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The Workforce Drive

by Scott D. Coon

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3. 4

part 1

FROM: sample1@McKenna.dsmhnet

TO: temp@BlackMountain.dsmhnet, abcd@WesternConsolidatedFMD.dsmhnet

SUBJECT: Workforce Stabilization and Enhancement Drive: Test P3.0

This memo is to confirm that Phase III begins now. Remember, it is important that only authorized “events” occur at this time. The access granted by the computer security codes provided by your competitors should only be used to retire the designated mining platforms.

Misuse of these codes, or any other news generating events, could significantly undermine our efforts to build the “pirate narrative” over the coming the news cycles. If we are to achieve our mutual goal for a more profitable Stone River Asteroid Belt, such alleged opportunism must cease until Phase III of The Workforce Stabilization and Enhancement Drive is concluded.

Thank you for your cooperation.

* * *

It was good to be out of the Skimmer. Lying prone in that thin, one-person craft for hours was hard even on the fittest body. As Bob hung from the outside of the Workforce Transit Shuttle by the magnetic tether of his pressure suit, he stretched his legs out straight and yawned. Beneath him, the tiny orb of a spacecraft puttered along, following the curve of the Stone River Asteroid Belt.

The two McKenna Mining Incorporated employees inside the shuttle had no idea that Bob was out on their hull. Their ignorance was essential because Bob’s job was that of the mythical gremlin.

Today he was on another assignment of sabotage on behalf of his employer, the Frontier Mining Division of Western Consolidated Incorporated, but this assignment was different. Most of the details were the same: to use a Skimmer to sneak into another company’s section of Stone River, covertly hitch a ride to a mining platform sitting on a valuable asteroid that would soon drift into Western Consolidated controlled space, load his assigned virus into the computers of the competitor’s mining rig to disable it, thus leaving the asteroid open to claim-jumping by Western Consolidated. And then go home and do it again and again and... yeah.

But this time it was going to be entirely too easy. Normally, to knock a competitor off a valuable rock, Bob had to battle through layers of security, but this time his manager had handed Bob security codes that would grant him instant access to his target’s computers. Which begged the question: how did his manager get those codes? Did Western Consolidated now have a mole at McKenna Mining or something?

Bob needed to stop pondering questions that he’d never dare ask and get back to stretching. Soon he’d be lying prone in his thin, one-person Skimmer, making the long trip back to Western Consolidated space, back to his yellow Western-Consolidated owned apartment, within a yellow Western-Consolidated owned space station. Sometimes, Bob thought he would wake up painted yellow and stamped, “Property of Western Consolidated, Contents: 1 Bob.”

At least his Skimmer was purposefully black.

* * *

Inside the McKenna-owned shuttle that Bob secretly clung to, within a sphere of light blue, wearing coveralls of the same light blue, stood Frank Porter. He had three rows of seats to choose from but he’d been sitting long enough. And he was about to start a week’s worth of sitting as soon this trip was over. Frank and his shift mate, Reg, were about to relieve two other miners, who were now ending their week of running a mining rig out on a remote asteroid. But, for the moment, he was just enjoying the view.

With softening eyes, Frank watched the slow drift of the Milky Way as it filled the forward viewing screen. This was not the narrow band of distant stars surrounded by a smattering more like you got back in the Orion Spur. This was an omnidirectional ocean of wonder punctuated by the nearby Hera, the star to Planet Hestia, the local seat of government and the destination for all of Stone River’s ore.

From out here, the yellow Hera was merely the brightest speck. Only one star was brighter, Stone River’s nearly nameless center of gravity, EH-2214. The nearby red dwarf glowed as bright as a nightlight upon the belly of Frank’s Workforce Transit Shuttle, spreading a soft glimmer across the bottom of the forward viewing screen. Why would anyone want to be anywhere but here?

Frank shook his head and said, “You’re walking away from all this, Reg.”

Standing beside Frank, Reg sighed, “I miss the sky, dude.”

Reg had the most spectacular sky ever right in front of him but he wasted a corner of the forward viewing screen on Skimmer racing. Camera drones followed the tiny disks around the same planet over and over, the same three guys winning every time, while the real show was washed out by the glow of the Skimmers skipping across the upper atmosphere like stones across a lake.

Frank curled his hands. “Will you turn that off and look at this already? That’s sky!”

“That’s not sky,” said Reg, “that’s space.”

Nearing their destination, the shuttle slowed and the screen automatically zoomed in on a four-story, egg-shaped mining rig. It sat like a mite amongst the towers of stone jutting from its lonely asteroid. A faint glow emanated from beneath the rig as its laser drilled into the rock and its antigravity well pumped liquefied metals into ceramic cargo containers.

“But I could help you work your way up to Master Certification,” said Frank. “Think of the jobs you’d get.”

Reg dropped his shoulders. “But I don’t want those jobs.”

“I don’t want those jobs,” grumbled Frank. “You sound like my little brother. You know what he wanted to do with his life?”

“Be a professional video game competitor,” murmured Reg.

“Play video games!” cried Frank. “How can you make a living playing video games?”

“Actually, if you’re good at it...”

“Luckily,” Frank continued, his chest puffed full of pride, “he has a brother like me. Now he’s a computer programmer and he’s on his way to having his own company!”

“With startup cash that he won playing video games,” added Reg.

Frank had accidentally half-admitted that once, but he wasn’t about to let details get in the way of his point. “And luckily, you have a friend like me. So listen already. Going back to the colonies because you’re homesick for sky is silly. It’ll put you behind your career progression. All you have to do out here is bring in the ore, get your certifications, and not make trouble. Then up, up, up you go. It’s easy. And that sky back there ain’t crap compared to this.” Frank stretched his arms wide as if he could gather up the starry void like a comfy quilt.

“Yeah, I’ll miss you guys and all,” said Reg, “but I’m ready to go.” He looked Frank hard in the eye. “I’m not you.”

As the Workforce Transit Shuttle descended into the forest of stone pillars surrounding the mining platform, Frank silently searched for the right words to get through to Reg. Before he could find any, the shuttle reached its portal on the far side of the rig.

At the center of the camera’s view was the mining rig’s docking clamp, slowly growing larger on the screen. Next to the clamp hung the EXO-V, a standard one-man maintenance vehicle; its round body consumed much of the forward screen. Then the screen switched over to the rules for a safe docking maneuver. Rule number one: remain seated.

Standing next to Reg, Frank felt the reverberations of the shuttle clunking into the mining rig’s docking clamp; they rumbled up through the soles of his shoes. As the air pumps equalized the pressure, he sensed something else. “Did you feel that?” he asked.

Reg grinned. “Are your magic feet feeling something?”

It happened again, this time coming from over on the mining rig, almost like someone had jumped from the Transit Shuttle to the mining rig. “You didn’t?” asked Frank. “Just now?”

Reg shrugged. “We’re just settling into the clamp.”

Why wasn’t Reg more in tune with his machines? He lived inside them for a week at a time; he should just get it, the way Frank just got it. No one should have to teach you.

“Maybe you do belong in the colonies,” said Frank. “But at least try to feel it... with your feet.”

“Please, don’t take your shoes off in here,” joked Reg. “This shuttle is too small for that stink.”

It happened again but now it had jumped back onto the shuttle. Frank squinted at the fading vibration. “Kind of feels like someone’s crawling around up there.”

“Crawling around? Up there?” asked Reg. “Maybe you’re the one who needs some time back in the colonies.”

Crawling around up there? That did sound crazy. “Maybe it was a gremlin?” Frank joked as he picked up his backpack full of clothes and slung it over his shoulder.

“Hey, maybe it’s Santa Claus,” laughed Reg as he grabbed his own bag. “Maybe he’s bringing me an early ticket out of Stone River.”

Frank laughed, too, but kept glancing up until the airlock popped open and they left the light blue interior of the Workforce Transit Shuttle for the light blue interior of the mining rig’s operations room. Managing, monitoring, and sample-testing stations filled the open space with overlapping holographic screens that formed a fog of light. Out of the photonic fog, emerged Mike.

“About freakin’ time you got here,” said Mike as he trapped Frank in a bear hug. “Did you guys get lost?”

Frank patted Mike’s back. “I figured you needed more time to study for your Master Cert.”

“Just money out of your pocket and into mine,” said Mike. Then he turned to his shift mate and called, “Joey! Quit logging every damn thing and come on already.”

Joey logged out of his console and walked over. When Joey saw Reg, Joey asked him, “How long before you go home?”

“Six months,” said Reg, his face turning to the ceiling as if the illumination came from a warm sun in a sky-blue sky stretched across a vast horizon, not from cold LEDs in a McKenna-blue control room barely the size of a two-bedroom apartment.

Joey smiled, too, but it didn’t stick. “What you got planned back in the colonies?”

Still lost, Reg shrugged and said, “I’ll figure something out. Fate will guide me.”

Mike laughed, “You’re right, Frank. He is a dumbass.”

Reg stepped out of his sunlight and punched Mike hard in the shoulder. Frank burst out laughing, and Reg gave him a little of the same. Reg then headed upstairs, taking his and Frank’s stuff to the crew quarters; Joey went with him.

Frank stayed downstairs with Mike to go over the logs and the new maintenance schedule. Before Frank even sat down at the console, the translucent holographic display hovering before him told Frank that this asteroid was garbage. Mike and Joey had barely extracted anything their whole shift. But that was not the worst of it.

Mike showed Frank the new maintenance schedule.

“What the what?!” bellowed Frank.

Mike threw his hands up and said, “We’re keeping our rigs out of dry dock an extra three months by doing all this.”

As Frank scrolled through the hovering hologram, reading each work summary, Reg and Joey came back down from the crew quarters; they were mumbling between themselves, but Frank didn’t catch any of it. He was too busy being annoyed with the new maintenance schedule.

“We’re spending four months of man hours refitting so they can tack three months onto a five-year cycle,” he said. “For the love of reason, why?”

Joey came out of his mumbled conversation and asked, “Why do the companies do anything?”

As they’d done many times before, all four miners answered in unison. “Money.”

Frank shook his head and said, “Money makes Stone River go ‘round.”

“No,” said Joey, “gravity makes Stone River go ’round. Money picks it apart.”

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2017 by Scott D. Coon

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