Legends Of Lemuria
Chapter 1: Casper
"There’s no such place as Lemuria!"
Casper was taken aback by the vehemence in his wife's voice. She acts as if I talk about it all the time, he thought, frowning. He saw the frown on her face and looked away.
"Why can’t you talk about getting us off this mudball?"
It was a question she'd asked Casper many times. He sighed and couldn’t stop his reply. "But I am talking about us getting out of here. If I can find one of their crystals—"
"You’ve never seen one of their crystals. No one has! Because they don’t exist! You’re impossible!" She threw her hands in the air and stormed out of their cube.
Casper looked at the empty doorway, wondering whether to follow her, knowing it never worked and only frustrated her further. There didn’t seem to be any way to convince her.
He looked around their meager space. A prison cell on Karata, in the Orion Belt.
Room enough for a double-cot, a toilet-shower combo behind a partition in one corner, a vid fixed to an upper corner, half-obscured by a sheet of glasteel, a rusty sink that smelled of fouled food, a dispensomeal that sloughed them thick porridge three times a day whether they wanted it or not, and a worn blanket to cover themselves when they wanted intimacy, conjugal units twice the size of singles.
Getting a conjugal unit had been half the attraction of marrying her.
And probably half the reason she'd married him.
He looked into the shiny chromeplate above the sink. His looks weren’t among his best features. Casper’s build was squat and powerful. He stood five-foot-five, and his arms hung nearly to his knees. His forehead sloped backward from his thick brow and peaked somewhere behind his ears, and his thick jaw was outdone only by his protuberant lips and nose. The eyes peered back at him from under a precipitous brow, and in the eyes lay the spark of determination that he knew would get him out of this hellhole.
"Heard you and Kathag arguing again." At the doorway stood Seamus.
Casper looked over and grunted with perfect troglodyte pitch. "She’ll get over it."
Seamus was wrinkled, his five-foot frame bent over with years of hard labor, his arms still bulging from under skin that might have sloughed off a snake, wrinkles wrinkled with wrinkles. "She might get over it, but she won’t go with you."
"Eh?" Another troglodyte grunt. I must be turning into a care-dweller, Casper thought. "Won't go with me? What do you mean?"
"When you find the crystals. She won’t believe you can escape this place, and she’ll refuse to accompany you."
"Of course she’ll go with me, old man." Casper shook his head. "You don’t know what you’re talking about."
Seamus simply smiled at him.
At a level he didn’t want to acknowledge, there was truth in the old man’s words. Seamus seemed to know things others didn’t, knew when the guards would change despite their irregular shifts, when the warden was leaving, and when another prisoner would soon be joining them. Casper relied on the certainty of Seamus’s knowledge, but refused to acknowledge this latest assertion.
"Where are we digging tomorrow, Seamus?" Casper joined him in the corridor. His wife would be coming back soon and he didn’t want her to see him with the old man, which sometimes set off another round of bickering.
Every six feet was another doorway. And no doors. The sights, sounds and smells of people’s activities were the fodder of public discourse.
"Hey, Mirzet, our dispensomeal’s not working, got any extra mush?"
"Aww, Balzac, couldn’t you have dropped that load in the pit?"
"At it again, Ridjic? That’s the second time you bucked your wife today! Give her a rest!"
Casper blithely ignored it all, as most of them ignored his and Kathag's bickering. "What’s the word on tomorrow’s work site?" he asked Seamus, the two of them heading toward the only common room on the unit, which at lights out converted to a singles-cube labyrinth.
"They’ve got their eyes on a promising seam near Muthur, northeast of Meru Mountain," Seamus said. The old man glanced up and down the corridor, as if for spies. "It’s got that resonance I told you about."
Ever since his arrival at Magasca Prison, Casper had absorbed from Seamus every bit of detail he could regarding Lemuria, soaking up information and socking it away as he’d seen the squirrels do with nuts, hoarding every bit for the opportunity to escape. The "resonance" was either the old man’s highly-tuned perceptivity or just a fanciful whim, but whatever it was, Seamus believed that something was there, like a magnet to an iron plate or a dog's nose to a scent. Casper had often heard the old man predict they’d find a seam of gold or a concentration of platinum ore, and his accuracy was uncanny.
"A crystal?" Casper asked quietly.
Seamus didn’t respond, his gazed fixed to the corridor ahead.
Blocking it was the unit snitch, the Warden’s enforcer, Tunsel. Behind him stood his buck-lick, Gorcos. "Now, Casper, what did I tell you about believing Seamus’s lies?" Tunsel said. He was two inches taller and forty pound heavier than anyone else.
Casper saw his wife behind Tunsel, a smirk on her face. He knew where this was going, and he was adamant he wouldn’t participate. "You leave Seamus alone!" He jabbed his finger at Tunsel’s chest.
"What are you gonna do, sprout lasers from your eyes and lightning from your fingertips. Like a Lemurian?"
Snickers erupted from up and down the corridor.
"Go lick the warden’s buckhole!" Casper dropped under the swing and launched himself shoulder-first into the bigger man’s gut. He charged, carrying the thew-bound peabrain down the corridor.
Gorcos tripped him and Casper fell into a heap with Tunsel. Gorcos leaped in and the two-to-one fight was quickly over, Tunsel and Gorcos pummeling him into ground meat.
Casper lay in the corridor, barely able to lift his head.
All he saw was the backs of Tunsel and Gorcos, heading toward his cube with his wife.
Several pairs of hands hauled him down the corridor toward the common room. He knew he’d be spending the night in the singles' warren, Tunsel probably bucking his wife already.
"Over here," said a familiar voice through the fog.
They dumped him near the far wall, the ceiling shrouded in darkness.
"Will he be okay, Dr. Dersop?" a voice asked from far away.
"Here, give him some of this, and he will," said another voice.
A small glow illuminated Seamus’s face. "Drink this, Caspar, like the good doctor says." He held a cracked porcelain cup to Casper’s mouth.
The hot liquid stung the cuts in his mouth, but soothed them too.
Weariness washed over him and took the last of his consciousness.
"Line up!" The kick in his side reinforced the order.
Casper ignored the grin on Gorcos’s face and pulled himself to sitting.
"Guess who bucked the living Vishnu out of your wife last night, Casp!"
"Gork yourself into Tunsel’s buckhole." Casper got up and headed for the mess line, the singles' mess line, the conjugal units each having a dispensomeal.
The humiliation deepened, Casper galled by the thought of his wife bucking anyone else. Its having been Tunsel, the Warden’s bucklicker, was like a knife in his gut.
"Feel any better?" Seamus said, looking him up and down.
Casper smirked. Physically, he was badly bruised, and he had a tooth too loose for his liking. Tunsel and Gorcos knew better than to beat anyone so badly that they couldn’t work; the warden would have their hides for it. He tested his muscles, wondering what he would find at the Muthur dig. The sere, unforgiving planet surface was likely to present its own betrayals.
How the ancients of Lemuria had built into their crystals their amazing capabilities was a mystery long since lost in the collapse of their civilization. Before his conviction, Casper had dreamt of the vast universe he would find if only he might obtain even one Lemurian crystal, despite his having equally infinitesimal chances of untold riches. Casper knew all the crystals, triclinic to cubic. And the powers they possessed.
Daydreaming at night under the stars had given him hope amidst the squalor that seemed his family’s fate, their two-room cube too small for him, his parents, his sister and his infant brother. The cube had been tucked on the backside of a towerblock housing eight hundred other families in similar two-cubes, the towerblock one amongst thousands, these beehives disgorging their effluent of workers four times a day. Like clockwork, one fourth rushed to work a twelve-hour shift, every four hours, their rotations set by the towerblock, Casper’s parents manufacturing parts for extensibles, the same part every five seconds.
Casper had been working the line for five years, since he was fourteen, when he came home at one shift-end to find his father in the corner, rocking mindlessly, Casper’s infant brother Jaupal in his arms. "They’ve taken your mother and sister."
Casper didn’t ask his father why. He knew what for. Their wages weren’t enough to feed them all. Some wives and sisters stood at the intersections on payday. Some were put to work by the local police. Some purloined extra items from work or market. The risk and shame, he'd been told, seemed worth the moment of satisfaction when the belly was full and the family happy. He'd been beyond caring when his mother and sister had been taken. Kathag’s being bucked by the Warden's bucklicker had stirred long-dormant resentments from when his mother and sister had been detained.
The glop of porridge into his plate woke Casper from his reverie. It was smaller than the amount he usually got from the dispensomeal, and smaller than the serving others got in the messline. He knew the amount was deliberate. He was beyond caring.
"You can have some of mine," Seamus said, sitting beside him.
Casper wasn’t hungry. "You need to eat, old man."
"You need to find that crystal," Seamus retorted.
The tight space at the table, elbow-to-elbow with people on either side, was also deliberate, Casper knew. I need to find that crystal, he thought. He knew that if he didn’t, he’d probably do something stupid, which was exactly what had landed him here at Magasca Prison. Finished, he picked up his tray and shoved it through the window, joined the line for the transport, and boarded like the automaton he was.
Even as his father had begged him not to, saying there was nothing to be done, Casper had left their towerblock, his unpermitted departure instantly noticed, and had gone to the precinct. The station itself had been so packed that detainees were pressed up against the windows.
The fat-bellied officers had been no match for him, the power of his youthful, compact body easily overcoming these older, complacent buckholes. His demands for his mother’s and sister’s release had fallen on deaf ears. Combined, they'd buried him, tried him the next day, and sentenced him to life in prison and sent him to Magasca.
Casper got off the shuttle and joined the line for the extensibles, hoping his was half-operational. Equipment malfunction idled several extensibles every day. At least once per week, such malfunction led to a death. Not that tunnel collapse, rockslide, or armature failure didn’t, but power loss inevitably meant that your oxy-gen failed too. And when your oxy-gen failed, then mine gasses seeped into your extensible, leading to increased delirium and a slow, agonizing death. Tunnel collapses, rockslides, and armatures failures were at least quick deaths.
Casper tested his extensible. The oxy-gen blew a stream of cold, fresh air at him. He extended his arms and legs. The machine clamped onto his limbs, and a helmet lowered over his head. He became the extensible.
The right armature begrudgingly reached the limit of its range. All five drills tested perfect, and the com crackled to life. The cervical collar worked perfectly, of course. Functioning both to keep his spine aligned and to discipline him, the collar was the one piece they fastidiously kept in working order.
With barely time for testing, the tram plunged them into the mine.
Casper tried to elevate his awareness as Seamus had taught him, the resonance of the crystals purported to reverberate with the harmonics of thought itself. The tram slowed every thousand feet to drop off a pair of extensibles and their human operators. He waited for the signal to indicate his assigned stop.
The last stop arrived. His signal beeped, and Casper climbed off the tram, the extensible motors whining. He made his way deeper into the raw tunnel.
"Our relief at last!" Canpor said, his extensible hand slapping Casper’s mechanical shoulder. "Watch that rock face there to the right. Sensor says it's stable, but you know the drill. Otherwise looks to be a decent seam. C'mon, Ramtas," he said to his drill-mate.
"No secondary?" Ramtas said, her face lit up from below like a ghost.
"Tunsel doesn't like me much," Casper said, shrugging.
The two of them went the way he'd come, leaving him alone, without a secondary. This deep in, with the nearest fellow miner at least a thousand feet away, oxygen scarce, and the mineface new, Casper felt a shiver course down his back.
It felt like a setup.
Focus, he told himself, turning toward the raw rock.
Nearby, an autoloader blinked placidly at him, awaiting his signal. It would wait until he’d dislodged enough raw ore before loading it up for processing.
Casper looked at the rockface. To the right it did look unsteady, but not for the reasons Canpor had cited. To Casper, a soft ethereal glow seeped from between the cracks, as though a bright light sought to explode from behind a curtain of solid rock. He blinked in disbelief.
Then it was gone.
"You must believe," Seamus said, as though he stood right there.
The glow returned and Casper got to work.
He drilled until the drill bits glowed red, hammered with the two-ton hammer until the right armature failed, and then set the charges.
The blast brought down the ceiling and buried the extensible. Casper worked his left armature free, but the rest was hopelessly buried under tons of rock.
He had just enough time before they rescued him, the ceiling collapse triggering alarms. He uncovered the escape hatch, felt the chill to his bones as the frigid air rushed into the capsule, and wiggled from the extensible.
Bare feet and hands on rock sent spikes of cold toward his heart. He had perhaps thirty seconds before hypothermia set in. The glow was all around, and he saw it there, embedded in the newly-exposed rock:
A blue-white varietal, as big as a cherry, so bright he almost couldn’t look at it.
He scrambled across the new-fall, the surface treacherous and unstable, and put his hands on the crystal.
The universe spread before him like a sandbox, galaxies like grains of sand. Time swirled around him in the spiral that it was, the inner coccyx looping out to spiral again toward the inner end, engines of creation giving birth to galaxy after galaxy, black holes gorging themselves upon them until they burst from being so turgid.
Casper pulled the crystal from the rock and scrambled back to the extensible, no longer feeling the cold, the blue glow outlining the bones of his hand through his palm.
He climbed back into the extensible, its com squawking at him. Pulling the hatch closed, he worked himself back into position, then pulled the helmet back down over his head. What do I do with it? he wondered, They’ll take it if they know I have it, he knew. His clothing offered no concealment, barely adequate to cover his nudity.
There was only one place. The size of a cherry, the crystal wasn’t uncomfortable, but the cold felt as if he had an icicle in his buckhole, and he’d have to become accustomed to having the urge to evacuate. He hoped he didn’t really have to evacuate between now and the time he returned to the cell block. He didn’t know what he’d do then. He couldn’t think about that right now.