This is the second installment of a relatively new piece, Meteor Man. First written in July ’94, I was never satisfied with it until my last rewrite this past September.
It’s a longish piece at 11,300 words, so I’ve broken it into five sections. I hope it’s worth it.
Read Meteor Man (part 1).
Geertz sat behind La Velle and Singer in the unused navigator’s seat as they piloted their asher back to The Wall. He hooked the navigation displays into Awkright’s Xenolab systems back at base. In front of him a fabber of The Wall floated suspended in repeller matrices all its own. Multicolor rhombics danced into it. Geertz used an iconglove to make adjustments. The various links clicked as they updated their displays.
La Velle glanced at Singer and nodded towards Geertz. Singer nodded and cleared his throat. “How’s it going, doc?”
Geertz continued making adjustments. The rhombics turned teal-green and stabilized under and slightly to one side of the surface of The Wall. The asher’s ventilators hissed briefly.
La Velle gently clapped his hands. “Dr. Geertz?”
Geertz spun in his seat. His eyes were red and his gloved hand closed into a fist. The Wall and its rhombics exploded in a technicolor frenzy.
“I’m sorry, Doc. You okay?”
Geertz turned back to his lost displays. “I’ve never been in an asteroid before.”
Singer nodded. “You get used to it.”
“Are you two Meteor Men?”
La Velle laughed. “God, Doc. That goes back a ways. I haven’t heard that used since I was starting out. Yes, we both are, by the way. Got the paperwork to prove it.”
“Actual paper paperwork?”
“Yeah, actual paper paperwork. They haven’t done that in,” he shook his head, “I have no idea how many years.”
Singer monitored their descent. “You age slower out here. Nobody knows why.”
Geertz gazed at their faces, the professional scientist’s sharing the child’s lack of shame at investigating the unexpected. The asher filled with the static clicks of updating displays and the hiss of slowly moving air.
La Velle checked his displays. “I was a little jumpy my first time down under, too. Kept waiting for the Meteor Man to show up.”
“The Meteor Man?”
“Oh, you know, every new place has its boogie men. First folks out this far said they heard partial words on shadow frequencies, off band, some said they saw the rocks move. The usual scary stuff to keep the kids in their beds at night.”
Singer nodded. “Yeah, Doc. My first time down I lost my lunch five times. Jumped every time a shadow moved. It takes some getting used to. You want us to shut down for a while? Give you some time to adjust?”
“What’s it take to be a Meteor Man?”
La Velle laughed. “Started out blowing up NEOs, asteroids coming too close to earth to take a chance they’d hit rather than fly by. We made asteroids into chunks of rock that just shot through the sky back home. That’s where the term Meteor Man came from.”
Singer took over. “Then Northern Arizona University discovers Didymos’s moon is behaving strangely and SpaceGroupX is hired to investigate. They drop a sounder and discover she’s rocked over and not natural. Nothing in her, but still she’s not natural. The next thing you know five or six of the big terrestrial mining firms are in the space recovery business and the ‘Belt, Trojans, Greeks, Hildas, Centaurs, and the Kuiper and Oort when we can get to them, and whatever else is out here goes to auction with the governments getting first pickings through any finds.”
La Velle finished. “But we got steady jobs, great pay – ”
Singer chuckled. “And no life and no wife.”
Geertz’s face paled.
“Oh, Christ, Doc. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”
Geertz cleared his throat and turned back to his equipment. “That’s all right. Thanks. We need to know about The Wall. Dr. Ellis wants all the particulars.”
La Velle covered his partner’s faux pas. “We have plenty of time, Dr. Geertz. Let’s shut her down, give you a chance to get use to things.”
“No, thank you.”
“Tell you what, doc. We’ll keep her going, slow her down a bit and turn up the matrix to smooth out the ride some more. Can we do that for you?”
“Yes. Thanks.” Geertz turned back to his work.
It remained quiet except for the caterpillar’s whine and the repeller matrix’s small red suns holding and releasing the cave walls as they crawled along.
Singer, forgetting about their guest, started to sing the instrument readouts. La Velle also forgot Geertz sat behind them and started adding his” Uh-huh” of agreement as a backbeat to Singer’s tune.
Geertz cleared his throat.
The ashermen stopped singing. Singer swung his seat around, his head silhouetted in the dark by the asher’s forward displays. His eyes reflected Geertz’s station lighting. “Sorry, Doc. Didn’t mean to disturb your work.”
“No. Not at all. I was going to say you guys sing together well. You must have worked together for a long time.”
Singer swung back and looked up at La Velle’s reflection in the forward. “We been together on twenty digs on as many rocks, Doc.”
“That’s a long time.” Geertz paused. “I think it’s a long time. It’s a long time, isn’t it?”
La Velle tapped a screen. “Wall’s coming up. It’s about thirty, thirty-five years, Doc. Normal years.”
“You guys must like each other to be together that long.”
Singer and La Velle looked at each other’s reflection. Singer nodded. “We like each other well enough.”
Geertz pointed to the scorpion’s claws. “Why do they call them ‘mormons’?”
La Velle laughed a little. “Because they’re scoopers.”
“You know about the Mormons, doc? The religious people back on Earth? There used to be a joke about Mormons: People called them scoopers because God opened their heads and scooped out all their brains.”
“I guess the first team to use an asher had somebody who knew that joke. You can find the reference in most astromining texts. Here, let me call up mine.”
Geertz sat up and leaned forward.
La Velle tucked himself into his seat. “It’s okay, Dr. Geertz. You can come up here. You won’t break anything.”
Geertz looked at him and smiled hesitantly.
“Come on, Doc. You can’t see it from back there.”
Geertz stood between the two men. Just as he did the asher’s glide system lifted it slightly and to the right. Geertz lost his balance just enough to have to lean against Singer’s station. Singer caught Geertz’s arm and helped him steady himself. “No problem, Doc. Happens to everybody. See? Look here.” Singer pointed to two switches on his panel. They were labeled “Scoop 1” and “Scoop 2”.
Geertz smiled. “Wow. I’ve never heard them called anything but mormons.”
La Velle glanced at Singer and nodded. “Funny how some things stick.”
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