Lenny worked the dropping bay, and his reputation was one of a conquerer.
A J.E.C artillery platform is something you never want to wake up to see suspended above your colony. Thoughts rush through your head as a cold sweat breaks out; did we not pay our taxes this month? Are we harbouring fugitives? Have they simply decided to ‘redevelop’ this planet?
Whatever the reasons, you’re powerless. All you can do is hope to Christ that the regional government manages to square things with the J.E.C in time. There are stories that the platform has a big red LED clock, counting down to doomsday, which starts the moment it becomes stationary above your world.
These stories, though thoroughly denied by the J.E.C joint chiefs, are in fact true. There are two Doom Clocks. One in the bridge of the platform, and one in Lenny’s dropping bay.
The J.E.C is a scary organisation, and they cultivate such an image intentionally. The J.E.C, or Joint Earth Coalition, is the face of humanity in the galaxy. There’s something very sad about the name, really. Devised to present an image of unity and strength to any alien civilisations we encountered once space exploration got off the ground, we sadly never came across any. Instead, the J.E.C imposes its iron will on its own people; namely the colonists who settle other worlds, asteroids and space stations. The technology required to produce oxygen, water and consumable food on worlds which aren’t suited to human habitation is expensive, the J.E.C owning all the patents and ensuring that the levies are hefty enough to keep those who strike out away from Earth on a pretty short leash.
Should a colony fail to pay their taxes many times, or be suspected of providing shelter to ‘subversive’ elements, or in the event that said colony is simply on top of a rather valuable mineral deposit that the J.E.C desires, the bombing process begins, which starts with the clock. Generally those on the ground are not informed of how long they have; bombings happen unexpectedly and often without announcement. The only warning you receive, really, is that the platform is above your world one morning. From that moment on everyone holds their breath until it begins to slowly creep away again, or doomsday comes.
In the bridge, everything gets very heavy. The acting commander declares “Start the clock,” and a pre-decided time appears, usually twenty-four Earth hours. Everyone starts walking around a lot more stridently, backs straighten, pupils dilate and a few of the more careerist-types get a bit of a hard-on. In this time, messages are passed down the ladder to begin optical analysis of the colony surface, determine the blast zone which will ensure maximum overkill while protecting any valued assets (read: minerals). There are drills and testing runs. Constant communication with the very top brass back on Earth is kept open to ensure continued permission for bombardment. There are a lot of salutes. Supply units will begin moving the ordinance itself through the various channels of classification and testing, until it gets the green-light and is moved to the loading bay.
The bombing material itself is a highly dense radioactive element packed in a massive payload of explosive material, all encased in an armoured chassis. The effect of orbital entry removes the need for thrusting proponents. All you need to do is aim, and drop.
Eventually, it all trickles down to Lenny. Lenny works the dropping bay, the last resting place of the ordinance before it leaves the platform. There is a hole above where Lenny sits, and a hole beneath. Though the chiefs don’t approve, Lenny refers to his work station as ‘The Colon.’ The ordinance is pushed through the ‘sphincter’ above him, and Lenny aims and releases the bombardment from the platform’s ‘anus.’ Lenny’s irreverence has not made him popular with the commander. His accuracy has made him extremely popular with the J.E.C chiefs.
To some on the station, he’s an embarrassing necessity. To others he’s a legend. Whichever, both sides admit that however efficient and orderly the overall process, it all rests on Lenny. Lanky Lenny, they used to call him in the academy. Lanky, spacey, strung-out Lenny.
Eight years ago, Lenny lived a pretty different life. He sold enough smack to support his own habit until a stool pigeon shopped him and he was given a choice: twenty-five years in prison or join a high risk work crew on a five year asteroid mining operation for the J.E.C. Lenny was never really built for prison, so he took the fairly suicidal option and shipped out within a week of his arrest.
Mining asteroids is brutal work for great pay, but as a convict Lenny wasn’t getting paid, so as far as gigs went it was pretty shit. Still, the sights through the barracks viewing port were often breathtaking; nebulas, twin-suns, even the occasional black hole. It beat prison bars, Lenny often thought to himself.
One time, while mining out a rather volatile fuel-source from an asteroid belt, something went very wrong. A drill-beam hit a thick vein, and in seconds hundreds of miners were vaporised by the superheated explosion. Worse, the blast was setting off other asteroids. In deep-space mining this is known as the Worst Case Scenario, a chain event that 96% of the time ends in the total destruction of the asteroid belt and the guaranteed deaths of everyone working the site. When this happens, the chief mining ship (ie: the one holding all the valuable fuel that’s been harvested) hits emergency thrusters to get the fuck out of dodge while firing off coolant pods towards the maelstrom, in the hopes of holding back the blast long enough for the stored fuel to get to a safe distance. It doesn’t tend to work, but there’s got to be a contingency, right?
This time, Lenny was heading back from the mess-hall when the blasts started. He was thrown against the wall by the explosions, and ran to the nearest port to see what was happening. He took in the terrific destruction of the belt, millions of years old, when he noticed that while the thrusters were vainly pushing them slowly away from the blast, too slowly, the coolant pods weren’t firing. Running into the launch bay, he found it empty. The accident had taken everyone by surprise, and no one was manning the launcher. Lenny didn’t think; he just leapt into the rig and grappled with the controls he’d never used before.
From the bridge, the captain watched in horror as the blasts got closer and closer. The escape attempt was unlikely to be successful, and only now were coolant pods being fired towards the blasts. He was thinking about his wife and children when the first pod collided with an asteroid that was showing dark red cracks around its mantle, covering it in cyan coolant, thousands of degrees below freezing. The red cracks, to his shock, began to fade. He then noticed that several other pods had been fired in the space of seconds, each of them striking asteroids far outside the range of the current explosions. While against standard protocol, it seemed to be working. Whoever was manning the launcher was effectively ‘kettling’ the blast, surrounding it in a frozen cage which appeared unlikely to yield to the magnificent heat of the exploding fuel.
In the space of twelve minutes, the blast was over. Thousands of miners had died, but the chief ship and it’s bountiful payload was untouched. The crew universally began to shake with relief, some bursting into tears of fatigue. It was at this moment that the gunner stepped into the bridge; Lenny was pouring with sweat, supporting himself against the bulkhead, and his eyes were distant.
That night the captain wrote a very long report back to headquarters, which was forwarded to J.E.C Command. The next day Lenny was on a shuttle back to Earth, a soldier on either side, his criminal record having mysteriously vanished and with a spot on a massively sought-after military bombardment training course with his name on it.
In his first dropping bay post he bucked heads with the commander almost immediately. Lenny didn’t much care for his uniform, opting instead for a vest or the branded t-shirt the mining company had given him previously. He didn’t stand up straight, he was often tardy, and he was rumoured to smoke in the bay, stood before a bomb which if prematurely triggered would reduce the platform to white-hot smithereens. But his hit rate was unheard of, evidence of a rare ability for gravity-drops which no J.E.C analyst had witnessed yet. This kept him safe for a time, but the commander had Lanky Lenny on his shitlist and didn’t rest until he’d had him temporarily suspended for shabbiness.
The commander’s smugness lasted until their next drop, when Lenny’s replacement eyeballed it wrong and accidentally reduced one of the largest mineral deposits ever discovered by prospectors to useless slag, fucking up so bad that several of the prospectors survived and were able to escape, spreading word of the J.E.C’s skullduggery and tarnishing their reputation irreparably. This led to a massive swell of support for anti-Coalition guerrilla groups.
The commander was never heard from again following a visit from J.E.C Command representatives, and Lenny was quietly reinstated.
When the clock hits zero in the dropping bay, the port above Lenny slides open and a very loud alarm sounds. Slowly, achingly slowly, the ordinance lowers into Lenny’s view. Sometimes some of the younger grunts above have written messages on the bombs; DEATH FROM ABOVE / DON’T FUCK WITH THE J.E.C / A KISS FROM MASSACHUSETTS / etc. Lenny doesn’t really notice the messages, he just leans forward and places his hands against the two release switches on the port below him, which also slides open, revealing the distant surface below. Sensors track Lenny’s eyes and make minute adjustments to the angle of the bomb as he takes in the full view of what lies below.
When the bomb is in the dropping bay, everyone’s thinking about Lenny. Some people say he recites the Lord’s Prayer in its entirety. Some say he sees the face of the universe in that moment when he holds in his hands the most feared weapon in human history. Still others say he masturbates, hitting the release switches at climax. No one knows what Lenny does down there while the bomb hangs, pregnant with possibilities and sublime destructive power. But when the final alarm sounds and the ordinance drops out of the platform, everyone knows; it’s going to be a perfect hit.
Lenny sits back in his chair, the ordinance falling now, plummeting down terminally. It hasn’t even struck yet, and Lenny won’t even know when it has, but he doesn’t care; Lenny bathes in the most euphoric experience imaginable. He has finally found the perfect drug.