The storms finally cleared as the rain subsided and cloud coverage over the colony base turned from a dark black to a light cloudless blue. A siren rang out over the whole area, broadcast from the overlooking Watchtowers and signaling an end to the storm. The siren broke and was followed by three quick beeps from the system and slowly through the site, doors and barriers were opened. Banjo blinked in the sunlight as the outside world invaded the inside of the cavern. Clean fresh air struck at the senses as the unmistakable smell of the landscape after a thunderstorm cleared the dank atmosphere. Slowly miners filed out of the caverns and like Banjo blinked and covered their eyes in the harsh unforgiving sunlight. Small puddles of water scattered the mining site, leaving traces of the rainstorm which had struck the site. Banjo looked around by his feet and close to the door he could just make out a pile of material huddled at the side of the cavern mouth. He took several steps and looked sole fully down at the material.
"There was nothing you could have done" came a soft female voice from behind him. He turned and looked at the diminutive figure close by his side. She returned his gaze and matched him in sadness and regret, her eyes filled slightly as she spoke, but no tears formed. They had seen too much death throughout the entire colony to cry over two deaths now. Her auburn hair fluttered in the gentle breeze and as she wiped the dried mud from her elfin features she forced a smile through her dirty complexion.
"I know...it’s just..." Banjo struggled for the right words.
"Don't blame yourself, it’s your responsibility to keep all of your work party safe. Not just the few" She was right and Banjo knew it. He cast his gaze down toward the pile of material and knelt by the clothing. He lifted the material and watched as water dripped from the sodden material. "Be careful" the woman warned as he continued to rifle through the clothing, "it may still burn". Again she was right in her assessment, the water stung his hands as he lifted one piece of material after another, his hands passing quickly over the clothing until he finally lifted two pieces of jewelry from the pile. He held the two necklaces up in the sunlight allowing the glare of the sun to play over the silver surfaces. He watched it sparkle and shine before lowering his head once again. The woman watched his actions and turned from him, digging her hands deep into the pockets of her overalls.
"Cass..." said Banjo, still staring at the clothing. She paused and turned, waiting for his response. "Thanks", his voice was full of emotion...not remorse but anger, a building anger. His eye line never left the pile of clothing a he remained in his kneeling position studying the clothes as he spoke. Cass sighed and continued to walk away from the cavern, allowing herself one final look back up the ridge as she reached the foot of the slope. Banjo looked over the remnants of the clothing and sighed, clenching the silver necklaces within a tight grasp. The clothes lay in a puddle of discoloured water with the material tinged with stains of crimson and yellow across their surface.
The largest and main dome of the colony sat directly in the center of the encampment. Its large bulk surrounded at a respectful distance by smaller domes of varying sizes, but all in the same basic design as the central dome. The main doors of the large door sat open allowing a faint breeze to billow through the building. Despite the longevity of the colony, boxes of varying sizes still lay littered throughout the main reception area of the dome. Opposite the main doors, a long table sat awaiting an arrival from the offices behind. A simple white cloth covered the wooden surface and scattered across the top of the table were a litter of paper spread throughout the length of the table. Charts and maps battled with geological surveys and reports for supremacy for attention as they lay discarded over the hard flat surface. On the walls around the main dome, pictures and symbols of a past life were mixed with maps and charts of the new world offering a propaganda into a new fresh start in a prosperous environment. A line of bedraggled miners stood behind the desk, patiently waiting for the supervising council. Each man mirrored the next, mud caked their hands, faces and clothing with cracks appearing across the old worn material as the mud slowly dried.
A plain wooden door opened behind the table from the interior of the unseen office a string of three people left and took their places, seated behind the table. The two men on the edges of the table both wore smart red tunics emblazoned with a gold star across the arm. Their blazers were offset by neat black trousers and boots and upon their heads they both wore rimmed black and red caps. They sat upright in their chairs and watched as the principle figure behind the table stood and placed her hands upon the solid object and leant heavily on the table as though depending on its support to help her. The woman, looked around at the miners waiting patiently and obediently on the other side of the table. Her clothing help to mask her unflattering figure as the plain dull cloth of her one-piece uniform fell from her neckline to beyond her knees. Unlike her fellow officers, she had elected to wear dull basic attire whenever facing the public in an effort to align her respect and allegiance to her people. She felt tired, and the lines of age marked her mood and wariness in her duty. Silver streaks tinged her jet black straight her and her eyes held a sparkle which hid the tiredness that she felt in her heart. She glanced at the empty seat to her right and lowered herself into her chair ready to face to accusing stares of the miners that she would now face. She raised her eyes to the expectant line with a resolve and determination to place duty before personal opinion.
She looked up and waved the first miner toward the table, "come" she said in a tired cracked voice. The years of servitude within the colony were finally taking their toll on her and she reflected how easier it had felt when her husband had taken a more active role in daily operations. The miner took a couple of steps toward the table and presented a sheave of papers on the table. She cast her eyes over the figures briefly before looking up at the man once again, "report from Work Party One?" she asked.
"Yes Ma’am" he replied. The miner indicated toward the papers as he spoke, "productivity levels have risen by three per cent since last rainfall Ma’am" he said proudly. "Iron levels have been indicated over sectors three and five, carbon and nickel residue and traces of cuprinol in sectors one and two and element Z.X in sector four. Mining operations over the six sectors covered has produced a significant rise in both production and..."
A commotion from the back of the hall disturbed the miners report and the three council members were forced to break off the report to strain their view toward the disruption. Two uniformed guards struggled with Banjo as he attempted to push pass the back of the queue.
"Let me through!" he demanded.
"Now, now sir. You know the rules. Work parties must await their specific times allotment".
"To hell with your rules!" stormed Banjo, "I've fucking had it with the lot of you"
"Come on sir, please settle down" The guard commander physically grabbed at Banjo and held his arms firmly, pressing Banjo's smaller frame against the cold metal wall. Banjo could feel the cold from the wall pressing through his clothing and touching his already cold skin. Banjo spat in the guard commander's face and received a vicious blow in the stomach for his trouble. "You were warned" commented the commander.
"Go to hell" whispered Banjo hoarsely. The commander punched Banjo hard in the face and Banjo recoiled savagely against the floor. He could taste the blood in his mouth from the punch and heard the click of weapons and as he looked up he could see the commander rubbing his knuckle with two armed guards flanking his side with their weapons raised.
"Enough!" came the harsh voice from the table, "I will not tolerate fighting within the council chambers." An awkward silence descended over the room as the woman at the head of the council stood watching through reddening eyes. "We will not fight amongst ourselves do you hear...it’s hard enough to survive on this planet without you both acting like animals" All eyes were on her as she spoke, "we are Humans" she reiterated, "not animals and if we fight like animals...then we die like animals" Her words cast a shameful hush over the room. "Please commander..." she waved him forward, "bring over Mr. Jax. The rest of you are dismissed, we will conduct our remaining business later. Now please leave us". A murmur of dissention passed across the remaining miners, but no-one else dared raise their protest. The guard commander stood over Banjo and hauled him roughly to his feet, dragging him over to the table. Banjo half sat, half knelt gazing up toward the woman who had now deserved his respect. "Now then Mr. Jax what can possibly be so important that can interfere with the mining reports?"
"Madame" he spoke respectfully carefully considering his words as he stood to his feet. He allowed the two chains to fall roughly onto the table, casting specks of mud over the clean paperwork. He struggled to contain his emotions as the watched the silver items lying motionless on the table. "What the fuck was that" he finally exploded after the brief silence, "I was in reaching distance of them. I could have pulled them in..."
"Please Mr. Jax..."
"No!" Banjo roared, "I've always said manual controls should be based on the inside of the caverns..."
"Mr. Jax! please refrain yourself...or you will be removed by force if necessary" Banjo cast a glance to the guard commander who sneered at the miner through cruel lips.
"I'm sorry Ma’am" he mumbled, "it’s just..."
She waved away his words and moved from her position behind the table and walked over to the furthest wall. "Please..." she indicated toward Banjo for him to join her and she waited until he was by her side until she spoke again. "When we came here Mr. Jax, we all had a dream. We all dreamt of a better life...a better world" her voice trailed off as she thought back to those early days, and sighed. Banjo could see the weight of leadership heavy in her eyes as she spoke, "what fools we were, idealistic fools" she laughed slightly. "But what we got was hard...harder than we could ever imagine" She turned to look at him, no through him. "We all know the risks Banjo, we all know every day could be our last, but still we remain, still we toil in the dream which brought us here in the first place, a dream which we still keep alive. Every day I wake, I bless my luck that I have survived another day. When we arrived I was a wife and a mother...now I am a leader and carer. I have responsibilities to everyone on this site Mr. Jax not just a select few...everyone"
"I'm sorry..." stammered Banjo, sometimes he forgot how much other people had lost.
Her mood softened slightly, "Who did you lose?" she asked. He frowned confused at her question for a moment, "in the mine?"
"Stephen Dymond-Harris and Bletchley Peake" he replied.
"Don't get sentimental over their deaths Mr. Jax, you can't afford to allow yourself that luxury. They are colleagues...nothing more, nothing less. Just colleagues"
"But nothing..." she held her hand up, "these people are not your friends Mr. Jax remember that, would they cry over you if you had died?"
"They had families..."
"I am aware of their present habitual conditions Mr. Jax, but as I have reiterated time and time again, it is my responsibility to the community that everyone is treated with the same basic principles as the next person"
"Are my responsibility Mr. Jax, not yours. It is my duty to face their kindred and inform them of their loss. It is my responsibility to inform them that the person that kissed them farewell this morning won't be coming back", Banjo could hear the anger and bitterness tinge her words. "It will be me who will have to see the tears and the pain in their faces as I tell them the place set for dinner won't be filled or the place in their bed will remain empty".
He struggled to find a response to her coldness, "Stephen...he's just had a baby..."
"I am aware of that family’s current condition Mr. Jax and be assured we are a community and as a community we will care for our own" Banjo was aware she was looking over his shoulder as she spoke, "now please leave, I have much to attend to" Banjo stood by the wall and watched as she walked across the room and disappeared into a darkened office her the table in the corner of the dome.
She carefully closed the door behind her and leant heavily against it as the darkness of the room swallowed her.
"Lorraine..." a soft whisper broke the darkness. She smiled at the sound of the voice and moved forward.
"My love..." she breathed, her arms spread outward.