The Impossible Adventures of Jet Black and the Starship Crew



Jet Black and the Moon of Gold # 22

ã 2015 Alan P. Ellis

Copyright 2015. Copyright in all media and in all forms remains the property of caelin day pty ltd (aus). Any reproduction in whole or part is conditional on the written permission of caelin day

Who as a child: or even when grown up, hasent dreamed of finding lost treasure? What searching mind hasn’t had the fleeting fantasy of finding an old map in a dusty and forgotten corner of the attic? Of course that only happens in fantasy?

Maps can come in different forms and types, and they don’t have to be forgotten; they can be in plain sight; but where nobody takes the time to look...

Richard Harman wasn’t looking for gold; at least not in the actual metal: what he was looking for was about as far away as you can get from the bright yellow stuff; he was looking for iron.

Richard was a new geologist: new as displayed in the diploma hanging behind his desk that he had been awarded: and framed, just a week before.

Fresh out of college he had been employed by the Pittsburgh Mining Corp to browse over maps of empty space in the hope of locating ferrous asteroids that could be mined. It was at the same time easy (iron is fairly common), and hard, (much of it is impracticable to mine for dozens of reasons) but most of all it was incredibly boring.

So boring that no experienced: call that self-respecting geologist, would waste their time: especially as there were algorithms that didn’t make the brain go numb examining empty void after empty void in minute detail.

Even those who didn’t do it knew that computers could be tasked with examining the countless spectra and calculating the distance: as well as dissect data within a hundred other parameters, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week: come rain or shine; blizzard or drought. It really was a waste of anyone’s time to read data that a computer could process in minutes, if not seconds.

But Richard didn’t feel he was wasting his time. He was well aware that what he was doing was superfluous, but he was strait out of college and excited about getting a position of geological assistant at one of the premier mining corporations, and he knew that this was a test: after a few weeks of displayed diligence and dedication he’d get into some real exploration.

What Richard really wanted was to go to the moon. Opening a mine on the moon was an event that still made news: though each time one was opened it made it more commonplace,

There were now eighteen separate companies mining the Moon: many at multiple sites, but there was still the chance to find something no one had ever found before. It was Richards dream to go to the barren satellite and dig his name into history.

Week followed week until it was Friday the twenty-seventh, and as the red circle around the date (along with the stylized fireworks) was meant to highlight his last day.

He arrived at work to be met by his supervisor. The man had a serious look on his face and Richard felt his heart sink; then the supervisor reached his arm around and patted Richard his back. A smile bloomed on the supervisors face and Richard beamed. Nothing was said but Richard knew he had passed the loyalty test.

Richard activated his workstation and opened up the message from head office that was waiting. On the following Monday he would join an exploration team as second assistant minerals analyst and at last go out into the field. It wasn’t the Moon, but it was a step up the long ladder to it.

A less conscientious man than Richard would have grabbed all his bits and pieces and wasted the day dreaming, but Richard was not that kind of man and he sat at the workstation: pulled up the star map he had been looking at for the last two days and began once more to examine it.

Star maps can be overwhelming; they are saturated with every conceivable type of cosmic object, and mostly they are so far away that their light has been traveling from as far back as the dawn of creation. The skill is to be oblivious to almost everything yet spot the tiny visitors that race into, and race out of reach. Even now Richard still hoped he could find a rich ore body that could be quickly exploited: or better still captured and exploited at leisure. If he could he was sure to climb a few more steps of that ladder to the Moon.

It was just before lunch that he came across the remnants of a catastrophic supernova. He had observed many similar explosions before: in fact they were origin of the lumps of metal he sought. Supernovas create iron, and this explosion was in a class of its own.

His excitement grew when he discovered it wasn’t a normal supernova. It was most probably the collision of two super-dense, burnt out stars. In the distant past both had been supernova and what had been left had crashed into each other.

Quickly he called up the computer data: hoping: expecting, it to be as exciting as he was getting exited, but the computer had disregarded the data as not relevant and too far away.

Still it was peculiar? Supernovas were always big; but puzzlingly: given this ones size, it had given off an incredibly short burst of Gamma radiation. Richard knew that was an indicator of a special event; the collision of two neutron stars. Disappointment slowly set in; interesting as it was: and no doubt even more so to a cosmologist, it didn’t even come close to the profile he had been instructed to search for. Suddenly it dawned on him that he had lost interest in searching for asteroids. In fewer hours than he could count on the fingers of one hand he would be done with them for good; at least on star maps.

Instead he realized he was curious, and he looked a little deeper into the data. What he found shocked him.

Richard wondered if he should call his supervisor or do a detailed analysis. Deep analyses take time, and anyway the debris was still too far away to be of any benefit to the Pitsburg Mining Corp.

Richard didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t iron, and he had been specifically told to ignore anything else but iron. He looked up at the time; soon everybody going into the field was meeting up for a drink. He checked the computer data again and saw that the debris had been blasted out at incredible velocities.

Behind him the door swung open to frame one of his buddies. “I don’t believe it?” the man laughed. “Still working… Come on are you going to the pub or are you going to stay here all night while we have fun?”

Richard smiled and then looked back at the star map. Nobody could go that far: they probably wouldn’t in his lifetime so he clicked the ‘of no commercial interest’ box. He grabbed his jacket and closed down the workstation.

Richard Harman was an old man; he knew he was about to die. He didn’t know exactly how long it would be, but old men don’t have as much time left as young men think they have. Dying wasn’t a problem; he had had a mostly good career, but not with the Pitsburg mining Corp. On Friday the twenty-seventh as he had reached the lobby, a supervisor from human resources was waiting. The man informed him that the corporations moon-mining venture was bankrupt, and that he no longer had a job. He left the building in a state of utter disbelief.

He had been aware of the recession; they happened every couple of decades, but Pitsburg was a big conglomerate and it was unbelievable any part of it could go bust so quickly? But bigger companies had failed and its lines of credit had dried up. With no money flow the Pitsburg Mining Corp couldn’t pay its bills and ground to a halt. It should have had a reserve, but by bad timing that had been used to finance expansion on the moon. It was a complicated and common story. The pitsburg Mining corp. was broken up and ceased to exist, as did Richards’s future.

Eventually the recession ended and Richard got another job; one that gave him a new life that wasn’t in geology. Occasionally in the following yeas Richard dreamed of the explosion he had discovered. He knew that geology had come a long way in the intervening years, and that mining asteroids and reaching out beyond the solar system was now commonplace. Sometimes he wondered if someone else had found it too, but if they did he never heard.

It was when one of his great grandchildren was studying at university that Richard again remembered the catastrophic explosion. As it would be Derek: the son of one of his granddaughters was studying geology.

A moon of gold?” Richard said in a paternalistic way. “Can you imagine that?”

Derek could. “Wow.”

Created in the middle of the explosion.”

In the explosion?” Derek said in faint interest as his mind pictured a fantasized golden moon.

Two stars; neutron stars; at least I think that’s what the data said. It was along time ago?”

What Derek was thinking was something he had read; about how when two neutron stars merge they create and distribute metals that were on a different part of the periodic table; and gold was just one of them.

Derek didn’t find his treasure map in the dusty attic he found it in the deepest depths of his great grandfathers memories, and when Richard passed away Derek didn’t forget about the golden moon.

As the years passed he learned all he could about neutron stars and where they were to be found: worryingly there were lots of them. It did help a little that Richard remembered the quadrant; but that was still a vast area without the original star map. A map of Gamma ray sources honed him in a little closer. It took a long while: a very long while but eventually he had what he was sure was his treasure map.

Derek begged and borrowed until he could afford to get himself a spacecraft. It wasn’t a very good spacecraft; in fact it was decrepit by spaceship standards, but it had a big cargo bay. It needed to be big to match the dreams of Derek Benedict, the first.

When the Galactic Militia boarded the derelict spaceship they found it abandoned. That explained why it had been reported by a passenger ship as unresponsive. They quickly knew its history from the markings passed onto them by the commander of the same passenger vessel. They also knew that they weren’t the only ones to know of the derelict, and from the buzz across the media it seemed every single passenger had told someone; who had told someone; who had told someone else.

After many years Derek’s family could at last find closure after his fateful journey, but while knowing what the ships name was and who had been aboard solved a decades long mystery; where it had been, and why it was unmanned began a whole new one.

It took a while longer for news to leak out of what the Galactic Militia found aboard the spacecraft as they penetrated deeper in and entered the cargo hold, but when it did the mystery of Derek Benedicts flight into deep space became legend. Inside the hold was Aladdin’s cave of precious metal.

Hardly anyone had really believed in Derek’s dream; no matter who he told. You couldn’t blame people for being suspicious, as Derek shared no details: even to the investors who offered to join him in his venture if only he would reveal where the moon was. His reluctance to offer any proof worried those investors and soon enthusiasm for his promises of riches faded and he became the object of ridicule.

But now there was proof that he had the last laugh; the spaceships hold was full of gold. His detractors were stunned and his family became rich beyond what any of them had imagined was possible.

Without evidence of any wrongdoing Derek’s fate was recorded a misadventure. It wasn’t the first time an obsessed man had left everything: including his family, to search for treasure and been lost. What was unusual was that against all odds he had found his moon made of solid gold.

But the mystery was yet to become deeper: a government conspiracy some claimed, when the spaceships logs were found to have been deliberately been wiped. It was tantalizing that somewhere out in the void of space there was a golden moon for the taking, but there was no way to discover where it could be; though that didn’t stop people trying.

I’ve heard it before.” Jet said dismissively as he stood; then walked over to the drink dispenser.

Well it’s a fact,” countered Rosie.

I could replace the Silver Flyer a dozen times if I had been given a credit every time some expedition set off searching for buried treasure.” He knew it was an exaggeration but felt it made the point.

I have to agree with Rosie.” Chub got up to join Jet beside the dispenser. “I’m hearing that at least three cartels are interested; including the Devil?”

Jet took a swig from his cold drink and looked at Chub. “Maybe it’s all just a way to capture him; dangle a carrot too big to resist?”

Rosie shook her head dismissively.

Jet liked how her hair seemed to pour over her one naked shoulder when she did that, but her face was challenging. “Your suggesting Benedict has set it all up for the Galactic Militia; I can’t buy that?”

I don’t know Rosie?” Jet shrugged in a know-it-all way. “Maybe they have something on him; a massive tax dodge that went wrong: or something?”

Now Chub shook his head. “Naaa, Benedict wouldn’t risk being seen as a Militia snout whatever they’ve got on him.”

It’s costing him a fortune.”

They all turned to mad Jack.

The price of gold is falling and he already has a lot: it’ll be hurting him financially; he wouldn’t want that either?”

They all looked at Jack blankly.

Don’t you lot have shares?”

Their continued blank look’s said they didn’t.

I’ve got a few shares; including gold… and it don’t take a genius to work out that if a lump of it that big was found, what we have would become worthless?”

Unless?” Rosie said firmly. “Someone hides it away and cashes it in slowly?”

Jet laughed. “What, a boulder at a time? The universe could be dead before they cashed it all in?”

I don’t need a rock; just a small hillock would be fine for me?” Jack said in all seriousness.

Rosie was the first to smile. “Sorry; I just had a vision?” she said beginning to laugh. “I was imagining you with a pick, and an old barrow full of gold.”

Go ahead and laugh, but that’ll do me; as long as it’s a golden pick and barrow?”

Jet and Chub grinned picturing their own visions.

Jack shrugged as their smiled began to fade. “I don’t see as it’s that funny; What’s wrong with me getting a few barrow loads; I’ve already lost some of my pension with the speculation; it only seems right I get my share?”

Jet was the only one still laughing when he realized they were all looking at him. “No…”

Rosie was the first to ask the question. “Why not?”

Because… because it’s almost certainly a waste of time?”

Maybe it is; but what if it isn’t?”

Rosie you know it can’t be true; think about it a chunk of gold the size of a moon?”

It doesn’t have to be that big; it’s called the moon of gold but nobody knows what actual size it is?”

Jet felt they were all ganging up on him. “The only fact anybody knows is that nobody can prove if it’s real?”

Now Chub spoke. “But what if it is real Jet… what if Benedict; the Devil or any of the hundreds of others organizing spaceships do get a share?”

Hundreds?” Jet scoffed.

Could be?” said Chub defensively. “In the old days anybody who could buy a pick and could walk went prospecting.”

You can’t walk in outer space…” Jet let his rebuff fade; it was a silly comparison. “And what happened; chaos, fighting, claim jumping… who’ll own it anyway?”

The general laws of possession.” Rosie said confidently. “According to the mining laws the first person to find and claim it, owns it.”

Chub suddenly became agitated. “Jet that could be us?”

And how do we do that Chub, how do we stake a claim without even having the faintest idea of where to…”

If you guys would let me finish?” Rosie interrupted. “That person was Derek Benedict.”

Jet and Chub went quiet in a disappointed; but Jack saw a flaw in Rosie’s words. “Find it he may have but he never registered a claim?”

Chub and Jet nodded.

No but there’s enough documentation that he set out to find the moon; and he brought back enough gold from somewhere to start the Benedicts dynasty off, so I think it’s a fair assumption that his descendants will do all they can to uphold their claim?”

Jets growing enthusiasm slumped. “If Benedict has the law behind him then everybody is wasting their time; even if it is real?”

Rosie smiled. “That’s true; of course unless you happen to be a Benedict… say like an illegitimate daughter?”

Jet wasn’t sure at what point he agreed; or even if ever did agree, but several days’ later Chubs news cemented his decision.

How do you know it’s the Devil?”

I don’t; he’s not going to advertise to the Militia where he is but enough of his top generals are moving that he has to be?”

And in ten spacecraft?” It seemed an awful lot to Jet.

Maybe more; he’ll use as many as he thinks will confuse the Militia, and then again maybe he’s not even going to go. His number three is, and he can act for the Devil in every way he needs to?”

Where are they heading?”

We don’t know; they seem to be splitting into three separate groups with three separate destination; of course that could be a ploy and they’ll join up again?”

And the chancer's?”

Complete confusion; nobody knows who to follow?”

Benedict would be the one to follow; what’s he doing?”

He’s disappeared but there’s talk of heavy equipment being taken from a couple of his mining projects, with no apparent onward destination?”

Okay.” Jet sighed. “What do we do flick a coin and follow one of the devils crews, or follow the machinery?”

The machinery.”

They turned to see Rosie had come through the door.

Nobody can dig without machinery?”

Chub was nodding excitedly. “We can follow it.”

Jet turned to him. “And how do you propose to do that without them knowing?”

I can rig up a transmitter and we can follow the signal.”

Pion/z34/20561 was an un-remarkable and almost exhausted asteroid. It had been a Benedict mine for since it had entered to system and now as it was about to leave it was just a rock full of holes; very big holes.

Your sure this is the one?” Jet was doubtful as they came out of hyper drive.

Yes,” but Rosie didn’t sound anymore confident.

From the long range scan it looks like Benedicts pulling equipment off because it’s no use anymore?”

Rosie shrugged. “Maybe that was the plan?”

Chub wasn’t convinced. “If I knew where a moon of gold was I wouldn’t wait until the gear came available.”

Rosie looked at him. “Well Chub that probably explains a lot.”

I mean I’d get straight there before anyone found it.”

Nobody had found it in a long time why would they now?”

Chub grunted. “In my experience that’s how it happens all the time.”

Maybe they have?”

They all turned to mad Jack.

How long has Benedict known where it is?”

Where he thinks it is.” Interrupted Jet.

What I’m getting at is how come he’s looking now?”

It was something Rosie had wondered too. “Rumour is that he’s always known?”

But when you worked for him he said nothing: or did he?”

Why would he tell me Jack?”

For a starter you’r his daughter.”

Forget all you have heard about family, Benedict shares nothing.”

What I’m getting at is that he could have known for years or maybe someone found it and went to him?”

Without telling anyone?” Jet looked at him, that didn’t make sense.

And start a gold rush like this?” Jack shook his head. “No, it makes sense that a single prospector couldn’t mine or secure a whole moon: he’d need a big miner to do it. Heck I’d be prepared to share rather than let someone else move in.”

Jack looked at the others; nobody wanted to contradict him.

Well it doesn’t matter.” Said Jet at last. “We’re here and we need to find out where the equipment is going.”

Rosie smiled in a sarcastic way. “I’ll give them al call shall I?”

Maybe we can ask one of them?”

They looked at Chub puzzled; he indicated the scanner. It indicated that there were thirty: maybe more, spacecraft scattered around the asteroid at various distances. “Seems it’s not just us who think following the machinery is the way to go?” he said.

Jet sighed. “Well the upside is that we’re not going to draw all the attention.”

The Silver Flyer settled onto the rocky surface of the opposite side of the asteroid. “We should be okay here: this sector looks like it has been stripped out a long time ago,” said Rosie as she shut down the engines.

Can I just remind everybody that it’s a long walk?” muttered Jet.

I thought we agreed?” said Rosie impatiently. “If we want to remain unnoticed we have to land as far away from the active area as we can.”

Jet smiled. “And the buggy is out of the question?”

If we don’t want anyone to know we are here it is.”

It could be too late,” said jet. “They may have scanned us already?”

No Jet; it’s an ore mine; why would they have asteroid wide security, but if we trundle over on a buggy they are bound to notice.”

There’s almost zero gravity.” Chub pointed out. “If we hit a bump at buggy speed we could launch into space?”

Rosie began to laugh. “Now that could draw attention; a buggy sailing over site administration?”

Jet didn’t laugh. “As long as you both remember if we get sprung we may need launching to get away?”

Chub scoffed. “All we need to do is attach the transmitter to the excavator. If we need a quick exit Jack can bring the Flyer closer.”

Jet offered no more as they donned their space suits.

In the suits walking was a clumsy stumble, until they happened upon a more rapid way of traveling. Pushing off with one leg they found they could soar twenty or more meters before they pushed off again with the other foot. Even dressed for the depths of space they covered the distance rapidly: too rapidly, for as they got closer slowing down became a problem. Chub was the first to find the wrong way to when he landed with both feet flat and his body countering the spring. Initially it worked well as he dug two rough channels with his heels: then his boots came up against a rock that refused to give. Suddenly Chub found himself sprawled flat, and still sliding over the ground.

Jet and Rosie passed him and looked back anxiously; but they couldn’t help, and in moments Chub was left far behind.

One moment Chub was airborne; the next he could feel the suit scraping over the rough surface. Visions of it being torn open flashed through his mind as he scrabbled to lift his body above the ground. He did, but only by stretching out his hands and arms and beginning a frantic hand over hand horizontal walk.

As soon as he could he began to stiffen his arms again, but this time much more carefully. Slowly he slowed until his legs rose up just a fraction above the horizontal and he performed an extremely slow: and almost elegant: rigid bodied, cart wheeled forwards.

Jet and Rosie didn’t make the same mistake and were soon racing: carefully, back. When they reached him he was laid on his side rubbing sealant onto the front of his suit.

Cub?” Jet said anxiously, as he fell to his knees. “Chub; are you okay?”

No,” groaned Chub in reply. “My ankle is killing me, and I’ve torn the suit.”

Is he all right?” Rosie said fearfully as she too knelt besides them.

Jet looked through his visor at her. “He’s hurt his leg…”

Chub spoke over him. “The suit’s torn, I need more sealant.” Chub gestured with his hand towards his other: pressed tightly against his chest.

Jet quickly checked the gauge as Rosie pulled out her tube of tearfix. “He’s losing air fast,” said Jet as he tore off the tag covering his own tube. “We have to get him inside, and fast.” He looked back, but the Silver Flyer out of sight and klick’s away.

Rosie was looking back too and as they both turned to face each other they knew they had only one option: they turned forward. Ahead: just peeping over the horizon they could see the flashing beacon on the excavators signal tower.

Excavator Unit 45ad5w was massive by any measure. It was an early version of the machines that crawled over asteroids as they slowly demolished them. As it moved it literally ate the broken ground in front of it, separating valuable ore into gigantic skips that were hauled up sky cables to be dumped into transport spacecraft hovering several kilometers above the asteroid. The machines were autonomous and hour after hour they worked around the asteroid like some gigantean scraper peeling the skin from an apple. But now Excavator Unit 45ad5w was still.

Jet felt like he was in some crazy three-legged: or was that five legged race. Chub had his arms around Jet and Rosie’s shoulders: they had theirs around his back. As uncomfortable as it felt synchronizing their leaps Jet was glad Rosie had insisted they all go ‘in case something goes wrong’, and it had.

They hadn’t time for the secret approach they had planned and instead headed straight for the air lock across open ground. The door was large: obviously to allow some type of vehicle access. Worryingly it opened wide just before they got to it.

The interior airtight door opened into a large garage holding several buggies, drilling machines and assorted trailers piled with crates. That was all they had time to see before another door further inside opened. Four rough looking men came through. One spoke with a tone that was more annoyed than hostile. “What are you doing here?”

Jet lifted his visor. “He’s hurt,” he said in a demanding yet apologetically way.

I mean what are you doing on the asteroid?”

He’s hurt, he needs help, and we don’t have the facilities?”

This is private property; owned by the Benedict corporation: your trespassing.”

We know’ we’re sorry but we had to land.”

Why are you here?”

I just tried to explain…” began Jet before the man cut him off.

Why are you and all the others here?” he gestured into the air.

We just need help; we thought you would have better medi facilities?”

The man could see Chub grimacing.

We’ll get the doc to look at him, and then you have to leave; immediately.”

Jet nodded. “Thanks.”

Bring him this way.” The man looked at biggest of the others. “Kelt, give him a hand.”

Kelt strode forward and grinned at Rosie: she let him take Chubs arm without making any further eye contact. Kelt almost swept Chub into the air.

A short while later Rosie and Jet sat outside the small treatment room. The area was very sparse but the medical facility’s were as good as they had hoped, so when the doctor came out they were confident Chub was being well looked after.

There’s a small fracture; nothing serious; at least in the long term. I’ve given him something for the inflammation and to reduce the tumefaction, but he needs to remain still for a few hours. There’s no point in you staying here: I suggest you go to the canteen, they have a theatre and library.” He looked at Rosie. “Though I should warn you much of the material available is in the form of men’s mag’s… not a lot written content… if you understand what I mean?”

Rosie did and it made her feel uncomfortable.

Go up to level six and follow the blue markers… you’ll soon see the direction signs?”

Jet looked anxiously at the door where Chub was behind. “If it’s all the same we would prefer to keep him company?”

We’ll it isn’t; It may not be life threatening but he has been in extreme pain; I’ve given him a sedative so he is slipping in and out of consciousness: if you want him up and about it’s doctors orders that he gets complete rest, and he won’t get that with you two feeling you have to keep him company?”

Jet nodded meekly.

Level six; follow the blue markers: grab something in the canteen; it’s between shift changes so you’ll be alone for a couple of hours.”

Jet turned until the doctor spoke again. “And stay away from any other areas…” he looked at Rosie. “We only do crew transfers twice a year, and as we’re closing down the operation most of the men have gone over their usual time… they are very… There’s only a couple of women aboard, and forty men… those women are used to how it is, but they still keep themselves to themselves.”

Rosie felt a shiver run down her spine.

Chub drifted between avenues of gold; strangely he stopped and reached over to a small hoofed animal statue; he picked it up and bit off the head. It tasted like a particularly nice curry he had eaten recently. At the back of his mind it seemed there was something wrong with what he was doing? He put the statue down and drifted on looking for the next taste. There wasn’t one though as everything was fading. Now there was a voice demanding that he wake up.

Reluctantly he opened his eyes. Groggily he looked up and suddenly he was wide-awake. Benedict was stood over him.

Why are you here?” Benedict demanded.

Go to hell.’ Were the words he wanted to speak. “To find out if the excavator is going to the golden moon.” Chub was shocked at how quickly: and truthfully, he answered.

How did you know I was here?”

Again Chub told Benedict what he asked. “We didn’t.”

How did you know the excavator was going to go to the moon of gold?”

Chub desperately tried to say nothing but he gave the information feely. “We didn’t.”

Your telling me it was just a lucky guess?”

Rosie said follow the machinery.”

Clever girl… and you intended to follow it without being seen?”

We are going to place a transmitter so we can follow.”

Where is it?”

We didn’t have time… I tore my suit.”

Benedict looked pleased. “What do you know about the moon of gold?”

It’s made of gold.”

What else… location… anything?”

Only that it could be a myth?”

A myth?”

Jet said it doesn’t exist?”

Benedict laughed. “So he’s not as smart as he thinks he is?” Benedict turned to the doctor. “He will be less trouble if he’s kept sedated; see to it.”

And the Sodium Thiopental?”

I know all I need to know...” Suddenly Benedict turned back to Chub. “Where are the other two?”

Other two?” for a moment Chub’s hopes rose thinking that Jet and Rosie had got away. “You didn’t get them?”

Get them?”

Jet and Rosie?”

Benedict seemed to think for a moment. “I mean the government man and the alien woman?”

James and Selian?”

If they are them? Where are they, are they on the Silver Flyer?”

No… they don’t travel with us anymore.”

But you came on the Silver Flyer?”


It’s on the asteroid?”


Good, I’ll have some of my men pick it up.” Without another word Benedict turned away.

Chub went to get up but his body would not respond. Panic flooded over him.

Don’t fight it.” Said the doctor. “You have been given a paralyzing agent. If can be frightening but nothing will respond.” The man lifted a syringe and expelled the air before he leaned over and jabbed it into Chubs arm.

Reality faded, but this time Chub couldn’t find the golden meals; this time he was trapped in a nightmare.

Jet and Rosie made their way up to the canteen without seeing anyone; he wasn’t really surprised. From his time on mining camps he knew that the workers were either working or sleeping. They arrived on the accommodation floor and passed the gym; that wasn’t the place to take Rosie. He intended to go to the library; it was usually the least visited place and they could probably be alone, but the odour of cooking food wafting down the corridor made them both stop.

That smell is making me hungry?” said Rosie longingly.

It was making Jet hungry too; he realized he was ravenous. “We should keep out the way?”

You heard the doctor; it’s between shifts?”

Jet felt his stomach grumble and he tried to fight the desire to eat. “All the same…”

The doctor said we could be here for hours?”

Jets good sense lost the battle and they changed their destination.

They found the canteen and entered apprehensively. There were places for around forty, but with the exception of one man and the cook it was empty. Both men stared as they entered.

Jet walked up to the counter as Rosie chose a table. The cook glanced at Jet, begrudgingly taking his eyes off Rosie. “You want something?”

Jet nodded; his eyes scanned the trays and dishes of steaming food as memories flooded back. Camp food was always good; it wasn’t fancy, but it was always good; it had to be it. Benedict knew like all mine owners did that if they wanted to keep their workers happy and not create a riot they had to provide good food. Jet loaded up two plates: there was more than Rosie would eat.

She looked at the plate as he placed it in front of her. Then she looked at him. “Are you seriously expecting me to eat all that?”

I didn’t know what you fancied so I took a bit of everything.”

Jesse Jet; maybe you need some lessons on how to impress a girl?”

He grinned sheepishly. “You don’t have to eat it all?”

I couldn’t if we stayed for the next week.”

Jet was halfway through the meal: Rosie a lot less, when the doors were thrown open and a mob of workers entered. Some we boisterous, some were quiet, but they were all obviously hungry as they made their way straight to the counter. Only a few had made the distance when they noticed Rosie. The commotion went silent and they stared for several seconds before a dozen or more made for Jet and Rosie. In moments every seat beside and around Rosie had a worker sat on it; and all of them were staring straight at her.

Jet saw her steady movement of fork from plate to mouth slow… and stop. She stared straight at Jet: she couldn’t look anywhere else without looking into the leering eyes of one of the workers.

Jet knew the silent threat could soon turn into a real one and he put down his fork and stood. “It’s time to leave,” he said firmly.

He heard a shuffle of chair against floor and saw that several of the men had slid their chairs to block Rosie’s exit.

She’s got pretty eyes.” Said one of the men.

Quickly the comments became more pointed and personal; and threatening: Jet tensed, there was no way he could fight them all but he readied himself to try. He stood and looked towards the man who was most vocal as he clenched his fist. The man seemed oblivious to him as he released a southern uppercut sending the man crashing into several others. There was utter disbelief as his right fist smashed into the jaw of another who was in the process of reaching out towards Rosie.

The disbelief didn’t last long and as Jet sized up his third target he was grabbed from behind. He felt his arms yanked painfully backwards. He felt an excruciating pain in his kidneys and then the punches began. Jet was barely conscious of anything as they rained down, and he only faintly heard a loud voice from behind.

That’s enough.”

The blows stopped and his arms were released enough that he fell to his knees.

In the silence he could hear the voice clearly now. “Maybe you are ex-military, but do you really believe you can take on half the crew?”

The men around them stepped away and their attitude became compliant.

A picture of the voices owner came into Jets mind even before he turned. “You?”

Yes me.” Benedicts eyes swept across the faces of the men and they backed further off: the closest moving their chairs back to the tables. Others moved to the counter and the cook began to serve meals. With glances alone Benedict chose several men. “Bring them.” He said.

Jet didn’t want to obey, but neither did he want Benedict to leave them in the situation he had broken. Rosie stood and followed Benedict to the door. Jet was lifted by his arms and dragged in silence up to the next level.

Benedict stopped outside a door. “You can stay in one of the engineers rooms; we are at the end of work here and they have all been assigned to new projects.”

Were not staying.” Rosie said firmly.

Benedict opened the door. “Unless you want to camp out on the surface you don’t have a choice.”

Rosie looked at jet; he was standing on his own but was in no condition to take on the two men still holding him. She stepped into the room

Forget thinking of going back to the Silver Flyer; now you have brought it back I’m taking it back.” Benedict stood aside as the men pushed Jet inside.

Immediately they saw Chub in one of the four bunks. Rosie rushed to him while Jet turned to face Benedict. “What have you done to him?” he demanded.

He’s sedated.”

Jet turned to Rosie. “He seems okay Jet.”

Jet turned back to see Benedict’s men leaving the room.

Meals will be brought to you; you will be locked in. I’m sure you understand I don’t want you walking about the unit.” He looked at Rosie. “We don’t want a repeat of what just happened; I may not turn up to save you both next time?” The men backed off as Benedict stepped out of the room.

What are you going to do to us?” Rosie called defiantly.

You wanted to see the golden moon; well you are going to see it right up close.”

Rosie watched as Jet methodically began to search the room. “Do you think the room is bugged?”

Probably not.” Jet shrugged. “Obviously he knows about the Flyer.”

How else would we get here… do you think…”

Jet brought his finger to his lips, and shrugged again.

Well,” sighed Rosie. “At least it looks like the moon is real. So top bunk or bottom?”

It was by their estimation three days later that Benedict’s men opened the door and took them out. They were taken to the control center on the topmost deck of the excavator. Benedict was waiting.

What you wanted.” He said as he gestured towards the panoramic windows.

Before them was the moon of gold; though it looked more like tarnished brass. It was hard to know its size without any reference but it was as big as any of them had expected.

It doesn’t look very golden?” Muttered Chub disappointedly.

Benedict looked at him as if he had said something deeply offensive. “Whatever it looks like there’s more gold and other precious metals there than even I desire.”

Rosie spoke without looking at him. “Wont you ever have enough?”

Not even when I become the systems first multi trillionaire my dear.”

What’s the point?” grumbled Jet unable to take his eyes off the moon.

Benedict looked at him curiously.

You can’t keep its location secret for ever; sooner or later everybody will come for their share?”

Benedict began to laugh. “Keep it for myself; is that what you think I’m going to do?” He looked at their confused faces. “It was not something I made common knowledge but I have been looking for this object for a very long time. I have always feared that someone; at sometime would discover it, and that when they did it would be a disaster.”

Jet was baffled. “You have a hunk of gold and it’s a disaster. How do you expect us to believe that?”

But it is, this is not a day to be pleased it is a day to fear, and it is up to me to save everything we believe in.”

By breaking it into saleable pieces?” Jet sneered.

No, by destroying it.”

They stared at him stunned.

Chub shook his head in disbelief. “No you can’t; you can’t do that, that’s criminal.”

But I have to…think about it. How much gold do we have… not just me, but everybody; all the other corporations, the galactic government: everybody?”

None of them could imagine that much gold.

If it was all collected together it would be less; much, much less than you see before you now. Now imagine I mine this moon, imagine I mine every last gram… how much do you think it would be worth?”

Nothing?” said Rosie softly.

Jet and Chub looked at her wondering why she had said something so stupid.

Benedict nodded. “Quite right my dear; sand on the beach, water in the rivers, or even grass in a field would be more valuable. If I mine that moon it will trash the reserve of every country, state and planet. I would bankrupt every corporation and ruin every person who has a credit to save. What you see before us is the end of civilization.”

They all looked again at the moon.

Benedict sighed. “Imagine how I feel? Before us is unimaginable wealth; enough wealth to make me the richest man who has or ever will be: but it is worthless, and if I was to mine it, it would ruin me as it will countless, countless others. To mine it will be catastrophe, but if it is gone then everything will return to normal and all our lives can carry on?”

Even chub with his love for gold could see Benedict had a point. “You are going to destroy it all?”

Benedict smiled. “Maybe not every last gram. A little for my trouble would be appropriate; say a ton or so?”

And that’s it?” said Jet in surprise. “You want us to believe that with all this wealth in front of you; you are thinking of everybody else instead of yourself?”

Benedict scoffed. “I said I was going to destroy the moon to save civilization, not that I wasn’t going to make a profit.” Benedict turned and pointed out of the windows around the room. “See them; how many spacecraft do you think there are; a hundred: more?”

Jet had no idea, but they were keeping well clear of the excavator.

A hundred people are at this very moment waiting to pounce on what they think of as Eldorado; a hundred people are at this very moment sending signals back telling others what they see?”

Benedict picked up a chunk of ore that Chub had been eyeing.

It is not pure, it is an amalgam of metals; most of them valuable. I know that for a fact; I have had this piece assayed. But of them all it is gold that has the unique fascination. Gold it is a sickness; it has a name ‘gold fever’ and it spreads faster than any known communicable disease.” Again he turned to the windows. “Each of those people, sending back the image of what they see will infect others. In days that will be thousands: in a week tens of thousands will be racing here to take their own piece. Of course when they arrive they will be disappointed because it wont be here and I will be back and be the first multi trillionaire.”

Your buying gold?” gasped Rosie.

Jet and Chub looked at her dumfounded.

Benedict said nothing.

You led everybody here deliberately?”

Still Benedict said nothing.

You needed them to come so they can tell everybody what they see?”

Now Benedict spoke. “Go on?”

Word that the myth is true will spread like fire… The value of gold will plummet and everybody who already has gold will panic; everybody will sell it all while they have chance?”

Benedict was smiling. “Or have to give it away if the don’t act quickly enough?”

And while they are selling you are buying?”

Well not obviously; that would create confusion; why would I buy gold when I have I have a whole moon of my own?”

But when the moon is destroyed…”

Now benedict took over. “Then it will be too late. By the time that news gets back all the gold will be mine… I win.”

Jet felt frustrated thinking everybody had been fooled. “What about the authorities; what your doing is illegal?” Jet didn’t know if it was or not; but if it wasn’t it should be.

The authorities will be too busy breathing a sigh of relief that their own stocks of gold are not worthless.” The smile had hardly left Benedict’s face, but now it became smug. “I may even get a civic commendation? No; probably not because it will be an unfortunate accident.” Benedict looked towards the moon. “This excavator is old: very old, it will develop a serious problem with the engines and be forced down to the surface.”

That’s your plan?” Jet interrupted. “And that will destroy an entire moon: it won’t work.”

If this excavator was to crash in the right place: it will. If the engines were after that crash to remain operational, it would be sufficient to change the asteroids orbit into one that will take it close enough to the sun to melt and absorb it.”

Benedict just smiled, but Chub spoke. “It’s the antimatter isn’t it?”

Is it?” Benedict replied innocently.

Chub looked at Jet. “They use antimatter in the mining. A tiny amount will blast a thousand tons overburden into space; but there’s much more than that here; isn’t there?”

Now you remind me we did only re-supplied recently… enough: if I remember: and I do, for about three years of work.”

Chub new he was missing something. “But even that much wont destroy it; it may fragment it, but that’ll only make it easier to collect?”

Maybe a tiny; tiny fraction, but most will be propelled at high velocity towards the sun.”

Benedict walked over to one of the desks and spoke into an intercom. “Come in now.”

The door opened and men walked in. Jet wasn’t sure how many as he stopped counting after twelve.

Now why did you three sneak aboard? Oh yes; you wanted to go to the Golden Moon; well now is your once in a lifetime chance: tie them up.”

As the men fastened their arms behind them Benedict nodded to a woman at the communications desk. Immediately she began to speak in an urgent tone.

All receiving stations Urgent attention… Urgent attention… This is Excavator Unit 45ad5w transmitting. We have an operational emergency. Stay clear and remain on air for possible evacuee retrieval?”

The emergency call was being repeated as they were dragged and pushed to an escape pod; then forced inside.

I imagine you will soon find a way to untie your bonds, but don’t bother wasting your time trying to fly away: the controls have been immobilized. Just before the excavator crashes the pod will eject: don’t worry it will be a soft landing: sort of, and you will find space suits in the locker. Feel free to put them on; you will have time to go onto the surface and do a little prospecting. As for me, I will shortly give the call to abandon ship so it’s time to say goodbye.”

The door slammed shut and sealed.

Jet.” Rosie turned partially away from him.

He looked at her curiously as she looked back over her shoulder wiggling her fingers behind her.

Oh?” he muttered turning around and backing up to her. His fingers touched her buttocks and he delayed just a moment too long.

Keep still.” She scolded

He did and felt her fingers brushing against he flesh; it sent a shiver of pleasure through his body. Suddenly he had an overwhelming urge to tell her how he felt. In a short while they could all be dead; he needed to tell her how much she…

Sorry guys.”

Chub broke his dream. “Sorry?”

For getting us all into this mess.”

It was an accident Chub; any of us could have fallen?”

Yea, but it was my idea to even come in the first place.”

No it wasn’t; I wanted to as well.” Said Rosie.

Chub was kneeling in front of the open inspection panel. He looked at the hanging wires. Somebody had just reached in and tore them out. “Anybody got a tool kit?”

Jet was watching him as his hands were freed. He vigorously rubbed one wrist and then the other. “There should be a small kit in the space suits?” he went to untie Rosie.

She pulled away. “Get Chub free first?”

Chub stood again and held his hands back. Jet began to untie the knot thinking how rough Chubs skin in comparison to hers. It took only moments before he reached for hers again.

I need more tools?” Chub looked back to the few tools that Jet had taken from the suit.

Find the toolkit first.” She said as Chub knelt for a closer look.

Jet went back to the locker and found the pods kit.

Here are these any better?” Now Jet took Rosie’s hands in his.

All the time you want?” she said with a touch of sarcasm.

Jet realized he was lingering on her skin. “Can you get it back together Chub?” he said to cover his embarrassment.

Maybe? If I have enough time?”

But he didn’t for at that moment they heard a loud clunk. All three looked up quickly to the single viewing port. Through it they could see the excavators metal framework moving away.

They barely had time to strap themselves into the seats before the excavator had disappeared.

The landing was hard: as hard as any Jet had experienced, and long. The pod seemed unable to stop as it hopped and bounced across the surface, but stop it did after a long scraping noise that was as painful in its pitch as in its violence. Then everything went silent.

Jet didn’t know if he was stunned or whether he couldn’t believe he was still alive. When he realized he was Rosie was the first thing on his mind. “Rosie?”

Jet… Chub?”

I’m okay Rosie?”

There seemed little else that they could say? Instead without a word Chub unbuckled and stood. Immediately he opened the locker and took out a spacesuit.

Rosie watched as he got into it. “Your going outside?”

Walking on gold could be the last thing we do so I’m going to do as much as I can.”

She smiled as she looked. He was getting up and taking out another suit.

You can do as much walking as you want Chub,” Jet said. “But I’m not going to wait for the excavator to explode, maybe we can find a prospectors ship?”

Chub shook his head. “If there are any on the surface they’ll be in the transition zones. It’ll probably take hours to get there even if we knew where to go; we have more chance with the excavator.” Chub said nothing more as he lowered the visor.

Rosie looked at Jet hopefully. “What can we do?”

I don’t know; you heard Benedict, it’s set to explode. Chubs a genius with tech stuff; maybe he can stop it?” Now he closed his visor.

Rosie hurried to take the last suit as Chub opened the inner airlock door.

There was only room for one person at a time so Chub stepped out onto the surface alone. It was dark: absolutely dark and he switched on his flashlight” immediately he gasped.

Rosie’s voice quickly echoed inside his helmet. “Chub; what is it?”

You both need to see this?” He replied just as quickly.

What he could see was gold: sparkling: glinting, wherever he shone the beam of light. It was like the surreal deserts on many planets he had visited, but this time instead of granite or some other rock everything was gold. He shone his flashlight into the distance and as far as he could light up everything: the gullies; the hills, the flat plains were all shades of gold. From what he could see it probably wasn’t pure gold; He heard a gasp over the communications and turned to see Jet. Jet was beside him; wide eyed and probably thinking what he was.

By the time Rosie was beside Jet, Chub was kicking at the crests of the gouges the Pod had dug as it landed. Chub swore over and over cursing the fact that he didn’t have anything he could dig or smash with.

Jet looked at the horizon; a golden glow just crept over the edge defining it. Jet had no idea how far it was; but Chub was probably right; it was too far. He turned slightly and could see the excavator. The glow from the engines almost hurt his eyes: they had to be on full power. He couldn’t see the entire structure so again he didn’t know for sure how far it was but it was definitely much closer than the horizon. “How long do you recon we have?” he said to no one in particular.

Anybodies guess?” came back Chub. “But if Benedict wants to make the most of changing to orbit he’ll do as much as possible with the engines. The question is how long will engines that have been idle for a decade or more stand up to over-running?”

It wasn’t what Jet wanted hear. “You wanted to walk on the golden moon; then we had better get started walking.”

I’d feel better walking away than towards something that could explode at any moment?” muttered Rosie softly.

Yea,” drawled Chub, “but when that antimatter goes off the shockwave will go right the way around till it meets itself and shatters the moon into a quadrillion pieces. If this is it, I’d rather be close up and know nothing about what’s happening.”

Mad Jack had hesitantly added the Chloral hydrate: taken from that science lab, to the base liquid. Now he had to wait until the men settled down to their usual drinking; at least he hoped: as it had been over the last two days, their usual drinking.

He really wanted to go back and hide again, but he was running out of time. He was sure the talk over the intercepted communications from the excavator meant they were almost there. If the knock out solution didn’t work all he could do was confront the men, but they were half his age, twice big and as strong as the primates on KeptLa. For a moment he had considered tipping all the drug into the liquid they would synthesize into alcohol, but he didn’t want to kill them; he hoped his feelings wouldn’t prove to be the crews demise.

He didn’t know what Benedict planned to do with the Jet and the others, but from what he had overheard the Flyer was to pick Benedict up and ignore the other evacuation pods. It didn’t make much sense unless Benedict was going to abandon the excavator. When he heard the emergency call it still didn’t become any clearer. He needed to get to the main control panel and actually see what was going on? For the hundredth time he hoped the drinks the men would drink would knock them out cold?

The closer they got the more they could see the excavator in the reflected plasma glow. From what they could see they were glad they hadn’t still been aboard when it crashed.

The top part of the crew section was still more or less intact, but it was now on the third level; the others below were compressed together: or buried in the molten gold.

Pieces of gold were strewn about: they looked like they had been thrown up in the impact. Chub picked up a piece as big as his helmet. “This is what we came for,” he chirped over the radio.

Put it down.” Rosie reprimanded him.

In the helmets internal illumination Jet could see disappointment on his face. “We’ve got work to do first.” Jet tried to sound sympathetic. “That door will do, lets hope the crash didn’t damage it?”

It hadn’t been damaged and they were soon inside. Rosie checked the suits sensors. “Air is still okay?” They lifted off their helmets. “So where do we go?”

The containment hall.” Chub said confidently. “If we can shut off the antimatter at source we’ll stop the mix and stop the explosion?”

Chub led them through the excavator as the sound of the engines intensified until it became so loud that they had to put on their helmets just to talk to each other.

They found the containment hall and the torus where the antimatter was contained. After a quick look Chub grunted in displeasure. “That’s unprofessional; all they’ve done is strap a antimatter charge to the magnetic control.”

He went to disarm it but Jet stopped him. “Don’t,” Jet called out. “It’s too simple?”

Chub looked at him puzzled.

Think about it; why did Benedict give us spacesuits?”

Chub and Rosie looked at each other and back to Jet. “To taunt us?” said Rosie. “So we could spend our last moments walking over a billion, billion tons of gold; he’d think that was funny?”

Yes…” accepted Jet. “Then why wait to eject the shuttle; he must have known we would land close to the excavator, and with the spacesuits we could get onto it?”

Much the same reason.” Said Chub. “So we could watch the excavator while we waited for it to blow up?”

Yes; that too, but why not just bring the excavator straight down hard; that would have smashed the torus and blew it all up anyway?’

Chub’s fingers were itching to tear off the charge. “He did say he intended to use all the ways he could to push the moon out of orbit. Wait until the engines every gram of power and burn out?”

Rosie was looking anxiously at the charge. “Jet it could explode any second… what’s your point?”

My point,” said Jet slowly “is exactly what we have just discussed. Benedict wanted us to touch the moon, he wanted us to watch the time tick away; it’s just what his sick mind would enjoy, but he can top even that.” To the consternation of the others Jet smiled. “What could be better than to get us to race over here and desperately search for the ‘hidden’ explosive?” he looked the small donut shaped charge. “What could be better is to get us to set it off?”

Chub and Rosie slowly turned their eyes to the charge.

It’s booby trapped?” said Rosie softly?

Chub leaned forward: as close as he could get. Laying his cheek on the pipe work he tried to look underneath.

Jet and Rosie waited anxiously until he lifted his head and looked at them. “Looks like there is a pressure switch underneath?” He said in surprise.

Your sure?” Rosie wasn’t.

No, I said it looks like one?”

Jet wasn’t so sure anymore. “Is there any way to set the charge to detonate?”

Yes that’s how they blow up?”

I mean if it’s moved.”

Chub thought for a moment, and spoke with relief. “All the ones I’ve seen are preset, I can’t tell for sure but it doesn’t seem to be switched on?”

You think it isn’t?”

Tape is covering half of it; I’ll lave to move it to move the tape?”

So can we assume it is a pressure switch?”

Chub nodded. “Unless this is a decoy?” Now he walked over to a computer terminal. Quickly he called up the work log. Jet and Rosie watched as he ran through a list of numbers. “That’s it?” he said at last. “Blast masters are very precise; they have to be when they are working with explosives. The serial number on the charge is one up from the last that was signed out for genuine work purposes.”

A wave of relief swept over them all.

Great.” Said Jet. “Now once we can get a signal sent off maybe we can get rescue…” his words were drowned out by the automatic alarm.

Warning… warning… Plasma is now critical; failure now imminent.” Called out an automated voice.

The relief was swept away by dread.

What’s that mean?” gasped Rosie.

Chub looked at the charge. “That we can end it now or wait for a short while?”

Mad Jack could hear someone calling the flyer as he dragged the last man into a spare room and locked the door. The caller sounded suspicious. “Where are you?” the voice was demanding.

Jack had made his move there was no time for subterfuge now. “Flyer here… repeat please?”

Where are you damnit?”

Where are the crew?”

The voice sounded confused. “The crew?”

Jet and the crew.”

They’re still on the…” there was a sudden change from curious to angry. “Pick me up immediately.”

Still on the excavator…” As Jack finished benedicts sentence he saw the excavator hit the moon. He felt cold and stunned.

Do you hear me?” bellowed Benedict as Jack switched of the connection.

Chub walked over to the window and looked out. The moon must be turning he thought as he saw daylight race across the surface towards the excavator. Now he could see what he had fantasized about. A golden dawn people used to say when the suns rays first broke the night, but this really was a golden dawn. It was an unimaginable sight, as surreal as the silver sky that was descending over the golden vision. Chub looked; his mind fooled by his eyes; golden land; silver sky and someone waving… He blinked several times there really was someone waving, and it wasn’t sky: it was a spaceship; it was the Silver Flyer? His surprise was so complete that he couldn’t speak and he just made an intelligible gabble as he pointed.

Jet and Rosie followed his pointing and were as surprised as him.

Jet smiled as he grabbed for his helmet. “It’s Jack and the flyer…It’s time to go home; to our home amoung the stars.

Click here for more of the Jet Black and the Starship Crew series