Heat, seeping in through every crack. Weighing the room down with stale, heavy humidity. Filling my lungs with dirt and warmth, this disgusting mistress I call the desert was a cruel maiden. I couldn’t remember the last time the sun had set, when the days melted into a cool blue night. It had to have been at least 20 years since the sun gave up on ever resting. We couldn’t leave the South, the seas all boiled over; everyone who tried to cross learned the hard way that we had no known material that could stand heat to that degree. All the ships sank, all the boats were eaten up by the waves. The sea, another cruel mistress I would never tempt. No one knows what happened to the people left in the shadowed part of the world.
Trying to push the heat out, I let my mind wander back into the tavern. Disgusting sand dwellers, sitting around making small talk. Sweat pouring from their brows as they drank too much and talked too loud. The same bunch day after day, what else did they do? I felt a scowl forming on my lips as I thought of the lousy, no good dwellers using up all our supplies, and drinking all our water. One of these days…
“Cage! Come quick!” Standing in the door was a small woman, dirt caked on her face. She was propped against a shovel breathing heavy, like she just sprinted over here as if her life depended on it. I didn’t have time for this, I was busy hating the world, like I always do after a hard days work.
“Dat your girlfriend buddy?” Asked the man behind the bar. His ill educated speak, and the way he spit every time he spoke, gave him a ‘home grown’ feel only available for a special few folks. My eyes rolled up from my cup, half empty at this point, and onto the bartenders disfigured, splotchy face.
“Dat look bout a girl! She not more dan 12, you been getting it young, buddy!” He grinned, showing a pair of teeth, yellowed from the desert, and rotting from booze and neglect. “Seems urgent, ma’be she needs ya, huh?” Spit came spewing from his gums and glided down his chin, working it’s way into his filthy beard.
Standing, I had to take a deep breath to keep my head empty and calm. This man means nothing to me, nor should his words, he has no idea what he’s saying, and it has no consequences on me anyways what he thinks. It was obvious I was not going to be able to finish my drink in peace, so back to the mines it was. All eyes were now on the bar, the crowd had gone silent. Were they waiting for me to retort with some witty, well thought out remark about Abigail? Some sort of show of heroism? Scoffing at that thought, I set my drink on the bar, and walked towards the door. I could feel the attention following my every move, tucking my hands in my pockets caused a sand dweller to flinch in his chair, giving a pause in my stride had the breathing in the room halt, if only for a second. The silent act of power was only broken by the clueless Abigail, still standing hunched over her shovel in the doorway.
“There’s trouble in the mines.” She squeaked. Her eyes met mine, and I did my best to convey with emotion alone that she didn’t really need to keep talking. Of course there was trouble in the mines, why else would she be running at full speed to the tavern, hollering my name and causing a ruckus? The annoyed look stricken across my face must have done the trick, because she averted her eyes, turned on her heels, and started walking back towards the mines.
Not even two feet out the door, the sand dwellers started back up with their chatter, not missing an opportunity to spin some tale about trouble in the mines, maybe with a love twist between Abigail and myself. Dirty bunch, the lot.
It didn’t matter, I had nothing to hide, and I had no problem defending my position if need be. Forcefully, in a physical manner, how I did best. But there would be no defending in the mines, only work, and a never ending supply of trouble and mistakes. It seemed every few days there was something wrong in the mines. No rest, at least not for me. I guess I should check it out, since I have nothing better to do with my time anyways. Not in this desert wasteland.
Chapter One: The Mines
Following Abigail was interesting, to say the least. Her matted brown hair bounced up and down in her halfhearted bun, mimicking her stride as she walked, little bits of cloth and beads woven into it dangling about. The sun would catch a bead and light would glisten off her, just for a second, as if she was making the light dance for her. Then the moment was gone, and all that was left was a small, dirty woman wearing week old clothes, men’s boots, and carrying a shovel. Squinting my eyes through the dust being pushed around by the breeze, I watched as she sort of limp waddled through the sand. Most likely a side affect of wearing shoes two sizes too big. She dragged the shovel behind her, as if it was too heavy to hold over her shoulder, why did she even run this whole way with it? Her skin was dark from being in the sun her whole life, spotted with freckles, and covered in dirt. Some spots shone from damp sweat, spots that had not yet been completely caked on from the dust, or working in the mines.
Through the dust, the entrance to the mines appeared, a dark silhouette isolated from the horizon, pulling my attention away from Abigail. A few workers sat outside, keeping watch for raiders or other possible threats. They often took turns, no one person wanted to just stand in the heat and watch the desert. Couldn’t blame them, she is a relentless lover, never letting up. I gave a small nod to the men as Abigail and I entered the mines and stepped onto the elevator. She leaned against the side of the cage and gestured towards the door, tilting her head back and panting. With a small chuckle, I closed up the entrance and hit the controls to go down. Poor girl, she’s had a long day. Sometimes I forget how hard Abigail also works for these mines, she is one of the only other people to tend to it like I do. I respect her for that, it takes a lot out of a person to work these mines.
The roar of the elevator echoed through the tunnel as it stuttered downwards. The sunlight faded, and darkness engulfed us. It was a nice feeling, not having the heat and the light beating down on you. The workers of the mine had some sort of unwritten code where they didn’t talk about the mines, how the heat disperses the farther down you go, and whats left is a cool, empty air. The dirt walls seem to absorb all the heat, and push it back to the surface, leaving only damp, slightly sweaty, cold air that lingered. Better than sitting in a dirty tavern listening to sand dwellers spew fiction. I guess the miners didn’t want lazy nobodies crowding the mines trying to get cool, so as a silent agreement, nobody really talks about it.
A small light shown through the bottom of the cage, flickering slightly with the rattling of the elevator. The elevator sputtered to a halt, clunking down onto the ground with a heavy jut, knocking Abigail’s shovel onto the floor. She groaned as she bent over to pick it back up while I tried not to knock her in the head as I opened the cage.
“I know what you’re thinking.” She wiped the handle off to her shovel, keeping her gaze down. “I ain’t worth much down here, I know that. I only ever bring news of trouble, or cause more problems myself…” She shifted on her feet as I swung open the doors and turned to look at her. “These mines ain’t no place for a girl.” She looked up, determination in her eyes. “I ain’t no girl anymore! And I swear, one of these days I won’t need to come running to get you with every hiccup!” her voice faltered a bit as she spoke. Swallowing her feelings she continued, “But… until I ain’t such a burden, there was some sort of disturbance in tunnel 7. They sent me to get you, I don’t know what they got into this time.” She gestured out the elevator, then continued to stare at her shovel.
I knew the workers gave her a hard time, most of the women worked above ground; there were only a handful of female miners and each one had to prove her worth in the pack. Abigail was still young, and she didn’t have the strength as the other women to mine, so she got stuck with managerial duties, and shoveling excess dirt out of the tunnels. I knew she wanted to be more helpful, I just didn’t have anything else she could do until she was strong enough to wield an axe.
Placing my hand on her shoulder, I gave her a reassuring grin. Before I could get words out of my open mouth, a loud pop echoed through the tunnels and up the elevator shaft. It was so loud Abigail threw her hands over her ears and ducked for cover. Small bits of rock and dirt shook free from the ceiling as the noise reverberated against the walls. What the hell were they doing in tunnel 7? I grabbed Abigail’s shovel and took off down the main tunnel, now wasn’t the time to stand around and ponder outcomes. I heard Abigail’s footsteps behind me as we raced to tunnel 7, I wanted to tell her to stay back, but I knew she wouldn’t listen to my argument about safety right now.
Tunnel 7 was down further than the rest of the tunnels, there was a ladder at the end of the way leading down to it. Sliding on the ground, I quickly latched onto the ladder, swung into the hole, and climbed down into the tunnel. The lights were dim, something was wrong. I turned to face the tunnel and a second pop rumbled down the way and out the hole. It was right on top of us, the sheer sound brought me down on one knee. There was suddenly about 117 pounds of person on my back as Abigail fell off the ladder and forced me to the ground. It took a bit to process what had hit me as Abigail squirmed around trying to get her balance enough to climb off me. This is no time to wrestle, I rolled her off and jumped back to my feet. Sprinting down the tunnel, I felt the ground begin to shake. The trembling grew heavier as I approached the dig site. I rounded the corner to see a collapse, and two workers digging a third out from the fallen dirt. But something wasn’t quite right about the whole scene.
Without pause or a second thought of the situation, I threw the shovel into the dirt and started digging too. The other two miners shouted out.
“Don’t know what happened, some cave in. Happened so fast… don’t know what we hit!”
“Ain’t hit nothin’, it just gave in! Tori caught the fall.”
Sounded suspicious that the cave would just give, we haven’t had a problem with cave ins in some time. Not since Abigail implemented her safety codes for up keeping the tunnels. There is no way she would neglect a tunnel’s safety, not with so much to prove to the miners. Digging out the dirt as fast as I could, I glanced up to see where Abigail was; had she not followed me over here after her fall off the ladder? Didn’t matter, Tori was almost free from the pile. I grabbed one of his arms and gave a swift tug, he started to slide out from under the dirt, the other two grabbed what they could of Tori and helped pull. The floor started to shake violently, a force I had never felt from the mines before.
Something was strange about all of this, a random cave in? Tremors? I looked down at my hands, there was mud in between my fingers. I balled it up in between my fingertips as I thought. MUD?! I shot my head up to the cave in as a water spurt made it’s way out of the top of the pile of dirt and rocks. This was bad. “RUN!”
The wall of dirt started giving way to more water, and the miners picked up Tori and started to follow me swiftly out of the tunnel. We weren’t making enough time carrying Tori, if this tunnel gave way to water, we would all be trapped. I don’t know where Abigail went, but I hoped she climbed back out after the second tremor, or by some miracle, she heard me shout and went to get everyone else out. I could see the ladder! We were almost out, we just needed to get Tori up it first. It was like the miners were already in my head, because one ran ahead and up the ladder. He reached down to pull Tori up, once he had a good grip I scanned the tunnel for signs of Abigail, where the hell did she get to?
“The cart!” yelled the second miner, he took off down another tunnel, I had no time to argue. Foolish man, there was no time for the cart, we would have a lot more loss than a single cart of material if that wall gives out. I wasn’t stupid enough to go after him, I grabbed the ladder, ready to climb out. Half way up something caught my attention.
The walls started to shake violently, the pile must have given out. There was only about a minute before the water came crashing through the tunnel and up the hole. At that moment, Abigail came sprinting around the corner, a look of horror on her face. The water was right behind her. She wasn’t going to make it, the water was eating away at the walls, the whole cave would give out in a matter of minutes. My hand was outstretched, ready to pull her up the ladder, she just needed to make it to me. The water was gaining on her, she had about 100 feet of tunnel and she was giving it her all.
Wait… The water, it’s not from the underground river… that’s sea water! That water is boiling hot, there is no way someone will survive being engulfed by that! Panic started to set in as I watched Abigail pick up her pace a little more, only a few more feet, the water was nipping at her heels. She reached her arms out, leaping in the air towards the ladder. Don’t worry Abigail, I will catch you! The walls shook from the pressure of the water, and a large rock dislodged itself from the ceiling, falling into Abigail as she jumped. She wasn’t going to make the jump, not now. I dropped down a few pegs on the ladder, just in time to grab her wrist. As she swung down towards the ladder, her foot got caught in the water wrapping itself around on the floor beneath us. She screamed in agony as the water burned through her boot and well past the flesh on her ankle. I pulled her up as quickly as I could, throwing her over my shoulder and scaling the ladder. Her weight went limp, she must have passed out from the pain. It made no difference, I had run these tunnels a hundred times, I knew the fastest way back to the surface, she was safest with me.
We just needed to make it to the elevator shaft. Weaving in and out of tunnels, I snaked my way back. The elevator was still sitting in the main tunnel, what happened to Tori and the other miner? The lights flickered menacingly as I approached the cage, the water must have hit the power lines in tunnel 7. There is a trigger switch to save the lights in case of a shortage in any tunnel, so the miners shouldn’t get trapped down here, not from lack of light anyways. I jumped into the cage, laying Abigail down, she groaned as her ankle touched the floor, still unconscious. There was a lot of blood, it was hard to tell the extent of the damage without removing the boot, but there was plenty of flesh missing enough to know that it was bad. I slammed the doors closed and started the elevator up, as long as we don’t lose power we are home safe.
Abigail started to stir, she was coming to. Poor girl, just stay asleep, it will be less painful that way. Her eyes opened and for a split second as she gazed up at me, it felt like she was her normal self, she had that look of determination in her eyes. Then the pain settled back in and her eyes melted into shock, tears rolled down her cheeks and she started screaming again. Grabbing at her calf and pulling her foot up closer to her, she was hysterical! Crying out and rocking her foot back and forth, I watched helplessly, what could I do, I just let her vent the pain with her screams. We were almost out, just another few feet to go, I could see the light from the outside. The elevator stuttered to a halt and I kicked the cage open once more, I reached for Abigail but she slapped my hands away. What is her problem? This is no time to prove your strength Abigail, you’re bleeding everywhere!
She proceeded to grab the cage and lift herself up on her good foot with a whimper, choking back tears. “Out of my way! We need to sound the alarm, how could you leave the miners down there?” She limped out into the opening of the mines and threw open a power box, blood pooling beneath her. I watched as she pounded in the security code through tears and set off the emergency sirens. A loud ringing blared out through the town and down into the mines. The elevator lifted its self up and out of the tunnel exposing a metal ladder leading down the shaft, and a row of red lights behind it. I didn’t know the extent of the security measures Abigail had installed, only that she had made it pretty safe to work in the mines.
I turned to appraise her, as she melted to the floor in pain once more. Her minute of heroism was over, and her ankle was giving out. She wiped away tears from her cheeks and dug around in her shirt pocket, pulling out a key. She pointed at the other end of the mine entrance towards another power console. “When everyone is out, you blow the place closed…” she stuttered, “I know these mines are your baby, but if that water reaches the surface, there is no telling what it will do.” Her eyelids started to droop, she was crashing fast, the blood was still draining from her ankle, she didn’t have much time before she bled out more than her share. Yet here she was worrying about a town that has only shown her cruelty, and miners that refused to accept her. I nodded, took the key from her weak fingers, and held her hand as she passed out once more.
Abigail needed medical attention fast, but I had no way of getting her to the medic in the town, and securing the mines. I know what Abigail would do if it was me, instead of her. The lives of many far outweigh the lives of few, she would say. A heavy sigh escaped my lungs as I stood and solemnly walked to the power console, waiting for the miners to get free of the tunnels. One by one they started emerging from the elevator shaft, lifting themselves over the edge, and pulling other up from the ladder. Everyone seemed confused, but rushed down into the town to get away from the mines, fearing the worst.
A few minutes passed, it seemed as though everyone that was going to get out had gotten out. Time was not on our side, I needed to move fast. I slammed the key into the console, took a deep breath, and turned. Once more the ground shook, but not from the water, this time from an explosion down in the main tunnel. It’s crazy enough, it might just work.
I carefully put Abigail back over my shoulder and made my way down into town, if it was going to hold the water, then my job here is done. If it wasn’t going to hold, there is not much I could do anyways. And Abigail was starting to lose color in her skin, she wasn’t looking too good, I am not about to lose my mines and my friend in the same day. Not today!