Clash of Titans: a Vignette by Torn MacAlester

Short science fiction by Torn MacAlester

874: A New Vignette by Torn MacAlester

I head­ed along the beach. It had been at least ten hours since we had run aground. We had agreed that going into the inte­ri­or of the island was unlike­ly to be use­ful. The jun­gle would hide things too well for us to find. The beach, how­ev­er, would even­tu­al­ly reveal signs of civ­i­liza­tion some­where on the island. We could eas­i­ly see a dock, a boat, or even a set­tle­ment on the beach. Or if the island was unin­hab­it­ed, we’d meet each oth­er on the side of the island.

Mac and I flipped a coin. He’d go north, and I would go south. I start­ed off, after wav­ing to the eight oth­er cast­aways. A storm had ham­mered us dur­ing our Caribbean vaca­tion. The ship had stopped at a small island near Bermu­da. We were on a day trek to anoth­er island not too far dis­tant when the hur­ri­cane hit us. The lit­tle ship seemed very sea­wor­thy, but it lacked the pow­er to out­run the storm. Even­tu­al­ly, we crashed into the side of this island. We lost the radio because of the storm. Some­thing had hap­pened to the anten­na. Accord­ing to our few work­ing phones, the GPS showed that we were about fifty-three miles from Bermuda.

We were obvi­ous­ly out of cell cov­er­age, so our maps were crude from the cab­in of the boat. But the num­bers said it should be Bermu­da near­by. The cap­tain of the boat got hit on the head, and oth­er peo­ple were help­ing him. They sent Mac and me for help. I kept walk­ing along the tidal line, try­ing to keep wet sand under my feet. I had a bet­ter time walk­ing on it.
After about four hours, I checked my cell. Accord­ing to the GPS dis­tance, I’d trav­eled less than one tenth of a mile.

That’s odd, I thought. I should have made at least ten miles in that kind of time.

I turned back, look­ing north. I could see that the boat and the sur­vivors were extreme­ly dis­tant. In fact, I could only make out the wreck­age of the boat from this dis­tance. I was very far away, eas­i­ly far more than a few miles. I flipped over to the pedome­ter app. It had said I had walked about eight miles. I looked back at the GPS app and reread the posi­tion. Care­ful­ly, I altered the mode to read my loca­tion regard­ing the Earth­’s cen­ter and the North Pole. I knew I was near the equa­tor, so if I took about 50 steps south, I would have moved enough for the receiv­er to detect that I had moved by chang­ing the last dig­it on the Z axis.

I turned and took the steps, count­ing them out as I walked. I then looked at the num­ber. It still read the same. The last 3 dig­its were 874. No change. I did it again. It read 874 again. How in the world is that pos­si­ble? I watched it now as I walked. It did not change from 874. I checked to see what the oth­er num­bers read. It sim­i­lar­ly showed them being locked in their pre­vi­ous values.

What the Hell? This makes no sense.

There was one more test I could take. I turned to the direc­tions func­tion. I checked the dis­tance to Bermu­da. It said fifty-three. My phone showed that I either walked in a per­fect cir­cle for 8 miles or stayed in the same place. Nei­ther made any sense. Also, this had to be a vast island. I’d walked for hours, and I was still on the west­ern shore. Again, it would make the island at least eight miles long in one direc­tion, but I could see that the shore ahead of me stretch­ing out as far as I could see.

Our sim­ple plan had failed. I looked again at the num­bers. 874 showed clear­ly. Pan­icked, I turned north, hop­ing that I could get back to the boat and the oth­ers. The 874 con­tin­ued to taunt me.

Short science fiction by Torn MacAlester

Decisions: A Vignette by Torn MacAlester

See more of Nils in:

Thun­der Moon Tussle

 

Another Plot: A New Vignette by Torn MacAlester

“Milt,” said Mary, tired of the con­ver­sa­tion. “You didn’t real­ly want to be an astronaut?”

“No, it was a means to an end. Noth­ing more.”

“I wish you wouldn’t antag­o­nize our broth­er. He scares me.”

“Mor­ris is a fool,” Milt said.

“A dan­ger­ous one.

“True, we can­not under­es­ti­mate him.”

“Then why all this mess­ing around with the fake iden­ti­ty and the trip to the Moon?” Mary asked.

“I took some­thing that he didn’t deserve to have.”

“The arti­facts?!”

“Yes,” Mil­ton said, nod­ding slight­ly. “They dis­ap­peared from his vault a lit­tle over two years ago.”

“Broth­er, I real­ize you want to pun­ish Mor­ris for what he did to dad.”

“Oh, he has yet to pay for that.”

“Dammit, Milt!”

“Don’t wor­ry, Mary. Mor­ris will not find the arti­facts. He might fig­ure out where they are, but for now, they are beyond his reach.”

“You mean?”

“Yes, I took them with me.”

“Did Annie Mac­In­turn­er know?” asked Mary.

“No. She nev­er sus­pect­ed that she unloaded them herself.”

“Now what?”

“Now, I see if Carmike is the kind of man, I think he is,” said Milton.

“Des­per­ate, you mean,” Mary said, nar­row­ing her eyes.

“Yeah.”

“How do you do that?”

“We’ll need some mon­ey,” said Milt.

“How much?”

“Hun­dreds of millions.”

“Okay, I got most of that myself,” Mary said.

“We’ll need to make it look like typ­i­cal investors. Noth­ing too much from any­one, so we can keep it anony­mous. Big investors attract the wrong attention.”

“What about Mark?”

“To hell with him,” Mil­ton said.

“I thought you two…”

“Noth­ing of the sort. He’s an ego­ma­ni­ac like his father. I have no use for him.”

“He’ll fig­ure this out and want in,” Mary said.

“Of course he will. We need to make sure he’s always on the out­side, look­ing in. I want his inter­est sole­ly fixed on Nils.”

See more of Milt in:

Golf and Outgassing

and

Thun­der Moon Tussle

 

Civilization and Power

Short science fiction by Torn MacAlester

Commander: A Vignette by Torn MacAlester

Short science fiction by Torn MacAlester

Golf and Outgassing: a short story by Torn Macalester

Golf and Outgassing: a Science Fiction Short Story

An Exercise in World Building

Short science fiction by Torn MacAlester

Y+1: A Vignette by Torn MacAlester

Short science fiction by Torn MacAlester

Lunadyne Incident by Torn MacAlester

Y+28, Day 1:

“You, in the jail,” the voice said over the inter­com. Sher­iff Del Ander­son stood and switched on the voice chan­nel. Del watched the warped video of the shady fig­ure in the hall­way out­side the Sher­if­f’s office.

The facial recog­ni­tion soft­ware failed to place the indi­vid­ual. Either the man wasn’t in the sys­tem, or he had a vid-scram­bler on his body some­where. See­ing the wrist­watch, he sur­mised the loca­tion of the scrambler.

He doesn’t want to be rec­og­nized, Del thought. No mat­ter, I can track him down and get his land­ing info. Track­ing the man back, he found a Coal Co crawler as the deliv­ery of the man to Con­rad Sta­tion, with the use­less name John Smith. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Coal Co didn’t fall under his juris­dic­tion. Luna­dyne han­dled Con­rad Sta­tion, and Ander­son worked for Luna­dyne. There were plen­ty of min­ers that fit in the cat­e­go­ry, non-Luna­dyne employ­ees. This could be one of them, how­ev­er. He seemed too clean, lack­ing the black­ened nails that almost every­one who had been on the Moon for over a month had.

“What do you want?” He answered, watch­ing the man.

“Can you let me in?” Asked Smith, but it seemed more like a statement.

“Keep your hands where I can see them and step to the door,” Ander­son said, not trust­ing him for a second.

“Like this?” The man had moved to the door with his hands up and press­ing on the door.

“That’s it.” The Sher­iff opened the door, pulled the man through and pushed him against the wall. He frisked him quickly.

“Hay man, I ain’t pack­ing if that’s what you are thinking.”

“Pro­ce­dure,” Del said, lying, since he had no pro­ce­dures. Sat­is­fied the man wasn’t car­ry­ing, he moved back over to the desk and sat down.

“Can I put my hands down now?”

“Yes. Take a seat.” Ander­son leaned back a bit, eye­ing the man. Obvi­ous­ly, anoth­er mer­ce­nary, he could see the tat­toos that were com­mon with many mer­ce­nar­ies that fought in cen­tral Asia. “Now, one more time from the top–what do you want?”

“I need you to let Smit­ter out of the tank.”

“On what authority?”

“Lis­ten Sher­iff, we’re both con­trac­tors. You work for Luna­dyne. I work for Coal Co. We are both in secu­ri­ty. You know the deal.” The man said, nev­er mak­ing eye contact.

“Your guy, uh, Smit­ter, got drunk and tried to open a hatch direct­ly to the sur­face. I’m fine with him killing him­self but tak­ing every­one else it the hab with him is outrageous.”

“Look—”

“Yes, both of us are part of secu­ri­ty,” Del Inter­rupt­ed. “I can’t make an excep­tion for Smit­ter. I’m try­ing to ride herd over a hun­dred min­ers from Coal Co to pre­vent them from split­ting each other’s skulls on every off shift. Smit­ter broke the rules. He stays in the tank until I say he can go.”

“Not what I was hop­ing to hear.”

“Can I get your name?”

“It’s Smith, but my name is not impor­tant,” he said. “Now, my boss’s name, you’ll need to know that.”

“So? What is it?”

“Lina Cranston. But now you need to wor­ry about what she has to say about Smitter.”

“I see,” Sher­iff Ander­son said as the man got up and walked out of the office, leav­ing Del to his own thoughts.

Damn, not Nin­ja Cranston. I thought she was in prison.

 

*****

 

“Doc?” Asked Del as he entered the clin­ic, not see­ing her in the entry area.

“One minute,” he heard Doc Keller from the next room.

She entered the room fol­lowed by a man that Del rec­og­nized as Jim Ross, also known as Cooter.

“Hi Del, what brings you here?” Doc asked. “Anoth­er hangnail?”

“Hey Doc. Hey Cooter.”

“Hey Sher­iff,” said Coot­er. “It’s been a while.”

“It has. Did you put back those items that I told you?” asked the Sher­riff, remem­ber­ing the Lunokhod rover he’d removed from its lunar his­tor­i­cal site. Del sim­ply asked Coot­er to put it back. If no one found it where it shouldn’t be, there would be no rea­son to think he messed with it.

“Uh huh, I did,” said Coot­er. “Are you sure the Rus­sians want­ed it put back?”

“It doesn’t mat­ter,” said Del. “Even if it’s from the last cen­tu­ry, it still belongs to them.”

“Sher­riff,” Doc Keller inter­rupt­ed. “I’m sure that you didn’t come down here to ask Coot­er about his alien con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries. You have a rea­son, or are you look­ing to just shoot the shit?”

“We’ve got a prob­lem,” said the Sheriff.

“Is Trish okay?” Doc asked. “There shouldn’t be any­thing seri­ous hap­pen­ing at this stage in her pregnancy.”

“No, she’s fine. I meant we as in the Con­rad Sta­tion we.”

“What’s going on?” asked Cooter.

“We’ve got a prob­lem,” said Del.

“What with the min­ers?” asked Doc. “I’ve heard the rumors of a strike.”

“Yeah, I noticed a lot more min­ers at Alex’s last night. They were in such a foul mood, even one of Nils’s wild sto­ries couldn’t cheer them up.”

“Sort of,” said Sher­iff Ander­son. “I think Coal Co has hired some mer­ce­nar­ies to break the strike before it happens.”

“Del,” said Doc. “You have that look like you’re hold­ing some­thing back–out with it.”

“Sor­ry,” said the sher­iff. “Nin­ja Cranston is sup­posed to be lead­ing the mercs.”

“Oh no,” said Cooter.

“I’m sor­ry,” said Doc. “Who is this Ninja–”

“Nin­ja Cranston,” Coot­er said. “She’s one of the worst.”

“Worst what?” asked Doc.

“You name it,” Coot­er said. “They sup­pos­ed­ly arrest­ed and dumped her into the brig after a hor­rif­ic war crime in Cen­tral Asia. I thought they threw away the key.”

“They prob­a­bly did,” agreed the sher­iff. “After the west coast seced­ed, the fed­er­al pen was emp­tied, and they released the pris­on­ers into Neva­da. I was with the Marshall’s office. It was pure chaos. We had over five hun­dred Mar­shalls in Vegas alone, scour­ing the city for those pris­on­ers. Most of them were some of the rough­est kinds of nasty. I even­tu­al­ly quit and took this job. Trish said it would be much bet­ter than the crap I dealt with as a Marshall.”

“Shit,” said Cooter.

“Yeah,” con­tin­ued Del. “Cranston was nev­er on the watch list. I fig­ured Paci­fi­ca had the good sense to keep her in her cage. Hear­ing she is out makes this sit­u­a­tion a hell of a lot more dangerous.”

“Damn,” said Doc. “And I thought we were through with all the bull­shit up here.”

“Not by a long shot,” said Del. “Coal Co has dou­bled down on this.”

“What does all this mean?” asked Coot­er. “What do we need to do?”

“It prob­a­bly means we need an ace in the hole,” said the sheriff.

“What kind of ace?” asked Doc.

“First off, we need to get all the civil­ians out of here,” said Del. “I think the sta­tion is about to get boiling.”

“So, we’re tak­ing them to Gor­danville?” asked Doc.

“That’s about the only choice,” said Cooter.

“I agree,” Del said. “Call whomev­er you need to.”

“I’ll get the prospec­tors,” sug­gest­ed Cooter.

“That’s who I had in mind,” said Del. “Carmike, John­son, Var­gas, and the others.”

“What about Alex?” asked Doc. “If we take him out of here, the bar will close, and we’ll have a real mess on our hands.”

“I’ll have to talk with him,” agreed the sher­iff. “I may have to dep­u­tize him or something.”

“Don’t tell me. You just dep­u­tized us!” said Doc.

“If you need it offi­cial,” answered Del.

“Fig­ures,” said Doc. “This crap is get­ting bet­ter and better.”

 

 

****

 

Del walked into Alex’s bar. The minors used Alex’s for the strike against Coal Co.

“We ain’t leav­ing Sher­iff,” said Joe Dubcek, the lead strik­er. “So don’t ask.”

“We’ll talk about it lat­er,” said Del as he leaned over the bar.

“Haya Sher­iff,” said Alex. “Can I get you a whiskey?”

“You know I nev­er touch the stuff,” said Del. “Not since Trish is expect­ing, anyway.”

“What can I do for you, then?”

“Can we talk?”

“Sure,” said Alex. “I’m assum­ing you want it to be some­where oth­er than the bar. Is the store­room sufficient?”

“Yeah.”

“Fol­low me.” They went to the upper deck of the hab hous­ing the bar and into a room on the sun­lit side. As soon as Del had shut the door, Alex asked, “Okay, what do you have?”

“I’d like you to evac­u­ate to Gordanville—”

“What else?” Alex held up his hand. “Par­don me for ask­ing. I’m used to some­one hav­ing more than a few things they want when they ask for something.”

“Well, you’re right. I also need to be made the bar­tender so we can keep this place open.”

“No.”

“Huh, which part?”

“Both parts,” said Alex. “In fact, I should have said, ‘hell no!’”

“Alex, there are mer­ce­nar­ies here to act as strikebreakers.”

“So, you expect them to come to the bar?”

“I’m bet­ting that they are. It’s the only place that the break­ers can cap­ture the leaders.”

“Del, I won’t leave the bar. You know how much we’ve been through over the years. It’s my part of it.”

“Yeah, I know. But you could lose all of it.”

“All or part, it’s all I have.”

“Well,” said Del. “I can at least cov­er your finan­cial loss­es by dep­u­tiz­ing you.”

“Oh gee! A lot of good that will do me when I’m dead.”

“It’s all I got, except for my per­son­al guar­an­tee that I’ll do my best to keep you alive.”

“Well, if that’s all you got,” said Alex. “I’m still in. You’ll need more help than you can get.”

“Thanks,” said Del. “Hope­ful­ly, we can defuse this before any­one gets hurt.”

“How are you going to do that?”

“Talk with the strik­ers and make a deal.”

“That sounds more like wish­ful think­ing,” said Alex.

“It is. That’s why I need a few aces up my sleeve.”

 

******

 

“I told you twen­ty min­utes ago we ain’t leav­ing,” said Joe Dubcek. “There isn’t any­thing you can say to make me change my mind.”

“How about I get your con­tract demands?” Del pushed, “Would that do it?”

“No way. Coal Co won’t do it.”

“Look, I’ve got every rea­son to believe that they are going to try break­ing the strike.”

“No way, that’s sup­posed to be illegal.”

“Who’s stop­ping them?” asked Del.

“You are.”

“Not like­ly.”

“That’s your job.”

“Job or not, they’ve got a group of trained mer­ce­nar­ies com­ing. I’m just one man. Your safest bet would be to dis­perse to the Gor­donville settlement.”

“We can’t leave,” said Joe. “We’d be giv­ing into Coal Co. They are plan­ning to send their pro­pos­al with­in a cou­ple of days. Unless they met all our demands, we reject, and the strike is on.”

“You’ve formed a Union then.”

“If that is what you want to call it. We’ve all agreed with our orig­i­nal con­tract pro­pos­al. We have the right to bar­gain, so I yeah. They’ll have to explain why they failed to nego­ti­ate. Mer­ce­nar­ies or no, we ain’t leaving.”

“Let me see if I can get your demands met,” said Del.

“That would be a mir­a­cle if you do. Coal Co is all kinds of nasty.”

Day 2

 

“What do you need from the prospec­tors?” Coot­er asked. “They are ready to assist.”

“I need a few aces in the hole. Some­thing that is sure to con­vince the mercs we mean busi­ness,” Del said.

“I’ll ask around to the prospec­tors. But I have an idea.”

“What?”

“Actu­al­ly, it’s one of Nils’s ideas, but it’s a good one and I rec­om­mend we go with it. Though it takes a toll on the sys­tem, we might shut down the radiators.”

“What the hell would that do?”

“What is the tem­per­a­ture out­side?” Asked Cooter.

“About two hun­dred last I checked.”

“Exact­ly. Do I need to explain any further?”

“Shit,” said Del. “That is a hell of an idea.”

“On anoth­er note, Sheryl Car­son asked about the U.S. Mar­shall. Any chance they can be called in?”

“I’d like to. But since no actu­al crime has been com­mit­ted, they aren’t like­ly to respond. Once one does, it will be three days before help will arrive.

 

 

*****

 

Del checked his watch, wait­ing for the call to con­nect. It always took for­ev­er to get a response from Earth. The Luna­dyne cor­po­rate offices in McK­in­ney were even worse than the secu­ri­ty group in Dal­las. They nev­er seemed to have time to take a call from the Moon. Final­ly, some­one answered.

“Del, it is good to hear from you,” said the female voice.

“Becky?” Del iden­ti­fied the voice belong­ing to the human resources rep­re­sen­ta­tive at Lunadyne.

“Yes, Del. Who did you think it was?”

“Sor­ry Becky, the lines seem a bit gar­bled today.”

“What did you need?”

“I need Luna­dyne to hire about fifty min­ers. Their con­tract should have all the pro­vi­sions that they have pro­posed to Coal Co.”

“Oh,” said Becky. “That’s a hell of an ask.”

“Come through on this one if you can.”

“You know this one is going to take an exec­u­tive lev­el deci­sion? I might get shut down before I get up past my manager.”

“Tell them lives will depend upon it,” said Del. “Hope­ful­ly, they will get the hint.”

“You know, I might fail with this one. This is way out­side of my paygrade.”

“It’s out­side of mine too, but I’m all these peo­ple have.”

 

*****

 

Del’s phone sig­naled. He noticed it was Alex before he answered.

“Yeah, Alex.”

“Del, I’ve got a dozen min­ers here. I also have anoth­er set of patrons. One of them wants to talk to you.”

“Put him on,” said Del.

“Sher­iff,” said the man.

“Smith?”

“We have spo­ken before, yes. You didn’t take my advice and release Smitter.”

“You haven’t giv­en me a rea­son to,” said Del, leav­ing the jail and head­ing toward the hab con­tain­ing Alex’s bar. “Besides, I’m sure Smit­ter is glad that he won’t be get­ting into the same trou­ble you’re get­ting your­self into.”

“You seem an unrea­son­able man.”

“No, I’m plen­ty reasonable.”

“Let’s set aside the bull for now,” said Smith.

“I’m all ears.”

Del made his way through the con­nect­ing sec­tion, lead­ing him to the bar. He could see two rough-look­ing indi­vid­u­als he took to be one of Cranston’s mer­ce­nar­ies. He noticed one wear­ing a small head­set, not­ing that the indi­vid­ual was in con­tact with others.

“Come on into the bar,” said Smith. “We’ll have a drink.”

Del not­ed the indi­vid­ual waved him through with­out a delay.

Okay, they are talk­ing to each other.

Del entered the bar. He could see that the min­ers were pushed over to one cor­ner of the room sur­round­ed by six indi­vid­u­als obvi­ous­ly car­ry­ing shot­guns. He silent­ly relaxed, real­iz­ing these thugs had some sense about them. Shot guns could cer­tain­ly hurt a per­son, but they would not like­ly pen­e­trate the hull unless fired direct­ly into it. Bul­let holes and space habi­tats did not go well togeth­er. There were anoth­er six thugs scat­tered around the room, along with sev­er­al oth­er patrons who had not evac­u­at­ed the sta­tion. He could see that they looked up ner­vous­ly as Del entered the bar. Alex was seat­ed behind the bar. Smith was lean­ing over the bar nearby.

“Take it easy, folks. This won’t take long,” said Del, try­ing to be as con­fi­dent sound­ing as possible.

“It all depends upon what you’re will­ing to do,” said Smith.

“Exact­ly what would that be?” asked Del.

“As a mea­sure of your good faith,” said Smith. “I want Smit­ter out of your jail.”

“Yeah,” said a woman in her 20’s armed with a shot­gun who was swing­ing it around wildly.

“Shut-up Williams,” said Smith.

“Yeah,” said anoth­er thug, a brutish man, clear­ly in his fifties. “We all agreed that Smith would speak.”

“You too Quaid,” Smith snapped.

“I need you to let these peo­ple go,” said Del. “As a mea­sure of your good faith.”

Smith smiled, toss­ing the phone back to Alex. At last, we are get­ting some­where. Smith walked up, stand­ing a half meter from Del.

“I’ll let you take these three.” He said as he point­ed at the table to his left.

“What about these three over here?” Del asked, hop­ing he didn’t flinch as he point­ed to the oth­er three that were not min­ers. “You don’t need them for what you have in mind.”

“Inter­est­ing,” said Smith, as his eyes nar­rowed. “Big man sher­iff thinks he knows what I have in mind.”

“Seri­ous­ly, you’ve already told me you were con­trac­tors for Coal Co,” said Del. “These peo­ple are tech­ni­cians for Con­rad Sta­tion and hence employ­ees for Luna­dyne. By def­i­n­i­tion, they wouldn’t be part of your contract.”

Smith’s expres­sion did not waver. Del imag­ined that he was weigh­ing the options.

“You’ll still have the min­ers,” said Del. “And me. Besides, what would Cranston say if you fucked this up by get­ting Luna­dyne involved?”

“Very well,” Smith said. “You six get ready to leave. You too bartender.”

“No,” said Alex.

“Go with them Alex,” said Del.

“This is my bar,” said Alex. “I leave when every­one leaves. Not before,”

“Stay if you want bar­tender,” said Smith. “I don’t care. Williams and Quaid, take the sher­iff to go get Smitter.”

“I’ll also make arrange­ments for trans­port­ing these peo­ple off of the sta­tion,” Del said, pre­tend­ing that Williams and Quaid did not flank him.

“Do what you need to, sher­iff,” said Smith. “But Williams will be your new shad­ow, and she isn’t the for­giv­ing sort.”

 

Day 3

 

“Have a drink with me, sher­iff” said Smith as he sat down across from Del.

“I don’t drink,” said Del.

“You will today,” said Smith, wav­ing to Alex. “Set up me and the Sher­iff with some Num­ber Eigh­teen. Bring the bottle.”

“That’s rotgut,” said Del. “Get the good stuff Alex. If I’m drink­ing, it might as well be the best.”

“Num­ber Twen­ty-sev­en com­ing right up,” said Alex.

“Fuck, it’s been over twen­ty hours,” said Smit­ter. “What the hell is tak­ing so long?”

“Shut up Smit­ter,” said Smith.

“Yeah,” added Williams, swing­ing around the shot­gun. “Put a sock in it.”

“She’s going to hurt some­one with that,” said Del, see­ing Alex bring­ing the bot­tle and two glasses.

“What do you expect,” said Smith. “She’s a rookie.”

“Rook­ie or no,” said Del. “She shoots some­body. We’ll have more than a minor dis­agree­ment over some dis­or­der­ly conduct.”

“Williams!” shout­ed Smith. “Hol­ster that damn shot­gun before it goes off.”

“Should we do up anoth­er din­ner?” asked Alex. “Or are we expect­ing to get out of here soon?”

“Fuck, let’s just have ice cream,” said Williams. “It’s get­ting so damn hot in here.”

“Hol­ster it!” said Smith again. “Before you shoot somebody.”

“What the fuck is tak­ing so long?” asked Williams, hol­ster­ing her shotgun.

“We’re wait­ing for Coal Co to send the con­tract,” said Smith. “It should have been here first thing this morning.”

“I might have caused that,” said Del, smil­ing. “Set up din­ner Alex.”

“Explain your­self,” said Smith as Alex walked away from the table.

“They aren’t com­ing,” said Del. Damn, I hope this works.

“What do you mean?” said Smith. Del watched as both the min­ers and the thugs exchanged glances.

“I inter­vened,” said Del. “I had some­one else buy out their contracts.”

“What makes you think we’ll let them take the new terms?” said Smith, his jaw shift­ing from side to side.

“First off, it’s up to them,” Del said as he hooked his thumb in the direc­tion of the table of miners.

“What makes you think we’ll take it?” said one of the miners.

“Good ques­tion,” said Del. “It’s not like you’re going to receive any bet­ter offers in the next cou­ple of hours. Espe­cial­ly from Coal Co.”

“How do we know until we’ve seen it? asked anoth­er miner.

“How about an offer that includes every­thing you’ve been ask­ing for?” said Del. “Could you refuse that one?”

“Hold it,” said Smith as sev­er­al of the min­ers began speak­ing at once, fol­lowed by demands for silence from the thugs. “This sounds like a bluff. I don’t think you’ve done any­thing about this sit­u­a­tion. As far as any­one knows, you just made this up.”

“Grant­ed,” said Del. “It could be a bluff. Instead of guess­ing wrong, call your boss. I’m will­ing to bet that your con­tract with Coal Co is now null.”

Smith picked up the phone. Then looked direct­ly at Del. “There will be hell to pay if you are lying to me.”

“Yeah, I get that,” said Del. “Check with your boss. I bet Coal Co is out of the picture.”

 

*******

 

“The sit­u­a­tion is now far more com­pli­cat­ed,” said Smith, almost sneering.

“How the fuck are we going to get paid?” insist­ed Williams.

“Shut up Williams,” said Smith.

“What are you going to do?” asked Del.

“I didn’t want hostages,” said Smith.

“That makes no sense,” said Del. “You’ve held this whole sta­tion hostage for hours.”

“We insured they received their con­tract, and the strike was over,” said Smith.

“But it was a con­tract they didn’t want,” said Del.

“That didn’t mat­ter,” said Smith.

“The strike is over,” said Del. “Coal Co is no longer in charge of what hap­pens here. Luna­dyne is.”

“It looks like we have hostages,” said Smith. “Else, we don’t get paid.”

“Let me make you an offer,” said Del.

“What?” asked Smith. The oth­er mer­ce­nar­ies moved clos­er to the table.

“I’ll be your hostage,” said Del.

“You?”

“Yeah,” said Del. “You don’t need any of the rest of the min­ers. You con­trol the sta­tion, Luna­dyne prop­er­ty, and me, a Luna­dyne employee.”

“And then an assault team charges in,” said Smith.  “No thank you.”

“What assault team?” said Del. “I’m it. Every­one else is techs or staff.”

“Yeah, Smith. Let them go,” said Quaid. “It will be eas­i­er than try­ing to keep our eyes on all these people.”

“I’m tired and hot,” said Williams.

“So am I,” said Smitter.

“I’ll stay too,” said Alex.

“Not this time, Alex,” said Del. “I’ve got this one. You check in on Trish, and let Doc know every­thing is all right. All I’ll need to do is make the call like I did last time to get a pick­up for these people.”

“All right,” said Smith. “Make your call and get these peo­ple out of here.”

 

*******

 

“Fuck,” said Williams. “I keep turn­ing up the AC in this place and it’s blow­ing hot air.”

“It’s because you are doing it wrong,” said Smit­ter. “You should turn it down.”

“How the hell do you know?” she snapped back.

“Shut up, you two,” Smith said as he turned to Del. “Why is it so hot?”

“You’re ask­ing me?” said Del. “I don’t know. I’m just the sher­iff. They don’t fill me in on how these things work.”

“You’ve got to know how to use the AC,” said Quaid, look­ing skeptical.

“I don’t,” said Del. “It’s one of hun­dreds of sys­tems on this sta­tion that I do not know how to use. Some­thing must be broken.”

“Shut up,” said Smith. “All of you. We’ll just wait until this evening. It should cool off by then.”

“Nev­er been to the Moon before?” asked Del. “Have you? Any of you?”

“What does that have to do with any­thing?” asked Smith.

“You know that night is eight days away,” said Del. “It’s going to be a balmy two hun­dred degrees out­side today.”

“Fix it,” Smith said, tak­ing direct aim with his gun at Del’s chest.

“I can’t,” said Del. “They’ve cut the flow from the radi­a­tors, which are over four kilo­me­ters dis­tant from here.”

“Who has?” asked Smith.

“Trust­ed peo­ple that have every rea­son to stop you and what you rep­re­sent to the peo­ple here.”

“I should kill you where you sit,” said Smith.

“Let me boss,” said Williams. “He’s been a pain in my ass since we got here.”

“I should let her,” said Smith, star­ing direct­ly into Del’s eyes.

Del stared back, hop­ing not to flinch. This was the moment. Del had a strong hand, but not a per­fect one. Smith still had good cards to play, but his anger helped Del.

“No,” said Smith at length, low­er­ing his weapon. He tossed a phone to him. “You’re going to call some­one to fix the AC.”

“I can’t,” said Del again, hop­ing his voice didn’t betray the wild­ly swing­ing emo­tions rag­ing through him. “It will take twen­ty hours to repair the lines once they are cut. By then, it will be too late. We’ll be dead.”

“I see,” said Smith.

“Let me kill him,” said Williams.

“Shut-up Williams,” said Smith. “He dies, so do we all.”

Del sat silent­ly as the mer­ce­nar­ies talked among them­selves. Smith sat across from him, star­ing at him. Smith’s eyes seemed red­dened by the rage that Del had wit­nessed. Del believed Smith was becom­ing dan­ger­ous. It would only be a mat­ter of time before he broke.

“There is an alter­na­tive,” said Del.

“What alter­na­tive,” said Smith after some delay.

“I call for an evac­u­a­tion crawler,” said Del.

“Then what?” asked Smith.

“I’ll take you to Tycho sta­tion and let you go,” said Del. “Or at least you’ll let me free. You can find your way back to Earth or wher­ev­er you are going. The Chi­nese or the British aren’t like­ly to con­sid­er you or wor­ry about you.”

“That’s very astute,” said Smith. “They will look the oth­er way. How do you know we’ll let you go from there?”

“I don’t,” said Del. “But mind you, I’m the only one that is get­ting you out of here. It’s me, or you cook.”

“You cook as well,” said Smith.

“Yes, but I have noth­ing to lose,” Del said. “So, us both get­ting out of here alive is the point. I’d appre­ci­ate a reciprocation.”

“We will see,” said Smith. “But I’ll con­sid­er your offer.”

“Don’t take too long,” said Del. “I doubt Williams can keep cool for too much longer.”

 

*****

 

“How much longer,” groaned Williams as the hop­per reached the top of its bal­lis­tic flight.

“Shut-up Williams,” said Smith, seem­ing to suf­fer from the motion. “We’re about half-way through.”

“Yeah,” said Del, also feel­ing the disorientation.

They stuffed the crawler to the gills with the Mer­ce­nar­ies, Del, and its dri­ver, Cooter.

“Don’ y’all wor­ry,” said Coot­er. “Hootie bird has us under her wing to Tycho. Enjoy the ride.”

“Fuck,” said Williams.

“Just don’t shoot any­body,” said Quaid. “Espe­cial­ly the pilot.”

“I’m not,” said Williams. “Smith said stand down. I have.”

“Uh-huh,” said Quaid, his voice betray­ing the motion hit­ting his stom­ach. “If there were any rea­son to shoot, I think this would push towards it.”

“No need for y’all to be shootin’ any­thin’”, said Coot­er. “Y’all be at Tycho in no time.”

Del felt his inner ear go whacko. He hat­ed zero‑G and couldn’t believe he’d agreed to a job on the Moon. But work was work–it paid far bet­ter than any­thing equiv­a­lent on the Earth. Until the past few days, it had been far safer.

“You aren’t plan­ning to come back,” said Del as he turned to Smith.

“No,” Smith said. “We’ve bust­ed out on get­ting paid for this, now that Coal Co has backed out of Moon mining.”

“Good,” said Del. “I seri­ous­ly don’t want to see any of you again.”

“You won’t,” said Smith, laughing.

“What’s fun­ny?” asked Del, irri­tat­ed by the tone of Smith’s laugh.

“You’ve already for­got­ten,” Smith con­tin­ued. “We work for Nin­ja Cranston. There is always a reckoning.”

 

******

 

“Del, you’ve got to come home,” said Doc. “You have to hurry.”

“On my way,” Del said to his phone. “Coot­er just refu­eled the Hootie Bird and is about to launch. Eta is…”

“’bout a half-hour,” said Cooter.

“A half-hour,” said Del.

“Bet­ter land close to Gor­denville,” said Doc. “I can’t move Trish now.”

“All good,” said Coot­er. “Repro­gram­ming descent now.”

“What’s going on?” asked Del, wish­ing Coot­er would hurry.

“Tilly called me a lit­tle while ago,” said Doc. “It’s bad.”

The deck of the crawler sud­den­ly pushed against Del’s feet, knock­ing him off bal­ance. Hootie Bird was aloft.

The min­utes count­ed like hours as Del watched the Moon sur­face race by as they lift­ed toward the top of the arc. What had Cranston done? How did she get to Trish?

 

Day 6

 

“Set me up again,” said Del, as he knocked over the tubed glass con­tain­ing a frac­tion of his pre­vi­ous drink.

“Take it easy,” said Alex. “You don’t need to go that fast.”

“Set me up,” grum­bled Del. “You serve me, or I’ll have it shipped from Earth.”

“The good stuff?” asked Alex as he reached for the bottle.

“It will do. As long as it makes me numb. This sucked.”

“I want­ed to thank you. This could have been bloody. That was good think­ing to get Luna­dyne to pick up the con­tracts of the min­ers. It left Smith with­out any options, except to let them go. And hav­ing Coot­er and the prospec­tors mess with the radi­a­tors, genius.”

“You don’t get it, Alex. Trish is dead,” said Del. “And Cranston killed her.”

“But, didn’t Doc say it was complications?”

“I know what Doc said, Alex. Smith made the threat, and I ignored it. I should’ve killed all those fuck­ers when I had the chance.”

“Many peo­ple would have been dead,” said Alex. “Includ­ing you.”

“Just keep pour­ing,” said Del.

Shrug­ging, Alex poured another.