Okay, Petra wasn’t the brightest of the bunch. Everybody knew that, except for her, as it usually was with idiots. The problem, and this is where clever people really slam their heads on the wall, is that if you throw a thousand idiots at a problem, one might succeed at it.
Petra heard half of what the briefing said. No, not half, less than that. What was half of half? There should be a name for it, something so you could say it and keep it short. Those clever-pants scientists with their big words should get onto that, naming the half of halves.
Anyway, she digressed. She heard half of half of what they said on the briefing, and understood half of half of the words they used. Something about asteroid mining something-something, yadda yadda, corporations, mining rights, blah blah blah.
And then they said the magic words that made her eyes roll in dollar signs like an old-timey cartoon: A trillion dollars.
She raised her hand.
“Yes, Petra?” the scientist said, hesitant.
“Did I hear you right? That rock, whatchacallit?”
“THX-1138,” he added helpfully.
“That’s a silly name. Let’s call it Shiny, from now on, alright? Now, if I understand you correctly, you said that that rock, Shiny, is worth a trillion dollars?” she asked, practically whistling the amount.
“Yes. That’s an estimate of the precious minerals’ worth when extracted and brought back to Earth, or at least in Earth orbit for use in space construction.”
“I see.” Petra shut her mouth and sat back down. He had her full attention now, not that that really meant anything, and she kept listening as the scientist kept talking about velocities and positions and apexes, whatever that was. She could understand half of half of the things he was babbling on about, but one thing was clear: She was gonna get her hands on that shiny.
The new space race had its perks. For one, you could just rent a rocket! To space! How insane was that?
There were American companies, European companies, big Russian rockets you could just rent from the proper institution. But the one that did not really give a shit who you were and what you wanted to do with a big-ass rocket that could fling you off to space, was the Indian space program.
She took a plane to Bangalore, put on her sexiest skirt suit, and strolled right in to the ISRO’s offices. She slapped her briefcase on the receptionist’s desk. “Hello, ma’am, where can I rent a rocket?” Straight to the point, that was Petra’s motto in life. Never failed her so far.
The receptionist coughed. She had a fine tan all over, almost syrupy. Petra made a mental note to get her tanning salon’s number. “Um… You mean to get to space?”
“Yeap,” Petra said, impatiently, popping her lips.
“For a satellite?” The well-tanned receptionist picked up her phone, “Which space agency should I say you work for?”
“Petra,” said Petra, not skipping a beat.
The receptionist spoke in whispers on the phone. “Yes, ma’am, the director will see you know,” she said with a wide smile and escorted her to the top floor.
A very tall and tanned man greeted her. Did everyone here go to the same tanning salon? It looked very good on them, she needed to get on it right away. Focus, Petra, treat yourself later. Get to the Shiny rock first, then have fun.
She shook the man’s hand. “Hello, are you in charge?”
“I am,” the man said, showing her in his office. “What can I do for you?”
“Well, I need a rocket. Do you have any?” Petra said, raising her chin. There. Straight to the point.
“We sure do!” the director chuckled. “What’s the payload, so we can see what’s available?”
Her eye flinched at that, but she had to answer. It was one of the things those pesky scientists kept insisting about, the weight of things. In kilos, no less. What sort of idiot measures things in kilos? “Fifty-five kilos,” she said.
The director sat back in his big and important chair. “That’s not a lot,” he said, breathing out, looking as if he was doing math in his mind. What a nerd.
“Thank you,” Petra said with a proud smirk. She held her briefcase in front of her belly, delicate-like, like a lady.
“We can certainly do that. What’s the launch window?”
“As soon as possible. There’s a timer on that offer,” Petra said, nodding importantly.
“I see,” the director said, stippling his fingers. “Well, it’s a low-end rocket, so I think we can actually accommodate your organisation. Petra, you said, it’s called?”
“Yes. It’s a new endeavour.” She wasn’t lying. She had just gotten the idea two days ago.
“And the target orbit? So we can get you a fuel estimate as soon as possible, these things take some time to calculate, you see.”
She gave him the folder from her briefcase. It contained all the data she had swiped from the briefing on Shiny.
The director went over the folder, skimming it, then went back to some specific charts. His significant eyebrows shot up. “This is not a small feat. Not in orbit then, but an asteroid survey!”
“Are you saying you can’t do it? I can always go to that Space Sex company.”
“No, no! We most certainly can. It will simply be a challenge, one that we will be happy to overcome for you. You said you wanted this as soon as possible?”
“Yes. Whoever gets to it first gets the prize, I’ve been told.”
He smiled. “I understand. Well, let me make a copy of this folder and we can get back to you as soon as we have our mathematicians and our supercomputer crunch the numbers.”
She raised a meaningful eyebrow. Hers was delicately plucked, of course. “It better be quick.”
“I’ll put a rush on it. 48 hours, is that acceptable?”
She sniffed and paused for a moment. She knew from handling men all these years that you shouldn’t look too eager to get in bed with them, even if your panties were already dripping wet, like her own was right now. “I can wait 48 hours before going to someone else,” she finally said.
“Excellent!” the director said getting up, and shook her hand again.
Petra flew back to America and decided she needed to actually learn some of that nerd stuff about asteroids if she was going to pull this off. So she found a YouTube video that explained it all. Space mining, it was called. It would trigger the new space race, but there were challenges, the video said. It was a great video, it had animations and everything! But, the voice-over guy said, some of those challenges were insurmountable, whatever that meant. Something about tethers and surveys and international ownership laws and corporations needed to work together and other silly stuff. Petra tuned out. She got what she needed to know from the video: whoever got to that asteroid first, owned it. If two people, as in two corporations worked together to get there, they both owned it. The video guy said it would take at least four of the biggest corporations on the planet working together to get to the asteroid.
Now that was stupid.
They’d have to split the profits, wouldn’t they?
What was half of half of a trillion dollars? Petra didn’t know, but she was sure it meant she could buy a lot of designer shoes.
Anyway, she turned the video off. Those scientist guys were idiots, gnawing at the problem for thirty years like a bunch of cowards.
It was so simple for Petra. The Shiny was up there in the sky. The Shiny was worth a trillion dollars. Whoever got to the Shiny first, got the ownership rights. She didn’t even need to actually mine it after that, all she needed was to own it. And the Shiny was being followed by stethoscopes all over the Earth. Yeah. So, everyone knew where the Shiny was. All Petra needed to do was to get a rocket big enough to get to it.
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
She shook her head. How could those silly scientists make this simple thing look like a ton of problems? Nerds…
Now, she realised that the rocket wouldn’t be cheap. After all it was a huge penis that shot up at the sky, making a fuss in the process. Huge penises that shot up in the sky making a fuss in the process felt to Petra like they cost a lot, like a million dollars lot.
Perhaps even two million.
She needed a guy who had said million dollars to spare. Even two.
She tapped her chin, squinting at the night lights below her window. Now, where would she find such a man?
The magazines said those millionaire types hung around in Dubai. But she had just come from that direction and she didn’t wanna go all the way back. So she settled for the next best thing, a Texan cow tycoon.
She had to get ready for this ‘chance’ encounter of hers. She strolled inside a shop and said, “I wanna buy a gun.”
“Sure, ma’am. Do you have a preference?” the shopkeeper said.
Petra thought about it. She tilted her head to the side, and looked around the counter. There were pinups on the wall, lovely gals wearing pretty much nothing and holding onto big guns. She pointed at a blonde one, that one looked like her. “I wanna look exactly like that. I want that gun, those skimpy jeans, that tight top. I want guys like you to get horny just by looking at me.”
The shopkeeper turned around and unpinned the poster from his wall. He settled it on the counter and considered it deeply. “I’ll cost ya, ma’am.”
Petra smiled wide and plopped her cash on the counter.
“Yeap, I can sell you that rifle, sure. Extended barrel, that’s what the big thing at the end is. You’ll need some rounds to do some target practise, wouldn’t wanna look like a newbie. As for the outfit? I think my cousin across the street can accommodate ya, I’ll call her up.”
Petra rubbed her hands together. It was all coming together!
Petra held the big gun sexily. She ran her hands up and down the stock, and made sure she had all the guys’ attention in the firing range. But her sights were on one guy in particular.
“Excuse me sir, could you help me with this reload?” she said huskily. “It’s stuck and I can’t get it in.”
“Well, hello,” he said, taking off his hat.
“Hello,” Petra giggled and rubbed her boobies on his arm.
“Lemme see. Yeah, it’s a standard problem, you see,” he demonstrated with his dexterous fingers, “this jams up all the time, you gotta jiggle it like this.”
“Oh! I didn’t know that, you’re so clever. Can I jiggle it?” she said, bouncing up her down, making her boobs jiggle along.
“Sure!” he gave her the rifle back. “That’s a lot of rifle for such a small lady like you,” he said.
“I can handle it,” she winked at him.
“What’s your name, big-gun lady?”
“Petra. And what’s yours?”
“Johnson. I own the Johnson lands and livestock,” he said, puffing his chest.
“So interesting!” Petra said, eyes wide. She put her hand on the muscle of his arm. “Tell me more.”
“Miss Petra?” the director said over the phone. He had a sing-song accent that she found delightful.
“Yeah?” she said, digging for gold inside her nose. There was one particular booger that day that simply refused to get out.
“We have your estimates.”
“Tell me, then.” She dug deeper.
The director took an audible breath. “We can certainly do what you require of us. It’s 14.2 million US dollars.”
Silence. Petra took out her finger. Damn, still nothing.
“Miss Petra? Are you still there?”
“Yes, yes. Alright, let’s round it up to fifteen million. Got it. Can you have the rocket ready in time?”
The director was excited now. “Of course! We’ll need a downpayment, of course,”
“Yeah, yeah,” Petra said, dismissing his comment. She dug in with her pinky. That one should get in deep.
“So, we have a deal then?” the director asked.
“If you can deliver, yes. Send me the papers and I’ll go over them and get them signed.” She found an edge, she was digging in…
“And what about the payload? Won’t you tell us what it is?”
“It’s a… top secret project. You understand. Actually, now that you mentioned it, have you and your people sign a bunch of those NDAs.”
“Of course, Miss Petra! I completely understand. We will begin the Petra launch preparations immediately, and keep you up to date at every step of the way!” The director sounded ecstatic.
“Good, good.” She got her pinky out of her nose, and it had that damn booger stuck on the tip! Finally, this had been killing her all day. “Great!”
“Glad to hear you’re pleased, miss Petra. I am on it, as you Americans like to say.”
“We do that a lot, yeah.”
There was one thing still missing. Okay, two things. One, was the equipment she needed to get to the Shiny. And two, she needed to find a drill. Not just any drill, but a space-drill.
What was the difference?
Heck if she knew.
She went into a local Black and Decker. “Hello,” the employee said.
“Hello. I need a space-drill.”
The employee forced down a smirk. “A what?”
“A. Space. Drill.”
“You mean a heavy-duty one?”
“No, I mean one that works in space.”
“To do what?” the employee deadpanned.
“To drill. In space. You know…” Petra mimicked the motion. “Bzzzin. Drilling.”
“Ugh…” Wait, she knew that. What was it, what was it… She clicked her fingers. “An icy mantle.”
“You mean… ice.”
“You want a drill, that operates in space, and can drill through ice.”
“Yeap.” She popped her mouth.
“It doesn’t matter, it’s the act of drilling that’s the whole deal, really?” she squinted at him.
“Okay. Whatever. One battery-operated drill that can operate in vacuum and can drill through, let’s say five-inches of ice?”
Petra opened her palm and recounted how long Johnson’s Johnson was in her hand. “Yeah, five inches should be enough.”
The employee tapped his keyboard. “Here, we have a heavy-duty drill for deep-earth use. Has artificial diamond drill-bits that have the highest rating worldwide. It can operate in oxygen-lacking environments, and can drill through bedrock, even pockets of mineral deposits.”
She pointed at him, eyes wide. “Mineral deposits, yes! That’s perfect.”
“Sure, whatever. Do you want it gift-wrapped?”
“No, as is.”
“Okay. Please wait.”
“Hold on. How can I be sure it will work?”
“There’s a guarantee on it. If it doesn’t work in the specific conditions you requested, they have gone on the purchase record and you can simply bring it back for a refund or a replacement.”
She sucked through her teeth. “Bringing it back might be hard. I need to know it works for sure.”
The employee shrugged. “Test it out, then.”
No problem. Test it out. She carried her new drill inside the butcher’s. They told her they had slabs of ice in their walk-in freezer that hadn’t been replaced for decades.
That was good enough, wasn’t it?
Petra checked to see the charge. It was full. She put on one of the drill bits and lifted it up. It was a bit heavy for her, but she remembered that in space, things were just floating around. So that shouldn’t be a problem for her when she got her hands on the Shiny.
Now, to see if this thing can get through a Johnson of dirty ice.
She fired up the drill and pressed it on the icy block.
One thing left. She decided to go online for this.
“Yeah, I’m interested in purchasing item number 12 from your website?”
“Of course. Let me pull up the details. Ah, yes,” the woman on the line said. “One of our best items. It comes pre-packaged with everything-”
“Yeah, yeah,” Petra interrupted. “I can read the listing, I’m not an idiot. I wanna buy one, size small. Can you send it to me?”
“Uh, of course, miss, but it’s a custom order. It takes time to prepare, we don’t have one of these just hanging around in a closet.”
“Urgh! Fine… How long?”
“For the custom order? Three weeks?”
“Unacceptable. How long if I can pay for two of them. But get one. You get what I’m saying? Charge for two, and make one, in half the time. No, make that half of half the time. How much will that cost?”
The woman on the line stuttered. “Um-Yes, definitely. We can do that. But I’ll need to speak to the CEO…”
“Go do that and call me back,” Petra said.
Petra breathed in and looked at the stethoscope pictures of Shiny she hung on the wall. Her asteroid. It was going to become hers, very, very soon.
Those scientists would be shocked when she got her hands on it first. Petra, just a lowly secretary at NASA, getting solo ownership of the world’s first asteroid.
A trillion dollars.
She breathed out, mumbling the words again and again. A trillion dollars. A trillion dollars. Okay, she had to marry Johnson now, as he was taken by her, hard. He had even gifted her cows. Who in the world gifts cows to a woman?
Well, Johnson did, apparently.
In a weird way, it had worked for him.
She’d marry him, and he’d fund her little Shiny project. A girl needs her shiny rocks, after all.
Petra answered her phone. “Yeah?”
“Miss Petra, we are about ready now in flight control. Don’t you wish to see the launch from the VIP booth?” the director asked with his thick accent.
She looked around the confined space of the rocket’s tip. “Uh… I can see it, don’t worry. Wouldn’t miss it for the world!” she chuckled.
“All right miss, whatever you wish. Do we have a go?”
“You have a go,” she said firmly.
“Enjoy the launch, miss Petra.”
“I will,” she said, scrunching up her face. She dropped her phone and she reached out to get it. Ungh! She was strapped in too tight, there was no way she could reach it now.
They fired up the engines. It felt like a dozen earthquakes underneath her feet. But nothing prepared her for the actual launch.
“Secret payload firing in 10…” flight control said. “9…8…”
“Oh… This was a mistake,” Petra said, her teeth rattling.
She held on tight. “I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die. I’m too young and pretty to die.”
“Nobody said this thing would be so uncomfortable!” she screamed at the ISRO’s customer service’s general direction and braced for dear life.
She felt the entire rocket slam onto her back. It was as if a tower-sized metal cylinder just landed on top of you, only it was heading the other way round.
She passed out.
Petra opened her eyes. She was flying through space! Weee!
It was pretty. But the stars didn’t shoot past her.
“I repeat…” a voice came, drowned out in static. “Miss Petra, can you hear me? I repeat, miss-”
“Yeah, yeah. You’re giving me a headache.”
“Oh, thank God,” the director said over the comms.
“Which one? Don’t you Indians have different totems and such?”
“ALL OF THEM!” the director screamed, having lost his patience. “THANK, FUCKING, ALL OF THE GODS!”
Petra flew into space. She waited a bit. “Feeling better now, Director?”
He spoke softly now. “Yes. Much, thank you. And we’re not that kind of Indians, but that’s not the pertinent issue right now. What were you thinking?”
“What do you mean? Didn’t your math nerds calculate what it took to shoot the payload at the asteroid?”
“Yes… But that was for a survey satellite, not a person!”
“What’s the difference? Stuff is stuff.”
“Well, yeah…” he trailed off. “Miss Petra, this is insane. You have effectively killed yourself, and you’ve made us complicit to it!”
“Not really. You didn’t know what the payload was, you signed a contract, and NDAs and everything.”
“And aren’t you recording this?”
“Well, I Petra Stone, tricked those poor Indians and it wasn’t their fault if I’m gonna die. So, don’t arrest them or nothin’. Okay?”
The director said nothing for a long moment.
“Am I heading straight?”
“No! The payload is off. We calculated fifty-five kilograms exactly.”
“Are you calling me fat?”
“No, Petra. You’re carrying something with you?”
She looked down at her belt. “My drill.”
The director sighed. “That’s what, five, six kilograms?”
“Pretty much. But it doesn’t matter in space. Everything floats here. See?”
“No it doesn’t, you stupid blonde bimbo!” the director screamed again. He calmed himself down. “Look, mass still has inertia. It threw off the calculations. You’re going to overshoot the asteroid. I’m so sorry, you’ve killed yourself.”
Petra bit her lip. She was so close! She could see a speck, that was Shiny, right? She could just jog the distance there, dying a hair-breadth’s away from it was so, damn, stupid.
“Wait, don’t you have a room full of nerds there?”
“Yes, we do,” the director said, curiosity in his tone.
“Well, then figure it out. I have the Space sex space suit item number 12, size small. I lost my phone on the launch, don’t know where it is. And I have my Black and Decker drill on me.”
“That’s not… Wait! That’s it, hold on, miss Petra.”
She shrugged. “I guess I’ll hold.” She looked at the stars as she waited.
The director came back on after far too long of a waiting period. “Okay, we have something. You’ll have to execute it perfectly, do you hear me?”
“Sure. Hit me.”
“You’re going to throw the drill away.”
“Into space, to push you the other way.”
“No!” she squealed. “I need it to drill a hole and claim the asteroid.”
“Miss Petra, are you insane? We’re just trying to give you a place to die peacefully right now instead of drifting forever into space, and you’re worried about ownership rights?”
“I said no! The whole reason I’ve done all this is to get Shiny,” she whined.
The director breathed deep, then spoke to someone beside him. “All right. They tell me you can drill with your hand, just keep one drill bit on you.”
“Oh,” she checked her belt. “I can do that.”
“Very good. Now, will you throw the drill when I tell you?”
“This is gonna void the warranty,” she grunted, pulling it out.
“Hold the drill over your left shoulder.”
“Doing it,” she struggled, stretching her arm back.
“And throw it when I tell you, not a second later, not before. Exactly when I say ‘now.’”
“You got it.”
“Hold on… Throw it over your head, as if you want it to come down and hit you on the face.”
“Why would I wanna do that?”
“It’s not going to come down, miss Petra! Just be ready.”
“Hold on… In three… Two… One… Now!”
She threw the drill.
Her trajectory adjusted accordingly, just a mere fraction. It was enough.
She landed on her Shiny, bouncing on its surface like a rag doll. She almost bounced off, but she managed to get a handhold on a fissure and grip tight.
“Can you see me with your stethoscopes, director? I did it! Whoohoo!” she screamed with delight, face down on Shiny.
“I can’t believe it. The crazy bitch did it…” someone said next to the mic.
She grunted, pushing the drill bit into the icy rock. It was more dirty than she could ever imagine. It was very hard to manipulate the drill bit with her gloves, but she managed to turn it a few times, making a tiny nick on the surface.
“Do I own the asteroid now?”
“Well… Yes, it seems you do. Technically. But you have effectively committed suicide. There’s no way you can get back from there,” the director said solemnly.
“Can you broadcast my voice?”
“Oh, trust me, you crazy woman, half the world is listening in right now. You’re completely nuts. Completely.”
“Okay then. Hear me out, world. I’m Petra. I own this asteroid, THX whatever. I’m renaming it to Shiny, because it’s easier to say. And I’m selling first-mining rights to the first corporation that can come and get me alive, right now, off this rock and back to my future husband.
A beat. And then a crowd erupted from the comms, she could hear everybody speaking at the same time.
She tapped her foot on the icy crust and checked her oxygen. She had two more days. These Space sex suits really were as good as the ad said.
This would be boring. Oh, well. At least it was peaceful up here with all the stars. She could daydream about all the things she could buy with a trillion dollars.
Petra waited patiently on top of her Shiny new asteroid for her ride back home.