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The Hungry Pits

Posted on Jan 09, 2018 @ 5:50am by Commander Jacob Crichton
Edited on on Jan 09, 2018 @ 5:50am

Mission: Bramatine: Truth, Justice and the Federation Way

= The Hungry Pits =

(cont’d from “A Fine Mystery”)

************************

LOCATION: ACAMAR III
SCENE: The Hungry Pits
STARDATE: [2.18] 0108.1633


Blue transporter energy fizzed the team into existence. Jake looked around, first at the high rock walls that rose up on either side of him, their color a dull copper that seemed, here and there, to be spotted through with bits of shining blue. These walls, not to mention the considerable amount of particulates in the air, had a way of blotting out natural sunlight, giving the scene down in the Hungry Pits a gloomy monotone. This fit very well with the dour expressions of the mine workers, older Acamarians who, Jake noticed, were stationed every few meters, their attentions fixed on something in front of them that Jake couldn’t see.

Cade Foster and Jonathan Maynell stepped up beside Jake, taking in the surroundings with equally shocked expressions. They’d all been briefed on what to expect when they beamed down, but the reality of the mines - the foreboding rock walls, the air choked with dust, spires of machinery that seemed to have burst erratically out from the ground to climb up into a sky yellow with pollution - was almost overwhelming to behold in person.

Jake could tell that Foster and Maynell were looking for something, because Jake was looking for it himself. It was hard to see very far in any direction, with so many hoppers, conveyors, and other mechanical accoutrements of the mining trade scattered everywhere. The operation was expansive, and clearly the Acamarians had poured a lot of capital into making it so… but no matter where they looked, they couldn’t see any of the children.

Jake turned to Foster. He had to raise his voice when he spoke, to be heard over the rumble of machinery coming from somewhere Jake gauged to be beneath where they stood.

“Is all this dust going to be a problem?”

“I wouldn’t buy a timeshare here,” Foster said, pitching his voice equally high to be heard over the racket. “Long-term exposure could cause a whole mess of trouble, but I can treat the effects of short-term exposure easily enough.”

“Good,” Jake said. He turned again to survey the mining operation, looking for something that might have been a command center or base of operations. He saw a collection of tents about 20 meters away and started towards it, with Foster and Maynell following close behind. They had to detour around several rocky outcroppings or pieces of machinery, but eventually Jake found himself lifting a tent flap and peering into what looked like a makeshift mess-hall. Rows of Acamarians - all adults, Jake noted - sat at communal tables, eating unappetizing piles of green mush off small metal trays. The hum of conversation in the tent was steady and strong, and nobody looked up as Jake and the others stepped inside.

“Ahem,” Jake said. Nobody looked up. Jake exchange a glance with Maynell, who shrugged at him, then looked back at the crowd.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Jake said, loud enough to cut through the chatter. The Acamarians looked up at him, confused.

“I’m Commander Jake Crichton of the USS PHOENIX,” Jake continued, letting his gaze drift over the faces of the Acamarians. “Who’s in charge here?”

Jake wasn’t sure what it was he saw on the Acamarians’ faces. A few of them traded uneasy glances with each other, while a few pointedly refused to make any kind of eye-contact with anyone, keeping their attention fixed on the green mush on the trays before them. Nobody moved, or made any sign that they were the person Jake was looking for.

“There was an earthquake here,” Jake said, still trying to get one of the Acamarians to meet his eye for longer than a few seconds. “Reports of hundreds of injured miners, with hundreds more dead or missing.”

Still the guilty glances, still nobody stepping forward.

“Dead and injured *children*,” Jake continued. “Anyone have anything to say about that?”

One of the Acamarians seated closest to Jake finally spoke. “You’ll want to talk to Bargo. He’s in charge in this part of the mine.”

“Bargo,” Jake repeated. “Where is he?”

“Command base is about a kilometer that way,” the Acamarian said, pointing in the direction Jake and the others had just come from. “Near the quarantine zone.”

“Quarantine zone?” Foster asked.

“You’ll see,” the Acamarian said. “You’ll want to be careful, walking over there. The tunnels have honey-combed a lot of the area beneath us in the section of the mine, and there’s still aftershocks from the quake. Ground might give out from under you.”

“We’ll be careful,” Jake said. He turned and exited without a thank-you, and Foster and Maynell followed.

=[/\]=

A short walk took them out of the thickest section of machinery. As they’d past, Jake had gotten a closer look at what the Acamarian sentries were watching… holes in the earth or the side of the high rock walls, too small for an adult to wriggle into. Jake could already guess what those holes were for, and he thought about how many dozens of Acamarian children were toiling away beneath his feet at this very moment. He clenched his hands into tight fists and resolved to get the exact number from this Bargo as soon as he saw him.

When they’d cleared out of the more industrial area and into a section of cave that was relatively free of machinery, Foster stopped and pointed.

“Look.”

Jake saw a fenced-in area, containing a few hastily assembled gazebos, their roofs build from bent and rusted scraps of cast-off metal. Laying in their flimsy shelter were dozens of children. Some of them lay on their backs, others with curled into pitiful fetal positions. From what Jake could see, most of them were heavily bandaged, and more than a few looked like they were missing limbs. Most of them weren’t moving.

“Quarantine area,” Foster said, turning to look at Jake with a scowl. “It’s the kids who got hurt in the accident. They’ve just stuck them all behind a fence to die.”

“How could the CAIRO let an operation like this go on?” John Maynell asked.

“They’re going to have to answer for a lot,” Jake said grimly. “A lot of people will.”

“Permission to see what I can do for them,” Foster said, taking his medical kit off his shoulder.

Jake nodded. “Granted. We’re going to need to coordinate with Lt. Von, get the PHOENIX’s resources tied into relief efforts ASAP. I don’t want anyone else dying down here.”

“Don’t hold your breath,” Foster frowned, then started off towards the quarantine area.

The command center was a permanent installation, with metal walls that Jake noted were not rusted and falling apart. Jake and Maynell walked up a small ramp to the door, then stepped inside. Computer stations were positioned throughout - not state of the art stuff, but good enough for coordinating a massive mining operation like this one. More adult Acamarians milled about, and one of them, a short and fat Acamarian with clothes that might have almost passed for fashionable and were utterly impractical in a mining environment, immediately stepped towards them.

“You must be our visitors from the PHOENIX,” the short, fat Acamarian said. He extended a hand to shake. “I’m Bargo.”

Jake frowned at the Acamarian’s offered hand, then looked up to stare coldly at Bargo’s face.

“Are you kidding?”

Bargo withdrew his hand, but his smile widened. “You don’t like the way we run things here, do you?”

“You have at least 40 children laying in a pile under a cloud of dust,” Jake said, crossing his arms.

“There were hundreds injured after the earthquakes,” Bargo shrugged. “With such dramatic reduction in our workforce, not to mention the fact that we lost access to some of our richest veins due to tunnel collapses, we’re projecting productivity losses of at least 30%. We had to cut corners.”

“Cut corners?”

“This is a for-profit enterprise, and it’s run like one,” said Bargo. “I don’t have the discretionary funds to build a hospital, or whatever it is you expected me to do. Isn’t relief efforts what you Starfleet types are for?”

“I’m glad you mentioned that,” Jake said. “Am I to understand that mining operations have continued after the accident?”

Bargo’s eyes narrowed. “Of course they have. Why wouldn’t they?”

“With aftershocks still presenting the danger of further mine collapse?”

“Risk is part of the job,” said Bargo.

“Not with kids, it’s not,” Jake said. He was fighting hard to keep his tone under control. “I grew up aboard a mining vessel, Mr. Bargo, and the conditions in this mine are appalling. For a start you can bet that I’ll be filing official complaints with every mining consortium that does business with Starfleet or the Federation.”

“Now hang on--” Bargo started.

“Furthermore,” Jake continued, ignoring the interjection, “...I’m putting a stop to this operation until Starfleet technicians have the opportunity to evaluate the structural safety of your tunnel network and assess the risk of further collapse. You get those children out of those goddamn tunnels, Bargo, and you do it now.”

“Won’t be necessary,” said Bargo, his ugly face spreading into a impish smile once more.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Your USS CAIRO technicians approved us to continue operation the day after the incident,” Bargo said. “I’d be happy to transfer a copy of their report to your ship.”

Jake and Maynell exchanged a surprised glance.

“Officers from the CAIRO inspected this mine?” Maynell asked.

“And approved of it,” Bargo nodded. “Oh, there was the usual grousing about the kiddies, and the general state of the place - and believe me, I’m the first one to tell you we could use something better to sleep on than them thin bedrolls they send us - but otherwise? Not a word.”

Maynell leaned forward, speaking low so only Jake could hear him. “Sir, that’s very unlikely. An earthquake of this magnitude would have caused severe structural damage to an already delicate excavation system. If the CAIRO gave this place a clean bill of health, they either didn’t look for any trouble, or they ignored the trouble they found.”

“Why would they do that?” Jake asked.

Maynell shrugged.

“Is that all, then?” Bargo asked. “Because we really are very busy down here. The higher-ups are already breathing down my neck to make up for our expected production short-falls, so I don’t have time to give you all the grand tour.”

“We’re bringing down resources from our ship,” Jake said. “Medical staff, food, water… I want you to liaise with our Operations teams directly to ensure these supplies are distributed to the children.”

“Fine, fine,” Bargo said, waving this away.

“I mean it, Bargo,” Jake said. “If I find anyone’s been skimming off the top, you’re the one I’m hauling into a brig. Do you understand?”

“I’m a working stiff like everyone else,” Bargo frowned. “I just do what they tell me to do.”

“Enough,” Jake said, putting a hand up to stop him. “I asked you if you understood.”

“Yeah,” Bargo grumbled. “I understand.”

“Good.” Without another word, Jake turned and walked out, with Maynell close behind.

=[/\]=

NRPG: Not as long as I was hoping but I didn’t want to keep you waiting any longer!

Shawn Putnam
A.k.a.
Jake Crichton
Executive Officer
USS PHOENIX

 

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