The transport bus pulled into the dirt lot in front of the school complex. Out of the grimy window Marcle could see the black frame of the reducer Towers looming like rusted fingers grasping at the sky. Tower 13 was his division, and it was still a twenty minute walk from parking. He gathered his bookbag.
Stepping onto the hardpack dirt of the parking, he gazed up at the school gateway, two large wooden telegraph poles with a wrought-iron icon between them:
"Splendant Virgin School"
Every day he stepped through these gates, except Tuesday when we stepped through them twice, and every time he felt his spirit thrill to the thought he was being baptized magnetically by the wavegranger embedded in the Virgin's heart.
He began the long walk to class, and heard the steps of Mg'hen behind him.
"Chut. Chut!" Mg'hen always called him that. "Chut! Wait up!"
Marcle stopped and turned around: "Mg'hen, hurry or you are going to be late."
Mg'hen caught up, bending over to catch his breath. Marcle turned back around and continued his walk toward Tower 13.
Mg'hen, still breathless, continued: "Chut! Slow down! I can't keep up."
Without looking back or slowing down, Marcle replied: "You'll have to. You won't impede my duties, Mg'hen."
Mg'hen struggled but kept up to Marcle, his breathing coming in bright wheezes in the dust. They passed other towers, with other students beginning the long climb up the metal stairs to the platforms for Homeroom Safety Meeting.
After another moment, Marcle began again: "Productivity is modesty. The Virgin sees fit to reward those who honour God in their daily Learning. Remember it Mg'hen, repeat it to me now."
Obediently Mg'hen repeated it, word for word, as he did every day. Today would be twice. Before he could finish it Marcle had passed ahead beyond earshot.
Marcle shot Mg'hen a disapproving cold glance as he stepped into Homeroom. He was last-- always last-- and the fact that Mg'hen dogged Marcle like a puppy was costing Marcle some esteem.
Everyone in, Teacher's voice from the com promptly chimed: "Mg'hen Bluust. Present, tardy 3 minutes." After a pause of static: "Recite."
The starting buzzer sounded immediately after, and the blue "BE SAFE" light turned on, which meant the start of Learning for the 25 students of Tower 13. Mg'hen exited the dark room ahead of everyone else, having taken his place last, nearest the door.
Mg'hen crossed over the blackpainted metal walkway and started to descend the stairs-- he was stationed for Learning on Unit 7, which was 3 flights down (Tower 13 was a 10-storey tower.)
As always when he reached it, the work room was dark, lit only by a fuze-lamp in one corner, it's metal cage bent and chalky. Mg'hen reached his designated lever and began the day's lesson; by now he knew how to pace himself.
"Ah! Mg'hen! We must refine for the Virgin!" It was one of the smaller boys, already sat and ready.
"Yes, we do. I know." Mg'hen found it strange that some of them had started to look up to him.
Marcle was wheelboy here, and, ignoring both Mg'hen and the younger boy (Marcle did not know his name), he adjusted the pressure of the refinery chamber until it was just right. With the right resistance, the crew could still work the full 5 hours required for the morning's Lesson without growing exhausted and complaining until the last 30 minutes or so. Such a margin would guarantee their output at max.
Pleased with the setting, Marcle thought about how being wheelboy required both experience with people and a knowledge of mathematics, which was only given to those destined for a greater role in life. Mg'hen was not any of that. Marcle thought about this difference between himself and Mg'hen-- parentage and destiny. Just one difference of many.
The day was getting on and Mg'hen's mind was wandering, as it always did, through his sweat. He had taken his 15 minutes break already to consume the biscits Mom had packed for him in his teatowel, and now he was dreaming of Scarabrave.
She was an English woman, blond hair and fine cheekbones, and she would use her super-human arches to fend off the oppressor. Whe she was done, she would farm.
Scarabrave was a bolt in the sky, a rushing wind, a green cloak riding in.
He turned the lever more, and the pressure gauge moved back out of the red and into the blue, where it needed to be. He oughtn't have let himself be distracted by a daydream again, for if the gauge reached critical then the refining tower could suffer a chain reaction and all the students in his homeroom would die.
Scarabrave on her horse turned and paused with a look balanced between disappointment and beckoning, before riding off into the grye, leaving Mg'hen alone again. But his gauge was blue and there was only an hour or so to go. BE SAFE.
That night in the tend Mg'hen thought about how far up the stars were. His sleeping mat was blue-striped and his comforter was dark navy, a plasticy surface to it that made a whip-scratching sound as he moved it away. His body was inside a sewn sheet that his Mother had sewn for him. Between these things, the cool air blew puffs of breath in front of him. He could hear the night noises.
In his dream, were the English countryhills green, the clouds and the sunshine. England.
Stepping off the bus, Mg'hen chased after Chut. It wasn't fair-- Chut was a stronger and faster boy with longer legs and who sat in the front of the bus. And also always in a hurry to get to Tower. Every day, by the time Mg'hen got off the bus, Chut was far ahead, and so Mg'hen had to run to catch him. He did so now.
A few more shaking steps, his body leaned forwards on the hardpack dust.
This time Chut turned around sooner than expected.
"Mg'hen. My name is not Chut. You will call me by my given name, Marcle."
"Chut, I have to call you Chut."
Chut was quiet for a moment.
"I have to call you Chut."
"Why do you?"
"I don't know why. I feel like if I want you to be my friend, I have to call you Chut, until you agree to be my friend. I feel like Marcle could never be my friend, but Chut could be."
Chut exhaled sharply and turned around, shaking his head. "Curse you! Don't slow me down-- I'm wheelboy you know!"
Homeroom Safety Meeting was much the same, Mg'hen again 3 minutes late, Chut again disdaining him, Teacher again scolding. But today, when the blue BE SAFE light lit and all the students went to their Learning rooms, something seized Mg'hen. He saw the stars in the sky and a blank spot in his memory where once something lived that held him back. Keeping a cool head and giving the cold shoulder to Chut, which made him feel powerful, he climbed down the stairs as if he were going to his Learning Station to work the levers. But instead of ducking into the small square door, he continued down the rest of the stairs until he hit the hardpack lot again. On the way down, some of the other students had noticed he was not attending his proper spot, and at the bottom, as he stepped off the final rung, the younger boy assigned to Level 1 Outflow, Addry, stood watching him, mouth agape. Addry also said nothing.
Mg'hen did not see Chut and did not look for him, but he knew Chut would see him go and this made him feel powerful more. Chut could only chase him but he knew he would not do that, instead he would optimize the output as he did each day, today dropping the pressure to compensate one empty seat. Mg'hen knew Chut would be angry and he, surprised, smiled at himself.
He walked slowly away from the station and then broke into an awkward jog, such as he could manage. There were many towers on the complex but Mg'hen wanted to exlore beyond them, into the crevasse. The crevasse was forbidden but he knew there had been Production activity there at one time, so there must be stairs or a ramp into it. It had been visible from the top level of the tower for all the students to see, an enigma for as many years as any of them had been in school. From up there, it looked like a giant swimming pool, but empty and gross. The white walls of it from the distance looked smooth but Mg'hen realized that up close, they were probably just a white stone such as Marble or Oriander. He had long ago noticed the way there was a scar of a road still visible on the hardpack, and he wondered if there would be wide ramp.
Now he moved that direction through the black metal Towers, all of them now occupied and firing up. He had to carefully cross the interlink feed-tubes, some of them as high as his waist, and passing close to a persistance marker he bent it slightly for no reason at all.
With a chill he remembered unbidden when the Doctor had shone a laser into his mouth, the metal nib on it pressed into his tooth, and he thought it was like nails on a chalkboard. "Do you flowing?" said he. Mg'hen did not, then or now, since he was not sticking to the main laneway but cutting between. Of these thoughts he couldn't make sense. He shuddered that the memory might be part of what was holding him back, the gap pressing back in on him, so he put them away and forgot about the horrible Doctor immediately.
After a minute more of this walking and clambering over tubes he was past the last Tower, and there was only a large flat space between him and where he could now see the main road led into the crevasse. However to his immediate right was a small metal shed with a corrugated metal roof, also rusted but painted red, and he could see someone-- an Adult, an Administrator perhaps, inside, through a window. The person seemed vacant, distracted, engaged in a bored conversation laughing over the telecomix.
Mg'hen walked quickly then over the last 50 or so meters of hardpack, but without breaking into a run.
As he neared the edge of the crevasse he could see, yes, a ramp leading in, large enough to drive a bus down it. As he reached the ramp he looked and looked over his shoulder one last time at the shed, and he thought he saw the person see him, but then actually realized it was too far to know what he was seeing. Panicked he suddenly broke and ran a few steps down the ramp until he was safely hidden by the lip of the crevasse, where he crouched down against the wall and stopped to catch his breath.
Inside was colder immediately, and Mg'hen was not sure why until he looked down. There, below, was a pool of emerald water. The ramp spiraled along all four sides three times, getting narrower as it went down, and Mg'hen could see some old mining equipment abandoned part-way.
He was scared, but thrilled-- no matter, he would descend the ramp and see his prize up close. He stood and broke into a run down the ramp.
At the bottom, Mg'hen was possessed by another notion, and began stripping his shirt off immediately. As he did, though, he thought he saw something move in the green water. He quickly put his shirt back on and craned to see. He was at the water's edge, where the ramp ran right into the pool, and the water went maybe two-twenty or thirty meters down deep at least. He could see the ramp spiralled several more levels, before it became obscured.
He couldn't see anything moving anymore, and was sure it was his imagination, but he was now uneasy about swimming in the crystalline pool, so he turned and ran up the ramp, two sides, until he could see back in it directly down. He was getting tired; each wall of the crevasse was at least 50 meters wide, and once he passed the lip at the top he had run all the way down. Now he was running back up, looking over his shoulder at the pool and being careful not to trip and fall over the edge.
And he saw it. A black form, rising from the depths somehow, not really like a snake but like an enormous eel, but he could not see it's head-- only the shadow of the coil of it's body, where it now swam gracefully.
And then it disappeared into the depths, and a second later some bubbles began to percolate along the surface. He stood at the edge, above the pool only about the height of a one storey-- not too high up, but enrapt. As he did, the bubbles began to fizz elsewhere, and now here, here, and there, all in the pool, and water did become to be fizzy but it wasnt the fizzy that Chut had once wanted. Mg'hen was very worried if he would be around to see his parents.
Mg'hen was leaning over the side now, watching the fizzy water, and a near-perfect ring of darkness began to form, the eel swimming in circles and rising to the surface. Mg'hen gasped at it's form, a thick and powerful monster in the perfect emerald water, long enough to make a perfect circle near the full diameter of tjhe pool. As it came closer and closer to surface, it's body showed itself more and more of a perfect brownblack tube. Then it stopped, suddenly, and Mg'hen could make out it's head. It turned.
An orangered eye gleamed out from the blue, from the brownblack head, and Mg'hen felt his heart stop. Then, in a moment, the beast disappeared, descending headfirst, without a splash and yet a force ripple emitting from where it had been, slopping up the sides of the pit unpleasantly.
Mg'hen simple-stared down, transfixed at where the beast had been. He was starting to feel in control of his body again, his heart still a ribid-thwound but slowly feeling less that it would leap from his chest.
He noticed a small darkness, this time a spot not a ring, just a circle, right below where was looking. It became dark quickly.
Suddenly his body shook itself free from his control and threw him back against the chalky ramp as at once the great eel's head launched from the surface of the water, a black tongue seen in it's own mouth filled with small white teeth. His legs on their own pushed back and back and back and the eel was in flight now, it's giant straight tube lifting up above the edge of the ramp where Mg'hen's head had been, and still unthinking his legs pushed back and back and back until his head hit the wall at the far side of the ramp, and still he pushed himself back against the wall, shaking loose from himself, a ball of terror and panic, mindless.
A moment the eel hung in the air and Mg'hen's body began to turn and try to run up the ramp, but lacking coordination to stand it scrambled him on all fours for a heartbeat. Mg'hen's head turned to look up and saw the writhing creature falling, and water from it's spray hit his face, and now he was standing and running and he felt his body levitate with fear, and his mind separated from itself and he became only running, his neck twisting painfully back to see for a moment as the front of the creature landed with a wet thunderclap onto the ramp, it's massive body convulsing and appearing to wriggle up the ramp, but unable to, and instead sliding backwards, gasping, writhing, and Mg'hen did not see but instead knew that the most if it's weight must be pulling it down into the depths, and he ran and ran, and finally found himself at the top of the ramp, and he ran and ran to the nearest Tower, and still he ran, and clambered over the interlink tubes, and ran and ran back toward black, safe, Tower 13, until about half way there he collapsed and began to cry in weeping heaves.
Mg'hen, collapsed into a heap at the base of Tower 9, in the small protected space where it's interlink outflow channel bent toward the main, fell quickly asleep, but only for the space of a few seconds. When he woke up it was with adrenaline, his thigh sprained painfully, but he was rested, and he was a new person.
"Where were you?!" Marcle turned and accused at Mg'hen when he limped back through the small square door into Unit 7. "We won't please the Virgin if we won't make quota!"
Mg'hen just looked at him. And now he felt powerful, somehow he transcended who he was and didn't have to answer Marcle, and he had a secret and sacred communion with a beast that he did not have to share with anyone.
Mg'hen said no words but simply attended his Learning Station and began to work the lever calmly.