This story is by Scott Granado and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
My cab skips along the asteroid-threading zip line, sharply curving out of sight of the hub. Finally in the last eleven minutes of this seventy minute commute to work site delta. I signal the nearby sunning mining bots to boost themselves towards delta.
I ping the now-accessible Jupiter research sensors to offload their stored data through the repeater chain, to my cab, back to the hub via zip. So much radio noise off these ore monsters, we need cab monkeys like me to flip the radios on and off at the right times to babysit these sensors, their data and sometimes misbehaving bots.
After confirming the omnidirectional cameras and radio spectrum arrays are all recording, I re-check power and life support. All bright green and healthy. Me? Dull yellow and perishing.
Gazing now at big J’s storm eye. Another shift of chipping big rocks into little rocks. At five minutes to delta, Sys fires the retros to slow the approach.
Then… Movement in free space, a fluttering light, not too distant. Could be a meteor falling into Io?
“Sys, boresight telescope along my helmet centerline. Overlay telescope visual on cab glass.” Thanks NASA. “Report distance to fluttering light source at center.”
Tele vis is now on glass and zoomed on that light.
“Unable to calculate distance or closing velocity. Querying remote sensors.”
Closing velocity? The light wavers rapidly now and has a pin hole that’s expanding towards the light’s edge.
A flash. I blink. Where there was light, now there’s a mass.
“Proximity warning. Unidentified object detected at 32 kilom-.”
Boom. Well, more like BOOM.
Cab boosters flare out. A cacophony of blaring sound and red LEDs. Crazy like those academy pushup sessions in 2g sputtering the four verses of the Star Spangled Banner.
“Hull integrity compromised. Calculating status.”
“Power in rapid drain. Main at 42%, secondary at 30%. At current rate, full drain in 63 seconds.”
Wait for it…
“Hull integrity rapidly deteriorating. At current rate, catastrophic breach in 60 seconds.”
Okay. Loss of all power in less than a minute and a probable rude exit from the cab. Too bad no power at that point for an extra-vehicular selfie with Jupiter.
“Sys, silence alarms. Cause of impact?”
Was I too distracted and smacked by one of the mining bots or an aberrant clod from another work site?
“Unable to categorize cause. No physical impacts. Running temporal analytics.”
“Impact force detected first at unidentified object side of cab, then propagated through to opposite side.”
So, that shaking light and object that I’m now again marveling at have something to do with my impending end. I’m marveling anew because I see it has angles. Manufactured angles?
“Emergency zip line egress boost countdown begins in 4 seconds. Full power drain and hull breach in 34 seconds. Recommend walk suit check and transmit emergency profile to hub for rescue.”
Three snap-seals and I’m ready. Okay, manufactured angles have appeared out of a light and a propagating, circuit-draining boomer. A grav wave? Grav wave generated by-
I’ve got to get the sensor data that saw all this off this dying cab and to the hub.
“Countdown initiating. 10. 9.”…
Live or die, dude. Divert all power to egress boost and life support and so lose all data of this wavering light and manufactured angles thing, all of it at 100% power drain in 26 seconds.
Or… Divert all power to pulling all possible data off this sector’s sensors and push it to the cab via zip communications. And then – you know – rapidly decompress, suffocate and die.
My life for some bits. Well, a whole lot of them actually. About time to do something right with my zombified existence?
I don’t want to die.
“Max boost egress initiating now.” Jolt.
No! Be the person Shells and little Krissy believed you were. At least for your last few seconds.
“Sys, cease boost, cease boost! Confirm.”
“Boost shutdown confirmed.”
“Sys, use max power to pull all remote data from last ninety seconds from this sector’s belt edge and mining bot sensors. Compress and stream data to the hub as received via zip. Continue stream until full power drain.”
Done. Maybe this will matter. You’ll just never know.
“Acknowledged. Data flowing inbound to cab now. Compressed data stream begins in three seconds.”
Nothing else to do.
For you my Shells and little Krissy – see you soon.
“T-90 second data stream complete in 3 sec-”
Dark. Calm. Maybe I won’t feel anything.
Click – click. Uncommanded reboot?
Bright green blooms outside my lids. The soccer fields of heaven?
Except I feel that boom’s shoulder strap pain and there’s no pain in heaven.
My eyes crack open to green status displays. No hull breach. Power.
And movement again. That object is now rotating 90 degrees off axis. Yeah, definitely manufactured angles. No, it’s not a Clarke monolith.
It stops, a much smaller object separates from it, then it begins to flash a familiar sequence.
“Incoming HF analog transmission.”
Glad you’ve survived, Sys. “On speaker.”
I hear a continuous wave of S-O-S.
Then white lights at one end of the larger object instantly intensify. Its appearance blurs and it’s gone in a blinding flare.
First contact… with a human distress signal?
Everything now hinges on the quality of that streamed data and how it endured those booms and their side lobes. I guess it’s on how garbled my carbon-based system is, too. What does a grav wave do to a human? What’s up with that second one?
“Unidentified object on vector to site delta at 1 meter per second. Object’s intercept with delta is in 1,056 hours.”
Okay, circle up: An appearing then disappearing angled object. Catastrophic and regenerative wave effects. A distressed first contact leaves behind an inbound object.
And I’m still alive because I chose to be who my precious ones once believed I was.
No cold selfie snap this rev between a rock and Jupiter.