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Tom and James were shaken awake from the deepest sleep they have ever had in their lives. They had no intention of getting up. Their muscles were sore and they both suffered terrible back pain, but they had no choice. Jimmy and two of his brothers were shouting at them to get up and join them at the nearby lake to clean themselves and have some leisure time before work. They objected as much as humanly possible, but after they were already wide awake from the arguing there was no use of trying any further.
They got up, put their shoes on and followed the others outside. Supposedly they have slept for seven hours, or at least so Jimmy told them. By the time they've managed to somewhat regain themselves they were already at the lakeside and everyone was already taking their clothes off, running towards the body of water for a swim.
The moment they jumped into the lake – and the water woke them up completely – they were happy they got up and didn't sleep for their entire free time. It was of just the right temperature not to be cold, but to wake one up. It did wonders to help and relax their exhausted and aching bodies.
Looking around, they spotted several guards around the sides of the lake they hadn't noticed before. Not one person went unguarded and unsupervised, not even for a minute. They were under constant control.
The lake was crowded with men of all ages. All workers working the same shift they were. They all came for a quick bath and to have some fun, too. Some of the guys played ball, some were talking, some swimming, and some just chilled by the shore. Everyone found something to do. Tom and James, for instance, just floated on their backs and relaxed.
With their ears under water they couldn’t hear the masses leaving, and Jimmy had to swim to them and remind them they had to leave for home if they wanted breakfast, else they’ll be late for work. Though their stomachs weren’t rumbling, they obliged. They wanted to feel as fresh as possible for work, because they wanted to plot their escape. They also needed some last minute information from Chuck and his family, and breakfast seemed like a good opportunity for that. After all, they wanted to walk to work alone without anyone eavesdropping to their conversation.
Over breakfast they sat with Jimmy and Tom again. The meal was very simple – bread and jam – but very welcome. They needed to fill their stomachs before they escaped. Who knew when they would eat next. Chuck’s grace before they started eating was similar, if not the same, to last day’s when they ate pritta.
“You two ever operated the wheelbarrow?” James asked when they dug into the food. Jack nodded and so James continued. “What’s it like?”
“It’s hard as nails, man. Compared to that, mining is easy.” He then paused a bit, spread the jam on his slice of bread and continued. “Why? Got punished to do it?”
“Just wondering. The guard offered if I wanted to yesterday. What’s it like with the wheelbarrow? Just going up and down the mine transporting the ore?”
“Pretty much, but it’s hard. Pushing the heaping full thing uphill is no joke. Especially in the scorching sun. You get sunburnt like mad. But yeah, you just empty it onto the train and go back down into the tunnels. Going back down with an empty wheelbarrow isn’t easy either, though. Let go for a second and it goes its own way downhill. Dangerous stuff.”
“Trains? Where are those headed?” James tried acting surprised as if he hadn’t seen the trains yet.
“Don’t know. Probably somewhere to get the ore smelted? I just dropped the ore on the wagon and left like everyone else.”
“So you use that ore for something?”
“Not that I know of, no. I mean, I’ve never seen anything made of it yet, so I don’t think we do, no.”
“So you have no idea what you mine it for?”
“Not really, no. I just know it’s precious, else we wouldn’t all mine just that.”
“How about your father? You think Chuck would know something more about this?”
“No, not really. We don’t ask questions. We trust in our king and do as he says. If he tells us to mine, we mine. Didn’t you have the same system outside?”
James was surprised by his remark and needed to think for a second before answering so he wouldn’t blow his cover. “Well, yes, and it’s part of why we escaped and came here. We thought things are different. We thought there’s kings that don’t hide things from their people.”
“Well, you thought wrong. If we needed to know, the king would've told us. I’m certain of it. Besides, we probably wouldn't understand much anyway.”
Seeing as he hit a wall with Jack, James shut up and decided to try something else after they finished eating. He wanted to talk to Jack’s mother, Sophie, about what she did all day when the men were away. Maybe she knew something that could potentially be of use. He specifically wanted to ask about how they get their food and what the market was like – what people under the dome did besides mining.
Tom and James finished their breakfast quick – first, actually – and instead of waiting for Sophie to come pick their plates up, they got up with their plates and went inside to find her. She was surprised to see them at the kitchen door, and asked if something was wrong.
“We just wanted to talk to you, get to know a little more about life in here. Get to know the female perspective.” James did the speaking, mainly because he was older.
“But you’re men.” She laughed. “Why would you care about what we women do? We take care of you, you take care of us, and we don’t mind each other’s business. Simple as that.”
“We’re just curious and want to know what life over here is like. For instance, where do you get the food?”
“Now, now, don’t you worry about that. It’s my job to take care of the food, just like yours is to mine and bring home money.”
“Can we do anything but mine, though? Any other jobs? I was a carpenter outside.”
“Not in Ätherock, no. Besides, you’re already registered as miners, so even if you somehow made your way out of here, they’d bring you back. If they wouldn’t shoot you first.” She took the plates from their hands. “Now off you go. You don’t want to be late, now, do you?”
They tried to argue, but before they got the chance to speak up, she had already shooed them out of the house and called for all the men to go and give her a hug before they departed. Tom and James saw that as the perfect opportunity to move out on their own and plot their plan for the day. They excused themselves, waved goodbye and left the premises.
“Not in Ätherock? What did she mean by that?” Tom brought up the conversation from before.
“Apparently this is a miner-only town. I want to know what people in other towns do, especially Berq, wherever that is. Anyway, regarding today… We both try and get a hold of a wheelbarrow and position ourselves like so that we collect the glowing ore, okay?” Tom nodded without hesitation. James then picked up a stick and because of the lack of a pen and a piece of paper, drew a circle in the ground representing the mine. “Okay, so, this is the entrance we got in through, and this here is where we left.” James poked two holes into the ground inside the circle. “This here is where we saw the train, right?” He made a couple of straight lines into the dirt representing the rails “Remember the watchtowers?” Tom nodded, though James still felt the need to explain further still. “Okay, so there’s one here, and one here. These are the only two with direct vision over the trains at the station.” James made two more stab-holes into the ground that represented the two watchtowers.
“We make an ordinary run or two with the wheelbarrows and monitor what’s going on in the watchtowers before we board the train, okay? I don’t believe there will ever be a time that they switch shifts and there’s nobody there, so we’ll have to find some blind spots. If you get a chance at it, go. Don’t try and wait for me or my order. They don’t have a record of us being related, and I intend to leave here today as well. We’ll meet in wherever they take this ore, okay?” James started to erase his drawing with his feet.
“Sure.” Tom helped him cover the rest of the remains of their scheme on the floor, then looked James directly in the eyes, his voice crackling. “If we part ways today, father, I want you to know you did nothing wrong. I would’ve done the same. I am very happy for what little time we have now spent together, and wouldn’t have it any other way.” His eyes watered a little.
“Don’t give me this bullshit!” James looked away and shook his head no, his eyes visibly tearing up. “You know yourself I’d do anything not to leave you behind when you were still sucking milk from your momma’s tit. I just saw no other way then, like you didn’t with little James. But now there is a way, okay?” James then looked Tom into his eyes. “I don’t intend on dying today. Or losing you. So you shut the fuck up and let’s do this, okay?”
“Just wanted to let you know, that’s all.” Tom turned around and started walking toward the mine, somewhat upset by his father’s reaction.
James stood still for a while. Tom’s words were eating him up. As well as his own. He knew he had acted rash, but also that he couldn’t take any of it back. He hadn’t allowed himself to feel anything since he had left his son, and it was hard for him to let go of that idea of self-control. Hard for him to feel and appear vulnerable.
The more he tried to keep the feelings suppressed in himself, the more they surfaced. An image of them sharing rabbit meat in the shade of a tree kept flashing in front of his eyes. He found it sad that it was the warmest memory he had had together with his son. He then remembered Tom’s mother also, Rosanne, and all the beautiful moments he had spent with her, and felt even worse.
Standing in place and reliving his dearest memories, he heard one of the guards yelling at him to go join the others, which brought him back to reality. James shook his head, waited a second to regain his thoughts, and went his way after his son.
He decided then that he needed to be strong still – or at least appear to be – for the sake of his son. They both needed that. Someone firm to rely on. At least for as long as they weren’t done with their job and safe.
James quickly caught up with his soon, but didn't say anything. He didn't apologize for earlier, or even tried and change the topic. They just walked alongside each other in silence.
“So, …” Tom started hesitantly after a while. “What if one of us doesn’t make it to train? What if one of us doesn’t get the wheelbarrow?”
“Stop worrying, Tom. Everything is going to be just fine.” James made sure to suppress his emotions and stay as calm as possible. “Besides, we’re both capable of working alone if shit goes sideways. All that matters right now is that we find out as much as possible about this place, and about this new king. If we for some reason part ways today, we meet at Chuck’s when appropriate, okay?”
“Good. We need to have a plan for any possible scenario.”
“Well, yes, but where’s the fun in that?” James laughed. He knew he needed to break the depressing atmosphere. “Think about it. It’s the first time we actually get to decide about things ourselves. Live a little, you know? Improvise. Do whatever the fuck we want.” Tom’s face slowly turned into a subtle smile. He knew James was right. With Dückoden’s powers nullified by the dome, there was nobody who could have a say in their actions but themselves. They were, in a sense, free at last.
The road seemed much shorter that time around, and they found themselves atop the hill overlooking the mine in no time.
Note: The link will become active once Chapter 9 is written in full.
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