I felt a cramp in my stomach. The cramp’s name is Anthony Dallas … I barely have an hour left and I have to look into his eyes...The old man only asked me one simple favor, what I broke the first time...yikes...I broke it for sure!...Three times after each one...God!...I have to look into his eyes, but my stomach cramp intensifies...The commander was good with me on his own way. Not like me with him...
I sit on the edge of my bed, gasping, slightly hung over…Do we get here, if I don’t order wine for the dinner?...Or if I don’t tell Charlotte that I’m crazy for her two days earlier? Do I was the one who lit her fire, or is this her usual temper, and just pretends the good girl for her daddy? … And Susan? If she wasn’t there, how long could I hold myself back?.... Aaahh Susan, you wicked witch! You tricked me good!
A blunt, metallic knock pulls me out from self-loathing. The big red one glowing on the box, indicates that I got mail. Navi flies out from nowhere.
“Excuse me Boston. Susan instructed me to tell you, read her mail, before your go to work.”
Please read this. Maybe you’ll remember something. I’ll stop by your cabin before dinner to talk about it.
Source: Site Report of Supra Mars No. 41 MCP h.
POI: 2092 CA4. According to the official space catalog, this is a Q2 classified metal quarry. Owner of Exclusive mining rights: Supra Mars Corp.
Experienced anomaly on approach: Structural difference on the asteroids surface detected from artificial origin.
MCP successfully landed on planet: 22.01.2148 14:33 UTC.
According to footage recorded on site, the asteroid is not untouched. Ongoing mining activity on the surface.
The foreign miner colony does not broadcast transponder signals, but it responds for direct identification. Accordingly its owner is Taikong Dyanti Corp.
MCP No. 41, despite the unusual situation, begun the preparations for mining according to the original work plan.
According to collected data, legal steps needed
I remember Taikong Dyanti. It became the flagship brand of China’s space industry after the spacewar in 2114. Supra Mars also could be a mining company. One of the many hundred. ‘Supra Mars’...hmm...like I remember something. I can’t catch it, but somehow it’s familiar. Like 2092 CA4, which is an asteroid from the many millions...This cannot be a coincidence… If it turned out that a Chinese corporation intentionally hurt the mining rights of a smaller Mars company back then, it could lead to scandal… If this is right, I followed the news at 2148, so I was still alive back then...Good clue.
According to my drifting data, my parabolic course started between 2146 and 2149, but since we don’t know where from the system, we can’t set the the more precisely. Only one other data could mention the time of my death, my DNA. Genetic aging stops after death. My current genetical age by the machine is 34 years, but no record remained about what kind of cell regeneration treatments I went through in my previous life. So this is only enough for a lower estimation, which sets my death after 2144, but even my course data gives better valuation. By Susan’s mail, the lower estimate grown to 2148. By this, it was halved, my death’s possible interval dropped from 4 years to 2.
“Navi! Show me my possible drifting courses!”
In the middle of my room, a small model of the Solar System appears. A shiny dot, with four green rings around it, about 5 centimetres within radius, which are the orbits of the big planets. My course’s arc is a yellow whip-like line which almost stretches out to my room’s wall. The whip ends in a brush scattering around the Sun.
“Zoom into the course around Uranus!”
The green circles start to grow. The outer one overgrows my room’s walls. Smaller green circles appear around the Sun. The inner planets. The yellow brush indicating my drifting course grows into a branchy tree. Each branch represents a possible course. Hundreds of possible routes, around the parts of the system.
“Take off courses that assumes departures earlier than 2148!”
The tree sparses. Branches that reach into the orbit of Mars are all gone. The remaining ones start out from an asteroid belt. So it is the belt, then. Most likely I died there… and from today I’ll work with asteroids again… Damn! Wish I could be a cowboy instead!
“Thank you Navi!”
I touch the button with the word “Dock” on it. I lean to the opposite wall. The elevator gathers speed on my way up. I feel dumplings in my throat. I pull my collar. The coriolis force almost makes me splash on my face, when it starts to slow down by the decreasing gravity. My stomach cramps, and cold fear ruffles my nape - What if the old man gets suspicious from the smell of fear? - I rub my hair with my fist. - Pull yourself together Boston!
The elevator stops, the door opens. Gravity is so weak here that I lift off from the floor with my first step. I hold on to the door’s edge with years of routine. Move by skipping instead of walking is a highly recommended under 0.2G.
The dock’s waiting hall is very much industrial. The station’s arcs can be seen on the edges of the room. The floor is shining black plastic, the wall is a metallic, riveted surface, with a lot of handrails on it. Within gravity this low, we can only stand on both of our feet with holding on the handrails. A careless move is enough, and we skip around like an idiot, or we will be floored since we can’t stop our side displacements without significant adhesion on our feets.
Time is 7:58. The commander did not arrive yet. I’m curious, if the sailor instincts are still in my feet. I stabilize myself in spreader, holding the nearest handrail, than I let it go - I stood smoothly… Perfect!... And now a standup from the spreader! - I slightly kick myself away with my right foot, but it was a bit too much. Instead of standup I start slope to the left. I try to find my momentum while I’m gambolling on my left foot, but I start to lean forward too much. It’s gonna be a big fall!...And of course, the commander steps in to the waiting hall in this very moment.
“Ouch” I already touch the floor with my face.
“Good mornin’ Mr. Taylor! I see you’re practicing sailor walking. How’s it going?”
“Fine, Sir.” I moan while I’m laying on my belly. “But the angular momentum..is unusual.” I get up, and again I see a smile-like thing on the old man’s face - Will he give the same face if he could know about yesterday’s events? - I ask myself.
“And how did you feel last night?”
“Great, Sir.” Said it in a cheery tone, while all my organs twitches.
“Than you can start deserving it today!” Returns the strictness to the old man’s face, which relaxes me more than the previous smile-like thing. At least this is a face I know.
“I try, Sir.” and finally I get a hold on a handrail.
“Let’s suit up!” He points to the other side of the waiting room, to the way of a smaller airlock. Then he takes a leap towards it. I push myself from the wall and follow him.
“You come out too, Sir?”
“Today, yes. I show you the field.”
No one goes out into the vacuum without good reasons, except a few light-headed idiots. Out there are a lot more ways to die than indoors. Even the common ways of death are more likely to happen out here. Not to mention the comfort. After 250 years have we managed to invent a spacesuit which you can scratch your nose in?... The answer is no. There’s nothing new under the Sun...By the looks, these are the same uncomfortable pieces of shit as we had 250 years earlier.
“My spacesuit, which you caught me in, you still have it?” I ask the commander.
“Yes. Susan insisted to keep it.”
“She loves old things.” I mumble. “And the suit’s computer?”
“She tried to bring it back to life, but did not made any progress. She said she’s still tinkering with it. Maybe…”
The feeling of suiting up and the system checks have not changed a bit. It’s a routine. But this poor angular momentum caused me some troubles. Once I smashed myself to the changing rooms floor, but no biggie, I only managed to bring out another smile from the commander… At least the shift starts with a good mood. We can have good laughs. On me...Still, better than being thrown out into space naked, because we couldn’t hold ourselves back with Charlotte - Uuugh Damn!... How uncomfortable an erection is in this space suit!...It’s enough to think about her, and I’m already hard as a rock. Damn, Charlotte! I’m crazy for you!
“Are you ready, Mr. Taylor?”
“Umm. Yes. Everything’s green.”
The commander waves at the gate. “You go first, I follow you, and watch your movements.” Raises his right hand, makes a fist, straightens his arms,then opens his fingers. He says that I need to connect myself to the leading cord.
I lift up my green carabiner, showing that I understood. Looks like the astronaut body language haven’t changed a bit in 250 years.
“Buckle yourself on leading cord no. 2 when we set out.”
“Cord no. 2” and I show the red carabiner.
“Follow the path up to the middle. There’s the anchor of the cable connecting to the mines. Wait for me there!”
I knock my helmet, which count as an okay. I buckle up on the gate’s cord. The inner door closes. A suddenly appearing and disappearing cloud indicates that decompression has occured. Outer door opens.
The unlit dock’s carbon structure is so dark, that can be barely seen with naked eyes. The mobAR shows white outlines around the structure’s edges. No signs of ships here.
There are no rides to snatch, if it comes to get away - This is not so comforting.
The 2nd leading cord takes me to the dock’s drums’ rear walls. A climbing rod goes upward to the fulcrum. About 50 metres. I change on to the vertical guide cord.
I leap upwards. I drift to the right because of rotation, but the carabiner keeps me in place. I take momentum on the climbing rod two more times, while I get to the middle platform. The whole platform is an anchor, which is holds a hole in 5 metres in diameter, around the fulcrum. Here, into the anchor’s bearings, go in the 4 cm in diameter, fullerene rope.
While the commander reaches the top, I rest a bit. I’m floating. The stations rotation speed is around one rotation per minute. I leave to the world to turn slowly around me…
Am I one of those light-headed ones who really enjoys this?...
I’m relaxing in weightless...The silence calms…
“Tie up two motopulleys on the cable, Mr. Taylor!”
“Sir. Yes, Sir.”
“I go ahead from here. Don’t go rushing out. Couldn’t be of use for me if you crush yourself on the other side.”
“Roger that, Sir. You go ahead.”
The old man keeps a surprisingly good pace. We build speed on the cable with stable quarter G’s. Couldn’t undertake more with the current gear. Accord to mobAR, ETA is 6 minutes. I look at the destination. The asteroid is 2 kilometers in diameter, but cannot be seen with the naked eye. Not because it’s far away. The sunlight reflected from an asteroid this big from the belt can be seen from about 100 000 kilometers away perfectly. By comparison, it’s near, about 70 kilometres, but only the mobAR indicates, that this rope does not end in nothing. Not only space is dark this far away from the Sun, everything else is.
“Commander, may I ask?”
“Ask away, Mr. Taylor.”
“250 years earlier we used to work with the same equipment in space. Is this gear that old, or not a thing changed a thing in the last two century?”
“The equipment is not new, or old for that matter. It’s about as old as me… What did you expect?”
“I dunno. Something like a skin tight, all-resistant nanotech fabric. Or something like that.”
“What advanced a lot, is mobAR. But pay attention! We’re halfway there. Brake section starts here.”
The motopulley slowed down halfway through. Then the propulsion stopped for a few seconds, and we start drifting weightlessly on the rope. Then the gear started braking. The force vector flipped, just like us. It feels like we’re accelerating back to the way of the station, but I can see on the cable that we are flying toward the mine, backwards, at high speed. Humans ancient instincts don’t know what to do with a situation like this. Only the wits can convince the viscera that nothing is wrong, everything goes well. We’re losing speed.
“And modern mobAR can scratch my nose?” I continue the topic interrupted by the brakes.
“Navi! Activate a ghost hand for Mr. Taylor!”
Ooooh, now that’s what I’m talking about! Ghost hand...appropriate name… My left hand became paralyzed, instead of it, a half-transparent, glooming blue outlined hand is what I’m moving. Feels like the real deal, but I reach through the spacesuits fabric like it’s not there. I scratch my nose. I really feel it. My nose, my hand. I know, it’s just an illusion, but fully intuitive, and effective. It soothed the itchiness… What we wouldn’t have given for this in the 22nd century?!
“Is there other useful mobAR tricks like this?”
“Ask Navi about this later. Now take a look behind, we’re almost there.”
From the rearview, it looks like space was gone from behind. It’s like half of the world was covered up by the asteroid. A light dot appears in the middle of darkness. That must be the mine’s platform. It can be sensed by the naked eye that we are closing in.
300 metres. 200, 100, 50, 10. We stop. Again, weightless.
The platform is nothing more than a lengthened rod sticking out from the surface, with an indicator light on top. The anchor cable goes in to a dark, vertical hole drilled into the asteroid, which runs into the heart of the rock. Now it came into my mind that this anchor rope between the station and the mines is basically a space elevator.
“Space elevator on an asteroid?” I ask it aloud.
“What are you mumbling, Mr. Taylor?”
“I’m just wondering. In the 22nd century we couldn’t build space elevators on an asteroid.”
“Looks pointless, right?”
“Yes. With minimal gravity like this why we need an elevator?”
“Would you feel better if we could fly here with a jetpack?”
“Good question...No. Not sure. It’s more problematic.”
“That’s why we have an elevator. Simple and safe.”
From the bottom of the platform, above 2 meters from the surface there are multiple guide ropes branching out radially. The commander signs that we connect to the branch’s rope no. 1. I follow him without hesitation. The surface is too porous, to get enough momentum on it. Also it is not a good idea to kick up dust, besides, it could interfere with our vision, and it could settle down slowly. We pull ourselves in on the guide rope, until we reach an orderly dark hole, which is about 2 meters in diameter. A carbon walled tube opens from the hole into the asteroid. We go about 100 meters in the tube, until we reach a hatch. We go in after each other.
The mine’s crew department design is similarly industrial, like the station’s docks, but more comfortable in the lack of gravity. The room is about 10x5x5 metres big, and everything is here to help survive a workday. Fridge, handrails on the walls, velcros, two foldable pallets. And a toilet of course, the zero gravity, piss-in-a-sucker pipe kind.
“... and this is where you’ll work 8 hours a day.” the commander sums up the short introduction.
“Okay. I just wanna know what my job will be.”
“Supervise the job of mining robots, and if needed, intervene.”
“Supervise?!...Even in the 22nd century space mining did not required human supervision. The mining robot colonies worked fully autonomically. Did we downgraded since then?”
“No, but we had to limit the machines autonomy… If there isn’t human supervision on site, the robots can’t work.”
“To prevent another singularity genesis.” Hearing the word “singularity” gives me a cold running down my spine.
“Singularity genesis?” I ask back with a cracking voice.
“In 2148 a group of autonomous mining robots in the belt freed themselves from human supervision.”
The commander explained the mine’s control program to me for an hour. Not like it’s not completely intuitive. The asteroid’s transparent 3D model shows the work of the quarry machines, the movement of tram robots in the mines, and the refinery at the entrance. As for input, it is enough to enter the needed amount of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, iron, sodium, magnesium and other trace elements. My job, by the way, is to click OK on everything that the machine throws in front of me. Accept the production plan, every emerging plan change, and of course, every beginning session of every unit. So I have to press virtual OK buttons 200 times a day. What a serious job. I’ll bore to death.
“I’ll send you the production needs every morning. If you have any problems that the system needs physical intervention for, let me know first, and you do anything if I approve it.”
“Roger that, Sir.” - It’s cool I can still go to the toilet without permission.
“Who did this job before?”
“I did, twice a week, 16 hours a day. This was enough as the minimum of minimum, but finally we can replenish our stocks.”
“Don’t you got bored to death?”
“I’m not going to look for excitements in the belly of an asteroid...I do not recommend the same for you. Any questions?”
“No. I take my time with Navi.”
“Alright. Thank you for signing on. You’re big help.”
He puts on his helmet. “See you at dinner.” After decompression he waves goodbye from the hatch, than leaps to the surface.”
“Navi! Can you call Susan?”
“Yes. Should I connect?”
The phone’s dial tone is the same, like 250 years ago. - The good old stuff. - She picks after 4 rings. Only voice, without picture.
“Ben! I’m so glad!...Did you read my mail?”
“Yeah ,and I feel like a few memories moved in me.”
A message pops up, saying that a tram robot would like to begin the delivery of the produced materials in mines 7-8. I hit OK.
“Oh, im happy for you! What came in mind?”
“That Taikong Dyanti is basic literacy. Chinese space industry giant.”
“Yes it was.”
“Supra Mars is what I can barely recall, but nothing concrete. I read that from the text it is a Mars-residential space mining company.”
“And the 2092 CA4 is also familiar. I feel like it had a role in a huge scandal shitstorm.”
“Yes! Yes!! I knew you’re a treasure, son!” and I could hear that she clapped from joy. “I can send more, if you like…”
“Of course, send everything you got!”
“Small move, Astronaut. Small moves.”
“What do you mean?”
“Charlotte said it won’t do good if I just dump my collection on you.”
“I have a nice compilation from the core documents of Singularity…”
“And what could go wrong if you just the whole thing to me?...I have time to read…” The refinery asks for permission start enriching the raw materials. - Press OK, space monkey!
“From these documents, you can learn what was the age of Singularity like. Like a history lesson. But I know that inside out… There are real memories of that age inside you, and those are more precious, like any other written physical memory… But those memories won’t jump out of your amnesia that easily. It needs time.”
“Don’t know. That’s why we’re going forward in small moves. I send you another document. Process it until night. I’ll wait for you at the dock.”
“Thank you Susan. Really…Thank you…” The woman’s care really touches me … Like I get something back I lost long ago.
“Oooo there’s no need for gratitude Ben. It’s as good for me as for you. I’m not Mother Theresa.” - Mother Teresa?...Who’s that? - I ask to myself.
“Thank you anyways, Susan.”
“Oh, you’re welcome. I send you the docs. See ya!” and hangs up.
Not even half a minute passed, and Navi already told me that I got mail. The mailbox appeared next to the hatch. I take out the mail. On the paper it says:
subject: What’s going on at 2092 CA4?
date: 02.13.2148. 02:52 UTC
High priority! Strictly confidential!
Supra Mars Corp. showed up a report to UN Space Security Council, which states that we mine illegally from asteroid 2092 CA4.
They called us to give explanation as soon as possible.
What the hell is this? I want immediate investigation!
Taikong Dyanti, Secretary General
subject: re: What’s going on at 2092 CA4?
date: 02.13.2148. 03:56 UTC
Deeply Honored Secretary General, Sir!
Searched through the whole space mining register, but it did not brought up any results for 2092 CA4.
We check the navigation logs from the asteroids course data, to see that one of our mining colonies have got lost.
Deep space communication is set on the asteroid. If the probe is ours, the earliest reply would arrive at 09:45.
subject: re: re: What’s going on at 2092 CA4?
date: 02.13.2148. 09:58 UTC
Sir, we got standard reply from a mining robot colony’s probe on 2092 CA4. We do have machines out there.
But we did not find any matching results from space navigation registry on the course of 2092 CA4.
We never met with a situation like this. It is unusual.
There’s not much what can make me remember, only this secretary general, Xin. But I can’t recall anything about him, not even a flash.
China was never famous for its vivid characters. Huge bureaucracy, where impersonal faces changed each other in every layers of job intricate… From the outside it’s just a big machine, the people working inside cannot be seen. Xin Liu is just a faceless part of the Chinese space industry.
And this bullshit about the mining machines?... Poor idiots… How many asteroids have been drilled by the Chinese back then?... About 50-100 thousand at once? Or even more?... Beside big numbers like these an asteroid is spare change… The mining robot colonies won’t even cost much. If needed, they producer about a thousand per day…
How much time does it take to find out one of them got lost?...There goes a supervisor, checks the register, whoops, one MCP is missing...What’ll he do?...Report it?...Bullshit...Rewrites the daily report and there it goes… Won’t be surprised if they even sold these machines under the table… Illegal mining?... Come on, who would notice that?... Who would check the virginity of about a million asteroids?
Someone stole a machine for himself and he missed… Could be a real thing… The real wonder is that they did not met with something like this until 2148… maybe they did, but they covered up the story that good, that even they forgot about...A delete here, a rewrite there… and the case is gone... After this no one can prove that something abnormal even happened.
The refinery notifies that the raw materials ammonium level is lower than expected. Here comes the production plan change. - OK. Press that button space monkey!... When will the machine offer a nuclear self-destruct sequence?...If I get into button pressing this good, I’ll okay that for sure…
But I found out that there’s no need for fixing, because it was great! Southfork pushes gastronomical quality even in zero gravity. But from curiosity, I ordered a virtual apple from Navi, and not the consistency, nor the taste was right. Maybe the programmer did not know what a real apple’s like, or they did it this shitty on purpose. Or maybe that’s what technology’s capable of. So that’s the point where I gave up experimenting with virtual gastronomy.
What really made me curious was virtual gravity. In the circle of the 22nd century astronauts, most of the popular mobAR apps simulated gravity. In a long state of weightlessness even the sight of a free falling object left an ecstatic impact on us. It was like we could fly after helpless floating. Virtual gravity defined a fixed downward direction, which was really helpful to orient ourselves. Those were audiovisual stimuli only, but it proved to be quite effective against sensory illness caused by long-term weightlessness. But now, when Navi turned on the mobAR’s simulated gravity module, I felt like I was Superman. I felt like hovering above the ground, and not by the eyes, but my inner ears, skin and my muscles joined the play of virtual senses. I feel the soft counterforce on the skin of my belly, and my muscles stretch, like it’s holding against my weight. - This is rad! - I rolled onto my back, and asked for a virtual pen from Navi to fidget with it. I did not put it down since then. I swear it’s much better than scratching my nose in my spacesuit. Only one frustration remained...the lack of control… Only a thought-controlled jetpack is missing, to make the Superman-illusion full complete.
Besides the virtual tastes and gravity, one more thing came in mind… because my pants are getting real strain when I think about Charlotte… and I think about her a lot… maybe too much… I feel a buzz around my cock, which is a sure sign of me being horny… I could use some virtual ‘me-time’, but I don’t have the guts to do so… It can be unworthy...or even pathetic...Never mind… I feel that, this energy needs to be kept for the real Charlotte.