Episode 4: Alice station
Bolin awoke with a start after his short, but long deserved nap. He had been working in the mine for 35 hours straight, but that was not the longest he had ever worked. He slid his legs over the side of the metal bunk were he slept, his feet touch the cold floor, but he hardly noticed. The white wash of the florescent lighting made his skin look sickly. Bolin wasn’t the man he was last year, in fact he wasn’t sure who he was. He was going to strike it rich in the asteroid fields, sure that was his dream, and the dream of the other six thousand workers around him. He had done well his first year here, grossed over ten thousand tons of ore, yea that was a good year. The company sold him better claims and richer rock. It would cost him everything he made that first year and more. Best rock in the field he was told by the company…Right…it played out in six months…he was in debt to the company. He was in debt to investors…investors, loan sharks. He once owned his own ship to process ore but that was gone…everything was gone. He now lived in a coffin, that’s what they called the rack space for the miners. He stood up and moved to the coffee dispenser…he stared at it for a long time before turning back to his bunk. Half a day’s work for a drink of soycaf, it was fine he didn’t need the stimulation of the hot drink. He had some ICE left under his pillow, there were one hundred bunks in this block, but Bolin felt completely alone. He placed the inhaler over his face and place the last bit of ICE in the vapor chamber. ICE would allow him to work another 35 hours or so…ICE was cheaper than the soycaf and not only stimulated his awake time, but made him feel better. He had been using for about six months…or maybe ten months…”what day was it?” he thought.
Bolin stepped into the main shaft of his claim, his enviro-suit was well worn, it had patches on the knees and elbows, and his plasma cutter was a friends…who had died three days before. So I guess it was his. He begin digging just off the main shaft about 50 meters. He placed the cutter against the rock and begin drilling, dust and sparks flew in the weightless his environment. He remembered a time when he first started that some of the rocks were so big they had their own gravity. No not like earth, but enough to hold you in place, and sometimes a big rock would come close to your location and suddenly gravity would pull you to the opposite wall. It was dangerous, mining an asteroid field was very dangerous. Rocks the size of small moons floating around…bumping into each other, very dangerous. The average life expectancy was about two days, but then you make your first two day, than four, than three hundred, next thing you know you have been here three years and have aged twenty. Bolin wondered why? Why had he not been killed like so many others? Guilt flushed him, he couldn’t remember when or who he had talked to. Maybe he wouldn’t talk to any of them, he was famous in a way. They called them “timers” short for Old timers. You might be asking yourself why not just use bots or droids…well you see they cost money, where a man cost very little. I heard that the company was recycling…everything; water, waste, trash and even the bodies. Your contract clearly stated that if you died before you paid back your debt, they got everything…which included your body. Bolin knew it was only a matter of time before the company realized that the plasma drill his buddy loaned him was missing from the dead guys’ inventory. They would come and retrieve it, but until they did, Bolin was going to use it…
The ICE was kicking hard today, he could feel the warm wash over his tired bones, and he smiled through the dust. Bolin couldn’t remember his family…suddenly there was a burst of escaping water, it was frozen but the drill had warmed the rock enough for it to expand and pop in to the chamber he was working. It would freeze immediately again. “Jack-pot!”
Water was what he was mining for, that was the dearest of commodities in the fields of Alice Station. Once the field was about sixty percent water, but that had been taken long ago. The Hydrogen in the fields was also gone, so no secondary water source. H2O was the goal, small pockets trapped in the rock of mines that had played out years before. Bolin gathered the frozen ice crystals, it looked like snow, he pulled his stasis field generator from his pocket and it would produce a small bubble of atmosphere in space, then reverse the bubble and it would vacuum all the fine particles of water into a bag. He checked the amount…16 ounces…”JACK POT! 200 imperial credits per ounce! That makes for a good day.” Bolin returned the SFG to his front pocket and returned to his drilling. The company set and controlled prices on everything at Alice station. No one brought water here, because no one could buy it…except for the company. So they controlled the supply and the demand. They sold most water to the active mines further out, they used it to generate power. So now he was left scraping enough water or maybe gems from time to time, just so he could go on living…to start the process over again.