Flag Rights

Author : Philip Berry

We had been on Tenlek III half a year before Yolande struck through. The thin metalloid crust gave way to the sharp end of her hammer, and momentum carried it, her arm, and her shoulder through the ship’s degraded shell. Yolande fell forward, off balance, and the reinforced glass of her visor connected with a grey-blue rock. It cracked, but only the outer glaze was damaged. I dragged her back, sprayed-sealed the entire mask just in case, and peered through the hole.

Over a hundred metres beneath us I saw row after row of preservation tanks. They gave out enough orange light for me to see far into the distance of this man-made cavern. The tanks continued to the edge of my vision.

I stood back, looked down the hill towards our pioneer camp of hard-tents, grow-sheds, multi-track vehicles and aerials. Boss Kuma was in the central tent, under the limp company flag. I pressed my tongue against a cheek to activate the mic and reported back,
“Boss… found a transport here. Third era by the looks.”
“Stay there, I’m coming up.”
Yolande and I watched him exit the tent and glide up to our position on a one-man rover.

He knelt next to me and looked down into the hole, probing with a strong beam. I saw that some of the tanks had opened. Boss Kuma sensed my surprise.
“What is it?”
“They’ve woken up since we breached the shell, I’m sure of it. The white ones, they weren’t like that a few minutes ago.”
Three human figures moved out of the shadow and walked to where fragments of rock and shell had fallen under the hole. One of them picked up Yolande’s hammer.
Boss Kuma grunted,
“It’s the Fair Source. I knew it.”
“The Fair… but that was three centuries ago Boss.”
“Yep, and it looks like one of the bio-stasis wings got detached before the crash. They said no survivors. They were wrong.”
I knew a little about the Fair Source. Most miners had heard of it. But Tenlek III had been scanned numerous times since that disaster, all sectors, all spectra, and no signs of life, active or quiescent, had been detected. Only minerals. Only infinite profit.

The three figures below looked up. They had no idea who or what looked down at them. A fourth appeared, then a fifth. Our accidental shell breach had evidently triggered the wake cycle, and the majority were coming round in good health.

I smiled. Life suddenly looked more interesting. With a fresh workforce, surplus energy stored in the bio-stasis drive cells and untold hardware residing in the utility hangars, we were going to break this concession wide open in no time.
“Where shall we put them Boss?” I asked. “On the crater? It’s flat as a field there, they’ll be able to throw up their hard-tents in two days. I can supervise the first shifts.”
Boss Kuma stood up and began to walk away.
“Boss?”
“Bury this,” he ordered.
“Boss?”
“Don’t you get it? They’ve got flag rights. They are the first pioneers. Means we get nothing. So bury them!”

So I made preparations, and considered – they’d have done the same to us.

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