Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
It was slave labour, that’s what it was.
My nose drew a little circle in the center of the condensation on my faceplate. The visors were supposed to be moisture resistant but like everything else, the company had cut corners. We could see enough to do our jobs.
Tiny, valuable crystals coated the billion square kilometers of the half-Dyson. Very dense carbon deposits.
Manual labour was the cheapest way to get them. Like any loser here, I’d believed the hype about getting shares in the company. We were paid well but they took everything we needed to do our job out of our pay at exorbitant prices. It was the oldest scam in the book and there was always another crop of uneducated fools ready to sign up.
When a person was prying a diamond off the hull, the cheap tool would snap and the worker would rock back. Sometimes, he’d rock back too quickly and break his gravplate bonds.
That person would float off into space. That person’s screaming intercom would be cut off by control. He’d dwindle to a speck over the course of a day.
We were supposed to have tethers. We were supposed to have maneuvering jets. There were supposed to be ambulance shuttles standing by. All very expensive. Safety inspectors were bribed. We cut corners ourselves to heighten our own wages.
It was stupid and dangerous work.
I crawled, stuck to the surface by weak gravplates on my knees, feet, elbows and hands, on what appeared to me to be a flat black plane stretching away to the horizon on all sides.
Weak flashlights on either side of my helmet kept trained on the ‘ground’ one meter in front of my face. I was in the stimulus-response trance that repetitive work brought on. It was almost meditative.
That when I heard Julie’s frightened bark of a scream click off into silence.
We’d been sharing a bunk for two weeks. It was against company regulation but really, the ignorance of the law went both ways. This was deep space.
I loved Julie and she loved me.
I looked up and saw Julie floating away. I had a clear memory of being back on earth and seeing a child accidentally let a balloon go, crying as it flew slowly up into the sky.
Julie was kicking frantically, trying to ‘swim’ back to the hull but she was too far away.
Both of us had forfeited our jets and tethers for the dream of making enough money to get away from here and live together within two years.
I was watching that dream float away into space.
Without thinking, I kicked off towards her.
My aim was true and we collided. She panicked at the collision and we scrambled for contact before she realized it was me.
Her face smiled in relief through the faceplate for half a second before her eyes widened in horror at what I’d done. Then she choked back tears. She hugged me as much as the bulky suits would allow.
We floated in an awkward waltz. Maybe two deaths in one day would look suspicious. Maybe they’d grudgingly send a wagon out. Probably not, though.
We each had eight more hours of air.
I touched my helmet to hers so that she’d be able to hear me when I spoke.
“I won’t let you die alone.” I said.