Chapter 1:

A Day in the Mines

The Leigh Theory

I was under a devil’s contract.

Well, you can technically call it a devil’s contract because I sold my entire being in exchange for a roof on my head, food to fill my stomach, and a reason to live.

Not by choice though, just like all of the miners working here at the mining facility of the LX Mining Company.

Every single day, we woke up to the sound of an annoying alarm; a very loud siren that could make a human’s eardrums cry in agony if you get too close. Anyway, once you have woken up, you were expected to rush to the open-air cafeteria to get your first meal of the day and…

I was not looking forward to it.

I like eating beans in tomato sauce but imagine eating beans soaked in red, slimy, and bland sauce every morning, surrounded by piles of scraps and mining equipment, while the guards, in their intricate, black uniform with red diagonal stripes on both shoulders and a black laser gun strapped to their shoulder, keep on reminding you to hurry up. You would instantly lose appetite just by the thought of that. Unfortunately, everyone here had no other choice but to eat, just so we can start our day.

Two years ago, when I was fifteen years old, I was enjoying a quiet and peaceful life with my family. My parents Vanessa and Lorenzo Leigh were both scientists for Paradise, the most powerful city where the government of this dying planet resides. They were earning a decent amount of salary, which was sometimes more than enough to support me and my handicapped, older brother, Van, who was five years older than me. Despite the busy schedule of my parents and my brother's immobility, we were very contented with life and we cared for each other.

Unfortunately, life had other plans.

One day, while we were eating supper, people from Paradise attacked our house and killed our parents because they wanted something from them. It was probably related to their research on Arq Shards, the most valuable mineral on the planet and the only energy source available. This small, glowing, and translucent gem, which was mined from underground, could power a single house for a year, non-stop.

My parents told me to escape and that they’ll take care of my brother. As I ran away, I could only look from the distance as people from Paradise murdered my parents and to my surprise, abducted my older brother. It was my biggest regret because I shouldn’t have obeyed them and brought my brother with me as I escaped. We could’ve started over and moved on with life.

I became homeless and lived in the slums of a nearby city called Anned. One day, a mining company was recruiting people to work under them because apparently, Paradise would pay mining companies to gather Arq Shards, and the amount of pay would be based upon the number of shards collected.

I must say, recruiting people would be an overstatement because they didn't bother to make people sign up and process some paperwork; this mining company just grabbed homeless people living on the streets and dumped them at their only mining branch, which was far away from the city.

And I was one of their recruits.

Now here I am, working my ass off for the last two years so that the company would be paid. Oh and so that I can destroy my ears and eat inedible food daily.

“LX…97. Aright, you may enter.”

We lined up before entering the mines and showed the guards the identification card given to us on the day of the so-called recruitment.

My name was not ‘Oliver’ anymore, but LX-97. That’s right, we were just mining tools with code names so that this mining company can give shards to Paradise. That’s the entire premise of my current life.

As we entered the mines, we were given a hard cap with broken bits, boots that barely fit, and thick and baggy protective uniforms with insulating gloves. My uniform had a hole in the chest, but whatever; all we have to do is to grab one of the pickaxes, go deeper into the suffocating and dark mines, and hit rocks all day.

The Arq Shard ores that we found were dumped into their collecting bins. LX would be the one to process the ores so they can remove the shards embedded in the rocks. In the past two years, we’ve been able to gather at most thirty shards per week.

“Goddammit!” a miner, probably in his thirties, screamed just a few meters away from me.

The miner dropped the ore he was holding to shake his hand. He inspected the gloves, only to find out that there was a tear in the palm of his right insulating glove. He then removed his right glove and approached one of the stationed guards.

“Hey, give me a new right glove! I burned my hand because there’s a tear in this one!” he yelled to the guard as he showed his right palm and the defective gloves.

“Go and borrow from the other miners.” the guard said to the miner as he ignored his request.

In my early days, I thought that this type of issue might cause a commotion in the mines but as time passed by, I realized that this was a very common occurrence and nobody wanted to be involved with it.

The miner was about to throw hands with the guard but as soon as he took a step, the guard aimed his gun at him. The miner raised his hands and slowly backed up. He turned around and shook his head in disappointment.

The man was about to cry and I felt his anger pierce through my own heart. I knew that his frustration wasn't just about the gloves; it was more than a simple, burned palm.

I learned one thing during my life here, and that was this place was not a simple mining facility; this was more like a torture facility.

Normally, at noon, people would get busy preparing something to eat. The food that they usually make are those that range from a simple sandwich to those fancy, bite-sized meals that no one can properly pronounce their names. Imagine putting a letter on a word, only to disregard its phonetic sound as you pronounce the word itself.

For us miners, our lunch break consisted of fighting for the ownership of the only restroom, talking to each other about our nonexistent dreams and aspirations, or staring at the scenic view outside of the tall, barbed wire fences of the mining facility. When I say scenic view, I mean vast barren lands, occasional rock formations, dead trees, and numerous makeshift houses. Well, our houses inside the facility were also makeshift ones so I guess we look at the other houses outside to get some inspiration if we ever plan to remake ours. That is if you have the energy and time to do it.

“Man, I woke up so late! I was up all night rearranging my house and when I was done, I can already see the sunrise!”

This young man, who was as old as me, might be the one person I can call my friend. He’s a little bit annoying and talkative, but I don’t dislike his company. I might be a hypocrite because, even though I consider him a friend, I only know that he was LX-96. I would always filter my sentences whenever I talk to him because I try to avoid statements that would require mentioning his name.

“I dreamt that I was walking in that barren land but then, I saw an oasis! I saw trees with lots of fruits and in the middle of the oasis, there was a small lake! My dream self immediately jumped into the water and the next thing I knew, I fell from my bed and planted my face on the ground!” he narrated to me as he laughed while rubbing his nose.

“You sure do have a wild brain,” I said to him as I smiled and stared at the barren land.

“What can I say?” he said as he shrugged his shoulders and showed me how smug his face can be. “But anyway, I think I might have found something from that dream.”

I looked at him as he stared in the distance with a rather unusual face. I have never seen someone who’s working in this mine show a calm, relaxed, and hopeful face, ever.

“I found my purpose,” he smiled as he pointed at a dead tree. “If I get to leave the mines, I will plant a giant tree that can grow different kinds of fruits and eat those fruits forever.”

Yes. We have daydreaming sessions with a little bit of nature appreciation. We didn’t participate in the restroom wars since both of us planned to use the restroom once the war has finished. That’s the only time when you can go and answer the call of nature peacefully.

As he explained to me his farfetched dream, a sudden commotion happened with the miners. At first, we ignored it and thought that things just got out of hand with the restroom wars. We turned around, only to see the miner that burned his hand earlier running towards the tall fences. He climbed the fence but the guards were able to seize him.

A short and plump man, wearing polo and slacks, appeared from the balcony of the two-story building in the facility. His name was Larry Xavier, the current owner of the LX Mining Company, and coincidentally came to check on his workers. He came at the wrong time because one of his miners just tried to escape.

“All of you should be grateful to LX!” he yelled in his high-pitched voice. “We are giving you food, water, and shelter! All we want from you in return is your lifetime service!”

That was the devil’s contract that I was talking about. We gave up our hopes and dreams in exchange for working under them for the rest of our lives. The worst part was that we were forced to do so without being offered a choice. This might have been the worst trade deal in the history of trade deals.

Also, I thought this man was the most delusional person that I encountered. He must have thought that we were going to kneel and tickle his balls to show our gratitude. The miners popped Larry’s delusionary bubble as they screamed and shouted all of their distress with the way the company treats their workers.

“Some of us got sick from eating your rotten food and drinking unclean water!”

“You’ve been making us work more than a normal person can handle!”

“You treat us like we are not humans!”

I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t feel the things that they feel because if you look into my heart, those were the things that I also wanted to say at that moment. Working in this mining company will make you feel like crap and I don’t know if they will do something to, at least, change the way they handle their operation.

“Let me ask all of you: would you rather be on the streets, crawling for your lives? Or work in the mine so you will have a roof on your heads and food to fill your stomachs?” the owner said as he looked around while smiling idiotically.

“I’d rather die than be tortured like this for the rest of my life!”

The miner who attempted to escape suddenly shouted and forcibly thrashed around to escape the guards’ clutches. He immediately climbed the barbed wire fence, wounding himself in the process. He was about to reach the top but the guards fired their laser guns at the miner. Unfortunately for him, their lasers don’t work like punches but would rather make a hole in your body; in his chest to be specific. His lifeless body fell to the ground as the other miners stepped back in fear and disgust.

“Now, would you rather die like him? Or live for another day to mine for the rest of your lives?” the owner asked the miners again as he pointed at the lifeless body. “If you have no other problems, get back to work!”

Upon hearing Larry Xavier’s words, all of us walked towards the mine as if we were attending a funeral. Well, I guess we did attend a funeral just a few minutes ago.

“Yep, that giant tree will never grow,” my friend said as he passed by me while smiling sarcastically. We had no other problems or concerns. I had no other problems or plans to foolishly escape from this place.

After spending the rest of the day in the mines, the guards instructed us to go out as the mining operation for the day has come to an end. That means, it was already night time and we were going to eat another batch of sewer food.

On our way out, we returned the equipment and protective gear that we used and the guards checked each one of us to make sure that we weren't hiding any shards from the mines. We then headed to the open-air cafeteria once again. I have no idea what we will be eating this time. Hopefully, it’s not the same beans we had in the morning.

After halfheartedly swallowing the rotten food, I immediately returned to my own small, makeshift house. The room was so dark since I decided not to install windows and I guess I’ll be sleeping tonight with a little bit of the smell of welding fumes. I know it was toxic but I had to endure it because I was not like that foolish miner who mindlessly tried to escape. Nobody can escape this torture facility…

Not without a plan that involves a little bit of welding and electrical wirings.

Taylor Victoria