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Pwyll Crater Complex

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Augusto Góis lowered his head to avoid banging on the bulwark as he passed underneath it. In here everything seemed to be working just fine, too. Looking around, the engineer checked all the valves and pipes passing through the frame of the structure. Still nothing seemed to be truly wrong. Some leaking from the water pipes, but that happened sometimes, when cold fronts passed by the crater.

That couldn’t be what was messing with the sensors.

Sighing, he turned to the other side and held to the railing while his eyes scanned the horizon. The darkened walls of the crater the complex was set in ascended into jagged edges, beyond which he saw the pure white mountains further in the distance, under the cold skies.

But the harsh beauty of Europa was not enough to divert Augusto’s attention from the industrial wonder inside the crater itself. Dots of white, blue and red spread in all directions as if mirroring the celestial dome above, marking the different sections of the complex the children of Earth had built in that alien world.

Right in the center was the ungainly form of the main extraction plant. It began as a single seven-story tall platform, built ten years ago in the Asteroid Belt and sent to the Jovian System using a simple detachable rocket. After the voyage it circled around Jupiter to decelerate, and then was picked by two orbital tugs that gently landed it in the crater.

Pwyll Crater was created long before the comet that transformed Europa was even known. The asteroid that crashed there had been rich in minerals that were almost non-existent on Earth, and unearthed many more, hidden just under the thick ice cover. As soon as the platform was online and extracting resources it became evident that it wouldn’t be enough to explore the area properly.

The first railgun was already incoming, but plans were drafted to build more and resources were pulled from the still infant Agenor complex, several kilometers to the east, in order to do just that. In just a couple years other structures would be added, including additional mining platforms and even factories to produce machinery for the colonization efforts.

Glancing around, Augusto gave another look at the structure around him. The skeleton-like frame stretched in all directions, the innards open to inspection. The whole thing was so big, though, that it couldn’t be examined in a single glance. Although from where he was the structure seemed rather stout, the truth was that it was even taller than it was wide.

Augusto moved along the railing, emerging on the other side of the bulwark. From there he could see the wall of the crater and the four railguns aligned on the slope. Each gun was encased by the superstructure around it, which contained the cooling systems, engineering posts, and all the other elements such complicated machines needed to function.

Thanks to them the miners didn’t needed either transports nor rockets to send the product of their work to orbit. Augusto himself was currently working on the fifth of those structures, and three more were on the other side of the crater, hidden from view by the bulk of his charge. Eight in total.

The muzzle of the nearest railgun suddenly acquired a blue hue, drawing all of Augusto’s attention to it. He knew what would follow, but still gawked in wonder every time he could actually watch it. In a burst of white-blue haze, the gun fired. The capsule containing another several-ton load of ore flew away, leaving a white contrail in its wake, as the air wasn’t dense enough to catch fire like it would on Earth. In less than a minute the capsule would be in orbit, ready to be caught by a transport.

The gun that had just fired was the smaller one, the first of them all. People around there called it “Quetzalcoatl”. The other seven guns all had names related with gods of thunder from ancient religions, like “Fulgora”, “Susanoo” or “Dian Mu”. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of Pwyll, more famous names like “Thor” or “Zeus” had already been taken by other colonies, but that also meant they got to be more imaginative about it.

The thought brought a grin to Augusto’s face, hidden behind the golden visor of his helmet.

On the side of crater opposite to the railguns was the blocky structure through which passed the maglev tracks and the single road for buggies and MMVs leading to the habitats where the miners and their families actually resided.

The first workers had lived in the core of the original platform, in cramped conditions and vulnerable to fires and accidental decompressions. A serious incident took place just a few months after the start of the operations, killing seven miners. After that it was decided that combining living spaces with mining work was too much of a liability, so efforts were made to create living space outside the crater.

Although some small living quarters were made around the edges of the crater, it took a few years for such intentions to truly come to fruition. In 2072 it was decided to finally annex the Pwyll complex to the Agenor administrative region, unlocking even more funds for the construction of what was now known as Pwyll City.

From where he was, Augusto could see the transparent tops of the dome-shaped habitats, where the hydroponic facilities were located. He felt a sudden need to go home, but, alas, there was still much left to be done.

He moved around the rest of the platform, and then climbed up the stairs leading to the next level. There he inspected the pipes once more. For a few minutes he felt numbingly bored, his eyes going over the repetitive forms of tubes and rails. The he felt his heart skip a beat.

The pipes were charred there, burn through as if someone had placed a huge plasma cutter against it. The hole had a width of around a meter, but went deep into the structure. Termite or similar materials could indeed damage the mechanisms that kept the railgun alive, but the structure was sturdy and, more importantly, covered in sensors to indicate where any occurring damage would be located so the technical teams could go in and repair them.

That was done by someone who knew how to bypass such safeguards. Augusto leaned against the railing, trying to collect his thoughts.

The only possibility that crossed his mind was that that damage, precise as it was, had to have been done by someone from the technical teams. On purpose.

For a moment he simply stood there, trembling. Who could have done such a thing?

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