Here is part two of Jalnuur – Chapter One, where the action begins…
Akhen opened his eyes and looked about him in the dim light of the dormitory. All around him, the others were beginning to stir for another long shift in the mine. He shook his neighbour’s shoulder to wake him. Mentep lashed out in his drowsy state, missing Akhen’s face with his fist, yelping in pain when it struck the rock wall beside him. “Come on man get up!” Akhen said, as he went through the routine of binding his hands and feet with the stinking rags from under his bed. The two friends sat in silence eating the meagre breakfast of hard bread followed by fetid water, liberally laced with Negan dust.
“Where’s Hoetep?” Mentep asked, dipping his mug into the water barrel.
“How should I know? He’s your brother, not mine,” Akhen replied, pinching a piece of crust from Mentep’s plate while his large friend’s back was turned. “He and Seti were sent to the eighth level yesterday. Perhaps they’re still there,” he added, as he swallowed the stolen morsel.
Across the darkened passage in the women’s dormitory Nefer was stirring the women from their slumber. She had been awake for what seemed like hours. By now most of the occupants of the two Nephile dormitories were awake, or at least on their feet. Nefer’s best friend, Mintaka, sat on the bed coughing up blood. She had been there the longest of all the Nephile inmates, nearly five months. One could be forgiven for thinking there was a large age gap between the two lifelong friends, but in fact they were born within minutes of each other. They had grown up together and it seemed as if they just may die together as well. The Drana guards marched the weary band of men, women, and children from all parts of the empire and beyond towards the turbo-shaft, passing below the latest ‘example’ who had been temporarily crucified on a beam above them. The guards averted their eyes not wishing to see their disgraced Drana brother.
The turbo-lift stopped at the lowest level of the mine. Akhen and the rest made their way to the equipment bay, a small disused mineshaft close to the turbo-lift, and were each issued with a pick and a phosphor light. Dividing them up into work crews, the Drana guards sent them off to the Negan veins. Down there, time meant nothing. The only way to tell its passage was when the food break occurred. Those too sick to do the hard physical work at the mine-face delivered the food. The sharp pain from the Khaz discharge whips on their heads and backs signalled the resumption of mining.
Children were used to push the heavy trolleys back to the turbo lift where the Negan ore was sent to be processed on the second level of the huge underground complex. Being sent to work in the crushing facility absolutely guaranteed an early death. The dust created by the process hung in thick choking clouds in the foul air of the huge cavern. Just walking around the place made life unbearable. Many tried to prevent breathing in the dust by covering their mouth and nose with a piece of torn cloth, but the rags quickly clogged up making breathing practically impossible.
Akhen and Mentep worked together at the face while Nefer and Mintaka loaded the Negan ore into the waiting trolleys. Amunat and Iset were responsible for shoring up the shaft, and laying the tracks for the trolleys as the shaft extended deeper into the planet’s surface. Both women struggled with the large pit props and heavy trolley rails. The raw Negan ore prevented the Nephile from using their natural powers, in this case levitation. Since Hoetep and Seti were sent to the eighth level, the two women were forced to take their place in the crew.
After the shift, the group of friends collapsed on their bunks totally exhausted after the day’s work. Nefer washed Mintaka’s face and hands, wiping away the blood from her mouth and nose. She was getting weaker by the hour. Nefer knew her friend would not survive much longer. Amunat and Iset helped to make Mintaka as comfortable as they could. Young Sekhmet brought a bowl of food over, holding it while Nefer fed Mintaka. Children like Sekhmet should never have to be in a place like this! When her parents were taken, she was arrested along with the others. The Drana officer had his orders and when it came to Nephile, there were no exceptions. If one was guilty, the whole family shared in that guilt. Besides, just being Nephile was justification enough in the Drana’s eyes.
Across the passage, Akhen and Mentep were deep in conversation when Seti arrived. “What have you stolen this time?” Akhen asked, as Seti sat down beside him on the bed.
“Found—not stolen!” Seti laughed. He opened the rag bundle and produced a Drana passkey.
“They’ll miss it,” Mentep said, inspecting it.
“They’re always losing things,” Seti replied, tipping out the remainder of his ‘finds’ onto the bed. “Take a look at this,” he said holding up a charge unit for a disruptor rifle.
“Seti, one of these days you’ll be caught!” Mentep growled.
“So what are they going to do? Throw me into prison?” Seti replied, sarcastically.
Akhen carefully inspected the charge unit, turning it over in his hands. In the dim light, his friends did not notice the smile slowly creep across his face. “What else have you found my friend?” he asked, searching the rest of the plunder. Maybe there was a way out of the mine after all!
It would not be easy. The problem was the Khaz had eyes everywhere, thanks to the surveillance cameras. In comparison, the Drana could be evaded. They were bored out of their tiny minds most of the time, considering their deployment in that godforsaken place as an insult and punishment.
Akhen thought that one particular prisoner might be interested in what he had to say. But could he be trusted? After all, he was Drana…
Next time – Chapter Two – Rebellion