Sean met up with the ‘mailman’ and after a short negotiation got a ride from the edge of town out to the Shaft. It was near dusk when he was dropped off at the base of a monstrous metal structure which stood looming against the fading light.
The structure rose to over a thousand meters above the ground and was several hundred meters wide at its narrowest point at its base, widening as it rose. There were what appeared to be flight decks protruding from the sides of the gigantic metal structure at random directions and intervals. The colossal building was dark gray, nearly black and appeared to pierce the planet. Sean had heard that it had been dropped into place from low orbit, he was not sure if that was just a rumor, but he had never doubted it. The structure was 3 times as wide in one axis as the other and grew to such a large diameter near its top that it looked like a gigantic triangle or wedge which was embedded into the planet.
The top of the Shaft was flat near the northern end, while its southern end was punctuated with enormous protrusions of what looked like pipes and antenna all of which terminated at random heights above the top of the structure. There were no entrances to the structure along the ground level. The only way into the Shaft was through one of the hangar bays which were located where the flight decks jutted out from its immense girth.
When viewed from the top, the Shaft had a 100 meter diameter hole which penetrated the structure all the way through, and which continued deep into the planet’s subterranean depths. Sean had heard that the Shaft was once an interstellar mining base from back when the planet was first settled. Now the Shaft was home to an entire colony of settlers which formed a self-governed city state on the planet of Vesper.
Sean made his way to one of the structures on the South side of the Shaft. The structure was little more than a warehouse, and stood a few hundred meters away from the foot of the Shaft. The warehouse had enormous cables which connected it to one of the lower flight decks 80 meters above the ground.
Outside the warehouse, large vehicles and haulers were lined up, delivering goods to the traders who were present making deals. Other men were loading haulers with items presumably exported from the Shaft, most of what appeared to be ore and machinery. Sean headed for an immigration gate and eventually booked a short flight up to one of the passenger decks above.
The Shaft was a place where the local authorities cared less about your documents, and more about your credits. Sean was never even asked for identification, the attendant took one look at him and began to haggle with him over the entry fee.
After clearing the gate, he boarded a lifter for a short flight up to the lower landing pad. He stepped out of the lifter and walked through an enormous hangar door into the Shaft that appeared to be permanently open. The metal deck below him was worn to a dull shine, contrasting with the matte gray of the bulkhead of the structure.
Sean hailed an electric rick to take him to the lift gates which ferried people and cargo to the many levels of the city. The driver was a chatty fellow who was eager to make small talk with a traveler.
“Hieeee, welcome to Shaft my friend. I am Asam. And you are a lucky man today.” Asam bowed his head and opened the door to the rick.
“Thank you sir.” He allowed himself to be helped into the rick, a cramped makeshift pod with a cargo area which had little more than a bench and a driver’s cab. He passed a few credits to Asam on the way in.
“Where are you headed today my friend?” Asam stood outside the rick and seemed to be waiting on more passengers.
Sean stuck his head out of the window and replied, “Can I secure the whole fare for the day?”
Asam made a little jump and turned to reply, “Of course my friend, Asam is at your service.” Another short bow and then he climbed through the window into the cab with a practiced grace. He slid open the small slot between the cab and the cargo hold and offered Sean some tea, extra charge of course.
Sean took him up on the tea and also ordered some savory crackers. “Where can I take you first my friend?”
“Well Asam, there used to be a place on deck 49 which sold small munitions to the public. Are they still open?” It had been several years since Sean was last here.
“Naaem moved to 31 after an accident, I am happee to take you there or you can try Najel on deck 56.” Asam added, “will you be staying the night? I can help book you a room.”
Sean was used to this process, almost everyone here in the Shaft was an entrepreneur of some sort. The rick drivers were part transportation experts, part city guide and part travel agent. He would be lost without a guide and so he learned to just go with the program. He was in a hurry to get out of the more public areas of the Shaft and into its more shaded depths, but Sean knew that to let that show too much would not be prudent.
“Yes Aasm, I’ll be staying at least a few days, perhaps longer depending on how business goes.” Sean smiled and offered, “the tea is delicious by the way.”
Asam was beaming.
After some more formalities, Asam launched the rick forward to take him to deck 31 to do a bit of shopping, but also where he, more importantly, would be deeper into the city’s metal body where he was less likely to be tracked by his employers.
They descended on one of the enormous open sided freight elevators that traversed the Shaft proper. The lifts were semi-automated and kept a predictable, but unadvertised schedule. Asam, undoubtedly, was well aware of the routine and offered pleasantries and commentary as they waited and then descended. The elevator made loud grinding noises the entire way down, which Asam assured him were perfectly normal.
Sean smiled, he was aware that an entire fleet of people were employed to keep the ancient machinery of the Shaft running. Most of it had been rebuilt and overhauled hundreds of times by now. More areas of the Shaft were being rehabilitated with each passing day as the population of the city grew. Sean had heard that the place was less than 40% occupied and that amounted to nearly a two hundred thousand people.
As they reached deck 31, which was nearly 20 decks below ground, Sean made arrangements to have Asam meet him after his shopping with dinner and then take him to a hostel to sleep for the evening. Asam would then catch up with him the next morning (or whatever time it would be when he rose) to conduct him to some of the other errands he had in mind.
Sean’s real reason for coming to the Shaft was not to purchase blackmarket arms, but to sort out what had happened to him at the hotel the day before and to make contact with some acquaintances who could provide him with what could be considered job relocation assistance if he ended up needing to make a career change.
Sean joined the local Shaft relay network and tried Kayne again, found him less hostile, and set up a meeting for tomorrow evening. Apparently phoning locally made a big difference - something which Sean filed away to remember later on.
“We are heree my friend,” Asam helped him out of the cramped rick.
“Thank you Asam, see you in two hours,” he passed him another handful of creds for the meal and the first leg of the trip.
Asam made them disappear instantly, “My pleasure.” Another deep bow, and then he was back in the rick.
Sean pivoted and made his way to the check in counter. He turned over his belongings, subjected himself to a thorough scan and pat down, and then strode into the arms market to pick up a few supplies.
Chapter 06 →