Chapter 4 - Up From the Deep

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I don’t know how I keep ending up here. I did well in school, well enough anyways. Good extra-curriculars, decent test scores. We did have to move half way through high school because the storms had gotten too bad, but most of the Bayou did so that doesn’t set me apart. Higher school, where they stuck all the young bodies they didn’t have enough jobs for in the region, went by without much excitement. Sure, I had been in a few fights, but then we were all pretty on edge, not much of a bright future in coastal Mississippi, especially with all the refugees from Florida taking up space. Since the river became more of a bay we were all squeezed in a bit tighter, and that tends to bring out the worst in people.

I guess what set me apart was that when it came to risk, to harm, I looked at it a little different than others. I knew that black eye would hurt, or that well could have a blowout, but at the end of the day it was just a decision I had to make. I was the willing. That is why I had a clear head when I made the choice to raise my left arm - the pusher leg Marlon swung overhead would break my radius or ulna, or both, but as it came down my right hand was already swinging up toward his chin, and that was the hand with the brick in it. My arm would need care, but Marlon would be left at the tender mercies of Mr. Clay. He told us all to call him Allan, but I remembered what he did to Harris’s idiot crew and felt like keeping things professional.

I turned Marlon’s head to the side so the blood in his mouth wouldn’t pool and choke him, he must have bitten down on his tongue when my punch landed, and being unconscious and bleeding is a bad mix. Other miners had started to gather around to sort things out, the Pinkertons made allowance for a certain number of fights per month but tunnel progress had to be maintained. The pusher leg was checked for small dents that could buckle under pressure and then reattached to the hydraulic drill it had come from. One of the younger miners stood with his hand out for the brick I held, it would need to go back in the pile. It turns out when you need to make internal walls in large excavated areas, it is easier to just make fresh bricks with the material you just removed - and they were counted.

The facility staff, security and medical, were starting to arrive. They always waited until the chaos settled down. Just the ulna this time, the med staff put the brace on and injected the painkiller and corrective, some mix of things that was drawn to the exposed marrow and would set in a few minutes, making the bone workable within the day. It left a lump on bone, never exactly settling smoothly, but if you didn’t have a few lumps you couldn’t call yourself a real miner on Tea. Being a miner in space was not what I had planned on when I graduated from Hattiesburg Higher Ed. Most of the jobs were out on the rigs in the Gulf, after all Congress was still trying to get some alternative energy spending bills approved, it was just the details you see, and the world still needed to run. There were fewer and fewer wells opening each year, some of my classmates had already moved up to Alaska to work in the former national parks wells. But it turned out I was good at deep sea diving, so there was still plenty for me to do down south.

When Tia Eli got picked for the mission to stop Tea, we were all so proud. She had been a bit of hero of mine since I was little, she was one of the willing too. Older than Ma by about a decade she felt like a legendary figure, the great Garcia who got out of the Bayou and made it to space. I had gone down to the depths, but whenever she was out on a mission I would stand out on the rig at night and try to spot her ship out there. And when the Herald succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of most of us, we held a parade in town before she even got out of orbit, and then another one when she got home. We weren’t sure how, but we knew Tea changed things, there was a new frontier now, and that meant hope.

Of course frontiers are rarely easy things, and they needed a very particular set of skills up on that rock. I’m sure it didn’t hurt my application to go up when the interviewer realized I was “that” Garcia, but being a miner in microgravity was going to take more than a good name. The pressure suits were like second nature, and the strange floating feeling at 0 atmospheres on Tea was surprisingly similar to the almost 100 atmospheres at the deep wells. I even found a few classmates I had lost touch with in the induction meetings in Thumba, the equatorial launch site the Indian government had built up to stay above the sea level. We signed on for year long stays, with bi-monthly trips off Tea to the support station for gravity treatments. Getting accelerated around for a few days at a time after spending two months on the float was always relieving and disorienting in equal measure, but it did stave off the worst of the side-effects.

“Rol Garcia, drillman class three, we’ve already reviewed the footage and you are clear to return to work, med says you should be whole in 4 hours.” Vince, the sector security head, summarily dismissed me. One of the first things they did in each node we opened up was install security cameras - they didn’t want any wiggle room for workers comp claims, and when there were fights they could be resolved right away, especially since all of our audio comms were recorded now too. Harris had messed a few things up for us, the well-intentioned bastard. “Hey boss, what’s going to happen to Marlon?” I knew he hated being called boss, reminded him of the plantations his great-greats had grown up on. “Don’t call me that, and Marlon is going to get reviewed.” He replied without looking. He knew I knew that, but I liked to make him say it. It was what happened any time there was a “Human Resources issue” as the Pinkertons called fights. And “review” meant a physical review, the legally defined as running stress tests on a miner to ensure fitness for working on Tea. What those stress tests actually were was a couple Pinkertons working you over until you got the message not to do what you had done again. So a beat down, but with paperwork.

“Go easy on him boss, he’s an ass but he’s new. Lost his cool is all.” I said, still not moving on from the spot. Vince turned to me, giving me his full attention. “I determine the review, not you, and this is the third review he’s needed in the two weeks he’s been here. Not a good track record.” He paused. “When you’re fully cleared by med, move over to tunnel four. I’m going to move Marlon over to four when he’s…considered his review. If you want to talk sense into him fine, but this is the last review he’s getting, I don’t have time for this bullshit.” A last review was not good. Either he’d shipped back down the gravity well with an absolute minimum of gravity meds and integration support, or they’d save space on the shuttle and push him out an airlock. Accidents happen in mining, everyone knows that.

“Will do boss.” Vince’s mouth opened to correct me for the hundredth time, but I had already turned my back and was on my way to tunnel four.

Mining on Tea was a strange thing. Well, strange in ways that weren’t obvious. Most mining on Earth is done for one purpose - get the gold, get the coal, maybe an odd fallout bunker here and there back in the Cold War. On Tea we were simultaneously hunting for riches from space and clearing way for humanities next home. Some tunnel projects were just there to make the facilities that would house the future, and some were digging into Tea’s past to find the ore baked into the rock from its ancient birth. Tunnel four had been planned based on some early scans, but had ended up not being as rich as soon as they’d hoped. New scans promised more cobalt further in, but since no one would be living around the cobalt we could just drill a minimum clearance hall straight ahead, and it didn’t take many miners to do that. It also meant less access to the support facilities each new node in other tunnels would get, and shittier shifts as a result. But there would be less people around, and more chance to try to drum some sense into Marlon’s head.

He had come up after Harris’s Rebellion, and just didn’t appreciate what had been bought with blood. We almost had it without blood, Jim from the UN had been working as the go between. He was a little condescending to us, I think he listened to me because I talk like I had been to higher school even though the other guys knew the mining work better than I did. But in the end he had been a decent man, trying to get the bosses to listen, but all that had been for nothing when Mr. Clay opened the airlock. I think the bosses gave us concessions more out of shock and shame than sympathy, they didn’t quite know who they had hired with Clay.

We found out who they hired though, and had struck a balance in the time since. Most of us were working to send money home, so the “if you don’t like it just leave” rationale didn’t really work; but some people, like Marlon, had come up thinking they could do a year’s contract and then fall back down the well into a cushy life. They didn’t seem themselves as part of the team, so to speak. But when you’re working in the void you’re either on the team or a danger to the team, and if he was a problem enough the miners might take care of him before Vince could.

“What’d you do to get thrown in the Door?” Roisin’s lively voice came across the comm as it auto-switched at the tunnel entrance. She liked rhyming things, apparently something her hometown was famous for. “I requested it, I wanted to see how the upper crust lived on Tea.” I replied. “Har, as likely that as me on a mince! It was Marlon, weren’t it?” I made the hand signal we all agreed would be an affirmative nod, it is hard in the suits to make use of normal body language and I had just come into view of Roisin. “The boy’ll have himself out in the night before he can have his bees and honey.” She observed, tutting a bit. “Well I’ll glad he’ll be joining us here so you can be a good influence on him.” I said with a slight smile. She laughed, one of the few nice sounds in the void on Tea. “Any cobalt yet?” I asked as I pulled up the current dig plan. Roisin turned back to the drill array she had been operating with the onboard al. Al’s could manage more drills at once, but weren’t very good at changing plans when seams showed up. “Oh that these walls were as blue as my balls!” she exclaimed. Roisin had one of the filthiest mouths on Tea, one of the ways she navigated the old boys club the mining industry was. The cobalt was still a month or more away, depending on cross seams and pockets, but sometimes you got lucky with a worthwhile chunk that had broken off from the mother lode a millenia ago.

Leaving her oversharing uncommented on, I replied “Well, at least your drill plan is sound, though you might want to requisition more spare drill bits.” “Spare drill bits are for gits and girls! If you’re not skilled enough to use what you got, you order more. Marlon’ll likely need a passel of ‘em, boy wouldn’t know the right set of a bit on rock if it bit him on the -“ “:TUNNEL FOUR:, less chatter” the facility al boomed over the comm. The facility al listened to everything, especially for patterns of conversation that were not work related while one of the participants was on shift. And even though I couldn’t drill for another few hours I could get caught up on the material history of this tunnel, which would help a lot when it was my turn to set the bits and guide the drill array. ”:TUNNEL FOUR LOCAL: Tunnel progress at acceptable level” the little drill array al surprisingly responded, apparently trying to defend us. “Acknowledge facility al, focusing on review.” I spoke up, knowing that Roisin would be replying without turning on her comm lest she invoke the wrath of al again. Marlon, Roisin, and the drill array were going to be interesting company for the next month or so.