Because the Damn Thing’s There, Okay?
By Jeff Baker
AUTHOR’S NOTE: the draws for the July Flash Fiction Draw Challenge were an Adventure, set in the Asteroid Belt, involving a Pie Tin. Here’s what I came up with, and I’ll post the rest of the stories on the 20th.
The Pop Suit’s circulation filter was somehow cutting back on the dizziness so Manny could stand and gawk at the stars as the asteroid they were standing on slowly rotated. He could hear the hiss of air and the low beeping of his wrist adjuster, as well as Luke’s breathing over the digital link. He stared at the distant bulk of nearby asteroids in the Asteroid Belt seeming to set behind the near horizon.
“Hey, Manny! Get back to work!” Luke’s voice crackled in Manny’s helmet. He sighed again. Time to sift through more rocks on this potentially rich asteroid.
Manny Ruiz had been twenty-four when he’d been convicted of a mass-burglary scheme. He’d spent three-and-a-half years in a work-facility on one of Jupiter’s moons and was now on a “limited-release-work-detail.” This meant he could work for pay but not much pay. He’d signed on with Luke’s Asteroid Mineral Retrieval Service. In other words, they were mining the Asteroid Belt.
“Because the damn thing’s there, okay?” That was Luke’s usual response to why he was doing this. Manny had his suspicions about other motives.
Manny pushed the chunks of rock aside with the scoop that looked like a pie tin. Nothing was registering on the scan. At least there was enough gravity on this big lump of rock. He checked the scan device. It just wasn’t working. He realized he wasn’t even hearing the small regular beep from his wrist adjuster which sent off a signal telling where Manny was, a condition of his current status. He remembered reading that some minerals in the Asteroid Belt negated some electronic signaling devices.
Manny looked upward. He could see the Earth, a small blue dot, and the Sun further in the distance; it’s brightness filtered through his helmet’s visor. He glanced around. Luke was over on the other side of the small hill.
But he could still see the ship.
He moved over to where the small four seater craft with the big storage bay was parked and went in through the airlock. Once inside, he pulled off his glove and carefully twisted the band of his wrist adjuster off his wrist. He grit his teeth; it was supposed to be in contact with his skin at all times. But maybe whatever was jamming the signals was jamming the adjuster too. He pulled it all the way off his wrist and let out a sigh of relief; no shock, no alarm. The display read: “Unavailable.”
He quickly pulled on his glove and went out through the airlock, dropping the wrist adjuster on the ground.
“Free.” Manny breathed.
When he was back inside and had pressurized the cabin he took off. Luke would be okay, there was a space freighter that checked on them every couple of days to make sure they weren’t smuggling anything. They would be there even if Luke’s signaler wasn’t working. Anyway, Manny would be hiding with friends on Earth by then.
Manny was humming as he set the automatic navigation controls for Earth. The ship headed in the opposite direction. Manny tried to switch the controls to manual. Nothing happened. The ship went on darting through the maze of asteroids heading out of the Solar System.
The ship must have been pre-programmed and Manny had set it off. He glanced at an indicator at the far end of the console: there was something stored in the cargo bay. Luke must have programmed it to take off and return after dropping off whatever was in the cargo bay while Luke and Manny were busy on the asteroid.
Manny leaned back in the pilot seat and relaxed. Nothing to do but wait and see exactly who it was that Luke was dealing with. Well, Manny could make deals too. And whoever he was dealing with, they could always use a good second story man with mining experience.