The bays to the red-ore warehouse were wide open. Tractor-sized forklifts were coming in, picking up stacks of palettes and taking them back outside to an airlock that extended out over 100-yards past the edge of their dome towards the shuttle landing pads. The Lading Master at the airlock directed each forklift to the exact position where he wanted the palettes deposited. When the airlock was full, it was closed and sealed and opened from the outside where another relay of enclosed forklifts took the palettes and deposited them into the waiting shuttles. Harry was very thankful he had read the Mine-6 Manual. The manual explained everyone’s duties when loading a shuttle with the red-ore. Harry could see that the Lading Master was doing it all by the book. He had to. One mistake and the integrity of the dome would be breached and a lot of people would die.
Harry got out of everyone’s way and found some red-ore building blocks stacked against the wall near the connecting corridor. He sat down, put his back against the wall and absorbed the scene that was unfolding before his eyes.
There were acres of red-ore bricks stacked on palettes that themselves were stacked almost three stories high. Outside the dome, there were a series of shuttles that were waiting to be loaded. Once loaded, the shuttles would take their cargo up to the orbiting freighter. According to the manual the shuttles were off-loaded up there into specific shipping containers. Each mine had its own containers. Each crew was racing against the crews from the other mines to see who could load their containers first. There was a holographic image of the freighter hovering above the connecting door showing how the contest was proceeding. Harry looked up. According to the gauge, Mine-2 currently had a slight edge over Mine-6, both of which were several shuttles ahead of their nearest competitor.
Using the gauge of Mine-6’s progress, Harry guessed that it would take about 2 and a half acres of palettes to fill the Mine-6 container. Harry’s training immediately took over. Regardless of how much red-ore was shipped, the warehouse would never be totally empty, and once the freighter was on its way, the men would immediately begin restocking the depleted palettes so that by the time the next freighter arrived, the warehouse would be full again.
Harry was lost in thought when a big man wearing a jumpsuit and a mask walked in through the corridor and spotted him. The man walked over to him and leaned down.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing sitting on your ass when we have a freighter to load?” he shouted through the mask.
Harry looked up and shouted back, “Vigilance Committee!” Harry counted on the speed of Nova-3’s word-of-mouth. By now, everyone at the mine head would know that one of their own had been murdered.
The big man stood up and backed off. Then, he stepped back and leaned down. “You should be wearing a mask. The loaders kick up a lot of dust from these palettes!” he shouted.
Harry raised his hands showing that he didn’t have one. The man gave him one of his spares. Harry put it on and shouted a ‘thank you’ back. The man nodded and walked away. Harry looked around and recognized his mistake. Everyone coming in and going out of the building was wearing a face mask.
Harry got up and began to walk around the warehouse. As more and more of the palettes were moved out of the warehouse, he noticed the system the men were using: the forklifts were coming in on the left, grabbing their load and then exiting to the right. Outside, they were loading the airlock the same way: from left to right. Harry wanted to complement someone on the efficiency of the operation. There appeared to be little or no wasted effort. If a machine broke down, it simply slipped out of line and went down the corridor to where the other machines were being repaired. Harry’s Directorate trained mind recognized that in order to beat the other mines, the men had to maintain the movement of a constant number of palettes regardless of the number of machines working them.
Suddenly the forklifts broke pattern and instead of coming in and making for the stack of palettes, they turned off and headed down the corridor to the storage area. A group of men came in the nearest opened bay and walked by Harry.
“What’s up?” Harry asked.
One of the men looked down and pointed to the Mine-6 manual at Harry’s feet. “Must be another one of the new guys,” he said.
“We’ve got a break,” one of the other men said. “They have to empty the airlock. Just enough time for a cup of coffee and a game of cards.”
One of the other men punched Harry on the arm. “You’ll learn.”
As the men walked off, Harry heard one of them say, “I didn’t know we got so many newbies this run.” Harry sat back down. His plan was working. Now that he was wearing a standard jumpsuit, no one questioned his reason for being there.
When the warehouse was empty, Harry walked down to where the men had been attacking the stack of palettes. He walked up to the stack and looked at the hole that the forklifts had made in the mountain of red-ore. He ran his hand over some of the shipping bricks. Mark was here for over three hours. What did he see that suddenly made him fear for his life? There was no other explanation for what happened. Mark would never have reached out to him unless something was wrong and he wanted someone to know it. Harry looked at the red-ore and then at the holographic gauge above the door to the other room. He looked along the walls. Stop thinking like a commodities expert and start thinking like an engineer.
Harry saw two men in jumpsuits and masks walk in under the hologram. They were pushing a box-like container on a rolling pad. They took it part the way down the building and rolled it into position against the line of brick palettes. Once they had it where they wanted it, they opened the top and propped the top against them. Then, they walked back towards the entrance. When they were even with him, they suddenly turned and grabbed him. One of the men painfully twisted Harry’s arm behind his back and the other grabbed him by the back of the neck with a debilitating nerve pinch.
“What the Hell,” Harry said through the pain.
“Just move,” the man on his left said.
Harry turned and recognized both the voice and the man’s eyes. He was the fellow who had been cleaning up the galley on the STAR when Harry had gone looking for breakfast a couple of days before.
“What are you doing here?” Harry asked grimacing with pain as they forced him down the line of red-ore palettes towards the open box.
“Taking you for a little walk,” the man said.
When they were next to the box, they let Harry go and spun him around. The man from the STAR shot him with a commerce raider’s stun gun.
As Harry fell into the box and just before he lost consciousness, he realized what Mark had seen and all he could think of was, “Oh... shit!...”