How can the chance of a lifetime go so horribly wrong?
Mining Engineer Cole Hudson signed up for NASA astronaut training, but after washing out short of getting his gold wings, he retreats to Alaska where he stakes out a gold claim. When billionaire entrepreneur Duncan Janson offers him an opportunity to join a mining team on an asteroid, Cole jumps at the chance.
But nothing is as it seems. Former NASA reject and rival classmate, Tessa Hernandez, is also a member of the team, and from the beginning of the mission test flight, things go wrong. They soon discover they’re not the only ones on the asteroid. As they try to escape, they are pulled through a wormhole and back to the early 1800s New Mexico desert where aliens and Apaches may be the least of their problems.
Cole ground his molars together before he could unleash the torrent of swears coursing through his brain in reply. Of course the washplant was down. Again.
This claim would be the end of him.
“Show me,” Cole said.
His foreman, Todd Cargill, held up four shredded washplant screens with holes the size of bowling balls, useless now for the first step in screening for gold.
Cole squeezed his eyes shut and wondered for the eleven-millionth time this summer why the hell he’d come to Alaska.
Redemption, he reminded himself.
Wasn’t worth it.
“That was my last replacement screen. Be a week before the supply plane can bring us more,” Todd said. “No use running dirt until it’s fixed. This way, we’re only making mud.”
Most expensive mud he’d ever not made. A week in the bush with no work? He’d have to pay the crew, regardless, or he’d lose the whole lot of them. Hell, he still owed them from last month. They were running out of summer to mine, and they’d barely collected any gold so far.
“Shut it down. I’ll call in the order.”
“What do you want me to tell the guys?” Todd asked.
The chop, chop, chop of helicopter blades slowly pounded across the sky until the beast came into sight on the horizon. What the hell was a chopper doing out this far?
The copter landed on the flat several hundred feet from their dredge, stirring the dust up from the broken ground and tailings. Covering his face with his arm, Cole coughed into his elbow and waited for the cloud to settle. The copter blades whirled to a stop, and his small crew left their work detail to gather around him and see what was going on.
A white-haired man, maybe fifty, maybe older, emerged from the helicopter cabin, quickly followed by two men wearing sleek black suits, wrinkled from the tactical firearm harnesses strapped snugly across their chests. They were loaded for bear.
That wasn’t what concerned Cole. He knew he was in for trouble the second the guy’s thousand dollar cowboy boots hit the turf. The man swatted at the swirling dust on his white shirt and designer jeans then brushed his hands through his shoulder-length hair three or four times, shaking it out like the mane of a horse. He cranked up a smile as he made a beeline for Cole.
“Mr. Hudson?” the man asked.
“You look exactly like your NASA application photo, Mr. Hudson. Haven’t changed a bit in the past five months. It was five months you were detained. Yes?”
Todd coughed loudly beside him. “Okay, I think we have things to do. Let’s go, boys.” Todd urged the crew back toward their office trailer.
Cole was going to have to give his foreman a raise. Right after he beat the dandy in front of him into a bloody pulp.
“Who exactly are you, and what the hell are you doing here? Surely you didn’t fly that deathtrap all the way out here just to insult me in front of my crew. Or did you? You with Montoya?”
The man appeared bewildered for a moment. “Oh my. Let me start over. I…this wasn’t the impression I intended to make. I’m afraid I started off badly. I’m simply so excited to find you. Out here.” He motioned toward the distant tundra. “It’s a very, very long way out here.” He flashed another smile at Cole and offered his hand. “Duncan Janson. You might know me from the airline ads?”
Cole stared at the man’s smooth, tanned hand. The guy had never worked a day of hard labor in his life if those hands told the right story—that much was obvious. He knew exactly who he was, now. Billionaire airline owner and profiteer. What he didn’t know was what he was doing on his little piece of Alaska.
“You answered the first question. Now answer the second,” Cole said, purposely not taking the offered hand.
Janson pulled his hand back then clapped them together, clearly proud of himself. “I’m here to offer you a job.”
“I have a job.”
“This would be quite a different job. Well, maybe not all that different. You’d still be mining, but you would also have a chance to partake in some of your other passions.”
Clouds slid past the sun, and a gust of wind stirred up a dirt devil near the copter, cooling the air noticeably.
“What is it you think you know about my passions, exactly?” Cole asked.
Janson twisted his expensive Rolex around his wrist nervously. “Was it not your passion for space that led to your gambling problem? Trying to raise enough money to continue in the program? Which led to your legal issues, which led to your detainment and now self-exile here in this godforsaken place? Isn’t your work here an effort to earn enough money to finance your first two passions? It’s a bit of a vicious circle, it seems.”
Cole could feel his blood pressure rising. This asshole was on his last nerve five minutes after meeting him and about one more sentence away from a shallow Alaskan grave.
“What if all of your skills could be utilized to fulfill each of those…passions? You’d be paid well. Very well.”
“Is this prospect legal?”
“Yes, but it’s not without risks. I want to hire you to do some mining for me.”
“Where? You have a claim in Alaska?”
“I’m afraid my claim is quite a bit farther away from here. Your gambling problem and detention might have gotten you booted out of NASA’s space program, but your personal problems are not a deterrent to me. Your other skills and expertise are exactly what are needed for my project.”
Skepticism scratched at the back of his mind, but Cole couldn’t deny he was intrigued. He hated Janson’s manner, but he could take his money. No problem. Hell, this job might be the financial boost he needed to finally make this claim profitable.
“How long is the job, and where is it?” Cole asked.
Janson smiled again, clearly certain he’d already sealed the deal. “I expect the job to take around six months. All expenses paid, of course. With an option to renew for a second mission after that, if you are so inclined. Your season here is winding down? Am I correct?”
Considering the ruined washplant screens? Yeah, winding down would be a kindness.
“You didn’t tell me where the job is,” Cole pressed.
“Ah, that’s the best part, Mr. Hudson. The job is on Amun. It’s an asteroid. I want you to mine it for me.”
She may or may not keep a complete zombie apocalypse bug-out bag in her trunk at all times, including a machete. Just. In. Case.