“Shankar, please. If you do this, you will kill all of us.”
He still remembered the words. Shankar still remembered the words that he had last heard from Omkar. Not that he had listened. He had walked away.
Shankar Vishwas stopped the barely working Scanner Bot in front of him as he paused to listen. The only reason, Shankar even had this barely working Scanner Bot with him was that he was very gifted with machines. In that respect, Omkar was not like that. Omkar was more… Fuck.Shankar swore to himself. He was not supposed to think about them. Swearing softly to himself, Shankar was focusing on hearing. His barely functioning miner’s suit kept out the dust of the caves – that was all. It did not help deal with the high pressure inside the caves or the coldness, or with the sensors… or anything else.
Technically, all miners had to enter the caves only with a ‘functioning’ Scanning Bot, and basic medical supplies and a working miner’s suit.. So said the, Kor-Terrinian Treaty of Miners in the Asteroid of Carrenea. But now, Shankar knew exactly how much of the treaty was actually in force. A copy of the Treaty had to exist in the house of every Miner – which was another joke. Most of the miners could not read. And the few who could, did not have the time to read it. The Treaty itself was the biggest joke, because it was never followed. Which explained why, Shankar was here in the mines, for twelve earth-hours without any break, though the Treaty was very clear that, miners should not stay in the under-asteroid mines for more than four earth-hours.
Shankar was hungry and his vision was beginning to blur and a headache was building up because of the lowering oxygen in his oxygen tank and the feeble light from his space helmet was faltering. But Shankar did not go to the surface of the asteroid. He needed the Over-Time pay for this shift. Without it, Shankar could not even keep the dark and cold cave-house he had in the surface of the asteroid. With the exorbitant rates which the Mine-Owning Corporations charged for the ‘dwelling’ on the surface and the amount the corporations charged for the oxygen in the Biome of the asteroid, OT Pay was not a luxury. It was a necessity. And then there was of course the food. The only food available in the asteroid was the mushrooms which grew in the dark crevices of the underground caves – because thankfully, the mushrooms did not need light to grow and even more thankfully, the soil of the asteroid was good enough to grow these mushrooms. Food was not a problem. But water… though water was needed for all the twelve bipedal species of the Kor Solar System, who were miners in the mines of Carrerea, there was no water plant in the asteroid. Somehow, the ‘Government’ of the asteroid had never been able to set up the water plant here. There were taxes and all that crap which the Government officials collected from all the miners, but somehow for the past sixty two earth-years, the money had never been enough to build a water plant. The miners on the asteroid only had to live on the water which was transported from other planets of the Kor Solar System and the Terrinian System by the Corporation – which jointly set up by the Terrinians and the Bipedals of the Kor Solar System – brought inside the asteroid. No, that by itself was not that bad. What was, was that most of the water which the Corporation brought was used up by the officials of the Corporations living in the space station orbiting the asteroid, leaving very little for the miners. Hence the exorbitant rates for the water. Oxygen… well, the atmosphere of Carrerea on the surface, technically could support the life of all the twelve Bipedals of the Kor Solar System and the huge Terririans too, which was why, absolutely no one felt it necessary to invest on the oxygen plant to be developed in the under-asteroid caves. But the Space Miners were philosophical about that – they did not expect the powerful people to be bothered about even the registered Space Miners, who ranged from somewhere around tens to fifty thousand beings from all species, who were going into the asteroid caves every day to mine minerals, just so that some rich Corporation somewhere could make more money.
Which definitely meant that, no one even knew about the unregistered Space Miners.
Shankar was still unregistered which was why he had to scramble for even the rationed water, which the miners got. A Star-Week back, as was the practice here, Shankar had managed to bribe the Mokrian transporter at the Space Hangar to give himself some oxygen to last him for the week. But Shankar had not been able to get any water. No water had come into the asteroid for the Star-week. For reasons best known to the Corporation, the shipment of water had not been able to come inside the asteroid. The local gossip was that it was the Terrinian’s turn to bring water to the asteroid and there was some strike in the Terrinian side of the galaxy, and that the Bipedals of the Kor Solar System would not interfere when it was the Terrinian’s chance to look after the asteroid.
But then Carrerean Space Miners had a luck like that. The asteroid was right in the border of both the Kor Solar System and the Terririan Solar System and both the systems were supposed to take care of the asteroid.
And after sixty two earth-years of life on the asteroid, people like Shankar were the result.
Not that Shankar was thinking about all this. He had felt something wrong in the caves as the Scanner Bot had stopped working.
“Bayon? Are you awake?” Shankar demanded clicking on the radio, as he wondered whether the radio was working. The damned thing had not even switched on initially. Only when Shankar had tweaked with it, was Shankar able to get a faint signal. “Bayon, what is happening in the caves?” Shiva asked rapidly before the radio conked out again.
But then life in the mines was like that. Almost every miner had that hunch. And Shankar’s internal alarm was blaring right now. The sound which Shankar had heard right now – it was not the normal sound of miners coming to work. Shankar had come to the caves alone – the others in his group were too tired – they had just finished a fifteen hour trip the caves and they needed a break. Well, Shankar needed the break too. But Shankar needed the money more. Which was why, he had ventured all alone at this time in the caves.
There was just a hard-cursing Narlaun Cave-Supervisor – Bayon – who was outside the cave looking into the thermal sensors of the caves to alert Shankar in case of any problems. But then there was a high chance that Bayon was asleep. Bayon – a family man with problems of his own and deep debts all over the Corporation – the only reason Bayon even entertained Shankar was that Shankar paid his rent to Bayon on time and Shankar had absolutely no debts and most importantly, Shankar kept his head clear out of all criminal activities, which most of the Miners took up as a side business.
Shankar knew that.
But still, Shankar needed Bayon in times like this. In the mines, he was totally blinded in the caves. His miner’s suit was not connected to any sensors. Shankar could not afford it. Technically, it was not needed either. Because the Cave-Supervisor outside the caves had to keep a watch on the caves, all the 21 hours of the asteroid-day. Well, they were supposed to. But that was another luxury too. With the barely pitiful pay of the Supervisors and the negligent Corporations who had better things to do than look at non-working Supervisors, Cave-Supervisors rarely showed up on time to work.
The only reason Bayon was here was that Shankar had asked for it. Otherwise, Shankar knew that Bayon would have been happier ferrying drugs for the Prelude in his space-ship – a side income which was necessary for Bayon.
The thing was, when Shankar was tweaking the radio, to call Bayon for help, Shankar was right. And wrong.
Bayon was not paying attention to the sensors of the caves.
But Bayon was not asleep. The seven feet bipedal Narlaun, with his red skin and dragon like face was too busy – making a deal with an agent of the Prelude about the next consignment of drugs to be ferried to the planet of Benzor in the Kor Solar System. Some rich prick in the planet of Benzor wanted tonnes of Dream Draught – the most powerful drug in the galaxy and was willing to pay hot cash for it. Naturally, Bayon had taken the chance and was negotiating with the Prelude Agent.
To the rest of the galaxy, the Prelude were the worst criminals of the galaxy. But to Space Miners, they were best friends. They paid in cash and asked no questions. Best combination ever.
But it was because of this that Bayon had not been able to answer Shankar at first.
But he had come inside the Supervision Camp pocketing the advance money he had taken from the Prelude agent, Shankar was hollering for help the second time around.
And then the Narlaun looked at the sensors. And he panicked.
Bayon’s Narlau words in the barely working translator almost phased out as the Narlaun was telling Shankar what the sensors were telling him.
Shankar inside the caves, almost could not follow the Narlaun. Not at first.
“There….has been….a cave-in in Sector 34….of the caves. Get out of there. You are too close to the Terrinian side…..The fucking Peacekeepers….have a group about fifty meters from you…. OUT!”
Shankar heard it finally, after Bayon repeated it three more times.
Peacekeepers? Shankar panicked. What the fuck were that bloodthirsty Terrinians doing here? What…. All Shankar had were questions.
Shankar bit back another curse as he looked at the oxygen levels of his suit and realized that he had an hour of oxygen left at best. With the cave-in of Sector 34, he would have to take a roundabout around the caves. if he had to avoid the Peacekeepers and the cave-in. Both of which were a necessity for Shankar. He looked at the water-can at his side and swore viciously. His water could not even last him for the next half an hour.
But then Shankar had learnt not to complain. He had learnt that since he had started his life as a miner. Miners in asteroids always lived like this. Water, Oxygen and cave-ins – they were rules of life. And beyond that Shankar had learnt never to ask any questions. It was unhealthy.
Shankar swore softly under his breath. “Bayon guide me from here to get out. And far away from the Peacekeepers….” Shankar started and then he stopped talking.
He could not explain it. But he felt it.
Suddenly inexplicably, it went cold.
And Shankar was finding it impossible to breathe. Bayon was screaming something in his ears. But Shankar could not hear as he collapsed on the rocky floor of the asteroid.
“Come back Shankar, Please. We are your family.” His mother was pleading with him. “You need not do this.”
Shankar was gasping for breath, as his headache almost threatened to go out of bounds. The helmet… the fucking damned helmet. He was not getting oxygen… he needed it…
All Shankar remembered was watching something cold all around him and he was colder by the minute.
There were footsteps all around him.
But Shankar could not see anything.
"Come back, Shankar."
Shankar gasped trying to tune out trying to find what was real and what was… He blinked and there was a sudden sharp pain in his neck.
He could not even turn when there was a sudden oblivion.