Montel pulled the lever back to the off position, causing the drilling arm to stop. Before him was a once-pristine slab of rock now punctured by drill bits and heavy machinery.
The cameras on the drilling rig zoomed in closer. Small slivers of reddish-pink minerals were now exposed. Arderium 2 was discovered during humanity’s first colonization attempt 52 years ago. This mineral was essential to NextGen hardware and computerized systems.
“Andromeda,” Montel said to his display monitors.
A communication panel appeared.
“Yes, Montel,” replied the digital female voice.
“Call up Unit 249, to start the extraction process and deliver product to refinement.”
“Right away,” she replied.
Montel swiveled in his seat. Normally, the computer did not use Zaharan slang. Then he realized it was coming from outside the cabin. Montel looked down from his rig.
“Hey, Montel, it’s chow time, compa!” Travis was waving him to come down.
Montel locked his display and began to exit the drill rig cabin. He descended the yellow ladder attached to the rig platform and went to join Travis.
“Damn, it’s cold,” Montel said.
“No shit, we’re 1,000 feet up. Hurry up, man!” Travis said, gesturing towards a utility elevator.
They picked up the pace and took the elevator down to the common area, where there was heat and a mess hall.
Inside, Montel sat at a table while Travis grabbed them some food. In his hand, he clasped a picture of him and his mother. She was dark and lovely, with beautifully coiled hair and a warm smile. Her life motto, ‘All things work together for good.’ However, for five years, he had been numb, ever since watching her die of cancer.
Many who worked in refinement, as she had, suffered similar fates. Their last days were spent fighting with insurance companies that refused to cover newer and more cutting-edge treatments, always insisting on generic care. All of this in the shadow of trillionaires who forgot how they became so, and a home planet that only cared about their latest products. Profits left Zahara but they didn’t stay there.
Travis returned with food. Montel started eating, as Travis fumbled in his pockets and retrieved a blue and red bottle. Anti-radiation meds.
“Ah, here you are.”
Travis popped two pills and then started shaking the bottle furiously, realizing there were no more.
“Those aren’t cheap,” said Montel.
“You don’t say!”
Travis sighed and then looked hard at Montel.
“Hey, Montel … ”
“Come on, spot me a bottle I’ll pay you back.”
“You know how difficult it is to get these!”
“But Montel … ”
“If we both run out, we will fail our physical and then they’ll fire us.”
“I won’t let that happen! Besides, is working in New Stockton instead of the mines so bad?”
“This is the heart of Zahara! I belong here!”
“At least spot me today’s dose. I’ll figure something out!” he insisted.
Montel huffed angrily. He would do almost anything for Travis, but sometimes he pushed too far.
Nevertheless, they were friends. He reached into his breast pocket and retrieved his bottle, thumbing out four more pills so Travis could complete his dose. Travis took the pills and downed them with coffee.
“Did you see Salazar’s speech last night?” asked Montel.
“No, what did the old man say?” replied Travis.
“He’s taking the Zaharan Business Council to court about sharing more profits with the workers. They say the case has a chance.”
“You don’t believe that, do you? Remember the toxic sludge scandal? Don’t even get me started on how they screwed up radiation shielding. It’s the reason we’re still popping these damn pills! I mean look at your mom’s … ”
“Don’t be an asshole.”
“Sorry, Montel. I know it still hurts.”
“I’m just saying. It feels like Zaharans are finally pushing back. Getting more of the pie from Earth,” said Montel.
Travis laughed again.
“Montel, I love you, like a brother. But sometimes you’re too soft. We going to get the pie when we take it!”
Loud boos filled the hall as digital wall screens played a news grab from Earth. On screen was the Secretary General surrounded by five Mega CEOs or Oligarchs, as they were known to many. Montel recognized Amjad Kumar, the trillionaire mining investor.
“Today at UN headquarters in Kyiv, the Secretary General and business leaders announced a new wave of investment in the Zahara colony and Luna.”
Kumar went to the podium.
“I thank the Secretary General for her support on the 2090 Outer Planets Investment Strategy. Together we will generate more prosperity for all of Earth and our citizens throughout the galaxy!”
The other executives clapped, reveling in the excellence of their thinking.
“Forget those bastards, let’s get back to work,” said Travis.
After working eight more hours, Montel left for home. At the base of the mountains was a hangar bay filled with low flyers to take workers back to New Stockton, Zahara’s capital.
The flyers were small, silver-colored ten-seaters with surprisingly comfortable seats. As they flew, Montel stared out at the countryside of his home planet, a vibrant mix of colors and landscapes, mountains and forests. The transport dropped him off at his house in new Stockton. Montel knocked on the door of the house. Nobody answered.
“Karina must be asleep,” he muttered, as he took out a key.
Montel entered the house and went straight to the refrigeration unit, eager to pop open a beer.
He stopped upon hearing sobs from one of the bedrooms. Montel followed the weeping to his son Ivan’s bedroom. Karina was standing outside the door, crying, watching Ivan sleep. Montel put his hand on her shoulder.
“Amor, what’s wrong?” he said.
“Oh! Oh, my God!” she said, trying to quieten her tears. “He’s asleep.” She took his hand and led him back into the living room area. They sat down on a sofa.
“Is something wrong?” persisted Montel.
“Ivan is sick.”
“What do you mean ‘sick’?” he demanded.
“He has cancer, stage four.”
“What do you mean?”
“They think there was some toxic sludge near the play area at the school. Radiation readings are high there.”
“What? What do you mean ‘cancer’? I thought the school had radiation shielding? What the hell is this!”
“Don’t shout!” she said.
Montel stood up angrily and began pacing the room.
“Amor, Amor, try to calm down.”
Sensing he was close to panic, Montel sat back down.
“Doctor Reynolds says it’s bad, but cancer treatment is better now. There’s new technology that can kill the cancer and keep him alive.”
“How much is that gonna cost?”
“Is that all you can think about right now? Money! Our son is in trouble! We’re going to do whatever it takes!”
Montel wrapped his arms around her.
“Karina, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
Montel didn’t sleep all night, remembering his mother’s struggles. He would not let the same happen to Ivan.
The next morning, Montel got up at 5 o’clock, shooting a stimulant before he left the house.
After arriving at the mine, he went to the workers’ utility elevator. Five other people joined him inside.
Montel’s phone pulsed in his pocket. Alert, department meeting in the common area. Montel groaned, as did the other workers. They all went into the small auditorium area and sat on the benches. Montel sat next to Ezra and Travis.
“Fellas,” he said, shaking their hands.
“What you think this is about?” asked Ezra.
“Not sure,” replied Montel.
“I hear it’s a bunch of managers from Earth,” said Travis.
Just then, a side door opened and five people filed in: Bossman Wole, the mine administrator, and four others, who were clearly from Earth, their hands gripping bottles of OxiGenRate, a medical juice blend to help newcomers’ bodies adjust to Zaharan air. They stopped at the podium and waited as a projector slid down behind them.
Wole spoke first.
“Morning, compas.” He greeted them the Zaharan way, something he rarely did.
“We done good for the last three quarters, production is up 130%. In quarter 3, minerals from Zahara powered 15% of technical products on Earth and Luna. The Zaharan Business Council sends their regards and congratulations on this success.”
They did the obligatory clapping. Wole continued.
“You should be proud ... But change is needed if we are to reach the 2090 investment goals and the vision of our Chief Investor Amjad Kumar. I have with me some of our management team from Los Angeles. Lindsay Kane will talk to you about those changes.”
A woman in a blue suit stepped to the podium and began to speak.
“It’s an exciting time for our company. We’re going faster and smarter into the future with the introduction of our newest technical unit. Introducing Sammy!”
The projector turned on and images appeared of a metallic and plastic-blended man.
“Sammy operates advanced drilling equipment and makes fine-tuned adjustments to meet the special working environment here on Zahara. Sammy combines human abilities with a computer’s processing power.”
It was a damn android, a damn mining android.
“We project that, with Sammy, we will increase production by a further 500% and increase quarterly earnings.”
Travis stood up.
“Are you talking about bringing that thing here?”
“Oh! I’m sorry, I wasn’t ready for questions. But yes, multiple units of Sammy will be delivered here in the coming five weeks.”
“How are we going to work with those things hanging around?” demanded Travis.
“Well, um, some workers will be let go, others reassigned.”
A rumble of anger filled the room.
“What do you mean, ‘let go’! I’ve worked here for 15 years. I have family!” shouted Tobias, another worker.
The workers began to boo in unison.
Wole stepped forward.
“There’s no need for this, compas. Change was always coming. We knew this!”
Travis was having none of it.
“Don’t call us compas, Bossman! Not while you’re siding with them. Is your job on the line? Huh?”
Montel couldn’t sit any more. He got to his feet.
“I’ve done all this company asked, made investors lots of profits. My son is sick. How will he be taken care of if I am let go?”
“The company will cover all Kobra claims.”
“My son is more than a Kobra claim!”
“Kobra doesn’t pay shit!” said Travis in agreement.
“Watch your tone!” warned Wole.
“No, Bossman! You watch yours! This is our mine! This is our money! And this is our planet!”
“No, Wole! You’re done. All of you are done! Get them!”
The workers chanted, “Kick their ass! Kick their ass! Kick their ass!” And suddenly dozens of workers were swarming onto the stage, smashing the podium, and grabbing Wole and his guests. Travis led them, directing them and urging them on.
“Find some rope!” he ordered.
Montel didn’t want to join in the beatdown, but he still wanted to help. He remembered he had some utility rope in his bag.
“Here!” he shouted. “Here’s some rope!”
The workers took the rope and tied the guests up. Attempts to fight back were suppressed by waves of kicks and punches. Wole and the guests were dragged into a utility closet and locked inside. Five workers guarded the entrance.
In a few hours the workers controlled the entire facility. Travis took Wole’s old office, using it as a command post. The workers respected him and followed his orders.
Montel felt uneasy. He joined Travis in the office.
“Travis, what are we going to do now? We can’t keep the mine like this.”
“We’re taking a stand, Montel. And we’re taking the pie for ourselves and our families. I talked to old man Salazar’s office; they’re with us.”
“To do what, Travis? Fight Earth? We can’t do that, compa!”
“The word ‘can’t’ is a noose designed to stifle and deprive us of what we deserve!”
Montel had never seen Travis like this. The fire in his words was frightening but also electrifying.
“I’m just worried about how we get out of this.”
Travis came close to Montel, putting his arm around his friend’s shoulder.
“Remember, compa, they need Zahara more than Zahara needs them. They’ll negotiate.”
Montel sighed, nodding his head.
“Now, how’s your son?”
“He’s good, but he doesn’t have long. He’s got cancer.”
“Damn … Probably needs better treatment than shitty Kobra would cover!”
“Yeah,” nodded Montel.
“We gonna take care of that,” replied Travis.
Ezra and Tobias rushed into the office, panting from their hard run.
“Boss! Watch this!” shouted Tobias.
Ezra turned on the digital screen in the office. A news grab from New Stockton appeared. It was Governor Salazar, the ‘old man’. They watched as he spoke.
“My friends, as you know, for years I have called for more investment into our communities. You know the troubles we face, building a new world. Zaharan profits belong on Zahara with Zaharan people. We say ‘no more’ to profit extraction!”
“That’s right! That’s right!” said Ezra.
“News outlets on Earth are reporting on an attack at the Artemis mining site. We now have confirmation that, three hours ago, workers reclaimed the mine from Earth owners and management... ”
“Corporate must be watching the video feeds,” suggested Montel.
“Let them! They can’t change a damn thing!” said Travis.
Ezra’s phone started ringing and he stepped out to the take the call.
“They call it terrorism. Well, as Governor, I call it a special economic initiative. We support these heroes … ”
“Yes!” Throughout the complex, the workers whooped and cheered.
Having the planetary government on their side would help a lot.
“You see that! They’ll have to listen to us now!” said Travis.
Ezra returned to the office, excitement written all over his face.
“Boss! Boss!” he called out to Travis.
“The old man’s office just called; they want us to take the Earth people to the capital. They’re going to use them to bargain.”
“Should we do that, Travis?” asked Tobias.
“We can trust the old man, can’t we?” added Ezra.
Travis took a moment to think.
“We will send three of the Earthers including the woman. Montel and Ezra, you take those three to Salazar. We’ll leave one here with Wole.”
Montel was shocked. Today was bad enough, but this was worse.
“You’ll need this.” Tobias handed Montel a RAZOR Colt pistol, 40 rounds.
“You shot before?” he asked Montel.
“A little,” Montel answered, his heart beating faster.
“They get funny? Point and shoot,” said Tobias, making finger guns.
“You good, compa?’ asked Travis.
“Yeah, boss!” replied Montel, taking the gun.
Montel and Ezra led the hostages to the utility elevator and down to the hangar. Pangs of foreboding gripped Montel’s gut. This felt wrong, but he was in it now: what could he do?
One of the male hostages began to beg.
“What do you want? Please tell us! We can get you what you want!”
Ezra punched him in the side.
“Is this helping your family?” Lindsay pleaded. “Doing this? Please stop.”
“Shut up!” repeated Ezra.
They boarded the transport and Montel went to the cockpit. After programming the autopilot, the ship began to taxi out of the hangar.
When Montel returned, Ezra was standing before the hostages, phone in hand.
“Just got a message from the old man’s office. Earth ain’t cooperating. He says their bodies will make a better point.”
“What?” Montel couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Ezra raised his pistol towards the hostages. They screamed and begged for mercy.
“Put the gun down,” he ordered Ezra.
“I said put it down!”
Montel closed the gap and seized Ezra’s hand, twisting the gun out of it as Ezra pushed back. He grabbed Montel from behind. Montel seized Ezra’s arm and flipped him over his shoulder. Ezra crashed into the ground.
Ezra didn’t listen and tried to get up. Montel kicked his head. Ezra lost consciousness immediately and collapsed.
“Oh, shit!” Montel cried out.
Steel-framed boots were not kind to human heads. Montel checked Ezra’s vitals; he was alive. But for how long?
He looked up at the hostages, elites whom he never trusted. Montel felt more worried than ever about the future. Still, he remembered what his mother would say: “Even in darkness, All things work together for good.”
Montel stopped the ship. He left the hostages with autopilot programmed to a safer location. Then he and Ezra exited the ship.
Ezra survived but the cause did not. UN Marines arrived seven days later. Montel lost his job, and his assets were seized. All participants in the uprising were rounded up and jailed, awaiting extradition to Earth.
Inside the crowded jail, Montel sat on a hard bench counting. He tried not to think about what awaited him on Earth or what would happen to his family.
The gate into the jail rattled open and three dark-suited women filed in.
This was it.
“Here,” he responded.
A woman approached him, staring intensely.
“I’m Myra with Outer Planet Security. You’re one of the hostage takers?”
“I won’t speak about the case without representation from counsel,” he replied.
“I understand but you won’t need it.”
“The hostages spoke up for you, especially Lindsay Kane. You’re free to go.”
The jail door slid open.
“Well, then, I’ll be going,” he said.
“Just one second,” said Myra. “Miss Lindsay Kane told me to give you this. To show that not everyone on Earth is a monster.”
“I don’t want anything from her!”
“It’s the condition of your release, take it.”
Montel took the brown envelope and left. It was true, he was free. Outside he began walking. After reaching a safe distance, he opened the envelope. Cash. Lots of it. More than he had ever seen. He fell to the street on his knees, overwhelmed by shock.
“What a day!” he cried out.