Ewelina was being punished for something. She just wasn’t sure what.
She patrolled the bottom side of the disc wrapping around the refinery’s central pillar, sweeping her eyes over the electric aquamarine skies. Thunderheads the size of the Matterhorn angrily slid past, kept at a manageable distance by the positive pressure bubble the generators ceaselessly maintained. Only the invisible loops of her graviton harness held her against the gas giant’s downward pull. She felt sweat on her palms beneath her armored gloves. She’d nearly gotten used to the vertigo but suspected she’d never overcome it entirely. The endless ocean of clouds in all directions disoriented her as well as any spacewalk. Even the sunbeams that occasionally lanced through gave no indication which direction led starward.
Prisma Manufacturing had exclusive rights over Höllengarten. Pirates were an occasional concern, but they were nothing compared to the corporate skirmishes she’d seen back on Goldsmoke and Qì Lín. A lot of casualties in those systems. Refineries burned and buckled and sank into the crushing depths, and she watched comrades and competitors alike make the futile leap into the abyss, all flailing limbs with their armor aflame, hoping, she knew, to draw a rogue lightning strike or a merciful laser turret salvo from either faction, friend or foe, before they were swallowed and squeezed into diamonds in the core of a strange planet so far from home. Their desperation was rarely rewarded.
Ewelina didn’t think it could get any worse than that. Then they transferred her to Höllengarten.
The planet was especially large in volume, comprised of dozens of distinct and unusual strata. There was an abundance of accessible Helium-3, and there were deep vents of many materials as valuable as they were unlikely, from crystalized gold tetraxenide to organic titanates.
Of course, the most abundant compound in this particular strata where the refineries floated was good old O2, 40% by volume at a high pressure. It’s what allowed them to exist.
There were plenty of other planets for the xenobiologist to drool over. Höllengarten was a mining world, pure and simple. It wasn’t the sort of place that attracted intellectual types, regardless of what kind of creepy crawlies flew around here. No one knew a thing about how they’d come to evolve or what their lifecycles looked like, and no one here much cared.
What was known was that they tried to eat the thermal regulators when the winds were calm. And they weren’t familiar with the distinctly human concept of “no.”
Megapedes with glassy wings and fangs as long as your arm stalked the refineries constantly, just biding their time and waiting for their stomachs the give them an encouraging growl.
Ewelina continued her patrol, looking for shadows in the clouds and hoping the gusts maintained their strength. Money be damned. She’d find another profession, she decided, even if it was begging. Someday. If she ever got off this world.