Asteroid Wranglers (Part 5)

Shane sat in the pilot seat of the lander, watching on his tablet a live feed from the vehicle’s external cameras. His arm was wrapped in a sling and held against his chest. Duncan had pushed his shoulder back into its socket during the solar storm several days ago. It was a minor injury, but it had nonetheless disqualified him from overseeing the drilling operation or doing anything outside the lander.

He watched as the rest of the lander crew finished loading the drilling equipment into the cargo hold. The operation had extracted nearly 100 tons of precious metals from the asteroid. It had a combined worth in the billions. The company would make a considerable profit, as well as each crew member. He wasn’t quite sure what he would spend his fortune on, but he decided he would start by helping some charities. There were a few he had his mind set on. After those, maybe he would search for some other worthy causes to finance. Maybe he should search for treasure hunters after some lost pirate artifacts. That might be exciting. He also wouldn’t mind helping out a museum or two.

“Sending final payload,” Janice said.

That piqued his interest. What payload? As far as he knew, they were practically ready for departure. He saw a single container coming down the conveyor belt, but it wasn’t one from the Midas’ hull. The lander’s mechanical arm loaded the container onto a rover. Duncan sat in the driver’s seat.

“Final payload received,” Duncan said. “Flight, you’re green to retract the umbilical.”

“Roger, lander,” Janice said. “Stand clear, retracting umbilical.” The conveyor belt slowly pulled away from the Lander, returning to the Midas.

Shane watched Duncan drive over to where the core mining drill had been, resisting the urge to ask a question over the comms. There was now a chasm there several meters across. The robotic arm on the rover grabbed the container, and Shane was surprised to see it drop it into the opening in the asteroid. As it tumbled into the depths, numerous bags fell from the container. Shane caught a glimpse of red biohazard symbols and yellow radiation markings. Now he understood. That was the ship’s waste. Job done; Duncan returned to the lander and closed the loading ramp.

Shane heard a loud hissing noise from the other side of the cockpit’s back door as atmosphere flowed into the cargo bay. Kula and Archie came through the door with their helmets held under their arms and chittering excitedly about how they were going to spend their wealth. They settled into their seats, seemingly unaware of Shane’s presence. Shane rose from the pilot’s chair and sat in the only remaining seat. Eventually, Duncan arrived.

“Duncan,” Shane said as Duncan passed him. “I see they gave you a crappy job,” Shane said wistfully.

Duncan smiled. “That I did,” he said happily. “But at least my shoulder didn’t try detaching from my body.”

Shane shook his head as Duncan continued forward and sat in the pilot seat.

“Helmets on,” Duncan commanded.

Kula and Archie’s conversation ceased. They put on their helmets and helped Shane put his on.

“Flight, we’re green for departure,” Duncan said.

“Roger,” Janice said. “Depart at your discretion.”

“Flight, hold on,” Shane said. “John, what did you have Duncan dump into the hole we drilled?”

The line was quiet a moment before he answered. “That was waste from the ship,” he said, sounding almost confused. “Why do you ask?”

“Isn’t there some scientific reasoning that prohibits the dumping of waste on other planets or something?”

“Yes, but as I know you’re aware, XJ is on a course that will bring it into the hellish heat of the sun, and it and everything on it, will be incinerated. I was simply riding the ship of waste, reducing its mass, and causing it to consume a little less fuel.”

“I see,” Shane said.

“Should we hold off until the two of you have finished your conversation,” Duncan said. “Or can we get back to the ship?”

“Sorry, go ahead,” Shane said.

The lander launched from the asteroid. Shane watched as the shape of asteroid XJ disappeared from the lander’s cockpit window.

Nearly a year later, pushed by Mercury’s gravity during a near miss of the small planet, XJ2936 plunged into the sun. Shane watched on a ridiculously wide flat screen in the living room of his mansion as XJ broke apart and was incinerated by the unimaginable heat of the sun’s outer atmosphere. He gazed at the rapidly disappearing material, grateful for all that the object had given him.

Adam Freestone is an Alaskan author and writer of the Sentinel Flame series. He writes fantasy stories but also has a talent for the unexpected. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering he has been coming up with stories his whole life. But apart from his writing skills, he isn’t quite what most people would expect. He is a near quadriplegic man afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy, confined to a wheelchair and dependent on a ventilator, but despite everything he has going against him, he never lets it stand in his way. He is a go-getter, animal and nature lover, MDA participant, and smart minded writer. Everything that goes into his stories is carefully considered, nothing he writes goes down casually. His stories are never quite what they first appear to be.