I Owe My Soul Chapter 2

Image by fszalai from Pixabay

This multi-part story is set in the same universe as “The Things We Do For Family

Link to earlier chapter

Disembarkation from the ship went as smoothly as it always did, despite more scans and inspections to ensure that no one was attempting to get any contraband through. These last, and in the miners’ view, unnecessary checks were often the spot where friction occurred, partly because Mars-side company security personnel were less than cordial with the miners than the ones back on Ceres. Years of contention between workers who just wanted to let loose a bit and the people charged with keeping order made for a less-than-friendly atmosphere. The situation was aggravated when security kept people who hadn’t seen their loved ones in 4 months occupied with what the miners saw as corporate chickenshit. But the procedure had come off mostly without a hitch, though there was a small altercation when one of the security people tried to make Barie empty her bag after it set off a scanner. Violence was only averted when Rick intervened and brokered a compromise that didn’t entail Ruson having her personal items spread out for the world to see. Once everyone was through and on their way home, Rick and Davy made their way to the tube station to catch a ride to the main office. The entire trip, thought Rick, was one big contrast and that contrast started with the tube station and transport car they took to the office. Because they were often the first thing visitors to the settlement saw, Wynotech made sure they were much more up-to-date and comfortable than the shuttles or ships that transported miners out to the belt and back. Of course, it didn’t hurt that both were used by management and things used by management always seemed to be a lot nicer than what the miners had access to. As he and Davy settled into the plush seats so unlike anything he’d sat in over the past 120 days, an attendant stepped up and asked if they would like a beverage. Rick declined but Davy ordered Boélo, a local liqueur similar to absinthe. The attendant nodded and stepped off to pour the drink.

“Why do you do that?” Rick said.

“Do what?” Davy answered innocently.

“Order that expensive ass drink,” Rick said. “You do it every time we’re on this thing. I’m surprised the attendant bothers to ask anymore.”

Davy sat quietly for a moment. “You really want to know?” Rick nodded. “Mostly, I do it because I can,” she said.


“That stuff isn’t available in our sector, and if it was, I probably couldn’t afford it. But, everything is complimentary on the tube.” She paused for a moment, then said, “Besides, it pisses that priggish little shit off so much having to wait on trash like me and I just can’t help myself. Fucking class traitor.”

“Right,” Rick said, thinking Davy was in one of her radical moods. When she got that way, he found it best to keep quiet and let her calm down.

They both looked out the window, catching glimpses of the settlement as the car moved in and out of the transport tubes. They could see the change from the somewhat seedy, industrial look of the lower level where miners’ residential blocks were located along with the spaceport, maintenance shops, and all the other things that made Mingo settlement run to the bright, clean, welcoming architecture of the main level where the corporate offices along with the housing for the people who worked in them. As always, the more the contrast became apparent, the more Davy seemed to fume. Rick continued keeping quiet though. Experience had taught him that mentioning it would only make things worse.

Exiting the tube station, Rick felt like he’d stepped into another world. Gone were the sprawling ferrocrete buildings that housed workshops and warehouses. The trash-laden streets overlooked by grimy windows were a thing of the past as were the drab, square apartment blocks that seemed to fade into each other, all coming together to create an atmosphere that was inoffensive yet incredibly oppressive. It was replaced by bright, clean, airy streets lined with structures featuring graceful curves whereas those on the lower level had sharp corners. There was glass and metal in place of ferrocrete or blocks. All this was topped off by an actual view of the sky. Every time he came up, he had to stop and soak it in, attempting to get his head around the difference between where he spent his days and where his superiors did. It was almost too much. It had a different effect on Davy. Her resentment was palpable and rolled off her in waves. Apparently, the people around them could feel it, because everyone gave them a wide berth. Of course, that could be because they were obviously working miners, a group that had a less-than-stellar reputation among the more white-collar denizens of the main level. They looked at each other, Davy giving him a wry smile and a shrug and they moved off toward the office.

They were still a couple of blocks from the company’s main office when Rick noticed that something was off. He couldn’t put a finger on exactly what but it was there nonetheless. He knew it took him a day or so after a tour out in the belt to sort out his social bearings. Spending so much time out on the rocks was incredibly isolating. And the situation wasn’t helped by the fact that his social skills had never been particularly strong. But this time, something felt different. Fortunately, Davy was very much a social animal and Rick took advantage of that whenever he could. Just as he did now. “Okay, something feels off around here and I can’t tell what it is.”

His friend and number 2 nodded. “It’s tense as hell. Something’s got everyone on edge.”

As soon as she said it, things clicked for Rick. “Yeah, that’s it all right.” He looked around as they slid into the flow of traffic and started toward the office. “Wonder what it is?”

Davy shrugged. “Who knows? But, I’ll bet you the company is involved.”

“No thanks,” Rick said with a chuckle. “That is one bet I want no part of.”

The uneasiness continued all the way to the main office, where it actually got worse. As the walked in, people took one look and then scattered. It was, Rick felt, unnerving to say the least. He never felt completely welcome when he visited the place. There was a definite hierarchy within Mingo with refinery workers — many of whom where in penal detachments for offenses ranging anywhere from theft to what the company called “non-productive discourse”, i.e. badmouthing Wynotech or its management — at the bottom, followed by the miners, the clerical workers above them, and management personnel at the top. The very top rung, of course, would be occupied by the stockholders and senior-level management. If, of course, they ever bothered to show up at Mingo. Or Mars in general. He knew Davy was trying her best to remain on an even keel, but it was a struggle so he headed toward the elevators, hoping to get her out of this charged atmosphere.

The elevator doors closed and Davy let out a deep breath. ”Whew,” she said. “I don’t know how much longer I could’ve held it together.”

“Yeah, I could tell,” Rick said. “It never feels good coming up here, especially after some time in the belt. But, today?” He just shook his head.

“I know,” she replied. “What the hell is up with these people? I mean, I know they don’t like us, that they think they’re better than us. But, damn.”

“Yeah, it’s really bad.” He tried to shake the feeling off and said, “Let’s get these reports submitted and get the hell out of here.”

“Amen,” Davy said. “I need a drink. No, check that. I need several drinks.

“I hear ya,” Rick said with a laugh.

Greenlee Peeters, their sector manager, met them as they stepped off the elevator. “Hey, there’s my number 1 pod leader!” Early on, Rick had pegged Peeters as a glad hander and completely full of shit. Peeters was one of the reasons that he was still hardrocking at his age. He’d been offered a desk job but the prospect of spending his days pushing paper and associating with soulless corporate drones was more than he could stand. Peeters reached out and shook his hand while clapping him on the back. It was a show of affection whose over-the-top nature only accentuated its falsity. “Come into my office for a few minutes. I’ve got some new directives from upstairs I’d like to go over with you.”

Rick grimaced internally, hoping it didn’t show. “Can it wait? I want to get these numbers posted so my folks can get paid.”

Peeters gave a sickly smile. “Well, what we’ll go over will affect that. So… we need to talk first.” Finally acknowledging Davy, he said, “Dinks, why don’t you go grab some coffee? I think there are donuts in the breakroom.”

Davy, realizing she’d been dismissed, looked to Rick for confirmation. When her boss nodded, she shrugged and headed off as Peeters steered Rick into his office.

Rick sat there, stunned, as Peeters laid out the “new directives” Wynotech was implementing. A rock crawler’s life would never be an easy one — the work was nasty, hard, and dangerous by its very nature — and these changes were going to make it even more difficult. He and his people risked their lives to grub the minerals out of asteroids to slake the hunger of the industrial machine that fed credits into the bank accounts of the corporations and their stockholders and what did they get in return? Nothing. No, it was worse than that. Because the company was obsessed with the bottom line, they were constantly asked to do more with less.

Peeters finished, saying, “I know it’s going to be rough putting this into place, but Paragon Blak is undercutting us on price now that their automated systems are coming on line.”

Paragon Blak, Wynotech’s biggest competitor, had gone whole hog on automation a few years back, touting it as the wave of the future. Rick knew it was a long shot, though. Sure they had fewer actual human workers — just enough to run and maintain the equipment — and fewer workers meant lower overhead but all those machines were expensive and the quality of the ore produced couldn’t equal what a human-based operation could put out. The drastically lowered price they were charging was an attempt to push Wynotech out of the mining game altogether. Rick had seen the books and knew what it cost to get ore out of the Belt, process it, and send it back to Earth. There was no way P-B could maintain those lower rates long enough to significantly hurt Wynotech. This was just an excuse by management to do what they’d wanted to do for a while. He almost said as much to Peeters but knew it would be wasted breath. Instead, he said, “This is going to be a hard sell. You know that, right?”

Peeters nodded. “I do. But if anyone can make it, it’s you.”

Rick almost rolled his eyes at the ham-handed attempt at flattery but restrained himself. “Right,” he said as he pushed up from the chair. “I guess I better get started on that.”

Rick made his way over to the cubicle where Davy was loading the tour reports in preparation for finalization. Once submitted and approved, the pod’s pay would automatically be deposited into their accounts at the Bank of Mars, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Wynotech Corporation. He dropped into the chair across from his assistant a little harder than he intended. He sat there until Davy broke the silence.

“Okay, you want to tell me what’s going on or am I going to have to sit here while you fume”?
Rick sighed. “Sorry. Even a few minutes around Peeters gets to me.” He shook his head. “But, I did find out why everyone’s on edge. I guess that’s something.” He took a sip of coffee and just sat there for a moment.

“Right,” Davy said. “Are you going to tell me or do I have to guess?”

“Sorry,” Rick said, shaking his head. “I’m trying to figure out how to break this to the crew.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound good.”

Rick barked a short laugh that was devoid of any humor whatsoever. “That, my friend, is putting it mildly.” He pulled his PDC (personal display/communicator) out of his pocket, brought the relevant file, and hit “play”. A hologram flashed up above the device and Mirienne Matox, the company’s spokesperson began to speak.

When it was over, Davy sat stunned for a moment before simply saying, “Oh shit.”