Curtains Close at Purplix
by Marcelo Medone
Perdita Gonzales turned off her ship’s engines, opened the hatch, and stepped onto the ground at Purplix for the first time. The oblique rays of the two rising suns showed in all their splendor the colorful canyons that snaked through the rugged landscape and disappeared beyond the horizon.
Perdita performed an atmospheric analysis and found the air breathable. She took off her helmet and inhaled deeply, feeling the cool breeze caressing her face. She was stunned by the sight of the ubiquitous purple dust that covered the ground like a blanket, justifying the name of the planet. She found it unsettling.
Perdita activated the localizer on her wrist and tuned in Durango’s ship’s distress signal. She found that it was not very far. She deployed the rescue drone, a sort of flying stretcher equipped with an emergency kit, and set off. The drone followed her, flying at a low altitude in surveillance mode.
As she walked across the parched land, she wondered what had happened to Durango; she had no other data than the location provided by the ship’s beacon. Her former partner had not contacted her since his arrival almost a year ago, and Stellar Mining Corporation Central Control feared the worst had happened to him. Prospectors like them risked their lives in hopes of finding the seam that would make them rich and allow them to retire and enjoy a long vacation in a heavenly place.
She reached a plain without any additional topographical features, nothingness itself in the middle of nowhere. She deployed her sensor set and waited for the measurement results.
Spectrographic analysis showed that she was approaching a shiny mineral layer, which was what Durango had been looking for. Perdita’s heart skipped a beat: it was a deposit of glitterine! She should never have trusted that traitor Durango, who tried to wrap her in his charms! In the end, it all came down to money.
Perdita knew that glitterine had a very high palladium-100 content, which made it an exceptionally valuable mineral. Fortunately, the glitterine deposit was in the same direction as the Durango ship’s beacon. Or, perhaps, it was not a coincidence.
Perdita looked back and barely made out the silhouette of her ship. The rescue drone was still following her. One of the suns had already positioned itself high in the sky, while the other rose more slowly, generating a double set of shadows. She could feel the power of the suns heating the air.
Perdita studied the horizon and discovered that a storm was brewing. She cursed having left her helmet behind. But the proximity sensor told her that Durango’s ship was very close. She walked another two hundred feet. When she was about to give up, she found it half-buried in a sandy slope, almost invisible. Her locator marked zero range.
Using a piece of torn sheet metal from the damaged ship, she began frantically digging around the cockpit. All she found was Bucky, the company service robot, a luxury she had never indulged in. The robot lay motionless and seemed to be out of order.
She wiped away the purple dust that had embedded in the robot’s control module and pressed the ignition. At first weakly, but then more energetically, the power unit was activated.
Bucky opened his eyes and said, “Perdita Gonzales, happy to find you.”
“I found you, you piece of junk! Couldn’t you have called or asked for help?”
Bucky got up, dusted off the purple dust, and replied: “The dust blocked my circuits, and I was unable to restart. Besides, you two had already dissolved your partnership, and I had no further obligations to your person.”
“When I find that scumbag, I’m going to skin him alive! I always knew he was lying to me. For the record, we’ve never been more than prospector partners. Speaking of Durango, where did he go?”
“The last time I saw him was when he called me to help him clear the entrance to the underground warehouse.”
“One we built on our first trip.”
Suddenly, it was all clear. The ambitious Durango had been amassing glitterine and smuggling palladium.
“Show me the entrance,” she ordered.
The robot advanced a few feet to a straight-edged mound, extended one of its arms, and activated a blower. When the purple sand was removed, a rusty metal door appeared.
Perdita bent down, opened it and said to the robot, “I follow you.”
Bucky switched on his headlights, and they descended a slope into a kind of tunnel carved out of the compacted purple regolith.
They came to a large chamber, the walls of which glowed bright white from the hundreds of ingots of stabilized palladium-100, piling up to the ceiling. A real treasure! Next to a broken-down excavator, she found Durango, long dead, turned into a desiccated mummy. She came closer and studied him better. She noticed that his nostrils and his mouth were covered with a purple paste. The stupid bastard had been too ambitious, and it had cost him his life.
Perdita remembered the coming storm and decided she had nothing else to do there. She would have to run if she didn’t want that room to end up becoming her grave, too.
She got to the ship just in time. The two suns were hidden behind dark purple clouds and the breeze had turned into violent gusts that began to beat with increasing intensity. Perdita put on her helmet and sat in the pilot’s seat. She started the engine and took flight amid a whirlwind of purple dust.
At her side was Bucky, very happy to have been rescued by his new owner. And in the cargo bay, Perdita was carrying all the glitterine she had been able to load onto the rescue drone. No one was going to claim the corpse of poor Durango, and she could always come back.
Copyright © 2021 by Mercelo Medone