Midnight Jolt Run

Caffeine tastes better when the city's asleep

Apollobo (part 1)

Posted by Fiss on January 8, 2011

It’s an art, ya’see.

All in the wrists in those last few seconds.

When I tell the youngsters that you have about a minute to prepare once you see the train comin, they act like a minute is a lifetime, forgetting that those sixty little seconds melt away pretty fast in the cold black of space.

They forget that it takes months to plot the course in the first place, and that even when you’re out here, fresh off the moon dust, you’re still better off if you grab your spotglass and hunker down for a few weeks to study your next ride.  The equipment is expensive and heavy, so you’d better pick it up once you get Luna side or you’ll waste all your chips just hauling up the lot.  Rockets and fuel don’t weigh nothin in space, sure, but you try telling me the moon’s gravity is less than home’s after you heft three Crazy Mongoose Boosters onto your cosmosuit.

Apollo asteroids like this one aren’t so easy to catch, truth be told.  If you survive as long as I have, you generally learn to travel light.  You sink your mining cash into smaller and more reliable items for next time once the thrill of blowing it all on whiskey and women leaves you and you’re staring at another speeding bullet weaving in and out between the stars.

Ahh, there she is now.  They call her Sisyphus.  A big girl, too.  Has just enough gravity to make you feel wanted, though you can still leave with just a well planned jump.  One could retire on just a few months of digging on that beautiful pockmarked face…and I know a few who have.  Only problem is that most of the time she’s too far away to hitch a ride on, and when she is, every mineral-junkie in the solar system wants to suck at her teats.  But then that’s why I’m catching her early, after a fortunate little spin on a seashell-shaped rock named Geographos just a few nights ago.

If I can catch her, Sisyphus will be all mine for the better part of four months.  If I miss her, though, I won’t have another ride back to Earth for…well, honestly I haven’t thought that far ahead.  Best not to think about it now.

She’s comin in at almost twenty clicks a second, and the only reason why I’ve been able to spot her so far off is because out here, every rare stone shines like diamonds.  Mars is too far left, and the sun is a bit to my back, so when Sisyphus comes into view she’s blazing with all that pretty light.  On my arm is a magnesium and granite spotglass, so when I raise it up to look through I can see my math looks about right.  A few millimetres off, as always, but hey…you have to learn to plan for those little challenges.

Here she comes now.  Just a minute left and my heart races as I twist and turn in my suit, swearing when I catch a good eyeball full of the sun in my helmet before remembering to lower the shade.  My suit runs like a tree…takes the sun’s energy and my own fluids and a few other little techno-wizardry things and I can live in here for a few weeks.  Not that I’d ever want to, but I know a few hobos like me who’ve lasted six months or more.  Of course, half a year floating in zero grav will make you mad as a hatter, so you gotta wonder if livin is the better option.

One last check.  All the phosphor bulbs in my helmet light up green and I grab the shiny yellow booster control stick on my belt for the first time in weeks.  For the last two days I’ve made sure to keep the charges warm and my wrists limber.  On my left arm is a giant metal net made out of a million little claws and springs, all bundled up and ready to shoot out from a cannon strapped there.  Try to wrestle an asteroid with just the net, though, and you’ll be ripped in two or more pieces before you have time to say ouch.

This is where the math comes in.  You gotta find out how fast you need to go so your arm isn’t taken off and you can plant your butt down nice and gentle.  I hit the boosters.  Three massive yellow iron tubes on my back ignite and I feel every meal I’ve ever eaten press down upon my spine as I am thrown forward faster and faster towards the sun and away from Sisyphus.  Oh…not to worry, she’ll catch up real quick, even with my efforts to get a running start, including three days of careful acceleration just to get up to most of her speed without needing the boosters.

About a minute to go.  I know they say ya can’t here nuthin in space, but I tell you, you sure feel the rumble of those rockets, and you sure hear your own body complaining as things that were never meant to squish do so, and bones you didn’t think you had begin rattling together.  The first stage of the boosters ends and the second, another bout of acceleration, but this time not nearly as world-shaking occurs.  This one lasts longer too, more than half a minute.  It gives me time, precious, precious time, to glance back with mirrors and my spotglass to make sure I didn’t just waste the better part of my retirement fund heading in the wrong direction.

Ahh, there she is…right on time.  Busses and trains could learn something from Apollo asteroids, could they ever catch up to ask them their secrets.

The final stage of the rockets is an emergency boost, generally used to fire you into the direction of the moon and hope they catch you after a few months of drifting, but if I miss this one, I’m looking at a lot more ‘me’ time than I’m able to cope with, so I use a little of it for one last course correction and speed boost that makes my eyeballs flat and takes me a moment to recover my wits.  Thankfully, that moment was all I needed.

Sisyphus is giant now, like a wall of gleaming stone that I know will just barely…barely…miss me.  I hope.  She’s not moving so blindingly fast, though.  I’ve almost caught up to her speed, but there’s simply no way to know by how much.  It’s close, though.  I hope close enough.

I am my net-cannon and pray the good Lord has an ear all the way out here.


I hear that one.  Steam propelled, the explosion, crystallizes into mist around the head of the cannon.  The force of it courses through my suit’s veins and padding and I clearly see the metal net shoot out faster than a heartbeat.  There’s a massive jolt as it hits Sisyphus and the slack in the line begins to absorb the difference between our speeds.  All the green and blue lights in my helmet turn yellow, then a great deal more turn blinky-red as I am hauled along with the speeding planetoid at speeds I still fear to fathom completely.  Creaking and hissing fill my ears and the red light of my entire control panel fill my eyes and for a moment I imagine this is what Hell must be like.

Then, one of the red lights turns yellow, and I feel a massive weight off of my shoulder when my speed springs forward to match my train.  The springs and metal line are still tensing and shaking, but I know now it’s almost over…just those last few seconds.

I look down and see the surface of the asteroid coming up to meet me fast enough to turn me into a pancake.  I pull hard on the line…all in the wrist, remember…and manage to pull myself upright so I can use my shiny Mongoose Boosters.  Got about thirty seconds of emergency fuel left, and I ignite once more for barely two of those precious seconds, taking the edge off of the landing so the suit can absorb the rest.

Finally, as the smoke and stone dust clears, dare to open my eyes all the way.  Sisyphus is even more beautiful up close, and it’s only the knowledge that I’d bounce off and head back out into space that prevents me from jumping with glee.  No time to celebrate just yet.

Time to get to work.

Posted under Short Stories

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