Alasdair was alone and writing. He had habituated to the near absolute silence after many months aboard this space shuttle. On his first shuttle journey he recalled the initial strangeness of silent speed. This silence was interrupted only occasionally by the atmospheric control system ensuring survival and the collision of ultra-high-speed space debris; each collision produced a sharp metallic pang. This was a reminder he was drifting through a dark ethereal abyss at five hundred kilometres a second. The tinny pangs also reminded him of popping corn, instigating many a meal time. Alasdair continued a letter to his son, it read:
Conor, you asked me once about what it is like to be in space. I have never really given a suitable answer, despite anticipating the obvious question each time I return. I feel I can now pen an answer. Space provides a complete detachment from any feature of velocity, no shake, no rumble. The only indication is a dial. It is really a lot less fun than that time we went to Repak mountain. The shake of our bikes as we tumbled down the dirt trail. It is sure a lot faster up here however I miss you all, every day.
He looked down at his wristwatch. This journey allowed for few personal possessions. The watch had been passed onto him by his great-grandfather. By chance it functioned in zero-gravity, a joy unexpectedly discovered on its maiden voyage.
The old watch still works! If Albert knew it would make him happy. He always loved his ‘Reliable European engineering’. This watch keeps me grounded. It is not long now, it may be my last day before I arrive at the Jewel, hope to see you soon.
Alasdair sent the message and watched the screen for a send confirmation. As he looked out of the porthole he expected the ink-black sheet to be staring back at him. As it was simulated morning all the cabin lights were on. This drowned out the distant stars. Suddenly a glint appeared, the destination was near. In the excitement breakfast was placed aside. Mouth still full, he switched off all the lights. He waited for his eyes to adjust. The glint was sizeable and appeared to change colour intermittently. This was much brighter than all the other stars that came into view. This was it, the so called ‘Jewel’.
“Arrival imminent, applying hydrogen braking,” the tannoy announced.
A whir then a steady hiss followed the announcement. Alasdair was vaulted around by the sudden braking and reached out to hold himself still. The first welcome disturbance for a long time. His mind and body dormant for so many days he started to think about his duty, his return to this location after a three year absence.
“Arrival time 3 hours.”
This announcement took him by surprise. It always felt peculiar as the destination is anticipated for so long over the journey. At that he rushed down into the drone hall. Running past each drone he checked the state of charge and ensured that they were ready to be deployed. A quick read of each engraving on the heads; green writing now lit up: Harvey 362, Harvey 363 …
After checking the Harveys he rushed up to view the incoming asteroid field out of the porthole. This was such a sight of wonder, truly an incredible array of colours. Strands of Green, red, orange intertwined amongst the outer arms. Tangled rainbows knitted across rocky spirals. A scene difficult to describe. The shuttle was headed for the prime asteroid. On this asteroid the base sat inside a deep excavated cavern. It was in sight and the shuttle prepared to dock.
The shuttle was docked safely at the base deep inside the cavern. Alasdair walked down and opened the exit hub to enter the docking station. He viewed the cavern entrance through the portal windows. The view out of the cavern offered a glimpse of what could be described as a slow rain. The particles and small pebbles were like sheet rain slowly brushing against this asteroid as the cluster rearranged itself. They called this brattle. There were complicated algorithms that predicted this weather and forecast when the rocks remained under a certain speed and size threshold. The brattle forecast used a form of high frequency radar. This gives a 3D picture of the brattle cloud.
His first point of call was to check the logs. This was further across in the cavern in another complex. He would check this later, first a site visit to check all was in order. He went to the flying pod and checked the brattle forecast. He was good to go. Beyond the first point of call, this was the fun part, his first real direct contact with matter. Beyond being familiar to earth it offered familiarity of navigating matter, man was not meant for the immaterial unending void of space. Alasdair had been craving this moment for quite some time. He buckled his harness tightly and pulled the yellow release lever, this uncovered a green button. One last check, a deep breath then phoom! The pod approached the cavern entrance with some speed, it breached out of the darkness then suddenly awash with noise, brattle pelted him from all directions.
“Forgot the headphones! Always forget the headphones!”
He quickly reached for them to block out the deafening noise that the pelt of brattle produced. Once on, the headphones offered a dulled and calm thudding. The swirling rocks pushed apart as he gathered speed, he breached a clearing in the brattle and saw a suitable landing point. Applying the landing sequence the pod navigated to the landing area. There were drones working close to the chosen landing point – Alasdair saw them glance up and scurry away with speed.
“What … they shouldn’t do that,” Alasdair muttered to himself, quite confused.
The pod landed. Alasdair disengaged his harness gear, grabbed breathing apparatus and released the pod covering. He wanted to find a Harvey at duty, this was beyond the protocol however he felt an instinct to look after the wellbeing of his workforce. Looking up at the swirling sky of rocks he sighed in satisfaction at his career choice. He strode slowly due to low gravity, despite the weighting equipment. Alasdair headed for the main excavation store for this meteorite. The Harveys sought to harvest all the ore and pack them into a bore hole. The asteroid is then taken back to earth on a large solar sail. Some time had passed before he spotted a Harvey. It was beside a small excavation in the rock. It was a digger, the true coalface of the workforce. As was common this Harvey was quite damaged, Alasdair eventually got near.
“What’s wrong buddy?”
The drone offered little in response – the diggers take the highest risk of a brattle collision as they tend to stay out in action.
“You must have taken a bashing here, you need to coat up at times.”
He went to pick the drone up and get the ID number.
“Harvey 165,” Alasdair read. He moved to pick the drone up. “We will get you fixed up s … ” Alasdair was interrupted by a disturbance amongst rubble to the side. He looked quickly, two Harveys, they were coming out of their armament. They had perhaps armoured up for an incoming brattle storm. Alasdair briefly thought that they had been hiding from him, the thought was disregarded as foolish.
“Hiya how are ye doing?” No reply was ever expected amongst these interactions. He waved them over – although they were both already quickly approaching him and Harvey 165. “Looks like your buddy wasn’t so lucky.” They stood about Harvey 165 in a triangle. This felt strange, there was some emotion awkwardly placed in the situation. This thought disturbed Alasdair, he sought to end the situation. “Well chaps, Harvey 161, Harvey 155 I thank you for your time. We will be on our way, I’ve got to fix him up.” At that, with both arms, he scooped up the wreckage and made his way to his pod.
“PHOOM … PUSHH … PHOOM … PUSHH” Both live bots started cycling their ventilation programs amongst the accompanying alarms. This freaked Alasdair out and he ran to his pod. Suddenly there was another noise skyward – it was a delivery drone. It was incoming fast to their location. It swooped down and took Harvey 165 directly from Alasdair’s hands. There was a brief pause of disbelief. He looked up and the carrier drone was gone, he turned around and he was alone. He stood there for quite some time looking over the horizon of the asteroid, what was that? … what to do?
Alasdair had made his way back to the central shuttle hub. He needed to access the control panel to look at the logs. It will show all of the activity and shed a light on what may have changed in the past three years. The drones were programmed to respond and adapt to environmental aggressors to optimise the rate of mining. This was beyond response, did they see him as an aggressor? He needed to find out. He made his way through the channels of the shuttle hub. He reflected that he had never felt this feeling before at the Jewel, always marvel, always loneliness, but never fear.
After tapping his details in the console it read, ACCESS DENIED. Each time he attempted to log in, another line added to the screen in red, ACCESS DENIED. Completely locked out he thought of one place that a physical log is kept. Rewritable physical paper kept a log of the last major actions that the system took, he would go there to see the last processes before the system went to lock down.
This physical log was in a cabin to the side of the cave. After suiting up for the second time this visit he performed all the necessary equipment checks, he descended the ladder to ground. Weighting was not necessary in the cavern. With the cabin seen ahead he made his way in long gliding strides. Each step he heard the echo pounding down the cabin as a response. “Pound” “echo echo echo”, “Pound”, “echo echo” “SCRAPE”. Suddenly cortisol and adrenaline shot through his veins, something behind. Momentum carried him forward …“SCRAPE!” and he had no way to turn 180 degrees. The next step landed and he tried to turn about, he slowly span and saw a great mechanical arm inspecting his ship. His transport, only transport.
The great arm ignored him, it seemed to be feeling about the ship assessing worth, and suddenly it was dragged right out of view into the darkness of the cave.
Alasdair managed to control his momentum, he stopped for a moment. Full of adrenaline he decided to turn back to the cabin. As he strode towards the cabin he thought, “They … they harvested my ship. ”
He reached the print out, the last print was quite some time ago, it read: ‘Hello World’.