The Artist walked out onto the platform with the other miners. She suited up along with them and watched as the great doors opened.
They stepped into the airlock, bulky pressure suits slowing their movements as they stepped forwards. The doors closed behind them and the lock began to depressurize. They were going out now.
The Artist tilted back her head and breathed deeply the stale scent of recycled air. It had been a long time since she had worn one of these suits. Not since she had first lived on Star’s End. A long time ago now. On the tiny little platform that had become the mighty Arc.
She shook herself out of the memories and stepped forwards with the rest of the crew, She picked up her tools, and stepped through the hatch into the great driller ship. She knew these.
They would launch down into the ring, penetrate deeply into a hunk of rock, ice, or whatever happened to be the target. Then the sides would open and they would go to work, sawing off the edges, and placing them in their analyzers. If any of them found something worthwhile the chunk would be towed back to be fully mined. The one who found the resources would be able to stake a claim, get bonuses, extras. But not enough, never enough to get them oiut of debt to the mining companies. They would do this for a few hours, then switch to the larger strip miners that just tore the ring apart regardless of what there was there. That way you would get some time working towards a big payoff; striking it rich on an asteroid that was full of valuable minerals, staking a claim on it, and getting it dragged back, and also with the cheap, reliable work that was the strip mining.
She hated both of them. The asteroids were for desperate fools, while the strip mining was for those who had given up hope of everything else. But this was her ticket off the Arc if she could just be patient a bit longer.
Patience had never been here strong suit, but she would wait. She would wait, and plan.
She passed the morning drilling and slicing, cutting pieces of the asteroids and chunks of ice off and slotting them into analyzers. Nobody found anything.
When the spike finally returned to the Arc the crew was tired, dirty, and exhausted, but they just walked over to a lift and stepped aboard. The Artist was glad that she could follow them or else she would never have been able to find her way to the Strippers.
The lift descended through the floor and doors closed above it. The cabin re-pressurized long enough for the miners to open their vents, get some fresh air, and change out the power cartridges on their suits.
Then the cabin began to de-pressurize again as it passed down into the transport loading bay. The shuttles would take them out to the strippers, and bring whoever wanted to return back. The Artist took a window seat.
As the shuttle flew out she watched the Arc recede into the distance behind her. Soon it was gone from her view completely.
She watched the rings spiral by instead. There was a swath cut through one, which they were following. It would lead them to the stripper. And there it was.
A great metal behemoth, the stripper was a pyramid. The base led, and was open. It collected the asteroids, rocks, and ice, and funnelled them deeper inside.
Next there was a large sorting area. There workers would drift about to attach long cables to the chunks and drag them to the right sections. Once there they would be melted down for their constituent components.
But it was hard to describe what she saw. The thing was so massive. The engines at the end glowed and roared, the debris spiralled out of vents and holes in the sides, there was a near constant flow of shuttles and carriers moving back and forth around it, too and from the Arc. And she knew that this monstrosity was one of a dozen.
But aboard it she would find a way out, and even a distraction to help her escape. Soon she would be free. Soon.
Kral sat back and stared after Lian as she left to check on the cargo crates. He didn’t trust her. He couldn’t trust her.
Not really. No friend of the Butcher’s could be a good person. But Jor had said that they needed her. If they needed her, well, he would put up with her for as long as needed.
He spun back to the screen and watched the minutes count down to the jump. Soon he would be back at the fleet where he belonged, and everything would be right again. Soon.
Lian walked back to the cargo hold. She wished that she could convince this man to trust her. He seemed like a good person, and he was truly devoted to protecting the Arc. That much she could tell from their conversation.
The rest she would tell from hacking his files later. But for now she had to check on the crates, make sure that Iris was still ok in her stasis. If she wasn’t then this whole trip would be worthless.
She checked all the crates. All of them still had green lights flashing. All of them were powered, were active. Good.
She leaned back against the wall and stared at them. When they arrived she would open them all, deactivate the traps, and wake up Iris again. Then she and Jor could plan the downfall of Callion. It would start soon. Soon.
Jor squatted beside his mother. She was searching through a pile of refuse.
“Now Jor” she said “Remember this. Its an important lesson. You see these marks here? Here and here. That means that this is human flesh. Do not consume it”
She threw the piece of meat into a growing pile at her side.
“Now look at this. No marks. None of the colours I warned you about. See? This is safe. It is not human meat” She gave the much smaller piece the Jor.
“Eat it quickly my son. If someone sees us with meat, we will become targets”
“But Mother, what about you? You never eat anything yourself. You should eat this”
His mother shook her head and leaned forwards to kiss him on the forehead.
“I eat plenty my dear. You need to eat this. Keep up your strength. You are younger, and still a boy. A growing boy needs his food”
“No ‘but Mother’-ing me. Now eat”
Jor chewed on the rotting food as he looked around. The Undercity was disgusting. It was a wreck. It was miserable.
But it was his home. It was where he lived, and he would make the best of it. He had his mother who loved him and cared for him and protected him, and so he was fine.
As she continued to sort through the pile of refuse Jor saw movement in the shadows a ways off.
“Mother” he poked her arm “I see something”
She was instantly alert, spinning him around behind her, one hand reaching for the pistol that she had managed to hang onto even now. Jor was not sure if it had any shots left.
“Right here missy”
Three men stepped out of the shadows. Two held clubs. The one in the led did not.
“You’re cutting in on our territory. That cannot be allowed. You gotta pay us”
He stepped forwards. As he did Jor looked around to see another four men step out from the other directions. They were trapped.
His mother pulled out the pistol and aimed it at the leader.
“This doesn’t have to end in bloodshed. If you let us go then we can all walk away and I won’t have to shoot you. Make the right choice”
Her hands were steady, stock still as she stared at the man. But she hadn’t noticed the other four.
“Mother!” Jor shouted, but it was too late. They rushed her and tackled her. As the five of them scuffled on the ground the gun went off, once, twice, three times. Jor could hear it clicking again, but it didn’t fire. Evidently there had only been three shots left.
Two of the thugs pulled themselves out of the mess of bodies. His mother didn’t move.
“Well then kid, looks like you are going to have to pay. Since you’ve been eating our food you are going to give us more food. And we’ll start with your legs, and then maybe your eyes, and then we’ll go from there”
The man stepped forward, but Jor just stared at his mother. His mother. Dead. She had looked after him, cared for him, been everything to him. And now she was dead.
Something in him snapped.
He leapt towards the leader, dodging past the two thugs, and flipped up into the air. Midway through the flip he latched his legs around the man’s neck and twisted. His momentum combined with the twisting produced a sickening crack.
As the man fell Jor rolled over and out towards the next one. He grabbed a piece of jagged metal from the leader’s bel and sliced at the tendons in the legs of both the thugs, and then bounced back.
As they fell his blade flashed once, twice, across. Their throats cut they collapsed. As he rushed the last two.
They had been frozen with surprise, but no more. The one on the left grabbed for a spar of metal while the one of the right dropped into a fighting stance. Jor’s thrown shard caught the one with the spar in the eye.
As he dropped Jor leapt into the air and, flipping around, landed on the amn’s shoulders. He dropped down, sat, and his fingers sought the man’s eyes.
The man screamed as his fingers dug deep, the long jagged nails tearing at the tender flesh of the eyes. He dug his nails deeper and deeper until he felt hardness. Later he would realize that it was the skull, but at the time he knew that the man just collapsed.
Jor managed to tumble off his shoulders as he fell. He retrieved the knife from the corpse without thinking, then realized what he had done, and looked around.
He was four. He had killed five men in seconds. Brutally. And he hadn’t even been scratched.
He panted, the men dead around him. He knew that he would have to run after this, and not stop. He was on his own. But he could defend himself somehow. He already had.Jor looked one last time at his mother before breaking into a run.