Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Gates of Gehenna

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Duty on Gehenna was no picnic. The coolest temps would boil your unprotected brain pan. Only in the protection of your suit or the floating cities were you in any way safe and secure. You need only look at men and women who'd been living here for longer than five Prime years to know those protections were limited in terms of the lingering effects of radiation. Then there was the little matter of the often touted ninety-nine percent pure food and water. What was that extra percent? I'm no scientist, but I can tell you it's the one percent that leads to birth defects and the Rot.

Why on God's little green and blue apple would anyone serve here, then? The answer is the same no matter what. Money. The mantle was rich with Iridium-2. Only place in the known galaxy where you could find it as easy as picking up a stone. Provided that hand was covered in eight layers of protection.

Not everyone here was a miner, but everyone here did depend on what the miners did. Their job wasn't hard, but it was demanding and dangerous. The instability of the Iridium-2 made it a great fuel for Einstein-Hawking drives, but it also made it risky to use any large mining vehicles to gather. You suited up, walked into the mine, picked up what you could carry and packed it out in special made carriers. Gravity on Gehenna meant you could only get ten kilos or less on any given trip. Most people who could carry more were just too big to get into some of the tight holes. The best miners were often women, since they were more flexible and smaller while being pound for pound not much less strong.

None of that was why I was here. I pulled the helmet on over my head and locked it in place. Once the meters all showed green, I opened the door. The atmosphere was a rabid beast who only wanted to strip my flesh from its bones. Sensors told me it was a balmy sixty-three degrees. The wind blew at a healthy fifty kilometers. The quality of light was orange and visibility was at least a kilometer in every direction.

The elevator took me to the Maw. I nodded to the mine boss, knowing my suit's credentials would show me as someone who belonged here. Once I passed through the gate, I pulled the retractor from its holster. It was most often used to grab Iridium-2 from tighter spaces. It was also usually padded. I found it made a far more effective killing tool once the safety measures were removed.

A small green dot showed on my heads up display. There was my target. Carefully, I ducked and crawled my way through the maze of stone. Blue-white dots illuminated paths to parts of the mine proven safe and accessible. No surprise my quarry was off the beaten path. She'd always had a way of getting into the nooks and crannies. It's what made her one of the best in the business.

"Stop right where you're at." The voice crackled to me over the near field radio. It was hard to place pitch or timbre. All the minerals above and around them played havoc with most communications. Another thing that made this job extra hazardous. You get stuck and no one may know about it until they find your body. Thus, they used an ancient technology that allowed you to transmit bursts of low res data.

I held up my retractor and clacked its metal claws together. "We can do this easy, or hard. You could fall on a sharp rock and pierce your suit. Or you could get ripped apart by an accidental explosion."

"Son, you should know better than to threaten your mother."

We had the same hair pattern, a swirling widow's peak of black that resolved into feathery wisps at our temples. "You should know better than to call it a threat."

She raised a palm sized slug thrower. "True. I did raise you to know better. Come any closer and I promise I'll blow us both through the gates of Gehenna."

Story and Characters (c)/by Scott Roche


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