This week, Reuel and Stubbs are on duty on the Kestrel, while Ryan and Chambers start work on Level Two in the mine. To read from the beginning, go here. I picture Stubbs as a young Nicholas Lyndhurst.
Intruders chapter 5 scenes 1 & 2
Once the rescue team had left the Kestrel, Reuel and Stubbs settled down together on the bridge, watching the external cameras. Reuel turned to the communications console.
Stubbs reached out and stopped him. ‘What are you doing?’
‘I must have news of Balitoth.’ Reuel’s cranial spines quivered with his distress. ‘I thought I would contact the Alphan medical facility myself to find out how he is.’
‘You’ll only get yourself into trouble. Do you think Dr Robinson is hiding something?’
‘Oh no. The doctor has been kind to me, but I cannot bear the waiting.’
‘It’s strange, you know, how you two have become such good friends. It seems so unlikely a Zoan and an Altairian would have anything in common.’
Reuel laughed and his spines quietened. ‘What we have in common is being on a ship full of humans! And an interest in football.’
‘What? You like football - is that an Altairian or Zoan game too?’
‘Certainly not. Altairians would not demean themselves and Zoans would probably kill each other. No, we discovered we both liked watching the human game. It is a strangely bonding experience.’
Stubbs snorted. ‘You could say that.’
Reuel frowned. ‘I just did. You must not stereotype the races, Roy. Commander Holland decided not to send me down the mine because he didn’t think I would be strong enough. But I am strong in lighter gravity, which they have in the mine. Why are you not with them? You are strong, are you not?’
Now it was Stubbs’ turn to be agitated. ‘I can’t go underground.’
‘Is it … what is the word? Fear of enclosed spaces?’
Stubbs hesitated. ‘No. It’s … my brother. He worked underground. There was an accident –’
‘Say no more my friend, I understand.’
Reuel began to make a crooning noise in his throat. Stubbs had never heard it before, and he found it strangely soothing.
* * *
In the mine, when Ryan and Chambers reached Level Two behind Williams, he took them to the edge of the cave-in and looked them over sceptically.
‘You don’t look much. Are you going to be able to handle the heavy work?’
‘Actually Mr Williams, I come from Orion 3, a reversionist colony,’ Ryan said. ‘They don’t use technology if they can do without. I grew up on a farm, so I’m used to heavy work.’
Williams looked at Chambers.
‘Let’s just get on with it shall we?’ Chambers said. ‘How heavy can it be, in low gravity?’
Williams grunted. ‘The cave-in below brought down their roof - our floor, in mostly one great slab,’ he said. ‘It’s dropped about two metres, but it’s not level, and there’s a lot of rubble. Which one of you is going to scramble over to Rhys Jenkins with that scanner?’
He pointed to a hunched figure further down the tunnel, who was working with a small drill.
‘I’ll go,’ said Ryan. ‘I know the scanner best.’
The nearest end of the slab was nearly three metres down, but Ryan sat on the edge and dropped, falling slowly enough that he landed easily. He then scrambled over the rubble to the other end, about six metres away. He jumped up and caught himself with straight arms on the tunnel floor and levered himself up. He immediately got to work with the scanner and soon reported life signs below where Jenkins was drilling.
‘Right,’ said Williams after he had radioed the news to the pithead. ‘You start clearing any rubble that end - throw it down onto the slab to make a way down. We’ll do the same this end.’
Ryan’s end of the cave-in didn’t have much rubble, and it hadn’t dropped as far. Once he had cleared most of it, he climbed down onto the slab and tried to arrange the rubble into a crude set of steps. Williams came over with a gun-like implement which melted the rock and made it smoother. Then Ryan joined Chambers at the other end.
They had been warned about the danger of noise and reverberation, but the noisy machinery, they were reassured, didn’t emit the right resonance for long enough bursts to start a resonance overload in the crystals. What it did do was spit plenty of rock dust into the air, dust that reduced visibility and soon covered them all in a fine layer that seemed to pass through the fabric of their clothes and act like sandpaper in the creases of their skin.
Chambers wasn’t used to manual labour and the low gravity meant he sometimes moved himself instead of a rock. He had to concentrate on bracing himself before he pushed.
‘How’s it going?’ Ryan whispered.
‘OK, but I’m not used to this sort of work. Luckily in this gravity things aren’t so heavy.'
He scowled. 'They should have sent Stubbs down. I’ll bet he’s crowing over it while he puts his feet up on board.’
‘What is it with you and Stubbs? Why don’t you get on?’
‘It’s not me, it’s him. He found out about my accident and asked for a transfer. Says he doesn’t feel safe with me at the helm. Jumped-up little grunt! The Captain refused.’
‘To me that says he doesn’t trust the captain’s judgement, which is dangerous territory,’ Ryan said.
‘Captain Darrow’s been good to me - gave me a chance when no one else would. But I don’t like being made helmsman so soon. It puts me under pressure, and Stubbs doesn’t help, with all his digs.’
‘Well, you’re not at the helm now, so enjoy yourself. Admire the scenery.’
Ryan swept his hand around and Chambers took in the view for the first time. The voids were roughly spherical, and the miners had levelled the floor by melting compacted rubble. The rubble included tiny pieces of quartz, so it glittered in the lights. The curved walls and ceiling ranged in height and width from two to four metres, as the voids varied in size. The cave-in had broken through into new voids, and there the quartz crystals glittered like diamonds, glinting in the light like sharpened razors.
Chambers found himself breathless at the strangely beautiful sight.
[Next week we’ll see Hoy and Tabitha working on Level three in the mine.]
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