Jim lowered the crate onto the others, aligning the edges just so—wouldn’t do to make Angie give him one of her stares. His belt eased off as the weight released.
“Tell me again why we’re doing this?” Craig dumped his crate next to Jim’s, his belt whining at the sudden motion, and rock-dust billowed out.
Good job they had face filters on. But that was part of the regulations. Wouldn’t do to go against the rules.
“Because they need this stuff over there.” Jim waved to the warehouse door, where the exit gang opened the crates to put the rocks onto the sorter.
Craig looked around. “So why not dump the crates closer in the first place? Doesn’t make much sense, adding another step.”
“It’s what they want us to do.” Jim picked up another crate, his belt compensating. Must be sixty kilos, possibly seventy, yet it felt more like five.
Craig hadn’t moved, stood with his hands on his hips. A drone drifted toward them.
“At least look like you’re doing something.” Jim added his crate to the pile. Only a few more to go.
Jim sighed. He’d tried, honestly he had. But the lad was too young, couldn’t understand how things worked.
“You know what the Lyrans are like. We need to stick to the rules.”
“I’m not a slave to some stupid tripod.”
The drone hovered closer now, angled to watch. Jim bent down over the next crate.
“You don’t remember what it was like before the peace, do you?”
“Peace? You call this peace?”
Even carrying the weight—and this one was closer to eighty—Jim still managed a shrug. “More peaceful than being blown up.”
Craig muttered something, might’ve contained the word ‘traitor’. Jim let it slide.
“You going to get that crate?” he said.
Craig didn’t move.
“How many disciplinaries you had?”
A shrug. “Three.”
“More like three this week. Don’t push it. Just do your job.”
“Don’t see why I should.”
Jim got the last crate in place, signalled for Angie. She guided the cart over. Jim checked the remaining stack—enough for ten more pallets. And a new load due in an hour.
“You know what happens if you get too many disciplinaries?”
Craig shrugged. “Don’t care.”
Jim shook his head. Angie gave him a smile, and rolled her eyes.
“Should listen to this old fart,” she said, slotting the cart’s lifter under the crate and activating the rise. “You think life’s nothing but a game?”
“It shouldn’t be this. I’m better than…than this crap.”
“Not how they look at it. You know that drone’s been eyeing you, right?”
Craig sneered at it. JIm gave Angie a ‘what can you do?’ shrug.
“See you in a bit, boys.” Angie guided the cart away.
“She’s as bad as you.”
“Fine.” Jim dragged a new pallet in place, started on another crate. And tried to ignore the two lumbering forms heading from the side-door. “Just get on with the job.”
Craig didn’t move, his back to the approaching Lyrans. They were masters at moving quietly. Something about that third leg, Jim reckoned. Or gravity—bulky things, but moved gracefully whey they wanted. Impressive, almost beautiful.
“Why?” Craig spat the word out. “What’s the point?”
“Because it’s what they told us to do. It’s our job.”
Craig shook his head. “That’s it? That’s the big secret? Screw that! I don’t have to do this crap anymore.”
“Don’t push your luck, son.”
“I don’t need to listen to some old has-been. Just because you’re a slave, doesn’t mean I have to be. If this is peace, then they can’t treat us like this.”
The Lyrans loomed over Craig. “You’re not working,” they said in unison, their voices flat and cold, the sound issuing from the collars they wore.
Craig looked from one to the other. His face twisted as fear fought indignation. Unfortunately, the latter won.
“No,” he said, and it was like that word gave his stupidity more power. “Not doing it any more. You want them moved, you do it.”
“Big mistake, son.” Jim placed the crate on the pallet, didn’t even have to shuffle it into the perfect place. Yeah, he was getting good at this.
“Please come with us,” the pair said. They stepped apart, gave space for Craig to join them.
“I don’t have to do what you say!”
“We asked nicely.”
Their arms blurred, and they lifted Craig from the ground, held him between them. Craig tried to fight back, lashed out with his feet, but that did nothing against the Lyran’s hard outer membrane. He spat, phlegm hitting bulbous, smooth head, and he cried out in pain as their grip tightened.
Tough, these Lyrans. Tough, but fair.
One of them turned, small eyes focused on Jim. “We will take this disturbance into account when reviewing your performance. Continue working.”
“Sure thing, boss.” Jim lifted another crate—fifty kilos, and the weight inside moved like it was smaller pebbles, possibly sand.
Jim tried not to watch as they took Craig into the Room, the one with the smoked glass. Shadows moved, and Craig shouted and yelled, a bunch of insults spat at the Lyrans. As if that would make any difference.
Then he screamed, and the window of the room splattered with something dark. The scream died out.
“That’s your reason,” Jim said. He glanced at the time-piece on the wall. Not long to shift-end, and then he’d go to the hole, cheap drinks, a few games, bit of scram. Maybe see Angie, if she wasn’t getting all maudlin again. And then, stagger back to his bunkroom, only a few steps away, crash until his next shift.
It might not be a dream come true, but it was better than the bombs. Better than the uncertainty.
“Yeah. That’s why we do this.”
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A Lesson In Life