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The town was nothing special – much like every other they have been to before. Wooden houses, saloons, general goods stores, plenty of drug stores and even some hotels. Only it had one key difference to all the other towns.
“What’s that you’re using for lighting? I’ve been meaning to ask before, but must’ve forgot,” James pointed at one of the poles that gave support to a brightly glowing crystal illuminating the streets. “Sure burns much brighter than a candle.”
“Because it’s not a candle.” The guard replied somewhat irritated.
“So, what is it?”
“You didn’t have it outside, right?” The guard smiled slyly – no information ever left the dome. “Some mineral we discovered some ten years ago. You light it up like a candle, and it just glows up, but doesn’t get hot,” the guard enjoyed this act of subtle bragging and kept going, “I don’t remember the exact name our miners gave it, something like Loomanyte or Lyterite, but it’s all the same if you just call them light rocks.” He enjoyed himself so much he just couldn’t stop talking – it was the first time he knew more about something than someone else did. “And it just turns to ash when it burns, like a candle. Clean and easy.” His eyes suddenly lit up. “Oh, and they burn really slow. Like, these lamps will burn for over a week and they only have a Lyterite the size of a fist inside them. I think we’ve had them for 23 years now, was it?” He looked at the other guard, whose face read clearly that he was less than fascinated by his passionate speech. “Oh, okay.” He tilted his head down and shut up.
“And where are the people?” James spoke up again after a while. The streets were lonely and the saloons looked empty. Because he didn’t seem to attract the guard’s attention, he continued; “Don’t tell me you don’t know how to have fun here.” But despite his effort the two guards now both remained silent.
They’ve turned a corner and came to a stop in front of the Sheriff’s office. All four guards left the chariot – two of them went inside the building to get Crax, and the other two waited outside accompanying Tom and James.
After several minutes of waiting, the three of them finally showed up. They immediately recognized Crax – he was nearly identical to his brother Jax. The only difference between the two was their hair was combed in different ways – Crax’s to the left and Jax’s to the right. “Newcomers, huh?” Judging by the way he walked and spoke, Crax was a very energetic individual. “I’ve been told you wish to start life anew here, that right?” James and Tom both nodded. “Very well. I also heard you still need your serial numbers, that right? George, why don’t you go and get the tattoo artist?” Crax spoke fast and appeared very polite. “Rest of us, let’s head inside, shall we? Awfully chilly out here.” But, Crax being Crax, he just couldn’t shut up. “Oh and, I’m Crax by the way, though I’m sure you’ve already been told that. And you two are?” Tom and James answered, and Crax shook their hands. “Father and son, that right?” The two nodded again. “Okay, you three can wait out here. We’ll talk in my office.” He escorted Tom and James inside and showed them to their chairs.
“Let me guess, life is over for you outside and there’s a soul-crushing sob story behind why you came here; you want no harm and just live a happily ever after, that right?” Despite Crax’s lively personality, he made it clear he’s had experience with interrogation and made up stories. James and Tom realized that talking their way out of this one was going to be near impossible – he had disarmed them at the very beginning.
They looked at each other, visibly defeated, then nodded.
“Yeah, yeah, spare me the bullshit. I may play nice, but don’t take me for no fool. I’ve had people like you before. You come in here expecting god knows what, but don’t nobody want to put in no goddamn work, that right? So here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to give you one chance to tell me why you came here, and one only,” he crossed his arms. “So, why are you here?” The tone of his voice had lowered and now sounded more annoyed than cheerful, but he still spoke just as fast as before.
Instead of answering Crax’s question, however, the two were surprised by the new information he had given them.
“Other people came in here too?” James asked, surprised.
“So much for your chance to tell me why you’re here. That’s okay, too. I gave you a chance and you blew it.” Crax leaned back into his chair and brought out his pipe, no more upset than he already was. He wasn’t expecting them to tell the truth to begin with.
“So, now what?” James asked after about a minute of absolute silence.
“I’m thinking. I’m thinking.” Crax now spoke very slowly inbetween puffs of his pipe. “I mean, you still don’t have your serial numbers. So you two, … don’t even exist yet.” He took another puff from his pipe and blew the smoke straight into the two sitting opposed him – making sure it was obvious he wouldn’t hesitate to kill them.
“We can work.” Tom added hastily when he got the reference.
“That right? And what would that be?”
“We’re carpenters. We built a house on our own from scratch.” Tom had his father’s house in mind that he built entirely on his own.
“Carpenters, that right?” He looked at the size over their shoulders – they were both muscular. “I’m thinking miners.” He took another look at them both. “Definitely miners. Always a shortage of those.” Crax winked at them as a reference to many miners losing their lives during work. “So! It’s the middle of the night, I bet you two boys are sleepy and could use a quick nap.” Crax lit up with energy again and was back to his former energetic self. He got up from the chair and told the two to follow suit. “A night in the cellar will do you well,” he opened the doors and pointed to the three guards standing just outside to take Tom and James downstairs and lock them up. “I’ll send the tattoo guy down when he comes. You do want your numbers, that right?” He smiled slyly and puffed on his pipe as they were being taken away by the guards.
The staircase already smelled of stale urine and sweat, but Tom and James had no other choice but descend. Downstairs was another guard – sitting on a stool in the center of the hallway – and a jail cell with ten people. Everybody behind bars was very slender and covered in bruises and half healed wounds.
“What’s the deal with the scrawny fuckers in here?” James asked the guard out loud, but continued before he had the chance to answer. “Not enough yogurt for you, huh, big guy?” He mocked one of the slender individuals leaning onto the bars. James wanted to assert dominance first thing, believing they could otherwise soon face trouble.
All the guards then pulled out their guns and the jail keeper slammed its barrel against the iron bars a couple times to quiet the chatter. “To the back of the cell! All of you!” They pointed their guns toward the prisoners, while the keeper unlocked the doors and let James and Tom inside, where they joined the others at the wall.
“These two need their serial numbers. We’ll be back soon.” They saluted at each other and the three guards went back upstairs. The keeper then sat back into his chair and lowered his stetson over his eyes.
The inmates were now at will, and one of them quickly approached James. Instead of asking for trouble, which is what James and Tom had expected, he was very kind and only begged them to help them escape. James had apologized for his words and tried to show some compassion, but it was obvious he didn’t actually care. They were there for a reason, even if it was solely for Crax’s amusement.
The three guards have returned with the tattoo artist and were likely discussing the numbers to be tattooed onto Tom and James. They descended the stairs and brought two extra chairs – one for the tattoo artist and one for the person being tattooed.
The guards followed the same procedure as before and only Tom was allowed outside. He was seated onto the chair and ordered to stay still while the tattooist did his job. He got the number 3425262 inked in black under his still fresh burn, and it was everything but well done - the writing was sloppy and the ink was distributed unevenly, but Tom was in no position to object.
With Tom's tattoo finished, it was James' turn to get it done. The guards again pointed their guns toward the prisoners and made them face the distant wall, then asked James to step outside. Tom went back inside the cell and James sat down on the chair. The entire procedure was done in silence – not even the guards spoke. The number James got was 236232, completely different to Tom’s.
At a glance of their numbers, both of them wondered when they implemented the serial numbers and how they worked, because they could hardly imagine over three million people living there at that moment.
A guard pushed James back into the cell after his tattoo was finished and then the guards and the tattooist saluted the keeper and left upstairs.
Over the course of the night Tom and James hardly slept. The prisoners chatted loudly, and they felt uneasy sleeping around people they didn’t know. Sleeping alternately could only get them about an hour of sleep each.
With the sun's rays lighting up the horizon, three policemen walked downstairs – one carrying the dishes, another carrying a linen bag, and the third an iron pot.
At the sight of the policemen all the inmates already familiar with the protocol formed a queue, starting at the very hind corner of the cell, twisting like a snake to reach the food slit in the cell. Because Tom and James didn't know what was going on, they join in with the queue.
The men serving food were familiar with the inmates, and so were surprised by the look of James and Tom, who were muscular and healthy instead of malnourished and bruised. They got a slice of bread each and a ladle of the cabbage soup. James held the plate close to his face and thoroughly inspected it. It smelled foul and looked like dog vomit. Its taste was just as bad as its looks. Most definitely not the healthiest of meals, but it was the only thing they got, so they dug in.
Soon after they were done with their meal, Crax and four of his policemen came downstairs, and complete silence ensued when he stopped at the bottom of the stairs. Crax then pulled out his night stick and pressed it against the iron bars while he walked over to the second cell, producing a clanking sound that pierced the silence. He stopped at the door to the cell and looked directly at James and Tom.
“I promised you the mines, that right?” They both nodded. “Come on then, we don’t have all day.”
Note: The link will become active once Chapter 6 is written in full.
Disclaimer: This text is part of a work in progress. All content tentative to change.
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