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21: Options

From her vantage point it was easy to watch the sun set over the eastern horizon, it was the best time of day as far as she was concerned. As it dipped lower, the sky lit up with tendrils of green plasma, giving the sky that iridescence she thought was so enchanting before it seemed to vanish entirely; even-though she’d been here for over ten years, the sight never got old.

Sal watched the scene for another 10 minutes before heading back down to where her crew had set up camp. It had been a hard day that started off with Franks being pulled into the bore hole; even the sharpest operators make mistakes and Franks was too sharp to go out like that. Then they broke three drill bits as the crop turned out to be a lot harder than anyone expected. But they got what they came for, capping the crop late afternoon, ready for the extractors to move in and start ‘mining’.

Of course, though the capping only took a day, it was easy to forget it took the best part of three weeks to find this outcrop. Three weeks where the crew made next to no money and even though they were ‘company’, salaries were a thing of the past. Sal remembers the regular pay cheques but that all ended some years back when the company came up with a scheme they termed ‘cap and earn’. Basically it amounted to no cash until they capped a deposit; because scouting and drills that didn’t deliver was not ‘working’. Sure, the company equipped them with everything they needed to work, and survive, but beyond that there was little else until they could send in the extraction rig. And best part of this whole deal? Getting off this rock and back through the Rip was expensive, so for the most part they were a captive market.

The night passed without incident, thankfully. There’d been three altercations with the natives on this trip and one run in with a crew from one of the other companies. Fisticuffs with other crews were one thing but the ‘natives’, that was a whole other. The incidents left Sal’s crew jittery to say the least and more than a little looking forward to getting back to a forward base. And all that shit for no cash. Sure the bonus’ for capping were good and as this was a good outcrop the bonus would be solid, but being shot at and running into natives… and not being paid? What if they didn’t find a good outcrop?

They were already moving by the time the sun came up and the heat started to really set in. Three Fleischemaschines had been set in place to keep the cap safe and if they couldn’t, then they were set to blow; whoever was stupid enough to be around when that happened would have zero time to think about their mistake.

Sal had been thinking of getting out of the game for a while already. Even though the crew was solid and had some real company stars, this expedition was already seeming like one too many. There was a colony on the southern side she’d seen a few times, tucked under a shelf plate and surrounded by the electric blue subterranean sea. It was the perfect spot to set up and chill out for a while. She had enough cash stashed away to probably get off this rock and head back to System but really, what was there for her?

She was in deep thought when Mick came up to her, that wry look on his face he gets when he knows something. Plopping his heavy frame into the sling seat in front of her, he leans in and asks in his off guard casual manner “Sal, you heard about those crazy fuckers over North way doing some bat crazy race to cap outcrops?…”

Story Arc MAG-100

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22: Pop Guns

And just like that, conflict changed. Sure, there were boarders, or industry, or pride to protect, but now a bit of money could be made on the side.

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A collection of hard science fiction tales written and illustrated by Gerard Thomas.

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