Yellow and White
by Tony Noland
From his vantage point on the peak of Mt. Fuji, Specialist 1-C Andrew "Banjo" Randall looked up the Big Valley to watch the first sunrise, a pinpoint explosion of white light between Kilimanjaro and Denali. Once RK-2034-B cleared the frozen haze of the rim, the glare was like looking into the navigation lights of a cargo hauler. He returned his gaze down to the valley floor, still dark with the shadows of the cliffside mountains. It had been a cold night up here, but as soon as RK-2034-A rose, the hoarfrost would sublime away and he'd be able to see well enough to detonate the charges.
Banjo checked his watch. Another half hour before true dawn. As was standard practice, days on this planet were counted according to the rise and set of the larger star. At this point in Bullseye's orbit, that meant about 11 hours of nighttime, 31 hours of daylight. Under a hotter star, such a slow rotation would have made this planet unusable, but RK-2034-A was only a yellow giant. There had been a push by some of the younger guys to name the two stars after characters in one of the historical melodramas: Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Bill and Hillary. It was the usual crap born of youthful enthusiasm and off-watch boredom. In the end, almost everyone ended up using the path of least resistance that guys always ended up using around binary stars, and called them Yellow and White.
It didn't take many tours on terraforming jobs to lose the romantic idealism.
The only reason the mountain peaks had names is that some military geologist had gotten cute when drawing up the survey maps. It was just as well, though. To coordinate their assignments, the various work crews had to call the mountains something, after all. A clockwise "One", "Two", "Three", etc. would have worked just as well as Fuji, Everest, Olympus, Hood, Kilimanjaro, Denali and Vesuvius. It didn't matter, though, and it was easier for the guys to use the names already on the maps.
Living habs, workshops and loading depots had been set up on the little shoulder slabs around and between the main peaks. The crews ion-blasted the tops off several of them to get some flat ground. If these peaks had been formed by geologic activity, the foothills would have been rounded. As it was, all of it was jagged slag, a couple of billions of tons of deep-crust ejecta flash-melted by a massive asteroid strike, and then flash frozen into these leaning daggers. Twenty kilometers across, ninety kilometers long, and eleven kilometers deep at the far end of Big Valley, from orbit it looked like the kind of gouge a thrown rock makes in wet sand.
It wasn't just the most interesting feature on Bullseye's surface, it was the only feature. This was a lightweight world with a thick crust and a small, cool core. Aside from its strategic location near the Chiorrian Empire's northern frontier, the entire RK-2034 system was worthless. All it had was Bullseye, its four tiny moonlets and a few comets. No goldilocks planets to colonize or ice worlds to tunnel into, no gas giants to siphon for warp core fuel or asteroid fields to mine for minerals. The only reason mankind was developing this world at all was as a covert listening post, and, potentially, a forward launching platform for a NovaStrike salvo if the Chiorrians got ambitious again.
Yellow's dim edge peeked over the horizon, silhouetting the cliff edges. Banjo checked his watch again. The communications crews would be up on the mountains already, moving into the last phase of mounting the Planck-space sensor grids on the cliffsides. The main bulk of the personnel, the crew responsible for hiding the fusion reactor down on the valley floor wouldn't get going until Yellow fully cleared the mountaintops, at least another hour.
The Third Arm War had ended in victory for mankind forty-six years ago when Earth used the Nova bomb to drop artificial black holes into the suns of a few of the Chiorrian colony worlds. Just over two billion people died in that attack. Well, Banjo thought, not "people" exactly. In his mind, "people" still meant humans, so technically, Chiorrians weren't people.
People or not, though, they paid extremely well when they had to. He keyed in the command to set off the charges and felt the ground jolt under him in a staccato tremor. The mountains silently shivered and began to crumble down into the valley below.
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