Jochro walked to the job site for the day, unable to hide the contempt on his face. He passed the controllers while they sipped on their drinks and lounged. They were all ready to watch him do some disgusting task. Whether it was cleaning the guts of a rogue-changed villager or picking up litter, Jochro detested his life and those in it.
Today was an expedition to outside the city walls. That usually meant a big project, including other departments like construction or scouting. Jochro was in the Trash Unit of the Traders Union and at the bottom of the hierarchy. Hence his position at the most dangerous part of the caravan – the front – as they proceeded out of Ikalga’s city walls.
After an hour long walk, they reached a large cliff. Jochro sat on a rock sipping out of the pint-sized bottle he had bought with his savings; the bottle was half a year’s pay. He hoped the controllers were too busy drinking their Lilypad infused strawberry toad fruit juice to give orders. Another worker, one Jochro thought he recognized from the enforcement department, sat down on an adjacent rock.
“Morning,” the worker said.
“Do I look that lonely?” Jochro said with a smile.
“Nah…” the guy shrugged, “well maybe. But no worries, man. I don’t blame you. These people aren’t who I’d want to drink with either,” he gestured towards the controllers, who were beginning to stand.
The controller in the front stood and the units fell quiet. Everyone knew better than to talk when one of the guards were speaking; the offender might end up tossed off the cliff.
“Okay, so today we’re going digging,” he paused, “no cheers? Come on guys, I know you’ve all been wanting to dig through a mountain…”
No one was sure whether they were supposed to stay quiet or fake a laugh.
The lead controller continued, “Well then if y’all are going to stay quiet then let’s get to work.”
The conglomerate of workers spent the next eight hours blowing holes in the cliff and clearing out the debris. A few workers passed out due to overexertion and were brought back to recover in the materials cart. The unlucky ones that were assigned to less forgiving overseers were simply forgotten in the debris. Eventually, the controllers signaled an end to the day. The diggers were relieved as they were still unsure what exactly they were looking for.
On the way back to Ikalga, Jochro found a small niche on one of the wagons and was able to rest his weary legs. He thought about one day getting out of the slave trade and making a living elsewhere. Although, he had no idea what was out there beyond physical labor. Head down and lost in thought, Jochro felt the presence of another arrive. He found the corners of his lips curling up and felt a slight rush of adrenaline at the prospect of speaking with the other worker from the rocks earlier. That hope was quickly crushed when Jochro saw the figure approaching was Rex, one of the more irksome gentlemen in a sea full of unpleasant people.
Jochro hopped down from the wagon and offered the seat to him, looking to avoid conflict. Rex bumped him on the way by. Not ideal but that was infinitely better than the alternative. Jochro went to the other side of the wagon and continued walking. He didn’t even have time to slip back into his thoughts before he smelt smoke. A small flame had blossomed on the wagon where he had been sitting, flickering over the materials. The wooden cart smelled of leftover explosives. A flammable wagon and materials to explode. Great. Yet, no one else had noticed so, puzzled, Jochro shouted for everyone to clear out. Then while running from the wagon, he felt the heat build and combust, knocking him to the ground.
Jochro soon regained consciousness with pieces of flaming wood and severed limbs strewn around him. He noted individuals he imagined did not have time to evacuate the area, despite his warning. Controllers and other workers from outside of the blast zone rushed to the cart remains. Fellow workers ran to help the injured, while controllers pulled out what equipment they could salvage. A sharp pain in Jochro’s chest brought his attention back to himself. He looked down and noticed some sort of shrapnel had lodged itself inst. He pulled the piece of wood from his chest and stumbled onto his feet. Surely, he could help someone… Jochro made it three steps before collapsing onto a body, or chunk of wagon – he wasn’t sure which. He was beyond discombobulated from the blast. He soon passed out.
When Jochro regained consciousness for the second time in the past hour, he woke in a cage with two men arguing nearby. He recognized one of them as the worker from the rocks.
“If it wasn’t for him you would have had double the casualties!” spoke the worker in Jochro’s defense.
“How did he know, though? No one else was ready for it. You know what, why am I even arguing with you?” said the controller who then turned on his heel and stomped away.
His new friend, having seen he was more alert, bent down and smiled, “I’m Patterson by the way.”
“I’m guessing that was a hello?” Patterson chuckled, “It’s cool, don’t strain yourself. But hey, I’ll be right back. I’m gonna go find somebody to help you before that controller gets back to take your head off.” Patterson winked and jogged off.
Over a year later, Jochro was sitting in the chair of the infirmary. He had skipped out on work that day to stay by Patterson’s side. He thought back to when Patterson had saved him from the burning wagon. Not to mention defending him from later attempts at blaming him for the explosion. Jochro stood up and promised to return the favor, as he eyed his now broken friend. When healthy, Patterson was strong as an ox. Today, Jochro had trouble recognizing him. His face was gaunt from a lack of nutrition. The passion for life that Jochro had seen on his friend’s face for the past year had dwindled down to a tiny spark. It was still there, somewhere, but there wasn’t much Jochro could do. He couldn’t fix his friend’s back. He wasn’t able to walk for Patterson or meet with Patterson’s girlfriend, Susa, for him. Jochro sat back down. He cursed the controller and he cursed the King. He cursed everything he knew that had even indirectly led to his friend’s injury.
Jochro heard Patterson stir. With an almost imperceptible twist of Patterson’s neck, Jochro once again returned to his best friend’s side.
“Rest, rest. Don’t strain yourself, Pat. I’m here. I won’t be going anywhere until tomorrow, and even then… I’ll be right back. Someone’s gotta help you so you don’t tear your own head off.”
Jochro kept his promise. He was by Patterson’s bedside every night, joking about getting the bedpan or telling him how he would sneak Susa in. He kept the promise until nine months later when Patterson no longer needed him.