Another one of my short story ideas that helped in the fruition of another story. I like to say it’s of a ‘grease punk’ genre, whether that exists or not. It basically has to do with a modern day slave who works in large boiler rooms like the one I use to work in college, except maybe on a huge barge ship or on an oil rig.
By T.S. Lowe
“Come on, whitie.”
Rich gave the bolt a final tug. Sweat or steam glistened along his arms, where they’d turn into a layer of sooty-mud by the end of the day. Ignoring the chink whose narrow eyes glinted out at him like black marbles, he tugged over his tool box and flicked out the upper-right shelf. His seven eighths joined its other neatly arranged sockets.
“Awww, whitie, just do it. You make us make crap for you, now you right’t. Suck.”
Others of the chink gang watched from catwalks, pipes, and on the grating leading out of the coolant room. The man before him jutted out his pelvis towards him, nothing but grimy cargo slacks given to all the workers and a shirt that had once been white.
Rich unlatched the main compartment and his toolbox cracked open in two. He reached his hand into its mouth and pulled out a ratchet, which he took to seal back up the opening in the pipes.
“I’m wait’ang. Do f’iends need to help whitie?”
He sighed. Usually when he ignored them, they went away. But this was the first time they’d cornered him—and in so many numbers. Didn’t they have anything better to do?
The answer, of course, was no. Mohammed TV only entertained never. But he had hoped they’d leave him alone in his ‘dungeon,’ where the inner workings of the factory machines and the broken bits of mining equipment were left to the few who actually had the mind to fix them.
Which meant, he’d either have to give in and give the guy a…no.
“Leave me alone,” he said as clear as he could, though disuse still made it rumble like rocks. “Or I’ll throw a hammer at your face.”
The others either didn’t know enough English to get what he was saying, or couldn’t hear. They just grinned and jabbered to each other like monkeys hanging around in a jungle.
His main courtesan just snorted and spat a lugi on the ground, right next to his foot.
“I count,” he said. “Three…two…”
Rich’s hand, which had moved to return the ratchet, flung out bearing his favorite orange Ace-brand hammer.
His aim was true. The head didn’t just hit the chink’s face, it sunk into it as though his flesh and bone were dough with a glorious smack like thunder. It didn’t stop there, but continued, head and body attached, to the ground.
The other lingering chinks rustled like leaves. Without sparing them a glance, he leaned across the space (Chinese weren’t that big, after all), and tugged out his bloody hammer. In the split blurred snapshot he got as the rubber mallet rose were bits of white bone like shattered porcelain and velvet, budded tongue.
Flicking the blood off, he turned back to the junction needing tune ups and used the hammer as a lever to turn back on the valve. When the sound of heated water hissed once more through the pipe, he slung the hammer into a belt loop like a sword and stood.
The chinks stared.
With a nod to the one by the door, he stepped up and out of the coolant room.
What disturbed him most when he settled into his hammock that night wasn’t the fact that he had just killed a man, but that he had done so easily. He hadn’t even thought of whether his hammer would miss or not, he just threw, and not with rage, but with that same cold, knotted frustration that had become his companion since coming there. He hadn’t wanted him dead. Just away. Far, far, far away.
No one came to find him. Not the sultans, who hadn’t cared for their slave infidels from the start. Neither the chinks, who had just come to watch and had been probably scared off enough by his own ruthlessness. And since he was tall, thick, and just wanted to be left alone, they really didn’t have any reason to want to mess with him.
And that really was all he wanted.
The trick to being left alone (and alive), by officials of the sticky new American caliphate was to A. be useful; B. be stinking useful; C. be damn stinking useful. Oh, and only for them.
Which Rich did without much complaint, because mechanics and all their lovers came to him like breathing: electricity, plumbing, hydraulics, etc, all a matter of physics and hands that did what you told them to do. Thus, once dropped into the mess of machinery which was the Utah copper, tin, and iron hellhole of the world, he was given an unsanded toolbox and told to work by the end of an AK-47.
He wouldn’t call himself happy, no. But the dark, often too-hot and claustrophobic spaces of the mine’s underbelly wasn’t too far off from what he had become on the inside, so he sanded the cedar box (metal was far too useful to waste on a slave), organized his tools, and got underway. It didn’t take the sultans (the ISIS approved overseers of the mine), long to see that whatever area he choose to nest in increased in efficiency and decreased in breakdowns. Thus, he was fed three meals a day, given a hammock to throw up anywhere, and not shot.
And the other smart guys thrown down there with them? He kept to himself and they kept to themselves. For that, they were his best friends in the whole world. Eventually the gathered dirt and grime and lack of sunshine would kill them off, and since engineers were short in supply and a pain to train, once a week they were tied up and poked out into an elevator and spat out on the surface world. There they sipped water and baked in the sun before being sprayed off with a hose manned by some poor bloke who worked the even lower stories of the mine, where all was raw earth and artificial lights. He’d change every week. Once they had some Olga looking chick. That was exciting, at least, for the other guys, until she gave them pressure hose to the face.
Thus, after the hammer incident, Rich was left to his own devices. The most interaction he got would be the occasional short, utilitarian replies with other workers or the buzzed in pager notes for whatever wasn’t working on the other side of the works.
Time past. He grew hairy through neglect and strong by the natural consequences of having a demanding job with not enough people to do it. After a number of days he didn’t bother to count, he got brought up to the control office, where he fixed and upgraded the console amidst the buzz of Arabic insults. The now clean orange mallet in his toolbox came to his mind more than once, but then he hadn’t the heart to die yet and only the mind to ask why he cared.
They did get breaks to eat and sleep, if you could call them that. A large room was kept to some level of the mine where all manner of infidels and war prisoners could lounge on the concrete floor and watch one of the four televisions, which broadcasted dry data news reports on the war and whatever an Islam caliphate state did with television, which was nothing great. Rich had almost looked forward to it until five minutes dead staring told him no cartoons would be showing. Thus, with a lack of nothing better to do during his break time, and with no love for sleep, he took to gathering together broken computer chips from various machine consoles and whatever he could dig up from the trash on his allotted time of sun baking in the name of putting together a simple computer able to connect to the internet. After all, the world wide web was free, right? Cartoons had to be somewhere in there.
It was during one of these scavenger hunts that he found her.