(Written January 2012)
Another abstract short, and the first I've written (or at least finished) in a while. This also sees me back on sci-fi territory, I've finally got away from the gothic / horror phase!
Boron took his foot off the pedal and rolled to a halt in his cat-mech. He watched the District Mining Inspector and her team make their way along the ridge to the small control centre. Ten, maybe eleven of them? It was hard to count at this distance, the way they were clumped together. They moved fluidly, hopping and skipping between rocks, not yet worn down by the high g. They’re just children, thought Boron, probably no more than eighty sol. Probably still on their first tour of the sector.
The sky above them rumbled as an angry green cloud front rolled in through the red-streaked sky. Boron didn’t like the way it resonated in his helmet and the static flickered across his visor. Even after all these years he still hated the weather here, it changed too fast and it felt like all nine seasons happened every day. Two centuries he’d been here now. This was only the third inspection since his assignment. He looked back across the depleted frost fields. His team had made good progress – they had strip mined three billion cubic kilometres of rock – yet he was apprehensive. How long had it been? He never thought she’d join the Inspectorate. She was so angry when she left. He didn’t think she’d put herself in a position where she had to come back. Humans! They’re so neurotic and unpredictable, he thought. Their species obviously hadn’t adapted as well to millennial life spans, they were still ironing out their psychoses.
He started the cat-mech again, and rolled off towards the front. There was a newly exposed seam of frost-iron to inspect. No one could quite describe the colour of the mineral. Sort of yellow, sort of gold with hints of blue, both dull and glittering at the same time, in stark contrast to the dark red bedrock of the planet’s crust. It actually had nothing to do with iron, but it grew on the surface of most metals and biologicals on this planet like rust, a quantum-organic by-product of some invisible quantum-scale life form, a natural metallic frost.
The lab techs were initially terrified it would be contagious and that it would infect and corrupt each visiting star ship, spreading like a virus throughout the galaxy. They scuppered the first scout ships and quarantined themselves for half a century until rescue teams arrived with modified shuttle pods, although it turned out their paranoia was unfounded, that for some reason the process didn’t spread, it lived only here. Most of the mining equipment sent here was still built of immune polymers, though.
Frost-iron, however, the tangible result of that invisible process, was nothing short of miraculous. The thin residue found at the surface was almost worthless, although if ingested it gave a mild sense of warmth and wellbeing, without an unstable chemical rush or a harsh comedown, and its effects lasted far longer than other food-class stimulants. But the condensed form, compacted over millions of years like the oil and coal fields long since depleted by civilisations on their way to the stars, was worth more than all the antimatter they had created since. It catalysed cold fusion, stabilised star drives and improved their efficiency, allowed life to spread along the dark matter filaments, to thrive in the voids between stars.
It was the colour of pollen, she once said, and they were the worker drones – collecting it, feeding it to their young, pollinating the galaxy with it. Now she was the head of the Inspectorate, she was here to inspect the hive and soon she would leave again, without looking back. Boron was still just a worker, but – to his eyes at least – she had become the queen bee.
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