The Miners of Transpiria
Short story written by:
Manpreet Riyat (Arcane)
The five of them rode their motorcycles though the dark desert, blowing away dust and stones into the air. They roared through the silence. Hearing the thick sound of five bikes muffled through their helmets was a ritual on the way to work. Before reaching the mines, they would ride off-road, concentrating on the sounds of sand and gravel beneath the tires. They would seldom look back or forward at each other.
They stayed in their heads—today could be there last day.
They only spoke when they reached the mines.
The five of them jumped over small valleys and a couple of them rode on thick logs. Riding on metal beams was a practice a few of them enjoyed. I guess if you're able to do that, you might as well.
Other than that bit of fun and amusement, the night consisted mostly of sweat and shallow breathing. The dirt and smoke would punish their lungs as they broke the boulders. Only one man per unit was a Heater. The others were average folk---a bloodline of men and women struggling just to be able to cross the Holy Wall. Old men told children that crossing the Wall felt like the first real breath you had ever taken.
The Heaters were always granted access. But anyone else who wanted to cross into paradise would need to find a Heat Stone and hand it over. To some buyers, it was more valuable than the lives of dozens.
They used hammers and chisels--sometimes the same ones their parents used a decade before.
'Thirty-five-thousand strikes', the man had said to him. 'They can stand even more than that. The manufacturer simply stops counting at thirty-five-thousand strikes.' The man laughed when he said the words "quality control.'
Over the last few decades, the Heaters were showing up less and less. Well, actually, I believe the numbers are about the same. The degree--the degree to which they can heat is rapidly diminishing (they didn't know why).
Some say it is because if a man or woman is born a Heater, they will almost always end up in a dirty mining job--or a job where their power was taken advantage of until they finally burnt out. They would almost never see the paradise that was rightfully theirs. The men in charge would push them to endangerment just so they may find a Stone and take it for their own freedom.
To simplify the explanation, they were worked to death. One's decade of misery for one's decade in paradise.
That same toll most definitely passed to the offspring of the Heaters. That is why (probably) the Heat in these humans is dying out.
"Hey Marx! We got a solid one."
A young muscular man answered. "Alright, I'm coming."
He dropped his newly forged shovel, still molten and orange, and walked along a thin beam to the man calling him.
"It's a blessing to have you around boy. I remember when this job had to be done without Heaters. And now all the Heaters are passing-- I am sorry by the way," the old man looked down and patted the boy on the shoulder.
"Don't worry about it, sir. The young boy let out a smile.
He placed both hands on the boulder and lifted it up. He did what would require the strength of a dozen men or more. He held it to his chest and pressed on it. Cracks began to form all around the rock. The jagged lines became molten red and cut deeper---reaching to the very core of the rock. The men around him backed away as he closed his eyes and yelled with exertion.
The rock broke into about ten smaller pieces, each one smoldering and faded orange. One piece rolled away and landed on a metal beam. A few men yelled angrily.
The boy pointed and shouted an order. "Hey, get that one quickly. It's too hot, it'll warp the beam!
Two men ran and nudged the rock with a hammer until it tipped over and fell several feet to the cold dirt.
The boy took a deep breath and patted the old man on the back. "Don't strain yourself, Sir."
The man laughed."You see, lads? The best Heater I know."
The men started again with their hammers and shovels.
Before their minds could get back to work, a loud bang echoed through the desert. After a second of trying to find the source of the noise, the men saw a glowing mass of cloud and fire on the horizon. It was the next town over.
It was gone in an instant.
Almost everyone knew what happened. It was common in the folklore and the stories told to children. Everyone at the mine knew what happened.
A Heater had died.
And the entire town had died with her.
The old man looked down at his feet and mumbled something to himself.
"Oh,--Felicia. Poor Felicia...a blink of an eye and its gone..my grandchildren...my home.."
He began to sob. The newspapers said she had over a year to live. The town had not been evacuated yet.
A young boy at the bottom of the mine rushed to climb the beams. He settled next to the old man and cried with the realization of what happened.
He tried to hide his face from the others.
The old man spoke.
"I saw it in the war. That's nothing else but the death of a powerful Heater. He paused and looked at the palms of his hands. The burns and scars reminded him of the war. Even the shrapnel remained. He wiped some charcoal off his wedding ring.
He became weak and spoke softly..
"Do--do any of you gentlemen mind giving me a ride back to your town? I no longer have a place to go."
The boy was sitting down. He looked away from the flaming ball and up at the old man, "Sure, you can come with me."
They had heard about this happening a hundred years ago. The smoke covered the village for almost five days back then. The mothers had told their children stories about it.
The boy caught all the other men staring at him. The reason being that he will become a Heater when he becomes a man. He held out his hand which was calloused and covered in soot. Trying to hide his fear from them, he said, "Don't worry guys, I've got a couple dozen years before I go.”
A man yelled from behind a pile of rock, "No, no. You shouldn't even be here. I ain't having you near me or my friends. You saw what happened! You can kill us all if something happens to you. If one of these rocks contains that light...that...what is it called again?" He snapped his fingers at his friend trying to recall the word he was looking for.
"Hey what was it again?"
"It's a crystal! A man yelled.
"Black Fire." another man said.
The man nodded at the boy, "Yea, that's the one."
The boy stared at the distant fire. He thought his god-given gift would have have been helpful. He never expected people would judge him the way they do.
He was starting to believe it was a curse and it terrified him.
The same 'thing' inside him had just burned down the town and killed everyone he knew. The same energy was inside him.
He spoke, "It's funny how the one thing we're looking for, is the one thing that might kill all of us."
Another boy spoke with anger, "It'll kill you perhaps. We'll all have about a day to get away from you. A safe distance before you blow up and kill everything."
The old man sat next to the boy and looked at his home-town burning to ashes. "That hasn't happened in a hundred years. Even our jobs, our search, our lives dedicated to this hunt, it's all futile. I'm convinced the Heat has dried up, even deep in the Earth. Heaters arrived to give humanity a chance, and we burned them at the stake for half a century before we smartened up. Even witches in Salem had seen more generosity in their lives."
"After our mistakes, we finally realized the power, we could have flourished...but we're at the bottom of the barrel. Our heat has dwindled and the flame will be gone soon enough. We ran out of time. We waited and we failed."
"Go home, son."
He sniffled and his hands shook while he recalled the memories of war --a lifetime of pain and regret.
He lifted a boulder and with a thousand-yard stare he said, "And hide."