Saturday, September 22, 2018

Chapter 9


The serfs assigned to transport the ‘fertilizer’ gladly gave up their task to Jane and Bhutto. It was impossible to promise, but Jane made assurances that the miners would suffer no negative consequences. She would do what she could without jeopardizing her goals, that much was the truth.

After going over Father Ezekiel's directions through the labyrinth of tunnels, Bhutto declared that she knew where they were going, and Jane accepted her judgment. Bhutto led the way through the twists and turns in the tunnels while they dragged sloshing barrels of filth along behind them.

The Warden’s thugs barely took notice of the two women, save to clear the way of the foul cargo. It was for good reason. Without powered suits, the women struggled to keep the contents from spilling out. The gravity increased weight of barrels quickly fatigued the muscles, followed by aching, then burning.

Jane fought the pain through gritted teeth, but slowly she began to lose her grip. Millimeter by millimeter, the barrel's edge slipped through her fingers. She finally dropped it to the ground, rippling a wave of the sewage into her visor and all over the front of her suit. The barrel teetered nearly to the point of toppling over, but fell back onto its base.

Jane's skin was thankfully shielded from any contact with the sewage, but she gagged anyway, and the vomited gruel she coughed up forced her to choose: face the filth on the outside or inside. She pulled the helmet off and immediately regretted it. The bile and slave gruel drained down the inside of the helmet and onto her suit, mingling with the sewage to become somehow more awful than either alone. Bhutto could not contain a snicker, and nearly dropped her barrel because of it. But she just recovered before it could escape from her grasp.

“Hey,” A voice bellowed from behind. “Quit fucking around and get to the fields before I shove this shock baton straight up your ass.” Jane quickly threw the helmet back over her head. She picked up the barrel with the renewed strength that only fear-fueled-resolve could muster. The guard stepped in her path, laughing at her as Jane had to shift her weight to go around. The tendons at the crook of her arms burned hotter. Jane wanted to dump the filth straight over his head, but kept her mind on the Leviathan. When they finally turned the corner and reached the vast open cavern of the fields, Jane dropped the barrel to the ground again, allowing it to slosh and spill over a second time.

This time, she did not care.

Mouth agape, she surveyed the milky-green leaves; the various drab shades of the beans, fruits, or vegetables were an artist's palette compared to the dull gray of the inner walls and the constant fluorescent yellow-white flickering. Rows and rows of lush vegetation taller than a woman sprung from mounds of tilled soil, marred only by the reminder of the slaves forced to work them.

There were no vac-suits in the fields. Men tended separate rows of crops in different stages of growth, plowing, planting, irrigating, and harvesting. Many carried scythes, sickles, shovels and other tools that could easily be used as weapons. But security was tighter here, and those security personnel were better equipped than the run-of-the-mill thugs. There was not see a single one without some sort of projectile weapon.

When Jane had caught her breath and finished indulging in taking in the scene, she gestured Bhutto on. They waddled the barrels up to a great metallic vat in the center of the fields. Large tubes and hoses of different sizes and materials ran from the sides, spreading to all corners of the fields. They both dumped the contents of the latrine barrels into the vat. It would be purified and redistributed as water and fertilizer for the fields.

Then Jane found her chance. One of the unarmored guards had found a farmer who had fallen, whom he decided to kick. Jane gave Bhutto her “be ready” expression. She slowly crept behind the man, close enough to hear his taunts.

“What’s the matter?” He asked. “Get up, you!”

Jane upturned the waste barrel over the guard’s head, and shoved him into the wet dirt. The man cried out in appropriate disgust, but the muffled shout echoed only in his own ears. Jane bolted for the thick fields of the crops awaiting harvest. She hoped Bhutto had the sense to follow her. Jane dove into the high vegetation and quickly ditched her soiled vac-suit.

The nearby rustling told Jane that Bhutto got the idea. She clung close to the ground and crawled arm-over-arm towards the sound. More rustling rippled through the crops from the distance. Shouts rang out from all sides, all converging on their position.

Jane picked a direction and crawled as quickly and quietly as she could manage. She wormed her way past several pairs of boots scrambling through the dirt. Thankfully, they did not see, step on, or trip over her. Eventually they had crawled out of earshot of the guards. Some of the farmers had certainly seen them, however. They would have to count on their solidarity, because Jane could not crawl much more. She slowly and deliberately pushed herself up from the ground and did her best to look like she was picking the vegetables.

Bhutto stood up beside her, glancing over her shoulder. “You’re going to look like an idiot if you pick the damn things and don’t husk them, Red.” She said.

“What?”

“Peel them,” She ripped the outer skin of the plant, revealing a bright orange fruit inside. Much like what they had fed the miners.

Jane did as Bhutto demonstrated. Digging her fingers into the plant was surprisingly difficult and somewhat painful. More thugs passed through as she husked the vegetables. They glanced at the women but did not break stride. Then a hand rested on her shoulder. Jane grabbed the arm and twisted. The man grunted in pain and Jane spun around.

The tall black-haired man pulled his wrist away, the creases in his weathered face twisted in pain while smiling at the same time. His squinting black eyes, unlike Dives’, welcomed her instead of dragging her into them. “Good to see you, too, Red,” Yeagar said. “To be honest, I am surprised to find you alive.”

“So am I,” Bhutto said, “given the stunts she has pulled.”

“Well, you’re lucky I found you first. The others will rat you out the first chance they get. Unless we produce a scapegoat, everyone will suffer for that bit of insolence.”

“Are they so cowardly that they won’t stand up for their own?” Jane asked.

“Red,” Bhutto said, “let me get this through your skull, since it hasn’t seemed to permeate. It’s dog-eat-dog on this rock, if you haven’t noticed.”

Soon must have seen her confusion. “Every man for himself,” he explained. “There isn’t incentive to work together when you can push the misery off on someone else.”

“That doesn’t sound like the miners, or Father Ezekiel”

“Father?” Soon asked. “You found Zeke?”

“That depends,” Bhutto said. “Was Zeke a superstitious idiot with one foot out the airlock?”

Yeager’s features hardened. “Zeke is religious, yes. And he's developed genetic degradation, a severe form. He won't make it to the next cycle. He was my man on the inside.”

“He told us he came here as a missionary,” Jane said.

“I knew that had to be a joke,” Bhutto said.

Soon shrugged. “He seems sincere enough. His condition could have been remedied, but he refused treatment. They do not believe in altering the DNA or something. It still took some convincing to get him to go.” Soon rubbed his fingers together.

“You paid him?” Bhutto asked. “What good is a credit account here?”

“I’m taking care of his family,” he replied.

“Fair enough,” Bhutto said. “So, now that we’ve found him and you, what’s the plan? How are we getting off this rock?”

Soon nodded slowly. “I have to be honest, my plan is kind of a pipe dream.”

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