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Danger. Darkness. Elf.

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Oh, it was exciting! It was daring! To be doing something so spontaneous and reckless, why, it was nigh unthinkable for him, but here he was doing it! This really was the first step towards proving himself to be more than just a weak whimpering elf!

Ronan’s mind was awash with a barrage of uncommon sensations as he hurried back to Nalena’s apartment to pack his things. The apprehensive, cautionary voice that always sought about making itself known through every stage in Ronan’s life was shrieking shrilly about how stupid he was being, that he was going to get himself killed. There was a good chance of it being right, but for once, he ignored it.

It had always been a thorn in his side, he started to think. Always berating him whenever he’d stepped beyond his comfort zone, always snarkily asserting itself whenever doing so ended poorly. Sure, it might of saved him from some trouble here and there, but where had it really got him in the end? He had no job. He had no relationship. He had no abode. All he’d gotten from adhering to his sense of caution was a boatload of misery. No, he wasn’t going to listen to it any longer, or ever again for that matter!

 

Throwing all kind of caution to the wind was also a pretty stupid thing to do, but since reminding himself of that fell under the jurisdiction of his prudence as well, such a statement was also promptly ignored.

His prudence, which will now be referred to as Prudy for no particular reason, thus resorted to merely brooding in the back corners of his mind next to his weirder sexual fantasies and that memory of the time he got his head stuck in between the school yard railings, where his classmates all made bets to see how long he be there until a teacher noticed. It took a while for the teachers to notice.

Prudy was cheered up by the knowledge of just how sweet it would be to snidely quip “I told you so!” when Ronan inevitably ended up being engulfed by flames or something.

 

Once home, he saw to stuffing various items into a suitcase. Specifically Nalena’s. Ronan didn’t do enough activity in other countries, or outdoors at all really, to justify owning one. She’d probably understand though, and if not, he’d be on his way to a new life, where the consequences of his petty larceny were unlikely to reach him.

What would he need? He pondered, running through a list of items in his head and tossing them in as he thought of the next; a variety of clothes, not to forget some outfits for more formal events, oh, and some for general out and about activities, maybe some swimwear just in case, hygiene products, toothbrush, backup toothbrush, backup-backup toothbrush, off-brand Whiter Teeth toothpaste, deodorant, the second nicest bottle of aftershave with the fancy bottle, the cool rock he found when he was 7…

The list went on.

Finally, after cramming every single item he conceived he could possibly need for a lovely holiday at the beach, he remembered that he should have in fact been packing for life on a Space rig. As he went to remove some of the more superfluous items, he noticed the time.

He had 45 minutes to get to the spaceport. The spaceport that was roughly 40 minutes away

‘SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT,’ he cried as he hailed a cab from an app on his phone.

After a 3 minute eternity, a sleek driverless vehicle rolled up. Ronan launched the luggage in like a shot putt and clambered in hastily.

‘Tesarre Spaceport, on the double!’ He then realised his mistake; there was desperation in his voice.

Autonomous cabs were created and pioneered by much the same people as those who design cheap printers, in that both types of machine can sense fear. Under no circumstances should you let either know you’re in a rush.

‘Would you like to upgrade to a Freedom™ Express™™ ride for only 30% more? Or, become a premium member on our app and experience speeds of up to 110 KPH** at no extra charge*****!’ Spoke the console.

‘Gah, fine, upgrade the bloody ride,’ Ronan grumbled, knowing that it usually was only 15% more.

‘I’m sorry, did I say 30%? I meant 40%. Apologies for any inconvenience,’

‘What? No! You said 30!’

‘Command not registered. Please speak clearly into the console.’

‘TAKE ME TO THE FUCKING SPACEPORT,’

‘There’s no need for such aggression, you could have just said please,’

‘PLEASE.’

‘That’s better.’ The cab finally began to pull away.

Ronan never understood why they made robots like that.

 

After arriving at the spaceport 39 minutes later and having begrudgingly paid the extortionate “Turbo” fee, Ronan thundered into the spaceport at an impressive pace, his suitcase scraping and bouncing along behind him. He located the gate for his shuttle and made a rapid, if ungraceful journey through it.

He was making good time, still having 5 minutes before the shuttle departed.

All he needed was a smooth transit through security.

 

Ha, good luck with that.

 

Ronan scanned his card at the checkpoint. Then his left pinky. Then his right index finger. Then the machine that makes the weird bubbling sound and then beeps a lot made a weird bubbling sound and beeped. A lot. He went through the uncomfortable brushy door with all its overly molesty swabbing actions. Finally, he got the stamp on the back of his hand. After a quick internal debate, he decided to go with the green pirate ship stamp over the blue smiley face.

 

There were no holdups whatsoever. There wasn’t even a queue.

Huh.

No nail-biting suspense from being held up in security as the shuttles draws ever closer to departure?

He just goes through it without a hitch?

Okay then.

 

 

After he’d made his way to his seat, in economy class to no large surprise, he sank down into the cheap cushioning and let out a sigh of relief. Despite a underlying feeling of nervousness, accompanied of course by the muffled inner screaming of Prudy, he felt excited. He was finally taking his life into his own hands, forging his own path, seeking fame and fortune in his new career in… what was it again? Oh, mining, right.

Ronan had never had much interest in geology, but, he reasoned, there was a first time for everything. Besides, how hard could hitting rocks be?

 

After the boarding time had finished and the shuttle prepared for take off, Ronan glanced over the other passengers. Economy class was only about half full, and there seemed a larger than normal proportion of dwarves dotted about, including a scruffy looking one sitting next to him. He wondered how many were also destined for Deep Rock.

‘So where are you headed?’ He queried the dwarf beside him.

‘Me? I got myself a mining job at DRG, that is, Deep Rock Galactic, since I doubt you’ll have heard of ‘em,’ the dwarf grunted in reply, ‘you?’

‘Actually, I have heard of them. In fact, I’ve got a job there too!’

The dwarf stared at him, before breaking out into a raucous laugh.

‘Hahehehoh, oh, that’s a good one, and here I thought you lot didn’t have a sense of humour, ehheh,’ they wiped a tear from their eye, ‘so, where you REALLY going?’

‘It’s true, I’ve got a job there. Look, here’s the confirmation they gave me;’ he showed the confirmation slip he’d received to the dwarf, but all it resulted in was more laughter.

‘Hehhehaheheh, you sure have got some dedication to this bit. That really looks like the real thing! Alright alright, now tell me where you really are headed, and don’t say Deep Rock ‘cause I know it ain’t there,’

Ronan grimaced, ‘but I AM headed there, this IS the real thing!’

The conversation, which quickly devolved into an argument, continued back and forth, with the dwarf growing more and more frustrated each time Ronan repeated himself. Finally relenting, Ronan decided to just make up a destination that sounded stereotypically elvish, hoping to put an end to the fruitless quarrel.

‘Fine! I’m heading to, like, Verneda’heth’kala to see the forests of… Durthicalai or some shit,’ he sighed.

‘You coulda just said that in the first place. Great Unkarr, you lot really don’t know when a joke stops bein’ funny.’

Ronan was about to speak out against the “You lot”, but decided that it wouldn’t be worth the hassle.

‘Whatever you say.’

It was going to be a long flight.

 

 

It had been a long time since he’d been on an interplanetary trip. Notably, long enough for him to forget that the turbulence of being swung in an orbital tether was prone to making him violently sick.

Some of the passengers gave cheered as the shuttle accelerated, the experience being rather like that of a rollercoaster. Ronan’s taste for funfair thrills capped off at the teacups, so he was resigned to clenching the armrests in a desperate bid to not throw up.

A desperate, overruled bid.

 

Now above the planet and having utilised his complimentary economy vomit bag, he sucked in deep breaths of air in an attempt to clear at least a small amount of nausea from his addled mind.

‘Oi, leave some air for the rest of us will ya? I don’t want to be breathing recycled elf breath for the whole flight!’ The dwarf beside him grumbled. Ronan merely groaned in response.

At least there was about an hours worth of travel before the shuttle was due to warp, which gave the indisposed elf some time to recover.

Unfortunately for him, he had forgotten another aspect of interstellar flight. Warping, or more notably, the fatigue that followed.

Warp fatigue was prone to make him violently sick.

 

The second bout of vomiting wouldn’t have been that bad, provided Ronan hadn’t decided to purchase a selection of muffins and coffee from the refreshments trolley in an attempt to rid his mouth of the lingering taste of bile. He may have overdone it with the muffins. Thankfully, his formerly argumentative travel buddy hadn’t needed his sick bag. Ronan hadn’t asked before he reached over and grabbed it, which almost led the dwarf comment about how the elf should keep their hands off things that weren’t theirs, but they decided against it when they thought about what the likely consequence was.

 

Once the shuttle docked at the Interwarp Terminal, Ronan stumbled out into the station, still feeling quite ill. In fact, if it weren’t for the copious nausea he felt, he’d likely have thought to himself ‘Wait, what the hell am I doing? I’ve signed up for a mining job on another planet I’ve never heard of at a entirely dwarven company I didn’t know existed until a few hours ago with nothing but a single suitcase of luggage? This is really stupid thing to do!’ before immediately boarding the next flight back home to go and cry in the nearest shower he could get to.

Unfortunately for Ronan, he did not do that. Instead, he trawled the small shuttle terminal until he found the next ship he was to be on, then stood in line to board.

He felt a tap on his shoulder. Well, as near to his shoulder as someone half his height could reach.

‘Uh, mate? I think you’ve got the wrong flight,’ the dwarf behind him remarked.

‘Really? What gives you that impression?’ a befuddled Ronan replied. It was hard to tell if he was intentionally ignoring the fact that he was the only non-dwarf in the queue. Ronan wasn’t sure himself.

‘...Just a guess…’ the dwarf behind muttered.

‘Oi, is that elf still doing that stupid “I signed up for DRG!” bit?!’ A familiar voice further back shouted. This drew Ronan some querying looks, none of which went acknowledged by him as he shuffled forward with the line.

‘What do you mean? I was under the impression that this is the flight to the PLANT convention,’ Ronan dryly stated.

‘Look mate, if you’re not on the flight, you’re just holding up everyone behind. You’ve done your joke, you’ve had your fun, now skidaddle on to where you’re actually supposed to be,’

Piqued the dwarf behind.

Having arrived at the ticket check barrier, Ronan slowly turned and stared at the commenter.

‘But if this ISN’T the flight to the plant convention, then why does my ticket card work?’ Not breaking eye contact with the dwarf, he leisurely raised his card to the scanner. The scanner sounded an approving ding and the barrier lowered.

‘Oh, would you look at that…’ he uttered, still staring at the now visibly uncomfortable dwarf. Ronan promptly turned back and proceeding on through the gate, leaving many of the others in line to hesitantly check their tickets to the flight, feeling mild worry that they were mistakenly boarding an express trip to “Botanic Panic ‘43!”.

 

In and most likely due to his sickly stupor, Ronan had managed to achieve something truly elusive to his entire personality; smoothness.

Regrettably, though not all that surprising, he lacked any awareness regarding this legendary feat of his.

 

Once all passengers had boarded, the shuttle launched away from the spaceport. Ronan felt an eerie similarity from the various laughing, joking voices, hushed whispers aimed at his direction, frequent querying glances at him from the other passengers, the empty seats around his own despite the shuttle’s packed capacity and the distinct feeling of being very out of place. It all troublingly echoed his experiences on the bus to school field trips.

If nothing else, at least he’d started to feel a little less queasy.

 

‘Shuttle warping in 15 seconds. All passengers please fasten your seatbelts.’

 

So much for that.

 

It was around this time that a great metaphorical shoe began to drop from high up in orbit. Slowly, but accelerating, it began a plummet towards the surface far below.

 

 

 

 

‘The shuttle has now docked. All new employees please proceed to Bay 3 for initialisation and further instruction. Welcome to Deep Rock Galactic Miners; Rock and Stone.’

The unorganised congregation collectively exited the spacecraft and began to shuffle towards the directed location. Ronan followed suite and tried not to look too conspicuous. This proved rather hard, considering he was a good foot and a half taller than the next tallest individual in the group.

Various workers were dotted around the arrival bay, some working on rugged looking machinery, other typing away at consoles, some just mulling about in an attempt to look busy. Any who caught sight of the new arrivals turned to stare, elbowing their neighbours and pointing at a certain newcomer. Ronan followed their line of sight and looked at the wall beside him, inwardly hoping that it suddenly became very interesting and thus was the reason for all the suspicious looks.

Up ahead was a small checkpoint with an authoritative looking dwarf standing next to some sort of scanner. Ronan wondered if there hadn’t been enough scanners already.

Each new arrival scanned their card, was handed a what appeared to be a key fob and directed to a hallway at the end of the bay.

Slowly, the line was filtered through until it got to him. The dwarf supervising the checkpoint didn’t look up from his terminal screen as Ronan approached.

‘Scan your card, it’ll assign you a room in the rig, then head down the hallway on your right for role allocatio-… huh?’

Ronan’s scanning of his card must have caused some unexpected information to appear on his screen as the dwarf finally looked up and noticed him. Several times the dwarf looked as if he was going to say something, only to glance back at the terminal and pause.

‘I have a position here?…’ Ronan spoke up in what he hoped was a helpful tone.

‘Yeah, it says that here, I know, but that… doesn’t make sense… are you here to, like, visit or something?’

‘No, I’m here to work. I’m an employee.’

The dwarf glanced between him and the screen a few more times.

‘Maybe I should get a supervisor… No wait, I am the supervisor, shit.’ The supervisor muttered, drumming the thick fingers on the console. ‘...Screw it, this can be Allocation’s problem. Right, head on down that hallway. They should sort you out.’

Ronan shifted from one foot to the other, ‘Uh, shouldn’t I get a key as well?’

The dwarf raised and dropped his hands in a flustered gesture before begrudgingly handing over a fob. ‘Right, next!’

Gripping his key tightly, Ronan wandered down the aforementioned hallway. He got the impression that such a scenario was going to be annoyingly common.

 

He was greeted with a similar reaction from the role allocator. After a period of deliberation with the computer, including a discomforting amount of scrutiny towards the rather unflattering employee portrait of Ronan, the allocator conceded that it might not be a technical error and stated that it was someone further up the chains problem. The prospect of repeating this confrontation many times again did not overly excite the queasy, jet-lagged, increasingly frustrated elf.

‘Why does it have to be someone else's problem? The previous guy said it was your problem, why can’t it be, oh, I don’t know, no ones problem? How many times am I gonna have to say, yes, I am an elf, yes, I have a job here?’

‘I dunno. Consider not being an elf next time. Anyways, if by some miracle this isn’t merely a massive screw-up by management, I guess you’ll need a role. At least that’s easy to figure out. You’ll be good for a scout. Well, feasible for a scout. Probably.’

‘Don’t I get to choose? Everyone ahead of me got to choose.’

‘Normally? Yes, but your choices are somewhat limited on account of you, y’know,’

‘Let me guess, being an elf?’

‘Spot on!’

‘Why does that mean I only get to be a scout?’

The dwarf pondered a response. ‘Hold on, I’ll give you a practical demonstration,’ Rooting about the various benches and worksurfaces behind them, the role allocator lifted a large drill like machine onto the counter that separated them from the allocate-e.

‘Try lifting that,’

Ronan did so, slipping his arm into its brace before giving a mighty heave. The contraption rocked slightly, but stayed firmly where it lay.

‘Yep, as I predicted. You feel much for lugging TWO of these around? You don’t need to respond, I can derive the answer from your hideously contorted face. ‘Course, your lack of any and all upper body strength also excludes you from operating heavy weaponry, and somehow I doubt you’ve got yourself any experience in engineering. So, what’ll it be? Scout? Or Scout?’

‘...Scout.’ mumbled Ronan in reply.

‘Great choice. Head down that way and follow the signs until your reach your room block. Your room is the same one as the number on your key, if you couldn’t figure that out. You’ll be called up when it’s time for your training.’

 

 

The shoe fell faster and faster, the heat of re-entry causing it to glow red hot. But the shoe did not disintegrate. This was no ordinary shoe. This was… a heat resistant shoe. Maybe it was made of tungsten? I don’t know. This is a pretty shit metaphor. Regardless of metaphor quality, however, the shoe continued to fall, and the ground was rapidly approaching.

 

After one incidence of being lost and more than one incidence of smacking his head off a low space rig extremity, Ronan finally located his room. Ducking to enter, he found his suitcase had been unceremoniously dumped in the centre.

The room seemed cramped even for a dwarf. It was just short enough that he had to crane his neck slightly when he stood upright. There was a small casket like bed capsule that was about half the length he was, two dull metal drawers in one wall, a ‘DRG INFORMATION SCREEN’ afixed in the other, a blocky computer terminal, a wardrobe that looked like it would be hard pressed to fit more than a single set of evening wear, and a single light overhead, flickering occasionally.

Ronan slumped into the rooms single seat and let out a long sigh.

 

The shoe landed. Not with a bang. Not even with a whimper. But with a soft yet very distinct sound like that of something delicate and expensive being crushed. A sound that fills you with dread before you can even assess the damage.

Voice cracking and directed at no one in particular, Ronan cried out,

What the hell have I done?!!