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During World Con in 2003, I heard some remarks that suggested a story, "Being in space will be mostly boring," and "How much money would we get if we brought back a Lunar Rover?"  The first draft was written during the convention.

The whole piece is 4,650 words and I'm only uploading 1,000.  Besides, I hope to have this published one day, and I wouldn't want to give the punch line away.

Last Salvage

 Bumper ‘n Jack only had 28 total hours of air credit, and the odds for them coming out alive were about two to one.

“Bump, if you had kept up your training, we could’ve had a few more minutes to search.  Yesterday I clocked out at 93 standard.  How’d it go with you?”

“Seven percent below standard is easy for you, all in the genes.  At least I’m down to 104, first time below 106.”

Jack pretended to be figuring it out as he put his helmet on, “That will make it about. . .”

“Don’t try and make it out.  You couldn’t do it without an IPC and I saw you sell yours last week.”  Bump continued as he snapped the helmet into place.  “Just divide our total by the sum of our rates.  That gives us 14.2 hours: 3.7 up and out, 3.4 down and back.  And that leaves 7.1 hours at the site to search.”

Jack stood up, “That will have to do.  Hell of a thing; six years planning and all we end up with is 7.1 lousy hours to make us as rich as Midas.”

Ricky stopped putting on his suit and stared at Jack, “Are you sure the buyers are still behind us?”

“Look, I talked with them last week.  They couldn’t get an extension without showing our hand, and that would have started a riot of a race.”  Jack took a quick look to check Bump’s body language, “They can’t officially back us with such a low safety factor; but they said they would up the ante another 25% if we just happened to carry this off.  So stop worrying, we’re covered.”

Ricky straightened up and shook his suit to settle it on his frame.  “All right!  If you’ll stop your belly aching, we can get this over with.  It’s just that we had a viable 10-year plan.  How’d we know the Earth/Luna Mining Alliance would close down the entire Moon’s surface to salvage permits?”

Pulling his boots over the bottoms of the leggings, Jack continued his belly aching, “There hadn’t been a permit issued in the last 27 months.  No one would have noticed if it hadn’t been for the Mitchell brothers going for that French wreak without a permit.”

Bump just muttered, “Yeah.”

They left the locker room and headed for the outer lock.  As they turned the corner, the Alliance representative stepped up and held his hand out.

Jack handed the paper to him.  Suitless examined the permit he himself had just issued an hour before.  In the strange ironies of slang, earth side, management and bureaucrats were called ‘Suits’ because they usually wore one; while on the moon where the miners who worked at or near vacuum conditions always wore pressure suits, the management who didn’t were called ‘Suitless’.

“You two idiots aren’t going to pull a Mitchell on us are you?”

Jack, the one with the quicker temper, bristled up and said, “No!  First, neither of the Mitchells could read French and second, the French didn’t bother to let anyone know that they were using an experimental power source.  We aren’t going to fry our brain pans.”  Jack accented every other word by poking his finger at suitless’ chest but never quite touching him.

Suitless put the permit in his side pocket and started keying in the air lock code.  He asked, “Even if the total surface wasn’t being closed to salvage tomorrow at noon Zulu, all individual sites have been off limits for years.  And, the Japanese saw that not a single artifact was left of any value with their four-year hi-res scan.  What the hell are you going for?  Rocks?  We got plenty of those.”

This time it was Bumper who spoke, “You know we don’t have to answer that.  The only thing we have to do is clear what we salvage with the authorities that it is not dangerous, threatening or known to have a legal owner.”

“Yeah, I know you’re a Phi Beta Kappa Web Lawyer.”  Suitless toned back down a couple of notches.  “It’s just that if you could give me some clue, I might have an edge in the pool.”

This time Jack did poke him in the chest, “You step one foot in Luna Mole and the union stews will toss your ass out this lock really suitless.”

The bureaucrat tried to puff up and look larger, like a cornered animal, but against the much larger surface suits Bumper ‘n Jack had on, it was a lost cause.  He blustered anyway, “You rock pounders aren’t the only ones with a pool going on the outcome of the circus you’re putting on.  No one can figure why two bright...make that one bright student and one con man would drop out of college to become moles clawing ore out of a two-kilometer hole in the moon.  I’m betting that this is some elaborate con.  It wouldn’t be the first from you two.”

With that, the two pressure suited men entered the lock.  The hatch closed behind them and after they had double-checked the safety points, the air was pumped out, the outer door opened, and they stepped out on the Luna regolith.

Six years earlier, Rick Bumper and Jack Starling had been roommates in their third year.  Bumper was at the top of his class with a natural gift in applied physics and mathematical theory.  Jack wasn’t far behind, not because of any academic ability, but because he always seemed to be holding on to the right end of the stick when it became important that one end meant more than the other.

A week before finals, the two dropped out and joined the Luna Miners Union, and after two years of menial jobs, they managed to book a permanent berth on the moon.

 Labor and management had figured out that the remedy for the deep depression that built up with the men and women working in the dark, claustrophobic confines of the mining facilities was two hours a week “on surface” for recreation and a mental reboot.  The system allowed for banking time, carrying unused minutes over.  No one had ever really had more than an hour or two until Bumper ‘n Jack arrived.  Their ten-year plan called for them to bank fifty hours and they had been ahead of schedule when without warning the surface was closed to further salvage.

 They seated themselves forward on the crawler and started up the rise from the loading dock.  As they appeared from under the habitat’s over-hang, faces pushed against the observation windows three levels up trying to get a glimpse of the two.



Read the rest someday, when it finds a publisher and find out how the miners pass the time of day and what the Last Salvage was.

Let me know what you think and don't worry, I have a thick hide.  Woody

©September, 2003. Fred (Woody) Hendrick