Coleman hopped across the frozen dark brown landscape of Marius Regio north of Melkart—outside its protective bubble. He was picking up speed. He was surprised just how fast he could go now that he was in the open, but even so he was falling behind. Gus was 25 meters ahead and the gap was increasing. Freighthopping was all about velocity.
Or so he’d been told.
Ganymede had become the industrial hub of the outer system. For investors it meant easy money, but for Coleman it meant an exceptionally short life expectancy. Melkart manufactured propellants for the orbital shipyards. His father succumbed to moonlung due to inadequate regolith protection, and his mother was vaporized on a Tuesday afternoon when a cyanogen tank ignited. The fire was contained, but the cause of the failure was never really investigated. The profit margins were killer.
Buying your way offworld—legally—was a pipe dream. Hopping a freighter was dangerous, but at least the results were immediate.
The freight trains were assembled on the ground, horizontally, before riding the curved rails into a vertical alignment. The elevator led to the skyhook, and from there you could go anywhere in the system. Even Earth. But first he had to get on the damn train.
They were beyond the train assembly yard and racing beside the track just before the upward curve. The train was approaching, picking up speed, and all they had to do was grab on. The power unit passed Coleman on his left. The train cars would stretch for kilometers, but he knew they’d pass in a flash. He leaned forward and pumped his legs harder, taking advantage of his entire mass and imagining his body as a giant spring coil.
Ahead, he saw Gus make his move. Too fast, thought Coleman. Let it pass you! But Gus was already airborne. He overshot the grab handle he was aiming for and his arms flailed at the emptiness for long, sickening seconds. His boot touched down on one of the rollers, and that was it for him. He was pulled under the train and spat out in pieces like a long tree branch caught in a chipper.
Meanwhile, Coleman was already mid-leap himself, his trajectory beyond adjustment, and he held his breath. His arm hooked around a ladder and he pulled his body tight against it. He breathed out in relief and then looked ahead for Gus, his mind not yet accepting what it had witnessed. No one would go looking for Gus. No one would collect his remains, though he wouldn’t be alone on those open plains. There were plenty of others, sun bleached and vacuum dried, to keep his bones company.
Coleman rode the train up its curved track to the elevator proper, and from that height he saw Ganymede’s electric blue aurora over the horizon for the first time.