Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The thing about the planet Kuroshka was that it had seventeen centers all orbiting each other. It was several times the size of Jupiter but had managed to create a mantle. The centers had formed their own molten-core solar system deep under the crust. All these different cores spinning around each other inside the planet created gravity storms above. This made the crust into the hardest naturally-occurring substance discovered in the universe so far. If it had any elasticity at all, it would have been reduced to sand by the variable gravity continually attacking it.

The crust was a dark uniform jade green that didn’t reflect much light. It was flawless and smooth all the way to the horizon. It warped all sense of perspective.

We’d been placed here to find out how to mine it. A naturally occurring material like this could change the course of any war. But how does one cut such a material? Hell, the only way we could anchor our colonies here was with giant mile-wide suction cups.

Some colonies get pretty planets that are easy to live on. Some colonies get planets like Kuroshka.

As I suited up for another walkabout, I made sure to check the backup juice in my grav retardants and the sealant in my exolegs. The readouts said no gravity storms but they were only correct about half the time.

“How’s it lookin’ out there?” I asked Brent, our resident gravity mapper. The kid was twenty-three years old non-coldsleep if he was a day. This was the only posting he could get straight out of school. ‘First job is the worst job’ as they say.

“Not bad, Angie. 7.6 R.O.I., maybe arcing to 8 here and there. As long as you stay within two clicks that should be accurate.” He answered without a smile. Ever since Marcus had been crushed before he could activate his failsafes in a freak gravity squall that Brent didn’t see coming, he hadn’t been getting much sleep. Too obsessive can be just as bad as inattentive, I thought, and reminded myself to get him good and drunk tonight to help him relax.

I snicked my helmet into place and got into the elevator.

The theory we were working on was that the structural integrity around the entirety of the planet couldn’t be uniform. Which is a university way of saying that we were looking for cracks.

If we could find a place where the crust had a small split or crevasse, we could analyze the cross-section and maybe detect a weakness that would let our engineers create a cutting tool.

Long-range and orbital scans had revealed nothing. Now it was down to the ground teams to cover spots deemed by the experts ‘most likely to reveal answers’.

Might as well have chosen search points for us at random, we thought. Hell, maybe they did choose at random. Didn’t change the job.

I got out of the elevator surface ‘lock and started walking. The legs of my suit fought the variable Gs while my anti-grav accelerator worked against them to give me a smooth ride. Worked great on any planet with stable gravity but the calibration is what took the longest and out here, a few seconds calibrating after a wave of G’s came in could mean death. The chaos of the inner orbits made it dicey. Good pay.

My shift was eight hours. I took slow steps, looking at the boring, smooth, unchanging ground for cracks through my faceplate’s HUD display and remembered a rhyme about breaking mother’s backs.


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