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I. Kyd Lumin
Many planets in the galaxy had yet to come under the Elof Empire’s vice-like grip. Many feared the Empire would eventually find their way to their world. They would use their might and force to assume control.
Still, with the number of planets, the distance between them and the epicenter of the Elof Empire being many, many light-years away, the threat loomed little for most civilizations that they would see it happen any time soon or even in their lifetime.
One such planet is the planet of Quarros. Originally colonized quite some time ago, the population never boomed as the culture dictated a love of the land. This land was very mountainous in all areas. Even in the seas that covered a majority portion of the planet, rocky points jutted from the surface. Spires stood upward. Towns were isolated, and in most cases, travel was limited to using the local tamed and farmed animals instead of any form of transportation using technology.
It was for this and many more reasons that Kyd Lumin decided to live on Quarros. He settled on it sometime earlier when his green skin tone was a lot less pale and with a lot fewer wrinkles, when the ocean blue color of his hair had no streaks of gray or white in them. The decision that led him to Quarros was a regrettable one. But the life he led now one he wouldn’t trade for anything in Gert’s pawnshop. For that part of his life, he was grateful.
Most individuals, Kyd included, eked out a meager living by working for one of the thousands of mining companies spread throughout the planet. Quarros was rich in a gem called zyton. To the inhabitants of Quarros, it was a useless jewel since they could have it in abundance. But to the rest of the galaxy, it was a valuable possession found on no other planet.
Kyd Lumin walked through the small town of Winoa to set about on another monotonous day of holding a pickaxe and breaking away pieces of dirt. He held a pack over his right shoulder, which contained all he would need for the day. His outfit was light tan in color, made from the hide of a peccin beast—the meat of which was a local delicacy also, but Kyd didn’t much care for its bitter taste. On the other hand, the leathers proved quite versatile for mining, providing warmth when required but breathing enough to cool when hot.
As Quarros was a mostly settled planet without a native species, alien races from all corners of the galaxy mixed and lingered. Everyone from Stratos to Kyd’s home planet of Hupoge lived on Quarros. All were busy this time of day, easing into their roles as miners, shop owners, tour guides, and more.
Above Kyd, the rumble of an engine roared in the sky. It was a small ship. Maybe contained a crew of no more than five or six. He worried a moment. Even though he had found a remote place to live, his mind always had him on alert. Would the Elof Empire find him? Would they make him pay for his crime? Still, it lingered in his head, even after all these years of safety and no sign whatsoever that they had discovered his location. The ship lacked the Empire’s insignia—a circular shaped icon of an orna which is a feathered creature with a long slithering body—indicating it was probably just another tourist ship from another far-off planet. It lowered below Kyd’s view, falling behind the town’s shops in the landing pad’s direction.
“Morning, Kyd,” a familiar voice said, snapping Kyd’s attention away from the ship.
The voice was that of Sachem Pattrin. He was from a planet Kyd had forgotten the name of long ago when Sachem told him about it. He was shorter than Kyd, skin a light blue, and he had even more wrinkles and streaks of white and gray in his dusty hair than Kyd. He was also Winoa’s town elder who helped oversee the critical decisions that kept the town well-oiled and prosperous.
“Morning,” Kyd said.
Sachem continued on his way without any other words, and Kyd was grateful. He had to get to work, and Sachem had a tendency to drone on and on about any number of things if the correct topic came up.
The rest of the walk consisted of seeing others he knew in town—the vast majority—aside from the tourists. All were too busy starting their day to stop for conversation, so Kyd reached the mining facility without a problem.
While the use of technology on Quarros was limited, some areas required it. For instance, to start his workday, Kyd must present a specialized key card to a guard at the front entrance. Zyton was useless to the people of Quarros. Still, tourists often came to the planet not only to see the beautiful views of the mountainous regions but to sneak their way into the mining facilities to maybe find some of the zyton gems themselves.
Though everyone knew each other in the town, outside technology could perhaps fool a guard, especially if a perpetrator used a device that altered their appearance to match a local.
Kyd handed his card to the guard, it blinked positive and he was allowed passage. Entering the facility, he then hopped into a car that would take him into the depths of the caverns for his assigned spot for the day. As he traveled through the mines, it reminded him of Hupoge—the home planet of his people. Where Quarros was mountainous and tall, Hupoge was mostly a flat planet. What made the mines feel like Hupoge was the fact that Hupogeans mainly lived underground. Their homes and towns, almost all of them, were built there due to the Empire’s demand.
The car stopped, having traveled deep into the mine and farther than Kyd usually was assigned. He stepped out and headed toward the doorway, cut through the dirt and illuminated by glowing yellow lights hung on the walls at regular intervals.
He stepped through the doorway into a vast open area surrounded by rock and dust. The ceiling reached upward high above Kyd, arching overhead. Scaffolding for mining the higher areas was positioned and manned at different spots.
“Lumin,” a voice called. It was the supervisor for this section—Aln Bssk. She was shorter than Kyd but rougher in the voice and definitely more outspoken. She glanced down at a datapad and never made eye contact with Kyd. “Level Nine, Section Five. Quota was low yesterday. Try to pick up the pace.”
“You got it,” Kyd said. Better not to argue with a superior, but the reason for the low quota wasn’t Kyd’s fault. One of the others working in the mine failed to follow the proper safety protocols, which led to a large section of the mine collapsing. Nobody was hurt, but that killed production for the day.
When he first started working the mines, being told to do “Level Nine, Section Five” would have been jibberish. But now, he knew exactly what the order meant. Each mined area was broken up from left to right in sections of equal size. One worker placed yellow markers at the perimeter at all times as the site was slowly broken down. Level One, Section One would be the lower-left corner, and sections would work their way upward and to the right. Depending on how an area was cleared, the level and section numbers could shift.
Kyd eyed the area, finding the markers. He followed them to the right until he was at section five. Then he looked upward to level nine. That was near the top of the area. Scaffolding was in place for the clearing of that area, along with a chute for debris or rubbish. A few individuals currently worked in that section. He stepped up to the ladder that led to his unit and began the long climb upward.
Raised on Juris within the tall structures there, one would think Kyd would be accustomed to impossible heights. But they were not a pleasant thing for him, and it was the part he hated most about the job. Not to mention, he was older now, and the strength and balance he once had were now somewhat diminished. His best bet was to keep his focus upward and not look down.
He climbed the ladder to Level Nine. A couple of other individuals stood there already. One Kyd recognized immediately as a neighbor from Winoa. His name was Poc Ancil. He was a joyous guy—another non-native of Quarros—whose grin exposed large white teeth. He was slightly taller than Kyd and younger, too. His yellowish skin contained black spots of varying size, except for the top of his head, where a dark tuft stood into the air, adding a little more to his height.
In the middle of taking a swing with his pickaxe at the dirt in search of zyton, Poc turned to Kyd. “Well, my oh my. Kyd Lumin. I have the privilege to work with you today, my friend. Come on. Come on.”
“Morning on this wonderful day to you,” Kyd said. He stepped onto the scaffolding and unloaded his pack onto it. He grabbed a bright orange helmet from the gear shelf attached to the frame and pulled his pickaxe from his bag. “Finding anything today?”
“Not much. They got us all the way up here for nothin’. I tell ya. We’re picking this area clean. I heard production’s down from usual. Might just start letting people go if it keeps up. Town could be in danger.”
Poc had a way of exaggerating almost anything he spoke about, so Kyd usually tempered any expectations of what spewed from his broad mouth. Though, he had heard output was lower, too. Just nothing about any adjustments to the workforce. What would he do if they cut him? He had a wife and kid to feed.
Oh, well. Kyd had been through much worse in his life and survived it. He’d find a way again if it came to that.
Already he reprimanded himself for allowing Poc to infiltrate his thoughts as he did. “I’m going to the far end. See you at lunch.”
“That you will. Hope you got something good for me.” Poc went back to digging in the dirt.
Kyd found a great spot on level nine’s scaffolding. Whoever had worked at this section in the previous days had managed to carve out a short tunnel. He entered it, taking a few steps until he reached the wall. Having areas like this was pleasant. He could get his work done without feeling like he’s being watched or someone loquacious—as Poc tended to be—talking until his slightly pointed ears wanted to fall off.
After setting his pack on the ground, he grabbed his pickaxe and dug into the dirt, striking with a level of force his aged body grew tired of experiencing. Overall, the job was tedious. Perhaps that’s why Poc kept his mouth busy during the day. It would help pass the time. For Kyd, he preferred the silence of his thoughts. Sure, he could probably have moved up the chain of command. He’d been with the company long enough. He could be a supervisor or planner or any other position that allowed more authority and compensation.
He always worried, though. The more prominent he made himself, the more known he’d become. And the more known he’d become, the more likely someone might discover his identity and origin. At that point, it would only be a matter of time until someone from the Elof Empire found him.
Thus, he continued his monotonous work of breaking away the dirt, gathering zyton gems seen and unseen in the chunks of debris. He’d toss what he found into a container by his feet. Periodically, a robotic transport would hover by on his level. He’d unload the contents he collected into the carrier, which would then take the load to a refinery to be cut, polished and finally distributed throughout the galaxy for a profit.
Lunch came and went. The day passed on rather quickly, despite the monotony. Kyd had chipped away at the tunnel and managed to make it long enough to walk triple the length of what it had been initially.
As he swung his pickaxe into the dirt in front of him, it landed on something solid enough to stop it immediately. The impact jolted Kyd’s body, shooting pain up his nerves that reached the shoulder of his right arm. He suppressed a yelp that he wanted to release. “What was that?” he quietly said aloud.
He was about to dig around whatever he hit when yells and screams occurred outside his tunnel. A screech and crinkle of metal hit his ears. He immediately investigated. He made it to the opening and was about to step onto the scaffolding. His foot found no purchase as the structure was no longer there. Instead, a cloud of dust floated and swirled around. The musty odor of damp dirt filled the entire cavern.
As the dust cleared, Kyd could see the scaffolding nine sections below. Aln yelled something to the crew below. Slightly woozy from staring at the distance to the ground, he peeked his head around the edge of the tunnel opening and saw Poc holding a tight grip on the ladder. Below him, the other workers were already halfway to the bottom.
“Kyd, you … you okay?” Poc asked, seemingly at a loss for any other words.
“I was actually going to ask you that.”
“Yeah. Yeah. I’m fine. Was just doing my thing, and it all starts to wobble. Glad we got over here. I don’t think anyone was hurt.” He glanced down below. “But that was scary. Way scary. Good thing you weren’t on it. You never would have made it. I imagine you would have….”
Well, maybe he wasn’t at a loss for words. He just needed a prompt to spit them all out. Kyd chose to ignore him.
The ladder was too far away from Kyd to even think about reaching it so he could get down. It would take a while to rebuild the scaffolding, also. Standard procedure for these types of things was to allow the robotic transport to be the savior.
“Not sure if Aln can see me up here,” Kyd said, interrupting whatever it was Poc droned on about. “Can you go down and tell her so she can make sure the transport gets the signal it needs to do a rescue?”
“Sure. Sure. I’ll do it now. Don’t go anywhere!” Poc laughed at his unoriginal joke and slowly made his way down the ladder.
Kyd had to wait for the regular rounds of the transport to come and hope Aln had set it to a rescue protocol. That could be a minute. It could also be many minutes.
Might as well see what that solid object he hit when digging was. He went back to his spot. The pickaxe penetrated the dirt enough that it had wedged into it at Kyd’s eye level. He grabbed the handle with both hands and lifted, wiggling it some to break it free. He examined the hole where it entered. It was a little dark, so he was unable to see anything.
Still, something was there. He’d heard of significant finds of zyton before. The gem was usually discovered in small sizes that fit in the palm. Though, some had found whole pieces more massive than a hand and even as large as someone’s head on infrequent occasions. Could this be one of those times?
He carefully picked away at the dirt where he imagined the outer edge of the gem rested. In the grooves he had created, he stuck his hands into the soil and dug. This was better than picking at it because if it was a sizeable zyton gem, he wanted to avoid the risk of breaking or cracking it. Imagine the look on everyone’s face if the transport came, and he held a giant zyton in his hands. That would mean drinks and dinner were free for him that night at the local pub. He’d love to take the family out for a victory dinner.
He quickly removed all the dirt. As he did, a glow came from it in a bluish tint. Quite odd since zyton is usually violet in color and doesn’t illuminate unless a light source shines on it.
He’d cleared enough of the dirt to remove the item from its secure position. With a few wiggles and twists, it slid outward. The object was lighter than he expected it to be. He examined it. Carved patterns in what he assumed were metal were on each side of the cube. It reminded him of some of his daughter’s toys. Though weighing little, it also felt strong and dense. It wouldn’t break as quickly as his daughter’s toys for sure. It continued to glow blue, pulsating from a deep hue to a lighter one—it was as if the thing was alive.
Within the hole created from removing the object, Kyd saw a glimmer of something else. Perhaps some zyton was there. He dug his hand into the opening and was surprised by a bright glare that came from it. He peeked his head inside the space. As far as he could tell, a tunnel had been carved out above where the object laid, almost like it somehow penetrated the mountain coming to a stop right where he dug.
But the glimmer he saw, it wasn’t the sunlight. Instead, it was the reflection of the sunlight on a gem. Again, the color was wrong. Instead of it reflecting violet tints, it sparkled in a blue similar to the object. He gently caressed the dirt around the gem until he could break it free. It was a finger-length long and appeared as if it was already cut for sale with its angles and edges symmetrical from top to bottom.
Just then, the robotic transport had reached him to safely take him down the nine levels to the ground floor. Kyd stuffed the gem in his pocket, grabbed his pack, and placed the cube object inside of it.
“Hey, Kyd! Transport’s there. You hear me?” Poc yelled from below. His voice was faint, but the echo helped it reach Kyd’s ears.
Kyd swung the pack over his shoulder and stepped through the short tunnel to the opening. The transport floated there in front of him. The rectangular-shaped container was covered in rust, dings and chipped yellow paint. It was large enough to hold a few people. With it now set to a safety protocol, the end facing Kyd hissed and crackled as latches unhooked themselves and allowed the door on it to hinge out until it was parallel to the ground. It was only a small gap—which avoided the sight of the distance below—and Kyd stepped onto the transport with ease.
The door closed, and the transport descended rapidly down the nine levels. Thankful for the fact that the vehicle blocked any view that reminded Kyd he was nine levels high, he considered the things he had found. He felt a need to conceal them, and usually, that wouldn’t be a problem. All the company cared about was the export of zyton. They’d told their employees if they find anything worthless—as in not zyton—they could keep it. But if it might have value, they would need to report it to their supervisor.
Would it have value? Kyd thought. Perhaps. They were undoubtedly odd things to discover in a mine where the usual oddities were irregular shaped rocks or bones of animals long dead. The thought of whether it was valuable or not plagued him even as he reached ground level. After all, if it did have value, and they discovered he took it, that might cost him his job. The village would undoubtedly hear about what he did. No one took kindly to a thief of the planet’s primary source of prosperity. And there was that lingering concern that the infamy of his actions would spread off-planet, eventually revealing his location to the Elof Empire.
“Hey, hey, Kyd. You scared up there?” Poc said. He stepped over and manually opened the transport door before it could open automatically.
“Scared?” Kyd replied. “No. More like distracted.”
“My man, Kyd is way too brave. That’s up there. You almost fell to your death. Oh, man, that would’ve been messy. Would’ve felt sorry for whoever had to clean that up.” He chuckled.
“Yeah. I’m real brave. Stay up there hidden, and don’t look down. I’m a real hero.” Part of Kyd was joking. Part of Kyd was sarcastic. Part of Kyd could never consider himself such a thing after what he had done so long ago that led him into the exiled life he now endured.
Aln stepped over to Kyd with a datapad in her hand. Dirt and grime from the debris that fell covered her. Staring at the datapad, she asked, “Lumin. You hurt?”
“No. I wasn’t on the scaffolding when it fell.”
“Any other problems? Anything to report?” She tapped at the screen. “If we can have an accident like this and no one’s hurt other than the equipment, that’s a good day for me.”
Should he show her the object and the gem? The stupidity of an honor system saying you have to turn in anything of value was ridiculous. Who determines value in the first place? To some people, things in another person’s garbage are valuable. It’s such a subjective thing.
Why is this even a problem? He just found the stupid things, and yet he felt this need to keep them concealed. Is that a sign that he determined them to be valuable? It was also a feeling of concern that these things were more than the sum of their parts. The odd colored gem right next to the cube object that clearly had been made by someone and didn’t form in the dirt and rock over eons of times.
All this went through his head in the milliseconds before his response to Aln’s question of “Any other problems? Anything to report?”
He had to do it. He knew there was no way he could walk out of that mine in good conscience, taking those two items and not reporting them. Though paranoid, the consequence of being caught also lingered in his head. He didn’t want to risk the well-being of his wife and daughter, Abi and Kybi, because of a stupid decision. That dictated many of his choices over the past decade and would continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
“Yes. Found something while I was digging,” Kyd said with some reluctance. Immediately, Poc stepped over with the words, as did a few others. Kyd expected that to happen. Anyone finds something besides zyton, and they get excited to know what it could be.
Kyd slid his pack off his shoulder. He reached into his pocket and removed the gem he found. He also took the cube object from his bag and presented them both to Aln.
A couple of things surprised him, though. First, the gem no longer glowed and sparkled. Dirt covered it so thoroughly that it resembled a regular stone. Maybe he had some debris in his pocket that coated it.
The cube object was another story. While the shape was the same, it no longer was illuminated with a pulsating blue glow. It had dulled considerably to a color similar to the carvings stenciled into it. The dirt from Kyd’s pack had also coated it. It was a dirty chunk of metal.
“Ha-ha, Kyd,” Poc said with a laugh. “You think they care about some junk like that. We thought you found something good.”
The others who had surrounded Kyd to see what he discovered laughed at what seemed to be Kyd’s stupidity in finding something he thought was valuable that was clearly useless.
“This a joke, Kyd?” Aln asked, finally looking up from her datapad.
Still in disbelief at the transformation the two items made, he hurriedly stuffed the things back in his pack. “No. Just what I found. Wanted to make sure I reported it.”
“Well, looks like junk. Try not to waste my time like that or make me look like a fool. I’ll have you assigned to the lower areas quicker than you can skin a peccin beast.”
“No harm meant.”
That worked out well. Kyd attempted to report the finding. They assume it’s junk—which it clearly was not—and he can go on his merry way with it. There must be something to these things, and he knew precisely the person to take them to that should be able to give him some answers: Gert Brogan—Kyd’s best friend on Quarros, aside from his wife. Gert owned a pawnshop in the village and had seen everything from worthless dirt to … well, valuable dirt.
He better let Abi know he’ll be home a few minutes late. He pulled out his ringer—a small handheld device shaped like a “T”—and said, “Abi Lumin” into it. She replied almost immediately.
“How’s the day?” Abi said.
“Wonderful. I found—”
“I know. I know. You found something and want to take it to Gert’s. You seem to forget if you call me end of day, that’s about the only excuse you have and reason to call me.”
Kyd smiled with a helping of love for the woman he committed his life to. She knew him well. Her tone was not one of irritation but rather a playful melody. “You’re the best. You know that?”
“I’ve heard it said before,” she responded. “Just let me know when you’re headed home. Kybi and I will wait with bated expectation.”
“I’m sure you will. I love you.”
“And I you.”
The connection ended, and Kyd exited the mining facility into the village, heading toward Gert’s, hoping he could shed some luminance on what these things were he found.
See what happens next in chapter II. Mairel Elof!
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