Author : Katrina Johnston
Within the Caves of Lozac under jagged vaulted ceilings, Razie Tay ventures eastward. Explosions crack like gunshot. ‘Sharding’ echoes bounce. Razie adjusts her helmet, snugs it tightly. Razor stalactites loom high above and sharp. Mineral icicles cleave and report reverberations through the distant mother rock. Plunging daggers fall. Then, directly above her, a claw-like structure groans, detaches – rockets down. She ducks, hoping the helmet provides adequate deflection. Slivers of stone ricochet from her head, showering, falling before her face. If she is knocked cold here, death ensues. No rescue – none. She’s too far deep.
Globular udder-like formations encrust the walls. She pushes beyond rock portals, ignores the wet. She skitters over protruding remnants of razed stalagmites, chunks left-over after pulverization by the Steckman robotic grinder. Mineral-rich liquids bounce like hail. She scrapes by a dripping barricade, enters the saturated open space and stands to her Limited height, reaching inside the Royal Chamber.
“Best chance,” she says. “No one dares to gash this deep. I claim.”
Earlier, at crimson dawn, her overseer, the normal-sized Prasha Dah, had gathered his band of LImited for the morning’s instructions. He chanted as was custom. “The time of leniency is finished,” he sang in monotone. “Failure means you’re finished. Look, understand: Five craiguns by shift-side nigh. Obligation. I follow the Dealers and the Traders. If you fail, my little dollies, you will be traded to another hextant where you could better serve. Or, you could be ….” He stopped.
“Exterminated,” Razie said.” Silence brooded. No one sang.
Pasha stroked his long red beard and towered over them. He saluted to mark his finish. “Chom!” He said. “Back to work.” He slipped away.
A young neophyte, a Limited named Falia Dos, tapped Razie on the shoulder. “Well, what do you think of that old sola?” she said. “He’s Mr. tall and nasty. Spreads his chant like sooth.”
Razie shrugged away. ”Leave off! Don’t bother me.”
Inside the Royal Chamber, Razie stretches to her Limited height, one meter – the standard genetic modification for her kind – all she’s ever known. In here, she wishes she were normal-sized; the ceiling spreads thick and unreachable at the apex, presenting a forest of razors. “The craigun-clusters will prosper here,” she says. “Rife – a whole stone family.” Sulphuric gases roil. She gags, then spits.
A ‘Limited.’ She speaks again: “Owned and enslaved by the overseer. I’m forced to mine within the caves where the normal-sized won’t dare.”
She’s estimates the magnitude of her gash, lifting her oversized and freakishly strong hands. She assigns the standard grid, employs the methodology to locate the lumps of calcium carbonate known as craiguns that cluster like cancerous rock nodules amongst the sharpest stalactites. Inside each nodule, a rare gem – Kalide. Mysterious and not yet understood, Kalide is the reason for her presence. Gemstone or drug of choice? Elaborate debates ensue. Razie decides she doesn’t give a damn.
She locks her fingers onto a craigun and yanks it free.
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