Heistar Kadlis’ Story – Part One
From the personal writings of Heistar Kadlis, Warden of the Prison Mines, Sector 5
I liked my job. It had a comfortable, easy pattern that defined my every working day. Morning roll-call: deal with mouthy cons, mid-morning weigh-in: chase up shirking cons, lunch: break up fight, afternoon weigh-in: ignore whiny weaklings and hand out punishments for under-performers, supper: break up another fight, lights out: hand over to the night-shift. Simple, predictable, routine. A bit of variety in the details maybe, but you could pretty much set your hour-glass by this lot. Even the escape attempts were reassuringly repetitive.
Until that day. I still don’t know exactly how it happened. I mean, Earther 27 had always been so easy to handle. His routine was as unshakable as mine, and he never, _never_ plotted with other prisoners. He barely even spoke to them, to be honest. Preferred to be on extra work shifts even, rather than sit with them. Some old tribal grudge, so far as I could figure out. Still, so long as he wasn’t starting fights over it, the old boy could be as insular as he pleased.
Of course, his “non-Earthers are scum” attitude carried over to the Thodan too, as well as us Avlem. He was no more polite with any of the guards than he was to the other cons, growling at everyone equally. He was especially rude that day. I wonder now if I should have been suspicious of that, but at the time it just seemed like regular grouchiness.
One of the props needed replacing, and of course Earther 27 knew better than the rest of us about how it ought to be done. That’s the only drawback with using the earthers as we do. They may make the mine safer, but the responsibility goes straight to their entitled, muddy heads. I ordered a team to pull out the rotten beam, with the new one all ready to go in, and Earther 27 comes barging in to stop them. The nerve of it!
I saw red, I really did. It’s one thing to give the old lag some leeway about his hours, but there was no way I could let him challenge my authority like this. What the cons don’t understand, even the half-decent ones, is that if I had anything less than total control over my sector the result would be chaos. There are anarchists all over who are just waiting for the first sign of weakness on my part in order to stage a bloody coup. I had to think fast, and act faster.
“Back in line, Earther 27!” I shouted, giving the big man a shove to emphasise my point. I really, really hoped that he wouldn’t fight me; my Talent is sound projection, not moving mountains. For a moment it hung in the balance, but he finally took a step backwards. I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief, but I felt it all the same. I signalled the team to haul down the old prop. When Earther blasted 27 spoke up again, I used my Talent to shout him down.
“BACK IN LINE, MUD-FOR-BRAINS!” I roared. That’s when it happened.
All this stalling and arguing had delayed the second team getting into position with the new pit prop, and the ceiling chose that moment to come down. I had to move quickly to avoid the avalanche, and some of the second team weren’t so nimble. When the dust settled, I could see that Earther 27, the pull-down team, and the workers in that sector were trapped behind a floor-to-ceiling rockfall. I began to mentally organise a crew to dig them out, when I realised that this was a good punishment opportunity. I raised my voice so that the trapped cons would be sure to hear me.
“Alright, you lot, listen up! Your little rebellion has ended with you trapped in a dead-end shaft, which is a lighter punishment than I’d have chosen if I’d had my way.”
I could just about make out sounds of movement, and a few groans. So, they weren’t all knocked cold. Good – then they could listen some more.
“You’ll stay there until we get around to digging you out. And if I don’t find your mineral quotas filled and waiting, it will go badly for you. We won’t be able to get your supper to you, but you should have thought of that before you started all this, shouldn’t you?”
This time the groans were louder, but I didn’t hear Earther 27’s distinctive burr among them. With any luck, he was in the doghouse with the others, and that would be the end of any rebelliousness on his part.
I waited until after morning weigh-in to assign a team to clear the tunnel. There were only a few workers far enough ahead of quota to be spared, so the work went slowly. By mid-afternoon, there was only a small passage near the ceiling. I halted the diggers to call through to the trapped prisoners.
“Any litt’luns in there, pass ’em through the gap,” I called. No need to use my Talent now, as they would hear me well enough through the hole. To my surprise, there was no answer, not even from Earther 27. In fact, apart from the trickle of falling earth, there were no sounds at all. I couldn’t even hear the pit mule.
The clearing team soon had a hole big enough to send a man through. As his chain rattled over the rubble, I realised that I was holding my breath. That was not on – no showing nerves in front of the cons. They’d see it as weakness and take advantage. All the same, I couldn’t help worrying. The occasional death is unavoidable, and blame is rarely mentioned, but it would be embarrassing to lose over a half-dozen workers – not to mention a valuable animal – in a punishment gone wrong. I wondered what was waiting for us on the other side of the wall? Bad air? But we’d be able to smell that by now, with the wall down. Maybe a poisonous animal had been unearthed? In which case, we were all in danger. Best case scenario, they were just knocked out, or even sleeping.
They weren’t sleeping. They weren’t there at all.
The wretched scumbags had broken out. They’d found a seam running along the inside of a hill and worked it almost to the surface, then used last night to break through the last barrier and escape. The whole thing must have been in planning for months – and the Earther must have been in on it. How else could they have known exactly where to dig, or been able to cut through so quickly?
As the pieces came together, I realised that Earther 27 had been playing me for a fool – maybe for years! Pretending to be so unfriendly with the other cons, being so biddable and predictable to lull me – all of us – into a false sense of security. He worked his way into a couple of trusted positions, not to mention that he’d been assigned to posts all over the mine in his time here. Whenever we needed an extra mud-head, his name was always top of the list. Of course it was, good old trusty, plodding Earther 27. Who knew he could be so sly?