Depths of Dvonia
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, rather something the B’Colou told each new worker. It let them know they were outsiders.
“Management can be real bastards,” thought Armis to himself. He reveled in the 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. As 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 him 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 their 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 to eventually 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 the mines for a few years, the visa was waived.
But 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 duct.
“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 as of late. But all of 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 of the metropolises of Xlinor. His back hit the dirt and a plume of dust shot out from beneath. 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 was 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’s dust.
“Another lecture Jase?” asked Armis, “It was only a little crystal this time, didn’t cost more than a handful of credits.”
“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,” yelled Jase, “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 that he had purchased from Rence.
Rence had given a sample of his new batch to Armis, 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, get in there before anyone notices,” said Armis. 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. I am quitting for good and we’ll be out of here in no time. We’re this close,” said Armis.
A flicker of hope sparkled in Jase’s eyes, but it was snuffed out in but 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 eases Jase’s worries, if but for a moment.
“No more mistakes Armis. We can’t afford it.”
They 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, and 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 off from the 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 light 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 as to not draw 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, that’s why I like you Armis. You remind me of myself when I was younger,” said Gaven. They walked for a few minutes until they came to the end of the tunnel.
As the passage finished, 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 bore 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 near 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 only carried 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 and not agitate them.
Gaven gave Armis and Jase a wave as he left for his work area, strolling down the walkway that led down 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, we still need to get in,” said Jase.
When Gaven began to sift through the rock and pile the precious silver, gray material into the cart. As Gaven leaned down for another deposit he 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 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.
As they were securing their pickaxes and sacks they could see Sec’ah shaking Gaven a foot off the ground. Gaven attempted 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.
“If we tossed one of management down the shaft, do you think they would splatter or just crunch when they hit bottom?” asked Armis, “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 above Armis, both his superior and inferior arms crossed. His jowls shifted as the B’Colou 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 already 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.”
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?” asked Jase as 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.
“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 as 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.”
“Breath fresh air, buy expensive clothing. Have a bed that wasn’t pissed in by every past inhabitant.”
Both laughed smiled at one another. Gaven began to stir and stand up from where Sec’ah had tossed him, no one had come to his aide 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 writ 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 as 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, they 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 that were 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 OK, 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 bucket of water like it was 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 back up. The gash on Gaven’s temple had dried and crusted over. As he finished, he pocketed the soiled cloth to attempt to clean later.
“I think he’s gonna be alright,” 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 alright, 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, all 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 seeya later, alright?”
Jase nodded and sighed as 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,” said Armis as he 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, 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.”
Armis lay in his bunk, trying to drown out the sounds of the crowd around him. He had spent the last two days thinking of how he was going to do it, how to get rid of Git’ah.
He had contemplated making a weapon from one of his tools. But the B’Colou had the hard chitinous exoskeleton which was like armor, so he scrapped that idea. He had contemplated a pistol, but that would put him in more debt. He finally decided the best way to deal with a bug was by squashing it. He ran through scenarios all day as he sifted rock next to the Diggers.
On the second day during their shift Jase whispered to him, “The shuttle is coming in tonight. We’re finally getting out of here! I just got word from one of the other Egg Heads.”
Armis laughed and said, “It’s coming? Oh man, it’s happening!” Armis calmed himself and continued, “Let’s try and keep our heads down and get through this last shift. You and me are getting out of here.”
Armis gave Jase a smile, but his heart was beating wildly. His eyes darted around the dig site. He needed to make it happen now, or else Jase and he would both be stuck.
Armis watched Git’ah patrol his watchtower that overlooked the dig site, chirping orders at the Hard Heads below. Several other B’Colou managers were inspecting the carts, but Git’ah sat atop his perch surveying the entire operation. Armis watched as the Diggers bore into the crust, spewing dirt and smoke as the drill bits ate away at Dvonia’s belly.
Armis took a deep breath and muttered to himself, “Now or never.”
Jase looked up from his work, “What did you say?”
Armis excused himself and walked over to the work station near the top tier. He placed his pickaxe down on the table and began to inspect the other instruments. The B’Colou assigned to the workstation didn’t pay him much attention and watched the machinery plunge deeper into the crust.
Armis’s hands shook, his eyes clouding over. He quickly wiped away the mucus and steadied himself. He could hear the distinctive clicking sound of the B’Colou shifting their vocal chords, and the stench of their breath.
“Cliuk, Armis Betoan. You are not working. Did you damage more company equipment?” asked Git’ah. Armis shook his head and turned around to face the large creature.
“No sir. I just wanted to get your attention. See… I think there is a manager here that is… sullying the company’s honor. Taking product.”
Git’ah’s compound eyes glistened and his mandibles clicked furiously. “Cliuk, that is a very serious allegation, from one with no honor.”
“Yes sir, I wish to get my honor back and prove myself.” Armis shifted and pulled in closer to Git’ah. The stench made him gag, but he stifled the reaction, “Sec’ah is stealing from the company. I saw it with my own eyes, he has one on him right now. Don’t tell me you haven’t smelt him before? Smelt his dishonor?”
Git’ah shifted and stood tall. Armis couldn’t read the expression on Git’ah’s face. He had never learned to understand their expressions. But he knew that the manager was processing his words, so he waited for his plan to unfold.
“Cliuk, show me,” said Git’ah as he extended an arm out to have Armis lead the way.
Armis turned and walked down to the tier just below the top. He was nervous to turn his back on Git’ah, in case the plan went wrong, but he walked briskly down the metal walkway. Armis passed several other workers who glanced quizzically, but quickly got back to their duties as Git’ah chirped at them.
As they approached a set of Hard Heads, Sec’ah stopped investigating the load and bowed to Git’ah. He chirped in the B’Colou native language, and the two exchanged words.
The B’Colou stood in the shadow of a nearby Digger, its tri-head drills screaming against the stone. Sec’ah shouted at Git’ah and gestured towards Armis, but Git’ah quickly slapped his arm down and began to sniff around him.
Armis knew he had only had a few moments to get the job done. As Git’ah was investigating the Sec’ah, Armis snuck away behind the Digger as everyone stared at the scene that was unfolding.
Armis picked up a stone the size of his fist and climbed the stationary tracks of the Digger. He pulled himself up to the open cockpit where the Egg Head sat, oblivious to the scene below. His eyes were covered with goggles and his ears stuffed with cloth. Armis reached the cockpit and hit the operator solidly over the head.
Armis reached past the unconscious Egg Head and pulled its lever to the right as hard as he could. The machine whirred and strained to pull itself through the stone. But the titanium drill heads blasted away rubble as the tips exploded out of the stone. The B’Colou let out a high-pitched screech, but it was too late. The wall erupted in a wave of destruction and buried them in an avalanche of debris.
The workers that had crowded around fled from the debris. The collective wail of the B’Colou filled the pit and drowned out the other Diggers. Armis snuck down from the Digger as the B’Colou swarmed the area. He crept into the mass of workers that had converged, and made his way to the back.
The Hard Heads around him frantically pushed their way towards the chaos, muttering to each other about the accident. Excited voices whispered, “It was Git’ah? Really, he’s finally gone?” As Armis was mid-way through, he felt the pressure of someone grabbing his arm.
“What have you done?!” exclaimed Jase as he held him tight, fear and tears streaming from his eyes, “Are you insane?”
“I did what I had to… I… it was for us. The dream,” said Armis as he stared back. He gathered his composure, “We need to go now. We’ll catch the flight out of here and we’ll ditch this heat. I just have to go see Rence before we do.”
“Rence? Why do you need to see that drug pusher? asked Jase. But comprehension washed over him like a cold wave of dread.
Armis shook his head and tried to pull away, “I had to… otherwise we would both have been stuck here. Now come on!”
Armis pushed his way through the crowd; Jase stood still as his friend disappeared in the chaos. The Hard Heads around them were cheering, asking each other what had happened as word spread of Git’ah’s demise. The sounds of the other B’Colou grew louder as they vaulted towards site, their terrible screeches filling the void as Diggers stopped their work.
Armis made his way up the walkway and to the elevator tunnel. He turned to see that Jase was not with him. Armis gestured for him to follow and then looked back to the walkway. Jase ran his hands over his face, a look of exhaustion and despair flushed across his haggard features.
Armis began to walk back but was immediately tackled by one of the B’Colou that had flooded the scene. Jase yelled out in defiance and ran towards Armis, but was held back by some of the other workers.
Gaven whispered in his ear, “No my friend. He chose his path.” Jase pulled away from him and got near the mass of B’Colou that swarmed Armis.
Armis managed to speak from behind the cluster, “See Rence. He’ll explain every…” but he was stifled as a B’Colou grabbed his head and closed his mouth. Other B’Colou grabbed his arms and legs.
Jase stood and wept as Armis was dragged away by the B’Colou, a swarm of workers. The hysteria of the Hard Heads began to be stifled as “Cliuks” reverberated throughout the cavern, bellowing out orders to the frantic workers.
The cavern grew quiet as a few B’Colou left with Armis. The workers stood and watched. Even the remaining B’Colou stopped shouting to observe. The Hard Heads all knew what the B’Colou did to those that refused to work or were caught stealing. This was different, this was murder. The punishment would be more severe than the usual depraved things the B’Colou came up with. Everyone knew this was the last time they would ever see Armis.
Armis sat in darkness, the metal chains digging into his wrists and ankles. The room was empty as far as he could tell, an unremarkable cave like any other in the moon. It was a small cell the B’Colou had crafted for those they deemed dishonorable, before they carried out their sentence.
He shifted uncomfortably and shielded his eyes as a light drew near. He flinched as it drew close, but relief filled him as Jase stood on the opposite side of his cage, a glow rod in his hand.
“Jase… you’re ok?” asked Armis as he squinted, adjusting his vision to the light. He tried to smile, but his muscles ached from where the B’Colou had beaten him.
“OK? I’m fine… you look like crap,” said Jase as his light fell upon Armis’s face. He had bruises and cuts all over his face, one eye swollen shut already.
“Could be worse. I could have ended up with your ugly mug.” Both laughed, but Armis grimaced as he struggled to take in a breath.
“Rence told me about your deal. You’re a moron… but Rence was a man of his word. He gave the money back.”
“I knew he would follow through. He may be a drug dealer, but he’s got honor.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? We could have thought of something together.” Jase sighed, his features cloaked in shadow from the small glow rod, “Now the B’Colou are going to keep you imprisoned, or worse… We could have found another way.”
“I’ve been dragging you down ever since you got here, Jase. You’ve always been smarter than me. I showed you the ropes, but you quickly outgrew me. I didn’t want to keep dragging you down. It was my decision to make, my mistake to correct.”
“We had a plan, you idiot. Get off Dvonia, travel to Xlinor and start up shop. How am I supposed to do that now? What about the company?”
Armis laughed bitterly and fought through the pain, “I was never leaving Dvonia. I dreamt of it. It was the only thing keeping me going.” Armis’s eyes fell to the floor, “But I know I don’t have the chops for making it out there. I got no certification or credits. I got no chance. Besides, they don’t have skall there. It was just a dream.”
“Armis, you just don’t get it. You never gave yourself the chance. We would have been free. It would have been a struggle, but it would have been freedom. It’s not like we didn’t go through hard times before.”
“I’m sorry,” said Armis with a shaky grin. “Just… take my share and set up shop. Get yourself off Dvonia and make something of yourself.”
“Oh, I’m taking your share,” said Jase with an uneasy chuckle, “That you can be sure of.” Armis grinned.
Silence fell upon the room as heavy as the shadows cast by Jase’s glow rod. Neither one wanted to be the one to finally say it. Armis couldn’t stand the thought of this being the last moment with his only friend. He savored each second as if it were a gasp of air for a drowning man.
“Take care of yourself, Jase, you’re going to make something of yourself out there. Now go, before the B’Colou catch you.”
Jase nodded, “Goodbye, Armis. I’ll be seeing you someday.” With a sigh, he disappeared back into the darkness.
As the light faded away, Armis sat back against the stone wall of his prison and began to daydream. A smile crept upon his bruised and bloodied face. He could feel the warm sensation of the blue sun. He felt Jase’s first steps off the ship and onto the surface of Xlinor. He was glad that Jase would get to experience that. He drifted away into his dreams, ignoring the reverberating sound of “Cliuk” as it echoed down the dark expanse.
Jase gave his ticket to the pilot of the shuttle. He stood with a small bindle of the few items he called his own. The other crew members unloaded the supplies and workers they had brought.
“Welcome aboard The Pioneer. We’ll get you to Xlinor in a few minutes after we finish unloading the goods and pack up some of those rocks of yours. Just sit back and relax,” said the pilot. He gave Jase a nod and left to help the others unload.
Jase walked into the shuttle and took a seat near the front. No one else was joining him on his journey, but that didn't surprise him. Nobody really left Dvonia, just more and more came to whittle away at its earth, digging deeper and deeper until there was nothing left.
He looked out the bow window, past the console that was a few feet ahead. In the distance, he could see the blue giant lazily drifting behind the horizon of Xlinor, the city sparkling like a magnificent jewel. The light of the blue giant shimmered across the glass and metal that covered the planet. Jase looked at the empty seat beside him and placed a hand on the hard metal. He closed his eyes and drifted away into the first peaceful sleep he had experienced in years.