Dusk
what dreams that fledge had given, and to whom. One of the men up ahead stumbled to his knees. Others helped him up, and they completed the journey in silence.
    As ever, they were glad to reach the home-cave. Lights guided their way for the last thousand steps, a weak glow to begin with, brightening as home came closer. It gave their eyes time to become accustomed to the illumination, although they would still squint for a while yet, so used were they to complete darkness. None of the miners or their families really needed the light, but it was tradition to light the home-cave. They were human, after all. Fire gave them safety.
    Trey looked around for Sonda, but she was nowhere to be seen.
    Machines and magic had carved out this huge cavern. Miners had remained living and working here since the Cataclysmic War, and so over time they had made the place totally their own. Walls were hidden or remodeled by hand, the cavern expanded or altered to suit new homes, fresh caves dug into the extremities, walkways and ladders added to connect one area with another. There were even those parents who told their children that their ancestors had made this place, giving no mention at all to machines. Trey felt uncomfortable with this; however terrible the past was, it was set in stone and should be remembered. Altering history for a child’s sake was establishing life on a lie. Where would it go from there? When he found a partner and had a child, he fully intended on taking it to view the Beast. This old, dead machine, monstrous and haunting in its continuing state of decay, sat at the base of a deep pit two days’ travel through the mines. It had been sinking a new shaft at the time of the Cataclysmic War—it was still rumored that it had found the richest vein of fledge ever—and when magic withdrew it had died and remained there ever since. Almost everyone knew where it was, but nowadays few had any desire to view it.
    He remembered his father taking him to see the Beast, through old tunnels and workings where people had not labored for generations. The silence down there, the loneliness. The awe he had felt upon first seeing the dead machine, then fear, and then after a time, the pity.
    Eyes stinging from firelight, Trey set off down the main street. He knew virtually everyone here by smell and sight, and he nodded to those who he sometimes conversed with, relishing the fact that they could see him. After a long shift, most miners were silent for a time after returning home. The power of sight gave them a rest from talking.
    He was looking forward to a long dust bath. He had a fist of fresh fledge in his rucksack, and he would lie back and gnaw on that, letting the drug settle him and open his mind. As usual he would seek Sonda, try to make out what she was thinking and doing at that moment. And perhaps yet again he would try to communicate what he would like to be doing with her in his dust bath. He saw her sometimes, they talked, and if she had touched on his guilty thoughts she did not show it.
    Trey made a quick visit to a water bar, where the first drink was always free for a returning miner. He gulped down the cup of fresh water, closing his eyes as its coolness washed dust from his throat and brought his insides alive. There were others there whom he had spent the long shift working alongside, but they had little to say to one another now, so he gave a nod and left. Some of them would remain there for a while yet, moving on from the water to some of the insipid rotwine that was brought down from the surface. His father had died from this stuff—it had eaten his insides, his mother told him, and twisted his mind—so Trey hated the very thought of it. And yet, talking to some of the older miners, he sensed something vastly alluring in its murky depths. They told him that it gave an escape that fledge never could. Fledge enhanced, it did not stultify. Maybe he was too young to realize just why this was an attractive

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