Archer notified Ben Bryant, his commander on board the Argo II, that he would be gone for nine hours. The trip normally took, according to Thad DeVrey, three hours out and three hours back. DeVrey estimated that Archer would spend about an hour looking at “the find.”
Archer met DeVrey at “The Web,” he was waiting for Archer and taking to Circe, the bartender.
Archer followed DeVrey to the wing where the mining craft where kept.
“Sorry it’s not the most comfortable ship in the fleet, Captain, but it will serve its purpose.”
After they left the Tarantula, DeVrey pointed the ship towards the asteroid belt.
“Aren’t you worried that I might know the location of this ‘find’ and come back without you?” Archer asked.
DeVrey smiled, “No, I’m not. Frankly, Captain, you seem like someone I can trust. You don’t seem like a corporate pawn, but is interested in doing what’s right. Also, there is no one in space that can handle this belt like we do.”
“What about the miners on SMS-347?”
“Captain, we trained every one of them. They would have been killed in less than a week had we not. I trusted those men a lot, and Hal the most. We would go out and look for workable rocks together. We would decide what team, his or mine, would work the claim. When we found what I’m going to show you, we had it all worked out between us. Both the MMA and Recalcitrant Laboratories would have made a mint.”
“So you think they were killed to keep it quiet?”
“That’s what I think,” DeVrey said. “But I’m sure they will say the same thing about me. That’s why I’m bringing you here. So someone other than myself needs to know what’s going on.”
“So, you and Hal had an arrangement?” Archer asked.
“Yes, we would split up the asteroids based on needs. Recalcitrant Labs are more interested in heavy metals and of course iron. We would split those 50/50, the iron that is, we have no need of some of the more exotic heavy metals.”
“And what did the MMA get out of the deal?”
“We mostly wanted water. So we took 90% of the ice balls out there. Hal only needed enough to maintain the station. We have some water planet-side, but it’s a pain to pull out of the substructure.”
“I thought Mars had lots of water,” Archer said.
“Yes, we do, Captain. It’s buried pretty deep and we spend a lot of time and energy drilling for it. We recycle what we can. We use a lot in refining iron and making steel, most of the water is turned to steam, recapturing it can be tough.”
“When you refine the iron asteroids?”
“No, iron is one thing Mars has plenty of. The planet is red because most of the surface is just rusting iron. We just scoop it up and refine it. The metal is mixed in with a silicate compound, so we use that for glass. We use the glass to maintain a pressurized environment.”
“Won’t the glass crack?” Archer asked.
DeVrey smiled, “That’s what everyone thinks. We managed to layer the glass with a silicon sealer between each layer. If the glass suffers an impact, generally it won’t break through all layers. We get the damaged part fixed in no time.”
“Does that happen a lot?”
“There is hardly any atmosphere since the magnetosphere is almost non-existent. We have theories on how to fix it, but it would probably take around 200 years or so. We have small herb farms on the actual surface, which does fine in the CO2. The only thing that harms them is errant radiation, which rebuilding the magnetosphere will eventually stop.”
“It sounds like a tough time,” Archer said.
DeVrey shook his head, “We know nothing else. We do what we do. We are growing all the time, opening new habitats. Always building new pathways. We do well with oxygen production and water location. It’s easier when we find it in the asteroids, though. Which is why we became miners.”
“And then Earth moved in to your mining territory,” Archer said.
DeVrey sighed. “At first it was like that. After working with Hal and his crew, they were no so much the competition, but more like partners. We knew what they need to run the station, what elements they wanted on Earth. Our needs were more basic. We don’t need the heavy metals for propulsion systems. That’s what Hal and Betty would do every couple of weeks. They would bring water and iron and we’d swap out with the heavy elements that we mined. It was win-win for both Earth and Mars.”
Archer was amazed that DeVrey could carry out the conversation and pilot the ship through the maze of asteroids. Occasionally, a red light would light or a buzzer would buss. DeVrey would tweak a control with hardly a thought or break in his story telling.
Without not much warning, DeVrey reached over and flicked off the outside lights. He also flicked another switch and Archer could hear some servos running. He must have looked a little confused.
“I’m trying to be dramatic, Captain, please bear with me, we’re almost there.”
Archer nodded and waited. He could see a large object appear on the LADAR screen. Soon the object filled the bulk of the readout. Archer could see they were getting very close.
“Ready?” DeVrey asked.
Archer could only nod.
DeVrey hit all the switches at once, the light flooded onto a huge asteroid. Not being able to see the whole object, Archer guessed it was about a third of the size of the moon. He gasped when he saw the ships lights reflecting off the surface.
“What… What is it, Thad?”
“It’s carbon, Captain,“ DeVrey told him. “Pure, crystallized carbon.”
“Commonly known as ‘Diamond’.”