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[[family]]<<audio "rat" loop play>>no one survives the mines without [[family|family2]].
no one survives the mines without family.
you [[lost]] yours faster than most down here. no one survives the mines without family.
you lost yours faster than most down here. [[mother]] died two weeks ago; left out in the warrens overnight. death by exposure is a <<linkappend "rare accident">> (they check, you see, to make sure everyone's back safe before the shutters close and the nighthowls locked out. but 'they' are people, not machines, and even you at your age know [[who 'they' work for]])<</linkappend>>.
a common punishment for those who [[say]] the wrong things about the wrong people.
her corpse is found the next [[morning]]. not much of a mother, beyond the biology. she'd beat off those who tried take your rations pay, demanding <<linkappend "50% in return">> (the standard charge of children by their parents is 25%, but hers is still better than being seen as undefended pickings)<</linkappend>>.
you were to her a detachable appendage; a part of her to be removed and forgotten as much as possible, unless you could be useful. some mothers (biological or otherwise) you know are more than this.
[[your father?]]she talked a lot, towards the end. necking shine by the bottle every off shift will do that to a person. you avoided listening as best you could; too young to know exactly why, but nonetheless, even you could feel that it was dangerous just to hear these things. (speaking them comes later, much later)
she said things around here needed to change, but you fail to see how drinking and yelling were doing that.
addiction runs in the [[family|lost]]. she talked about him drunk. you were too young to appreciate the specifics, but her words left you with the uneasy sense that you were never meant to exist. he was as much a mistake as you, and she accepted you as the consequence, however begurdgingly, whilst he vanished into memory.
you don't know if it was violence. you don't know if it was a more romantic affair. you don't know anything, really, and now you [[never will|lost]]. [[guards]] drag her harrowed bones down past the outskirt tunnels; that you catch sight of her at all is a matter of coincidence (luck would not be the right word).
[[nighthowls]] do things to a body. her skin is gone —you wouldn't recognise her, were it not for the half remains of her face, and a half already-knowing gleaned from murmurs last night— and her limbs lie twisted. she resembles a pick, caught in a heatpocket; warped; uncanny; a warning.
[[watch]]they're not here to make you work. they're not even here to ensure you <<linkappend "earn the pay you're claiming">> (they have machines for that, monitoring every fraction of output, time spent, etc)<</linkappend>>.
they're here to make sure you don't [[kill each other]].
you [[follow]], careful to avoid being seen. warrenfever, they call it.
never the malnourished ones; always those in some degree of power. once they taste something like hope (something that can be mistaken for hope) it's almost inevitable, unless you're smart.
or so they tell you.
[[look back to the corpse (your mother)|morning]][[stars.|morning]]
glorious.they take her to [[The Gates of Paradise]].
<<linkreplace "wait.">>the gates airlock depressurises; doors part; her body [[vanishes]] as they lock shut behind her.<</linkreplace>>the Church is split into two factions on this matter. Some say the gates guard the way to Paradise— above, the stars govern and augment an endless sky; only beyond the gate can we hope to one day see them.
the other Church, the UnderChurch, they say <<linkappend "something quite different.">> it is difficult to know [[exactly what they say]], of course, given how they're outlawed, but you're scrawny-skinny and prone to being in unauthorised places.<</linkappend>>
corpses are biofuel; you do not need to follow to know she is taken to the incinerator and [[eviscerated.]] quiet words, words hidden behind doors and bolted shutters, glimpsed under lamplight. words that take Paradise to be down here. or up there, only the angels got stuck.
"It'd be ours, if we could just take it."
you're somewhere you're not supposed to be; no time to linger on memories.
[[back|follow]]turning back into stardust; or so the Church says. a<<linkreplace " noble end.">>n inevitable end, one that will meet you all, down here.<</linkreplace>>
you do not have many memories of time spent with your mother— lack of opportunity to form them, mostly. but there were <<linkappend "times.">> times when she'd let you [[sit]] near her feet, not too close, but close enough that you could smell the salt-sweat smell of her skin and hear the pattern of her breath.<</linkappend>> you sat and she talked of what all people talk of, down here.
[[up there.]]in her youth, your mother was a Believer. now, that faith is tempered by something tumorous and seeping, but her core is still a framework of superstition and displaced <<linkappend "hope.">>
she tells you of the stars. countless pinpricks of light that go on forever, each one a beacon for new worlds. it is light like you and her have never seen, [[so bright]] you can't look at some for fear of going blind. <</linkappend>>they are a symbol of another world; an untouchable world, for most; the divine, for the zealots; freedom, for those who listen to rumours of science and spacefaring and [[adventure]].a guard, long dispatched, used to smuggle hardcopy text down here.
people did a lot of things in return for bare shards of evidence of the world above; pamphlets, flyers, anything that merited physical distribution, paper or flexipads and so on, anything stamped with symbols you never learned, but had translated to you in hushed excitement.
Once, they even brought a [[book]] down here.
<<linkappend "pulp.">> <<linkappend "a space cowboy affair that resembled the tales of above too closely for you to realise at first it's a fiction.">> <<linkappend "down and out underdogs go cavorting about planets, reckoning with dastardly vagarants and corrupt officials until they get the job done.">> <<linkappend "there's a warmth of comradery in those pages that you envy, an intimacy hidden among all the tech-talk and shoot outs.">>
your mother couldn't read-most can't-but you'd have the priest's kid read it to you, before it was confiscated by the guard. then came your turn, retelling it through your own [[half-remembered]], enthusiastically embellished words to those who came asking. <</linkappend>><</linkappend>><</linkappend>><</linkappend>>
there's not much time for remebering.
[[starvation's kicking closer.]]without family and few friends, your pay is now the pay of those bigger and [[stronger]] than you.
guards do nothing. they've been bribed or don't care, [[you don't know]]. Duke's men.
they don't eat it; Duke stockpiles it, sells it, pretends to charity by giving it out sometimes, when he wants people sweet.
you don't see much of that charity [[right now|starvation's kicking closer.]].or maybe you do.
you're just one kid in a sea of plenty, orphans or otherwise, but you've a knack for watching and wayward wandering. you've seen how the guards get paid (in bodies, mostly, people who owe Duke something) and you know which guards favor certain types of bodies.
there are ways to [[earn protection]].starvation doesn't have you quite that desperate (<<linkreplace "yet">>the hollow aching of your gut is enough to know ruling the idea out would be arrogance<</linkreplace>>).
[[the mines]] are no place for naivety. <<cacheaudio "rat" "https://www.dropbox.com/s/6x06ep3rfqu8rze/Filmy_Ghost_-_05_-_Melatonin_V.mp3?dl=1">>the Church says it's the [[Infinite Suns]], sending cleansing winds to purge the lands of unwanted remains. you've heard the guards muttering about sandstorms up above, funnelling down into the warrenways at helter skelter pace, enough to deglove a person.
your home since birth. warrenbaby. a good thing— [[outside kids never live long]].
not your home much longer, unless you work out how to <<linkappend "avoid starvation.">> but first
families in debt above the surface, trading in their debt to [[come and work the mines]]. they're rare, unless the population dips; rare still is their surviving more than a couple months. the Gates of Paradise are a [[oneway system]]. save for guards and imports, going up costs credits- credits you can earn in theory, but despite rumor, you've never known anyone to afford it.
it's not slavery, per say. though you're an outer colony planet, [[the Empire]] runs the mines; everything adheres to galatic law, strictly speaking.
this mine is one like a dozen hundred others, you've been told; but to you, it's [[all you've ever known|the mines]].
[[down|come and work the mines]]the Empire; a distant concept to you here.
they own and orchestrate the mechanics of your home, but no self-respecting registered citizen would come to a place like this. you are to them a simple matter of charts and data and the latest psychoscience analytics; to you, they're stories and one omnipresent word.
you don't hate them (now). they're too abstract, too 'other' to be any real source of [[bitterness]].with a fellow miner, things are easier. hate is plausible. you know where you stand with a miner. you know where they're from, whom they love, what keeps them from driving a pick through their skull.
[[trapped|come and work the mines]] rats, eating one another. the morning's claxon screeches; you have to sprint to make it back in time for the counting (tardiness of any kind halves your rations), but [[you make it]]. [[Duke|lost]]everyone in the mine gathers. shifts off are reserved for [[holy days]], or every two weeks on Stars' Day.
miners. priests. makers. [[children]]. rare, sacred.
communal [[prayer]] rings like timpony thunder throughout cave and passage, murmurs, shifting and slipping over one another like the sand of the dunes above. no pick may be touched. evenings spent on your backs, staring up at an imaginary sky as the holy read to you the [[scripture]]. four days every year, one for each solstice of the suns. food is plentiful on these days.
but another isn't due for three rotations; charity won't save you [[here|you make it]].
a superfluous term, of course— nothing can be written down here. tongues pass stories to tongues, holy priests trained in the art of telling <<linkappend "tales.">>
lofty, burning things; tales of stars, of skies that go on forever and sprawl with a population of almighty burning. of lights so pure and warm your underground existence cannot fathom. stars that will one day <<linkappend "embrace you all.">>
shuddering, nightmare things; how only perfection down below may warrent escape to stars and dust. how you are here for all the mistakes of your forefathers. how you have failed, and this is why you are bound to flesh and bone. how those who are not grateful must suffer most of all. words you hear more often, for they accompany the hunting when someone has done wrong— rules you're never quite sure of.
[[tales|holy days]] that bury themselves deep in your bones.<</linkappend>><</linkappend>>
'forgive me that which bound me... i repent all over here... mark me by your greatness... ascend me from the darkness... stars above and watching... of all my deeds you please [[hear|holy days]].'you [[join]] those similar in years.
the bustle of small bodies flitting through the scanners, pushing two, three at a time. the vanishing down into the mine.
you keep back, waiting. the knowing that change is needed, the not knowing what that is— you are bound to do everything slowly, hesitating, lingering, as if the answer might lie [[behind]].
yet your only option here is <<linkappend "forward.">>
a colony planet dweller, you're no citizen. no barcode. you're scanned by face alone, flitting through in a flash of red and [[onwards.]]<</linkappend>>
[[picks]] are for twelve and older— they're heavy, you see, and work there is dangerous.
you, like the others, play the role of [[runners]]. dashing up and down the warrens, ferrying reports, water, pushing carts of debris if you've strength enough and running faster if not. digital communications don't work down among the rock; you're the mouthpiece of those in danger, of those in need, of those worrying or asking. how fast you are is measured against impatience, the need to meet quota. too slow, people take risks because of you.
though small, you've always been a [[good runner.]] not looking heavy, but feeling it. small rods that gleam like silver, till you stroke them right and out snaps [[the cutter]]. [[danger]]. time efficency. cost of imported labor.
all these factors considered manifest in that nosedive of metal, like a snaffler's beak, energy charge at the end to lessen the work. it's hard-going work, but safe enough. the danger's in the gas-pockets, the heat flares, the shifting of rock and sendiment to collapse on an entire population.
they study these things of course, flag up warnings (losing you would cost them dearly).
but errors you've seen be made. a dozen miners, crushed in one loose fitting, one wrong hit.
not for your child hands, [[of course|onwards.]]. ignoring the hollow that is your stomach, your fly as fast as your awkward legs will carry you. despite starvation, a growth spurt's gripped you, filling the absence of your mother. you trip, often, feet ugly and scabbed with newness.
an ankle caught on debris tumbles you into an [[offshoot tunnel]]. and you see <<linkreplace "her.">>them.
you didn't mean to [[look.]]
<</linkreplace>>guard: uniform disheveled by unzipping, front open, one shoulder yanked down.
her: face against rock, teeth biting against thick glove.
her pick: five metres away, knocked out of her grip by surprise and brute force.
her voice: muffled against the gloves. but screaming.
[[you:]]you've seen and heard this before. Different hair, different tunnel, familiar picture.
hard not to, quick, quiet thing like you.
always places you're not supposed to be.
but <<linkappend "she">>, she's new. you recognise her from the hair, red as sandstone. body the kind that's lived here all her life. smashed-to-rock face turned just so you can <<linkappend "name her.">> [[Duchess.]] Duke's girl. <</linkappend>> <</linkappend>>she used to watch you in the square. she used to watch you when you [[stared.]] you stare now, he pulling her clothing down.
[[stay]]you dive forward and grab <<linkappend "it.">>
the pick is light. strange light. so light you can [[swing it.]] <</linkappend>>
she makes a hissing noise with her teeth and tongue
[[stay?]]she isn't crying. yet you can hear it.
your lips taste of salt.
[[move]]by the sound of it, you break his skull.
[[check]]crouching, you can tell [[he's]] not breathing.
the blood is beneath your feet, bare skin damp, crimson. you clench your toes so it won't get between them.
you feel her [[touch you.]]
helmet shattered, mask fractured, you see his face. it hurts your eyes now, but in ten years time you won't be able to recall it, no matter how hard you try. the first man you kill and he'll become an emblem of unremarkable faces, mashed into one. you remember he has pale eyes, pale like [[ghosts|check]].
[["hey kid, you alright?"]][["...thank you."]]"i couldn't get him off me. normally, they won't touch me. he won't let them. [[bastard was crazy]]""don't cry, kid. [[he'll protect you.]]" <<linkappend "and he does.">>
Duke protects you. when she tells him, what they did, what you did, the guards quickly hush it over. bastard was crazy.
offshoot tunnels are forbidden. there are reasons. consequences. even guards face them. it's an official line to feed to those pushing paper and you never have to say so much as a word for them to do all this [[talking.]]
<</linkappend>>afterwards, you're in Duke's apartment; his hand guides you there, he himself, fingers pressing to the groove of your left shoulder.
[["sit down, boy."]]man probably killed your mother. had her killed, same difference.
yet you sit and your stomach, warm and full and comfy with consilatory rations, lifts at [[what he calls you]]. you stop staring at the ground and start meeting his look, dark eyes kind with what you did for him.
"we owe you. heard what happened to your mother."
useful to know which kids are free food pickings.
"we're going to look out for you now. how 'bout it?"
[[you can't say no to that.]]you're at an age, a body-age, where words and names are starting to get tricky. 'kid' and 'brat' have been dropped in the tunnels and bubbling up in their place are words that make you nervous, angry in a silent way.
you never find out how he knows to call you this, or why. maybe it was just a mistake and you never corrected him, so he got to knowing that way. maybe she tells him, tells him about how you kicked stones at the priest's kid for talking about your body-age and its changes.
later, when you hate and leave him, this is the one thing you'll take with you.
[[(up there)]]she didn't mean enough to you for that.
honouring her will come in other, unwanted ways. the shivering at three am. a gnawing affinity for drink, drugs, talking. so much talking. you'll carry her tongue and hate her for all of it, but most of all the guilt because [[you say–]][["alright."]]Double-click this passage to edit it.but that's another, later story.
there's a long time still
[[down here|"sit down, boy."]]