They stumbled out into a red desert landscape, surrounded by silent guards with brown, wrinkled skin and smelling sharply of sweat. Travelling out of warp drive made his muscles dance with pins and needles. He stopped for a moment to let them settle and was shoved into someone.
It was the pushing that Tim remembered most. He was pushed forward by workmen. Pushed into other men so often in the first few minutes, that his apologies were eventually half bitten back, then silenced before they blended uselessly with the hot air all around.
For hours, it seemed, they marched on. This heat was a suffocating weight coming from all sides. Looking up once for fresh air, he saw white geometric domes, dusted red in the wind. Still they marched. On and on past dome after dome, until voices called out ‘halt, halt, halt’. Three times.
The dome they entered felt surprisingly cool. His body relaxed a bit as he closed his eyes and lifted his arms to cool down. Now he smelled of bitter sweat. Through the crowd, he saw a wall blocking this foyer and where ever they were. What the foyer did contain was a shiny steel table holding dirty backpacks and seating a lady. No, he corrected himself, a Matron.
Guards surrounded them into a tight group then with a feet thumping salute, stared towards her.
The Matron grinned at his group. ‘Welcome home. Don’t you guys look tired? I hear the trek is a bad one?’ There were a few grunts in reply. ‘Your welcome packs are here, if you’ll just sign in, you can take ‘em to your beds. Who have we got here?’
One by one, men talked in quiet voices to the Matron, gathered their packs and disappeared behind the wall.
At his turn, she encouraged Tim to look straight ahead, hands held as if in surrender. He felt a nothing as his retina, chip and fingerprints were scanned. ‘Isn’t this a bit excessive?’ he joked. She shrugged. ‘Maybe, but you can get torn up by the beasts pretty bad. This way, we might know who you are’.
Tim’s heart stopped for a beat. ‘I didn’t know about them’, he said through his suddenly tight throat.
‘Aah don’t worry about it. Be a good boy and follow the rules. Its all in the welcome pack. Speaking of, read it all tonight. Supper is at six.’ She winked and looked past him. ‘My other bag’, he started asking, but someone shoved a backpack into his stomach and hustled him on.
Wandering behind the dividing wall, he fumbled with the pack until he could grab hold of a strap. Upon feeling it’s weight almost cried in relief at the only real thing that seemed to exist. He straightened his back, head held high, and wandered further in, picking a bed in an area somewhat empty for now. The sheets were freshly laundered, but old. Better than the ones back home though.
This was Enemax, a world gathering energy and stored it in batteries to take back home. This job supposed to be a privilege. Restoring power and dignity to his fellow man.
The Ku bringing new leadership and this job had given him a purpose again. The speech that he held on to was strong “How dare the previous administration keep us in poverty! With your help, we will crawl out of these swamps, rebuild our cities, and live again!” Now, he saw, he had been conned again. Solar Panel Assembler? Providing energy and dignity? Yeh right. Slave more like.
Shaking his head out of its cloud of self-pity, he took stock of this space. Held held high, he nodded to a guy sitting nearby. ‘Didn’t think it’d be this cool’ Tim said. The guy nodded and pointed to a circular hole in the space between two beds.
‘Venting’ he says. ‘All around the bottom. High air pressure up there pulls up the heat.’
Tim looked up to the hole in the roof. ‘How do you know that?’
‘I was an engineer. Raised houses after the frackers moved on. Yourself?’
‘Carpenter. I’m Tim.’
‘Billy’ he said and held out his hand. They shook hands in this new desert home.