Satellite Story #7
Only story between Worlds Collide (Book 2) and New World Order (Book 3)
The Incident at the Employment Center
An icy wind whistled through the barely opened window, rousing Reyes from a light slumber. He drew in a deep breath, enjoying the rush the oxygen sent coursing through his veins and then exhaled in a slow, appreciative manner. Perhaps one day, many years from now, when he grew accustomed to all the available fresh air, he would take it for granted. But right now breathing in the crisp, clean air without the threat of a ventilation system being turned off was still very much a novelty.
Opening his eyes, he took in his surroundings trying to place where he was. The room was dark and silent, save for the breathing of his companion. Her head rested on Reyes’ outstretched arm, her sleeping face tilted up toward his. The dark lashes of her closed eyes fanned against her pale cheeks, her long black hair laying in a tangled mess on the pillow. She was pretty.
Gently, he eased his arm out from under her. It was only four in the morning, but the Employment Center was hiring today for the new coalmine and Reyes wanted to among the first to get in line to apply. Not that he had any desire to work underground ever again, but he had even less desire to be classed a “dependent” for the rest of his life. Pushing back the duvet, he rolled out of the warm bed and stood in the cold air of the room. His companion shifted, throwing her arm over the now vacant spot where he had been laying seconds ago. He took the few strides to retrieve his clothes, hoping to escape without a conversation.
Her eyes fluttered open just as Reyes was stepping into his pants.
“Where’re you going?” she asked sleepily.
“Hey,” he said softly. She rolled onto her back and regarded him with big, dark pretty eyes. Her name was on the tip of his tongue…it started with an “N” or maybe an “M.” He put his lips together and made an “mmm” sound, but nothing came to him. “Mmmmorning,” he finished. “Coalmine opens today. I need to get in line before all the positions are filled.”
She drew her eyebrows together. “I thought you said you had a job?”
Reyes zipped up his jeans and paused for a moment before he bent to grab his t-shirt off the floor. He had forgotten about the lie; although he didn’t regret telling it. Lying had not only won him a pretty a girl for the night, but also a place to sleep. And having a place to sleep had become a preoccupation for him since he was technically homeless. At the time the Pit was liberated, he was considered a legal ward, or “dependent” as they called it, of his parents since he had never married and secured a home of his own. Consequently, when the lottery was held for houses he was included with his parents. Even if they had invited him to come and live with them—which they hadn’t—he was done with being a kicking post for his dad.
Bunching the puffy blanket under her chin, she sat up. “You lied?”
“No,” he said, slowly shaking his head. Her eyes brightened. “I’m just…between jobs.”
Her eyes dimmed. “Oh.”
Her disappointment wasn’t lost on Reyes, and he felt the all too familiar grip of humiliation. Avoiding her eyes, he yanked his shirt over his head and pulled it down his lean, muscular torso. He bit his bottom lip against the resentment welling up inside of him. Just because she had her own place—a place she inherited when her parents decided it was too dangerous to live outside and returned to the Pit—didn’t make her better than him. It just made her luckier. Didn’t she know that their kind struggled under an unfair credit system? That having been raised a slave with his thirty-five year lifespan already planned out for him didn’t prepare him for the opportunities freedom offered? Or at least that’s what the new government was calling the chance to apply for traditional slave labor.
He had the urge to tell her he was more than just an unemployed coalminer; that he was a soldier in a high-tech, covert militia. A militia equipped with suits Doc referred to as exoskeletons—a second skin that gave him strength, speed, agility, even flight. But unfortunately, he was sworn to secrecy. Doc, the creator of the exoskeletons, didn’t want the bourge to know about the existence of nanotechnology or the soldiers he armed with it. The militia was the secret weapon against the bourge in the event their fragile peace broke down.
Reyes forced his tight lips into a smile. “Sorry to disappoint,” he said tersely and looked around for his jacket and boots. He found his socks, retrieved them and sat on the side of the bed to put them on.
Keeping the blanket wrapped around her, she scootched closer and nestled her head on his shoulder. “I have to work again tonight but I can meet you after.”
Reyes looked at her out of the corner of his eye, feeling a little confused. “But a second ago you looked a little…disappointed in me.”
She raised her head from his shoulder to give him a pouty look. “Do you blame me? I don’t like being lied to.”
His eyebrows shot up in surprise. It never once occurred to him that she was disappointed because he lied. “Um,” he said, narrowing his eyes and wracking his brain for her name. He couldn’t remember, but he was positive she worked at the pub, so he knew she would be working late. She would be a good option if he couldn’t find a place to sleep tonight. And she really was pretty. “It depends on how it goes at the coalmine. If they want me to start work tonight…” He shrugged and looked around for his boots and coat.
“They’re by the door,” she said.
“Oh, thanks.” He stood up and started for the door, but caught himself before he left the small room. He went back and kissed her cheek. “Thanks for a great night. I’ll see you later.”
Her features crumpled into a look of uncertainty. He left before she wanted to talk or something.
“Good luck!” she called as he closed the door behind him.
The living room of the small apartment was littered with sleeping bodies—one on the sofa, three on the floor and two in the hallway. They were all about his age and in the same predicament: no longer children dependent on their parents, yet without means to support themselves. They were a growing epidemic in this new world of opportunities. Quietly, he picked his way across the room, found his boots, coat, and sunglasses and made his way out of the building.
The early spring morning was cold and his breath fogged as he hurried on foot toward the Employment Center. People had already begun to lineup and although the vast majority of them wore sunglasses—the trademark of someone from the Pit—there were enough bourge to give him pause. Why were they here? They knew nothing about coal mining. Coal had always been one of the most important resources inside the Dome. The crude material was fed to the gasifiers, made into gas, and used in the replicators. And in the history of the Dome, not one bourge had ever mined so much as an ounce of the stuff.
He joined the queue, shoving his hands into his pockets and stamping his feet against the cold. As the first hint of sunrise brightened the sky, more people joined the line behind Reyes. By the time the sun crested the mountains, the lineup ran the length of two city blocks. Everyone was cold, impatient and anxious to be the one selected for work. And as they grew more restless, Reyes was bumped from behind. He turned to glare at the men, both of them bourge, and gave clear indication that he didn’t appreciate the shove. They looked like they were about to give him a hard time, but when they took in the set of his face and his tall imposing figure, they settled down. When he was satisfied they wouldn’t give him any more trouble, Reyes turned his back to them.
“Idiots,” the urchin in front of Reyes mumbled.
“What’s with all the bourge?” Reyes asked him.
The guy made a disgusted snorting noise. “Freakin’ out of work guards,” he said. “Trying to hustle in on our jobs. These guys don’t know crap about mining.”
Reyes had to agree with him. The bourge didn’t know squat about putting in a day’s hard work, let alone in a deep, dark mine. They wouldn’t even be able to see a seam of coal much less chisel it out.
The thought of returning underground to work a mine crept into his thoughts. It really was grueling work in a dank, claustrophobic environment where there never seemed to be enough oxygen. When he left the Dome he swore he would never return to a mine, but what else was he qualified to do under a credit system that favored the educated?
Not for the first time, he cursed the urchin militia for not paying him in credits to be a soldier. Bourge soldiers were paid, and the higher the rank the higher the pay. Reyes should know. His ex-fiancée Sunny O’Donnell was married to Captain Jack Kenner and living in a big fancy house while she attended the bourge’s elite Academy. Yeah, he knew Kenner was a Senator as well, which came with extra pay, but still…the guy barely lifted a finger and was given a fortune. It really didn’t help Reyes’ ego that Sunny was the head of their Pit militia as well. He had no idea what was Doc thinking making her the head of their elite army.
Although Reyes grudgingly admitted to himself that he was worried about Sunny, still in hospital after being attacked by men called recruiters. He tried to find it in his heart to care that her husband was taken by the savages, but as far as he was concerned it was just one less bourge to worry about. The Alliance disagreed with him. Apparently, Kenner’s absence was causing some disorder within the Senate.
As they waited for the Employment Center to open, Reyes could hear the whispers of discontent among the applicants. Bourge talked about the undeserving urchins; urchins talked about the inexperienced bourge. By the time the doors of the Center opened, the tension was palpable. The first forty in the line shuffled through the door, leaving only about fifteen applicants ahead of Reyes. Twenty minutes later, someone came out of the building and yelled that all positions were filled.
Reyes was stunned. A mine employed hundreds of miners. How could all the positions be filled already?
The crowd erupted into jeers. The two bourge behind Reyes snickered. He looked at them over his shoulder, wondering what they were laughing about, but a commotion in the line ahead of him took his attention. A fistfight had broken out between a couple of urchins and bourge. The line behind him surged forward, pushing him along with it. Reyes was strong enough to stand his ground, but his own anger propelled him toward the fighting. The air crackled with rage and the violence spread outward like an explosive wave.
A fist flew at Reyes’s face, but he grabbed it before it could make contact. Lifting his sunglasses, he glared down at the poor bourge who attempted to hit him and twisted the man’s arm until he fell to his knees in pain. Reyes let him go with a kick. He elbowed his way through the fighting, pulling opponents apart and taking his fair share of punches until he was at the front of the Employment Center where the fighting had begun. Just as he arrived, two military vehicles pulled up. A voice came over a loudspeaker, urging everyone to cease, desist and return to their homes. He watched as soldiers exited from the back of the trucks and waded into the crowd, each protected with a shield in one hand and a Taser in the other. Their presence seemed to subdue most of the bourge caught up in the fight, but it only inflamed everyone from the Pit and soon their rage was directed at anyone in a uniform. One soldier, small in stature, quickly became overwhelmed by the horde. Reyes was pretty sure it was a woman, and even though he hated the bourge, he wasn’t going to stand by and watch a woman get beaten. He had watched his father do that to his mother one too many times as a child.
Reyes made his way toward her, shoving rioters out of his way as he went, sustaining a few blows himself. But as he came closer to the woman, he had to start sidestepping bodies being thrown his way. One man landed with a thud on the ground right in front of Reyes, giving him a clear view of the female soldier. His damsel in distress was actually kicking some serious butt. For a moment he was kind of mesmerized by her. She was such a little thing, but man could she move.
Someone kidney punched Reyes from behind and a searing pain went through him. Curling his lip, he whipped around on his attacker with fist raised and was surprised to see the man was from the Pit.
“Traitor!” He spat at Reyes.
“What the hell—” Reyes started, but another fist came flying his way. He blocked it but soon found himself in the middle of a brawl and was soon overwhelmed by bourge and urchin alike. Then a bat slammed into the side of his skull and everything went black.
He didn’t remember falling to the ground, but when Reyes opened his eyes the female soldier was above him, tasering someone who looked to be in the act of kicking him. Another man lay on the ground beside him. It took a few seconds for it to sink in that his damsel was rescuing him. As he looked up at her he caught sight of a man armed with a bat—maybe the same one who had struck him—coming up behind her. Reyes sprung to his feet and grabbed the bat in mid-swing, ripping it out of the hands that held it. He took a threatening step toward the man, and the man took off.
The female soldier looked at Reyes, a startled expression on her face. A few soft brown curls had escaped her military cap. They seemed out of place in this war zone and for a fleeting second, he had the urge to tuck them out of the way. Even though he didn’t give in to the urge, something about her expression softened.
Someone hit her from behind and she fell forward. Reyes caught her and brought his foot up to repel the attacker just as three shots were fired in the air and tear gas was thrown into the mob.
“It’s just smoke,” she said, pushing herself away from him.
As the canisters started smoking, the crowd quickly dispersed. A few more shots were fired to help send them on their way. He didn’t go with the crowd; instead, he stayed and helped some of the injured men up. As the crowd thinned, a voice came over the loudspeaker inviting the hired applicants to return to the front of the Employment Center.
The pretty soldier approached him. “Hey, thanks for your help,” she said, and then motioned toward the Employment Center. “We’ll take it from here if you want to go.”
Reyes was momentarily confused until her meaning dawned on him. “Oh, I’m not one of the applicants.”
It was her turn to look confused. “Then why are you here?”
Did he really need to explain himself to her? Pretty or not, she was just a bourge soldier. She probably didn’t even belong to the Alliance.
“Just passing by,” he said.
She cocked an eyebrow at his answer. “Well, thanks for your help,” she said and walked away.
Reyes diverted his attention toward the Employment Center, and watched as mostly bourge walked to the front of the building. When all the applicants were gathered, he counted only a handful of people from the Pit.
His father was one of them.
The Foreman stood before the hired men, beckoning to the few urchins in the group to come forward. He explained that they were being given the very important and vital task of training the “new miners”, all of who were bourge. The image of the man who yelled traitor! at Reyes suddenly made sense. The bourge who ran the Employment Center hired bourge to mine the coal, with only a few experienced miners from the Pit to train them. Now that it was paid employment, those with education, not necessarily experience, were hired first.
As the group of urchins stood before the newly hired bourge miners, his father’s eyes surveyed the area and seemed surprised to find Reyes. A hint of red colored the man’s cheeks. Reyes mouthed the word traitor. His father raised his shoulder, wiped away a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth, and looked away from son.
It occurred to Reyes he shouldn’t be surprised to see his father up there, selling out his own people. His father was never a man of honor. As a slave in the Pit, he had sucked up to the bourge, too deluded by thoughts that he was better than his fellow urchins. And at night, in his own home, he liked to play the role of master.
Shoving his hands into his pockets, Reyes turned on his heel and strode away. He knew exactly where he was headed: to talk to Doc. Maybe it was time for their covert militia to come out of hiding.
Written by: S.M. McEachern, Author of the Sunset Rising series
Proofread by: Christina Galvez