Electrical fault

01/11/2015 08:43

My response to the latest prompt at Blackship Books/F3. This might be my last flash fiction before December - or I might need these prompts as a way of getting my head above water when editing Mannerley. We shall see..


The real cause of the disaster on Ceres 3 will never be known but the official report attributes it to some sort of electrical fault. All of the equipment was tested thoroughly before it left Earth and again before a dent was made in the surface of the asteroid. The crew were all experienced miners and were fully aware of all safety procedures.

It was a simple job. Dig down to the goods, extract as much as possible in the time allowed, load it and the equipment aboard the ship and move on to the next lump of rock. Rinse and repeat. After a year – or when the hold was full, whichever happened first – the ship would return to Earth. Simple, straightforward. So how did it go wrong?

The project manager tapped her MyPad screen impatiently with a green fingernail. “Your measurement must be wrong,” she said.

“I checked those figures ten, twenty times,” scowled the chief engineer. “There's nothing wrong with my calculations.”

“Then why haven't we struck that deposit, yet?”

Harding opened his mouth to answer and then closed it again. “I have no idea,” he said with a shake of his head. He pulled up the schematic on his own screen. The initial survey of the asteroid from above its surface had revealed a huge deposit of coltan less than three kilometres below the surface.

The entry point had almost picked itself, a wide, smooth area of dust with only soft rock below it for over a hundred metres. It was an ideal place to start as it would place very little stress on the drill. Below that, the rock got much harder but they would be well in by then. His calculations showed that an angle of fourteen degrees would take them right to the deposit in two days, maybe three.

Four days in and they were still finding just rock and more rock.

“Look, I'll give you until the end of the next shift,” said Braintree, “but after that we pack up and leave. I can't justify spending any more time and money, here. The next asteroid on the list is a couple of days' flight away. I suggest you spend the time in complete rest. OK?”

He nodded, more to get her to leave him alone than because he agreed with her. How old was she? Certainly a lot younger than him, if not quite young enough to be his daughter. What did she know about digging a tunnel through a lump of rock spinning through space?

The end of the shift was only a couple of hours away. He decided to spend the time going over all the figures again. Then he would join the workers going down on the next shift. Perhaps being in situ would show him something...

After refilling his thermo-mug from the coffee dispenser, he found a quiet corner of the mess hall and settled down with the too-familiar calculations. The scan of the asteroid showed traces of gold and platinum, but not enough to make the trip cost-effective. But the vein of gold that ran like a ribbon across his screen had turned up right where they expected it to. All of the men who had been on the dig that day had a handful or two stashed away in their luggage, ready to be taken home to be made into trinkets for loved ones. It was not strictly within the rules of the corporation, of course, but nobody was interested in the gold so nobody had properly measured the deposit – so nobody knew how much was still in the ground.

There was also a sizeable amount of copper and that had caused some initial interest. Copper still had a multitude of uses back on Earth. But then the coltan had showed up and everything else was forgotten. With every person on the planet owning at least one device that required the black goo in order to work it was becoming rarer and rarer. Even recycling old devices hardly kept up with demand. Even the circuits of their ship made use of it.

The survey revealed enough coltan to half-fill one of the storage pods in the hold – but even that would be enough for them to go home early. There had been an almost party atmosphere on board when the news went round. Braintree had positively beamed at him.

He sighed and stared at the image on his screen as if willing the survey results to take solid form and move from his MyPad right into the storage pod. His calculations were spot on, absolutely spot on! The only way they could be wrong was if the deposit itself had moved.

A small chuckle escaped him at the thought. How was a blob of inanimate minerals going to move?

“Time for you to see the doc, sir?” asked Fraser, the second engineer, sitting down next to him.

“The doc?” Harding replied, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, you're sitting here laughing to yourself. I was worried you were losing it,” laughed the younger man.

“Oh, right! Well I just had a crazy idea, so maybe...”

“A crazy idea? Let's hear it! I could do with a laugh myself.”

“It just occurred to me that the only way for my calculations to be wrong was if the coltan had picked itself up and moved. See? Crazy.”

“Have you checked, sir?”

“What? Are you serious?”

“Only way to make sure, sir.”

Harding stared at his staff unsure whether the man was pulling his leg or not. Could it be that Fraser was trying to get him to prove himself incompetent so that he could step in? Now he was getting paranoid...

“Just for the sake of completeness...” he said, and punched a couple of instructions into the MyPad, asking the ship's computer to rerun the survey.

When the results came through, he and Fraser stared at the screen in disbelief.

“I have to get to Braintree...”

The project manager was in her quarters, planning which of the promising-looking asteroids they would go to next. She called, “Come in!” when the door chimed and then turned to welcome the chief engineer.

“It's moved!” he cried, almost before he was fully inside the cabin.


“The deposit – the coltan! It's moved!”

Braintree stared at her cuff and picked off in imaginary hair as she counted to five. When she looked up, Harding was still there, still with that wild-eyed look on his face.

“Harding, I really think it's time you saw...”

“I'm not crazy! I've checked it three times. I got the computer to rerun the survey three times. And each time the deposit was in a different place. Look! It's all here,” and he thrust the MyPad towards her.

She took it and glanced at the screen, then flicked through the different images. “What is that...?”

“I have no idea, but it's heading right towards us!”

“Where exactly is it now?”

Harding took the device back from her in order to rerun the survey, but even as he did so the whole ship lurched throwing them both off their feet. They stared at each other white-faced and then rushed to the porthole. What they saw filled them both with terror.

“We have to get out of here,” said Braintree. “Now!”

“But there are still men down there! Two shifts – one finishing, one starting.”

“You have ten minutes to get them all back...”

The ship lurched again as the horror outside took another swipe at it with its tentacles. Or legs. Or whatever those things were.

“I'm sorry, Harding, but we don't have time for a full evacuation.”

He stared at her. “Oh, no... We can't! It's murder.”

Before she could reply, there was a tearing sound and an alarm began to sound. “The hull...” she whispered, just as the world turned white with the force of the explosion.

Ship and full crew lost on Ceres 3, asteroid.

Having identified a large deposit of coltan and begun drilling, the ship suddenly exploded taking all hands and destroying the asteroid.

It is believed that an electrical fault must have occurred.

Case closed.

Electrical fault

Neat, Clean and Tidy Cover Up

Date: 11/11/2015 | By: Joyce Juzwik

Love this, and am disturbed by it at the same time. What happens here really does occur, more frequently than most realize, I'm afraid. All lost, not because of unknown entities or known hazards. Let's call it an 'electrical fault' and file it away. That way, the questions end. What happens when another crew goes there? Will they even send another crew there knowing what they, in fact, do know? The possibilities for what could happen in the future are even more frightening. But, as long as the powers that be are safe and sound from repercussions... In the end, that's all that really matters.

Thanks for sharing this. It brings quite the chill for a lot of reasons.

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