Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
“Son of a bitch!”. The Station Chief cut off comms with his boss, dropping back heavily in his chair before planting two battered boots against the desk frame and propelling himself away from it in disgust.
“They want us to stop digging Tom?” The shorter of the two men spoke softly, stuffing bear paw hands deep into the pockets of his jumpsuit.
“Bastards!” Tom peeled off his helmet with one hand and tossed it at the desk, angrily scratching the cross hatch of scars in the stubble of his scalp. “Yeah, they want us to stop.” Pausing for a moment, he examined a fragment of skin peeled loose by a grimy fingernail. “Forty years we’ve been digging holes in these rocks, Skip, forty bloody years and no one’s ever had the balls to order us up short. This is bullshit. I’ll guarantee that if we dig shallow and this thing doesn’t stay standing, it’ll be our ass in a sling Skip, yours and mine, not theirs.”
The Crew Chief shuffled away from the wall, boots dragging on the alloy of the cabin floor. “What’s their problem? There’s no water down there, no gas pockets. The crust’s been as uniform as we’ve ever seen past five hundred meters.” His face an emotional vacancy, his tone a perfect match. “The only trouble may be a few hundred meters of high density rock. That’ll be tough to get through, sure, but it’s nothing we haven’t done before.”
“I know, I told them. Seems Corporate’s had a visit from some friggin’ General, an the military’s all up in their ass on this one. He says we stop at six hundred meters or else he’ll be up here to tear us a new one. Arrogant prick.” Locking one gnarled set of fingers into the other, he systematically cracked each knuckle in turn. “Wants us to make up the extra above the surface, pile and pack the rubble. They pay us to dig, not build. Bugger ’em. We’re so far out on the rim, nobody’s coming to check.”
“So, we keep goin’ down then’?” The Chief’s intonation was quizzical though he already had his answer.
“Keep diggin’. The drill spec says eight hundred, so we go eight hundred straight down.” Tom closed his eyes, trying to will his blood pressure back to normal as the cabin door whooshed open and sucked closed behind his Crew Chief.
Eleven days of drilling passed without incident, the huge Wormz boring into the crust, tearing holes into the depths of the planet and venting rock dust and shrapnel up the shafts and into the atmosphere. The Station Commander found himself sitting up in his bunk, rubbing sleep from bleary eyes, unsure for a moment what had woken him. The constant rhythmic thrumming of the giant bores had stopped, and an eerie silence blanketed everything, unfamiliar and disturbing. It took a moment for the lack of noise to register, and a while longer before he recognized that as a problem. He was slowly dragging himself out of the haze when the squawking of his comlink brought him fully back to consciousness
“What? What the hell’s going on? We can’t be at depth already.” His voice rasped and rattled, coarse with fatigue and dry from the ever-present dust that sifted past even the scrubbers.
“You’d better get down to seven Tom, you’re going to want to see this.” The Crew Chief’s voice rang with unfamiliar urgency, and an unmistakable tremor of fear.
“What the hell’s gone wrong? I’m coming, give me a minute.” He stumbled pulling his boots on, hurrying. “Why aren’t we digging?”
Skip’s voice reached up from an obvious distance. “Turk took rig seven down past seven hundred meters, and he punched clear on through.” The comlink sputtered as Tom half jogged down the barracks hall. “The whole rig, everything, it just fell into the planet. We’ve still got coms, but he figures he tore through almost a kilometer of scaffold before he could shut down the bore, and he’s caught up now in some sort of cable mass.”
“Scaffold? Cable? What the hell…?” He was at the lift now, maniacally pounding the call button.
“Tom. You might want to start thinking of something to tell that General when he gets here.”