I Owe My Soul Chapter 3

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

“Oh god, that is so good,” Davy said, holding the cup of stimmy with both hands. “It’s even better than the stuff they have at the office.” She took another sip. “How does she do this?

Rick shook his saying, “I don’t ask questions, I just enjoy it.”

After leaving the office, they had come to Rick’s apartment to strategize a bit in preparation for telling the pod about the harsh new initiatives. Coming here was Davy’s idea, one that Rick wasn’t thrilled about. He was careful to avoid anything that might appear to be lording his status over his crew. This two-bedroom flat in the nicest stack on the lower level was luxury living compared to the bedsits his pod occupied. He had suggested a couple of bars and a stimmy parlor but Davy pointed out that none of them were as private as they needed. And, she had a point. Plus, Marta would’ve been upset if he’d gone anywhere else but home after 4 months away. “So,” he said, “How do we tell our folks that their lives are about to get even shittier than they already are?”

“I’ve been thinking about it ever since I watched that vid and I can’t come up with a ‘good’ way,” she said. She looked down at her cup of stimmy. “I think I’m gonna need something stronger than this to figure it out.”
“Yeah,” Rick said, heading over to the cabinet. He reached in and pulled out a bottle of “pudding” — a very potent beverage loved by the miners who named it after the explosive cocktail they used in their work because the next morning, it felt like a shot went off in your head. He sat on the table with a couple of glasses, saying, “Maybe this will help.”

“Can’t hurt,” Davy said, pouring a glass. She turned it up and downed about half in one gulp. Wiping her mouth, she said, “By the maker, that is raw.” Pudding, like its namesake, wasn’t known for its smoothness or subtlety but for its ability to get its consumers as drunk as possible in the shortest amount of time. She finished the drink and said, “One more like that, and this fucked up situation might not seem quite as bad.”

A light bulb went off in Rick’s brain and he said, “Davy, you’re a damn genius.”

“I am?” she said, confused.

“Hell yes,” Rick said as he downed his own glass of the high-octane spirit. “We’ll call everyone into the Blasthole and give them the news over a table full of pudding.”

“Why not,” she said. “It’s better than anything I can think of. I mean, everything does go better with gut full of pudding. Even you hate yourself the next morning,” she added with a laugh.

“I just want to get through the next few hours without a riot kicking off,” Rick said. “If that means waking up with the worst hangover in the history of Mars, so fucking be it.”

A few hours later, the pod began to filter into the Blasthole in response to Rick’s call. A few had heard about some of the changes made by the company, while others were totally in the dark. He was at the bar, ordering a couple of pitchers of “pudding” when he Huelet walked in, making a beeline for Rick as soon as he saw him.

“Why the hell am I off your crew, Quentan?” He grabbed Rick’s shoulder and pulled the older man around to face him. “Just because I made a mistake on a couple of holes? That is some bullshit!”

Rick looked at the man and said in a low, measured tone, “First of all, take your fucking hand off me.”

“And, if I don’t?” Huelet said with a smile, confident that he had several inches and multiple pounds on his older, smaller opponent.

It was Rick’s turn to smile. “This,” he said, grabbing Huelet’s wrist and twisting his arm so fast the man didn’t know what was happening until he was on his knees and feeling an intense pain in his shoulder. He leaned down a bit and said, “You’re out of my pod for two reasons: One, you were a temp, a replacement for Matty while he recovered from some injuries, and he’ll be ready to go back out with us next rotation. Two, you do sloppy work. And what’s worse, you don’t care that you do sloppy work. The people in this pod are my family and I won’t put them at risk for an outsider that doesn’t seem to give a shit if he lives or dies.”

The pitchers arrived and he released Huelet’s arm, turning to pick them up. As he stepped toward the table where the pod was gathered, Huelet clambered to his feet, saying, “Hey! I’m not done with you.”

Without turning, Rick said, “Well, I’m done with you. Go home, Jakob.”

As Rick reached the table, Huelet caught up with him and shoved him hard, causing pudding to slosh out of one of the pitchers onto Barie Russon.

“What the fuck?” she shouted as the liquid ran down her back. She jumped up, pulling at her shirt. “Fuck, now I’m going to stink like this fucking pudding the rest of the fucking day.” She looked at Huelet. “Motherfucker, I’m going to kick your fucking ass.”

Rick set the pitchers on the table. “Sit down, Barie. This is between me and Huelet.” He turned to face the other man. “Are we really going to do this? Right here and right now?”

Huelet shrugged. “We don’t have to. I mean, you can always tell HR that you made a mistake and want me back on your crew.” He smiled again. “And, increase my cut, of course.”

Rick shook his head, saying “That’s not going to happen,” as he brought his knee up hard into Huelet crotch. Everyone in the bar heard the solid thump of it making contact followed by a weak wheeze as Huelet sank to his knees. Rick reached down, took the man’s chin, and angled his head up. “We could’ve done this easy but you just had to make it hard. So…” and brought his fist down into Huelet’s jaw, driving him to the floor before turning back to his pod. He noticed Russon still staring down at Huelet. “I thought I told you to sit down, Barie.” She quickly resumed her seat. “Okay,” Rick said, “I’ve got some news and it’s not good.

As a couple of bar backs drug Huelet off, Rick looked around at the people he considered his brothers and sisters, trying to find the words to tell them their already difficult lives were about to get even harder. They risked their lives to grub the minerals out of asteroids. Minerals Earth required in ever-increasing numbers to fuel the industrial machine that fed credits into the bank accounts of the corporations and their owners. And, while they did, their spouses and partners had to maintain a home in quarters that would be considered slums back on Earth. Things got better as you gained seniority—like the palatial two-bedroom flat his family enjoyed. And raising kids? That made things even harder. The settlement’s schools were little more than training grounds for future miners, with curricula built around very basic chemistry, geology, and math. They imparted just enough knowledge to do the job but never quite enough for the kind of critical thinking that led to uncomfortable questions. And then there was the quality of the food in the company stores. It was spotty at best and took a large portion of what little money was left after paying rent, union dues, insurance, and all the other charges and fees the company used to claw back the hard-earned credits these people earned with backbreaking labor. As bad as it was, it was about to get worse. Oh well, he sighed, nothing for it but to just do it.

“Okay, people. I think we all know there’s some shit coming down. The whole settlement’s on edge and I’m sure you’re all wondering why.” He paused and looked around one more time before diving in. “The company’s instituting new tonnage quotas.” Everyone looked at him, hoping that this time, they were coming down, not up. “They’re raising them by 25%.” You could almost feel the hope evaporate and curses were heard all around the table. “That’s not all, though. They’re extending time on station to 4 months.” A chorus of groans and even more curses went up in response to this bit of news.

Mondy Walker, one of the pod’s more seasoned hands spoke up. “Okay, it takes almost a month to recover from the 90 days we’re spending now. Are they going to extend our home rotation any?”

Rick shook his head. “I’m afraid not.” More groans. “But they did say they’ve got a new, better formulation of resveratrol to offset the effects of the gravity differential.” Human bodies have evolved in a certain level of gravity and too much time in different levels could have unpleasant effects, like loss of bone mass and atrophied muscles.

Barie Russon, who served as their medic while on station, snorted. “Yeah, right,” she said softly.

“Barie, you got something to add to this?” Rick asked. He knew her opinions on the quality of the company’s medical supplies but too many people had heard her comment to ignore it.

She hesitated, then said, “It just sounds like more company bullshit. I’m betting this ‘new, better formulation’ is the same crap we’ve been getting all along. Which, incidentally, is way weaker than what we need.”

“Probably,” Rick said. “But what’s the alternative? It’s not like any of us can afford to quit. Even if we’re not in the red at the company store, none of us could afford passage off Mars.”

“Wynotech isn’t the only game in town, you know,” she said, referring to the other mining operation based on Mars.

“Paragon Blak isn’t any better than where we are now,” he said. “If anything, they’re worse.” He caught himself before saying anything else. Things were getting off track and he had more news to deliver. “That’s not all. They’re also replacing all the suits. There will be a gradual phase-out of the Mark 7’s we’re using now. Muckers will get the Arkwright Ironclad powered suit since they’re moving actual tonnage.” That met with murmurs of approval. The Arkwright was a quality product. He continued, “The rest of us will get the Burtonwarez EVA2.”

“Wait a minute,” said Scotty Gulsvig. “The EVA2 isn’t armored. It’s just a standard vac suit.”

“I’m aware,” Rick said with a nod. “The company’s position is that the lighter suit will reduce fatigue and help counteract the low gravity situation.” He hated himself a bit as parroted the massive lie.

“But it won’t provide any protection in a cave in!” Gulsvig said.

“It is significantly cheaper, though,” said Walker.

“True,” Rick said. “But, again, it’s what we’ve got.” Then, “As for cave-ins, I guess we’ll have to be extra careful.”

“That’s not answer and you know it, Rick,” Russon said, jumping back in.

“I don’t know what you want me to say, Barie.” He looked at the crew. “Look, I know this sucks. But there’s not a lot we can do about it.”

“What does the union have to say about all this?” said Walker.

Davy spoke up for the first time. “They’ve signed off on all of it,” she said, her voice devoid of emotion.

“Seriously?” Walker said. “Why do we even have that pack of fucking jackals?”

This was getting away from me again, Rick thought. “Hey, hey, HEY!” he said, raising his voice over the clamor. “All this bitching gets us nowhere. Like I told Russon, this is our current reality and there isn’t shit we can do about it since none of us have the credits to leave.” He paused for a moment before giving them the last bit of bad news. “Finally, there’s this: rent is going up by 15%.” He expected the table to erupt in cursing again but everyone was numb by this point. “And, prices are going up in the company store.” Again, the reaction was muted. “They wouldn’t say by how much. Not sure if they know or if they just want to keep their options open.” He looked them over and poured himself a mug of pudding. “Fuck it,” he said. “Let’s get hammered.”