09: Bad ideas
Smitty thought it was a daft idea to begin with. Sure, there was trouble at the Eastern Rim mine, something about the natives getting restless (there were natives?) as well as reported instances of TagCorp crews dropping in and poaching the ore. But still, strapping a rail gun to a Platform? That was madness, surely?
Platforms. Originally regarded as the most stupid things ever conceived, they were overblown versions of the drilling platforms of the past; but after 20 years mining this sandy rock, and loosing countless crews in the process, someone thought miners needed something… better. So some old schematics for the antique platforms were dug up, along with a few operational relics, and the whole lot was injected with a serious dose of ‘bigger is better’. What they ended up with some deemed monstrosities – ‘frankenmachines’. Others saw them as the solution they had been waiting for. Smitty, well, he was a driver so didn’t really care, as long as it didn’t get him killed.
The exact configuration of a Platform came down to who made it and what it was used for. The ‘driver approved’ options were the quads, they were stable and could navigate most terrain without fuss. At the other end of the spectrum were the tripods. Nimbler in small spaces, sometimes faster; though that’s not saying much. Smitty had piloted them all but now had his own quad he contracted out – he was one of the best pilots going which, he suspected, is why he’d been roped into this caper.
The rail gun was a relic, supposedly brought to the mine back when it was being established, to protect it from any… fuss. It though had sat in its crate since being unloaded and no one was even sure it still worked. What’s more, everyone was pretty sure the EMPO rounds were well past their used by date… if they had a used by date. No one wanted to find out. Still, being a rail gun, the machine shop was able to whip up some suitably shaped slugs it could fire against whoever and still make a point; armed conflict was just not a thing, there was enough on this rock that could kill you, so killing one another seemed unnecessary. Instead everyone simply resorted to harsh words and ‘machine beating’ `– no one was ready to be shot at personally, not even by a slingshot.
They mounted the gun to the top; a relatively easy job since there would usually have been a bucket, waldo, or some such on the hardpoint. The bigger issue was squeezing in the gunnery position; Platforms, despite their size, were strictly single pilot affairs. They did it, but looking at the position Smitty was glad it was not him in the ad-hoc cockpit slung under the barrel… anyway, he was paid to drive, not think, so he didn’t put too much thought into it. With any luck, the whole thing would be for nothing, he’d grab his cash and get on to the next, more normal gig.
They shuttled the Platform out to the mine early morning. Even with Smitty at the controls, it would have taken a full day to walk there and apparently things were more urgent than that. Once there though, Smitty’s platform blended in nicely, if you discounted the big gun strapped to the top. By midday the mining crews were getting jittery; the briefing said that’s when ‘things’ happened, if they were going to happen, so Smitty got the coils hot and the weapon’s guy primed the rail gun. It hummed into life with a rather unsettling crackle. And, as if on cue, the proverbial hit the fan.
In hindsight, Smitty realised they didn’t have too much of a chance. It happened so fast most of it was a blur but he does remember seeing what seemed like at lest three different kinds of maschine cresting the ridge. The weapon’s guy, what was his name? He got off a few rounds, missing everything, before the platform was hit with EMPOs and the whole thing fried. Smitty was lucky, yanking the eject lever before the reactor white flashed, but the weapon’s guy… Smitty had said he was happy not to be in that cockpit.
That was 8 years ago now. Smitty was grilled for a time but there wasn’t much to say and as soon as he could, he got off Scamander and headed back through the Rift, back to the mid colonies. Within two years he’d set up MOG, specialising in the design and production of ROVs, Race Operations Vehicle’s, and was doing exceptionally well for it. Things back on Scammader had taken a turn for the strange after his encounter all those years back…
Looking for Gods in Maschines:
Spans of the known:
A collection of hard science fiction tales written and illustrated by Gerard Thomas.