((This marks my return to Elliquiy after several years. I have had this sci-fi story in my mind for a while now, and there will be more. This is just the first "chapter", so to speak. I welcome any comments or criticisms, and hope you enjoy the story.))
Jacob walked down the dimly lit corridor. Machinery roared into his ears as he made his way into the main chamber, looking for the foreman. In the background he could hear men yelling as they worked on replacing a failing pressure gasket on one of a myriad of pipes. Jacob hated being here, but this was the only profitable work in the entire city. Mining metallic hydrogen, or MH as it was commonly known, was the whole reason for this wretched city but it almost caused more problems that it was worth. Everyone who lived in Zephyr knew what the dangers were, and only a fool would work here. Jacob was such a fool, one of many.
Making his way down the hallway, Jacob finally entered a large room. He could see men moving canisters of MH, replacing full loads with empty. A large obese man stood in the center of the room, barking orders at everyone.
“Are you…”, Jacob began, approaching the man he assumed to be the foreman.
“Get that damn canister back on the grav sled Phillips! I swear if I see you drop another, I will toss you over myself! Johnson, what’s the hold up on that gasket? I want to get production back up within the hour!” shouted the man, sweat dripping from his jowls as he continued to shout above the noise.
“Excuse me, are you the foreman?” Jacob tried again, trying not to sound as if he didn’t know what was going on.
“Who the hell are you, kid? Never mind, you obviously work here. Guess we got ourselves another runt. Yes, I am the foreman, and no, I don’t have time to teach you your job.” The man grabbed Jacob, spun him around, and pointed at thin man with a goatee. “See Simmons over there? Go tell him you’re the new pipe rat, and he will get you set up.”
With a shove, Jacob was sent toward the thin man, while the fat man continued to bark orders at someone else. Jacob walked toward Simmons, who had perked up when he heard his name being shouted.
“Michaels sent you eh? Don’t mind him… what he lacks in personality he makes up for in running this hell hole. I’m Simmons.” The thin man extended his hand to Jacob with a smile.
“Smits. I’m supposed to tell you I’m a pipe rat? Whatever that means…” Jacob replied, using his last name and taking the extended hand and shaking it in what he hoped was a firm way.
“Yeah, I figured as much. Shitty job, pipe rat… but hey, we all started there. Long story short kid, you get to crawl throw all these meters of pipe with a light, a scanner, and marking probe,” Simmons said as he grabbed the various devices Jacob assumed were the tools mentioned. “You crawl a meter, run a scan, and make sure that the pipe walls are solid and have no cracks. If the pipe’s cracked, mark it and keep crawling. Hope like hell that the pipe doesn’t fail while you’re in it. The interfaces on these tools are pretty standard, and they practically run themselves. Shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Don’t we have a drone or something for this kind of work?” Jacob asked, taking the tools from Simmons. They did look standard, as well as very old and very used.
“Used to, long time ago. Once Zephyr got up and running, the Company figured they had a permanent labor pool. Sky brats are cheaper than drones, so they quit shipping them and you got a job. Lucky you.”
Simmons pointed Jacob towards one of the nearby pipes. Inside the pipe was about a meter across, but what was impressive was how thick the pipe was. At least a solid half meter of metal created the wall of the tube.
“How does something like that get a crack?” Jacob asked, running his hands along the outer edge of the pipe.
“Do you know how much pressure it takes to make MH kid? These Jovian planets are about all we know that can do it on the cheap. Plop a mining city above the clouds, drop a tube into the clouds below, and suck it up. The trick is to keep it under pressure, or it just expands back to plain ol’ hydrogen. Worthless then. So, now you know the basics of MH mining. Time to check the pipes, kid. Oh, and don’t worry. This pipe is offline, so the other end is capped. You won’t fall to the winds or nothing. Try not to think about where these pipes go, and you’ll do fine.”
With a pat on the back, Simmons turned away and returned to his work. Jacob stood there for a moment, staring at the pipe and the pile of tools in his hands. Of course he knew where this pipe went. All the pipes were a tangled mess twisting below the city, hovering above the clouds. They all either fed into the main shaft, or to the processing station. As he was currently in the processing station, that only left one option. Shoving the probe into his pocket the thoughts of falling out of his mind, he snapped on the light and started crawling down the pipe. Jacob hit the scanner, watched as the lights danced on the display, and heard a ping accompanied by a green light. “Easy enough”, Jacob said to himself as he crawled down another few meters. Stop, push… ping. Crawl, stop, push… ping.
Time seemed to stop in the pipe. It was completely dark, and Jacob had worked himself far enough down the pipe that the only light was his own. The rhythm of work did nothing to help the onslaught of boredom, and Jacob soon found himself wishing for a different job. He knew he had this crap job because he was the new guy, and finding work on Zephyr was always hard. Still, surely he could be doing something other than this. Jacob shuffled himself down a few more meters and hit the scanner. The lights danced, and this time the return was red and a short alarm went off. Pulling out the probe, he pushed its button. The probe seemed to be taking readings, and Jacob could see it gathering data on the pipe and marking their location. When the probe’s lights went out, Jacob continued down a few more meters. He hit the scanner again, and it returned another red light. Pulling the probe out again, Jacob marked this location. This continued for the next three scans, until Jacob heard a groan. Pausing, he looked around, seeing nothing but darkness ahead and behind. Suddenly the pipe shuddered, and another groan, louder this time. Jacob’s heart raced as he began to turn himself around in the pipe. Panting as he crawled, Jacob moved as quickly has he could back up the pipe. He had no idea how far it was back to the station, but he wasn’t going to just sit in here. The pipe groaned, louder than before and a sudden lurch caused Jacob to slip and hit his chin on the bottom of the pipe. Another groan, another shake, and the pipe suddenly broke free three meters in front of Jacob. Light flared into the tube, followed by a furious wind blowing into the tube. As Jacob’s eyes adjusted, he saw the swirling clouds of the gas giant that Zephyr floated above. The pipe groaned again, and began to tip downwards. Jacob could feel himself sliding down the tube towards the abyss. He scrambled, trying to grab something along the smooth walls of the tube. Another lurch, and Jacob found himself falling, streaking towards the amber clouds below the city.