Pulse #4, Mar 2 2944 - Page 6

NIGHTMARE by Blue BlackJack stood at the porthole, staring out at the mining ship Bolida. He could hear the heavy breathing from his left where Franco, ex UEE Marine Combat Engineer, stood. From his right wafted the light fragrance of Frenchy’s aftershave. Ever the dandy but with the looks to pull it off. Not for BlackJack, his face stoic masking his roiling emotions. Through the glassine he gazed upon the floating wreckage of his former vessel. A swirling, whirling mass of burned and twisted wreckage. He felt the slight pressure from the pocket of his upper arm thanks to the 3 UEE cash chips within. He had just sold the wreckage outside to Zanther Goose, scrap dealer and local scumbag, dividing the pitiful amount into three chips. There should have been five but Dakkson and Media were dead, dead, dead. Dakkson was - or had been - the engineer aboard the Bolida, and Media the ship’s hotshot gunner. He, BlackJack, copilot Frenchy and hired gun Franco, were all that remained of the Bolide Mining Company and their single ship Bolida. It was still hard to understand what had happened. Advocacy Marshall Adames’ investigation had been thorough and very serious. He had ordered the three of them interviewed, or rather interrogated, separately here on Station 13. Memories forced their way into BlackJack’s mind as he stared at the wreckage. He had been in the pilot’s seat monitoring the progress of the mining drone and the two extendable mining lasers Frenchy was operating. The ore storage containers were 95% full and it would take less than an hour to fill them completely. A friend of his, an explorer and ‘adventurer’ named Gandy, had tipped him off to a small, stable aggregation within the Oort cloud here on the fringes of the system. BlackJack had always found Gandy reliable ever since he had saved the explorer’s life and ship some years back. Once inside the collection of asteroids and dead comets, seemingly stable after billions of years, he had flown to the area Gandy had pinpointed. There, floating within a crowd of rocks, big and small, loomed an asteroid. Not visibly different from any of the others, but it sent the magnetor scanner right into the credits level. A test drill from Frenchy’s mining laser was brought in and run through the assayer equipment. Decent ores of a somewhat unusual variety. A bit more valuable than normal, but that wasn’t the prize. 4 They hit the jackpot! The readings for Rare elements: 11.7%! More than twice anything BlackJack had ever found before. This was money in the bank for all of them if the veins held true. With the Bolida repositioned to face the asteroid, Franco launched the mining drone and Frenchy started heating the digging site. Media waited in the turret of course, her twin laser gatlings buzzing and turning. Dakkson manned the radar and comm station, keeping an electronic eye open. They were not actually that close to the frontier but the Oort cloud of any system could be dangerous. The UEE simply did not have the resources to patrol so far out, so this could easily be considered lawless space. Piracy was a real danger in such a place. Devils could show up anywhere and they did like to shadow mining ships. BlackJack had hired an escort, a combat pilot named Ace-O-Spades flying a Super Hornet. Ace had remained with them on a continuous patrol. Then came the decision BlackJack would bitterly regret for the rest of his life. The contract expired and Ace had to leave for another. BlackJack decided to stay another 12 hours and finish filling those ore bins with the rich ore. Turned out to be an hour too long. A few kilometers behind the Bolida, several degrees to the left, lay a small asteroid about half a kilometer in diameter. On the right and behind at the same distance hung another small asteroid, around the same size. Media called them the Twins, Left and Right. Another 5 kilometers behind both a very large asteroid they called Bruiser sat, roughly 12 kilometers in diameter. Barely visible behind them the system’s sun shone, hardly more than a twinkle but still casing enough light for Bruiser to cast a shadow all the way to the Bolida. The beam entered the top left of the ship, passing through shields and armor with ease. So brilliant blue white that the sudden glare brought their heads around and they could barely see the two halves of Dakkson’s body being sucked out the hole where the beam had exited the other side of the hull. Helmets sealed automatically and the repair bot sprang out of his niche, pulling out circular patches and heading for the nearest puncture.