Part II - Our Common Grave :: 41
Varick gave his mottled head fur one last brush before tossing the grooming instrument onto a shelf in defeat. Teeth were good. Eyes weren’t bloodshot. Hands clean. Coveralls crisp and destained. His wife Leyna had done a great job getting out the days worth of soot that had accumulated on his work uniform. Working in the bowels of Production, assembling alchemical light pods, was dark and dirty work.
He wanted to look especially good today. His employment had nearly reached its twelfth cycle. He and Leyna had moved here shortly after the purge, when the rebels sent out the call for workers at the machine. There had been the additions of paid salaries and the removal of all limits to race, gender, and age of people that could work within the Machine.
Varick had grown up a farmer on the outskirts of Millewhist, a bumpkin with a penchant for lusting after the ever-growing product line of agricultural technology that had been trickling out of the machine for years. Of course, his parents cloud never have afforded such time saving machinery. After he and Leyna married, he made the choice to eschew farming for something else. Always one to end up lucky, Varick’s marriage fell on the same day that the Rebels took over the Machine and effectively ended the war. After they gained control and put their reforms in place, production skyrocketed. The call for workers went out and thousands answered it. The leaders of the rebellion reformed into the Machinist Group and continued to push for societal reform.
His parents had disagreed with the idea but had not fallen out of touch. They still sent letters every once and a while, checking in on him, and always complaining about the Remnant, the former nobles who had escaped the Purge and moved out West to the Animas-heavy lands.
“Humes,” his father once wrote, “are as single-minded as any creature can be. They are stubborn and will not let go of something until they have either destroyed it or purchased its loyalty. They bargain with machines as much as they bargain with sellers. I fear for Millewhist. The Remnant are growing in number and refuse to take up local culture and customs.”
Varick often wondered about his father’s uncensored thoughts on his employment status. He was working for Humes, making technology designed by Humes, to be primarily used by the Humes that could afford them. Rarely, at least in Little Mille, could the average Animas actually afford to buy an alchemical lantern or light pod or even a small light rod. They were priced far out of range for the lower Machine workers.
He planted a quick kiss on his wife’s cheek. She wished him a good day. He kissed her again. She was as stalwart a woman as he could have asked for, never complaining about the long hours or danger of his job. Leyna also worked in the Machine, a packaging line worker in the Shipping area, far from the hot, dark Production area. Her job was far less dangerous but paid about the same amount of script. They were trying to save up to start a family.
“Will we ever be ready?” he had once asked her.
She had given him a warm smile and shook her head. “You’re never ready. You just have to grow into the role.”
The sun was bright as he exited their small two room home near the edge of the crumpling city wall. Theirs was a wood and sheet metal structure almost exactly like the ones around it. It was Machine owned and leased to workers as they signed on. His was the oldest and longest-rented in the entire grouping of buildings. There may have been another around the same age, rented by the same family, but he liked to claim his was first.
He planted his boots onto the loose gravel of the main path that lead to the paved roads near the machine, its towering, shadowed rectangular figure looming in the distance. The sun had moved far enough beside the hulking building to bathe everything in a bright pale yellow glow. He loved walking to work in such weather.
On his trek to the gate, he waved to the usual suspects, said hello or nodded to the friendlier ones, and ignored the ones who ignored him. He passed the Leaping Laporine, strangely full to the brim for mid-day meal. The Sigil post was more active than usual as well. He gave the line out the door a quick glance on his way but paid it no more mind.
Varick found himself dodging more and more disgruntled people as he neared the end of the path. He looked up the gate in the near distance and saw it as crowded as always at shift-change, though the lined looked extra long today. Maybe there was an incident?
He got as far as he could before he came to rest behind another gray coverall-wearing Machine worker.
“Jana?” he asked.
The worker turned, recognized him, and beamed, her broken and yellowed teeth flashing. “Varick!” She slapped him on his shoulder with a meaty hand.
“What’s going on? Extra busy today.”
“Yeah, no clue. Lots of squawking going on. Haven’t been able to hear nothing,” she replied.
“I think I’ll go have a look.”
“IF you do that they’ll send you to the back of the entrance line.”
He glanced backwards over his shoulder. “Yeah, looks like I’m already there. I’ll just go have a peek.”
He broke from the line and walked beside it, garnering mean looks from those still in it. As he neared the gate proper, he could start to make out that squawking Jana had mentioned.
“Hey, what’s the deal here? Why can’t we go in?”
“We’re going to be late. You guards are holding up production!”
Varick tapped on the shoulder of a yelling worker. “What’s going on?”
“They’re not letting us in and aren’t responding. Calor’s just standing up at the top of the gate on the walkway, staring at us.”
He looked up and pointed. Varick followed the man’s finger and saw Calor standing on top of the gate, two guards next to him, looking very nervous.
“Those are some odd looking longbarrels,” the man stated.
“Yup,” Varick agreed. “Kinda big.”
Without warning, Calor’s voice boomed across the sea of disgruntled workers.
“Workers. You are all hearby removed from employment contracts with the Machine. Your services are no longer needed and your clearance to enter has been revoked. Please move away from the gate.”
Shouts of disbelief and rage mingled to form a wall of sound that hammered Calor. Varick’s stomach churned. He had just been terminated without so much as a thought.
“What do you mean?” yelled the man next to him. “I need this job. I have a family.”
More of the same sentiment was coming from the rest of the crowd. It surged forward but the guardsmen at the bottom and top of the gate raised their slugthowers.
“Please disperse. Return to your homes.”
“Our homes are owned by you!” shouted someone. “If we’re fired, where do we go?”
As if in response to the question, three large steam carts slowly rolled up to the gate. Dozens of Humes and Animas disembarked. The gate opened far enough to let them in.
“Please disperse,” came Calor’s magnified voice. “Or we will authorize force.”
“They’ve already replaced us,” yelled another angry voice. Confirmation yells went out. The crowd surged forward once more. A shot rang out, then another, and then the world became filled with angry, buzzing hornets.
Varick looked up and saw that the two guards at the top of the gate were firing their strange longbarrels into the crowd. The large weapons were firing slug after slug repeatedly, no separate trigger pulls. Varick would have been in awe had he not been struck in the shoulder by someone fleeing.
He was knocked to the ground. The person that had slammed into him halted, shook, and fell. Or at least the bottom half of them had. The new weapons had bifurcated him.
Leyna’s face swam in front of him. He reached out for it and then clenched his teeth. He stood. He ran.