Butch Porter and John Morgan have each worked for the Interstellar Mining Corporation for 13 years. They sat in a two bedroom concrete shack on top of a large asteroid, listening to the night’s news from Earth. Their shack had a window with a full view of the immense asteroid field in front of them. Thousands of rocks covered their view. Some as small as the shack they were sitting in, others as large as planets. The area floated against a backdrop of blue and green swirling nebulas and in the Hesta Asteroid field, there was not a planet to be found. The belt sat at the very edge of the Hesta Star System and was within throwing distance of unmapped territory.
Tonight, Butch and John were playing a game of Double Solitaire at the kitchen table. There were only four tiny shacks like this one, spread out across the entire field. Running at full impulse in their tiny transport, it would take the miners a full day to reach their nearest pair of co-workers, should they need to. Going into warp drive in an asteroid field like this was just too dangerous.
Over half of the asteroids were filled with drills, placed there by the Interstellar Mining Corporation. The IMC wanted to be the first to extract the galaxy’s most rare and expensive elements. In the Hesta Asteroid field, that meant Iridium.
Iridium was used primarily for electricity. While most ships and household appliances still used standard electricity, Iridium was the new trend in power. It provided over three times the efficiency, and the long-term benefits were huge for cost saving. The only problem: Iridium’s high up-front costs make it extremely valuable and the frequent target of thieves and robbers.
And Iridium had a little secret. It could be used for much more.
On a shelf behind John sat a pad playing 3D images of news from Earth with full narration.
“In tonight’s news, still no discoveries of other intelligent life. Are Earth-based humans the only creatures in the galaxy besides microbes and mammals? And, in other news, the Earthian Union Assembly wants to slow down the process of establishing colonies. They say the territorial governments can’t keep up with administering all the settlements. And finally -”
“Turn off that garbage,” Butch said just before he took a shot of whiskey. “I ain’t listening to that tonight.”
John reached over behind him and flipped a switch on the pad. The images and words abruptly stopped. “I’m gonna pour one more glass,” he said. “That’s it for me. I’ll see your sorry ass in the morning.”
As John was pouring his glass, Butch looked out the window. His tired, red eyes squinted. “What the hell is that?” he asked.
What now?” John said. Outside the window was a small transport coming toward them. It resembled a miniature freighter, a circular disc with a slight bulge at the top, where the bridge was located. Except this was no ordinary transport. Two small cannons hung down the bottom. And, unlike most freighters, which were silver, this one was black with some brown trim.
“Cops?” John asked.
“Nah,” Butch said. “That ain’t no cop ship. And it definitely ain’t military.” He quickly poured another shot of whiskey, gulped it down, and slammed the glass on table. “I know what they want.”
Butch stood up from the table and walked to the control panel in front of the window. He pressed the button to open communications with the freighter. There was no response.
“Didn’t figure they’d wanna talk,” he said.
The transport grew larger as it loomed closer to the window. It began to lower toward the surface of the asteroid. The asteroid was protected by a giant invisible shield that provided an artificial atmosphere and artificial gravity. It allows the workers to walk around the asteroid free from having to wear space suits. These fields were used all over the explored galaxy. The only problem was that no security clearance was needed to go through one. Any ship could come and go as they please through the dome.
And this one did. It landed on the pad just outside of the shack.
“What’dya figure we should do?” John asked, deck of cards still in his hand.
“Ain’t much we can do,” Butch said, “unless you feel like dying for some Iridium.”
The miners watched through the window as two men walked out of the freighter and toward the shack. Instead of the military’s dark green uniforms, these were clearly civilian clothes. One wore a black vest with long-sleeved gray undershirt and dark gray tactical slacks. He was carrying a pistol. The other wore a dark brown jacket with blue tactical slacks and was carrying a long black shotgun.
The two visitors walked confidently toward the front door of the shack. Both men appeared lean and fit, their faces hidden by black helmets, commonly used on transport bikes.
The silence was interrupted by a loud pistol shot through the locked latch of the front door. One of the men pushed the door open. The miners looked through the doorway and watched as both men stepped into the shack and raised their weapons at the miners.
“Now you both know we don’t wanna hurt anyone,” the short man said. “Me and my cousin here, we just want some Iridium. As long as you give us the codes for those storage tanks, we’ll get our metals and be on our way.”
His voice sounded youthful, even healthy.
“And surely you don’t mind if we pour ourselves a couple drinks real quick while we’re here,” the tall one said. He poured whiskey into both miners’ shot glasses and gave one of the glasses to his partner. He took a shot for himself, drinking it through the hole in his helmet.
“Y’all got good timing,” Butch said. “I’ll give you that. Corporate’s sendin’ a transport ship tomorrow to pick up those tanks, take ’em to the warehouse.”
Butch took out a small electronic notepad and gave it to the shorter man.
“It’s got every storage tank on this installation. That Iridium belongs to the company. Take all of it you want. But we’d really like it if you let us keep our whiskey,” he said.
The tall man chuckled as he kept his pistol pointed at the miners. “I’d never take a man’s whiskey,” he said.
“Y’all got what you came for. Do what you need to do,” Butch said.
The two men walked out the broken front door.
The miners looked out and watched the men walk quickly from tank to tank, entering the codes and unlocking them. After only a couple of minutes, the men boarded the freighter again. The freighter lifted off and hovered over the tanks to get them in tow. Then, as quickly as it came, the freighter took off, disappearing into the blue and green gases of the nebula.
Butch picked up the transmitter attached to the panel in front of the window.
“Put me through to corporate,” he said calmly into the transmitter. “We’ve just been robbed.”