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There is not all that much to do on Severis 4. It’s an ugly, inhospitable world where everything is inimical to human life. There is a mining colony here, manned by an crew of about 30 young men and women. The actual mining is done by robots while the humans remain confined to the company compound. Hardly anyone ever goes outside unless it’s absolutely necessary; and even then, not without an armored suit, armed and shielded, full battle array..
Dangers on Severis are numerous. Almost everything would rather see you dead:
First there is the climate. It’s unbearably hot under Severis’s two yellow suns. At midday the temperature exceeds 125º. Even in an air cooled suit the heat can cook a man.
Then there are the “insects”. They aren’t really insects, but they fill a similar niche in the planet’s ecosystem. On Serveris the “insects” are big, aggressive and venomous. Early explorers reported being attacked by swarms of dinner plate sized creatures. All armed with poison stingers. They would attack repeatedly, finding exposed flesh. The creatures would bite and sting causing paralysis and death.
Severis’s larger animals were just as bad. Fortunately they were less numerous though no less aggressive. Packs of rodent sized creatures would ambush and consume their prey in minutes.
The plant life was universally toxic to touch or eat.
The air and water were carriers of disease. If it wasn’t for Severis’s high grade ore, no one would go there.
Inside the compound, the mining jocks led a boring existence. When they weren’t supervising or repairing the robot crew, there wasn’t much to keep them occupied. Boredom was a big problem. The company did what it could by providing a host of diversions. Everything from casinos to ping pong, from video games to hot tubs. There were movies on the big screen in the lounge every night but still morale was low and psychological problems were frequent.
The highly paid human contingent was rotated out every three months. Six months proved far too long. Very few signed on for a second shift despite the high pay and bonuses offered. Company psychologists despaired of finding a solution to the high turnover and was forced to write off the expense of frequent rotations as the cost of doing business. Fortunately the mine was so profitable these high costs hardly mattered.
It was the miners themselves who stumbled on the solution to the morale problem. They invented a game they called “High Noon”. It involved pitting two mining robots against each other in a variation of a wild west show down. Instead of six guns, the robots used their high powered mining lasers. The same lasers they used to vaporize rock. For the game, the lasers were set to their lowest setting otherwise they might cut a robot in two; and that was something the company wasn’t going to stand for. Fistfights and injuries among the human crew was one thing but damage to an expensive piece of equipment was quite another.
Every evening after chow, the miners gathered in the lounge. Two robots were brought out of the mine ostensibly for repairs. They faced each other in the bright glare of day about 100 yards apart. Two human controllers sat back to back and maneuvered the robots with joy sticks. Slowly the robots closed the gap.
The whole encounter was projected on the big screen as large as life. Hoots, jeers and trash talk filled the lounge as the spectators divided themselves into opposing camps. Large sums of money were wagered. Even though the mining robots were ill suited for the role of gunslinger, there was no loss of enthusiasm. Mining robots were ungainly, tracked vehicles each with several arms mounted below their lighting array and ocular sensors. They resembled tanks far more than they did cowboys. Each robot had a large number painted on its side so it was easy to distinguish one from another. As they inched closer tension in the lounge increased and so did the volume. When the robots were about ten yards apart, they began to circle each other. The room grew quiet as the two operators concentrated on their next move. The game was entering its critical phase.
According to the rules, each robot had only a single shot. If it missed, the other robot would rush in and make the kill. The lasers were hard to aim, but accuracy wasn’t necessary in the mine. It was, in fact, difficult to be accurate at more than a few yards. This where the strategy came in. The robots would feint and weave around and around in a clumsy dance, trying to draw a hasty shot from its opponent. This bobbing and weaving went on for many minutes. All the while the controllers inched them closer and closer. No one wanted to miss. When the distance closed to about five yards, the robots were in range. Dodging and weaving as best a ten ton robot could, the shooters tempted each other. When this ballet had gone on long enough, one robot finally raised its laser and rushed forward firing. Sometimes the shot missed its target, sometimes it struck home. Either way, the lounge erupted into pandemonium, debts were paid, recriminations hurled, beers consumed, good fellowship restored. The next evening it all happened again.
Any damage to the robot was usually minor and immediately repaired. The robots actually spent more time working because the minor repairs often led to more frequent diagnostics. As a result, production actually increased. The company wound up turning a blind eye to the High Noon shenanigans. It was good for morale, it was good for the equipment, it let off steam and, best of all, it increased productivity which increased profits.
The company was pleased with how things were going on Severis. And while they couldn’t officially promote the game, they did purchase two extra large cowboy hats—one black and one white and had them shipped to Severis at their own expense. The hats were kept at the mine entrance where the robots could grab them on their way out and don them before the showdown. It made the game much more realistic.
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