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 John Piggott

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Miner's Blues

Retriever ice mining in deep space

A quiet rumble rolled through the cabin of the Retriever mining barge as giant beams of light pirouetted effortlessly across the jagged dance floor of the nearby ice asteroid.  Vaporized particles pulsed in shimmering arteries, back into the heart of the ship's hold while distant nebulae drew a backdrop of tumultuous blues and grays frozen mid-explosion in the unyielding glare of New Eden's eight thousand suns.  It was breathtaking, magnificent, and completely lost on Corvax as he snored in his captain's chair.

Blurring in from the otherness of warp, two additional ships slunk silently into the asteroid field lean and feral with the reduced mass and plentiful hardpoints of combat craft a stark contrast to the bulky mining vessel choreographing its dance of light.  They turned towards the Retriever and leapt forward like dogs of war; havoc slipping its bonds.

The plaintive howl of the alert wailed through the sleeping cabin, abruptly silencing the rumbling as Corvax jerked into wakefulness.  Squinting in the dim light of the battered primary display he grimaced at the flashing red boxes.  "Dammit," he snarled, "Not again!"  Amidst a chorus of complaining seat springs, he pulled himself upright and hurriedly set course for the distant sun, glaring at the output from primary.  The Retriever's tired engines coughed into life and slowly, ponderously the ship started its turn towards its promised salvation when twin shadows eclipsed the sun; war hounds closing in for the kill.  Brilliant bolts leapt from predator to prey; blood-red teeth tearing deeper and deeper into the Retriever's bleeding shields.

"Too slow, dammit!" hissed Corvax, eyes locked on his hemorrhaging shield's status.  The bone-deep groan of the ship's warp drive slowly started to build, then dropped off precipitously as a rippling field formed around the miner.  Waves of gravitational chaos, powerful enough to distort even visible light, stretched and twisted the encompassing space, hurling Corvax's navigation computer into convulsive overload.  He sat back helplessly and watched with widening eyes as the ravening fangs gnawed the rest of the way through his ship's shields and ripped voraciously into its body.  The claxon screams of the dying ship cut off abruptly as the tiny escape pod jettisoned clear of the field, darting swiftly into warp and the safety of the sun. 

For a moment the asteroid field glowed brightly, then fell into darkness once again.

"Because it's not right dammit!"  The grimy, dented station comm spat out a tinny, distorted voice accompanying the static image of a young blonde vixen, hair pulled back in a tight bun.  "They have no business blowing up your ship just because you didn't pay their asinine extortion fee!"

Corvax turned away from th
e station window and fixed pale blue eyes on the comm.  "Nineveh, we've been over this.  I agree with you in principle.  In practice, however..."

 "Jet your practice!  Jet those Brave New World people or whatever they call themselves, and Jet yourself while you're at it for letting them get away with this!" Her voice grated increasingly with each metallic word.  Corvax's jaw hardened, teeth clenching as she continued, "Why won't you actually do someth..."  Corvax petulantly slapped the disconnect on the comm and with a startled burst of static, voice and picture dissolved leaving only the quiet hiss and drip of the air vents and distant clangor of the station's shipyard.
 Portrait of Corvax
 Corvax sighed deeply and looked at his dim reflection in the heavily pitted observation window.  Craggy features topped with a spire of a nose, deep-set eyes and a curiously delicate tracing of scars gazed back.  His brow furrowed, deep wrinkles growing deeper as he rubbed at an oily smear on the window, smearing it further.

"She does go on" he muttered.  "Parents were good miners though.  Pity she can't fly anything bigger than a Venture."  He gave
another deep sigh, visibly deflating, and squinted through the window where the framework of an unfinished ship soared; cathedral arches before a weary pilgrim.  "Hurry up," he whispered mournfully, "There's a long road ahead."

"We're shutting the station down."  The bald man gazed sorrowfully from the comm, face lined with the wisdom of aging Asian descent, the collar of an old vest framing his neck like the decaying walls of an ancient fortress.  "It's not your fault, of course.  Simon made a priority run and brought back enough fuel from Dodixie to keep us online for another week.  But it doesn't make sense financially to keep doing this."

Station "You sure about this, Hitch?" Corvax frowned at the screen and jerkily tugged his faded green jacket a little straighter.

The frozen image gazed out of the screen; a stone statue from a long-dead era.  "There just isn't enough traffic.  When we could bring in the raw materials and manufacture our own fuel cells it...well, I suppose it was really just delaying the inevitable.  Thank you for your help, Corvax."  The call ended.

Corvax drew in a shaking breath then let it out slowly, mistily in the cold station air.  He grimaced at the salty, stale taste of weary air scrubbers, coughed raspily and walked over to a dilapidated console.  It shimmied slightly as he punched in a command; his eyes narrowing as the manufacturing queue scrolled slowly across the screen.  "Dear God.  Two more days..."

"Set Name"  The display pulsed rhythmically.

Corvax gazed with solemn reverence at the colossal craft filling the hangar, man and ship sharp-edged in the stark lights far overhead.

"Set Name"

The harsh lines of his face softened slightly as his hands moved slowly over the console.   

With keen eyes, Corvax looked away from the receding station and back to the controls as telltales recounted old stories with new voices.  He ran his hand slowly across the smooth edge of the display, pausing to pick free a remnant of protective sheeting.  A deep breath filled his nostrils with the scent of new plastics and the oily tang of a ship just birthed.  A small smile ghosted across his chiseled face as he gazed at the star map and murmured, "Well then.  And where shall we go today, little one?"

Prodigious engines roared with otherworldly strength, artificial suns silhouetting the vast expanse of the Orca industrial command ship and two Retrievers nestled in its hangar bay.  It thundered contentedly towards open space; a behemoth casting the chains of its captors at the edge of the welcoming plains.  Dim light from the faraway sun plucked details from the shadows: the broad sweep of powerful link transmitters, the frame of a gargantuan cargo door and, nestled beneath a port side gantry, the ship's nameplate...

                                      Miner's Blues

Orca class  Corvax's new ship  headed out

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