Categories > Original > Fantasy > Tradewinds 03 - "Shipwrecked"


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

Pullman Mine Camp

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Fantasy - Published: 2008-10-05 - Updated: 2008-10-05 - 1707 words - Complete

It was dark.

Justin could barely see what he was doing in the many areas between lamps. The TSA tight-wads refused to waste one credit more than they had to on such trivial things as lighting, cutting into their profits. The guards supervising the operation had explained that his eyes would adjust (as if a man who had lived underground for several years needed to be told that), and of course, this coming from the only people in this ant-farm who were allowed to wear headlamps.

Or hardhats, for that matter. Aside from the most rudimentary tools their tasks required, none of them were permitted to have anything that might even conceivably be used as a weapon. And even then, it would be picks and shovels against energy weapons.

Not Justin’s kind of odds, but right up the Authority’s alley.

The chains shackling his hands and feet were long enough to allow him to do his work, but short enough to prevent him from running, and to hinder his arm movement in a fight. Gone was the
Sea Breeze uniform, in its place was the same mine camp jumper he would wash up on the Isle of Paradise in. Even his new boots, replaced with a worn-out pair of stompers which had clearly belonged to other unfortunate souls before him.

He had been dragging those boots and those chains around for a third day in a row. Between Trevor and Company’s savage beating, and shoveling endless loads of dirt and rocks into carts, he had yet to figure out how he was still able to move at all.

Justin’s very shitty day had ended in the brig of a ship bound for Pullman Island. But not before being sent to a medic who looked him over for all of three or four minutes before declaring him fit for work, then turning his full attention to the guards who were injured in Jimbo’s escape. (From the way they had spoken, it sounded as if most of the others they were after had escaped— good for them; he couldn’t make up his mind if he was happy for them or not.) Trevor, of course, the least harmed of all, had been taken to a
real doctor.

Justin had coughed up blood all that night, and most of his first shift in the mines.

Every move was an exercise of willpower and an experience of agony. It was getting better, but how he had dragged his manacled ass out of that lumpy, smelly excuse for a bed those first couple days was beyond him. The guards had beaten him a couple times before, but those were apparently just a warm-up for the other day.

Mercifully, there was little abuse to be had during his short interrogation. Mostly because he had already blurted out the single most useful intel they had received in ages:
Blaze’s real name. Beyond that, being only Slash’s errand boy, they quickly concluded that he knew nothing else of importance, and they took him away.

His first day was an excruciating blur to him, and all Justin really remembered of his first day on the inside was learning the truth about his opponent. Some other inmates had told Justin the rest of the story about Trevor.
I heard you popped Trevor Fitzgerald one, one prisoner had said, Shoulda hit him once for me. The guy next to him remarked, They’re never gonna let you outta here! Then the guard had told them to shut up and get back to work.

That was when it sunk in. Trevor
Fitzgerald. Damn! The son of Chairman Fitzgerald of the Authority’s Board of Directors.

The shit just kept getting deeper.

It was then that Justin knew that the length of his sentence was just an arbitrary number. Arbitrary as everything else in the Triangle State. A few months. A few years. The rest of his life, most likely. Like anyone else who had lived in this realm for long, he had heard whispers of unfortunate visitors who wore out their welcome and were never seen again; he wondered bitterly if he would meet any of them here.

His nineteen days in Pullman Mine Camp would be the bar against which he would measure all other hardships he would suffer in the future.

He had always wanted to leave Benton Island, but this wasn’t quite what he had in mind. Nor was Pullman his idea of an improvement; the chains only served to reaffirm that conviction. Of course, there were also mines on Benton, but he knew why they had taken him here instead. The Authority had decided, even without knowing all the facts, that Jordan Robertson might know Benton a little
too well. So he was being taken to a place he wouldn’t know his way around so well.

Standing in the shadows between the lightbulbs strung along the walls, Justin worked no harder than he could get away with. The shovel seemed to grow heavier with each passing hour, and his arms grew less and less cooperative. For now, it was all he could do to lay low and try not to draw any attention to himself. It was bad enough so many people here knew he had fought Trevor, so he didn’t want to fight unless he absolutely had to.

Yet it was a constant struggle. More than anything, he longed to take up that shovel and bash his way back to the surface… But he knew he would only get a couple guards at the most before they gunned him down. So he kept his smoldering resentment to himself here in this place.

This place that was several levels deeper than any part of the Works. Anymore, Justin was no stranger to subterranean living, but there were portions of the mines that made the Ruins look stable by comparison. At least the Authority appeared to spare less expense on supports than they did on lighting.

Being incomplete, the supports were especially shaky-looking here in the deepest tunnels, where they were digging out a new vein. The prisoners ahead of him dug with picks and spades, and as exhausted as Justin was, he had to keep up, shoveling dirt and rocks into a never-ending parade of carts. Going as easy on his battered body as he could, without falling too far behind and incurring still more abuse from the guards, that was the trick.

Digging in these depths was a delicate balancing act between forward progress and structural integrity, made complicated by the very nature of that which the TSA sought. The very thing the Authority had named this corner of their little empire the Crystal Islands after, Pullman was the richest source of plasma crystals. The true source of the Board of Director’s wealth. Much sought after for their unique crystal matrix structure, which allowed for energy storage far exceeding that of chemical power cells, they were also very rare (and prohibitively expensive to synthesize), with deposits existing in some realms, but not in others. The gods cursed the Crystal Islands with uncommonly rich deposits of it. Their exact origin was unaccounted for— of course, to people like the TSA, where it came from was irrelevant, for all that mattered was that it existed— and were primarily used in power cells for energy weapons and other high-power devices.

Justin didn’t know the rocket science of it, but in their raw, unrefined form, the crystals were at least somewhat unstable, so blasting was done only with small, surgical charges. And according to the scanning apparatus the Authority’s specialists brought down now and then, they were only a matter of days away from hitting the motherlode. The largest concentration of plasma crystals any of them had ever heard of.

What he
did know was that if there was any blasting to be done around here, it always fell to a mysterious prisoner who otherwise worked on simple tasks elsewhere. The thing that bothered him most was the man’s eyes, so hollow… as if he no longer cared whether he lived or died. Even the guards seemed to grant him a wary, grudging respect.

And little wonder. During their brief meal breaks, when a group of female prisoners that he never saw hide nor hair of the rest of the time came through, serving the cheapest food the TSA could possibly find, Justin had asked about him, and was told that his name was Jasper. That he had been Pullman’s blasting man for over three years, making him the longest-living person to ever take that job in the mine’s entire history. For one who, by all accounts, had turned his back on life, he seemed to posses the kind of luck most people would kill for.

Though he would only think about it occasionally during his time at Pullman, there was something about Jasper and the mysterious tragedy of his past that would haunt Justin for years to come.

Digging here at the forefront of this new tunnel was the most dangerous job in the whole operation. There was no doubt in his mind that that was why he was one of the prisoners selected for that detail. He wondered who some of these others had pissed off to end up down here. Pictured Trevor just shrugging his shoulders at the news of himself dying in a cave-in, and it angered him to no end.

Then again, any thought about Trevor or Slash tended to have that effect on him, and whenever he looked back on it later, he was certain that it was his rage that held his battered, exhausted body together through those brutal first days. He just kept on imagining himself beating the crap out of Trevor, or sometimes Slash, with that shovel while he slaved away the interminable hours of eternal night. Just kept telling himself it wouldn’t be much longer before they marched him back to that tiny cell that barely had enough space for a cot.

Where he would be dead to the world for a few hours until they came for him again...
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