I’m just writing this thing all kinds of out of order. Whatever works though!
Flit wipes his brow with the back of his arm. Down in the mines of Palica, he works endless hours under the command of his masters, the androids. These days are all the same, blurring together into one central theme; misery. Grimy hands, black dirt so deep in his fingernails he has to wait for them to grow to clean it out. He’s lost weight and it feels strange. All his life he was the fat boy. Piggy-piggy they called him. He wonders what those little jerk-offs would call him now.
Piggy-piggy, he thinks. This time because he’s filthy.
Bell rings. Flit drops his chisel and stands on knees that creak like a loose floorboard. A sharp pop sends a round of pain up his thigh. He grimaces, inhaling air so fast it sounds like he’s hissing.
What he really wants to do is scream—and not just because of his aching knees or dirty hands—he’s got a list of reasons to scream so long it would take more breaths than he could count to get it all out.
Flit makes his way through the tunnel, past another intersecting tunnel, turns right at the next intersection, and joins the other laborers. Down here their faces are indistinguishable. Dirt and soot paints their cheeks and foreheads. The only color left is red, white, and whatever their irises are.
The rumble of the elevator echoes off the bedrock walls of the mine. Sometimes he imagines them cracking, like the jolt of the elevator could somehow provoke a cave-in. He doesn’t like the thought, but it’s better than the androids forcing him to work twelve hours straight. The release of death sounds too sweet right now.
Flit needs to get the hell out of there before death can lure him into its open arms. He’s watched them all fall into that trap. They give in to the relentless call of surrender, fall victim to a siren’s song; lie down with no intention of ever waking again. Death is stalking them, calling their numbers in no certain order. It is and it isn’t what Flit wants.
The elevator lands again. It only fits ten men or fifteen children, depending on who is taking their turn. The children are usually the first to leave, the one mercy the androids offer. Though he isn’t so certain that it is mercy so much as it is a means to ensure the longevity of their laborers.
Ten men enter the metal cage. The line moves. Flit steps forward. The rhythm is familiar—endless. The song of misery loops; the song that never ends.
By the time Flit’s turn comes, an hour has passed—or so he believes. Down in the mines, there is no real sense of time. The only measurement is the number of chips in the unyielding rocks, the number of hammers beating against weakening walls, the number of men who cry out…the number of times death calls.
The elevator shudders as it begins to rise. Flit stares down at the blackened faces as they disappear. That’s when he hears snap! A crack so loud he catches his breath. Eyes widen, heart pounds, rocks tumble, walls cave. The mine is giving in.
The elevator jolts and sways. It bounces each time another wall of bedrock crumbles. Above them, daylight filters though clouds of black dust. They choke on the heavy elements of this poison planet; coughing, gasping, sucking in more toxic particles.
Flit drops to his knees and tries to hold his breath. They’re almost to the top, it’s there…it’s so close. “Come on….” He stares upward, watching the flood of light brighten. His mind races, chest tightens. “Come on!” He growls behind clenched teeth.
The elevator stops. They have not reached the top.
“Gods damn it all!” Flit jumps to his feet and starts to climb upward. He’s not dying here. Not a chance. You can call someone else’s number, Death.
Scrambling androids and screaming men, tumbling rock, wailing women…the sounds of chaos. The sounds of his chance. Freedom.
He grabs the top of the elevator and pulls himself up. A few others do the same. The rest cower below him. They’ve heard the siren’s song. It’s too late for them.
Flit is free. He leans over the edge of the ground and shimmies forward. Onto knees, then feet, he sprints toward the south wall. The land beneath him trembles as more of the mine collapses. Looking back for just a second, he watches the elevator shaft become a crater into which a pile of rubble gathers. Too late for them. It was too late before the mine began to collapse. He whips his head back toward his target and charges onward.
A deafening blast rocks the camp, and Flit is thrown upward like a living projectile. In slow motion, the ground moves beneath him, and chunks of ore and rock fly with him. He drops hard onto unforgiving, inflexible soil. His ears ring and vision blurs. The fall deflates his lungs. He breathes in, but they refuse to breathe out.
“Is that a human?” someone cries out. The voice sounds a million miles away, gurgled like it’s under water.
“I think so,” someone else says.
“Get him. I’ll look for others.”
Flit lifts his head to see a pair of black boots at the bottom of a pair of military fatigues. The knees bend. A face moves into view. “We’re here to help you,” the mouth says.
“Thanks….” The world goes black, and Flit passes out.
Green leaves rustle with a breeze. Flit stares upward at the canopy of a forest, allowing a moment to focus. There’s ringing in his ears still, and he isn’t certain where he is exactly. He sits up, winces from the ache in his back and neck. Others move around him. Groans and moans, tortured cries surround him. He glances about, looking into the faces of others who must have somehow escaped.
A shadow moves over him. He turns his eyes upward. The woman is a cyborg, an antiquated one at that. Both hands are titanium and planted on her hips. She was human once. He can tell by the small scar just under her left eye, an eye that is green while the other is brown. Though, she hasn’t aged. He guesses she must be at least two hundred. She doesn’t appear more than twenty-five.
“Are you alright?” she says. The question is kind, but her tone is all authority—heavy, flat, hard.
Flit nods. “Think so.” He starts to stand, grimacing as his knee pops again.
She holds out a hand to assist and he accepts. Her clothes are mercenary. A long black cape over her back reaches the ground, tattered edges brushing against fallen leaves. Heavy boots, black pants, black shirt, black everything. She wears a holster with a particle pistol tucked into it. “Got a name?”
He clears his throat. “Flit.”
“Nice to meet you, Flit. I’m Keh-tee. Over there is Strick and Prinz.” She gestures toward a small blond boy and a man who looks like he could squash a mountain with his bare hands.
Flit frowns. “You have children in your group? That safe?”
“I’m not a child,” the boy says.
Keh-tee crosses her arms. “Prinz is cyborg, same as me. His implants are all internal. Mechanical organs, nano-technology, positronic brain. Strick is human.”
“I see.” Flit looks back at Keh-tee. “What happened back there?”
“We blasted the network array to take out the sentries’ signal. Unfortunately, we didn’t know there was a mine below.” She shakes her head. “Thought it was just an android encampment.”
His insides tighten. He feels it bubbling deep inside, the thought of all those men. All dead, all crushed. Some may cling to life, suffering for days on end. And no one can do anything about it. “You killed thousands.” He growls behind gritted teeth. “Thousands.”
“You didn’t know?” Flit snorts. “That’s fucking rich. You three just go around blowing shit up without investigating. You’re all idiots.” A rush of vertigo swims through him. He stumbles, closes his eyes, and just barely catches himself.
Keh-tee helps him stay straight, but he shoves her hand aside. “I don’t need your help.”
“You might have a concussion. Prinz can check it for you.” Keh-tee’s voice is softer, but it’s not enough.
Flit spins and starts off toward…. He considers it. Anywhere that isn’t here or a labor camp. “I don’t want your help.”
He leaves them behind. The disaster squad, the blundering fools club, the I-don’t-know-what-the-hell-I’m-doing team. They can kiss his ass. Flit needs no one.
Copyright © Sophie Giroir 2015