Author: Subhravanu Das

Everyone mines for Conoptinium. I don’t mine.

My tongue is phosphorescent; it can fill any room with light. If I were to open my mouth inside a mine, my tongue would fill the mine with light. But this is one ship that can never be launched, since I only whip my tongue out when I’m alone. And if there’s one rule of mining that supersedes the rest, it’s that–you never mine alone.

The Friend mines for Conoptinium now. Whenever we meet, he talks about the old days of not mining; about days of loitering around sweat banks, about rose essence. He chides me for still not mining. The Friend has ballooned up, having embodied the transformation that is most valued down in the mines. They egg him on, while he shovels more and more pills in and more and more earth out. He’ll soon be rendered too large to fit down the mine shafts.

The Mother understands my need to not mine. She also believes I would mine better than anyone else. She has stopped mining for Conoptinium. One day, down in the mines, she took her kneecaps off and lay down to rest. She woke up to a dead torch and wasn’t able to find the kneecaps in the dark. Since then, the Mother’s legs have been too weak for her to go mining again.

The Genitor doesn’t speak to me anymore. Every day, on his way back from the mines, he stops in front of my unit and flings a helmet at my door. I let the helmets pile up. I clear them out twice every year.

The Partner cues me. She’s outside my door and I let her in. Instead of the Partner, it’s her bot who enters and immediately places two jars full of tears on the floor. The bot informs me that the Partner has suffered a fall while mining and needs an urgent motor replacement, for which the savings in her account fall short by five ks. The bot reminds me of the stipulation that anyone registering to mine for Conoptinium instantly gets paid five ks. I hold my hand out. The bot bolts out of the door.

I go to the home security tab and activate the armor. As my unit gets boxed up and buried underground, a siren goes off. The bearers will be here soon. I poke my tongue out and eclipse the darkness. I set the monitor aside, reach into the bottom drawer of my table, and retrieve the vial that the Mother had insisted I stow away. Inside, is the grey gravel that is illegal to hoard; inside, is Conoptinium. I put a pinch of the Conoptinium into an empty bowl. I bite down on my tongue, making it bleed. My tongue glows brighter and I let its blood drip into the bowl. I let my blood mix with the Conoptinium. The resulting concoction turns grey. With my tongue continuing to light the unit up, I glug the grey concoction down and immediately start coughing. I cough up black dust which is finer than the Conoptinium I just swallowed. The black dust pours out of my mouth and piles up on the table. The black dust fills my cheeks, coats my teeth, and cements my lips. The black dust plugs the pipes going down my throat. The black dust crawls into my chest, into my hands, into my fingers. My fingers begin to turn phosphorescent.