With everything that’s going on at the moment, I really can’t get my head around Chuck’s challenges.  I decided to give you another taster from near the start of The Perihelix, starring my asteroid miners, Big Pete and the Swede.  Funnily enough, it’s just over 1000 words – just the right length for a Friday Flash!

Striking Pay-dirt

from The Perihelix, Chapter 1. © J M Pett 2015

The Swede swung the bag of ore onto his back and stepped out into the sandy street, pausing to smell the air — fresh in from the dusty plains, instead of recycled body odour that predominated both in space and in the bars they frequented — and looking around for any trouble.  He saw plenty, but none was heading in his direction. Yet. Pete followed him out, and walked crabwise behind him, making sure nobody jumped them from the back or side.  The exchange was only fifty metres away, but a lot could happen in fifty metres.

The night had been uneventful, or rather, untroubled.  They’d slipped across to the Irish Bar where there was plenty of Christmas cheer being spread about.  They’d admired some of the sweets, but left them for another day when nobody would disturb them or, worse, make them rush.  They’d rolled back to their rooms soon after midnight, appearing a lot more drunk than they were.  You had to keep up appearances if you were an asteroid miner.  Hard, tough and rich.  Or hard, tough and poor, depending on which end of a vacation they were.

They’d slept in long enough for most of the customers to have left Zito’s, even those that hadn’t slept in rooms, and retrieved the sack from the man himself to make good on their hard work.

Two Pavanians tried to rush them just as they got to the exchange steps.  They grabbed the bag, but Pete strong-armed one away while the Swede dealt with the other.  He proved his theory that the stone pillars were harder than a Pavanian’s skull and left the debris for someone else to sweep up.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen.  Ah, welcome back.” The porter at the exchange entrance changed his tone as he recognised regular patrons.  He took the bag from the Swede, parked it in a small room full of slim cases, weapons and outerwear, and took both men’s jackets from them, brushing the worst of the dust off before hanging them next to finer cloth.  “I believe Mr Artimus is free, would you care to discuss your business with him?  Room 3.”

Pete exchanged a grimace with the Swede.  “Mr Artimus is perfectly reasonable, but if Mr Garelli is available we’d rather see him,” said Pete.

“Whu’ — of course.” Despite the affirmative, the porter was stunned by their rejection of his first choice.  “I’ll check.”

“I’ll never understand how they came to build this place here,” murmured the Swede, looking up at the arched windows and vaulted ceiling.  The ‘rooms’ were partitioned off from each other on the main concourse, with doors and a little grid window in one side, but open at the top.  The Swede could see anyone the same height as him, or taller.  There was a Venusian in one near the end.  Very rich, judging from the emerald sheen to her skin.

The porter scurried back to them.  “This way please; Mr Garelli will be free in an instant.”

The Swede grinned as he thought of several responses, including “an instant what?” He followed the porter, careful not to tread on his tail, and saw from Pete’s smirk he was thinking the same.  They reached the room at the end where the porter waited with them for a few seconds as the Venusian emerged, bowing and thanking Mr Garelli for his attention.  Not as rich as all that, then, thought the Swede.  When they spoke to Mr Garelli, he was usually the one doing the bowing and thanking.

“Ah, welcome, welcome, Mr Nilsson, Mr Garcia.  Please, be seated.  Although, maybe first…”

The Swede sat on a chair to reduce his height and removed his shirt.  Then he removed several packets from slim pockets on a vest he wore underneath.  Pete did the same, then emptied his pants pockets.  The Swede took off his boots, slid the soles aside and took out some blocks of metal.  Mr Garelli’s expression was merely observant at first, but his left eyebrow rose higher at each further hiding place the miners revealed.   When they had finished, all three sat looking at the heap of orichalcum in its various forms that spread like lava over the table.

“I suppose you would like me to dispose of the bag of dust in the usual way?” he asked.

“Exactly,” said Pete.  “We find it an excellent diversion.  Thank you for suggesting it.”

They watched as Garelli sorted through the heap, separating the grades into ingots, nuggets, and fines.  He weighed each group on an archaic balance, wrote each result on a piece of synthpaper, with an antique pencil, then added the figures to a total.  Pete and the Swede watched carefully and agreed his figures at every stage.

“Just one thing,” interrupted the Swede as Garelli started to tell them the current price for orichalcum.  He sorted out three of Garelli’s weights, placed them on one side of the balance, and brought out a weight from his pocket.  They watched as the scales swung evenly.  “Fine.”

If the dealer was offended, he didn’t show it.  He hadn’t shown it on the previous occasions either.  He noticed that the Swede had not so far brought the same weight to check the scales.  He appreciated the skill and care these men took over their business.  It was as good as their mining.  He was earning a good income from them.  Despite all the deals and rackets in Pleasant Valley, he knew when to deal straight.

He told them the price on the previous dealing day, and the price it had been that morning. He would purchase the orichalcum from them at the average of the three days, yesterday, today and tomorrow, and he would sell their goods at a slow rate, in order not to distort the market.  He estimated a price.  He told them what their work for the last ten months was worth.  He did not tell them they had brought in as much orichalcum that day as all the miners in the last ten months added together.

Pete and the Swede were the most valuable assets in the Viridian System.

© J M Pett 2015

The Perihelix will be published in January.

The Viridian System Sampler is now available to order on iTunes, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, and to download from Smashwords on September 28th.

Flash Fiction Friday | A Perihelix Extract

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