Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The drill slides sideways like it’s got a mind of its own, so I straighten up to lift it clear of the crystal. My vision blurs and I pause to gauge which of the two reasons applies. With a bark of laughter I realise it’s the good option: too much rum.
“Hey Andy, you slackin’ again?”
Milt’s unbelievable, able to track the world around him like a sober person.
“Not enough blood in my alcohol system, ya fruit. I’m declarin’ snacktime. You in?”
“Goddam, boy. You goin’ nine-oh-one on me?”
That’s the medical code for saturation, when your body cannot metabolise enough alcohol to keep the Fenden at bay and let you work.
“Not a chance. I did half a bottle too soon is all.”
“That’s the problem with Jamaican. You should switch to Russian.”
“It’s got no flavour, Milt. If I’m going to pickle my ass, I’ve gotta have somethin’ I can savour.”
“You always did read too much and drink too fancy for a jeweller.”
“Bugger off. I’ve got cold hog and fresh kiwis; last chance.”
“I never said anythin’ bad about your goo-er-may eatin’ habits, boy. I’ll be there afore you have canvas up.”
I grin as I turn and use the drill to punch a post-hole in black rock. Sure enough, I’m just swinging the awning up onto the pole when Milt appears and grabs the far side. In a few moments we’re cross-legged in the shade savouring meat and fruit. From where we are, you can see the company enclave on the horizon. Between us and them lays the glittering expanse of the lowlands, shining like the treasure it conceals. Randell is a pretty planet, the vast crystalline plains reflecting whatever light is about, day or night. Under the plains in striated crystalline clumps is the wealth of the universe, the purest of which make any optical device better and the least of which make women feel appreciated.
When the company opened up the digs, they franchised the ‘jewellers’ and supplied the drugs that make our bodies inedible to the Fenden, the translucent gas things who just love having a human for dinner. Bloodmist outbreaks were a problem initially; when Fenden gorge and get amped up on warm human fluids, they group together and go into a slaughter frenzy. Made mining almost impossible until some doctor discovered that certain chemical additives make humans taste bad. The company had us jewellers over a barrel until Marty Grufe discovered that being pissed up was just as effective. You could buy two months supply of spirits for the price of a one-week shot of the company’s patent protector. Pretty soon, the only sober people on Randell lived in the company enclave. If you’re outside these days, you’re either drunk or dead.
Milt slaps my shoulder and points. In the middle distance, a ruby cloud whirls by. I wonder who we lost today. It’s easy to get so engrossed in a rich lode of gems that you let your regular swigging go. Do that for a couple of hours and you get to be edible, which is always fatal. Every jeweller has a few Fenden nearby, just waiting for him to get careless. That’s why smart jewellers pair up: to live long enough to enjoy their earnings.
I lift a bottle of rum and raise it to Milt. He lifts his vodka bottle and clinks it against mine.
“Here’s to the gems an’ the booze never runnin’ out.”
“Damn straight. Sláinte!”
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