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Danger. Darkness. Elf.

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Management had not been pleased. Management had not been pleased at all. Of course, displeasure from the higher-ups was certainly nothing new, but this was extreme, even for them. Inundated with seemingly ridiculous reports of an elf being hired, they had finally gotten around to investigating the matter, expecting it to be some moronic rumour from their bored, under-performing workforce. It had not been. As such, whoever had authorized this unwelcome intrusion was about to get the corporate reaming of a lifetime, and then some.

The “whoever“ in question, Mrs Gavery, was both expecting and well prepared for this. She wasn’t troubled, because as much as management hated anyone who dared to try even the smallest amount of innovation, their love of short term profits outweighed even that.

They were skeptical. After all, how would a single elf cause more profit? Not through physical labour is for sure. But as Mrs Gavery explained, they began to see that there was many a way, and the idea began to grow on them.
No true blooded dwarf would listen to the weedy complaints of an elf. There was no doubt that likely observations from this elf, before which may have been cause for muttered grumblings against the company, would now instead spark pride she reasoned.
The lack of safety equipment? Only a cowardly elf would need such silly things as protective suits!
No workers compensation? Only a shifty elf would want payment for being bad at their job!
No rescue missions for missing employees? Only a wimpy elf would need others to get them home!
The list would go on. Not only that, once the elf had resigned within the week, either from the job or their mortal coil, it would be proof of just what strong stuff DRG employees are made of!
The best part? It had cost nothing more than a seat on a shuttle. There hadn’t even been need for coercion.
Nearly every outcome was positive, and the probability of those that were not was so insignificant there was no point in considering them.
Management agreed. They were pleased. Space Rig 17 was going to have a very special announcement.

 

It’s okay, it’s okay, he reasoned mentally, I’ll just find the nearest secretary lookalike and explain that has all been one big mixup, and no doubt they’ll put me straight on a flight… home…
But an uncomfortable question struck him; what WAS home? His parents house? He shuddered at the thought. Compared to that, the dingy, cramped room was a cosy little cottage out in the countryside with a roaring fake wood fire and two and a half chickens in the yard.
And what of the job that came with the accommodation? Ronan couldn’t say he’d ever had any experience within the field of rock hitting, but surely it can’t be that complicated, right? Besides, he was going to get training in… whatever it was that a Scout did, and to his knowledge, at no monetary cost.
In fact, he’d told Nalena that he would have a job and somewhere to stay by the end of the week, and he did! Admittedly he had forgotten to inform her of that, but he was sure she’d piece it together that he’d done so and would not report him as missing/presumed dead.
This calmed him immensely. He’d actually followed through on something he said. Would the OLD wimpy Ronan have done that? No! That Ronan probably would have cowered and cried at the prospect of being a productive member of society! Not like this NEW Ronan, that definitely wasn’t regretting this choice! It was all coming together.
Whilst waiting to be called up for training, Ronan set about unpacking his things. Clothing in the wardrobe, special rock on the table, Gold star stickers above the bed, and suncream thrown in the trash.
Everything was as it should be.

‘Employee #4722-E, please now proceed to the equipment deck to begin your training assignment. The location is displayed on your terminal screen,’ a robotic voice blared out a short while later. After recovering from the mild shock of one who was waiting for the toaster to pop but still got startled by it, Ronan composed himself and stepped out of his room.
When he was roughly halfway to the equipment deck, another voice, one more distinctly dwarven, boomed out an address to what seemed to be the whole space rig;
Attention all Employees of Deep Rock Galactic: We have a special new recruit aboard this rig. Please give a warm welcome to our first ELVEN employee, RO-NAN Malarkey--apologies, Falarkke,” the speaker announced his name like it was a difficult word from a foreign language, and emphasized many of the other words with an unsubtle saccharine tone,Ro-nan has decided to judge for themselves just what makes our work so difficult, and by extension, our employees so special. As such, if Ro-nan happens to find that they’re just not cut out for work at this company, don’t give them a hard time, after all, not just anyone is suited to be a member of Deep rock Galactic. Now, return to work. Hoxxes IV won’t conquer itself!”
This address made Ronan feel an uncomfortable range of emotions.
They clearly didn’t expect or want him to last very long. No, they wanted to show the company that he was merely another pansy elf who would try and quickly fail to prove himself on par with that of the BIG STRONG BURLY DWARVES.
Realising this however, he was not discouraged. They wanted rid of him so soon? Pah! They’d find it harder than that! Ronan was now even more determined to be in for the long haul, choosing to ignore the fact that not thirty minutes prior he’d been panicking about having joined at all.
There was a target painted on his back, no doubt. They were going to try their best to get at him. He wouldn’t let them. He would not let them!
Ronan strode onwards to the equipment deck, a swagger in each step.

 

Having skillfully dodged almost all of the low doorways on his way, he arrived at the specified location. In fairly good time too, considering the multiple times he’d gotten lost. He paid little mind to the stares and not very hushed chatter of his new colleages as he merged with the thrum of new recruits. Once all had been deemed present, the uncoordinated gaggle were swiftly separated into smaller groups according to their assigned roles and were sent to collect their new kit.
Each received their equipment piece by piece, along with a brief explanation as to its function and how to use it. Altogether too brief, if Ronan’s level of information retention was anything to go by. It went roughly as follows;

‘Here is your standard scout outfit. The suit’s elastic, so don’t concern yourself with the size. Armour goes on AFTER the suit. One size fits all.’
‘Mine doesn’t fit,’ claimed Ronan, unsurprisingly. The rubbery blue suit top barely covered his ribs, and though the middle was about twice as wide as his torso the sleeves barely reached past his elbows, leaving his entire midriff lying exposed. The set of trousers looked more like shorts on him, with the scrunched seam beneath his belt much resembling the top of a drawstring bag. He had elected to keep his jeans and plaid shirt on underneath, lest his bellybutton fall prey to undue mockery.
The supervisor handing out the kit glared at him.
‘One size fits all,’ came the gruff reply,
‘But--’
‘Fits. All.’
And so the line shuffled along.

‘This is a standard DRG issue Shield belt. Make sure that it’s tight around the waist and, y’know, actually turned on.’
‘How do we tell if it’s on?’ One dwarf asked. The dwarf next in line to him proceeded to launch a haymaker right in to the questionee’s stomach.
‘His wasn’t,’ the assailant stated as the first dwarf crumpled to the ground.
‘That is… one method, yes. The recommended approach is to check if the light on the top of your belt is blue,’ seeing the other dwarves in line eyeing him maliciously, Ronan hurriedly checked that his was active.
‘Moving on, Deep Rock asks that you do not test the limits of the shield by punching, kicking, stabbing, shooting, bashing, or attempting to inflict other such forms of grievous bodily harm on your fellow crew mates. Now, the next piece of kit and unique to you lot is your flare gun…’

After repeating a similar process for numerous other pieces of equipment, a grappling gun, a shotgun, an assault rifle, ammunition for them, Inhibitor-field generating grenades, flares, a shoulder lamp, a handheld terrain scanner, a M.U.L.E signaller (whatever that was, Ronan had already forgotten), a laser pointer/identifier, a mineral bucket, and finally, a pickaxe, (a supposedly one handed affair that Ronan struggled to wield with two) the fully equipped yet still not greatly organised throng of new recruits stood ready in the hangar. With all his new found goods clinking against each other with each step, Ronan felt altogether too much like a pack mule. He was glad to finally be done with the numerous demonstrations. Now it was just a matter of heading back to his pod and getting a well earned nap.
‘Alright, any last questions?’ asked the supervisor, to little response.
One query suddenly appeared in the burdened elf’s mind. His hand slowly crept up.
‘Ugh, yes, you, Leaflover,’ the supervisor groaned.
‘Are guns standard mining equipment?’
This questioned seemed to strike the supervisor off guard.
‘For our operations? Uh, yes, I suppose you could call them that.’
Ronan pondered for a second.
‘...What do we shoot with them?’
His question was met with a dumbfounded stare. Many, in fact.
‘Wait, you… you don’t know? You’ve come all this way and yet you don’t even…’ The supervisor lost their composure and burst into heaves of laughter. The rest of the group started as well, though some seemed to join in more on the principle that everyone else was. The supervisor would recover somewhat, look at Ronan’s worried expression and then return to laughing.
‘Alright alright, let’s get these fools planetside,’ the supervisor finally managed to yell, wiping a tear from their eye.
‘Wait, what? We’re going now? We’ve only just gotten our equipment! We haven’t even used any of it yet! What if I can’t remember what something does?!’ Ronan cried out as the group was split up and he was herded along with two other new employees to a hulking beast of a machine with a huge drill on the bottom.
‘You’ll have a great opportunity to try it out down in the caves!’ The now distant supervisor yelled back. ‘I haven’t had that good a laugh in long while, bloody hell…’ the voice was soon drowned out by mechanical clanking as the drill started up. The front of the pod opened up to reveal four empty seats. The thickly armoured dwarf shepherding his small group beckoned him and the two others in, before entering themself. Ronan’s feet splayed out on the floor as he thumped down into the stiff material of the seat.
‘This doesn’t seem safe…’ he uttered
‘Heh, for you? It’s probably not. Harnesses down, pod drops in five.’
‘No one’s told me what we’re shooting at ye-aaAAGGHH’ Ronan’s complaint was cut short by the shuttle entrance slamming shut, accompanied by the feeling of all his organs attempting to exit through his neck simultaneously as the pod launched downwards.
Five seconds. The pod dropped in five seconds. Not minutes. Such clarification would have been appreciated earlier.

The whole pod vibrated from the dull roar of the engine as it hurtled towards the foreign planet below. Ronan could do little but groan miserably as he attempted to shift his body into a more comfortable position, if such a thing even existed.
‘Bugs,’ said the more experienced looking dwarf that had ushered him in.
‘Huh?’
‘You’ll be shooting bugs. I find it hard to believe you’ve managed to get this far without learning that, but you do seem pretty genuine about your complete and utter lack of preparation. In any case, welcome to your first mission as an employee of Deep Rock Galactic. Stick with me, do as I say, and hopefully it won’t be your last. That applies for you greenbeards here as well,’ he motioned to two other recruits, ‘Don’t think that just ‘cause you two are dwarves you’re invincible. Hoxxes does not take kindly to overconfidence. Trust me.’
‘...Thanks for being the first guy to actually answer a question of mine,’ Ronan managed to sputter out, ‘But, uh, what do you mean when you say bugs? I have a troubling feeling it’s not gonna be in the vein of picking hornworms of my grandmothers tomato plants,’
‘You’d be right there. By bugs, I mostly mean Glyphids, giant spider looking bastards, their size ranging from dinner plate to tank. There’s some other nasty buggers down there but Glyphids are gonna be your bread and butter of insect-related trauma. Hope you’re not arachnaphobic.’
‘I mean I’d say not particularly, but at the same time I’m generally not scared of fire yet I’d be rather perturbed if someone was trying to roast me with a flamethrower.’
‘Hey, I’ve get a flamethrower!’ The recruit in yellow equipment next to him added.
‘That doesn’t fill me with confidence,’ Muttered the elf.
‘Don’t worry yaself too much elf, Management may be harsh but even they’d not throw you in the deep end right from the get go. We’ll be in the lowest risk area of the planet for this first mission o’ yours. I’ve done a fair few of these introductory ones, so like I say, stick with me and you should be fine. Me name’s Otren, but you lot can call me “Sir”. Brace yourselves, looks like we’re almost planetside, expect a big shock when the altimeter reaches about zero.’
Ronan stared intensely at the rapidly dropping number. 3000 meters, 2000, meters, 1000 met-BANG! The roar of the engine was now joined by the churning of rock as the pod began to drill down into the planet’s surface.
Organs which had previously attempted to excuse themselves via his trachea were once again violently shunted, this time back down into his torso.
This combined with the feeling of having his spine compressed into his pelvis was not a pleasant one, even ignoring the subversion of his expectation as to when the shock was coming.
‘Must have hit a hill,’ Otren glanced at the compressed elf, who was too concerened with groaning to form a coherent reply.
‘I did say ABOUT zero.’

The pod kept drilling downwards for a long time, the constant roar of the engines and crushing of the stone beneath reverberating through its entirety. Ronan barely noticed, all too consumed with all the unique pains that now inhabited all the gangly bits of him, that being most of his body. The copious amount of physical pain came with a silver lining though, as it helped distract him from the far greater psychological agony he was liable to inflict on himself once he realised quite the extent of his fuck-up. The “kilometer beneath the surface of an alien planet said to be filled with numerous murderous insectoids, as the sole elven employee of a strictly dwarven company, a company that also had a very laissez-faire approach to on site health and safety,” scale of fuck up.
One more large CLUNK and the pod finally came to a stop. The doors slid open to reveal… not much. A small area of rock in front was illuminated by lamps on the pod’s exterior. Beyond those small circles of light lay a thick, oppressive darkness. The kind that has never been ousted by light in a very, very long time.
‘Alright folks, Out you get. Minerals ain’t gonna mine themselves,’ Otren stated, standing up and hauling an intimidatingly large minigun with him out of the entrance. The other dwarves followed suite whilst Ronan finally hoisted himself to his feet. He was pretty sure every single joint in his body had made some form of cracking noise. Lethargically, he stumbled out of the pod, checking that he had all of the numerous tools provided to him.
A new voice sounded through his headset, startling him.
‘Welcome to Hoxxes Greenbeards… and elf. This is Mission Control speaking. I’ll be giving directives and warning of imminent incoming threats for this and any future missions you may partake in. Work hard, stay focused, listen to your team leader, and you should pull through just fine. Hope you know what you signed up for. If not, well, you’ll find out soon enough.
Onto work; your objective for this first expedition of yours is nice and simple. Collect two hundred units of morkite and deposit them into the M.U.L.E. Morkite is a shimmering turquoise ore, you’ll know it when you see it. In addition, remember to collect any gold and nitra, the chunky red mineral, you come across. You’ll be paid for all gold collected, and if you value not running out of supplies you’ll stock up on nitra as well. Sending them isn’t cheap, and Deep Rock is not a charity. If you need further information then please refer to you team leader. Finally, don’t forget; leave no dwarf behind. Good luck Miners.’ And with that, the transmission stopped.
‘Oh, okay, uh, thanks,’ Ronan replied.
‘They can’t hear you,’ Mentioned Otren, cracking a flare and throwing it into the darkness. It clinked off the rock, illuminating a stretch of the cave in an eerie green glow.
‘Really? What if we have an emergency and need help?’
‘My advice is; try not to. We’re on our own until we’re back in the space rig.’
Before Ronan could query further, the drop pod doors slammed shut and it the engine started up once more, proceeding to retreat back up the hole it had made.
‘Wait, where’s it going?!’
‘Back to the rig. Told you, we’re on our own. They’ll send one down once we’re finished with the job. My, you really don’t what you got yourself into, huh,’
‘...So it would seem,’ Ronan muttered dejectedly. ‘Why don’t they just leave it here though? That sounds cheaper than returning it only to send it back again.’
Otren shrugged, ‘They don’t want ‘em getting chewed up by bugs. Besides, means there’s no way out ‘cept completing the job. A pretty good motivator for work as they go. Speaking of work, enough chit chat, we’ve got a task to do and I’d like to get back before dinner. Let’s start with a bit of light,’ he said expectantly. An uncertain Ronan looked to the other dwarves, who glared back at him.
‘That’s YOUR job leaflover!’ the one in red uniform yelled.
‘Uh, right, right, sorry,’ Ronan scoured the many doohickeys dangling off his belts for what he presumed they were requesting. He found his flares, light blue ones unlike Otren’s, cracked one and with a weedish toss threw it into a random dark part of the cave . He stood back, satisfied, only to notice he was being glared at with increased intensity.
‘Not those flares you idiot! We’ve all got those! Use your bloomin’, whatever-it-was, flare gun, the gun that shoots flares! Hopeless!’
‘Hey, I didn’t get all that much in the way of instruction, alright!’ He retorted, searching himself yet again for the correct utensil. Admittedly he probably could have paid more attention but he wasn’t about to mention that.
‘We had just as long as you and we’re managing fine!’
‘You haven’t done anything yet!’
‘Yeah, ‘cause you won’t get a bloody move on!’
‘Fine, here’s your damn light!’
Hoisting his newly located flare gun, he pointed it in the general direction of “up” and pulled the trigger. The sudden flash blinded him for a moment as a thin metal rod with a bright burning end launched upwards and embedded itself in the ceiling. Now, most of the cavern they resided in was illuminated by a glaring white glow. Despite this, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot to show thankfully. Ronan was half expecting the walls to be teething with all sorts of alien horrors, but the walls were barren of all but a few twinkling veins of ore.
‘Welp, there’s you work laid out for ya folks, get to it. Driller, you make a start those lower veins, and Engie, would you be so kind as to put up a few platforms for our leaf loving friend here? Once we’ve got this lot we’ll move deeper. Now chop chop!’ Otren barked.
As instructed, the engineer launched a yellow globule at the more out of reach ores. Contacting with the wall, the globule expanded and solidified to form a relatively sturdy looking platform.
Ronan watched with interest.
‘Huh. Neat.’
‘Yeah, it is. Now get up there, or do you need a few minutes of faffing about to figure out the right tool?’ The engie snarked.
‘Hey, I remember how to do this much, alright?’ Ronan said, reaching for his grappling hook.
‘Let’s see, the first trigger pull fires the hook, second reels it in, release is the button on the side. Seems easy enough,’ he mumbled to himself, trying to stir up some confidence he otherwise lacked. He aimed above the platform and fired the line out. He gave the line a few test tugs to ensure the anchor was implanted firmly in the stone. Finding it was, he then pulled the trigger again, expecting to slowly be reeled towards the hook.
Instead, he proceeded to be launched across the room at an impressive speed, slamming his midriff into the edge of the platform, leaving him winded and scrabbling to climb onto it with his free hand, all whilst making some rather sad whimpering noises. Impressively enough he’d managed to keep his grip on the grappling hook, despite it nearly pulling his arm out of it’s socket. It certainly felt like that in any case, and was no doubt going to be sore for a long while after.
With the motivation of not remembering quite how far off the ground he was, Ronan successfully hauled his aching body onto the platform and lay there panting.
Why was it that all his best efforts must end in suffering?

After only a short rest, he sat up, since the air of impatience from the others grew ever more tangible. He unhooked his pickaxe, wincing at the pain, and took an experimental swing at the bluish ore beside him. It cracked easily, and a small chunk fell out, which he promptly picked up and placed in his mineral bucket.
He’d done it! He’d mined his first mineral, and all it had required was a lot of pain and a decent portion of his sanity!
Still, it was progress of a sort, and as he hacked off more bits of morkite he found the whole process rather enjoyable. There was a certain catharsis to striking the rock with the pick, levering out the mineral and collecting the chunk. Slowly yet methodically, he worked his way along the small vein until he’d gotten all the bits he could see. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
Peering over the edge of the platform revealed the drop was a bit taller than he was, but not by much. Fancying his chances of getting down uninjured by dropping off the side then attempting to utilize the grapple hook, he cautiously lowered himself down until he was dangling by his arms, then let go to drop a meter or so down to the hard stone floor. He stood up fully, dusted himself off, and let out a relieved sigh. It was only now that he noticed the large four legged metal box nearby, headlight on the front and chutes on each side.
Must be the M.U.L.E. he’d heard mentioned. Otren was waiting by it, pouring an assortment of different chunks into it from his own bucket. Ronan wandered over to do the same.
‘Congrats on your first ore mined leaf lover! I see you’ve become familiar with the particular intricacies of the DRG issue Grappling gun ey?’
‘That’s certainly one way to put it. I don’t know if there’s a muscle in my arm it DIDN’T pull,’ Ronan grumbled, tipping his comparatively looking meager amount of ore into the MULE.
‘Heh, it’s always funny watching a new scout’s first time with it,’
‘Some warning would have been appreciated…’
‘Yeah but if you knew it was coming then it wouldna been as funny. Anyhow, yours is calibrated for, y’know, a dwarf, and somethin’ tells me you don’t weigh quite as much as much as your average Deep Rock employee. Give it here, maybe I can make the experience a tad less jarring.’
Ronan did so. Otren fiddled around with the device a bit before handing it back.
‘There ya go, shouldn’t reel in with quite as much velocity. As much fun as it is to watch you dragged around like a can behind a truck, having a functional team member is of slightly higher priority. But only slightly, so try not to piss me off.’
‘...I’ll certainly try.’
‘You got some novelty value to ya, so don’t worry too much,’
‘And when that wears off?’ Ronan said, a bleak expression to match his reply.
‘Who knows,’ Otren’s optimistic side hoped that the elf would stick around for at least a short while. He was a nice change of pace, and change didn’t happen all that oft on the rig. That, and for the elf’s own sake. Otren didn’t necessarily enjoy others misfortune, even if it was funny to witness, and the elf seemed to have primed himself for plenty.
‘Anyhow, there’s some more platforms up for ya, so get to it. Once you’ve gotten them ones we’ll be moving deeper, and if I were you I’d prepare for some new company, as it ain’t always gonna be this nice and quiet.’