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Science Fiction Sad Fiction

TW: Violence and graphic descriptions.

She wheezed, dust gathering into her lungs as she dragged her pickax through the desolate mines. Sweat ran down her face in streams, tracing rivers through the sticky coal. She despised the mines. It was 2200, and people deemed worthless as she was were doomed to the sweltering, poorly lit mines to work until death. Rations were based on pounds of coal mined. She forced herself to drag her ax down the rusted metal tracks, the screeching grate of metal on metal echoing throughout the tunnel. Despite the noise, however, the moans of the dying miners still shrouded her. She was young and strong, but others had been here for years or more and their time was drawing to a close.

Countless hours of work later, the lights extinguished. The miners breathed long sighs of relief. Some of them sobbed, seeing their dead friends and family members waiting to be carted away by the guards. But, she was alone. No friends, no family. It made ignoring the cries of pain and the work easier. At least she thought it did. She had never known anything else other than loneliness.

They stumbled blindly to their quarters. Most of them, including herself, had memorized the path to their quarters in only weeks. They were never allowed above ground. She herself had been born under the rough soil of Earth. Her mother, with no medical attention, died soon after. Her father had died when she was five. It was then when she was forced to pick up the axe. 

Now, she was a numb robot, working in darkness, barely feeling any human emotions. She had forgotten her parents' names long ago. Her name had faded into the darkness of her mind. Remembered, but never to be spoken again. Instead, she had her number. 0108. It was the only acknowledgment that she even existed.

After dragging her heavy ax through the tunnels, she reached the miner's quarters. Each family had a small hut complete with a bedroom and a living space. They weren’t allowed to visit each others’ homes. The huts surrounded a tall, cone-shaped building that stored coal and delivered rations. She methodically dragged her ax to house 0108, at the back of the dark tavern. She then stumbled to the back of the line for rations, clutching her three pounds of coal. Seeing the other miners, she couldn’t help but straighten in pride. Most adults in the line only had mere pieces of coal, and she was sure to get the most rations. Every five ounces of coal was equivalent to one half of a soup can and a glass of water.

After traveling back to her hut, she ate the soup, sitting at the chair and table that the home included. Her mind was blank, and she could only think about the next day to come, and how she could get the most coal. After drinking three of her nine glasses of water she used her shirt and the remaining glasses to give herself a rough bath. There were no mirrors. She’d never seen herself before, but she didn’t mind. What would there be to see? A pale, thin, and smelly girl who had never seen the sun or taken a bath? She shuddered at the thought.

The next day went by, dragging its feet until she felt as if it had been a week. The drudgery continued. More perished, more screamed, more begged her to share her coal. The beggars never lasted long anyway, so she didn’t bother, only feeling the smallest shred of guilt when they crumpled to the side days later. But just as her feet turned to bricks and her ax seemed to weigh a hundred pounds, something strange happened.

The noise cut off at the back of the tunnel. Panic flooded through her veins. What was it? An explosion? A murder? The guards deciding to finally end a miner’s misery? She crouched against the dirty wall, covering her head. I am invisible, she thought. I am invisible.  I am invisible. IaminvisibleIaminvisibleIaminvisibleIamin-

She was cut off by a large, booming explosion. Screams went up around her. She curled up tighter, muscles clenched. She was surprised to feel tears slowly dripping down her face. Rocks and dirt rained down, scratching her skin and trapping her in place. And then, coming through the cracks of the rock imprisoning her, there was something she hadn’t seen before. Something, white. She couldn’t quite remember the word for it. It was a bright and clean color. She stared at it, fascinated. She tried to collect it in her hand, but it simply passed through. She gently closed her eyes, her fist still closed. She hummed to herself, a song her father used to sing, thinking that dying here wouldn’t be quite so bad. Then, suddenly, shouts rose.

“Are ya hearin’ that?” A rough, booming man’s voice spoke.

“Hearing what?” A tight lipped, feminine voice replied.

“Someone’s alive down ‘ere,” he said shakily. “A lady, trapped along er… there.” She heard boots shuffling, and more white light peered through the rocks. She gasped, unable to hide her shock.

“Righ’ there! Did ya hear? There’s a lady.” The man said. There was a sound of rocks clashing and moving, the pair undoubtedly trying to get her out. Why, she didn’t know. She was a lost cause and had already accepted death. Then, with a final grunt, the large boulder in front of her was lifted. And the bright, white light was all around her.

She stared at it, the light the man held. It lit up her skin, filled her hair. She closed her eyes, barely noticing as the two people wrenched her to her feet and carried her upward. She could feel the man climbing the wall of the mines. Like a spider, almost. Her worn boots kicked the dirt, loosening rocks. She heard them crash and fall, taking longer to hit the bottom the farther up they climbed.

Only after they clambered out of the dirt and she was set down several minutes later did she begin to panic. It was cold, and the air was clean and crisp, nothing like in the mines. Her eyes snapped open, and her mind was filled with beautiful, strange images. There was a green, scratchy substance below her. A tall, brown thing with more green in its branches. Dirty men and women clustered around a makeshift fire. They were clustered in blankets to keep warm in the cold night.

Her two rescuers watched her with a mix of curiosity and concern. She stared at them for a while, until they looked away, muttering things about checking for more survivors and other tasks. Then, she looked up, trying to find the source of the dim light. A lantern, perhaps? But she didn’t see a lantern, a dirt ceiling or a roof. She saw the sky. She remembered the word from her parents’ stories, and always was fascinated by their seemingly mystical tales of the moon and sun. It was dark, but filled with bright white light emanating from dots in the sky and a white circle. The moon and stars. She was breathless with amazement. But after staring for a seemingly endless amount of time, she shook her head, sweat flying. The panic returned. She knew she was above ground. She would be publicly shamed and tortured, if not executed, for this offense. She looked around, standing up. Her eyes widened in shock. She and her rescuers had come out of a massive, smoldering hole in the ground, the aftermath of what must have been an explosion. But as she saw the TNT packed against the walls and the ladder leading down into the abyss, she knew this was no regular accident. These innocent-looking people in blankets were rebels.

Heart pounding in fear, she sprinted to the hole. She grabbed the ladder and began to climb down, hoping to reach her mining level before she was discovered with bands of rebel leaders. Strong, cold hands grabbed her around the waist and hauled her back onto the grass with a grunt. She thrashed wildly, and broke free, sprinting back to the hole. She felt a prick in her neck, and heard a voice say,

“Poor girl. She’s probably lived in that hell of a place her whole life. She’s in shock.” Before she could register the words, the world faded to black.

She woke up in a clean, sterile place. It was all white. So white, in fact, that it was almost blinding. Blinking her heavy eyes, she noticed tubes dangling out of her arm. Awakening from its sluggish sleep, her heart raced. She moved to rip them out but found that her arms and legs were tied. Squirming, she tried to get the tight bonds off. One of the strange machines started to make a high-pitched beeping noise, and she closed her eyes, hoping she wasn’t about to explode. Then, after a minute or two of tense silence, a person in a white coat to match the room walked in. She gently sat on the corner of the bed.

“Hello,” she said softly. “Don’t worry. You’re safe here. I’m sure you have many questions, but let me try to explain first.” The woman then began to inform her of what had happened. Not just to her, but everyone. What she had missed in her years in the mine. The woman explained how the government had become more and more corrupt over the years until a group of people grew restless and formed a resistance. The resistance grew stronger and stronger until they imploded the mines as a way to weaken the government’s supplies. She was in the medical wing of a resistance base and would become a refugee. She and the others wouldn’t have to fight, only rest. The doctor bit her lip.

“There were few survivors, yourself included. It was a necessary sacrifice,” she finished. “I know you’ve missed much in your years underground, so I’ll be giving you a short presentation on some… things you should know.” She crossed the room and stood in front of an interesting square piece of metal with shiny buttons. She pressed some buttons on it before it flickered on, creating glowing light. The girl was captivated, fascination momentarily overcoming her fear and confusion. The light showed pictures, pictures of things the girl had never seen. She was amazed. The doctor explained each and every image, including trees, the sun, grass, the moon, things she’d never heard of or seen before. Technology. The alphabet. It was a lot to take in. The doctor finished, turning off the projector. The girl’s head spun with newfound knowledge. She felt like vomiting all over the blinding white sheets and retched, her body shaking and convulsing with fear and revulsion. The doctor ran over, grabbing another needle out of her pocket. The girl twisted and screamed, trying to get away. Nonetheless, she felt a prick in her shoulder. Her eyes shut, and the world turned black again.

When she awoke, the doctor was still there.

“You were out for three days,” she said. “Extreme exhaustion, malnutrition, and shock.” The girl felt better now and sat up as best as she could. Her head still spun with her new knowledge, but it was bearable now. Seeing her change in attitude, the doctor began to take out the tubes and take off the restraints. The girl sat up, testing out her arms and eventually standing shakily. She managed a small, fake smile to thank the doctor. The doctor gave her a tired smile back.

 It was almost exciting to be rid of the mines, she thought, walking to her new quarters. She had a small room with a table, a bed, and a bathroom. It was slightly dingy, but in much better condition than hut 0108. However, she was also suspicious. Suspicious that it was a test of her loyalty from the government. Suspicious that the guards would spring from the shadows any moment. So, she kept her guard up. The doctor took her out to meet the other refugees. She was taken to ‘school,’ a new word she had learned, where she was analyzed. They asked her to speak. To write. To read. She couldn’t do any of those complex things. She had never been taught to. What little she had learned to say had been taking from her through the hard labor of the mines.

The rebels made her a schedule. School for three hours, time with the doctor for two, and free time the rest of the day. Over time, she learned to write the alphabet, if shakily. She could do some basic ‘math,’ another new word she had learned. She knew all about the state of the country, and what the resistance had done. How the deaths of her fellow miners fit into the greater plan. She received much reassurance from the doctor and her teachers on that subject. But what they didn’t understand was that she felt no grief. No guilt. Whether it was the ‘shock’ the doctor constantly talked about or just her horrid mind, she simply didn’t care that few survived. 

Weeks later, she still had no friends. She still couldn’t speak. Her guard was still up. Her doctor helped, speaking in soothing words, trying to coax a name out of her, but she couldn’t say it. She wouldn’t say it.

Slowly, after a long course of months in the refuge, she made a friend. He was little, only five, and had been found trapped in the mines as she was. He was very chatty, constantly asking her questions about herself. The most constant one, however, was her name. He asked every day. She never responded, her throat and tongue turning dry as her name spun in her head. She had almost forgotten it, there in the mines.

Finally, after two weeks of waiting, they were allowed to go outside. The rebel base was below ground, for safety purposes, and they could only leave in short windows of time when the lookouts declared it safe. She had only been outside once since her rescue, and it had been alone for a mere two minutes. They were allowed to go outside now for a whole half hour. They walked from the cafeteria. She took a deep breath. She couldn’t help but be nervous. The five-year-old, James, took her hand and gave her a big grin. She cracked a grim smile as they walked to the exit. The security guards checked their identities and gave them a thumbs up. They then opened heavy sets of bullet-proof doors with a remote. Looking at each other knowingly, she and the boy raced upstairs.

Even though it was her third time seeing it, it was still wonderful. The starlight shined on her face. The trees blew. The grass was slightly damp from where it had rained that morning. She raced James around the small yard, until he tired, giggling. They sat down on the damp grass, and she smiled, fully content, for the first time in years. Then, James asked the question. The one he had been begging her to respond to for weeks now.

“What’s your name?” he asked, tilting his head. She licked her lips and opened her mouth. This time, instead of drying, her throat curved around the letters, her heart racing with the weight of what she was saying.

“Seren,” she whispered. James’ grin got impossibly wider.

May 07, 2021 20:52

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3 comments

Kathleen `Woods
01:21 Aug 03, 2021

This has got some serious worldbuilding to it, from the buying power of coal to the stated political turmoil. I found that Seren's relatively low empathy gave a very interesting perspective to everything, and that I clocked her as fairly young because of it. Thanks for writing!

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04:16 Aug 03, 2021

Thank you! I’m so happy you went to my first submission on Reedsy. One of my least favorite things about the contests is that the older stories never get read! Worldbuilding is one of my favorite things about writing, so I’m glad you liked it here. Yes, Seren is supposed to be relatively young! It kind of adds to the tragedy of the story. Thanks for reading :)

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Kathleen `Woods
04:50 Aug 03, 2021

Thanks for noticing! I gotta agree about the contests, it doesn't exactly encourage back reading. It's actually one of the things I wanna get better about over all.

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