Midnight Jolt Run

Caffeine tastes better when the city's asleep

Apollobo (part 2)

Posted by Fiss on March 21, 2011

[read part 1 here]


My Daddy once told me that you should never rely on the works and acts of a pair of hands that isn’t still around to own up for them.

I believe this intrinsically, as do many poor hobos like me who have spent the night in a pre-dug camp and ended up getting crushed by rock when the half-assed supports failed.  Even worse is some of the corporations who sling out small fortunes in an effort to professionalize this rock-hopping business.  They’ll cut corners, ignore warning signs and pull out their teams before they can see the results of their poor planning.   The nastier characters, and I do know a few, will set boobytraps that they forget about when leaving, or purposely leave just for a dark chuckle.   Fine by me, I say.  Just more reason to dig your own holes and set your own tent.


The best part of mining these Apollos is that you’ll always be close enough to the sun to get a charge in your batteries.  Sisyphus spins once every two and a half hours which is pretty quick for a rock nine clicks across, so before I dig on in I crawl up to the pole so I can get a bit more reliable daylight.

Mountain climber picks and a lot of rope makes sure I won’t fart and take my leave of this place.  I know I could probably stand and walk on this beauty if I was real careful, but I’m not tryin to impress any ladyfolk with my bravado tonight, and I’ll need time for the rocket fuel to re-gen in the boosters.  Bacteria only multiply so fast, you know, especially when they’re so cold.

The other thing us hobos need to watch out for is the reason why I’m crawlin through craters on my way along her surface.  Big asteroids generally attract small asteroids, and small asteroids like to hit with the force of a gunshot.  It’s a long hike, almost three clicks, and my body is almost wishing for the zero-gee float I had been doing before.  Even with the tiniest gravity noticeable, my pack seems huge and unwieldy.  If it wouldn’t take hours to repack my net, I could use it to sling myself up North, but I’d rather spend that time diggin.

There’s a good crater near the pole that doesn’t have any sign of hobo or mining corp on it, so I check my spotglass and confirm it should give me a lot more light along the edges than I was getting down at the equator.  Soaking in sunlight for the last few weeks, though, means I can start now without worrying.

The main tool of the hobo looks like a shovel.  We call them Banjos out of respect for our ancient brothers.  They are part shovel, part musical instrument, part frying pan and part hypersonic drill, and they eat through stone like a starving man thrown into a buffet.   Kick out a lot of dust, too, which is why we have more subtle gear for once we dig our holes.

No sound in space, but the dust hitting my suit and the hum from the Banjo as it sits in my hands is more than enough to remind me of my youth, runnin my motorbike through a cool summer shower.   In a minute I’m six feet under.  I don’t bother makin a ladder because I can just float up or down if needed.  I do stop for a moment to mount another few safety lines and metal hooks, though.  All I need is to hit some pressurized gas under me and I’ll shoot out of this tube like a bullet.

The stone itself is very beautiful.  It’s white-grey until your Banjo digs in, then you get a multitude of colours ranging from silver and pearl opalescent to a shimmery blue powder that indicates silicon and maybe some diamond.  I hate digging through a possible vein of the good stuff, but I’d rather lose a few pounds of diamond than die.

It takes a few more hours with the occasional break to gnaw on a ration stick inside my helmet and rehydrate, but I soon have a ten by ten room carved out of the stone a good six feet down from the surface.  A few low-power light-sticks in the walls give me plenty of visibility, even when I begin to fix the outer hatch.  On the back of my suit is a toolbox that on earth weighs about three hundred pounds, and the good bulk of that weight is designed to make a little home away from home.  I place the hatch at five feet down, anchor it with the metal ties, then make an air-tight seal with a super-expanding foam gun.  Then, I dig deeper through a new tunnel, this time ten feet down.  All the dust I kick up I use to pack into the foam.  Makes it stronger.  They don’t teach you that anywhere…just something you learn with the trade.

Another hatch and I begin to dig another room, this time taking my time to check for any faults or cracks.  This will be my boxcar hotel for the next three months and I want to make it right.  The Banjo hums happily as it chews through stone and my breaks involve more and more rubble removal.  It isn’t long before I have a cozy little tomb all to myself, and as I jam lights into the walls I try venting a few meters of my suit’s air into the room, measuring for change in pressure.  It’s not perfect, but then again the airlock seals aren’t dry yet.  It will do for now.

I finally power down the lights and lay down in my dead-still new home.  All around me I can imagine the stars dancing and a new comet-tail of my dust flittering off into outer space like smoke from a campfire.  In a week I’ll finally be able to get out of this damn suit and stretch my legs.  Even this little stone tomb will seem like a luxury vacation then.


Day two.  With the pressure more or less stable I pull out a tube of bacteria from my suit and lay it goo-side-down on some of the fresh dust still everywhere in the hole.  Then, deciding I’d rather do something than watch oxygen grow, I head out onto the surface once more, closing the airlock behind me.

I start with a slow deliberate trek around my hole and then I keep going outwards in a spiral, always tethered with a nice strong nylon harness.  The nearest mine is almost a click away, and it looks like most of the hobo holes are around it.  They’re all dusted over and I look them over for salvage without diving in.  Boobytraps, ya know.  Not worth risking it if I don’t need anything.   If I find a corporate dig, though it might be worth it.  Silly bastards usually leave all kinds of useful kit behind.

I see Mars in the distance getting smaller and smaller.  By next week she’ll just look like a red coloured star.  Maybe one day I’ll go visit her, but not when I can’t pay the gravity tax.  Asteroids you can leave but planets are insanely jealous and hate it when their visitors try to leave.   Takes a bit more than the boosters to get off of them.

Footprints are non-existent except where they’ve been sheltered from the lack of elements by a crater edge.  I clearly see a few that strayed as far north as my camp, but they’re so faint they must be two or three orbits old.  The dust superheats in the raw sun and turns into stone, otherwise you’d never know mankind was here except for some curious gopher digs.  My batteries tell me they’re recharged from the stroll, so I head back.


The end of the first week I find one of the corporate digs.  It’s down, likely to the core of Sisyphus, or as far as they could get anyway.  I only carry five clicks of cable so I decide not to bother.  Still, maybe once I can get out of this suit and do some surveying I might change my mind.  Silly or not the corps usually know where to dig for the really good stuff.

After months living in this blasted suit I finally get the green lights that my atmosphere is ready.  I dawn a simple medical mask over my face so I don’t breathe in any dust the bacteria or my dusting efforts haven’t rid my air of, then pop my helmet.

There’s a faintly chlorophyll tang in the air, but otherwise I feel my lungs rejoicing at the different taste.  It’s as heady and intoxicating as any drug and I’m glad gravity is next to nill when I feel my knees get weak and I allow myself to topple backwards in an effortless backflip.  I’m quick to get out of my suit, unsealing the pressure and unratcheting the ratchets.  Takes the better part of an hour just to escape the damn thing, long enough to be born, and indeed I feel naked and shivering as a newborn.  Even with the heaters and added life support of my suit I’ll have to pump up the heat a bit more.

This is the part I love.  I truly love.  Away from everyone except myself and God, and even then you’d find preachers who say he doesn’t much care for folk like me.  Back on Earth I was a poor son of a bitch who was a son of a bitch who was (somewhere down in the family crest) used to mine oil from the ground.  Found all the intellectual pursuits of the world were pretty hollow, and it was only when I was breaking my back in a mine a few years back that I felt like a solid soul again.

Just on the edge of the Steam Race to Space, where they figured out a few key bits of kit needed to safely pop a man into orbit and back again, I decided to hit the books once more.  Learned all about orbits and velocity and trajectory.  How to man a suit and make it last when you couldn’t bring it in to the shop.  Made a good little nest egg on a helium mine on the Moon, then decided I liked being alone a bit too much to climb a corporate ladder or race around like a rat.

Hobos like me aren’t rare, but we certainly are a dying breed.  Just hazards of the journey I suppose.  Sure is a fun trip while it lasts, though.

I set up my little music box radio and slowly screw it into the stone above my head.  This is a little trick I learned from a man who I watched freeze to death in Russia after spending years, safe and sound, in the cold blackness of space.  Irony of irony.  Nothing can kill you like home.  No matter.  You just need the right speaker and suddenly, the stone becomes alive.

It’s as if the stone around you is your skull, and somehow, you’ve come into yourself and are lounging in your own head.  The music resonates like nothing else…not Opera Houses, not Quadraphonic Personal Orchestras…not even the sound of crickets on a summer’s eve, which had been my favourite reason to sport ears up until I learned this trick.

I play a variety of music that I never get tired of, but always, and I do mean with some religious fever, I always play Jump Jive and Wail.

Baby, Baby, looks like it’s gonna hail…

The sax fills my atrophied limbs with soul like adrenalin shot into my veins.  The drums, the trumpets and the guitars fill me with movement and life and joy once more.  Weeks of waiting.  Months of planning.  Years of floating in space like a dead thing.  It’s all worth it for a bit of this peace.  Solitude.  Just me and the music.  I don’t so much hear it as I feel it through my every cell, every muscle and molecule.  It is euphoria like nothing I have ever experienced.  Of course, part of that may just be the O2 high.  Takes a while for the nitrogen and carbon dioxide to generate, so I just lay down and tap my arms and legs against the stone, enjoying the high for as long as it lasts.

Momma’s in the back yard learnin how to jive and wail!

Here I am…a bum buried in a rock in gravity’s embrace at roughly twenty thousand meters a second getting high on the sweetest air most people will ever breathe.  I may not get the click-clack of rails to lull me to sleep, but I tell you I think I can get by.

Posted under Short Stories
  1. Marie Said,

    Awesome!! As always ;D

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