Geology and magic! It’s definitely not an explosive combination.
Asteroid Mining – It’s Dangerous Work
So dangerous, in fact, that the N.E.E. uses only political prisoners, death-row inmates, and fools with no other options–I mean; well-compensated volunteers–to work the primary shafts dotting the largest chunk of the shattered asteroid. Its not for the faint of heart.
For the most part, it’s like any other mining operation. Blasting equipment may be used to open a vein. Drills and heavy machinery are employed to make the labor easier. Some jerk in a suit and a hard hat yells orders while sitting in an air-conditioned bunker half a mile down the way.
The major difference? Modified ACSs. You, the miner, are the ‘heavy machinery,’ operating in near-zero gravity, clinging to broken pieces of an asteroid hurtling around a star, constantly casting a wary eye towards the local field generator keeping you, and everyone you work with every single day, from being immediately vaporized by the solar winds. Azothite-based materials may apparently be able to survive those cosmic forces; but, you, inside your little suit, would fry like an egg.
N.E.E. miners are expected to maintain their suits in their downtime. Any necessary materials can be requisitioned against their remaining deployment time. It’s not an altogether fair system, but it is entirely possible to complete your deployment and return home. For some, this means enough wealth to pursue whatever they wish. For others, freedom is its own reward.
In either case, enough miners make it through their deployment that the desire for any sort of hostile takeover is apparently non-existent. Sure, an ACS is still an ACS–especially operated by those the state already deemed dangerous. A mining drill makes a hole just as well as a rifle. And, as is usually the case, the workers vastly outnumber the overseers and their armed guards. But, the way out is already clear; why risk losing the light at the end of the tunnel that you already have?
For other major powers–the North American Alliance, the Hegemony, the Aussie Defense Fleet–mining is a slower, grueling process than the brutal efficiency of the N.E.E. operation. Disparate borderline-pirate groups occasionally splinter-off from these groups to establish their own, illegal, shafts to capitalize on azothite trade, causing them no end of troubles. Imagine going through the effort of blasting a crew of 30 into space, drifting over several weeks to your space station hub, only to have about 20 of them cut-and-run with their suits, stealing a ship in the process, and taking over some unknown portion of a rock who knows were?
I’m sure that’s frustrating. The Aidlean fleets love these splinter groups, however. Why deal with the Hegemony for trade when they can just circumvent the whole system and still let the Terrans manage the mining themselves? They laid claim to the asteroid, it’s only fair the Admirals respect that claim, right?
While the Aussies ostensibly run their own mining operations, their primary focus is elsewhere. Officially, the ships operating raids, interference strikes, and just generally being a pain in the ass for N.E.E. foremen, are operated without the consent of the joint Australian governing bodies.
They sure do keep their equipment well-maintained and well-armed for being rogue pirates, though.
A joint defense initiative is in the works, as well, but the other Terran powers just keep running into roadblocks preventing them from committing resources to the N.E.E. shipping lanes. Luckily, it really does seem like only N.E.E. ships are affected by the Aussie Raiders. How fortuitous for everyone else stuck using the same lanes.
The N.A.A. supplies much of the rest of the world with its supply of pure azothite. The Hegemony has secured trading rights with the minor powers across the continent of Asia, but not in its entirety. No one officially knows where southern Africa or South America obtain their limited supplies–the world is watching the strangeness in the Kalahari with a careful eye for this very reason. It’s probably lucky for everyone that azothite-based alloys require remarkably little azothite to make.
Ending a bit early today! We’ll discuss the Father-Knight in more detail next week.
Enjoy this week’s short fiction. It’s our first taste of combat. Next week, I’ll be posting an excerpt from an upcoming short novel based in the STARFALL universe!
His Will be Done
Written by: Amanda Vernon
Here is true strength, tempered by mercy: a hand stayed, a blade clean of blood, a victory won by voice not violence.
But only if it be our father’s will.
Glass shattered first. The soundless, snowy night plunged into a chaotic mess of limbs as the huddled mass leapt apart, numerous and frantic as birds scattering from cannon fire.
Light flashed at the edge of Tengri’s vision. A katar drove to the right, aimed for the cross-section of his suit; his body rocked with the motion, instinctive, the metal glancing off without a dent but ricochetting a resounding note that activated the alloy. First strike. Final strike. A glacial force submerged all thought; Tengri fought the creeping, inevitable pull before ice stole into his veins, and his regretful mind emptied of all but the rush of adrenaline, the inhale of frigid air, and the last exhale as he thrust forward and skewered the combatant—a faceless figure, insignificant, irrelevant as they dropped and became a stumbling block at his feet.
The yell of his emir, Luka, drowned beneath a fury of blades. Above them all, a figure hung between rafters and defied all natural law. Dual blades arced around her, dancing upon air while blood became the picture’s frame. She spun, fell, and rolled back to her feet, launched forward with a single push.
If it be our father’s will.
The platinum-azothite alloy forged into his combat suit forced Tengri’s hand—ice will not be ignored; a soft click gave way to thunder as fire burst forth like water from a broken dam.
No bodies remained to stumble over. Tendrils of smoke curled from the cannon’s end, and then silence fell once more while snow drifted down, a gentle blanket laid over the waiting corpses.
Surrounded by the remnant of life, the graceful killer smiled. “Pater vult,” Sofia said, an echo of Tengri’s mind—a beating, unrelenting rhythm.
“It was not his will,” said their emir, drawing beside Tengri as the latter knelt by the victims who remained, closing eyes before the snow took them, his lips moving in silent prayer. “He ordered the head of this ring of subversives be brought to Plötzensee Prison for public trial.”
Sofia picked her way through the small house now lying in shambles—ash and snow indecipherable from the other.
Tengri glanced to his emir, his captain, and in Luka’s eyes was challenge…but their father had forged the woman before them, built her in strength and truth. She was his weapon. In him, her worth was found.
“I hear they use an axe, Lehrer.” The short sword in her hand arced in a gently sweeping motion, somehow obscene in its beautiful mimicry of a beheading.
“I am not your teacher, Sofia. I am your captain.”
“The Father-Knight will want an answer.”
She considered him a long moment and then glanced to the bodies. “The result is the same, is it not? And if the Father-Knight ordered the head of this ring be brought…” The weight of her combat suit only whispered across the ground. Returned to one of the felled bodies, the katzbalger again hoisted in an easy grip, Sofia set the blade against charred skin. Her hand lifted and then hung.
The thaw of his beating heart had begun. With no ice to temper him, Tengri rose to full height. Wide eyes turned, bright and curious, as his hand caught around her wrist. “We do not desecrate the dead in such a way,” Tengri murmured. ”The blood of our enemies is still the blood of human beings.”
“Louis XVI.” Her face lit. “Tell me more of history and revolution, and what mercy does before a neck meets the guillotine. What does the Frenchman know now besides what comes after death?”
With a click of his tongue, Tengri released her.
Luka sheathed his own weapon and turned from the devastation. “The Father-Knight bids us return for our final ascendance. We are finished here.”
“The Father-Knight wants this head,” Sofia challenged. “I will provide it, and he will be pleased.” Short blades crossed before her and pierced into the ground on opposite sides of her prize. “Proof, Lehrer, that what he orders, we will always accomplish.”
Tengri shut his eyes and turned away.
Our father—sent from the skies to better our world, to save us, to give us purpose: serve his holy mission here on Earth, and now become his envoys to the galaxy above.
A reaching hand crumbled to dust beneath Tengri’s boot. He turned his eyes skyward.
There is a time for mercy.
But perhaps it only comes once all bend their knee.