The Belt – Biking on Mercury

The Belt


I am biking at dusk on Mercury.

For two-hundred-and-twenty days I’ve been tight-roping this line between frying and freezing. If timed correctly I could stay alive on this planet for hundreds of years. But the lack of atmosphere and its geostationary nature around the sun produces quite a formidable environment; a day is longer than a year here. Mercury orbits the sun in eighty-eight Earth-days, but it’s incremental spin on it’s own axis causes a Mercury-day to be one-hundred-and-seventy-six Earth-days. In front of me, Mercury is constantly burning as it faces the star in a searing 427C, while behind me the shadowy side is silent in a bitter -173C. On the path that I now ride, I see the glow of the Sun as if it is uncertain whether to rise or fade.

It has been twelve years since I saw the last human. I am content. I am not happy, nor sad. I have my place and my purpose now. This is my home and will be until I die.

Craters ubiquitously fill my landscape. From tiny pimples to gauges hundreds of kilometres wide, they fill up my scenery like lily pads on a lake. ‘Lobate Scarps’ bulge the surface sometimes to a mile high too, running throughout the surface. It was from the molten iron-core cooling I was told; early on in Mercury’s creation causing the surface to wrinkle like cloth.

Although Mercury’s mass is too little to hold on to it’s atmosphere, there are constant micrometeorites that fortuitously bombard it; decaying into trace amounts of Oxygen, Hydrogen, Sodium, Potassium and Argon. My bike collects these as it drives and combines them with the elements emitted from the micro-plants grown in the back for me to breathe and eat.

This strip of land that I ride within between hell and taciturnity is where I balance my life within – the habitable ‘belt’ wrapped around the planet 30km wide and 15,700km long. It is gently revolving around the planets surface as the planet spins underneath. It takes me fifty-nine days to complete an entire loop, and when I finish one path, I displace myself slightly along the belts circumference to move with it once more, checking the structures that previous workers have made.

It is not a life desired by most, but most have not had the life of mine. I was ruined on Earth – and so I applied for this ‘opportunity’ to move and re-start my existence on Mercury; to begin again with a new purpose; and to help other people like me to begin afresh on a new planet. It is far tougher than I could ever have imagined, but fulfilling a purpose makes me more content than I have felt for years.

It was December 2048 when I won the world series of Texas hold’em. I had studied the game for three years and mastered the techniques needed to calculate probabilities, read players and rule my image. I had everything on Earth: friends, family and money. But my ego grew in size until it overcame my skills; heightening my thirst for rushes until all was lost: my homes, boats, cars, kids, status… and wife abandoned me like a mine without it’s gold. I was not fit to join the SAS once more, and I could not face dropping down rank to just a mere field marshal. The Jack Daniels however comforted my soul.

I, and several other workers speed along the belt on our scramblers – two giant ridged wheels with a hardy seat between. We travel alone and are sparsely spaced along. The fusion engine at the core powers us along at incredible speeds. This was Earths golden-bullet technology when we left. And as I turn my head up to the incredible galaxy laid out before my eyes, it is Earth that I can always spot, always knowing its position and direction that it is heading; currently tucked beside the Andromeda Galaxy. A tiny pale blue dot in the sky of red, white and black. It shimmers as my mind wanders to its events. It has been many weeks that communication with the orbiting satellites has been cut; but solar flares have the ability us workers tell ourselves.

I reach my destination and position the scrambler upon the tracks of a previous worker – heading off at a slight angle from mine. I look forward to view the thirty-two pillars that rise out of the ground forming a giant cross-shape from above. It’s been fifty-nine days that this has been waiting here for me to view. A central tall block sticks out from besides where the two corridors intersect, indicating the lift shaft piecing into the ground. On two of the four ends two doors can be seen. The whole structure is made from graphene; hexagonally tessellating carbon atoms, the strongest configuration known to man. A single sheet could hold a bowling ball, and yet it would not be visible to the eye; a ruler of materials. And here we layer millions of these infinitesimally small panes together, forming muscle that withstands the expanding and contracting nature from the temperatures. The graphene stores energy when faced with the suns heat and delivers it to the frozen structures via huge underground networks, and keeping any inhabitants alive. It is my job to ensure the internal energy conduction is complete and that the buildings are fit for becoming habitable.

I place my tools besides the cargo door; a button is pressed. In a split second the entrance unbolts itself and sucks the instruments inside. After de-pressurisation they will be sent to the tunnels underneath, hopefully unscathed.

I move to the other entrance. After de-pressurisation I keep my suit on as I continue down the lift. This building might not have a suitable temperature or air.. I cannot yet trust it! The door opens to two tunnels also perpendicularly intersecting that sweep right around the planet. Every one hundred kilometres the tunnels are plugged with giant non-conductive doors. These can be opened and closed to regulate the tunnels temperature. In theory I could visit the Caloris Basin, or the grandest of Lobate Scarps from here – but of course not all of the terminals are ready yet, and so the network is only as strong as it’s weakest link.

I pace the nearby corridors taking heat and conductive readings with my thermistron – checking that they link up with predicted readings. I am pleased with the results. “Initiate suit-unlocking security code 722v11990”. The helmet detaches and I breathe a beautiful lungful of complex air. I sit to the side and revel in another structure being added to the operational network. I spot my watch; thirty minutes. A few more minutes of pleasure for my lungs and then I’ll have to move on. I receive a message:

Click-Click…Click-Click Just found my third dead’un Bill – it’s Chuck. Must have been here at least 3 weeks. Same as the others – frozen cold – bike nowhere to be seen. Position 65.43.28. Stay safe, Jack…Click-Click….Click-Click

Chuck was a strange but friendly kind of guy. A muddled, longing stare often being emitted – if sometimes showing too much of an eagerness for company. He had been missing for several weeks so we knew we’d find him a goner eventually, but how he had missed his timings and lost his bike is a mystery! The instructor constantly hammered into us ‘..and what should you check now?’ with the class repeating altogether ‘the countdown!’ For the time on our watch remaining was our most essential piece of equipment. It could calculate how fast we were moving, in what direction, and how long it would be until the freeze caught up with us – or if we were moving too fast forward towards the fire! The time on our watch was our life, and it was hammered into us again and again, so as I pondered upon the message, I thought it unfathomable to think Chuck just forgot.

I pack up my tools and readied the bike. Countdown says twenty minutes. Perfect timing. I ignite the engine and off I blast to the next location – it’s 270km away. With this low gravity it’ll take me just over an hour.

I reach the top of a crater and look down. Below I see the next terminal; cross-shaped like the last. But something’s different. There’s another worker here. No wait; it’s not a bike or a buggy I recognise. What is it? I hang to the top for several minutes but cannot resist moving closer. I gently start my vehicle and keep to a distance but my curiosity and impatience overcome my thoughts. It looks like it’s hovering! I must have exposed myself as soon as I rounded the top, but I receive no messages from other workers or see any movement. What is that kind of vehicle? My excitement increases with the prospect of seeing another face but an anxious prickle up the back of my neck points out the unresolved information. As I near I see more clearly that the bulging black body is balancing on three thin legs only centimetres apart. The domed shell could fit about ten of my bikes in easily, but I have no recollection of it from training. Perhaps it’s a new model from Earth?

As I step from my bike I cautiously walk towards the ship. As I close in to just a few meters I spot symbols upon a ridge hanging down from the underside; half covered with dust. I bring up my hand to wipe it clear but as soon as I do, it seems to sense my presence and the figure springs to life, dropping down a floor. It is circular but much smaller than the base of the ship, falling from the underneath’s centre. The thin rods seemingly defy their ability to carry such a platform, but hold it and the whole ship strongly from the ground. Through the gap left from the displaced floor I spot buttons, dials and quaint little lights across its interior. I am fascinated by the complexity. A new machine to help build infrastructure here? I see it as a gift to my eyes and mind to explore. I take a step upon the disk and transfer my weight up upon it. I look above and position myself in the centre. Peering around I fail to find a switch to re-assemble the floor. My hand reaches underneath a side to stumble upon a symbol by chance; but nothing ensues. I start exploring the possibility of lifting myself up into the room above but I fear for damaging the suit that I wear. I am getting frustrated and look to the outside for inspiration. I instinctively tap my foot in annoyance and up the disk goes with startlingly ease!

I am in the ship and of all the vessels that I have seen; this is the most advanced. As I peer closer to the wall in front I see smaller icons and knobs next to larger dials and levers. An elaborate array of light tubes inter-connects the different boards. As I broaden my observations I start to take in the many low shelves and open empty cupboards underneath the buttons. The room is a cool blue and I figure this must be the control room. On the opposite wall two thin pegs stick out either side of a misty screen. Each peg is a mirror of the other and is delicately bent in several places for a purpose that I cannot figure.

I choose one of the two doorways and move into the subsequent room. I figure that it must be a store-cupboard or junk room of some sort. It is full to the top of long, black glistening objects in a confused heap. There are cylinders and cuboids attached in pairs, or in rows of threes, usually hollow but occasionally not. I play with some pieces for a while turning them around in my glove, but I cannot find a use and so continue round to the third room. Within this chamber I see more controls on the walls; tangled amongst the vast tubing of lighting and handles. Besides these, two curtains hang up upon the wall, one above the other. They are about four foot wide and three foot tall. I move towards the one at head height and reach out my arm to touch the fabric. As my finger disturbs the edge, ripples flow in a slow mesmerising way across the drape. I pause and reflect upon its endless traversing nature in this low gravity. A sudden realisation and I dart my eyes to my watch: 5 minutes 6 seconds.

I breathe a slight sigh of relief but still jolt as the 5 minute reminder rings out through my helmet; “weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyy.” I better get back to the bike, but the flapping curtain grabs back my attention. I follow a wave as it progresses along from one end to the other. At the corner it flaps up but what is that?! My fingers reach out again but this time seizes the edge pulling it sharply up revealing a hidden bunk! A small flat divan of some sort lies neatly within the oblong cut-away. Small pillows dot along the base with a blanket neatly folded part back. I am transfixed upon this sight. It looks like a smaller version of the bunks we had on the transporter here – but no human could comfortable fit in this!

I stare down at the curtain hanging beneath. It is silently still. My stomach tenses as if holding heavy stones. I reach out my hand and cannot resist my mind shouting to bring it back. I extend two fingers and squeeze the side of the fabric. I watch as small ripples spread out from the grip. I move my head closer to the side and tremble as I unbalance myself. My eyes peer between the fabric and the side as I slowly lift the veil. A tiny glimpse into the chamber and my heart is thudding.. pounding against my bones. My teeth snap together hard shut and I am shaking. I freeze in this position while my mind is suspended in what my eyes are delivering to it; a small, blue, being is curled up; lying there breathing. The blanket moves up and down as it’s body somehow breathes this scant air. Two bunks. I release my grip of the curtain and silently step backwards. I turn upon my heal as my insides turn to a new level of sickness. As I peer towards the doorway I am relieved that no eyes are set upon myself.

I silently tiptoe my way towards the second room but even before I arrive my new terrified state of mind has figured out the black objects; weapons. I pass without disturbing a thing. As I move towards the exit another shock jerks my existence; there were two entrances in the next room! I approach this opening even slower than the curtain, trying to curtail my nerves and get a fix upon my body. My suit sticks out further than my eyes and so I know it is impossible to see around the corner before anything that could see me. I bite my tongue. In these situations one has to limit chance; I cannot give anything a head start in detecting me. My hands squeeze together as my face tenses. I take a huge step forward into the middle of the doorway.

I stand there looking out into what once used to be a place of clandestine but now of sheer horror. As I straighten my back and unconsciously extend my fingers, my eyes widen at the scene in front; a small blue being stands to the wall. Its back is bent as its head is locked within the two pegs staring straight into the screen. Three arms dart around indenting and squeezing various buttons and tubes. The two feet are positioned facing the wall. It surely cannot see me!?

As I am transfixed to the floor the one-minute siren rings out through my suit: “weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyy, weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyy, weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyy.”

I have to get out now! But nothing. No movement or stir by it. The lack of air particles in the room must be preventing the sound from travelling through, or perhaps it doesn’t have ears. I gather myself and edge into the room. I stretch a foot out distributing my weight as evenly as I can. A flashback to my SAS days almost knocks me out of focus. I ebb another foot in front with my left and again move forward with balanced precision. Another foot and I am only meters away from it. My eyes switch between it and the circular indentation in the middle of the floor. My right foot touches is almost there. I am almost on the disk!

“weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyy, weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyyy, weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyyy.”

I stand facing the being briskly pulsating with foolish exhilaration streaming through my body. I pause. A deep breath in and my nerves relax momentarily. I double tap my foot.

“weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyy, weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyyy, weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyyy.”

The circular floor drops down fast and as it sharply breaks I collapse into a heap as my shaky legs fail. I look up and hanging out its scrunched up face is the being! It’s small black eyes close together with sickly curved wrinkles surrounding a minute hole for a mouth. The being is moving frantically and behind it I see colourful waves emitting from it’s back. They are bouncing from the interior of the room, perhaps signalling to the other creature. I bring myself to stand and then focus upon the whirring in my ears. Zero minutes. I notice the coldness. It is creeping into my suit. I have never seen so little of the suns rays diffracting around the horizon. The sky is almost black. The stars are sharper than I have ever seen but the coldness is here; I must get to my bike!

“weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyy, weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyyy, weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyyy.”

As I take the first step towards it a bright white light explodes from its centre burning my retinas. I lose my footing. Debris forces me backwards to an almost horizontal level. I am staring to the sky drifting away. I scramble for something to grab on to but I know that I can only wait. I peak a glimpse of the scrambler; but it is no more. Pieces of it float all around me; glinting with reflections from the last sunrays as they escape Mercurys’ pull. As a small piece flies past my helmet I observe it disintegrating completely before my eyes. I am a sitting duck.. I can only wait for the gun to be turned upon me. As I glide without a ground to stand on, I peer to the galaxy above and follow it’s arm out to the current position of Earth. But it isn’t there. Earths pale blue spot is gone.

“weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyy, weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyyy weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyyy.”

I wait.

I land.

“weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyy, weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyyy weeeeeeehhhhheeeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeeeehhhhheeeeyyyyyyyyy.”

I pull myself up and look at my suit: tiny holes; gases escaping. I turn off the whirring from my watch looking to where my bike used to stand, and the alien ship. The floor is still down. I am stuck for thoughts. The being is standing there holding a black weapon. I stand with confidence and strength that I have been trained to feel, but with the inner understanding of nothing. I am lost. The coldness is seeping in.

As I look up to the sky at the missing blue dot my eyes begin to fill. It disconnects me to everything around. I am isolated by the smudge that appears; and am alone with my thoughts. My home and my people.. my species. Development. Society.. The knowledge! Love.. hate.. wars.. history! All gone! The future!? What is it? Is there one!? What purpose do I have – what purpose is there? I am isolated from meaning. I fall to two knees.

I spot the terminal.

My mouth unlocks to take in dry air and I hold my eyes high until a clearing appears. The squinting at the sides begins to sting but I am still focused on where the blue spot used to be. I stare to the heavens beckoning reason – for an explanation – for the dot to appear once more; for me to wake up. But this is real. This is real!

The being is crawling down!

My thoughts are confused and repetitive. I long to go home. To hold my dear wife but alas, she is gone! Like the family I left behind, like everything I held dear – oh but I hold them dear now! I drop to all fours.

I swagger towards the building.

Come back, come back please! My birth cradle, my earthly soulness won’t you appear to me once more? I am sorry – why to me? Why to us? What is there left.. for me!? Everything that I have done.. everything that I have worked on.. everything that I know….. gone….. gone… all… all.. futile…!

The being is moving nearer!

I spot the cargo entrance.

Dark light flashes around me.

I leap towards the door.

The gun is raised!

My arm rises.


I slam the button.






And so it is here that I now wake – in the tunnels of Mercury that once pledged the expansion of humankind – now being used as the life support system of it’s last, few, remaining survivors..



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