Belt Life – Chapter 1

I wrote a little science fiction for fun. It’s about a rag-tag crew of space miners who stumble upon a mysterious artifact which leads them on a rollicking adventure. The setting is the Asteroid Belt in the distant future. In this world, humanity lives in enormous self-sustaining space stations scattered throughout the Belt that were made generations ago. But our crew lives aboard the Free Mining Ship Melchior. In the meantime, a militarized totalitarian empire calling itself the Royal Solar Commission is on the rise and trying to exert control over pretty much anything while their insane leader is searching in vain for a way to live forever, causing all sorts of problems.  Check it out, let me know what you think:

Chapter One

It’s not easy being an asteroid miner.  Equipment failures, boom-bust cycles, dealing with your crew.  Yep, it ain’t easy is right. But it sure makes for some good stories! Like that time we avoided getting enslaved by the totalitarian government seeking to dominate the entire Solar System…

Jason sighed.  “It started out as such a good day,” he thought. “Now this.”

Cam shouted, nervously, “It’s getting closer!”

“Take it easy,” Jason replied, glancing at the scopes, “and keep your voice down. Gramma Chen is working.”

Gramma Chen was plugged in, as usual, piloting the ship via augmented reality.  And doing whatever it is she does while basically living inside a computer. Jason grimaced at the sight of her.  Petite, ancient, gray hair back in a severe bun. Muttering to herself and gods-know what else in her world. Back here in this world she laid in a full-motion chair, spinning about, with enormous VR googles on her tiny head.  Gramma Chen had been on his crew for a while now and he still wasn’t used to having an information addict aboard. And a Riskie at that.

“Ten thousand kilometers,” Cam intoned.  She had regained her composure. Well, as much composure as a lanky teenage algae farmer from the backwoods of Island Three can have.

“Acknowledged,” Jason said. To himself he thought, “Ten tons of PGMs! Ten! Gone! Because some gods-damn Riskie patrol had to stumble into this patch, of all the clumps of rocks in the whole stinking Belt, it had to decelerate and snoop around this one. Of course only I would have such crummy luck.”

Nine thousand kilometers,” Cam said, her voice rising, “and closing!”

Perhaps a little too quickly Jason snapped, “Is he pinging?!”

“No.” Sensing Jason’s raised eyebrow Cam hastily repeated herself, “No, sir!”

PGMs are also known as platinum group metals. Platinum group metals are more valuable than gold.  More valuable than silver. More valuable than even water. They make civilization run out here. Life support, fusion core modulators, laser grinders – they all need PGMs to operate.  They are essential and very, very rare. And very, very lucrative. Especially to an asteroid miner down to his last diamond drill-bit set.

And this morning, while extracting some humdrum volatiles, the crew of the Melchior stumbled upon a thick vein of PGM wonderfulness.  More than ten freaking tons of it. You know how many drill bits you can buy with ten tons of PGM? A lot

Cam spoke. “He’s…he’s slowing down.” Her combination of high-strung tension and puzzled intrigue annoyed Jason.  “Where is he, Cam? What’s he doing? Remember, details, girl, details! I’m not a mind-reader like Gramma.”

“Ye..Yessir.  He’s..uh..” Cam double-checked her screen, “he’s eight thousand kilometers out.  He…appears,” checking again, then blurting out with joy, “Sir! He’s dropping buoys!” Relieved and happy as a puppy, Jason’s apprentice first-mate said, “It’s probably just a navigation patrol, sir! We should be fine!” Then, suddenly serious, “We’ll be fine, right??”

Despite himself, Jason cracked a wry smile and said, “Yep, looks like it.” Cam turned away, happy again. The bridge was silent, except for Gramma Chen’s chair, whirring and clicking away.  After a few seconds, Jason cleared his throat and asked, in an official voice, “First-mate, status report on our payload.” Cam’s face fell, suddenly realizing their predicament. Ten tons of PGMs…gone! Cap isn’t gonna be happy!

Jason repeated himself, “First-mate, what’s the report on our payload? As well as our operating condition?” Cam, in her best professional voice, reported, “Sir, life support is nominal. All non-essential systems are inactive. We are drifting slowly north of the ecliptic. We’ve jettisoned nine point eight metric tonnes of pulverized ore material which is currently enveloping the Melchior in a visual and electromagnetic smokescreen. Pilot Chen is manipulating the magnetic echos of the fusion core to maintain the smokescreen.  It appears that the diversion worked and the RSC patrol did not detect us. They fired up their primary reactor and the ship is accelerating out of the vicinity. The crew awaits your orders.”

Jason nodded. “Thank you first-mate. Pilot Chen, prepare to reactivate our thrusters.”

Roused from her digital reverie, the senior citizen shouted, “Eh?!”

Rolling his eyes, Jason said, louder, “Gramma we’re going back to Kalpana!” 

“Ok ok you don’t have to shout!” she shouted back at him. She went on, quietly this time, “You know, Jason, we’re going to lose these PGMs as soon as we redirect our magnetic echo flux…”

He thought, “Thank you Captain Obvious!” But then he realized she can sense that kind of thing. So, instead, forcing himself to be calm and captain-esque, he said, “Thank you Pilot Chen. Please refer to me as Captain. And please plot a trajectory back to Kalpana.  We’ll sell the 200 kilos we still have to the foundries there.” Turning to Cam, he said, “First-mate you have the bridge. I’m going to my quarters to get some rest.” 

And, in his head, thinking, “But mostly to figure out how to keep this boat flying…”

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