Depths of Dvonia
by Matt Saddoris
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Jase led Armis away to the top tier next to the Diggers, and began to sift away at a large rock pile. They both worked in silence for an hour or two before Jase spoke up. “It’s getting worse, isn’t it?” He kept his eyes on his work, turning and examining a mass of rubble.
“Nah, nothing I can’t handle,” said Armis as he did the same as Jase.
“Git’ah is right though. How long do you think you’ll be able to continue working if you keep using that stuff?”
“I wouldn’t be able to work without it. Remember when that boulder crushed my leg in that spill a year ago? Skall was the only thing that got me through the pain while my leg was resetting. The agony was paralyzing.”
“I remember the screams; I was the one who got you out of the pile. Remember?”
“I’ll cut back, kick the habit. I swear,” said Armis as he placed his hand upon his heart. “We’ll get outta here soon. Ain’t gonna be Hard Heads forever.”
“I hope so, Armis... I hope so.”
“Just remember our plan, Jase. We save our credits for a ride off this rock, then it’s off to Xlinor. We’ll find jobs, ones that don’t require us to dodge rocks, and we’ll save up some more credits to open that shop. We’ll work on repulsors and drive engines after we take a class or two.”
Jase perked up, his spine straightening and his face muscles eased. The memory washed over him, letting him escape the mine for a minute.
“That’s the plan, Armis. We’ll have our own chop shop, charge customers gross amounts of credits for our services, live in luxury.”
“Breathe fresh air, buy expensive clothing. Have a bed that wasn’t pissed in by every past inhabitant.”
Both laughed and smiled at one another. Gaven began to stir and stand up from where Sec’ah had tossed him. No one had come to his aid, lest they suffer the same fate.
A dried stream of blood lined the one side of his face. Gaven had been on Dvonia for decades, the toils of hard labor and dismal conditions were written upon his wrinkled face. The light that had been in his eyes earlier was replaced with the all too familiar sight of despair and acceptance.
* * *
After receiving their payment from the company store next to the dig site, Armis and Jase helped Gaven walk back to the elevator. They were heading back to their barracks to lay Gaven down.
They rode the elevator back up several stories to a small hallway that ended with an enormous metal door. As they approached, the door opened slightly, and another set of workers left for the next shift. They trudged out in a single file, a steady stream of laborers that would continue to bore into the crust of Dvonia until it was as hollow as the people that lived within. As soon as the way was clear, Armis, Jase and Gaven entered the room.
The room was a long line of bunks that stretched for hundreds of feet, one of many barracks on several other floors near the surface. The ancient heat generators spewed stale air, struggling to keep the workers warm from the cold empty night just a few hundred feet above them.
They passed rows of humans asleep in their little area, a six-foot by six-foot space they had to share with the person that bunked above them. Crates and knick-knacks were strewn about to make a home. But the smell and sounds of countless workers filled the expanse. Even the sounds of mild shifting in the bunks was increased tenfold by the sheer number of people in the room.
They walked for roughly ten minutes before finding Gaven’s bunk. After laying Gaven down, Armis excused himself to get a wet cloth to clean up Gaven. The line for the hydrator extended for several rows of bunks as workers stood with empty cups and jugs. The B’Colou manager assigned to the hydrator clicked in Basic, asking for credits to fill the meager mugs.
Armis waited for the ragged man in the front, his face lined with scars and wrinkles from years of work. Armis drew a bit of dirty cloth from his back pocket. The man was carrying an open bucket and carefully trying to maneuver through the people. Armis turned and waited for him to pass by. When he drew close, Armis quickly turned and stumbled into him, spilling water onto Armis and the cloth he held close to his chest.
“Oh damn, I am so sorry,” said Armis as he soaked up the water that had been spilled on him from the bucket onto the dirty rag, “I need to watch where I am going.”
He half-expected the man to burst out in anger, but instead Armis saw the last shred of composure the man held break and drift away. The man held his bucket tightly, and began to weep openly.
“It’s okay, I can get you more water from the hydrator. Just stop cryin’, will ya?”
But the man shrugged past Armis with the last little bit of water he had. He traveled for a short distance and curled up on a bed. Holding his water bucket like a stuffed animal, the man wept incessantly. Armis averted his gaze and shook away the guilt. He needed to get back to Gaven.
As he returned, Jase sat beside Gaven’s unconscious form and laid a dirty, thin blanket over him. Armis sat down and began to dab at Gaven’s wound, careful not to open it. The gash on Gaven’s temple had dried and crusted over. When Armis had finished, he pocketed the soiled cloth. He would attempt to clean it later.
“I think he’s gonna be all right,” said Jase. “He can rest it off. If he’s still not doing well in a few hours, I can take his shift.”
Armis shifted uncomfortably. “He’ll be all right, he is a Hard Head after all.”
Jase scoffed, “Yeah, we’ve all seen worse. Armis, just promise me that you’ll hold off for another day or two. We are so close to getting off this rock. We have the funds. A ll we have to do is keep our heads low and wait for the next shuttle to Xlinor.”
Armis grinned and nodded. “Sure thing, buddy. We’re getting off this dung heap any day now. I’m going to go hit up the head. I’ll see ya later, all right?”
Jase nodded and sighed. He stared down at Gaven, his gaunt features stretched across his young face. Armis could see Jase in Gaven’s position someday. They had the same build, the same facial features. At least the few that stood out from Gaven’s scraggly beard. But he wouldn’t let that happen, not to Jase.
* * *
Armis ducked through the mass of people and snuck away to the elevator. He was going to give Rence a visit and get his credits back. But as he descended deep into the moon’s crust, the layers of living quarters passing him by, he felt the weight of the skall on his hip. The bag of small crystals felt like an anchor. It was as if the crystals were dragging him into the belly of the moon, deep into the dark recesses of the shell he called home.
As the elevator came to a halt barely above the excavation site, Armis stepped out into the cavernous hallway. This path had no sights or sound, no hum from the fluorescent lights he was accustomed to. In here was just darkness, but he knew the path that lay before.
Armis had walked the path many times. He walked into the darkness and hit a wall not too far from the elevator. His hand drifted across the stone face of the cave as he walked, his footsteps echoing into the empty space.
After several twists and turns guided by the wall, Armis saw a torch light in the distance. He walked towards it and found his way to a doorway cut into the stone. He felt the warmth of the flame on his skin and closed his eyes for a second, imagining that it was the sun on his skin again. He imagined the feeling of the summer sun on his face, a cool breeze carrying the scent of flowers. But he was interrupted by a loud shout.
“Armis! You junkie bastard, don’t tell me ya went through that entire bag already!”
Armis opened his eyes and saw Rence sitting upon his favorite chair, a cushion stuffed with what Armis assumed was feathers. It was the most luxurious thing he could think of on Dvonia, and he hated Rence for having it.
Armis strolled into the room with a warm, insincere smile. “Rence, you know I would die if I had that much skall. Especially with this last batch you made. Powerful stuff.”
Armis walked past Rence’s two goons stationed just beside the doorway. Two large men, well-fed and rippled with muscle. They were pale from the darkness, but also because they were not covered in dirt like Armis. The two men stood at attention, each with a small pistol in one hand, but eased up when they saw Armis.
“Blad... Vinor,” said Armis with a nod as he walked inside.
“What brings ya back so soon, Armis?” asked Rence from atop his throne of feathers. “Did ya want to accept my offer of pushing skall? Make a few more credits?”
A small bottle of booze sat beside his chair next to a basket filled with fruit. All around the room were rugs and tapestry to cover the moon’s crust. Shelves of books and a holo-feed covered the remainder of the stone.
Rence had gained a lot of wealth over the years from skall, suckering the Hard Heads into buying his product for a small sum. It had happened to Armis when he was injured on the job, and he was sure he would not be the last to fall under Rence’s thumb.
“Nah, I’m sorry, Rence. That’s not why I’m here. I told you, I’m leaving Dvonia soon.” Armis stopped a few feet from the throne. “I came to give the skall back.”
Rence stared incredulously at the sickly-looking man of barely twenty-four, and bellowed out a laugh. “Armis, ma boy, ya kill me. I sold you that sack fair and square. Are ya saying the product is no good?”
Armis shook his head nervously, watching the goons behind him stand at attention again. “No, it was good... it was fine, Rence. It’s just that... I gave away all of my credits, and now I got nothin’. You know that skall you sold me was not worth that much, I was just out of it... I need to leave, and the shuttle is goin’ to arrive any day now.”
“There ya go again. Saying you’ll be outta here soon,” said Rence as he stood up from his seat. “I know Dvonia is a crap shoot, but it’s our little slice of paradise that we’ve carved out for ourselves. Ain’t that right, boys?” Both Blad and Vinor grunted with a nod.
“You’ve been a good customer, Armis, for a long time. So, I’ll cut ya a little slack and forget the insult.” Rence towered over the boy, his temples frosted with gray. He placed his hands upon Armis’s shoulders and squeezed hard. “Now why should I take back that sack of skall when I already got yer credits in my pocket?”
Armis swallowed and looked up into the hard eyes bearing down upon him. “Rence, I need that money. I need it now. The shuttle could come any day, and I need to be on it. I... I don’t know how much longer I can survive down here.”
Armis stopped his arm from shaking. He could feel the itch beckoning as he pushed the thought away. For Jase. “I am not leaving without those credits. I will do whatever it takes.”
Rence stared down into Armis’s eyes, a fire raging within. “Ha... ya got that look about you, boy,” said Rence as he turned and plopped down into his chair. “That look like you’ll do anything. I trust those eyes more than yer word. I can work with that.”
Armis let out a silent sigh of relief and said, “Umm... what do you want me to do? Tell me what I can do to get my credits back.”
Rence took the bottle from his side table and took a long swig of the amber liquid within. “Ya can give me back that bag for starters.”
Armis reached to his backside and pulled the sack out of his waistline. He felt the weight of the skall and gave them a second thought. Shaking his head, he tossed the bag to Rence.
He opened the bag and inspected the crystals with one hand, weighing the sack with his other. “Good. Ya didn’t dip into the stash too much. But that is just step one. I need ya to do me a favor. Then I say we’re even and ya get your money.”
“Sure, Rence. Anything you want, just tell me.”
“I want you to kill that big-eyed freak, Git’ah.”
Armis’s stomach plummeted to the floor. He felt like he had been left outside on the surface of Dvonia without his enviro-suit. The silence hung between them for a lifetime, Rence’s eyes searching Armis for a change. He felt his throat go dry as if it refused to talk.
“That B’Colou piece of trash has been digging into my business. We had an understanding. He gets workers that can fight through the pain, and I get a steady stream of clients that come my way looking for help. But he thinks that the skall is affecting yer work. Making you slow, shaky... frail.”
“So, he’s looking to shut us down. I can’t let that happen. For the time being, he still needs me to keep the Hard Heads happy. That is until he gets a fresh batch of workers on the shuttle coming in, ones that don’t have the skall shakes. So, it appears that we’re on a tight schedule. What do ya say?”
Armis watched his hands tremble slightly. He still didn’t know if it was the skall or nerves. He didn’t care. It was not just his life on the line, but Jase’s as well. He had found their way out, and he hated Git’ah as much as anyone.
“I’ll do it. But you gotta promise me one thing. You’ll do right by me and Jase.”
Rence nodded and took another swig of his bottle. “You do this, and I will make sure that yer taken care of, ma boy.”
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Matt Saddoris