GTC Book 1 Ch3: Out on LaHoya

NOTICE: This chapter is a working draft. It’s your insight into my monkey brain as it creates, not a final work. There are typos and I make no promises the book I publish will be the same.

Joe threw his hauler along the broken floor of a canyon, weaving a zigzag path heading roughly Northwest. He was pushing the hauler along faster and deeper within the confines of the canyon than any other hauler pilot was willing or able. The breakneck speed and the scream of over-driven guitars reverberating in the cabin around him fueled an adrenaline rush that he reveled in. Out here, alone and blanketed in loud music was the only time he felt alive.

Ahead of him the canyon narrowed into what looked like a dead end, but Joe knew that the canyon turned sharply up ahead. Barely slowing, he swung the hauler into a sharp right turn a fraction too late and the panel in front of him lit up with proximity alarms. He tapped them silent, ignoring a large warning that flashed up as soon as he disabled the alarms – there were no worms to worry about this close to the impact crater.

The com in front of him blinked and Mal’s face lit up the screen. With a sigh, Joe flicked on the com and backed off the speed, waiting a full ten seconds before killing the music. The pained look on Mal’s face was worth the interruption.

“What’s up?.”

“Fucking hell Joe, how do you stand that noise?”

“As I have said many times before Mal, rock is classic, not noise,” Joe pulled the hauler up to just below the rim of the canyon, “What do you want?”

“You were going on about the GTC this morning, just wanted to tell you I just saw them.”

Joe tensed. “Where?”

“Back at the processing station,” Mal said. “I was parked on the weigh-bridge and I could see them through the window, talking to the supervisor.”

“What they look like?”

“Young looking guy with a couple of bruisers in tow. They the same as last night?”

“Yeah, by the sounds of it. ‘Spose you don’t know if they’re still there or not?”

“No, I was on my way out. But I can check for you. On my next run.”

Joe narrowed his eyes, “Sure. And how much is that going to cost me?”

Mal grinned, “Only a measly 1000 credits.”

“Fuck that you thief, I’ll give you 200.”

“No way, make it 500.”

“Whatever. Call me as soon as you weigh in, OK?” Joe flicked off the com before Mal could answer. No way he was giving that greedy shit the last word.

“Now what?” He said to the empty cabin. Joe dropped back down into the canyon and accelerated. His hopper was reading about 40% full after his run to the impact crater. Mal would be at least two hours, so he decided to run north.

Even though there hadn’t been much quality ore hauled from the north lately, Joe was confident that, mixed with the high-purity ore he had on board, he could still make the delay pay. If his luck held and the GTC were looking elsewhere, he could cash out at the processing station and go looking for Brian – it wasn’t the best plan, but better than no plan at all, he thought.

~~

Joe’s hauler hovered, hidden in the long shadow of the jagged front edge of an ancient rift valley that stretched behind Joe, threading its way back into the broken north of La Hoya. Joe watched. And waited.

The processing plant was ahead of him, squatting on the horizon about three miles across a basalt plain. A permanent cloud of gas and dust hovered above it, obscuring most of the spaceport on the ridge behind the plant.

It was about 30 minutes before end of shift – soon the other haulers would come back, each trying to beat the rush and invariably all arriving at the same time.

He watched. And waited.

With 15 minutes to end of shift, Joe saw what he was looking for – several haulers dropping down on to the plain, running low with trails of dust lifting off the surface behind them. Two John’s were in front as usual. John Smith and John Brown were most likely genuine kin, and unlikely to be hiding from anyone, but voluntarily joined all the other Smiths, Browns and Joneses on La Hoya, related only by collective anonymity. Both Johns had families on La Hoya and were never seen apart, so Joe and all the other hauler pilots simply referred to them as Two Johns.

Behind Two Johns came a collective rabble of seven or eight other haulers. Joe couldn’t see Mal in the mix, but that was not unusual. Mal had radioed the all-clear more than two hours ago, but Joe wasn’t taking any chances. As Two Johns swept past his hiding place, Joe punched the engines and headed for the middle of the pack. He pulled up sharply within a few yards of hauler 178, it’s pilot – a reclusive whip that never spoke to any of the other hauler captains – flicked his lights at Joe, the hauler version of flipping the bird.

Joe let 178 slip ahead – getting into a shunting match with another hauler would draw attention to himself. As the haulers came up to the processing plant, there was no sign of the GTC officers or their scout ships. Joe hoped that Mal was right but would not relax until he was clear of the plant. 178 settled in front of him as Two Johns glided their hauler under the front apron of the plant and set down on the weigh-bridge – a large set of overhead lights flicking from amber to red.

A minute later, the lights switched to green, and Two John’s moved into the plant, gliding slowly toward the front edge of an enormous feed chute lit up by rows of incandescent bars of yellow lights. As 178 settled on the weighbridge, Joe saw the bright glint of Ekanite as Two Johns dropped their load down the chute – the ore pulled deep into La Hoya to be washed and processed. The graded and sorted ore would then be fed back up to the surface on giant conveyors to be stored in stockpiles beside the spaceport, ready for shipment around the galaxy.

A sharp glint of light reflecting off glass at the left edge of his vision caught Joe’s attention. he turned, his arm reaching instinctively for the throttle as he saw a GTC scout ship coming around the side of the processing plant. He watched the scout bear down on him, his scanner picking up two more dropping down out of the dust cloud above him. The other hauler captains, sensing trouble, pulled back some distance, giving the scouts clear space to surround Joe’s hauler.

He was trapped.

A fourth ship appeared to his right, moving out from the deep shadows under the processing plant annex. As it crossed in front of the plant exit, Joe saw it was not another scout but a hauler, a large ‘127’ stenciled in dirty white on the side of the hopper. Mal.

Joe jabbed at his com, “Mal you fucking arsehole, I was paying you to tell me if they were gone, not rat me out.”

“Sorry Joe, these fine gentlemen made me a better offer.”

Joe could almost picture the shit-eating grin on Mal’s face, cursing himself for trusting the sly bastard. “This is an open channel Mal, nobody’s going to trust you now,” Joe said.

“This is La Hoya Joe, every man for himself. One less hauler means more for the rest of us. You always had the fastest rig Joe, always made the most per haul. Having you gone just seems like good business to me. Any of you boys disagree?”

The silence on the com dragged on. No-one was going to say anything. Mal was right – there was no love out here, no loyalty. Everyone scraping together a bare existence, many hiding from a past they didn’t have the courage to face.

Many like Joe.

He had hidden out on La Hoya for nearly four years. He wanted to hide. To escape the pain. To be numb. To feel nothing and fade away quietly. Why wouldn’t they just leave him alone?

Mal’s hauler turned and flew slowly across Joe’s vision, passing behind the scout ship between Joe and the plant. Joe could still hear Mal’s laughter as he clicked off the com.

Joe looked across his console, quickly scanning the readouts. All three scouts showed weapons hot. His fuel was good, but his hopper was full. Even at full thrust he was too heavy to try and dodge past the lone scout ship in front of him.

The com blinked again. The scout in front of him was trying to call. Thinking fast, the seed of an idea germinated. Joe checked the readouts again. It might work. So many things could go wrong though – he wasn’t sure.

He put his palms flat on either side of his console, took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. There was one thing he was sure about.

He wasn’t going back.

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