Depths of Dvonia
by Matt Saddoris
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Armis basked in the blue giant star’s warmth as it washed over him on the desolate sands of Dvonia, the planet Xlinor’s moon. The rays gave the sands a soft blue tint, and Armis felt he was sitting on a silent, shallow sea.
Armis relaxed, stretching out in the open after being cramped in Dvonia’s mines. The star’s warmth came as a relief from the stale, rank air pumped out by the mines’ heat generators.
He longed to feel the sun’s warmth upon his skin, but he dared not take off the mask of his enviro-suit. Management said that if you did, your eyes would boil slowly out of your skull from the lack of oxygen. Armis wasn’t sure if that was true or something the B’Colou told each new worker. It let them know they were outsiders.
Management can be real bastards, thought Armis. He reveled in his free time on the surface, which he had purchased from the company store with a work release pass; just him and his thoughts.
Armis rarely had time to sit and think. The long hours the B’Colou demanded numbed his mind. While he excavated the precious silver-gray rock, he would try to let his mind wander. But the aliens’ belches were nauseating, to say the least, and brought his mind back to the mine.
The B’Colou would sample the rock with their square, metallic teeth, chewing loudly as the machines and workers beat against the crust of the moon. Management would belch if it was good product to ship off-world. The less “honorable” managers would pocket a sample for later, like Sec’ah.
The only thing the B’Colou hated more than bad workers were dishonorable managers. Git’ah and other upper management ran a tight ship, and reprimands flowed easily. By taking another’s honor, a B’Colou could increase his own. Armis refused to snitch on Sec’ah for the sole fact of denying Git’ah more honor.
As his suit respirator worked away at filtering Dvonia’s thin atmosphere, Armis watched Xlinor slowly rotate. Metropolises twinkled on the planet’s night side, and he dreamed of their exotic foods and strange attractions.
Armis had come to Dvonia on a work order, hoping to scrape together enough credits eventually to make it to Xlinor and start his own business. He wasn’t qualified for a Worker Class Citizen visa; he didn’t have the expertise. But if you worked in the mines for a few years, the visa was waived.
As he stared up at the magnificent view of Xlinor, his vision grew cloudy. He could feel the mucus forming in the corner of his tear ducts. “Damn,” said Armis to himself, “time for a quick hit.”
Armis was concerned that the effects of skall were beginning to take a toll on him; the withdrawals were happening more frequently of late. But all that was pushed aside as the thought of the rush crept into his brain.
He opened a pouch on his enviro-suit and took out a crystal the size of a pebble. Opening the hatch on his respirator, Armis crushed the crystal in his hands and shoved it into the filter of his mask’s intake valve. The bittersweet smell of skall rushed through the air tubes and into his nose and mouth.
Armis took a deep breath and his foggy vision faded into swirling colors like those of the metropolises of Xlinor. His back hit the dirt and a plume of dust shot out from under him. Armis felt as if he were lying on a cloud as the skall took him far from the toils of the mine.
* * *
Armis was awoken by a swift pain in his side; He quickly touched the source to see if his enviro-suit had been breached. His vision came back to reality as the sparkling metropolises came around to Xlinor’s daytime. Standing above him was a man with rage in his eyes, burning from behind his suit’s mask. Armis shook his head and stood up, brushing off the moon dust.
“Another lecture, Jase?” asked Armis, “It was only a little crystal this time; didn’t cost more than a handful of credits.”
Jase yelled at him, “That’s a handful of credits more we’re gonna have to work for in order to get off this rock, you junkie! We scrape by and save every measly credit and you go and spend it like it’s nothing. Now move your ass. We have to get going now or else Git’ah is going to chew us out.”
“That old gasbag?” said Armis as he briskly walked alongside Jase, kicking up dust with each step, “He can go to hell. He’ll take away credits for not looking him in his big bug eyes.”
“Even more reason not to be late! You know we’re this close to getting a ticket for the both of us off-world. We can’t do anything to screw that up. Especially waste credits on skall!”
A pang of guilt hit Armis in the gut like a meteor. As they approached the metal plank up to the shaft elevator, he remembered the huge mistake hanging on his waist. The small shard of skall he had just enjoyed was actually one of many he had purchased from Rence.
Armis had been given a sample of Rence’s new batch, and it knocked him into another dimension. In his stupor, Armis had been more generous with his and Jase’s credits than he had anticipated. He had given away their life savings.
Armis knew he was a screw-up, it was probably the determining factor that landed him on Dvonia in the first place. He needed to get rid of the skall and get the credits back. Jase shouldn’t suffer because of his stupidity.
Armis felt the weight of the sack tucked into his waistline, and hoped that Jase hadn’t seen its bulge. But he was confident that he could get the credits back from Rence; all he had to do was give back the skall. Simple.
“We can sneak in with the shift change,” said Armis, “before anyone notices.” He could see the worry stretched across Jase’s gaunt face. His sharp features cast deep shadows as the elevator light shone down upon them.
Jase worried too much. It ate away at him, which just made their living conditions worse. They needed to get off Dvonia before it became their tomb. Jase would worry himself to death, and Armis’s skall habit was only growing.
Armis reached out and placed his hand on Jase’s shoulder. Armis could see that Jase was on the verge of breaking, his resolve slipping away as slowly as Xlinor’s fading night.
“I’m sorry, I really am,” said Armis. “I am quitting for good. We’ll be out of here in no time. We’re this close.”
A flicker of hope sparkled in Jase’s eyes, but it was snuffed out in a moment. The words were familiar; both knew it was a broken record, one they had heard time and time before. But Armis knew it helped ease Jase’s worries, if but for a moment.
“No more mistakes, Armis. We can’t afford it.”
* * *
Armis and Jase continued to the top of the walkway. Jase jammed the call button for the elevator, and the shaft engine whirred to life. They waited patiently for the metal box to pull itself from Dvonia’s crust. Finally, they jumped into the elevator and hit the bottom-floor button.
The elevator plunged back into the depths of the mine; the box thrumming as it passed each floor. The elevator shook as the gravity increased, the closer they got to the core. After a few minutes, the box shifted completely from its artificial gravity. They removed their face masks and were met with the stale taste of filtered air.
They reached the bottom and slipped out into the rocky corridor of the mine. The path was barely illuminated by the strips of humming fluorescent lights that lined the passageways. Other human workers passed by as they crept into their fold. They were wearing their blue general-workers uniform, one designated for manual labor. Armis and Jase blended seamlessly into the ranks of the other “Hard Heads” as they were popularly called amongst the laborers.
The group was a mixture of “Egg Heads” and “Hard Heads.” Egg Heads ran the machinery that blasted away huge swaths of the moon’s crust. Hard Heads had the pleasant task of sifting through the rubble to find the precious metal.
As they slipped in amongst the Hard Heads’ blue overalls, they were greeted by one of the other workers. He was missing a few teeth and sported a long, scraggly beard.
“Been stargazing again, Armis?” asked the worker as they strode down the long corridor, looking ahead to avoid drawing attention.
“None of your business, Gaven,” said Armis. “I’m just here to work an extra shift.”
Gaven scoffed, “Sure thing, Armis. We’re all here just to make a few extra credits. This is only my part-time job. My real passion is cave painting. Just look at that canvas.” A worker farther ahead let out a wet cough and launched a wad of spittle onto the wall. “No appreciation for the arts.”
“I always thought you had a passionate soul, Gaven. Now shut up; we’re sneaking into this shift,” said Armis.
Gaven’s eyes twinkled behind his messy, dirty hair. They were bright and filled with energy, which stood out starkly against his extreme wrinkles and soot-muddled face.
“Always up to mischief,” said Gaven. “That’s why I like you, Armis. You remind me of myself when I was younger.” They walked for a few minutes until they came to the end of the tunnel.
* * *
At the end of the passage, the expansive room opened into an enormous pit that sank into the depths of the moon. The site was sectioned off into tiers large enough for the massive Diggers. Their long arms, equipped with tri-head titanium drills, sat atop a mess of machinery and engines. The drill heads bored into the crust and blasted away at the ground, creating a cacophony of explosions and screeches of metal on stone.
The noise of the operation was nearly deafening, but somehow the B’Colou managed to shout directions over the commotion. The tiers were lined with Hard Heads beside the Diggers, chipping away with their crude tools, sifting through the debris, and hauling carts that would bring the ore to the surface.
Management stood over everyone, bellowing out in their clicking rendition of Basic. The B’Colou rummaged through the carts to ensure that they carried only their precious cargo. Whenever they found ore that was not the right shade of gray or the wrong type of stone, they would toss the rock back at the nearby Hard Head. The workers were either fast enough to dodge or smart enough to know better. The B’Colou were always moving around, watching the workers and wringing their small, ventral claws. It was always best to try not to agitate them.
Gaven gave Armis and Jase a wave as he left for his work area, strolling down the walkway that led to the top tier. Armis and Jase crept to the back of the converging mass of workers, waiting for the opportunity to sneak past. Armis spotted Sec’ah patrolling the top tier of the pit, several feet away from Gaven’s station.
“Oh no, Sec’ah is on duty today,” said Armis. “He’s going to make our loads light and then Git’ah it going to blow a gasket. Thieving bastard.”
“Let’s worry about that later,” said Jase. “We still need to get in.”
When Gaven was beginning to sift through the rock and pile the precious silver and gray material into the cart, Gaven leaned down for another deposit and accidentally flipped the lever next to the cart’s repulsors. The contraption tilted over, dumping all its precious ore onto the ground.
Sec’ah let out a piercing screech as he watched the material tumble near the edge of the pit. He scampered over on his four main legs and, as he drew near, his huge hind legs folded and bent back. Sec’ah then launched himself across the last twenty feet of the platform.
“Poor Gaven, he’s gonna get it. We’d better move,” said Armis. He and Jase swiftly made their way to the work station at the edge of the platform to gather their tools.
While they were securing their pickaxes and sacks, they could see Sec’ah shaking Gaven, holding him a foot off the ground. Gaven was attempting to talk to the raging B’Colou, but his words did not sway Sec’ah from tossing him into the nearby wall of rock.
“I guess we should be grateful that he didn’t toss Gaven down the shaft. He’s tough, but not tough enough to land a five-hundred foot drop,” said Jase as he secured his last bit of equipment.
Armis had a question. “If we tossed one of management down the shaft, do you think they would splatter or just crunch when they hit bottom? Great big bugs; wish I could squash them. Especially that... Git’ah.”
Armis’s words fell short as he came face to face with a massive B’Colou that towered above him. This B’Colou had the usual features: six appendages including the creepy little arms, the large compound eyes and terrible stench. But this one had a gash across his abdomen, a nasty-looking mess of pale chitinous armor left over from a failed assassination attempt. That’s what Armis hoped it was from, at least then someone would have stood up to Git’ah.
“Cliuk. Armis Betoan. You are late again,” said Git’ah as he loomed over Armis, both his superior and inferior arms crossed. The B’Colou’s jowls shifted as he worked his vocal chords into the right configuration to speak Basic. The shift made a clicking sound, Armis hated the “Cliuk.”
“Oh no, not today, Git’ah,” said Armis. “I was swapping out my pickaxe for a new one. I’ve been working so hard and so long that I wore out the last one.”
“Cliuk. Then we will take that out of your pay. You keep the tools we give you safe.”
“Give us? You make us pay for our tools!”
“Shut up, Armis,” said Jase as he meekly stood off to the side, hoping to avoid Git’ah’s anger.
Git’ah then grabbed Armis’s arms and held him in place. The B’Colou looked him over for several seconds before saying, “Cliuk. Fit to work? Your hands are shaking.”
Armis noticed that too. His hands were shaking within the B’Colou’s enormous claws, the pincers digging viciously into his skin. He hoped that it was the fear and not the skall wearing off. If he didn’t get away from the bug, he might start making things worse for himself.
“No, sir, I am ready to work. I will not be late again,” said Armis. “I will replace my equipment and work to the best of my ability.”
Git’ah released his claws and Armis’s arms fell to his side. Git’ah’s large compound eyes searched Armis’s face for dishonesty.
“Cliuk. No honor in this one. Get to work.”
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Matt Saddoris