The pickaxe hit the wall, threw some sparks and broke off the recalcitrant chunk of rocks he was fighting with for several breems by now. In the weak light of the mine-shaft the broken surface of the rocks glowed with inner fire, a dim, bluish-green, unusual for this part of the mine, for this type of strata. D-16 knew rocks better than any of the others in his clade – they were all onlined with such knowledge, but he was still better at applying it than most. This type of crystal was not often found near energon-bearing layers, so its presence might mean that the tunnel they were working in was nearing exhaustion.
The miner threw the rocks into a separate cart from the ones intended for energon crystals and returned to the wall. Marking the place on the wall with a fluorescent glyph he moved on, seeking the telltale purple flickers of energon. He was behind his quota and much as the blue-green crystal would be interesting, he didn’t have time to call the supervisor and show it to him. Maybe at the end of his shift… which was why he marked the wall with one of the four glyphs he knew, the one for ‘unknown/significant’ before moving on in the tunnel.
Quite a few meters from it he found the discoloration on the wall he was looking for and started to work out the shape of the energon bubble with pickaxe and occasionally chisel or his bare servos. The less damaged, it would be worth more, so he was careful not to hit the volatile, purple crystals directly. Halfway through his work he looked up and gruffly nodded as D-15 joined the other side of the find when it grew too big for one miner to handle. Together they spent most of the shift to carefully work out the crystals from the wall and load them onto the carts marked with their IDs. Fulfilling the ornly quota was absolutely necessary these vorns.
When they started in the mine as young, beginner miners, it was not so, D-16 remembered suddenly as he straightened up from the loaded cart. Those orns, way back they had time to have some breaks in the heavy work, they had energy to chat, for the elder miners to teach the newbies, to discuss life and… D-16 stopped for a klik, frowning under his heavy helm. They didn’t have quotas to fill back then. Curious. He thought… he believed those to be there forever, but now that he thought of it… quotas were only imposed a few decavorns ago. At first as guidelines, but they quickly became compulsory and their meager salary was further reduced if they did not fulfill it.
Well, D-16 shrugged, he couldn’t do anything about it. He could produce his own ore quota every orn, even more than that, so it wasn’t a problem he had to worry about. Unless, of course the tunnel he was assigned to ran dry, which he was a bit afraid of right now. That bluish-green crystal was signalling bad tidings. D-16 waved to D-15, who slowly made his way towards the exit and the main shaft and he turned back towards the end of the tunnel. Unlatching his crude, heavy helm’s catches, he carefully lifted it off, hissing as a dent scraped over the underlying panels.
The sensory panels unfurled and D-16 felt dizziness for a klik as the onslaught of sensory data swamped his processor. He was only able to process it at all if he dedicated all his processor-power to it, which was why he kept the heavy helm on all the time, shielding, suppressing the sensors. But to get a picture of the tunnel and its surroundings he would need more data than that. It was what supervisors were supposed to do and more often than they actually deemed necessary – but D-16 was too curious about things that he should be, according to his companions. And he was a foremech, so a quick look around wouldn’t be too pretentious, right?
As the echoes, spectrographs and various scanning rays dumped data into his processor, D-16 tried to keep up and make sense of them. He did not of course had a full mapping software to interpret all the data fully and create a detailed map of the tunnel and its environs, but experience helped him to at least get a rough picture of the surrounding strata. It wasn’t promising. Far too little useful energon crystals nearby, barely anything else worth mining for, and a few spots that screamed outright danger to him. Not a good prospect for his next few shifts if he was still assigned here. Maybe he should mention the green crystal to the supervisor when they left the mine.
But it wasn’t to be his problem. He gained bigger ones.
The harsh sound of the shout snapped around the miners emerging from the mineshaft, their dirty, blank faces turning automatically towards the supervisor before moving on as the actual content registered. It was never a good thing to be singled out and every dust-coated miner was glad that the ID shouted out was not his. All, but one. D-16 heard the echo of the shout before his group emerged from underground so he had a few kliks to compose himself. D-15 heard it too and the two miners exchanged a brief glance, the barest of optic contact, one narrowed, one relieved, before making the last steps that carried them outside.
For the D mechs it was an orn off and it would have been for D-16 as well – an orn of rest, reenergize and maybe find a willing partner to satisfy urges that their ilk shouldn’t even have according to the higher castes. Though they were young in vorns, the miners were all constructed cold as adults, ready to work from the breem of activation – and they were glad to have a function, a place to work and enough energon to survive, however miserable their existence sometimes appeared. It still beat being an guttermech in the slums or a disposable lying broken and discarded on the streets.
The shout was distinctly louder and harsher now, the supervisor getting impatient, though he should know exactly when their group was emerging from the depths of the mine. D-16 knew that he had to answer the call before the scanner at the exit revealed him anyhow. There was no reason to hide and no possibility of it either. He took the last step that carried him through the mine exit, dropped his pickaxe into the receptacle, veered away from the long, bleak line of the other miners moving slowly forward, towards their barracks and lifted one tired arm. Bowing his helm low in deference to the higher caste mech he answered, rarely used vocalizer producing staticky noises with his words.
“Finally! Follow me at once!”
D-16 trudged after the smaller form of the supervisor, noting uncomfortably the two guards that joined them, even bigger frames than the miners, shadowing him with the silent threat of their stance and weapons. To his best knowledge, he did nothing to warrant attention from the higher ups, but one could never know and a small tinge of worry curled in his echoingly empty tank. But he didn’t try to ask anything. He wouldn’t get an answer anyway and a question would be taken as overstepping his place.
The supervisor pointed to a side door in the main building of the mine that housed offices and fuelling stations – for the officials and clerks, not to the miners, who had their halls elsewhere, so D-16 hadn’t been here since he was registered as a miner the first time. The door slid away to reveal a… a washrack and he stopped in surprise.
“Make sure he’s clean!”
The guards grumbled about not being anymech’s bath attendants, but pushed the surprised miner inwards and set about washing the accumulated mine-dirt from his frame with hoses first, harsh brushes second and plenty of solvent to top it off. D-16 spluttered and flailed under the sudden assault of cold solvent – he had never in his life been in an actual washrack before, as it was considered an unnecessary luxury for miners who got dirty again every orn. The guards laughed at his spluttering and D-16 fought down a sudden rush of anger before it could break out and he was deactivated. It was demeaning and borderline cruel and the guards obviously enjoyed it. This, he understood well – the mine guards had little in way of entertainment but that definitely included tormenting the miners who wouldn’t - couldn’t fight back.
They took their time with the enforced washing as well, but it ended eventually and with a last laugh they mechhandled the shuddering D-16 out, into the corridor and into another room, where the supervisor waited along with a few other mechs. D-16 felt almost naked without the dust and dirt caking to his frame, his hazard stripes showing up after so long hidden under the grime, his joints creaking and barely dried solvent making him shudder with a cold, wet feeling. It was even worse than the time a natural solvent spring had broken into the tunnel they were working in and flooded them all up to their waist. That one was at least warm-ish, like everything deep underground. This… but then he drew a sharp invent and forgot the cold immediately as he was pushed into a smaller room and saw what awaited him there.
One glance around and the guards snapped to attention, pushing him down to kneel on the ground and saluting stiffly to the smallest mech in there. They didn’t need to use force, D-16 knew his place and though he had never met a noble from up close, the obeisance and obedience to higher castes was beaten into them all. He knelt, helm held low and servos crossed in front of his frame – the textbook image of obedience. Inwardly, his worry curled towards actual fear.
“Sir! Sorry Sirs, we…”
A smoother but haughty and high voice snapped at the suddenly fearful guards and D-16 glanced covertly up from the ground where he was pushed down to, his gaze hidden by the heavy helm that protected his optics. The mech was obviously a noble, far higher than anymech in the room – or in the whole mine-operations. D-16 wasn’t sure that such a high-ranking noble had never visited the place before or not, but his presence sort of explained the enforced washing he was put through - though he still had no idea what they wanted from him. He felt a deep scan’s tingle run through his newly cleaned, strange-feeling frame and read his encoded ID.
“It’s the one… “ the contempt was thick in the cultured voice “No doubt.”
“My Lord, not that I doubt you, but… has he committed anything? D-16 is a good worker, a foremech in the D series and never did anything suspicious…”
The supervisor’s tone wasn’t worried for the miner he was about to loose – they had plenty of surplus mechs in the miner caste anyway who would gladly take his place and earn their survival in energon - but it would reflect badly on him if a dissenter or rebellious mech was found in his operation.
“Not your concern supervisor” – the cold voice snapped impatiently – “I’ll take it away and that’s all you need to know. Write it off from the miners’ list and forget it existed.”
D-16’s throat tubing constricted at hearing that and his optics widened in fear. What was the noble going to do with him? Why was he taken from the mine? Where to? He had absolutely no idea what an actual, high-ranking noble would want with a miner but he had enough sense not to try and ask him. He glanced up again as he was pulled up again and made to follow the mech. The noble had dark, shimmering blue plating, of a quality D-16 never even dreamed of existing. It was waxed, polished to a high sheen and not even the mine’s everpresent dust seemed to be able to settle on it. He was smaller than every other mech present, but his size didn’t phase him in the very least. He was the highest ranking mech present and he knew it – and the others, even the mine manager acknowledged it without question.
As he turned, D-16 caught the disdaining flash of blue optics… and shuddered again. They were like ice, cold and cruel with determination and shrewd thinking in their narrow slit under the soaring, complex helm adorned with trinkets. A deep, deep dread settled in his tank, a dark foreboding he couldn’t shake. But what else could he do but follow the noblemech and obey his orders, whatever they might be? D-16 trudged after the mech and his guards, silently shaking inside, but silent and obedient as he was taught. He was nomech, a mere cold-constructed miner, just one caste up from disposables. He shouldn’t think of fate and possibilities. It was going to be told to him.