My first coherent thought, following the obvious realization that I was still alive, was that I was covered in dust. Dust I could handle. I had been cleaning up after other people my whole life.

Brushing grit and debris from my hair, I sat up amid the rubble of the collapsed building and peered around. The space had been transformed into an eerie jumble of broken walls, the only light a flickering old incandescent that had, until minutes before, been affixed to the ceiling. The ceiling itself lay broken beneath my feet and what now passed for a ceiling, I was relatively sure, had been several floors up before the ground had shifted and much of the south district had dropped into another forgotten mine. The light fixture whined like a low-level blasting charge. I knew that sound. Before long it would be out altogether, plunging me into darkness. If I were to escape the wreckage, I had best be about it. 

It wasn’t the first time I’d been caught in a mine drop and survived. No doubt it wouldn’t be the last. Living on asteroid R-2112 on the edge of the Empire meant living on top of the endless warrens previous generations of ’belters had mined and subsequent generations had forgotten. Once, such oversights had been considered criminal, but as demand for Zeiton-7-9er increased, safety regulations decreased. At least that’s what Granddad always said.

I knew only too well to avoid the tangle of electrical leads and dripping water pipes as I made my way slowly through the remains of the south district city centre. There was scarcely room to move, let alone stand up, and as I crawled on my hands and knees, sharp bits of fallen plas-crete and twisted iron tore at my tunic and trousers, biting into my skin. The most likely escape route also appeared to be the one furthest from the light. I looked back over my shoulder, blinking more dust from my eyes. That was there no matter where you went on R-2112. Dust from the mines. Dust recycled by faulty ventilation systems. Dust of the ages settling over the decaying mining colony. Another water pipe broke and I heard a rush like the artificial rivers in the Central Dome. There, it would have been a delight. Here, it meant the danger of electrocution was growing.

Turning back, I began to pick my way once more over the uneven surface, calling softly, then with more gusto.

'Hello? Is anyone else there?' 

A rustle to one side caught my attention and as I watched, a chunk of pearl-white plas-crete tumbled down, revealing… a hand.


I drew a sharp breath, startled at the sight, afraid for a moment that it was no longer attached to its original owner. But I could see no blood, and the hand was reaching toward me as surely as if whoever it belonged to knew that I was there. 

'Hello? Oh, my God,' I said, scrambling over sharp edges to get closer. 'Are you all right? Are you trapped?' Are you dead? A wave of crackling energy swept over me, the ground beneath my hands and knees shivering as if in response. Without an active stabilisation field we were going to be in for another bumpy ride. And if the dome itself had been compromised…

'Hold on,' I whispered, as much for myself as anyone.

I flattened myself against the debris and reached out, desperate for the warmth of another’s touch, closed my eyes, and prayed. 


The local power supply had failed, but that was probably for the best. Behind closed eyes I’d seen a flash of blue light just before the shuddering preamble of a secondary mine drop. Then nothing. I could still hear the steady stream of water somewhere behind me, spilling like a waterfall into the depths of the mines below. In the cloying bleakness I anchored myself to the only other living person I had found. At least I was relatively sure he was alive. And relatively sure it was a he.

'Are you there?' I whispered again, squeezing the fingers I’d wrapped my hand around before the lights had completely gone out. I hoped I hadn’t done the poor, misfortunate soul further injury.

A moment later, I felt a firm, gentle grip on my hand. 

'Can you hear me? Are you all right?' 

A muffled laugh was the reply, then: 'That’s debatable. Do buildings often collapse around here?' 

I grinned. A sense of humour was a good sign. Granddad always said that you’d be fine if you could maintain a sense of humour in the face of disaster. It was the ones who panicked that didn’t survive.

The ones that gave in to despair. I’d once waited the better part of three days to be rescued after a mine drop. You just had to believe. It was rather like Christmas back on Old Earth. So far away as the year began, but eventually, it came, rescuing you from the darkness of winter. In space it always seemed like winter.

I pulled myself closer to the man in the rubble and patted his hand gently, worried about the extent of his injuries. 

'Your hand is so cold.' 

'Cold hands. Warm hearts. That’s me,' a friendly voice assured me. 

'I’m bel-Keegan.' 

'Hello,bel-Keegan.' He seemed ever so relaxed for a man trapped beneath a building. 'I’m called the Doctor.' 

A Doctor? I had no idea that any Doctors had been in the building that morning. If he wasn’t too badly injured he would be worth his weight in Zeiton 7-9er once we were free and he could ply his trade among the survivors. 

'Which Doctor are you?' I asked, stroking his hand, hoping that he would keep talking to me. His voice was nice and it was so dark here. I hadn’t been frightened before, but it was getting warmer, the air closer. 

'Nope,' he said, 'not a witch Doctor. Just the Doctor.' 

I smiled. 'Just the Doctor?' 

'Hello!' he said cheerily, and he squeezed my hand. 

'Hello,' I said back, feeling more than a little foolish, but people said strange things and acted in strange ways during times like this. I ought to know. I’d been not far from here last year when part of the old town had gone down. That time I had been trapped with six others. Only four of them made it out alive. 

'I can start digging--' 

'No! No,' he said again, more calmly. 'Too unstable. No. Best you stay right where you are. I expect help’s coming. Or will be.' 

A faint whir tickled at my senses and I swallowed deeply, wondering what bit of equipment might still be powered up. A moment later it was gone. I coughed, feeling the dust settling in my lungs. That was the greatest danger--if you didn’t fall through into a deep shaft--not getting enough fresh air. Sometimes the disaster response teams drilled holes into the wreckage, piping in good, breathable air. If you were lucky they ran lines from the centre of the city where everything was maintained better. If not… it was just more recycled dust. It rather depended on where you were and who you were trapped with. No one would be looking for me. I knew that. But if they knew a Doctor was in the building…  I licked my lips, hating to spit precious moisture away but knowing that was preferable to letting the dust clog up my airways. 

'Are you all right?' the Doctor buried in the rubble asked. 

'Fine and dandy,' I answered. That’s how Granddad always put it. 'You?'

'Couldn’t be better. Well,' he amended, 'maybe I could. But I’ve got good company and that’s what counts, eh, Keegan?'

I blinked, nodding my head even though he couldn’t see me. It was kind of him to drop my class distinction and just call me by the name my mother had given me. Yes. Good company was what counted. I did not realize that I hadn’t told him so out loud.

'...in the end there wasn’t much for it, so I just held my nose and I jumped!'

I smiled at the image of the Doctor running from a swarm of furry little mice, he called them… and being forced to take the plunge into a vat of orange marmalade. Mice, I’d never seen, but I’d found a tiny jar of marmalade in my Christmas stocking once. I’d have been willing to face a hoard of those fiendish unknown mice in pursuit of such a rare delicacy.