Original manuscript written in October of 1992 for Virginia Kidd. Published in Realms of Fantasy, April 1999
resurrected from 3.5" floppy disk, February 2004
Time goes by.
The word lives on, eternal.
"Strong dreams reign here*."
The gaffer tripped. He fell into Jordan's blade and was cut in half along with the ore pile. Perhaps it was confusion. The boy may have had his hearing. Confusion in the mine was common among the young men who could hear the crash of shovels against rock, the impact of turbo-pressured water against stone, and the roar of the loader engines. Jordan felt the slight hesitation as his machine sliced through the soft human body on its way to the heavy pile of ore. A less experienced man may never have noticed the barely perceptible difference between the hydraulic shovel's passage through air and its passage through human flesh and bone.
Jordan typed a command on his console. He marked the ore load "dirty." The ore would have to be washed clean of blood and bone before it reached the refinery. He ordered another gaffer.
He received an acknowledgment for the ore load but the tone sounded before his gaffer order was processed. He made a mental note to re-order a gaffer in the morning. At least the dirty load wouldn't be charged against him.
The lights in his cab went dark. His control sticks grew sluggish then immobile in his hands as the hydraulics of the huge mining machine wound down. Steel bolts retracted with a jolt and the unlocked cab door swung open a crack. He could smell the air fill his cab. The atmosphere in the mine was damp and full of dust. The filters in the loader kept the air clean for him to breathe. But every time the cab door opened at the end of the day he could smell the sweat of the men amid the rock dust and steam. It reminded him of his boyhood.
Jordan unlatched the control connector and pulled it from his neck. He switched his connector from "cable" to "radio" control. Then he stepped from the cab into the dimly lit mine. He got in line with the other men and moved down the tunnel toward the elevators to the dormitories. The last load of ore lay still in his shovel. He saw the gaffer's hand poking out of it as he passed the front of his machine.
As they walked they passed through larger and larger tunnels until they arrived in the main gallery where hundreds of miners stood in single-file lines waiting to board the elevators to the dormitories.
He joined the sea of white helmets and blue overalls and kept his eye on the number "6" lit above the elevator door to his home. Jordan felt a tingling on his neck as his audio monitor sprang to life. His ears had been damaged long before by the continuous din of the mines. Time as a gaffer and waterhammer had left him deaf. He heard the control voice from within his brain. The signal came through the contact on his neck and was relayed to the probes that had been embedded in his brain when he was sent to the mines.
"Loader J-for-Jordan group A, 600 tons on a team three. One neutralized load credited at half rate," said the voice. The tingling stopped. Control had deducted for the dirty load but they hadn't yet processed the gaffer request. He would have to take the deduction for that on tomorrow's work. He wondered if he had enough credit for a few hours in the sunroom.
A man in line for elevator two fell to his knees as the other men stepped away from him. They created a zone of emptiness between him and the community. Jordan felt the tingling again in his neck.
"Step away from Loader S-for-Solomon group K," said the control voice. Jordan took a small step away from the man who solemnly raised his hand.
A man in white overalls and a blue helmet approached Solomon. Jordan felt the tingling in his neck and heard the controller say, "Loader Solomon--violation of quota as required by ordinance 62.1.3."
Jordan didn't bother to watch. It happened at the end of every work period. There was something about termination that made him feel unwell. He imagined the maintenance man pressing the particle gun to Solomon's temple. There would be no struggle as Solomon dropped dead to the floor. The tingling in Jordan's neck stopped. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the maintenance vehicle pick up the body for disposal.
The doors to elevator six slid open and thirty-one men stepped into the car. When they were in, the doors slid shut. Jordan walked two steps forward and stopped. He felt someone press two fingers into the small of his back. The sensation was brief but unmistakable.
He kept his eyes fixed ahead. He recognized the sign, the silent language of the deaf, the language of men. It was the sign for, "I understand."
Jordan let his arms hang at his side. He made a fist with his left hand and held out two fingers in acknowledgment. He wondered what understanding Waterhammer had come to.
Jordan walked along the catwalk until he came to Thomas's sleeping chamber. Without looking, he forced himself into the upright sarcophagus. Thomas was already inside the chamber barely big enough for one. Thomas exhaled. The door swung shut and compressed Jordan's naked body against the other man's.
In total darkness the two men stood compressed chest-to-chest. Jordan could feel Thomas's ribs smashing painfully against his. He could feel the vibration of his heartbeat. The two men interlaced their legs and their arms. They stood compressed cheek-to-cheek as the sarcophagus sealed the last inch shut. Thomas strained his neck to touch Jordan's. Jordan could feel Thomas's breath against his face. With all the strength he could muster, Jordan pushed his head past Thomas's. The optical control connectors on their necks touched.
The compartment rotated to the horizontal as the door bolts slammed into place locking them in. Carefully, they synchronized their breathing. Jordan exhaled while the other man inhaled.
"Your body is getting large, Loader Jordan." Thomas's voice appeared in his head as the voice of control had for years. "I killed Timer Matthew simply by growing to much for my lessons. I'm afraid you will do the same to me."
"If you can finish the lessons soon you won't have to worry about that. You'll live happily to full termination age."
Thomas exhaled as Jordan took a breath.
"Don't breathe so heavily. The monitor will register abnormally high oxygen consumption and control will think I'm sick."
"Yes," said Jordan. He tried to calm himself. He was eager to get to the lesson.
Thomas said, "Let's begin then." The words floated in Jordan's mind. "In the beginning was the word, and from the word came the change."
Jordan repeated what Thomas said. He visualized the words and imagined them appearing in Thomas's mind much as Thomas's words appeared voiceless inside his own head.
"Have you found someone to pass the word?" asked Thomas.
"Yes," Jordan replied.
"That's good. Very good. Does he have the caring?"
"I think so," said Jordan.
"And how could you tell?"
Jordan hesitated. "He's from farm 52 Iowa. He's first one I've ever met."
"Good," said Thomas. "They are very smart in 52 Iowa. I wish I had been bred there. Did I tell you I was from 7 Illinois? That's very close to Iowa."
"Yes, you have," said Jordan. He continued, "The 52 Iowa is my waterhammer. I terminated a gaffer two months ago. The waterhammer used his equipment to try to extract the gaffer from the load. He couldn't succeed, and he did not. I asked him why he tried. He said he felt very comfortable with that gaffer. He never feared for the safe function of his machine or an error with the gaffer around. He said he was concerned the new gaffer wouldn't supply him so much comfort."
"If he has caring," said Thomas, "the word will be safe. Otherwise, we will wait many times the length of our lives for this chance to come again. Such is the way. Love will save all men."
"I still don't understand love, Driver Thomas."
"None of us do. Not one of us ever has."
"How do we know it exists?"
Driver Thomas took a deep breath forcing Jordan to exhale, then wince against the pain of Thomas' ribs crushing against his.
Thomas said, "We have only the word of Timer Andrew who visited the surface for a short time and brought the word into the world."
"Maybe Timer Andrew was defective. Maybe he misunderstood what he saw on the surface."
"Timer Matthew told me that Andrew was very smart. He said that Andrew was able to refine the ore to purity at volumes never achieved before. He is the only man who has been allowed to live beyond his termination date."
"Did he know love?"
Thomas said, "Timer Matthew never completely understood. Like most of us, he believed the word held simple commands but he couldn't understand them. He read the word many times but there were so many unknown words. All he could do was to give the word to me and pass the knowledge of Timer Andrew."
"Love will save all men," Jordan said the command without feeling. "What good is it? What good is it if we don't know what it means? We have our lives. We work and are terminated. What else is there? Why do we need to be saved? What does it mean to be saved?"
"Timer Andrew saw many things on the surface. He saw many men with functions he didn't understand. He wondered if the purpose of men was wrong. Perhaps the purpose should be changed. This is what he meant when he said we should be saved."
Jordan swallowed and waited for his time to breathe. "Driver Thomas," he said. "How can the purpose of men be wrong? Men live to mine the ore. We work well and are promoted to new functions. Each function is more challenging and exciting than the one before. When we do very well we have the sunroom. We have our lives and our rewards. Why isn't that enough?"
Thomas lay silently, catching his breath, timing his breathing with Jordan's. Thomas said, "I don't know, Loader Jordan. To me, there seems perfection in our system. I remember my training at 7 Illinois breeding farm. I was excited to come down to the world to become a gaffer. When I was a young gaffer, I dreamed of operating the hammer. From the hammer to the loader, from the loader to the transport train. Now as a transport driver I want nothing more than to attain the timer position. How I want to schedule the ore arrival at the plant, to plan the flow through the refinery. Many times I've thought to myself, 'All I desire is to perform the timer function for one work period before I'm terminated.' I have only 400 work periods left."
"The job of a driver is not dangerous. You are not expected to die--not like the poor gaffers. Surely you'll last to be promoted before long."
"But the word," said Thomas. "The word of Timer Andrew that he brought into the world make me feel ill. I feel strange in my thinking, as if I'm diseased. I believe the word of Timer Andrew is right. I feel my belief in him as I feel my desire to become a timer. I know I must follow his instructions but I can't understand them."
Jordan could feel the need for air press against his abdomen. He tried to take a deep breath but succeeded only in hurting Thomas. He could feel the muscles in Thomas's neck tighten as he strained to breathe.
"Another millimeter in the chest, Loader Thomas, and I'll suffocate for sure. I'm not as strong as you are."
"I will try to breathe calmly," said Jordan.
"Here is the lesson for today," Thomas said. "This is something Timer Matthew told me when I was a loader. Timer Andrew said that on the surface men are not bred on farms. Men are bred from each other. Their love creates men."
Jordan breathed deeply again and Thomas strained to hold air in his lungs as Jordan compressed him hard.
"Loader Jordan, please!" Thomas said in pain.
"Those words make no sense at all."
Thomas waited for the pain to subside before he spoke again. "Timer Andrew said that all men on the surface were different from the men in the world. Each man's body has a different shape. Their skin is not smooth like ours. They have something like clothing growing from their bodies as we grow arms and legs. It's like the strands from torn work clothes. He said that some had an additional limb with which they could produce love. Other's had no additional limb but had a body shape different from both the men with the limb and the men like us in the world. When these two types of surface men touched, they could produce love. This love produces other surface men."
Loader Jordan lay still imagining the grotesque shapes assumed by the surface men.
"I don't expect you to understand it, Jordan. Timer Andrew said we need only keep the word alive and the day will come when a man will understand. He will teach the others."
Suddenly, Jordan's memory brightened. He felt the poke in his back. "My waterhammer...," he started, but there was a strong vibration as the sleeping chamber rotated vertical and bolts on the cover to the coffin slammed open. The sleep period had ended.
"The word lives in me," Thomas said quickly.
"The word lives in me," Jordan repeated. The coffin door swung open and Jordan dashed into the flow of men as they moved down the catwalk to the dressing area. Jordan joined them in dim yellow light. No one noticed when Driver Thomas emerged from the same sleep chamber only seconds later.
The waterhammer found a rich vein of ore and Jordan was happy. He was sure to double his tonnage for the day. His time in the sunroom would be increased tenfold. There would be no reward for the waterhammer or young gaffer. They could only hope to be promoted to loader someday. Then they would receive a name and the privilege of reward for tonnage logged.
There was a new gaffer that day. He had come from farm 52 Iowa and he treated his job with the enthusiasm and ignorance typical of the young boys. They threw their tiny bodies into the paths of the great machines. They pulled impurities from the ore and performed perfunctory maintenance on the machines that bored into the rock. They followed the waterhammer deeper and deeper into the ore veins carrying their tool, a heavy crowbar. They kept the hoses and cables that fed the machines out of the way of the loaders and other waterhammers.
Jordan's waterhammer had just been promoted from gaffer. He was young enough in his job to be excited about his first position operating the heavy machinery. Then he trained his blade of high pressure water on the rock and cut out the ore like a surgeon removing a tumor. Waterhammer had vision. It was as if he would see the ore behind the layers of worthless rock.
Waterhammer's hoses snagged on the growing pile of hewn rock and the helmeted gaffer ran out in front of the loader to unsnag them. Jordan stopped his machine just inches from the child.
"Gaffer, watch where you're going," Jordan said into his communicator. The child stood and pressed his hand to his neck. He squinted. The pain in his ears would be intense for several weeks. It would take months before his hearing would decay to a level that would allow him to work comfortably in the mine. Soon he would be completely deaf and rely entirely on his implant for aural input. The crashing of the machinery pounded his young ears and made it difficult for him to understand the voice that came directly from within his brain.
"Gaffer, clear the waterhammer and get out of the way of the loader," Jordan ordered. Finally understanding, the boy pulled the hoses free and ran to a safety along the edge of the freshly hewn tunnel.
In his plastic armor, Waterhammer walked forward several steps and trained the liquid blade on the ore vein in the wall in front of him. From safe within the loader's cab, Jordan could see rocks, steam, and pebbles burst out from in front of the man. Jordan scooped up several shovel loads and placed them into the waiting train carrier. He calculated the tonnage in his mind.
He planned his time in the sunroom. First, he would lie naked on his back on the table and absorb the warmth on his face. Then he would roll to his stomach and feel his back muscles loosen.
A flash of light brought him back to his senses. The gaffer burst out in front of the loader. The child's body flashed bright in the loader's headlights like a strobe as the kid ran past. Jordan jammed on the brakes.
"I may not be able to avoid terminating you if you continue this behavior," Jordan said into the communicator. He gunned the loader's engine and released the air brake. As the tires began to roll the kid ran in front of the loader's shovel blade and stopped. He stood staring at Jordan. His eyes bored into Jordan's mind.
Jordan pressed his foot onto the brake pedal and slowed the machine. The shovel inched toward the child.
"Get out of the way, gaffer. I need to collect the load." Jordan calculated the mass of the ore already freed by waterhammer. He would need every moment of the work period to get all that rock into the delivery train. His foot lightened on the brake. The kid stood his ground.
Jordan stared into the kid's eyes from the cab. He released the brake and the huge machine lurched forward. The young gaffer didn't move. Instead, he held his hands forward toward Jordan. He held his hands palms up and cupped them as if he was holding something invisible.
The loader jolted to a halt. At first, Jordan couldn't figure why. He checked the engine statistics automatically expecting to see a mechanical failure. There was none. It was only when he looked back toward the gaffer that he felt the tension in his leg. His foot shook as he pressed down on the brake pedal.
A feeling he had never felt before rippled down his spine. Why had he stopped? The load was dry and waiting. Raw tonnage for the taking. Time in the sunroom.
The kid turned slowly and knelt. As the gaffer sank below the shovel, Jordan put the machine in reverse and pulled backward until he could see him again.
He stood on the brake pulling himself up out of his seat and aimed the loader's headlights on the gaffer.
The boy knelt aside the waterhammer who had gotten tangled in his hoses. He lay amid the rock, his equipment damaged, a thin stream of blood running onto the mine floor beside him.
Jordan typed a command into his console.
DAMAGE TO THE WATERHAMMER. PLEASE REPAIR.
He waited a few seconds for the request to transmit.
The response came: REPLACE OR REPAIR?
Jordan thought. He could have a replacement in under seven minutes. He could drive over the gaffer and the waterhammer and collect the load and no one would question his decision to terminate the men. He'd tell control to wash the ore. They'd deduct half the tonnage and replace the crew.
It could take hours to repair the waterhammer. Jordan's legs shook as he held his leg tense on the brake pedal. He felt himself needing air but he didn't know why.
He typed the word: REPAIR.
The word "ACKNOWLEDGED" appeared on the console.
Jordan secured the loader in place. The gaffer turned and looked at him. Jordan held his hand up to the cab window for the gaffer to see. The sign. Two fingers. Then he waited for the work period to end.
The men queued up in a single file row and removed their coveralls and hard hats. They stood naked and hairless, shivering in the mine's damp cool air. One by one they got onto the conveyer belt that pulled them through the washing and feeding facility.
As Jordan stood waiting for an empty place on the belt he felt the poke in his back again.
Jordan held two fingers down at his side. As he raised his leg to mount the belt he looked quickly toward Waterhammer. He held up two fingers in "V," then rotated his hand to the horizontal--the sign for sleep. Then he lay on his back on the belt and felt straps seal over him. Warm water coated his body. Brushes scoured his skin. He could feel his abdomen shrink as a robot arm attached a tube to a connection at his waist and removed the liquid and solid wastes from his gut.
He heard the control voice say, "stop breathing," as the belt pulled him into the cleaning solution. His heart rate quickened. He thought he felt the belt stop as it had when he was a young gaffer. Ten men were killed when the belt broke and left them strapped beneath the surface of the cleaning solution. He had just been immersed. He strained against the straps and dislocated his shoulders. He survived by withstanding the pain and forcing his head out of the solution to the air. One wash period in thousands. The memory stayed with him. He imagined it would be with him forever.
His desire for air increased with his fear until he felt he would be forced to inhale the solution. But his body broke water into the air and he took his first breath with a gasp.
A robot arm connected a tube to the feeding connector mounted in his side. He felt his stomach fill with the warm nutrient. Then the tube was disconnected and he was moved into a large gallery filled with men. Naked, he walked up the metal stairs and across the steel catwalk to his sleeping chamber.
He felt the tingling in his neck as the control voice said, "Enter the chamber." He remained standing. "Enter the chamber," the voice said again.
He could feel the vibration in the catwalk as someone walked close behind him.
He turned and saw the waterhammer. Jordan turned quickly and put his arms around him, hugged the muscular man tightly against his body, and pulled him into the upright sleeping chamber.
Waterhammer resisted for a moment. Then he realized what Jordan was trying to do and he yielded. He winced as the door slammed closed and compressed his head and body against Jordan's.
Jordan moved his head to the side, and Waterhammer's cheek fell against his. They interlaced their legs and arms. Jordan turned his head. He pressed the control connector on the side of his neck toward Waterhammer's but he couldn't make contact.
Waterhammer was nervous. He pulled in air and wouldn't exhale. Jordan was only able to take quick shallow breaths.
"Breathe out," Jordan said with his mouth, hoping Waterhammer was young enough to have some of his hearing. "Exhale or I'll die."
Waterhammer exhaled and quickly pulled in air. During the brief moment in which there was enough room for his chest to expand, Jordan inhaled. Then he exhaled again.
Jordan felt Waterhammer's heartbeat slow. As the young man began to breathe calmly, Jordan took in air. He concentrated on the timing of Waterhammer's breathing, letting the young man breathe freely while he paced himself. Waterhammer shifted his head slightly in the coffin, and Jordan was able to press his neck against the young man's and make connection.
"This is how we pass the word," said Jordan, forming the words in his mind. "It was time for you to learn."
"Loader Jordan. Thank you for not terminating me." The young man spoke through his connector.
Jordan ignored him. He said, "You said you understand the instructions."
"Yes, oh yes I do," said Waterhammer. "When I first read the manual, it didn't make any sense. I read the commands over and over. Soon, I understood what they meant."
"What do you think they are?" Jordan asked.
"They are instructions for operating our lives. Maybe they were written a long time ago. It refers to positions and machinery I don't understand. Are we supposed to follow those instructions, Loader Jordan? This seems like an unauthorized manual. I think I will be section sixty-two'ed if control finds out I've learned these commands."
"That manual is a book, Waterhammer. It's a manual from the surface. It was written by surface men for surface machinery and positions. Many work periods ago Timer Andrew visited the surface and brought the book down to us. Many men have read it but none of us understand it. The work it describes is hard for us to imagine."
"This is a surface manual?" asked Waterhammer. "I remember the surface. I was on the surface when I was at the breeding farm. It was a horrible place. Strange machines. No work. Why would we want to keep words from the surface here in the world?"
Jordan said, "You know the words of men, don't you?"
"Yes, of course. We all know them. I learned them at the breeding farm."
"No," Jordan said. "Not the words of instruction. Not the reading for manuals and commands, the words of men." Jordan groped with his right hand and found Waterhammer's hand next to his. He put his hand under Waterhammer's and made a fist. He extended three fingers in the sign for "be still." Then he made the sign for "run," a single extended finger.
"You know these," Jordan said. "I know you do."
"Yes," said Waterhammer. "I learned those at the farm too."
Jordan said, "These are the words of men. Control does not understand these words. The words in the book and the words I give you now are also the words of men. Timer Andrew told us."
"Perhaps Timer Andrew was defective."
"Many men thought that. But his word requires my agreement. The word requires agreement from many of us. Today I ordered your repair because the gaffer would not yield to the loader. Gaffer's action required my agreement."
"He expected you would drive through us," said Waterhammer.
"If he did, why did he put his body in front of me?" Jordan asked.
Waterhammer was silent. He let two breaths pass between them. Then he said, "I know that gaffer from the breeding farm. He always kept his body close to mine. When we learned he sat in proximity. When we were washed and fed he stood behind me in the queue. He was always close to me in the elevators. Now he is assigned to you as I am and he remains close to me. I think he follows one of the commands in the book."
"Have you shown him the book?"
"No," said Waterhammer.
"Why do you think he follows the commands in the book if he has never seen the instructions?"
"I think the instructions are in him. I think he has been programmed."
Jordan said, "Timer Andrew said some instructions were in all of us. Not just the instructions for work, to gaff, to hammer, to load, to drive and to time--but further instruction. Information we know but do not act on. He said one instruction above all would help the men. It's the instruction, 'to love.'"
"I have read that instruction many times in the book, Loader Jordan. Still, I don't completely understand it but I feel the instruction in my body."
"I do too," said Jordan. "And that is why I have chosen you to carry the word of Timer Andrew in secret. You have shown caring."
"It is a word of Timer Andrew. You have done your work with energy that comes from your feeling. You smile when the work is going well. I know you can feel your actions. You feel them as I do."
"Yes, I do feel my work," said Waterhammer.
"Each of us learns the word of Timer Andrew and does his best to understand it. Before you are terminated you will choose another man and give him the word. I will teach you how to find someone. In the meantime, you must know that it is not for you to understand Andrew. You need only pass the words to another. Timer Andrew said it was important that the word remains alive in men. The salvation of the men depends on the word. When all men know the word, men will be saved."
"Saved? Why do we need to be saved?" Waterhammer asked.
"I don't know," said Jordan. "Perhaps, in time, one of us will know. For now, you must keep the word to yourself. Control will terminate you for having heard it. They will terminate you for simply mentioning the name 'Andrew.' Loaders are no longer given that name so you may never mention it. If they find you, they will terminate all of us."
"I will keep the word," said Waterhammer.
"And when you are promoted to loader and are given your name, you will be given the power to terminate men. And then you will pass the word to another whom you can watch. And if you feel he will slip, if you feel he will make a mistake and utter the word of Andrew to any other you will terminate him before he takes a step forward. These instructions will not be repeated."
"I understand, Loader Jordan."
"Very good. Now, let's begin..."
Jordan removed his clothing and stood before the massive doors. The bolts on the doors slid open. Jordan could feel the vibration in his feet as the giant door swung wide. There was a vibration in his neck as the controller spoke.
"Loader J-for-Jordan group A, twenty-percent reward period beginning immediately."
Had he retrieved the entire load drilled by Waterhammer he could have expected a ten-fold period for exceeding his quota by a wide margin. He had simply let the loader idle while the maintenance crew collected Waterhammer and took him for repair. When the work period had ended he found himself only slightly over his quota. Performance worthy of only the smallest period allotted. He would spend the first fifth of the work day in the sunroom. The remainder of the day he would spend at his station remembering the bright warmth.
He remembered pieces of an instruction from the book Thomas had given him, "...tiger burning bright...what immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry..." But he had only been taught enough to read the machine manuals. What was a tiger? What symmetry should he fear?
As the door opened the light from inside escaped into the hallway. Where it touched him there was warmth and white. He never knew his skin could be so white. As he stepped into the room and felt the light engulf him. It was as if he had fallen into liquid. It was a feeling he remembered from somewhere long before. He hardly noticed the massive door swing shut behind him.
There was a man lying naked on one of the flat tables arranged along the walls of the square white room. On the ceiling was a round white light source,
The man sensed the vibration of the door closing. He slowly lifted his head and looked at Jordan. His eyes were openings onto a cold emptiness. Jordan hardly recognized him, his skin so white, eyes so black and deep. He raised a fist and signed the men's greeting to his mentor, Driver Thomas.
Thomas sat up on the table and motioned for Jordan to sit beside him. As Jordan sat Thomas reached over and put his hand around the back of Jordan's neck. He jumped off the table, stood in front of him, and pulled Jordan's head toward him. He leaned forward until Jordan's chin was over his shoulder. Then he pressed Jordan's neck against his, touching his control connector against Jordan's. Instinctively, Jordan pulled away.
"Don't be afraid," Driver Thomas said, a voice coming from the center of Jordan's head. "Control doesn't monitor us here."
Jordan relaxed and leaned into Driver Thomas.
Driver Thomas said, "But we won't have much time. If the door opens we'll be on monitor. They'll sixty-two us."
Jordan tried to pull away to look into Driver Thomas' face, but Thomas kept Jordan's neck pinned in an iron grip.
"Why are you doing this?" said Jordan.
"Last lesson, Jordan," said Thomas. "Control knows about the book. Even now maintenance is searching for it. They searched the K group and suspected Loader Solomon. That's why he was terminated. When they couldn't find the book they terminated everyone. I saw the order pass for three hundred replacements. An entire group, Jordan. Three hundred men. Three hundred lives."
"Waterhammer didn't show the book to anyone," Jordan said. He felt a tightness grow in his chest. It was a pain like the one he had felt the day before when he stared down the shovel of the loader at Gaffer and Waterhammer on the mine floor.
"I have to give you all lessons at once now," Thomas said. "There are many books. Many carry the word."
"My waterhammer said he understands," said Jordan.
"Love is the lives of the men," said Thomas. "Does he understand that?"
Jordan looked down at the muscles in Thomas's back. Then he stared out at the blank wall and the empty tables in the sun room. The warm white light loosened the muscles in his back and arms.
"The lives of the men," said Jordan. "My life?"
"All life. The decision to repair rather than to replace. The worth of a man to himself. Worth of life as that of the ore."
"Men worth as ore?"
"On the surface, Timer Andrew learned that men are bred from other men. They value their own lives as reward. Love is the value of men's lives. It is somehow like time in the sunroom. Like promotion. It is the value of men for other men."
In his mind Jordan saw the gaffer kneeling beside the wounded waterhammer. He remembered the boy's eyes as he threatened with the shovel of his machine. Why hadn't the boy moved?
"My gaffer," said Jordan. "Last work period he prevented me from taking a dirty load. Waterhammer was injured. I should have taken him with the ore."
"How did gaffer stop you?" asked Thomas.
"He stood in front of my machine."
"Why didn't you simply take the ore with them both?"
"I don't know," said Jordan. "He looked at me as if...as if he could damage my machine with his eyes."
"Now you are seeing what I see," said Thomas. "There are instructions not learned but known. The gaffer knows without teaching. I had hoped you could come to this conclusion as well but time is short."
Thomas pulled back from Jordan and took the man's head in his hands. He pulled Jordan's face toward his and pressed his lips against Jordan's. Then he leaned aside and made connection with his neck again.
"That is the sign for Love. That is the symbol of the value of man's life."
They felt a vibration that could only mean the door was opening.
"The period is not over," said Jordan.
"Control must monitor this room after all," said Thomas, scanning the blank walls. Thomas pointed and Jordan spotted an imperfection in the seamless walls, a spot slightly darker than the brilliant white all around.
Jordan felt his heart race. His breathing deepened and he felt the white of the room intensify. He felt he could hear with his ears again.
"It's as if the word itself is more powerful then the men ," said Thomas. They saw the dark crack between the wall and the door as the massive hinge swung open.
"What do we do?" Jordan said. He looked back at the door, then quickly touched his neck connector to Thomas's again.
"These are the final words of Timer Andrew," said Thomas. "The last lesson. Remember this and run. Control is on the surface. They cannot terminate all of us."
Jordan felt Thomas press his hands into his back. He could feel the warmth from Thomas's body, the vibration of Thomas's heart, the rhythm of Thomas's breathing.
Thomas continued, "Have the men switch their control connections from radio to cable. Go to your machine and destroy the yellow control box. Then it too will ignore signals from control."
Thomas grabbed Jordan's arm and pulled him to the center of the room as the door stopped in its travel and the mobile particle weapon appeared in the doorway.
Jordan felt a tingling in his neck as Thomas pulled him close for the last time. Thomas embraced Jordan and made connection. He said, "Timer Andrew walked out. He walked out of the mine and they didn't stop him. He worked for them on the surface and they gave him time. He worked for them in the mine and they gave him more time. Now, I will give you time."
Then Thomas put both his hands on Jordan's chest and pushed him away. Surprised, Jordan fell to the floor. He heard the control voice. "Driver T-for-Thomas group M and Loader J-For-Jordan group A found in violation of quota as required by ordinance 62.1.3..."
Thomas quickly he raised his fist and thrust one finger into the air as Jordan looked up from the floor.
Jordan remembered the sign instinctively. He had seen it many times as a boy at the breeding farm. His muscles tensed as if he had been programmed. As the particle weapon charged he propelled himself through the narrow darkness between the machine and the door, from the white sunroom to the dark of the mine. He could feel the burning backscatter on his legs as he pulled himself through the gap. The beam blast ricocheted off the rear wall of the room and tore through the same space he claimed for himself.
He didn't turn back. Outside he grabbed his work suit and put it on with his helmet. He stepped into his boots and ran down the catwalk to the elevators. He reached the cars leading to the mine entrance and watched the lights flash as the elevator rose to meet him. He felt tired and he didn't know why. The air had grown thick. It was hard to breathe.
The elevator arrived and he entered the car with another shift. The weight in the car was off-balance and the doors would not close. Slowly, he edged his way past the thirty-one men in the car. When he neared the front he placed his hands on the back of the man in front of him. With a spark of thought, he pushed the startled man clear of the car and out into the empty gallery.
The elevator sensed the change in weight. The doors closed and they began to descend. Jordan felt a tingling in his neck. Then he heard the control voice.
"Stand clear of Loader J-for-Jordan group A." The men in the car pressed themselves into the walls of the car clearing a space around him as the elevator came to a halt. As the door opened, Jordan could see the metallic gleam of the particle weapon stationed at the elevator door. He thought of the hot beam. He could see the warning lights on the unit make the spectral shift from green to red as it charged. He remembered the ricochet from the strike that had killed Driver Thomas only moments before.
The doors opened completely and the machine inched forward to fill the chamber with its deadly radiation. Jordan dove toward the machine. He clawed at the cables on its exposed surface and pulled himself past it and out of the elevator. He stood behind the machine and turned briefly to see the thirty men in blue overalls and white hardhats fall limp in the elevator car.
Jordan ran to his machine. He followed the empty mine corridors until he felt vibration in the air. He could feel the rumbling in his feet, the pressure waves in the air pounded against his chest as he neared the mine activity.
He could feel the steam and dust in his face. He saw the clouds of yellow-gray rock and black ore blasted to dust under the pressure of the waterhammer and the loader. Suddenly, the vibration stopped.
The men turned as he arrived. Waterhammer and Gaffer stood looking at him as he approached his silent machine. He found the heavy gaffer's crowbar lying on the ground next to the loader. He lifted it as the lights began to flicker.
Jordan leveled the rod at the yellow box mounted on the side of his machine and swung. Over and over he propelled the heavy iron rod against the yellow box. With the vibration of each impact the muscles in his arms tightened, bulged, and burned like a beam flash. He could feel the memory of Driver Thomas grow like an animal in him. Its arms and legs pressed outward from his chest. It was a cold uncomfortable feeling. He imagined the maintenance men lifting Thomas's limp body and putting it in the disposal chute. He could see Thomas's face, limp and expressionless--a face that had only moments before told him he was as valuable as the ore he drilled.
Men valued as ore. Men valued as men.
The men in the mine watched him then looked upward toward the portable lighting that began to go dark under command from control.
Jordan pulled his body into each crowbar swing. He could feel the metal box yield slightly under each blow. Darkness enveloped them like termination. He swung in the blackness, remembering where the box had been. He could feel it crumpling under the blows of the heavy iron bar. Suddenly, he took a swing and the rod continued farther than it had gone before. He dropped the rod and felt the machine. He could feel the box dangling from cables connecting it to the loader. He grabbed the box and pulled. The cables hung firm.
Then he felt arms around his waist. He stopped for a moment. The arms released him and he felt hands travelling along body, up to his shoulders, over the ripples in his arms. Then the hands were on his hands. And then they were gone. He felt the box move in his hands. Someone was pulling on it. Jordan leaned backward and pulled in time with the second pair of hands. Time after time he pulled until the box came free and he stumbled backward.
Jordan dropped the box and mounted the machine. Once inside he felt along the control console and flipped the switch. He felt the vibration in his seat as the loader sprang to life. He turned on the headlights and illuminated the mine shaft. Instinctively, he reached for the control socket and slapped it to his neck. Instead of hearing a hiss of static and the voice from within his head there was silence. The gauge and display panels were dark.
He sat and stared at the men standing in the mine. They looked back at him motionless. They waited for an action. Jordan left the cab. He went to each man on the floor and pushed the switches on the control connections on their necks to "cable." Without a cable connected they would not hear commands--an offense for which they could all be killed.
Waterhammer stood alongside the loader looking in. His waterknife hung limp around his chest from its straps. The gaffer stood holding the crowbar. Jordan got back into the cab. He remembered the tightness he felt in his legs when he stopped the loader in front of the wounded men. The feeling returned. He thought of Thomas. He smashed his foot onto the accelerator and turned the machine around. He gritted his jaws tight. He gripped the controls as his palms grew wet and his knuckles faded white and bloodless. He felt he was watching someone else.
Jordan aimed the machine's shovel at a yellow control box on the wall and drove into it with such force that the metal shovel blade slashed through it and into the soft rock in the wall. The gaffers and waterhammers were free.
There was a burst of white steam from beside the vehicle as Waterhammer regained control of his tool. Gaffer freed the hoses and followed behind as Waterhammer aimed his tool forward and leapt onto the tracks for the ore train. He stopped, turned toward Jordan, and held his hand up in a fist.
Jordan felt the adrenaline jolt as it hit his bloodstream and scratched energy against his muscles. He turned the loader and drove onto the tracks. Waterhammer nodded, and Jordan hit the accelerator. The loader lurched forward, up the tracks, toward salvation and the word.
Jordan could see the track appearing from the blackness of the mine shaft as his loader rolled forward. He could feel unfamiliar vibrations in his seat. He knew a train was coming, but he knew there was a vibration within himself as well. He imagined the vibration was burning, an intensity he had never known.
In an eye blink an ore train was upon him. It plowed at full speed into his shovel and drove the loader backward. Jordan was thrown out of his seat. His body crashed into the gauge-panel and windshield of his cab. The loader door flapped open against its hinges. He shook his head. The pain started as an annoying itch, then crescendoed to an intolerable explosion.
His vision blurred. He tried to see out of the front window of the loader. Wetness dripped from his forehead and stung his eyes. Through the fog of pain and blood, he could see men leaving the train. Maintenance men. Surface men. Men with weapons.
He heard Thomas's words, "They can't terminate us all."
Jordan pushed himself backward onto the seat and smashed his foot down onto the accelerator. The loader lurched forward. Its shovel cut into the small train. The train yielded, twisting and rolling off the tracks as the shovel mangled the metal in front of it.
A maintenance man in white overalls and a blue helmet appeared in the loader doorway. Jordan saw the man level a particle gun toward him. There was a blast of white from behind that turned into a dark mist. The maintenance man fell from the loader in two pieces as the white blade of water slashed again and again. Jordan leaned over and looked out of the loader door. The uniformed man had been cut in half. His feet and arms twitched as a blotch of dark liquid widened around him. Jordan had seen so many gaffers and waterhammers in the same condition. The sight held no significance to him.
Unconsciously, he tapped the command to signify a dirty load.
There was another burst of white. With a single twist of his waist Waterhammer had cut across the ranks of men escaping the train. Then he trained his water blade on the train and sliced across it. Jordan took a breath, and manipulated the loader's controls. His mind filled with Thomas's words as he worked the machine unconsciously as if it were his own body. He pushed the train pieces aside with his mechanical arms and legs. Man and machine.
"Tiger," he thought. "I am the tiger burning bright." His arms and legs shook.
Waterhammer trotted up the tunnel firing his tool as a weapon. Jordan watched him disappear into the darkness. He took a breath, and felt the pain in his head sink to his chest and open a void. An emptiness opened in him again as he watched the gaffer follow Waterhammer up the tunnel freeing the hoses, disconnecting and reconnecting them to new water sources as they moved.
Jordan followed them and kept them in the flaming life of the vehicle headlights. Waterhammer destroyed the yellow control boxes that he found mounted on the tunnel walls.
The men stopped and watched as Jordan rolled past. He held his fist up with one finger extended.
Then they were past the junction and back into the shaft.
Jordan rolled forward and upward. And suddenly there were men all around. Waterhammers and gaffers. They marched alongside Jordan's loader. Some were curious and threw question signs in the men's sign language. Most just followed. At each junction in the tunnel they met more men who joined them.
Jordan forgot the pain in his head. He wiped the blood from his eyes and kept the headlights from his machine trained forward. Waterhammer cut into a yellow control box and a connector fell out.
Jordan heard words. The voice was the control voice but the words were those of Andrew. The words of change. "Love will save the men. They can't terminate us all." He could see the men touch their necks. They looked at each other wondering what had happened. And he saw the strange connector from the broken box attached to Waterhammer's neck.
Waterhammer's face split wide in a smile. Jordan saw Andrew and Thomas in his mind. From the pain and the emptiness, from the void within him came a spark as warm as the sunroom. A spark as warm as life.
Waterhammer quoted Andrew's book for all of them to hear: "I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem, in England's green and pleasant land."
Jordan wiped the blood from his eyes and willed his machine forward as the men followed. He could feel the vibration of their footsteps as the crowd multiplied. And then there was light in the distance. It was a light he had never seen before--bright and blue white. It didn't flicker or strobe against his blinking eyes. He pressed down on the accelerator as the train track slid beneath his wheels and reflected the white light. The light grew. He could see shapes inside it. Colors. Colors he had never seen.
It grew until it was as large as the loader. Then it was along side him. It was above him. It was all around. His head swiveled under command from his eyes to absorb, to know. His dark world faded behind him as a new bright world opened ahead.
He secured the vehicle and jumped to the ground. A strange soft ground. The light was all around. It warmed him, caressing his body from all sides as if he were immersed in a warm ocean. His head, his body, his legs, all warmed to life and refueled by the glory of the brightness. He looked up and saw the lamp. He felt light and full of power.
Men rushed all around him. They waved their arms and ran. Some fell on the ground and stared upward. Jordan saw machines and shapes he had never seen before. He looked from side to side but couldn't find the walls. The ceiling was invisible. The power inside him burst and he felt his face tighten. His mouth opened. He bared his teeth as he felt himself press the air from his lungs. He saw other men doing the same. Teeth bared, they ran with the edges of their mouths pulled up toward their eyes.
Then he was running too. Running through the chambers without the walls or ceiling. Running past the shapes and the machines, the warmth of the great lamp above powering his strength. He ran. He bared his teeth and forced the air from his lungs until his throat ached.
Jordan came upon Waterhammer standing alone. The man had removed his tool and his clothing. He opened his mouth and held his arms outstretched as Jordan approached. Jordan walked between his arms, put his head over Waterhammer's shoulders, and pressed his neck against Waterhammer's neck. Their control sockets touched.
"What the hammer? What the chain?" Waterhammer said.
"Did he who made the lamb make thee?" replied Jordan. "The truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believed." Jordan pushed away. He put his hands on Waterhammer's shoulders and looked into his eyes. He was sure he could see the Tiger burning--life burning for salvation.
Waterhammer's body stiffened as if each of his muscles pulsed simultaneously. Jordan released him wondering what had happened. He stood back and saw Waterhammer's eyes roll back in his head. The muscular man collapsed to the ground, motionless.
Jordan looked forward. A maintenance man leveled a particle gun toward him. There were machines in the sky. Machines rolled toward them from all around flashing red lights. Armed maintenance men wearing uniforms he had never seen before leapt from the vehicles and chased the miners. The blue-coated men fell lifeless all around him. Jordan stretched his arms outward to communicate and closed his eyes. He waited for the blast.
It never came. When he opened his eyes, he saw the maintenance man standing with his gun at his side pointed down. Jordan held his hand out toward the man and moved slowly toward him.
Jordan said in his mind. "Love seeketh not itself to please, nor for itself hath any care, but for another gives its ease..." He knew the man wouldn't hear him.
"...and builds a Heaven in Hell's despair." Jordan put his arms around the maintenance man. He put his chin on the man's shoulder and touched his neck against the maintenance man's. He could feel the maintenance man's arms rise around him. The maintenance man patted his hands against Jordan's back.
Jordan said, "Did he who made you make me?"
There was a flash of light and a brief pain in his head.
Then there was nothing.
Part II -> The Waterhammer
*yes quote not published in the original, as rights could not be retained.