This morning it was back to the mines. We were sent to a new area to drill and blast. Sweat poured down my back as I wrestled the heavy drilling equipment that provided a constant pounding to my body. I felt the familiar soreness in my muscles that bordered on mild pain and a mix of euphoric itchiness that indicated to me that I was adapting quickly to the new challenges of my mining days.
Eighty percent of my nanocells deactivated and flushed themselves out of my system after resurrection. The other twenty percent are maintenance nanos and stay in my body, replicating themselves when they begin to wear out. Through a communications network, they coordinate to provide maximum efficiency. They fill in when my body can’t. I could feel them helping to compensate for the extra load on my muscles. Triggering dosages of hormones, repairing cells, and building muscle tissues.
The noise of the drill was masked by the ear plugs. Through them a constant muffled barrage, like a hurricane of grinding, pumelled my brain. It dulled my senses and made me feel numb to my surroundings. The gritty dust settled all over, making its way past clothing and seams to rub against my skin and irritate it. This was a nasty, dirty job, and somebody has to do it. I’d rather not, but I’m doing it because I want information. The best way to get it, is to be here with the people who last saw Baxter.
I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see Desoto give a hand signal, his hand flat and pressing down with a motion which meant to shut down the equipment. I did so, setting the drill down and taking off my gloves. Dust poured out from the inside of the gloves and I sighed with relief. The crew headed to the makeshift break room that had been dropped by one of the loaders. It was was one of those safe rooms, with a table inside and some lights strung to the ceiling. A water cooler stood at one end with some cupboards containing a few meager supplies of food. Dry biscuits and some kind of sticks that were supposed to pass as pepperoni. It was calories and they were free, so they all dug into them whenever they could. They didn’t taste too great, but didn’t taste bad either, unless I remembered that they were probably ground silkworm from the farms.
The miners chattered around the table gruffly berating each other: Sledge, Jake, Stumpy, and Carly. Carly, among the worst of the group at times, appeared to compensate for her femaleness in the midst of all the testosterone. She held her own.
“I saw Carly down at the Dockside hitting on this hot redhead,” Sledge said, a grin played at the edges of his mouth.
“Bullshit.” Carly snapped.
“Yeah, so what’s the deal, Carly. You swing both ways or just one? Am I going to come to work some morning and see you snuggling up with Sledge in the munitions shack?” Stumpy joined in.
This prompted a round of guffaws from the rest of them. And Carly landed a good open handed smack to Stumpy’s unprotected head. Stumpy winced and cowered away, still laughing.
“So what was this Baxter guy like?” I asked.
“I dunno. He was sort of all religiousy,” Carly said.
“Yeah, he was like that. Weak as a babe when he started here. Sledge whipped him into shape though. Nice enough guy, if you didn’t listen to his God jabber.” Stumpy said.
“Blew himself up…didn’t make no sense. No sense at all,” Sledge reinterred his description of the event.
“Did he have any family? Anybody come and get the remains?”
“I dunno. The company-men came and got what they could find. We didn’t hear much after that.” Sledge replied.
“They don’t really tell us much.” Jake said.
“Other than where to drill and how long, that is.” Carly smirked.
The fact that there wasn’t much left of Baxter’s corpse, meant to me that there hadn’t been one. Baxter was still around, and he was going to be up to no good soon enough, and very alive. But he’d had to have had some kind of help to make that disappearing act fly, and the fact that the company-men had been involved smelled to me like the company itself was in on it.
“That reminds me. I was having a beer at the the bar next to the mine entrance…” I started.
“Dockside,” Stumpy interrupted.
“Yeah, at the Dockside. And I ran into this old-timer there by the name of Laurence, I think they called him. You guys know him?”
“Yeah old Laurence, he’s been around a long time. Freelancer he was, until his stake got wiped out. He’s been sitting up there on that stool for years telling that woeful tale.” Jake said.
“He’s what the company-men call a malcontent,” Sledge said. He pronounced it like mall-contant. “It don’t do no good to sit and moan about how things are. They just are, and that’s the way of it. This here’s Mars. It’s hard, and it don’t change for nobody.”
Sledge got up then and the rest followed suit. I reluctantly did the same, my muscles had stiffened a bit while we sat. I made my way towards the door, but before I took even two steps, there was a large explosion. The floor rocked beneath us and dust poured in the door of the safe house. Carly reacted first and slapped her hand into the big red button by the door. A thick metal plate slammed into place over the open doorway and sealed us inside. Somewhere out there in the rocks, dust and destruction, Van Desoto fought for his life. And that bothered me, because I was starting to like that guy.