Tag Archives: Javid

Chapter 33: Break

Lem stood up from the table and told Sangor to walk with him. He brought Sangor out of the forest to a cliff overlooking a fertile valley, dappled by sun and clouds. Beneath the clouds were sheets of rain that seemed to disappear after a few moments. The terraced hills on either side of the valley appeared to be pocked with holes. Sangor saw people, Rats, entering and leaving the holes. Lem led Sangor down a narrow path descending from the cliff into the valley.

Lem guided Sangor to his home, one of the caves Sangor had seen from the cliff. When they reached the third cave, Lem stopped and put his hand on the glass wall. The glass wall dissolved. They passed through the entrance into the cave, after which the glass reformed. Lem pointed to a sofa and told Sangor to make himself comfortable. Lem sat down on a chair opposite Sangor.

Yani offered Lem and Sangor a cup of water and a plate of fresh fruit. Sangor raised his cup and sniffed at the water suspiciously. Lem laughed, switched the cups, and drank from Sangor’s cup. Sangor raised Lem’s cup to his lips and drank down the cool thirst-quenching liquid in a few gulps. Sangor eyed the fruit with a combination of desire and suspicion. Lem smiled, reached over to the plate, picked up a prange, and popped it into his mouth. “You really should try the prange,” Lem said amiably with his mouth full of the tart pulp, “it’s fresh from our garden. My wife picked it just before you arrived.” Sangor picked up a prange from the plate and bit off the tip of the fruit. The tangy taste seemed to explode in his mouth. He ate the rest of it and reached for another piece of fruit.

Lem asked Sangor, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

Sangor looked at the Rat with genuine curiosity. He struggled for a moment with his rebellious memories but eventually gave up the effort. “No,” he answered. “Should I?”

Lem said to him, “No, I suppose not” and then, “You and I were children at the same day care facility in Sector 87. I built a fortress of wooden blocks and you knocked it down.”

Sangor started to remember images and feelings from his childhood. After all, he had not encountered many Rat children in his life. He remembered one or two, but not much else; certainly no interactions with them.

“Now, do you remember?” Lem asked Sangor.

Sangor was confused. Suddenly he saw and felt what he saw and felt that day when Lem’s mother had brought Lem to the day care facility and that Rat child had built a fortress of wooden blocks. Sangor had been envious of the Rat’s ability to construct something so tall and was so frustrated when the Rat was able to avoid his blows so easily. The old hatred came back to him.

“How are your parents, Javid and Dorka?” Lem brought Sangor back to the present.

“Hmm?” Sangor responded. “My father died a few years ago. My mother is in good health, as far as I know… Why did you spare me? … I would have killed you if I’d had the chance.”

Lem answered, “It was not necessary to kill you at that time.”

“Will it be necessary for you to kill me at some other time?” Sangor asked defensively.

Lem told Sangor he would not understand the answer to his question.

Lem bade good night to Sangor after showing him to his room for the night. Lem told Sangor they would have breakfast together in the morning and talk some more.

The next morning Lem told Sangor he wanted to show him around the cultivated fields and the cave village. Sangor understood that he was a captive audience and so he assented.

They passed two other caves on the way to the path leading down to the valley. Sangor glanced into the caves as they passed. The caves were similarly protected by a glass wall. Sangor put his hand on one of the glass walls but it did not dissolve. He saw a small Rat child on the other side of the glass wall sitting on the cave floor under a table playing with a multi-colored cube. The child raised his blue eyes to Sangor and waved to him. Embarrassed, Sangor dropped his hand from the glass and averted his gaze.

Lem and Sangor descended the path to the valley floor. They walked through fields of tall waving stalks, of low clinging vines around green and orange tubers, orchards of plump yellow fruits Sangor had never seen before, and flowers of every imaginable color growing from trees whose trunks looked like tea kettles. Sangor had seen farm country in Sector 87 but he had never seen anything like this.

Sangor asked many questions, first about the different kinds of fruit, trees, and flowers he saw, and then about the seeding and the harvest. He asked what the weather in these parts was like. He wanted to know what kind of price the farmers got for their produce. Lem answered each of Sangor’s questions patiently, but Lem’s answers did not make any sense to him. It couldn’t be like that. It just couldn’t be.

Sangor was silent for a while. He looked up at Lem and asked, “What about my friends? Where are you holding them? How are you treating them?”

Lem said “You are welcome to visit them and see for yourself.”

Sangor nodded and said he’d like that.

Lem took Sangor to the captive compound. “I have some things to attend to,” Lem told him. “You may come back to my cave whenever you want.”

Sangor looked Lem in the eyes and said morosely, “My place is with my friends.”

“You may stay with your friends,” Lem told Sangor, “if that is what you want.” He turned back and left Sangor at the entrance to the compound.

When Sangor walked inside, the buzz of Sap conversation went silent. Heads turned in his direction. A voice in the back of the room called out, “Is that you, Sangor?” Another voice snorted “Look at him, all clean and hair wet and slick… Where’d they take you? To the governor’s wife’s own bath house?”

“You can jeer all you like,” Sangor answered huskily, “but I’m a prisoner here just like you.”

“You don’t look like us,” one of the men said testily.

Sangor asked him, “Didn’t the Rats offer you to bathe in the river and wear clean clothes?”

The man shot back, “Sure they did, but I refused… Wouldn’t take nothin’ from no Rat.”

“Did you eat the food they offered you?” Sangor asked him with a wave of shame undulating in his belly.

“And let them poison me?” the gaunt man said, defiantly proud of his own hunger.

Someone else spoke out, “How do we know we can trust this Sap?”

Sangor reached over the heads of some men who were sitting cross-legged on the floor, grabbed the man who had just spoken by his shirt collar, and dragged him through the line of sitting men. “How do I know I can trust you, Worm-Meat?” Sangor hissed at the man. “I marched along next to you and I saved your sorry ass when you nigh fell into the river rapids. Many of you have known me since I was a child. Maybe I did accept their clothes and food, and maybe I just bided my time til the time was right to break them or to break away from them…”

“Hey man,” the man hanging inside the shirt whose collar Sangor clenched in his fist wined. “I didn’t mean nothin’ by it … I was just sayin’, ya know?”

One of the other men said, “Sangor’s all right. I’ll vouch for him.”

“Hey Sangor,” a man who had been silent up to that point said in a voice that carried above the others, “why don’t you come and sit down with us? Some of the guys have an interesting idea you might want to hear, if you don’t have other plans this evening…”

The interesting idea his friends had was a plot to break out of the compound and make a run for the river.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 27: The Worst of Times

Laws were passed at the sector level and regional levels that mandated all blue infants be terminated immediately after birth, whether or not they were deemed viable. The various rag-tag mobs in each sector were consolidated into a more-or-less regular army. Officers were appointed to develop a viable strategy to track down and kill the Rats once and for all. It would require crossing into the Uncharted Areas.

The Rats did not see the need for a hierarchical military organization. They would defend themselves and their families as best they could, but each man, woman, and child knew what had to be done, come what may, and there was no need for any general to command them to do it.

That year there was another drought and the only crop that farmers like Styg reaped in Sector 87 was dust. In Sector 84, Javid, Thort’s neighbor and co-worker at the local mine, passed away. His wife, Dorka, had said it was from the Blue Lung. Javid had been coughing up blue phlegm in the worst way for the last few months. The company doctors claimed there was no such thing as Blue Lung. They explained that Javid had probably smoked and drank too much.

The Sap army moved through Sector 127 toward the Uncharted Areas with scouts, infantry, cavalry, heavy artillery, observational balloons, and logistics trailing behind. Command and Control Centers were set up just behind the forward units. Communications antennae were planted on hills behind the CCC’s. It was an impressive display of military power and organization. The weather was difficult though. There were constant electrical storms throughout the sector with horizontal lightning streaking across hilltops and through valleys. The ground was soggy at best and at worst the foot soldiers and the drac-drawn carts sank down in the mud. Thick bullets of ice hailed down on their dented helmets and thwacked the soldiers on their insufficiently padded shoulders. It was impossible to set up camp that night prior to crossing into the Uncharted Areas at dawn the next morning, so the soldiers hunkered down for the night and tried their best to ignore the relentless hail and the terrifying lightning.

 

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 9: Dolarosa

It was still night when Thort woke up. The only part of him that didn’t hurt was Evanor, asleep beside him. He tried to move carefully not to disturb her. He recovered her with the quilted blanket. He wanted to bend down to kiss her but his back throbbed too painfully for that.

Thort went to the kitchen, relit the candle, put some wood in the stove, and kindled a fire in it. He splashed cold water on his bruised puffy face. He moved his tongue tentatively over the missing tooth.

Thort boiled a pot of coffee on the stove and cut half a loaf of yesterday’s bread for his breakfast. He put the rest of the loaf in a sack to take with him to the mine. He sat down at the table and gulped down coffee between munches of bread. He noticed Lem sitting silently across from him at the table. Thort was used to Lem’s quick and quiet ways. He winked at his son to show him he didn’t have to worry.

Thort kissed Lem on his forehead and went out the back door with the sack of bread in his left hand. He reached the mine just before the horn blew for the start of the shift. He pushed his way onto the elevator. The rancid odor of the men around him permeated Thort’s nostrils. He was in good company. Most of the other men on the platform, like him, had slept the previous night in the clothes they were wearing to work this morning, but Thort’s clothes were also stained with blood and mud.

Thort avoided contact with Javid and his co-workers. He worked at the other end of the shaft, striking the walls with his pick axe and shoveling the rocks and grit into the shuttle car behind him. He tried to keep pace with his buddies at the other end of the shaft but the pain of his wounds and the bandages slowed him down.

The assistant manager told Thort that if he did not shape up and work with his team, he could turn in his pick axe and shovel and look for another line of work. Thort tried to pick up the pace of his work but everyone could see that he was falling behind.

At the end of his shift Thort was told to come to the assistant manager’s office. He stood in front of the AM’s desk. He had been too proud to go back to work with the same men who had talked about his kid and worked him over the way they did. To hell with the job and the damned assistant manager!

The AM told Thort unceremoniously to take his last wages and get the hell out of his mine.

Mike Stone

Raanana, Israel

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Chapter 8: The Local Tavern

The horn blew loud and shrill in the mine shafts, informing the miners that their shift had ended. The first batch of men put away their shovels and pick axes in the boxes by the main elevator shaft and filed onto the wooden elevator platform while the others waited for the elevator to return. Javid and most of Thort’s work buddies shoved their way onto the platform, leaving Thort and the miners from the other shafts to wait for the next elevator. The wired doors closed flimsily and the platform started to rise, creaking and groaning under the weight of the miners. Every man in the elevator said a little prayer that this would not be the night the elevator fell in the shaft.

After a maddeningly long time, the elevator returned to the waiting miners. Thort pushed his way onto the platform. He was pressed tightly against the other miners. He looked forward to drowning his pain and his troubles in some good brew with his buddies at the local tavern. He’d try to smooth things over with Javid. Thort didn’t want any trouble with his neighbors or co-workers.

Evanor knew Thort would stop at the tavern on his way home. He needed to unwind with his friends at least once a week.  Thort saw the welcome lights streaming out of the windows of the tavern at the end of the road and could hear the raucous music and manly laughter spurt out every time the doors opened. Finally he arrived. Thort walked through the doors and looked around the crowded room for his buddies. He saw them sitting at the long table by the far wall. They already had their tankards of brew in front of them. They were laughing and talking and poking each other. Thort walked toward them with a wide open smile on his face, which soon disappeared. His friends had spotted him and stopped talking and laughing for a moment, but nobody moved aside to make room for him. They turned back to their laughing and talking and poking.

Thort found a small table nearby with a single chair nobody had taken yet. He sat down and made a drinking sign to the mistress of the tavern to bring him a tankard of the usual. When it eventually arrived, Thort slaked his tremendous thirst and dulled his pains, but his heart wasn’t in it. There wasn’t much point to it if he wasn’t drinking with his buddies, was there?

Thort could see Javid drinking with his buddies at the long table and hear him telling everybody his side of events at the mine that day. Javid was telling his buddies that if Thort were to show his ugly Rat-loving face at work tomorrow, he had better keep out of Javid’s way or Javid would give him another blue eye. Thort heard Javid’s threats and his buddies’ jeers.

Thort stood up unsteadily, upsetting his table. His tankard of brew crashed and spilled on the floor by his feet. He picked up the small table and threw it at Javid, hitting him hard and knocking him over in his chair. Thort was standing over Javid, legs planted on either side of Javid’s capsized chair. The buddies pulled Thort away from Javid and held his arms while Javid got up and hit Thort hard in the face and stomach. Several buddies took turns punching Thort wherever they found an opening, with a few carefully placed kicks to the groin just to make sure Thort couldn’t sire any more blue babies. Thort doubled over vomiting on the floor. Javid swung his knee up hard into Thort’s face breaking his nose and two teeth. Thort’s head flew back almost breaking the nose of the man who held Thort’s arms. Javid’s thick fist punched deep into Thort’s solar plexus and he slumped heavily to the ground barely breathing.

After Thort lost consciousness, the buddies dragged him out of the tavern and threw him into the road. The tavern owner followed the men out and stuffed a bill for brew and damages into Thort’s shirt pocket.

Javid and his friends went back into the tavern, picked up the chair, setting it right again, and ordered another round of brew.

When Thort regained consciousness the tavern windows were dark and silence issued from the padlocked doors. He pulled himself up on one knee to determine whether he could stop the world from spinning around him. Everything hurt and he had the taste of dirt and blood in his mouth. He tried to stand up but the pain in his groin made him double over. He tried again more slowly this time. He took a step and a sharp pain shot through groin. He took another step and another.

Thort hobbled up the road slowly until he reached the gate to his house. He opened the gate and nearly passed out before reaching the steps. He dragged his right leg up the three steps until he stood in front of the front door. Evanor opened the front door in her nightgown and gasped. Lem stood behind his mother horrified in the rawest silence at what he saw.

She tried to support his tremendous weight, maneuvering him to the sofa. He fell backwards onto the sofa and laid his head back. She went to the kitchen to bring strips of cloth and a bucket of water. “What have they done to you,” she asked him over and over, not waiting for or expecting an answer. She dabbed his gashes and bruises with water-soaked cloth strips. She had to go back to the kitchen to change the water in the bucket many times.

Thort fell asleep on the sofa. She didn’t have the heart to wake him and try to get him up the stairs into their bed. She went upstairs to get the quilt blanket and bring it down to cover him. She slipped inside the quilt blanket and pressed her warm body against his. She couldn’t sleep.

There were only two hours left before first dawn. He couldn’t miss a day of work.

Mike Stone

Raanana, Israel

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