Fliers of Antares

Fliers of Antares by Alan Burt Akers Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: Fliers of Antares by Alan Burt Akers Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alan Burt Akers
Tags: Fiction, Science-Fiction, Fantasy
mention fluttrells and mirvols of Havilfar.
    Their riders were short squat diffs with thin bandy legs. Their faces reminded me of the Ullars of Ullardrin of Northern Turismond, although there was none of that indigo dyed hair. There was, however, the same savagery about the square clamp of their mouths. At this time they habitually wore black and ocher scaled clothing made from the skins of the tyryvols, and they carried those damnably sharp tridents, and the thin flexible sword of the aerial fighter. These are the Gerawin of Gilarna the Barren in the Empire of Hamal. They proved to be immensely efficient guards and watchdogs over the Heavenly Mines for the Hamalese.
    Around us stretched the barrens. The foothills trended up steadily toward the west and northwest. The task of escape from the mines on foot would be a daunting enterprise and one not to be considered without many days’ food and water and, inevitably, a weapon of defense against the frightful dangers infesting all such spots.
    The Hamalese are an efficient people. The dominant species happens to be apim; but the many species of diffs take a full part in government, industry, commerce, and all the other branches of activity that make up a thriving empire. Hamal was an ambitious and outwardly thrusting empire. They made airboats and sold them to Vallia and Zenicce and other favored customers, although they would not sell to Pandahem or Loh. That efficiency took us in, cleansed and fed us, and let us rest for a space. Then we were issued picks and shovels. An example was made of a Gon who wanted to shave his hair and so made trouble; the cold, calculating discipline administered to him chilled all the slaves’ blood, and then that harsh impersonal discipline, that massive adherence to law and order, imposed its full weight on us. We marched down to the mines and went through the artificially illuminated passageways cut in the rock, and so came out to a vast and echoing space in the mountain. Here we set to work to hack the rock away and fill baskets with the broken stuff. The baskets were drawn on a track by calsanys, to the opening where crushers and refiners went to work, powered by the arms and backs of slaves.
    That efficiency saw that every slave worked to the uttermost of his strength. Everything was regulated down to the last drop of water. Rock was cut, drawn out, crushed, refined, and parceled up into fliers to be sent somewhere in Hamal of which we had no knowledge then.
    The whole process was inhuman.
    The last ounce of effort was taken from every slave.
    It was possible to survive, for I saw old men still laboring away, although the turnover was rapid, for the labor simply wore a man down until he saw no good reason to go on living. Absolute inhumanity reigned here. Work — slaving work — filled every day. Rest periods were calculated out with a nicety that allowed a man to recuperate just enough energy to return with his shift to work the next time around.
    By comparison, the Black Marble Quarries of Zenicce, in which I’d spent some time, seemed to have been run by amateurs.
    Order, law, discipline, rule. The lash, starvation, deprivation of water so that thirst tore a man’s spirit and made of him a tool in the hands of the Hamalese, all these things conspired together to make of the Heavenly Mines a place that proved Agilis knew what he was doing when he strangled his brother and would have allowed his brother to strangle him in return . . .
    So I entered another period of my varied life on Kregen that, even now, fills me with a most profound horror, a revulsion of spirit that brought me face to face with the man I thought I was, the man Dray Prescot, shorn of all titles and petty ranks and symbols. It was just me, Dray Prescot, pitted against inhuman will and discipline.
    I knew only one thing.
    I would not give in.

CHAPTER FIVE
    The Heavenly Mines
    Everything had a number.
    Every pickax carried its number burned into the haft and punched

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