Follow Saff, Bukkard, and Telos as they venture to Mine 198 with a hired crew for a simple salvage mission. However, they are about to discover that Mine 198 is chock full of secrets, secrets that should stay buried.
The OZA salvage ship touched down on Mine 198 with a three-man corporate team and 40 other independent contractors. Saff was the first one off, behind him came Bukkard and Telos. The rest of the men were independents they had hired on Terra V to help in the dismantling of the mine. Bukkard hadn’t wanted half of them since they seemed to be so green, but with corporate breathing down their necks, the boss hadn’t exactly had time to find more experienced men. Bukkard spat loudly down onto the dark red clay that made up the surface of Mine 198. It was barely even big enough to be a called a planet. Saff, looked up at the large, angry, red sun that glared down on Mine 198’s surface. He hated planets that were so close to their suns, they made everything more miserable then they had to be. Good thing the company had outfitted them with sun suits and eye protection. One of the few precautions they took on these backwater planets. However, the heat even through the suit was almost unbearable. The sooner they went below ground the better.
Bukkard looked around and hollered “What are you men standing around looking at?! Move out!”
Telos, the third member of the OZA corporate team, got the roller moving and Bukkard led the way to the Mine entrance: a simple, hard steel building that was only 60 feet above the surface. It was actually a pretty small building for how large this mine was. Saff couldn’t help but grin. That was thing with OZA Corp. mines: they always looked tiny from the outside. However they tended to go miles below the surface. This one was supposed to be the fourth deepest. If the rumors were right, it went all the way through Mine 198’s core. Too bad there was probably nothing left here to take. He thought with a shrug heading off with the others towards the entrance.
The entrance was a large, weathered bay door. Telos handed the roller off to one of the hired hands that would be taking it down to the depths with them. Saff could never get over how twitchy Telos always appeared. After working with him for three years, he still didn’t understand how the man could be so full of nervous energy.
Bukkard spat again, signaling for Saff and Telos to come to him. “They sure let this go to shit.” He said.
Telo’s looked at him. “You’ve been here before, sir?”
“Yeah, I helped install some of the modulators, even taught some safety classes back when Mine 198 was first chosen for harvesting.” He said. “But that was also 80 years ago for this planet's cycle.”
“Eighty years?” Saff asked.
“Yeah, the thing about working in space…time dilation can be a real bitch.” He muttered. “Hell, half these hired hands are only here because they have a rap sheet a mile long, they sign on so any warrants on them will be out of date and anyone looking for them will be dead by the time they return.” He told them. The message there was pretty clear.
The independents moved inside Mine 198 first with the OZA employees following close behind. It took them a minute to get the door open. Something had it jammed.
“Sand must have got up in the damned gears.” Bukkard said.
Saff nodded his head in agreement, it never failed when the OZA left a mine. They simply pulled all the miners out; simple as that. Usually leaving the places in the worst possible condition. Then they sent in guys like Bukkard and Telos, with a crew to scavenge everything worth taking and to make sure everything was pulled off the mines data systems so another corporation couldn’t steal their technology or intel. Hot commodities between large corporations like OZA.
After this run, Telos would probably be given his own crew. He’d been with Bukkard long before Saff signed on. Looking at him now, however, Saff couldn’t imagine him as much of a leader.
The door began to grind slowly upwards. The sound that accompanied it was that of nails being dragged down a chalk board; that metallic squeal of gears grinding on gears.
“Can’t believe they didn’t even grease the damned door.” Telos muttered. Their company walked in, 43 in all. The inside of the building was all arched metal corridors laid out for the most part like all of OZA Corps mines. All shiny metal walls and harsh fluorescent lights.
“How cheery,” Saff said to no one in particular.
Bukkard split them up sending him and Telos's to the control room and everyone else down below. He made sure that the OZA employees were the only ones near the OZA files.
“These other guys are just for the heavy lifting.” Bukkard said, reminding them to stay out of their way. “I want you and Telos to work with the data systems and to monitor the other’s progress from the control room. Also go through some of the operation reports and see if there are any small lodes left we can hit while we are here.” He finished saying.
Just like Bukkard, Saff thought with an audible groan, do anything possible to try and make a bonus. He hated the extra work especially on planets like this, but he had come to respect the mercenary mind of Bukkard over the years. The extra money in his pocket hadn’t hurt either.
Saff followed Telos down the corridor towards the control room. It was smaller than some of the others Saff had been in. A large monitor took up most of the inner wall with an adjacent room to store all the data systems. Everything here was outdated and then some. Massive data cabinets and if he wasn’t mistaken even several drawers of physical files. He and Telo's removed their personal Nanocomputers and prepared to begin file transfer. The physical files would have to be destroyed. Any worthwhile would have to be scanned in manually. And since he was the low man on the totem pole Saff knew exactly who would be doing the scanning.
“Hey, look, Saff! Some idiots left the coffee behind.” Telos said cheerfully turning on the percolator.
They really must have been in a hurry if they left the coffee behind. Saff thought to himself.
Usually, miners and officers take anything the company won’t miss so they can make a little something on the side. And with all the ration shortages lately, coffee was definitely an item worth taking. A pound of coffee would allow you to live like a king in some places.
“Maybe they were here so long that they didn’t know its worth.” Saff said.
“Maybe. That or they were just in that much of hurry to get out of here.” Telos replied.
“And why would that be?” Saff asked looking away from the large monitor and back to his Nano-computer. He couldn’t help feeling like these file transfers were going to take forever. He really hoped that the rest of the crew was making better progress with the roller.
“Notice anything strange about the layout of this place?” Telos asked with a grin.
“No, should I?” Saff asked looking back over the map of the central compound.
Telos laughed as he poured two cups of the strong dark brew, “Yeah, in this whole compound they didn’t have any pleasure rooms.”
Saff almost spit his coffee everywhere, a mine without pleasure rooms? No wonder they were all so eager to get out of here. Telos was still shaking his head with mirth.
“Think of that man, all those workers and not even a Vice Hall. Somebody here must have really pissed off some big wig back at corporate.” He said.
Saff couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t have Pleasure rooms or Vice Halls, every mine did so that way workers were more relaxed and there were less incidences of violence between them. It was a wonder that Mine 198 still stood at all. Poor bastards.
“All right, time to get to work.” Telos said and activated the monitor of his Nano-computer. Bukkard walked in just after that. “Hey, did you guys notice anything strange about the map?” He asked, sending Telos into another fit of laughter.
Bukkard was just as excited for the coffee as they had been. His rough demeanor melting away under the sweet dark nectar. Saff, was going through the files and copying much of what he found into his Nano-computer and scanning whatever files that needed to be brought back to OZA Corp. Corporations like the one they worked for rose and fell by the flow of information if they left anything behind that could be used by rivals then not only would they be risking their career, but also their lives. Telos, was busy destroying anything that could be harmful in the wrong hands. Mostly, percentage yield reports, if anyone knew exactly how much raw material a Corporation had access too, then they couldn’t ask the ridiculously sky-high prices for it.
Bukkard, watched the large monitor noting the progress of the various work crews. “Looks like the others are making good progress.” He said aloud to no one in particular. “Hey, Saff you find anything interesting?” He asked. Even Telos looked up from his work and waited for Saff’s response, the boredom of the three men was almost palpable. “Nothing worth while mostly just missing or DOA reports.” Saff answered.
“Must be a lot if your seeing pattern?” Bukkard asked suddenly interested. The older man fidgeted with the watch on his left arm, checking the time. Saff, knew without Bukkard saying anything that they were still on schedule.
Saff, stopped and thought about it for a minute. “No, not when you take into account the lack of entertainment for the workers. It's actually surprising there isn’t more based on the numbers of workers that were here.” He answered.
Bukkard nodded in affirmation. “Wait a minute.” Saff said. “This is weird it looks like there was a large unit of Trouble Shooters here.”
“Does it say why?” Bukkard asked.
“Probably to keep the men in line.” Telos said.
“Makes sense, I guess. It seems dangerous though having that many highly skilled soldiers around with disgruntled workers.” Bukkard said. He couldn’t help but think they were missing something here. He wanted to order Saff to dig in more, but anything dealing with Trouble Shooters was outside of his pay grade and would most likely end up drawing the Corporations ire. Best to air on the side of caution no sense causing trouble with OZA.
Telos swore. “ Sir, we have a problem the medical files refuse to transfer. They need an access code.”
Bukkard, came over and put his in. The screen flashed red. “That’s not good.” Bukkard said. Not good at all he thought, the only way that file could be locked against an extractors code would be by a chairman. And if one of the Chairmen was locking files against transfer that would mean the reason for closing out Mine 198 was very different then the official transcript. “Are there any other locked files?” He asked.
Telos shook his head.
“Saff?” Bukkard asked.
“Yes sir, mostly personal death records and deaths of Trouble Shooters.” He said.
“Trouble Shooters died here?” Bukkard asked steadying himself on against one of the tables.
Telos gulped. “Sir, should I call back the teams?”
“No, not yet we have to scavenge as much as we can to meet quota,but we might forgo the extra lodes and any bonus. Send out a message for the teams to just locate tools and technology.” Bukkard rubbed his jaw, sad at the loss of the extra compensation. “Saff, how many deaths?” He asked.
“Officially none sir, it wasn’t until I looked at the actual troop numbers that I found it. They left here with one hundred less Trouble Shooters then they came with.” He said.
Telos, stopped what he was doing and looked over at Bukkard. “Sir, a hundred Trouble Shooters? Is it possible we were just supposed to detonate, instead of scavenging?” He asked. Telos was visibly sweating, the man never had much backbone.
Bukkard shook his head. “No, the contract I received from Home Office was for a scavenging job, take whatever isn’t nailed down from the first four tunnels and detonate on departure. The only addendum to it was to make sure to bring more crews than usual.”
Saff, thought about it. Usually, they brought only a handful of crews to do any or all heavy lifting, ten -fifteen men at the most. And they were just to sort through left over mineral deposits or grabbing extra rations. Him and Telos, worked under Bukkard and the three of them were the only ones who officially worked for the corporation. Everyone else were independents, yet they all knew better then to make a move against company men, not to mention all the extra stuff the men were able to stuff their pockets with. Stuff that Bukkard always looked the other way about. It was the nature of the game.
“Sir, is there any reason the company would hold vital information from you?” Saff asked, still sifting through files. What kind of backwater mine still used hard copy files on top of digital? He thought miserably making sure he didn’t miss anything important. Maybe Telos was right and someone here was on one of the chairmen’s shit list.
Bukkard sat down and thought for a minute. “If it was secret or could embarrass the company, but they wouldn’t withhold information that would directly hinder us. After all, that could interfere with the bottom line.” He said slightly puzzled at Saff’s question.
Telos nodded in agreement, “The Company would never do anything to jeopardize the bottom line that would embarrass the chairmen at Trade Commission meetings and it could hurt future investments.”
“Perhaps, sir, we should try and speed things up. That way, we can get out of here sooner than planned. If OZA thought that something here could embarrass them or the shareholders, perhaps it would be best if we didn’t dig too deep.” Telos said.
Bukkard agreed; it could be very hazardous to one's own health to uncover company secrets.
“Give out the order. The teams are to grab whatever is within reach and plant their charges. We are going to close out Mine 198 sooner than expected. “Hell, maybe we will even get a bonus for a speedy close out.” He said.
Telos chuckled, “Stranger things have happened.”
The large monitor blipped one of the red dots turned black. “What was that?” Bukkard asked.
Telos leaned back in his chair. “Team Five just went black, sir.” Telos whispered.
“What the hell does that even mean?” Bukkard asked. Although he knew exactly what something like that meant.
“Team five come in, Team Five?” Saff called out over the intercom.
“Sir, how does an entire team just go black with no communication before hand?” Telos asked, visibly shaken.
“Team Four, do you have eyes on Team Five?” Saff asked into the comm. system. “Be alert for signs of possible cave -ins.” He told them, clicking off his comm. Usually, that was the only thing that could make an entire team go black with no warning.
“Negative, no cave-ins we are heading back now. Can I speak freely?” The voice asked.
“Of course,” Bukkard answered taking the speaker from Saff.
There was a pause and then the voice came flooding back through the speaker, “Sir, I know I’m new to this, but I swear something down here is following us.” It clicked back off.
The three of them all exchanged looks. “What do you mean?” Bukkard finally asked.
“Something seems to be following us through the tunnels, sir, we keep hearing a clicking noise from a distance. There it is again.” He said the voice clicked back off.
Bukkard held the communicator and slammed his fist into the table. “Don’t go towards it! All teams clear the tunnels now!”
Saff and Telos were startled. “Sir, what’s going on?”
Bukkard looked up at them, feeling the numbness in his now bruised fingers. “Damn it! I don’t know, but whatever it is, it can't be good.” He said to them. Spoken like a true scavenger. Thought Saff.
The speaker screamed back on. “Mayday! Team four…needs help…dead…!” The speaker screamed off, leaving the three of them sitting in an eerie silence. Like the calm before a storm.
Team Four blipped off the large monitor. Telos dropped his coffee and the hot liquid seeped into his boots. The intercom remained silent.
Bukkard opened the hard case they always brought with them, but had never opened. From it, he produced several weapons; two laser pistols and one assault rifle. From the looks of it, it was an old Trouble Shooter model; all black with the skull and cross-hairs insignia. All three bore the OZA stamp and seal. Bukkard noticed the two of them looking at it as he gave them the pistols.
“It shoots titanium-cored rounds. Just in case.” He said, hefting the rifle. Saff and Telos just nodded, not really knowing what else to say.
Saff asked. “Sir, what are your orders?”
Bukkard looked at them and summoned the elevator. “We go below and see what's going on, find whoever is left down there and then get the hell out of here.”
That was what they were afraid he was going to say.