Tortured winds ripped through the mining camp clinging to the inhospitable cliffs and crags of Saltulle. The hurricane force winds drove the blinding rain in horizontal sheets, stinging exposed skin. At times, the rain turned to sleet capable of sheering flesh from bone. When it wasn't raining, the wicked dessert heat baked a man dry in hours. Scorching sun, torrential rain and gales were everyday fare on Saltulle.
Synonymous with Purgatory in miners' vocabulary, Saltulle excelled in two things: providing the Mining Guild with ores and gems unavailable almost anywhere else and turning out the most experienced miners in the galaxy.
Edmund DuLac and his wife, Mary, had lived for nearly eighteen years. All three of their daughters were born on Saltulle. Matilda was fifteen, Brigette twelve and Amie eight.
Ed went through his morning routine automatically, fixing coffee and waking the girls. Mary hated rising early, but Ed's day began at 0500 each day. He usually had to drag Matilda up too, but the other girls were early risers like their father. Ed made breakfast while Brigette made lunches for three girls and one miner, who could eat as much as all of them combined.
Today was special though. The atmosphere of the small, sturdy house was charged with anticipation. Even Mary and Matilda were up for it was Matilda's first day of work. Ed had pulled a few strings and gotten her hired as a log runner. Her training was over, now she was a full fledged Miner One, lowest rank in the Galactic Mining Guild.
Log running was a relatively safe job for a teenager, for it merely involved going from one base camp to the next and logging their hourly dig rate. This job was done by comunit most places, but Saltulle's environment made communication virtually impossible. Special underground lines were in place for extreme emergencies such as a collapsed face or beast attack, but nothing short of life threatening condoned their use.
Matilda felt awkward in her stiff, new uniform. The khaki colored, ill fitting jump suit; heavy, steel tipped boots, safety goggles, hard hat and gloves were common to all miners.
Ed gazed at his tall, athletic daughter and grinned approvingly. Her sisters giggled at her and her mother smiled her support. Matilda tried to smile, but her nervousness prevented it.
"My baby girl, a miner like her old man. I can't tell you how proud I am, Tilda." Her father clapped her on the shoulder as he would have a son. "Following in her daddy's footsteps."
Breakfast was cleared away and the two younger girls left for school, still giggling. Matilda took her lunch in its insulated thermal box and followed her father to work. She had to check in with the supervisor before starting her day.
The mining supervisor was a man who had known Matilda her entire life. His name was Ivan MacHale, but the girls always called him Uncle Mac. Her father warned her repeatedly to call him Supervisor MacHale and not to slip if she knew what was good for her.
Knees shaking, hat and goggles in her hand, she was given her first assignment. Her lunch and portable computer logs packed securely in a heavy floater cycle, she followed a flashing yellow arrow on her console to Mine Base One, about twenty clix away.
The floater cycle handled like a lumbering elephant. However, it remained stable in all but the most severe weather. Each cycle was equipped with state of the art weather gear so she should have plenty of advance warning before a storm hit.
She was about two clix from Mine Base One when her spine tingled unpleasantly. The hair on her neck rose and her nerves jangled, making her very alert. Curious, she checked her weather report, but saw nothing unusual. It was a calm, clear day on Saltulle. Absently, she noted her relative position on her map and continued to Mine Base One.
It took about thirty minutes to complete her survey and log the numbers. The base was below quota by about twenty percent. Part of her duty was to interview the superintendent and mine leader to determine cause.
"To be honest, Log Runner DuLac, the site is damn near played out." The superintendent, a man named Murdock Pickford, handed her a hand held scanner, showing the most recent scans of the mining site.
Part of Matilda's training over the last six weeks had been familiarizing her with site scans. Even to her meagerly trained eye, something was out of place.
"What's this?" She pointed to an erratic peak in the scan. It was dark purple, jagged and taller than all the rest. Murdock leaned over her shoulder, looking at the scan.
"I don't know, never saw anything like it before."
"Mind if I have a copy of this? Might help out at main base so you don't get hammered on the low productivity."
Superintendent Pickford smiled and copied the files to her log. It wasn't her job to condemn or judge his people. All she did was record the information and take it back for some bureaucrat to peruse, categorize and file. The twenty percent drop could hurt. Miners had lost their ranks for less. Since he didn't particularly want to be busted down to Miner One, he was grateful to Matilda for taking the initiative to add his file to her log, as he was not in a position to ask her.
She left soon after and headed for the next mine base. Her path took her past the same spot where she had her odd feeling, but it didn't return.
© Dellani Oakes