An extract from The Perihelix (or whatever I’m working on at Camp NaNoWriMo) is my best offering for Flash Fiction this month.
This 550 word section follows on from the snippet I gave you on Wednesday. Of course, you don’t need to read that unless you want to – you probably know enough about my asteroid miners by now.
The Perihelix – extract 2
Lars floated down the tunnel to the fresh rockface.
Just one more day. Don’t mess up. Safety first.
The last days of any mining shift brought fatigue, greed, space-craziness, and over-confidence, and the outcome was often permanent. Lars checked his safety gear, his emergency pack, his tether feeding out along the tunnel, and hoisted the pneumatic drill whose hose stretched all the way back to the ship. He located the seam he’d hit at the end of the previous shift, and started to cut it out.
Pete’s job was to monitor the hose. Their research into non-electronic methods of drilling had led them to something that ran on compressed air, adapted to work in a vacuum, and they had been pleased with the results. Hacking orichalcum out with a pickaxe was effective, but tiring; the price of an uncontrolled rebound could be a pierced suit or a cracked helmet. This drill’s compressor and hose were archaic, but worked, even in the close confines of orichalcum asteroids. Lars knew Pete would be running through his checklist of safety precautions, keeping one eye on the net across the end of their current tunnel. He liked to joke about the many redundancies Pete built into their operations, but it had kept them alive for more than twelve standard years. Every conceivable incident had a procedure. All had been tested, and most had been used.
Lars braced himself against one side of the tunnel and drilled between his feet on the other wall. Dust hung around in the vacuum of space. So much of this work was feel and instinct. The sound waves from the drill pierced the tufa, vibrating into his suit where he touched the surface. The feel of the drill in his hands changed; it juddered, hitting metamorphoid rock. Lars paused, welcoming the clearance of the debris as Pete operated the microgravity turbo-collector that sucked the dust and smaller rocks up to their ore processor. The routine helped him keep track of time even when his qwatch was obscured.
The seam of pure orichalcum he had hit the day before was now exposed for around forty centimetres. He started drilling above and below the edges, tracing its line. Seams rarely went more than a few cents. It was not just the metal’s obscure locations that made orichalcum so rare. This find was a long, flat thread, almost a ribbon. Lars reached for his hand pick and carefully felt out all along the visible part. He grabbed some pincers to cut through the ribbon where it dove deep into the rock. He retraced his path out of asteroid tunnel, and stowed the ribbon carefully in one of the holdalls anchored there.
Is that enough? It’s worth a few million credits on its own. We’ve got a good haul.
He rubbed the face of his helmet, wishing he could rub away the sweat and grime from his face. However clean they got the suits, rockdust got into the fabric in the airlock and accreted onto their skin while mining.
I hate this. One more go.
Back at the face, he lifted the drill, braced his feet, and tried to intercept the ribbon again.
The jet of gas spewed out with the merest microsecond of warning.
© J M Pett 2017
I’m allowed cliffhangers in excerpts!