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by Rudy Vener 2 months ago in science fiction
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When competition turns to sabotage, four asteroid belt teenagers fight to save their families, friends and home.


When competition turns to sabotage, four asteroid belt teenagers fight to save their families, friends and home.

Chapter 01.

Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. But then, they probably never accidentally left a comm channel open while cursing out their antiquated space suit.

"Oh vac it!" I shout as floating sweat stings my eyes. I blink furiously, sweltering inside my patched and battered space suit. How did I let this happen?

I glance at my suit temp. It's blinking red. All I can do is stand still on the surface of the iceteroid and wait for the suit's feeble cooling system to lower my temperature.

For a second I'm tempted to lie down on the ice to speed things up. No, if my boot grippers lose contact, I'll float away. This man made ball of ice has next to no gravity, even though its width is four times the height of the Empire State Building back on Earth.

More sweat droplets float around inside my helmet, going nowhere, and blurring my view of the stars blazing steadily in the black empty vacuum of space.

"Stupid suit!"

But it's my own fault. What was I trying to prove? That at thirteen, I can keep up with adult ice jocks? Yeah, right. I'm really showing them. Disgusted at my own stupidity, I squeeze my eyes shut and shake my head, trying to clear the sweat from them.

"What's wrong, Jase?" Andy McGregor's voice comes over my suit comm.

"Nothing," I say, groaning inwardly as I realize my suit comm is active. I squint at my comm display, relieved to see it's set to tight beam, so only Andy hears me. At least I'm not broadcasting my latest screwup to the other ice jocks. Or worse yet, my dad.

"Are you sure?" Andy prods.


"Then why are you drifting off the ice?" asks Andy.

"Oh, vaccing blowout!" I blink my eyes open and stare down past my feet. The perfectly round, two kilometer wide iceteroid is spread out below me, growing smaller as I drift away. Several space suited ice jocks in distinctive colored helmets crawl over its surface like ants on a soccer ball. They step between scattered red anchor plates the size of wagon wheels, trailing thin, super strong carbon filament threads from their oversized pistol-like web spinners. At this distance, I can't see the containment web they are weaving.

The ice jocks are too focused on their work to notice me. They are all looking down at their threads. All except one. Andy's yellow and black helmet tilts up, watching me coast further away.

He lifts an arm and gives me a wide, exaggerated wave. Without thinking, I squeeze the brake on my web spinner's handle. Instantly the thin black thread trailing from the pointed tip of its thick barrel grows taut, nearly yanking the cartoonish pistol shaped spinner from my gloves. I hold on to its grip, fighting down a spasm of panic. But the thread is strong enough to hold a mountain of ice together. It isn't about to snap from any strain I put on it.

Clutching my spinner handle I swing in a wild arc. I kick and flail, but accomplish nothing. Terrific. All I need is for the other ice jocks to see me spinwheeling at the end of my thread like a newbie at his first zeegee dance.

At last I think to switch on my suit jets. With my glove controls I give them a tiny burst of thrust, just enough to drift back towards the surface. Soon my boots touch down and the grippers cling to the ice.

"You OK, Jase?" asks Andy.

"I'm good," I reply, trying to sound casual while my insides squirm.

"It looked like you were spazzing out," says Andy. "I thought you might pop a seal."

"It's nothing." I grit my teeth, hearing the grin in his voice. "Just some sweat in my eyes."

"Don't overdo it," says Andy, turning serious. "You need to keep your suit in the green."

"I know that," I snap. I cast a guilty glance at my suit temp status light. It goes from flashing red to yellow. I'm thankful Andy can't see it.

"Just saying," says Andy.

"I've been wearing space suits since I was six," I say, then cringe at how defensive I sound. "I'm not a newbie!"

"You're not getting special treatment, Jase." His tone is patient, but I sense the warning. "Six hour shifts in a suit are tough on all of us. Every new ice jock goes through this. Every single one. Got it?"

"Got it." I try to hide my irritation. Even though Andy is twenty-one, he's only lived in the belt for two years. But I can't let this get back to Dad, so I stop talking.

"Good," says Andy. "Let's stop blowing air and get back to spinning thread."

When I check my spinner, I discover I'm trailing a hundred meter length of thread. It's way too long, and now totally useless. I follow it back to its original anchor plate, cut it loose, and start a new thread. I triple check each step. We can't afford any mistakes. One wrong thread and the giant ice ball could break apart on its long flight to Lunar orbit. I spin the thread to the next anchor plate, attach, and tighten it. Finally I click my comm to the general channel.

"Jase B. reporting thread five-seven-nine-two connected," I say.

"Ok, Jase." Olaf Hagarson, our crew chief, replies in his low, rumbling voice. "And just so you know, your average thread connect time is now above ten minutes for this shift."

A tightness in my throat wants me to argue that the last thread shouldn't count. But then I'll have to explain why. Not going to happen.

That's when Shorty Jeffers' voice comes on the channel.

"Hear that Andy?" he asks. "Guess you can stop worrying that the kid will whip your butt for the Top Jock bonus."

There is a burst of laughter from all the ice jocks listening on the channel. I straighten up, almost bumping myself off the ice again. I'm used to the crew yanking my jets. But why does Shorty make it his full time job?

Andy doesn't reply, but a couple of others join in with comments about the sorry state of my web spinning.

Thankful that none of them saw my recent spinwheel performance, I clamp my jaws shut and start spinning my next thread.

At last Olaf breaks in. "Let's cut the chatter, people. If we don't deliver this ice ball before our deadline, Lunar Tranquility colony will be full of some very thirsty, unhappy colonists. And Interplan is breathing down our necks, just waiting to steal our next customer."

That quiets them, and I spin another two threads in peace. I check the time. I can finish one more before the shift ends. That's when my web spinner flashes a warning message.

"Oh, blowout," I moan. Luckily my comm is back on tight beam.

"What's the problem, Jase?"

"Nothing," I say.

"It didn't sound like nothing." Andy's tone is mild but I know he's not letting this go.

I exhale a noisy, defeated breath.

"I'm out of c-flex," I confess. "I guess I forgot to bring a spare cartridge." I wince, remembering the wasted thread.

"I guess you did." At least there's no grin in his voice this time. "Suck it up. Call it in and head back. The shift is almost over anyway."

I sigh, trying to think of another option, but without c-flex my spinner is useless. And so am I.

"Jase B. reporting," I announce over the general channel. "I'm out of c-flex. Heading in for a refill."

"OK Jase, come on in," says Olaf, not mentioning that I'd blown the end of my shift.

To my relief, Shorty remains silent. I glance towards Andy's sector. In the distance his black and yellow helmet and shoulders are just visible above the close, curved horizon. He's looking down, spinning thread. Then I kick off the ice, power up my suit jets, and aim for the command shack. Right now it's out of sight, attached to the far side of the iceteroid.

As I fly over the ice, I watch the brilliant starscape unroll across the black sky. The tiny dot of the sun rises higher. It's too bright to look at directly, even this far out in the asteroid belt near Jupiter's orbit. A blinking red light pops over the horizon. It's the distant beacon of the Tin Can, the Belter space station. A tiny pinprick of white light, probably the flame of a pogo, appears to break away from it and crawl across the starscape.

As I watch the light of the little two person space scooter, I'm imagining how cool it would be to have my own pogo. Then Evan Owens' voice comes over the general channel.

"Evan O. reporting thread five-zero-three-eight connected, swapping c-flex cartridge."

My fantasy of piloting my own pogo around the asteroid belt evaporates. Evan ran out of c-flex too, but unlike me, he brought along a spare. It figures. I search for Evan's blue helmet with its two silver lightning bolts. I'm approaching his sector, but don't spot him.

Suddenly a brilliant flash off to my left dazzles my eyes. Crack! My ears ring as something hits my helmet. Terror slams my heart into my ribs. Will my helmet shatter?

Nothing happens. The flash afterimage fades. The universe spins around me. White, black, white. Then my training kicks in. I fire my suit jets. Stop my spin. Search for what made that flash.

There! Icy dread prickles my skin. It's Evan! He's tumbling in the blackness, limbs flopping. A sparkling swirl surrounds his suit. He's leaking air.

science fiction

About the author

Rudy Vener

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