We’ll round out the month with a relatively new piece, Meteor Man. First written in July ’94, I was never satisfied with it until my last rewrite this past September.
It’s a longish piece at 11,300 words, so I’ve broken it into five pieces. I hope it’s worth it.
Singer sat arms folded at the asherpilot’s station. Looking through the forward, he watched their progress towards asteroid 480-SMN-10’s gut as he murmured the digdial’s readout. “Thirty point naught.” A minute later, “Thirty naught one.” A minute more, “Thirty naught two.”
La Velle, sleeping at the co-pilot’s station and with his back to Singer, snored gently.
Singer started raising his voice on the last digit, making a sing-song to alleviate the boredom. “Thirty naught three. Thirty naught four.” A green light flashed on his console. Beside it a screen switched from operations to analytical. The asher, a mechanical scorpion on caterpillar treads, slowed automatically and the hoppers on its back closed to preserve the ores already gathered. The digdial read 30.041 as the asher broke through into a cavern.
Singer lowered the asher’s main mormons and swung the high resolution sensors over the bow, making the scorpion lower its claws and bring its stinger forward. In the vacuum of 480’s interior the mormons touched the cavern floor silently. The high resolution sensors danced at the ends of their metal whips. The only sounds were the mormon’s counterweights sliding forward to keep the asher’s center of gravity stable and the subsequent wind down of its caterpillars. The repeller matrix, which made sure the excavation’s walls didn’t collapse on the asher, lit its stern, bow, starboard, and port with waves of red as it sought structural weaknesses in the cavern.
As the matrix’s oscillators quieted, its light stabilized into a cool, nightsky blue. The subterranean expanse filled with repeller-hued dark and the silence was complete.
The asher’s computer began displaying the sensors’ reports. Singer nudged La Velle. “Wake up.”
La Velle yawned and opened an eye to the forward. He shook and sat up quickly, his hands moving to his armrests to right himself. “What is it?”
“You tell me.”
“Shit.” La Velle linked Mainward. “This is Dig 480-SMN-10. We got a problem.”
Main came back staticky. La Velle and Singer’s asher rested deep in 480, a big asteroid with a weird elliptic which took it far out and far in, far out and far in. “What you got, 480-SMN-10?”
La Velle opened the link. “We’re not sure.” Singer nudged him and La Velle shook him off. “We think we got construction.”
The link responded with dead static. The asher’s digtime clicked off seconds.
Another voice came through the link. “You sure?”
Singer and La Velle looked at each other. Singer sighed. “Meninquez?”
La Velle nodded and groaned. “Meninquez.”
Singer took the link. “We’re some thirty deep. All the way down there was only planetary. Straight geologic. At 30.041 we come to a wall which the asher thinks is neither planetary nor geologic but which it does read as being 2500 orbits younger than 480 itself.”
“Okay. Surface and shutdown. I’ll have someone there tomorrow. Meninquez out.”
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