Astro nudged Atlas, “Stand up straight and behave yourself!,” he whispered. “You don't want to piss off the judge!”
Atlas gave Astro a shove back and quickly ran his fingers though his long blond hair in an effort remove its unruliness. He looked up at the bench sitting on the raised platform where the judge sat, shuffling though the case paperwork. Atlas glanced to his left where the state representatives sat. Duke Red the council for the government, and Alderman Lampe both glanced in his direction, and then continued to huddle in quiet conversation. “No doubt gloating over my demise,” Atlas shuddered to himself. Professor Ochanomizu glanced between Yuko on his right, who was serving as the defense representative, and the two boy robots on his left.
The judge finished arranging the case paperwork into a neat pile, and then banged his gavel on the desk to call the court to order. “In the matter of Atlas vs Tokyo prefecture”, the judge began, clearing his throat, “The court is prepared to render its decision.”
Astro raised his right hand to get the attention of the magistrate. “Yes, Astro?” the judge questioned.
“If I may, I'd like to address the court before you announce your decision,” Astro asked.
“You may speak up,” the judge replied.
“I don't think it's right to deactivate Atlas,” Astro started. “I know he can be a trouble maker, but there is some good in him. He's never actually hurt anybody, and except for the damage he has done to Tokugawa industries he hasn't actually destroyed any public properties.”
“That's sugar coating it just a bit,” the judge replied picking up part of the large stack of papers on his desk. “I have quite a bit of complaints against Atlas, enough to qualify him as more than just a public nuisance. More than enough to justify his deactivation, actually.”
“Even so,” Astro continued, “Atlas has put his own life on the line on quite a few documented occasions, mostly to assist the fire department. He has saved the life of many firefighters on numerous occasions, you should have the public records for that.”
“Yes, I do,” the judge replied, holding up a thin document. “You've done your legal homework, Astro. However, this court has granted Atlas reprieves on parole many times, so many in fact that I cannot grant him another. My hands are now tied.”
“Then put him into my guardianship, your honor,” Astro begged. “I'll be responsible to keep him in line.”
The judge paused to move the piles of paperwork around, and picked up one of the documents. He sighed and starred at the two robots standing in front of the the defense. Professor Ochanomizu whispered to Astro, “I hop you know what you are doing,”
“Don't worry, Hakase, I do,” Astro voiced back.
Finally the judge glared at Alderman Lampe, and Councilman Duke Red. He opened the document that he'd selected and put his reading glasses on. Without looking up at the court, he spoke.
“Atlas, a pardon is no longer an option for this court. The state has presented enough evidence to warrant my ordering your deactivation and dismantlement. However, there is one other option at my disposal, that is assuming that Astro is willing to go along with it.”
The judge lowered his reading glasses enough to allow him to glance over the tops of them to look at the two boy robots. “I can sentence you to serve six months labor with the Asteroid belt miners. If you can demonstrate that you can peacefully exist in a mixed community of robot and human laborers, you will earn your redemption.”
Atlas balled his hands into fists and contorted the features of his face, as if in defiance. The judge noticed his change in posture, but ignored it as he continued. “This is not a sentence to a prison slave labor camp, Atlas – Kun. All of the members of the Asteroid belt mining community have volunteered for this work, as you will be doing. They are paid quite well, considering the hazardous nature of this work, and you will share in this compensation. If you do not agree to volunteer to join the miners, then this court will have no choice but to order your demise. Again, I stress that I will not make this option available, unless Astro is willing to also volunteer to join the mining crew, to serve as your guardian.”
A dumbfound look crossed Atlas's face. “Wait, your honor,” he stammered, “You mean that I have to work along side of Astro, and he's serving as my jailer?”
“Astro will work as hard as you will,” the judge replied, “But he will not be your jailer, this isn't a chain gang. I'm demanding that Astro be with you since he stated that he was willing to be responsible for you. You should be grateful to him, he's probably the only individual in this courtroom that doesn't want to see you destroyed.”
Atlas looked around the courtroom. “Who's in charge of this mining operation, your honor?” he asked. “Who am I going to be working for?”
“The Asteroid mining consortium is a fully owned part of the Tokugawa corporation,” the judge smiled. “And don't you dare think for a minute that the irony of this is lost on me!”
Atlas threw his duffel bag onto the upper bunk, while Astro was settling in beneath him. “I still don't understand your sticking up for me,” Atlas grumbled. “We've never gotten along, and I still think you are a human butt licker. I also don't know what was worse, the cramped spaceship that brought us to this rock, or the rotten quarters we're now confined to.”
“I agreed to become your guardian because the alternative would have been your death,” Astro said, giving Atlas punch in the shoulder. And as far as these accommodations are concerned, we won't be here that long. We'll probably be assigned to one of the smaller asteroids for the duration.” Astro caught the bored look in the blond haired robot's face, and tried to catch his interest. “For your information, Ceres is the headquarters for the mining operation, and serves as the space port for all transportation between the asteroid belt and Earth. It's the largest of the asteroids, and is often considered to be a minor planet. It was discovered in 1801 by the astronomer Guyseooe Piazzi, after astronomer Johaan Bode had suggested that there should have been a planet in the gap between Mars and Jupiter. At first it was considered to be the fifth planet of our solar system, but soon afterward its discovery other bodies were found in the same region, and Ceres was demoted to being just another of the asteroids found in the belt.”
“I didn't ask for a cosmology lesson,” Atlas grumbled.
Astro looked at the clock, and then at Atlas. “We have a few hours before the rest of the new crew arrives. Want to do some exploring?”
“Sure, why not?” Atlas asked.
Being robots, the two boys didn't need to suit up. They exited the crew quarters, then through the mess hall, and found themselves in the main chamber where the crew would gather for their assignments. The next area after that was the large hanger area. Entry into this area was through an airlock, since the room was often open to the airless surface of the planetoid when the hanger was being used for cargo loading and unloading of a space transport ship. Right now the large hanger doors were locked tight, so they had to make use of one of the two smaller airlock doors to gain access to the surface of Ceres.
“This place looks like the moon,” Atlas grumbled as they tread across the powered surface of the airless world. “Look at all the craters in the distance.”
Astro's moon boots kicked up small grains of sand like particles that had been compressed by the treads of a heavy vehicle on tank like running gear. The tracks ran from the large hanger doors out into the distance where one of the many rocket landing pads were located. The boys looked up into the distance where a low mountain range touched the horizon.
“Most airless rocky worlds look the same,” Astro agreed. “Ceres surface has quite a bit of water bound into it chemically though. It's possible to extract enough water from what's dug up from just beneath the surface to supply enough for the needs of the base's population. That saves them the expense of having to ship it in from Earth. They can also break down the water to supply enough Oxygen for their needs as well.”
“ Tokugawa would do anything to save a buck,” Atlas grumbled. “Cheap SOB.”
“Let's head back,” Astro said, tugging on Atlas's hand. He pointed to the landing pad where a large crew transport had just landed. “Looks like the rest of the crew has arrived.”
Howard Ketchup stood with his hands on his hips looking over the crowd that had assembled in the main chamber of the complex. He mentally counted the gathered group, and noted that he had a good mix of robots and human workers. He looked for the name plates that each of the new volunteers wore on their overalls, and checked off each on on list in his clipboard. Satisfied that all were now present, he rapped his knuckles on the clipboard to get their attention.
“Welcome to Ceres, you space rats!” he yelled out loud. “The next transport off this rock won't show up for six months, so you're all stuck here till then. After some training on the way we do stuff out here most of you guys are going to be shipping out to one of the smaller rocks where you will be stuck for weeks at a time. The green horns out there will be going to Vesta. That asteroid is about half the size of Ceres, so the gravity is still strong enough to keep you from drifting off into space if you were to phart too hard. We have a well established dig on Vesta, but there is still a good amount of exploring to do do there. The old hands out there will be working on some of the smaller asteroids. That's where the real valuable minerals are, and the big payout in bonus. You can check the posting on the wall over there for your assignments.”
Ketchup marched out of the main chamber, and the crowd slowly wandered over to the cork board where the assignment sheets had been tacked up. Atlas ran his finger down the columns of text, looking for his name, and Astros. “Well duffus, it looks like both of us are bound for Vesta,” Atlas said.
“That's what I expected,” Astro replied. “They give the first timers the easiest assignments, and the veterans go to the more difficult ones.”
“We're better than all of these flesh bags,” Atlas huffed, “we should demand to get assigned to one of the smallest asteroids. Gravity is no issue for us, not with our rockets built in.”
“Micro gravity is no picnic,” Astro countered. “Besides, Vesta will be challenging enough.”
The next three weeks were a lot tougher than Atlas would admit. Astro had been right, Ceres gravity was only 0.03 times that of Earth, almost non existent actually. Vesta's would be less than half of that figure, and the smaller rocks even less. Operating the 'heavy' equipment required a skillful touch lest a too rough a maneuver send the vehicle on a sub-orbital leap. Astro was surprised at how quickly his former rival had mastered the use of the mining equipment.
The golden haired robots new skills were noticed by Howard Ketchup, the base foreman. “Hey Atlas!,” he chirped up, catching the two boys suiting up for another days activity. “I'm thinking of putting you in charge of one of my teams. You handle that excavator like a pro.”
Atlas was taken back by a complement from the human. “Thanks!” he managed to get out. “You still sending me and my sidekick to Vesta?”
“Yes, you're needed there badly,” Ketchup replied. “We can't really use the larger excavator on the smaller rocks, and I need your skill to dig out one of the last large digs on Vesta. There's still a good few mega kilos of mineral left there, and the profit on it will be a good haul for the company. Nice bonus for you too.”
“OK.” Atlas nodded. “When do we leave?”
“In about 36 hours,” Ketchup answered. “That's when the next available shuttle will be ready to depart. You two better get packing!”