A Matter of Some Gravity

My entry for the August SF short story contest on LinkedIn. The criteria were noise, a tooth or teeth, and a discovery. I attempted to replicate the style of writing of the Campbell-edited magazines from the 50’s. Don’t think I quite succeeded.

The body floated limply in its suit, in the microgravity of the asteroid. Chief Engineer Flood examined the tiny hole in the center of the helmet. “Small meteor?” he asked over his radio. He seemed more curious than anything else. Dangerous work can make people inured to death, but this was just callous, Jason thought.

One of the engineers was examining something along the wall of the shaft. “Looks like a ball bearing or something,” he responded, “Must have been traveling fast though. Went right through him and embedded itself in the wall. Plus, we’re almost a kilometer down the shaft. The angle is completely wrong for a micro-meteorite.”

The Chief put his suit glove on the wall of the shaft. He could feel the vibration of the gigantic many-toothed boring machine, even though it must have been several kilometers away. “Can you take a sample of it? See if the composition matches anything of ours?”
“Shouldn’t we leave it in place for now, in case there’s a review?” Jason asked.
“Let’s just take a really good recording, and move things along,” Flood replied. “Could take a long, long time to work out who has jurisdiction and get somebody out here to investigate.”
“No problem keeping the body on ice,” said the engineer who was prying the small, flattened piece of metal out of the wall.
“Geez,” the Chief responded, the situation finally sinking in. “Anyone know who this is? Poor guy.”

Jason struggled to control his temper. Where do they find these guys?

#

Mission control was a small, sparse module, loosely tethered to the asteroid. A claustrophobic, flexible, pressurized tube connected it to the warren of sleeping and dining modules.

“Ball bearing,” said one of the junior engineers. “One of ours.”
“The team down on the drilling rig have been reporting some odd things over the past week,” said a burly supervisor whose name Jason couldn’t recall.
“Such as?” prompted the Chief.
“Unsecured items suddenly accelerating for no obvious reason. They’re twitchy. Talking about poltergeists, and they’re only half joking.”
“Why is this the first I’m hearing about this?”
“Mind if I interrupt?” asked Jason. “Didn’t we install the new cutting head then?”

The new cutting rig had arrived on the same ship as Jason. It incorporated some bleeding-edge artificial materials with a ridiculously high Mohr rating.

“I wonder,” said Jason pensively, “if this is related.”
Chief Engineer Flood gave him an impatient look, as if to say “Corporate Idiots.”
“No seriously,” Jason continued. “There was a physicist about a hundred years ago who theorized that vibrations right down around the Planck Length – that’s about ten to the minus thirty-five meters, very small – could directly influence things like the nuclear forces, or gravity.”
“Why would they do that?” somebody asked.
“Everything else is a vibration,” Jason replied. “We’re used to thinking of this sort of thing with electricity and light.”
“So the materials in our new cutting rig are causing all kinds of vibrations…”
“With tiny harmonics,” Jason continued. “Resulting in highly directional, very short term artificial gravity. That ball bearing must have accelerated at ten gees to cause that much damage.”
Somebody whistled loudly. “That’s a big claim.”
“We can probably reproduce it,” said Jason. “I hope you’ve got spares of the old type of cutting heads.”

The Chief Engineer got the last word in as usual though: “What’s this going to do to our schedule?”