Karak took a long deep drag of his cheap cigar. When you’re a miner in the filthiest pit on the continent, a black-rock outfit he and his fellow mechified referred to affectionately as Karia’s Asshole, there isn’t much point in worrying about what you inhale. In fact, Karak reasoned, most miners eventually chose to have their entire breathing apparatus replaced with a more efficient mechanical one. It had the downside of making your voice sound like the rumble of an internal combustion engine, but the filters would keep nasty particulates out of your bloodstream and keep you alive longer. Mind you, longer meant till forty-five or so. It wasn’t a long life, the life of a miner.
The elevator Karak was riding in clanked and ground its way up the narrow stone shaft thousands of feet back toward the surface. The steel mesh walls of the box gave Karak the opportunity to enjoy the long boring rush of jagged gray rock occasionally interrupted by protruding lead pipes leaking steam from their joints. Normally Karak himself would be as impassive and boring as the stone walls, but today he was anxious. He kept looking up through a spot in the roof of the elevator which had rusted through to see if he could perceive a tiny pinprick of light that would mean he was nearing the top. Nothing. He looked at a gauge on his left bicep which displayed atomic time, temperature, barometric pressure and his own heart rate. It takes nine minutes and thirty-seven seconds to make the ascent, he told himself. Still four minutes to go. Relax.
Fuck! He threw his cigar out a gap in the mesh, it burst into a shower of sparks on the stone and tumbled into the abyss. The elevator rushed on, oblivious. Karak was not relaxed in the least. How could he be? Very likely waiting for him at the top of the shaft was a phalanx of bullet-spitters with no intention of accepting a surrender. Not that Karak would ever surrender, but still, they could at least pretend they were interested in taking this to the authorities.
The worst part about being stuck in this elevator with, he checked the gauge, three minutes and seventeen seconds to go is that Karak had plenty of time to beat himself up for elementary mistakes. He knew that the foreman was on the take. Why had Karak thought he would be sympathetic to the cause? When the foreman walked in on him setting the charge he’d wasted valuable seconds attempting to convince the foreman it was the right thing to do. It was about liberty, he’d said. The liberty to not die at middle age. The liberty to be treated like a Cheldrun instead of a fucking piece of machinery. Can’t you see Mr. foreman, he’d said, they don’t care about us so we gotta go after the thing they do care about – they’re money. That’s why I’m blowing this passage. The charges are set to go off tonight, when the workers will be at home, so no one will get hurt. Please don’t get in my way, Mr. foreman.
It had been to no avail. The foreman had already triggered the silent alarm before he even walked in the room. He had been talking with Karak as a delaying tactic and it had worked. By the time Karak had realized what was going on escape routes were cut off. The only way out was this old elevator, rarely used since the new hover sleds had been installed in the main shaft.
Why had he been so foolish? The answer was obvious, but he could only admit it when he was alone like this. Saying it out loud would have gotten him mercilessly ridiculed by his fellow insurgents and they never would have trusted him with this mission. Karak believed in the cause. He did. But the thought of killing a fellow Mechified made him nauseous. As soon as he’d spotted the foreman he should have killed him and made his escape. He thought he could avoid killing, but when he’d already wasted countless seconds talking and the foreman was still delaying Karak had gone into a panic. He activated the motors in his left arm which ran a three-foot-long drill-bit where his hand should be and charged. The foreman, like most Mechified, had steel plating over his torso, but the alloyed drill ate through it quickly tearing a gruesome hole six-inches in circumference through the man’s chest. Blood, oil and other fluids ran freely out.
So that was that. Now Karak was a murderer and a terrorist and the bullet-spitters, specially built Mechified for private security, would waste no time talking with him.
Karak looked up. A pinprick of light was now visible through the rusty hole. Might as well give them a show, he thought, turning a crank on his hip which set the motors in his mechanical legs to a higher idle. He checked gauges in each of his knees. Oil pressure fine. Then he flipped open the fuel chamber in his left arm and shoved in a fist sized chunk of blackrock. He closed the chamber, pressed the latch to seal it and wrapped his whole hand around the engage lever. He shifted it to the farthest forward notch with a ratcheting sound and the plunger crushed the hunk of blackrock as it simultaneously ignited. Molten blackrock coursed through channels in his arm, red-hot veins of power revving the motors which controlled the drill to a high-pitched whine and pouring inky smoke out an exhaust pipe at his elbow. While fueled like this he could drill through a ten foot thick wall of solid diamond. Too bad there wouldn’t be such a wall between him and the people with all the guns.
Light was streaming from the opening above, now. A matter of seconds till the rusty old cage came to a stop in the brightly lit, fluorescent halls of the Goshi Mining Corp. basement.
Karak took his steel mining mask and pressed it over his face until the magnetic clamps took hold. He was now looking through special lenses designed to amplify light. It would make him blind in the full light of the surface, but it would also protect his face from the bullets. Why would he want to see the greeting party anyway? The only part of him now not either made of or covered by steel was his right arm, which he left bare even of clothes; the last sign he was still a Cheldrun.
The light grew intolerably bright washing everything out in a haze of ivory. Then the elevator rattled to a halt and the doors opened.