A trillion tons of gold is not worth even a fraction of its weight.
But even the Navy needs conductive wires.
Jhanis Ter stretched and eased himself out of Fugu’s cockpit, squeezing his bulk past the gap between command chair and viewport. Every year that passed saw the distance between his belly and the endless vacuum beyond the glass become that much shorter. He made his way down Fugu’s sole access corridor towards the freighter’s hangar, clambering down the ladder. His boots’ echoing ring was a lonely sound, but Jhanis had never had a problem working alone. Working alone meant not having to share any of the pie.
And Jhanis’ figure spoke volumes about his feelings towards pie.
Fugu’s hangar was a jury-rigged affair, a protruding cancerous mass of cheap hull plating that bulged out between the ship’s fore and aft cargo bays much like the ship’s namesake that Jhanis had swam beside in a DreamSphere documentary.
He pulled on his survival suit, though the description was a misnomer. Three years of neglect had turned the formerly sharp Erracom product into a series of rags held together by duct-tape and hope.
These days, hope was a commodity in short supply.
Jhanis hated the star-cursed survival suit. It pinched where it shouldn’t and made him feel clumsy as he boarded his mining drone and once more wrestled himself into the seat. He ran the startup checks, ignoring the warnings that flashed at him from the console. The failing fusion core hadn’t detonated yet and Jhanis figured that anything less than that was workable. Repairing the core would mean another mortgage on Fugu and then two weeks in drydock with nothing but the condescending drawl of a Kharon Corp repair team to keep him company.
Everyone knew they erred on the side of caution with those warnings anyway.
The drone left Fugu behind as her fusion engines powered her through the void, closing on his prize, a single asteroid of near-solid gold. Ten million tonnes of gold and change waited for him in an asteroid just over a kilometre across to drag back to Fugu’s hold and haul it to Hades 9.
He began slowly, ever so slowly, bringing the drone towards the surface of the asteroid when the comm squawked at him.
“Hello Jhanis,” said a faintly accented voice. The voice was accompanied by the projection of a stern woman’s face on his display.
Jhanis bit back a curse. He’d been so careful and still Colette Lafont had managed to find him. Clammy hands reached to activate the comm as the drone’s limited sensors picked up Marie Loisel approaching. Where Fugu was slow and cumbersome, Marie Loisel was predatory and narrow like a stiletto. And just like the weapon, Marie Loisel’s purpose was to inflict harm in a quiet but decisive manner.
“Ms. Lafont!” Jhanis stammered, “I was about to contact you, I have your credits here.”
The lips on that face contorted into a smile, but it failed to reach her eyes.
“You do? Excellent. Haven’t I always said that Ter is a man of his word?” The last was not addressed at him, but he heard a muffled agreement in the background.
“So, you’ll no doubt be ready to transfer the credits to me then.”
Jhanis felt his throat constrict as a bead of sweat ran down his neck.
“I don’t actually-”
“Forgive me, chéri, but don’t tell me you were about to say you don’t have my credits. After the banks of Hades turned you away, who was there to provide you the credits to keep your rustbucket going? Who was your friend, Jhanis?”
“You, Ms. Lafont.” He said, eyes locked on the face that still smiled at him.
“That’s right, and what do I get for my kindness? I get a late payment. Would you say that was fair?”
“I’ve made every payment until now, I just need more time!”
“Jhanis, chéri, if I give you special treatment after you have taken advantage of my kindness and broken your promise to me, what kind of message do you think this sends my other friends?”
“Please, there has to be a way, I’ll pay you double next month!” Jhanis said, feeling all too exposed in his mining drone as Marie Loisel closed on him, shatter-lasers warmed up and ready to unleash death at a single command from the ship’s mistress. Colette Lafont’s face softened.
“Oh chéri, that’s a kind offer, but I already have a solution in mind. You can still make me some decent credits.”
Jhanis’ heart leapt in his throat as he seized the lifeline thrown his way.
“Thank you! You won’t regret it.”
“I never do. Your ship should cover my losses at the wrecker’s yard. Fire on the drone.”
But there was no more time for waiting.