A rough draft of the first chapter of an upcoming book. Just to piss you off.
Juliette leaned into the excavator while the others watched. Her body shook as the heavy metal piston slammed into the concrete wall again and again. The vibrations felt violent enough to knock a tooth loose. Every bone and joint shuddered, and old wounds ached with reminders. Her right hand was already numb, that annoying twinge in her elbow resurfacing. And she could tell, as she ate through inches of stout wall, that her shoulder would be flaring up again from the abuse. Not to mention her web of a thousand scars. It felt as though they were all on fire once more.
Off to the side of the generator room, the miners who normally manned the excavator watched unhappily. Juliette turned her head as powdered concrete billowed out from the wall. She saw the way the miners were watching her, arms crossed over wide chests, jaws set in rigid frowns. Were they angry at her for appropriating their gear? For insisting that she be the one to bore the first hole? Or was it the fear of broken taboo, of digging where it was forbidden?
She swallowed the grit and chalk accumulating in her mouth and concentrated on the crumbling wall. There was another possibility, one she couldn’t help but fear. A lot of good men and women had died while she was gone. The fighting that broke out here was because she was sent to clean. How many of them had lost a loved one, a best friend, a family member? How many of them blamed her?
Juliette found it hard to believe she might be the only one who did so.
The excavator bucked, and there was the clang of metal on metal. Juliette steered the punching jaws of the machine to the side as bones of rebar appeared through the fog and in the white flesh of concrete. She had already gouged out a veritable crater in the outer silo wall. A first row of rebar hung jagged overhead, the ends smooth like melted candles where she’d taken a blowtorch to them. Two more feet of concrete and another row of the iron rods? Juliette chewed at the stone between them, steering the machine with numb limbs and nerve. If she hadn’t seen the damn schematic herself, if she didn’t know there were other silos out there, she’d have given up already. It felt as though she were chewing through the very earth itself. Her arms shook, her hands a blur. This was the wall of the silo she was attacking, ramming it with a mind to pierce through the damn thing, to bore clear through to the outside.
The miners shifted about uncomfortably; they were probably thinking similar thoughts. Juliette looked from them to where she was aiming as the hammer-bit rang against more iron. She concentrated on the crease of white stone between the two bars. With her boot, she kicked the forward lever, and the excavator trudged ahead an inch. She should’ve taken another break a while ago. The chalk in her mouth had her dying for more water, and her arms needed a rest. There was rubble all around the base of the excavator and her feet. She had kicked a few of the larger chunks out of the way.
Her fear was that if she stopped one more time, she wouldn’t be able to convince them to let her go any further. Mayor or not, there were men she had thought fearless who had left the generator room while she worked. There were those who seemed terrified that she might puncture some sacred seal and let in the foul and murderous air. She saw they way they looked at her, knowing she’d been on the outside. Like she was a ghost. They kept their distance as if she harbored a virus, like she was some walking pestilence. Juliette set her teeth, could feel the grit crunch and crack between them, and kicked the forward plate again with her boot. Another inch. Goddamn the fighting and her friends dead. Goddamn the thought of Solo and the kids all alone over there, a forever of rock away. And goddamn this mayor nonsense, people looking at her like she suddenly ran all the shifts on every level, like she knew what the hell she was doing, like they had to obey her even as they feared her—
The excavator lurched forward more than an inch; the pounding hammer-bit screamed with a piercing whine. Juliette lost her grip with one hand, and the machine revved up like it was fit to explode. The miners startled like fleas, several of them running toward her, their shadows converging. Juliette hit the red kill switch, which was nearly invisible beneath a dusting of white powder. The excavator kicked and buckled as it wound down from its dangerous state.
“You’re through! You’re through!”
Raph pulled her back, his strong arms from years of mining wrapping around her numb limbs. They were telling her she was done. Finished. The excavator had made a noise like some connecting rod had shattered, that dangerous whine of a powerful engine running without friction, without anything to stop it. Juliette felt herself sag in Raph’s embrace. The desperation returned, the thought of her friends buried alive in some tomb of an empty silo and unable to reach them.
“You’re through, get back!”
A hand that smelled of grease clamped down over her mouth, more fear of the air beyond, and Jules saw a black patch of empty space as the billowing concrete dissipated. She saw a dark void beyond those bars of iron, those prison bars that ran two deep and all around them, from Mechanical to the up top, encasing them in this blasted cell, this prison cut off from the others, and now she was through. Through. With a glimpse of some other outside—
“The torch,” she mumbled, prying Raph’s calloused hand from her mouth. “Get me the cutting torch. And a flashlight.”