One thousand giant robots are dropped onto a deserted planet surface to do battle. The last one standing wins the mineral rights to the entire planet for their sponsors. It is a competition that has gone on for hundreds of years and not all robot pilots survive.
Ravikanth Helio, a kidnapped orphan baby, is forced into service aboard the Golden Lady to mine asteroids with implants that make him what he is. A mining pilot. He's known nothing else except for the vids he's watched of other things in the galaxy. Vids of shows like the Giant Robot Planetary Competition. Something he enjoys watching, but would never want to enter. Hemming Stolock and Angford Allice have other plans for the boy. They put him into the competition against his wishes. He is, after all, company property. Now Ravi must fight, not only for the Allice Mining Corporation to potentially win the mineral rights to a dead planet, but he must also fight to stay alive.
I first discovered JR Murdock's quirky sense of humor and mischievous sense of adventure in 2007, when we were both making our first forays into audiobooks and podcasting. Always funny, always sharp, and with a wonderful sense of adventure. Orphan makes its debut in this bundle, and Murdock carries off this Young Adult adventure with an eye for spectacle worthy of The Greatest Show On Earth. – J. Daniel Sawyer
The large claw of the ZK-175 reached out to take hold of the slowly rotating asteroid. Ravi had already blasted it enough with high-pressure air blasts to slow its spin and now prepared to take hold of it and put it in the mining ship's hold. The thick fingers on the mining craft were mounted on a long, equally-thick arm. Ravi clicked a button, flipped a switch, and navigated the hand around the asteroid. As soon as he was able, he slowly closed the fingers to lock onto the large rock. Normally he would reel the rock in and deposit in the back of the ZK-175, but Ravi had gotten bored picking up rocks. He always got bored picking up rocks. Gone were the days when he and the other boys on the station would run through the narrow passageways hiding from each other and doing their best to anger the station mistress. Now that he was sixteen, he'd been put to work as all the other children had.
At thirteen he'd undergone a procedure to install implants to allow him to be a pilot and then his schooling began. He spent years on simulators learning how to deal with his implants and the senses they brought to his brain. He could feel the ship he drove. When the fingers of the ZK-175 gripped a rock, he could feel its surface. He put the rock in the holding bin. He didn't need to look at the scanner to know it was there. He felt it. A combination of sensors and actuators, Ravi was able to control and feel everything about the ship.
Unlike the other children, Ravi still hadn't outgrown his mischievous streak. He didn't like being stuffed into his mining craft and sent out into the darkness to collect rocks. He wanted some excitement. If he could, he would blast away from the system and travel as far from the Allice Mining Corporation smelting orbiter as he could get. The black from the dust of the orbiter, the place everyone also lived and half the crew worked while the other half collected asteroids, got everywhere. Ravi couldn't remember the last time he was actually clean. Sure he'd wipe down his ZK-175 after each shift, but this was his workplace and as long as the connections in the pilot's seat were clean to connect to the ports at the base and top of his spine, he didn't care what the rest of it looked like. His uniform would be cleaned.
Ravi sat looking out the view port at the rock he held. As kids, they would smash small rocks on the floor when they found them. They usually exploded and those that didn't had left dents in the walls and floors of the orbiter. That was his plan for this asteroid. It was small enough that he could grip it just right. All he needed to do was to figure out how to throw it. He was far from the orbiter and if he aimed true, no one would know he'd been the one to throw it.
That wasn't true. They kept track of each mining craft. Fifteen in all. Ravi and four others that had been raised on the orbiter had taken to the ZK-175 mining craft and done well. The rest of the craft were operated by contractors. The rest of the children Ravi had grown up with now worked in the smelter along with another dozen or so contractors. Mr. Allice was rumored to have an office on board the orbiter, but no one had ever seen him. Ravi wished he knew where the man's office was so he could send the asteroid straight through the man's unused office window.
Something flickered and caught Ravi's eye. He lifted his hands from the controls of the craft and brought up a modified display overlay. The viewscreen changed from black with tiny white spots to a reddish color. He zoomed in close to the location where he thought he'd seen the flicker. It wasn't too far away and with the proper magnification he could make it out. A massive asteroid in his section.
Every miner had their own ZK-175 and each had their own section to harvest. The orbiter only shifted once or twice per month and each miner would head to their section and clear it out. Once most of the sections were cleared, the orbiter would be moved. Nearly all the rocks they collected were small like the one Ravi currently held. The one in this viewscreen appeared too massive. Far larger than any he'd encountered in this new field they were mining. He needed to get a little closer. He nudged the boosters and navigated himself toward the bigger asteroid.
Once the asteroid grew in his viewscreen, Ravi shifted back to a normal view. The big, lumpy mass rotated slowly in the distance. Its pock-marked surface called to Ravi. He could practically hear its voice singing to him. It wanted something and he knew exactly what to give it. He felt like a child again playing with tiny rocks in the orbital. He needed to smash the smaller one in the ZK-175's hand into the larger. The only question was how? There had to be a way.
Ravi ran through the controls on the mining ship. Floating in space, there was nothing to grab onto. With no atmosphere or gravity, he couldn't spring forward. The arm didn't move with any speed that would allow him to throw the smaller asteroid. He did have control of the thrusters, but he didn't want to shoot straight at the asteroid. He also didn't want to fly past the larger asteroid and miss a chance to see his handy work in action. There was only one thing he could do.
His timing had to be perfect. He had to be close enough and had to time the release right. One deep breath later and Ravi turned his ZK-175. Slowly at first to get the feel of the blurring stars. He hadn't expected things to swing by so fast and soon his head swam, but he kept going.
"Lock screen." The command would keep the screen focused on the larger asteroid. In the lower corner was displayed the ship's spin rate, the location of the other asteroid, the distance between his ship and the asteroid, and several other numbers that flashed to show the stresses on the ship. He didn't need to know those. He could feel the stress on the ship. For the first time in weeks, he felt alive. Felt like this was what he was meant to do. Throwing rocks, not stopping to pick them out of space. As soon as he felt the moment was right, he closed his eyes, took another deep breath, and released the asteroid in the ZK-175's grip.
As quickly as he could he slowed his spin and turned the viewscreen back to a front display. It was difficult to tell at first, but it appeared to be flying true. Perhaps a little off, but it headed in the general direction of the larger asteroid. Once he stopped his spin and could see straight, he could tell it wouldn't be a direct hit, but given the size of the larger asteroid, it would be a hit indeed.
"Go! Go! Go!" Ravi cheered on his asteroid. As he cheered a communications light lit up on his screen. He ignored it. He had to watch this impact. He had to see what would happen. He adjusted his seat so he could get the best view possible.
The smaller asteroid impacted the larger asteroid on the high, right side. Ravi had assumed that both were rocky and the impact would generate some small explosion of rock or at least destroy the smaller one completely. He was delighted to be wrong. The larger asteroid was not compacted like the smaller had been. As happens from time to time, the larger asteroid was held together loosely with ice crystals and had been comprised mostly of dust. As soon as the smaller asteroid struck it, the larger exploded and scattered in every direction creating a massive dust cloud. Ravi cheered.
In mid-cheer, a hologram of an ugly, green face appeared. The face belonged to Gelug Marnock, a Gammoride and Ravi's foreman. Even though he was only slightly taller than Ravi, he was heavily muscled and had no trouble smacking around the workers that needed smacking around from time to time and had knuckle-draggingly, long arms with which to do so. Of all the moments he could have chosen to check in, this was the worst. Ravi had been caught doing stupid things before, but never like this.
"When I put in a call, you answer. You don't ignore my communications. Do I make myself clear? I don't care what you're doing unless it's a life-threatening emergency, you don't ignore me and if it is life-threatening, I expect you to get a hold of me first. How many times do I need to explain that to you? Now tell me this instant what it is you're so excited about. You're not out there to get excited like you're in the middle of a party. You're working. You're expected to work. What is going on?"
Ravi hadn't been able to contain his excitement or his laughter. Even though he knew he was in trouble, he couldn't keep from smiling. This only seemed to make Gelug angrier.
"Well... I was just... you see it's like this..." He had no answer and fumbled around for words.
"Just as I thought. Goofing around once again. I wish I could say you're going to answer to me, but that's not the case. I want you to drop off whatever you've got loaded up and get back to the orbital now. The boss wants you in his office, now."
"I thought you were my boss."
"Oh, Ravi. You may be in trouble with me and if there's anything left of you when Mr. Allice gets done with you, I'll make sure to get it through your thick skull how important it is that you do your job correctly. Now get back to the orbiter!"
The hologram switched off and Ravi sank back into his chair. I have to report to Mr. Allice? Ravi had only met the man once and that was to sign a document that changed Ravi's position on the orbiter from an inhabitant to a worker. He'd been the last of the kids to do so. What else could Mr. Allice want from him? Had he seen what Ravi had done and happened to be here on a surprise inspection? The other workers and contractors talked about inspections, but he never thought anyone would actually show up to perform one.
Ravi looked at the scattering dust cloud. Off in the distance the small asteroid he'd released drifting and spinning away. He wished he were going with it. Far away and out of the system. He had no desire to return to the orbiter. What was there for him back there? Unfortunately, everything he knew. He didn't know how to get to another system. He didn't know any other way of life. With a flick of his hand, he engaged the thrusters and turned the ship back toward the orbiter.