.
In a textbook manoeuvre, Pete swung into the arena, swept past the upper levels, and curved serenely into the very centre of the target. Roars from the crowd greeted his arrival, turning to screams at the far end as five competitors in blue bibs flew into each other, hampered two others, and collided with the ground in a tangle which for some reason exploded into flame.
Pete checked his watch, checked the bibs and letters of those landing after him and wondered where Lars had got to. When ten people who had jumped after him landed, he sauntered over to the wreckage at the far side. A sinking feeling grew in his stomach. He had to cajole Lars into taking part. He hadn’t wanted to do it. Said he was superstitious about jumping on that date. Now Pete wiggled his way through the crowd to see who, or what, was at the centre.
A lump of tin lay in the grass, flies buzzing around it.
One hour later, and two thousand credits richer, Pete climbed into their hired shuttle and set course for Sunset Strip, Dolores in the passenger seat.
“You can come out now,” he called when they were safely in orbit.
“Thanks for covering for me,” Lars said as he climbed out of the locker.
“Always have, always will.”
Dolores gazed at the view with a twinkle in her eye. This was going to be fun.
© J M Pett 2015