Barney walked the narrow corridors of the Earth-bound freighter, filled with restless energy. The trip back to Earth took half an Earth year on a good trip, and the more confined quarters of the ship contributed to a feeling of claustrophobia. Despite this, it was mostly enjoyable due to the irregular meet-up of workers from all the colonies. Each colony kept to itself while in the Venusian atmosphere, which led to the trip back to Earth being filled with stories of daring and survival.
As he headed into the common room, he saw a crowd had gathered around one man. Moving in to see what was going on, he saw three men in the uniform of Colony One at the centre. The man talking reminded Barney of Woody, a burly jock who looked like he belonged on a full-contact football field. He completed the look with close-cut black hair and a two-day black beard that looked a bit too meticulously kept. The guy must be loving all the attention, Barney thought to himself.
“And as I headed down from the peak of Kali Mons, this massive explosion goes off. I look behind me, and there’s lava and ash flying everywhere. All I can say is thank goodness for how thick the atmosphere is, otherwise the spray would have flown wide enough and been hot enough to burn straight through my suit. As I was running back, there’s a rumble not ten feet behind me. I turn to look, and BOOM!”
Another man in the group, similar in appearance to the first speaker but without the well-kept beard, spoke up. “I turned back at the sound, and there’s a massive spout of yellow gas flying into the sky. In front of that, there’s something rolling down the peak straight at me. As it got closer, I saw it was Boof here, rolling head over butt.” A wave of laughter ran around the audience, with the initial speaker looking embarrassed despite the good-natured nudges from his team mates.
“So yes, I was like a soccer ball rolling down the peak. Drongo here stops me. The roll got me ahead of the lava starting to roll down the peak, and away from the escaping gas. Then my display starts flashing red, saying that the AMRD unit has begun to malfunction, with all systems expected to permanently shut-down in 30 minutes. My HUD said Drongo and I were still 45 minutes away from the ship, so I was 32 minutes away from being boiled like an egg.”
A gasp went up, and an audience member Barney could not see spoke. “I thought the unspoken rule was not taking a risk on ‘Destroyer Mountain’, Boof. It was named after the Hindu goddess of destruction for a reason. I barely survived it.”
Boof scanned the crowd, before locking eyes with the person. “That may be so, but it’s the same old risk reward scenario. Everyone tries to avoid Kali Mons, since it’s been the most prolific site of Colony One accidents. But it’s always been the site for the best quality diamonds.”
Another voice in the audience carried. “How did you manage to get back to the ship before the suit locked up, Boof?”
Boof gave a shrug and a small grin. “It’s amazing the energy reserves you find when your life depends on you getting back to your ship. As we ran, the radio told us that the massive sulphur dioxide increase in the air would be causing a surface shut down. Such scenarios make you thankful for increasing your cardio work in the gym.”
Barney smiled to himself, remembering that Colony One miners were some of the most boastful. He moved on and surveyed the others in the room, looking for a face he recognised. In a corner, he saw lady hunched over an AMRD unit, and moved towards her. Her flame red hair and unmistakable pair of glasses immediately identified her.
The lady jumped, giving a little yelp as she did. Léana Stirling’s pale face was covered in freckles the same shade as her tied-back curly hair. Narrowing cylinders protruded from her spectacles, replacing the regular place of the lenses. The cylinders retracted into the frames. She took them off before looking at Barney, revealing a pair of pale blue eyes.
She spoke with a strong Irish accent. “It be you, Barney. You scared me for a minute. I was working away on this broken AMRD unit.”
Barney looked at the broken unit, which showed a fair amount of melted components and some small holes where projectiles must have hit. “I take it this is the remnants of Boof’s ill-fated suit?”
“Aye. He be lucky though. If he had been a minute later in getting back to his ship, the unit would have been completely destroyed.” She looked over her shoulder to where Boof sat, still speaking of his adventures to a slowly dispersing crowd. She grimaced and shook her head. “The big-mouthed meathead always tries to push the limits of his suits. He should be getting disciplined for lack of respect for his working gear, yet he gets treated like a hero by the other surface miners.”
Barney shrugged. “The people who create and ensure the upkeep the suits never get the respect they deserve. Woody on my crew is not much different, but the respect he has for his equipment sets him apart.”
Léana nodded. “I can respect those people who prove they are not just muscle heads. Speaking of which, I bumped into Woody and Carolina an hour or so ago. He looked quite happy, but she was not.”
He laughed. “Claudio organised a ‘Football Medley’ a day or so before we jumped on this freighter, since we and some others had an argument about the best football code on Earth. We had a four quarters game cycling between Soccer, Rugby Union, Gridiron and Aussie Rules. He tweaked the scoring system so Carolina and Juan weren’t punished for the one-point nature of soccer, when all the others scored seven points. Woody won the most points, since Gridiron is not too far removed from Rugby Union and Aussie Rules that it was unplayable.”
She nodded. “I prefer Gaelic Football, but it seems only the Irish play it with any regularity.” She looked back at the AMRD unit on the table in front of her. “Boof was lucky this unit didn’t break, but there was something interesting from its breakdown.”
“What do you mean?”
Léana held up some small black grains in her hand, lifting them for Barney to see. “Around ten of these punctured the unit. I analysed them, and they are actually a form of diamond. I just cannot figure out how they melted, since diamonds do not melt.”
Barney looked at them, feeling a little disconcerted. If the black diamonds were appearing everywhere else on Venus, maybe it would not lead to the payday Claudio foresaw.
– X –