Before today, I’ve only heard stories of cloaked men like the one that just took Jonas – vague remembrances of older miners telling of those who tried to organize rebellions being dragged off and never heard from again. Just minutes ago, they were catalogued somewhere between fantasies and other things I didn’t need to worry about, yet here they are, suddenly pummeling their way to the forefront of my thoughts.
By all accounts, I should be happy. Jonas, the man who’s caused Krista and me so much pain and humiliation, is gone. If there’s any truth to the stories I’ve heard, he’s gone for good at that. Still, something just doesn’t seem right about the way things happened.
Why, after months of the same behavior, does the Overseer suddenly care about the way Jonas treats us? We have no rights – we’re slaves to be used as our captors see fit – so what’s this business about them being an example for some new era? Just yesterday, Jonas did the same thing he tried to do today. The only difference is, today I stopped him. Why is today’s offense so grievous as to warrant his immediate removal? I replay the events in my head, trying to make sense of them, until I finally give up and grunt in exasperation.
“Gray, what is it?” Krista whispers.
“Nothing.” I pause for a second, trying to stave off the questions that swirl around my mind, but it’s no use – maybe talking it out will help. “It’s just…don’t you think what happened just now with Jonas is a little odd? Every day for months, he’s done the same thing, but today, all of a sudden, the Overseer decides to give a damn? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Yes, it does seem odd, but…” she hesitates a moment, as if considering whether to continue then resumes “Gray, do you remember how I’ve told you sometimes I remember things from my life before here?”
“I don’t know what this could mean, but I remembered something the other day…about a big corporation.”
“What’s a corporation?” I say the last word in syllables. It feels foreign on my tongue.
“Think of a shop where people go to buy things – food, clothes, whatever. Now imagine that shop being so big that thousands and thousands of people all got what they needed there. Understand?”
“I guess so. You know I don’t remember much from before I was brought here, but I don’t think we had anything like a corporation. I think where I’m from, it’s much smaller, like a village. At least, that’s the feeling I get from my dreams…anyway, go on.”
“OK, so the other day, I remembered my brother saying something about a big corporation that he thought was up to no good. I didn’t think anything of it, but when I saw the emblem on the Dimmer’s chest just now, it came back in my mind. Gray, I remember seeing it before. I think it’s the insignia of the corporation my brother talked about!”
“Are you sure?”
“As sure as a girl who’s had her memories wiped can be. What do you think it means?”
I think on this for a moment. What does it mean, indeed? If the emblem on the Dimmer’s chest is the same as this corporation Krista remembers, they must be involved with the mines in some way. This still doesn’t explain the sudden change in behavior, but it feels important, nonetheless. I open my mouth to share my thoughts with Krista, but Ethan comes up behind me and starts in before I can.
“There’s an old saying where I’m from: curiosity killed the cat.”
“What’s a cat?” I interject.
“They really did a number on you when they brought you in here, didn’t they?” He leans aside to Krista and adds “it’s a wonder you two can have a conversation.”
Krista rolls her eyes at him and I retort, “At least I haven’t forgotten my manners, Pop.” Ethan scowls at the reference as Krista chokes back a giggle. “I’m assuming there’s a reason for your interruption, so let’s have it.”
Ethan puts a hand around each of us, pulls us in slightly, and speaks in a low whisper, “Look, I know what you two are talking about and you’re on the right track. You can’t discuss it here, though! The Centurions might be dumb as rocks, but the Dimmers aren’t to be trifled with.”
“But it’s long gone!” I shoot back in a frustrated tone.
“It doesn’t matter!” he rasps back. “If you think it’s just because Jonas beats the miners that the Dimmer came today, you’re wrong. They have ways of sensing things.”
“Ethan, what do you mean, sensing things? What things?” chimes Krista. I look over and see a few Centurions glance in our direction.
“Keep your voice down!” Ethan strains back at her but then he takes a breath and regains his composure. “Look, you and Gray are in this together – that much is clear – so you might was well know this now. Gray and I aren’t like you and the other people here. We’re from…a different place.”
This is news to me. “A different place? Ethan, what’s going on?”
“Shhhh! Quiet down! Just look, I’ll try to tell you more later, but suffice it to say that what you did today was no accident. Our kind have certain abilities…yours appear to be awakening now.”
“The people responsible for putting us down here fear our kind. They thought they had eliminated us long ago, but a few of us managed to escape, suppressing our gift and blending into normal society. You and I were eventually captured as part of their ‘recruitment’ to support the mines, but they don’t know what we are.”
“When you came, I knew you were like me – your translucent gray eyes are a common characteristic of our people – so I kept watch over you. Before today, the gift seemed dormant, but now, I fear the Dimmers may suspect what you are.”
Krista casts a fearful glance in my direction.
“Not to worry” whispers Ethan reassuringly. “The Dimmer gave me a scare when it came over to Gray. The fact that it left him alone makes me believe they aren’t yet sure. Gray didn’t realize what he was doing, but he managed to suppress his power enough to avoid detection.”
“My power? What power?”
“Well, you didn’t manage to knock Jonas off his feet with just physical strength! That man is the size of a small elephant!”
“What’s an elephant?”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Gray, can we focus here?”
“Yes, you have power. You use it without being in control of it, but you have it, just the same. There are two sides to all power – light and dark. If we represent the side of light, the Dimmers are part of the dark. The power is familiar to them. They can sense it, even from a great distance, which is why you must control yourself. Early signs of the gift tend to surface with strong emotions. Fear, rage, sadness – all of these can trigger your power if you aren’t careful, and now, your life may depend upon it.”
“That must be why your eyes were glowing earlier…” Krista mused to herself. “Ethan, could Gray’s power make his eyes change color?”
“Well, yes. How do you think I keep my eyes brown instead of gray?”
“So they were gray earlier!” I interject.
“Yes, they were. I keep them brown to avoid suspicion, but…”
“Quiet!” Krista hisses suddenly as she points toward the entrance to the hub.
“Looks like the Purplecoats have brought in reinforcements” offers Ethan dryly.
A cascade of silence sweeps over the crowd as a group of eleven purple armor-clad enforcers draw near – one at the head and two lines of five following close behind. My eyes quickly scan the new arrivals and I realize I’ve never seen any of them before. The one at the head is very tall and sturdily built. He isn’t as big as Jonas but imposing just the same. His jaw is pronounced and rigid, fine silver hair flows over his shoulders, and icy blue eyes are set into his chiseled face.
We move to fall in line at a cart station on the far left of the cavern, while the last few miners hurry through the equipment depot, retreating at the advance of this new threat. The group of eleven finally comes to a halt just past the depot, the man at the lead standing with perfect posture and a superior look on his face.
He clears his throat, silencing the last murmurs from among our number and begins. “Attention, colleagues. I am Soren, your new Captain. We are all of a single purpose. Miner and Centurion alike are in the gracious employ of our Overseer. Though you are here as a result of crimes you have committed in your past, you, too, are allowed to serve a greater good. In addition to powering this facility, the Revilium we harvest here gives sustainable energy to the world above and, more importantly, hope to mankind.”
“My predecessor, Jonas, has lost sight of your importance to our cause and has, thus, been removed. On behalf of our Overseer, I apologize for the treatment you have suffered at his hand and make clear now that any Centurion engaging in similar behavior will be dealt with in the same manner as their former leader. That said, we expect you all to dedicate yourselves to the tasks you are given and obey our orders without question. Anyone who fails to comply will be met with swift punishment. Is this understood?” We all collectively murmur our assent.
Soren pauses for a moment, clearly irritated, then continues in a slightly sterner tone. “Henceforth, you will address me as ‘Captain’. When responding to my inquiries, you will follow your response with my proper title. ‘Yes, Captain!’ No, Captain!’ ‘I would very much enjoy working an extra two hours today, Captain!’ Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Captain” we all respond slightly out of sync.
Soren motions to a few of our number who were a little too late in their response and Centurions rush over to jab them with batons. The strikes are brief but they elicit agonized yelps of pain nonetheless.
“I think we can do better than that. Again,” Soren commands.
“Yes, Captain!” A few more are out of sync and are punished swiftly. Wide eyes dart to their comrades in fear, anticipating the next round.
“Again!” Soren demands.
“Yes, Captain!” More screams of punishment.
“Yes, Captain!” Children cry behind me this time.
“YES, CAPTAIN!” A raspy wail erupts beside me – Ethan – but I don’t dare look to him.
“YES, CAPTAIN!” Our voices strain in unison to be heard and avoid joining the chorus of agony that underpins every wave.
All is silent but the groans of those who responded too Late to Soren’s calls. Soren paces back and forth, considering us for a moment, then stops.
“To maintain peak efficiency, we must operate as a finely tuned machine. As the gears and belts around you now, so we shall be. But to be this, we must first learn order. Consider this your first lesson – it will not be the last.” Soren pauses, letting his words sink in, then looks off in the distance and adds, “You may help your comrades now if you so desire.”
Krista and I each take one of Ethan’s arms over our shoulder and help him up.
“Ethan, are you OK?” I whisper.
He winces and lets out a long pained breath, “I’ve had worse.”
“Now then, if you will all line up, ten per cart station, we will get our work under way. That is all for now.” Soren motions again and Centurions rush to organize the lines.
One comes in behind Krista and nudges her forward. I hear him address her in a sadistic tone, “Don’t think you’re off the hook because Jonas is gone, sweetie! Old Soren can’t keep his eyes on you forever!”
Krista looks at me, her eyes full of the fear and shame I’ve seen in them too many times before. My anger begins to flare up inside of me. I shove myself between her and the Centurion and pierce his gaze with a cold stare.
“Listen to me, Purplecoat. If you ever touch her again, it will be the last thing you do!” I growl at him. I feel a tingling sensation start to come forth from within as my anger rises. It begins searing through my veins like molten steel, pumping swiftly from my heart and through my extremities. I watch as the Centurion’s disgusting leer withers into a look of dread. For a moment, I almost feel that I can focus the sensation into the palms of my hands, but then Ethan touches me gently on the shoulder.
“Gray, now is not the time. Let it go.” I hear his voice as a gentle rasp in my head. My anger dulls and the sensation ebbs slowly back from whence it came. I hold the Centurion’s gaze firmly, but I am in control again and my fury is gone. He abruptly backs away several paces, nearly stumbling over his feet, and eyes me cautiously.
I assume a sideways stance so I can keep a watchful eye on the Centurion. The line slowly moves forward as the other miners load into the cart. I look to my right and silently marvel at the order that has already fallen over the crowd. After Soren’s definitive display of authority, no one dares to fall out of formation or even speak.
Despite Soren’s apology over Jonas’ behavior, it seems to me the only thing that’s really changed is the interpretation of what qualifies as abuse. I am relieved that Krista no longer faces such an ongoing and immediate threat, but it’s clear I still have many from the old regime to contend with. I cast another withering glare in the Centurion’s direction as I step into the cart and sit next to Krista.
In another moment, we’re all secured in the cart and the now-pale faced Centurion is throwing the switch to send us into the tunnel ahead. We start off slowly down the tracks and I resume my internal dialogue. There’s something about Soren. He’s clearly cut from a different cloth than the Centurions we’re used to, but there’s something else. I’m positive I’ve never seen him before in my life, but there’s something strangely familiar about him. As the station slides out of view, I look up and see him staring at me intently, his icy blue eyes piercing through the growing distance.