Scraping Stones

Ninety minutes later and not only have the crew all been back to the mining vessel but Janine and Eduardo are now in the process of fixing brackets around the anchor cables. They were shot into the massive asteroid but the brackets are being installed in hopes of making it unlikely they will snap at the anchor points and send a flailing cable back at the vessels hull, which would damage it catastrophically.

Eduardo is pleased of the break from having to occupy the same space as his captain, who has resorted to barking like a spoilt brat wanting its milk. The mountain of a man does feel sorry for Kaz however who volunteered to stay behind in place of Janine. It would have made sense for the most experienced miner in the crew who helped program the engine cleave capabilities to remain but Kaz with her Miner Lung and the tension in the air reasoned it might be better Janine not. Janine had accepted Kaz’s reasoning, more for Kaz’s own sake than her own. After all, Janine can handle Russ. She’s known countless ‘Captains’ like him previously and their bark is always worse than their bite. Especially, when you compare him to a woman like Janine whose bite can tear you limb from limb.

As a result of that decision, Janine had run through with Kaz what she needed to check and run diagnostics on in preparation for the upcoming asteroid move and then cleave.

Eduardo is down on one knee with a boltfire in his hand. It’s a cylinder based tool capable of firing a heavy duty bolt some seven centimetres wide and forty two long into the hard crust of the space rock. In all he’ll be firing seven into each of the three brackets which will act as additional support to the anchor heads of the cables.

So far Eduardo has finished one bracket and is on the fifth bolt of the second. Janine is on the last of her three brackets. It’s where Eduardo should be. However, due to a few harder than anticipated areas he has been forced to readjust the brackets so that there is a decent chance most of the bolts will punch through and hold in place like they are meant to.

Bolt six goes in without an issue after the dulled thunk of the boltfire being triggered goes off. Following that Eduardo cycles the tool to prepare the last bolt for this bracket to be fired into position. He braces his arm against the bracket to keep it in place, not that it needs it with six already installed, and presses the boltfire against the raised rim of the last empty bolt hole.

However, before Eduardo fires he feels a presence. It bristles past him. He freezes. His eyes shifting about attempting to analyse what might be the cause. He can’t reach a conclusion and so turns his whole body to take a look. He finds nothing. He’s alone. No one is there. He could have sworn… He shrugs.

“I’m all done my end.” Janine announces before adding, “How you getting on Eduardo?”

The black haired miner carefully repositions the boltfire and then squeezes the trigger. A fresh dull thunk just about reaches his ears. Right after Eduardo checks the bolt to find it’s securely in place. He smiles and then informs, “Last bracket to go my end.” He doesn’t elaborate as to what has taken him so long.

“I’ll come give you a hand, ok?” Janine only ever asks Eduardo if helping is acceptable to him. Everyone else she just does it regardless. He hadn’t taken note of that previously but wonders why that is as he replies, “Sure.” It doesn’t bother him. In fact, Janine is about the only person he’d ever agree to have help him and so he waits.

That is not to say he does nothing during the next near two minutes, because he repositions and checks the density of the crust below the intended bolt positions. They’re clear. He should have done it on the previous two brackets but he hadn’t and so had wasted him.

When Janine appears, giving a smile, he has just triggered the first bolt of this last bracket. Janine swaps to close range comms and asks, “You OK, you look a little pale?”

“I’m fine. Sorry, I’m taking so long.”

“Oh please, you’re taking no time at all, and if Russ says anything just give him a smack, I’ll cover you.” Janine smirks. It’s an expression Eduardo returns before adding a slight nod and then turning his attention back to the job at hand.

Janine and Eduardo get three more bolts done before Janine exclaims, “Did you see that?”

Eduardo stops. He was about to cycle to the next bolt. Instead he looks to Janine. Her head is turned and looking in a direction that is off to his left. He follows what he surmises is the trajectory of her eyes. All he sees is rocks and space. He wonders if he is missing something. His conclusion is he is not and so he advises, “No. What was it?”

“I don’t…” Janine trails off. Her eyes tighten into a squint and then she sees it again, “There. That. See it?” Eduardo still looking sees nothing at first and is about to relay as much, fearing Janine might be ill, when all of a sudden he glimpses a shimmer. “Yeah, I do see something.” That is his instinctive reply. It requires no consideration.

Janine flicks back to normal comms and announces over the line, “We have something down here.”

“What sort of something?” Kaz queries with equal parts caution and curiosity.

Janine is pleased to hear Kaz’s voice and not Russ’.

“I-I don’t… Eduardo, what does it look like to you?”

“Probably a surface deposit of ore catching the light.” Russ chimes in with a roll of his eyes.

“Fuck you Russ; don’t you think I know the difference between ore and what I’m looking at?” Janine sounds angrier than she truly is. Her outburst has the desired effect as the Captain flinches hard in his seat on the ‘bridge.’ Kaz has to resist bursting into a chuckle at the sight of it, which is difficult because of how funny their ‘captains’ reaction is to her.

“Looks like a flat surface, like a door.” Eduardo offers finally and having ignored the tense exchange. He tries to stay out of such things. Janine can more than handle herself and doesn’t like people sticking up for her, at least in the conventional sense.

“You’re right it does look like a door. We’re going to investigate.” Janine declares.

“No. Get back on task. We need those brackets secured so we can enact this cockamamie plan which was your idea in the first bloody place.” It’s too late. Russ’ words have fallen on deaf ears. Janine and Eduardo, having exchanged nods of confirmation, are already on their way. It’s a good jaunt to the shimmering thing that initially caught Janine’s eye.

Russ leaps out of his seat, angrily, and then orders to Kaz, “Stay here and see if you can get those two talking.” He soon turns and begins to stride away.

“Where are you going?” Kaz queries frustrated.

“To force them back on task, or do it myself.” Russ says before his rambling words grow too distant for Kaz to catch. The engineer come navigator sighs and then over the comms line utters, “Captain’s on his way. Do you copy?”

“Clearly Kaz, and thanks for the warning.” Janine replies quickly and with little thought to her tone, exhausted. Not exhausted because she is tired but because it means sooner rather than later Janine will be forced to remind Russ she is not the person to screw with. This is doubly true when they are together on Gladius in a largely empty area of space. She wouldn’t actually throw him out an airlock, but Russ doesn’t know that. Or at the very least she doesn’t think he does. Even if he does it won’t change much because…

It is then that Janine and Eduardo reach the shimmer. Her mouth falls open. Eduardo was right; it’s a door that had caught her eye. If this was Russ he’d be gloating. Eduardo does not. Rather he announces, “This shouldn’t be here.”

“What shouldn’t?” Kaz asks with fear and trepidation. It fills her tone and the brunette instantly regrets it. Not that she has much time to dwell on such things as she mutes herself to explode into a coughing fit. At the end of the near twenty seconds she pulls her hand away from her mouth to see a familiar sight, small flecks of red. She quickly wipes her hand across her leg to conceal the evidence. Not that it matters as she is alone on Gladius’ ‘bridge.’

“We have a door.” Janine announces.

“Bullshit!” Russ shouts over the line.

“Stop lollygagging and secure that bracket. You are clearly delusional Janine if you think there’s a door in an asteroid.” Russ stops for the briefest of moments on his angry rant and then continues, “Eduardo, get those bolts in place, that’s an order. Or have you gone more fucked in the head than you already were?”

Janine gestures for Eduardo to swap channels. He nods but would really like to get his hands on Russ at this very moment.

“Ignore him. Russ hasn’t a clue. We can both see this door. We aren’t crazy.” Janine’s voice is reassuring. Eduardo smiles, just a little in response. He wouldn’t call it a smirk. It’s more than that but less than a full blown smile. A grin maybe, he isn’t sure what to call it, not that it matters.

“What do you want to do?” Are the words that pass his lips next.

“Find out why it’s here.” Janine replies succinctly. Eduardo agrees with a nod. Then they both pull themselves closer to the door. It’s a perfect square, more a hatch really. Though by looks of things it has hinges down only one side. The door/hatch is grey in colour beneath the muck and scorch marks caused by particles scoring its potentially once pristine surface. Eduardo has never seen anything like it, at least on an asteroid. The door itself isn’t foreign to him. There are countless like it, some still in use, seldomly but still he’s passed through a few that remain functional.

Janine reaches out and runs her hands over the door/hatch. As she would expect its silky smooth to the touch, even with her gloved hands cutting out much of her sense of touch. She wonders if there is a release, a way to open the door up. There has to be somewhere surely, she thinks. Before long she glances up, just a little, to find Eduardo too is searching. He’s checking around the surround where the smooth grey meets the rough hewn rock. A myriad of ideas are flying through her head. Most of which are not in any positive and largely relate to being betrayed or fooled by either own or other factions.

I have to put these ideas out of my head. I don’t know anything yet, she tells herself. Unfortunately, no sooner does she manage to move them away than she hears Russ exclaim, “You two, what do you think you’re doing?”

Russ might be close be he cannot see what they are obsessing over. That is until they move and fix their eyes with his.

The Captain manages to return the stares for little more than a handful of seconds before his gaze is drawn to… His eyes go wide at the sight of the hatch. Then he begins to blink rapidly. He actually thought his people had lost it, but they haven’t. That is, unless he too has gone off the rails. He doesn’t think he has and so that means this hatch is real. He shakes himself out of the fog that he feels as though he is swimming through at this moment in time.

“That shouldn’t be here.” The Captain admits finally. His voice is distant.

“We know. Now stop gawping and give us a hand.” Janine fires back in response.

Uncharacteristically for Russ he offers no resistance. Rather, he complies entirely and joins Janine and Eduardo in a search for a way to release… Suddenly there is a hiss. It’s low and barely reaches Russ’ ears. He recoils first and the most. Meanwhile Eduardo grins proud of his success and while the hatch pivots open to reveal a corridor within.

The trio exchange looks between themselves until Kaz cuts in to ask, “What’s going on?” Her voice is desperate and panicked.

“We’ve got the door open. Or should I say Eduardo has. We’re going inside.” Janine informs without so much as a pause.

“Are you mad? We don’t know what’s in there. It could be anything.” Russ is frantic and by the look in his eyes it is obvious that he’s terrified.

“There’s only one way to find out.” Janine assures a second before quickly slipping through the now open hatch. Russ is left staring in astonishment but manages to look toward Eduardo who following a shrug, slips through into the asteroid.

Russ lets out a heavy sigh and then begrudgingly follows them. The interior of the asteroid is bare rock, much like he would expect, if he were not inside and were staring at the pockmarked surface.

The trio drift down maybe a four metre stretch of this cylindrical corridor before hearing a distant noise. They all turn only to find the door/hatch completing a close cycle. Russ swears, loudly, and then begins to ramble about how he doesn’t like this.

“I see something up ahead.” Janine announces too soon after for the Captain’s liking.

“See what? Tell me. I need to know. I’m the Captain. Janine. Janine!” He’s having a meltdown. That much is clear.

Russ gets no reply but finds out soon enough when he is hauled backward, by Eduardo, through a pervious ‘wall’ of lime green. As soon as Russ is through it he feels gravity enacting upon him. The gravity drags his feet to a metal grating but answers none of the questions he has.

“Where are we?” He blurts spinning about on the spot.

“Same place we already were Russ, inside the asteroid.” Is the blunt statement Janine offers in reply before tapping Eduardo on the shoulder. He nods and then flattens himself as best he can against the endless curve of the tunnel to allow Janine passage. She quickly checks Russ over but concludes he’s fine, just panic-struck. It’ll pass, at some point.

“There’s a turn up ahead, might be a split.” Eduardo informs having taken a few steps.

“What does that mean?” Russ queries nervously. He cannot grasp the words which are reaching his ears and envision them like he should and would normally be able to. That only helps to further deteriorate his currently fragile state of mind

“Eduardo see where it goes, but be careful.” Janine commands. She then turns to Russ and suggests, “Let me give you a hand. You need support.” Russ doesn’t refuse. He simply allows Janine to take his arm and droop it over her broad shoulders.

“It’s a T-junction.” Eduardo announces having reached that point in the tunnel and turned back to face his fellow crew members.

“Are you getting this Kaz?” Janine asks.

There is no response. That strikes the green haired miner as worrying. However, in many ways it isn’t unsurprising as its doubtful the comms systems were ever intended for use through the dense rock of asteroids.

Still, why does this one have a tunnel in it, gravity and a door that blocks it off from what lies outside? She hasn’t got an answer to any of those questions, which is why she settles on forging ahead. Until that is she raises her head a few steps later to find Eduardo standing with his hands raised. Her brow furrows. She prepares to ask what he’s doing. Then the answer comes into view; three armed and heavy suited figures each with a weapon in hand and bearing the insignia of Clan Midrus. Janine snarls, wondering why they are here in Inner Ring territory and inside an asteroid. Russ offers no response. She isn’t sure that he’s still conscious. From the amount of weight she is being forced to contend with her guess is that he is not. Fine time to pass out, she thinks.

“Hands, high.” One of the figures, Janine cannot tell which, demands while the three weapons are pointed in her general direction.

“I’m propping this one up.” Is her honest and brief response to the demand.

“Hands, high, now!” The voice is impatient, testy.

Not wanting to be shot by whatever weapons are levelled at her and her crewmates, she shrugs Russ off her and then swiftly raises her hands to show compliance. The Gladius’ Captain flops to the metal grating with a thud. Its proof he really wasn’t conscious, but the three armed members bearing Clan Midrus insignia seem to care little for his presence.

“What is this place and who are you?” Janine feels the urge to ask. She knows they bear Clan Midrus markings but feels her queries are still relevant. After all, anyone can wear an insignia. Not that she has ever seen someone wear one if they don’t belong, unless they’re a spy. Seems unlikely but who knows.

Eduardo meanwhile is rapidly blinking one eye, attempting not to make any sudden movements as he does so. He feels it essential due to there being a spot of light in one eye, his left, which is bothering him. He doesn’t know why it’s there nor where it has come from. It just seemed to appear out of nowhere. However, try as he might he can’t get rid of it. It’s why he has continued blinking. The three figures seem oblivious to it, much like they seem oblivious to Janine’s question. They make no attempt to answer it. As a result this looks more akin to a vastly uneven standoff than anything else.

Suddenly Eduardo hears, “You are in danger. You must duck. Drop and you will survive. Please, heed our words.” The statements repeat over and over. As they do they get louder and yet the mountain of a miner doesn’t wish to listen to them. He tries to ignore the words when they first fill his ears. They’re quiet enough, a whisper, for him to do so. As they get louder Eduardo notes the voice sounds vaguely female but before long they fill his head.

“Why…?” Eduardo exclaims loudly. Janine confused wonders if something is affecting them. First Russ went down. Now Eduardo is asking questions that make no sense for no conversation is taking place. Is it her turn next?

The three armed figures, from their body language, reveal that they too are surprised by Eduardo’s outburst. Janine wonders if she can use this to her advantage.

The voice in Eduardo’s head is loud and demanding by this point. He wants rid of it. Suddenly, he begins to see the speck of light in his vision, which he had been trying to get rid of, grow brighter. His brow furrows. He sees a flash, not from the speck but of a short series of images. They are of where he is stood currently and reveal to him that Janine is going to attempt something that will result in her demise. He will not accept or allow that. Then the voice says something new. “Then you must stop your friend and duck. We will save you.”

“Who is we?” Eduardo asks aloud. He gets no reply but the armed figures suddenly reveal, through body language, that they are fearful.

Janine is still confused. None of what is happening makes any sense to here. Unfortunately, she gets no time to do anything as Eduardo turns, grabs and then forces her down. As he does so a brilliant blinding flash fills the tunnel. It’s followed by a great weight atop her which she assumes must be Eduardo. Then there are screams, three of them, unmistakably human. After that there is only silence, she can’t even hear her own breathing, and the blinding white light.

“You have been saved.” Eduardo hears the vaguely female voice say. He has questions, so many questions. The voice promises, “You will have answers, soon.”

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