Just Another Fairy Tale?
© 1993 Michael J. Slebodnick JUST ANOTHER FAIRY
The sound of the whistle blowing sent the men back into the mines, like Pavlov's
dogs salivating when a bell rings. Only the men were not doing it because of positive
reinforcement, as in the dog's case. They were answering the call to work because they
know what will happen if they do not.
Dexter Semptil was such a man. When he was nine years old he started working
in the mines to pay off the family debt. Back then, he remembered as he climbed into
the tunneler, work was easier. There was no mandatory thirteen hour work days as
there is now. The debt twenty years ago was much lower, but as time marched on the
interest on the debt led to a quadrupling of the original debt. It is now so large that most
families have had to sell almost
everything they own to the state.
Donning the necessary safety equipment, he propelled his rig into the deep shaft,
alone in his assigned tunnel and with a heavy quota to meet. At the end of a day's
work, each worker is expected to yield 16 1/2 tons of ore a day. Those who did not
meet the quota stayed until they met it. If they reached quota early, the Overseers
raised it higher to keep them working. The management just raised Dexter's quota to
20 3/4 tons a day, because he usually works beyond the necessary tonnage; a practice
the authorities do not like. As the ground shook beneath the rig, Dexter powered the
drills at the front router. Mechanically, he eased forward on the thrust as the drill bit into
the wall of rock, boring a huge hole. The process spewed a great cloud of ash and
dust. Though no more than usual, his low resistance and the nearly twenty years of
enduring the soot had taken their toll on him. He began coughing violently.
"I'm getting too old for this," he muttered. He tasted the fine particles of chondrite
inundating his mouth. The grit nearly made him gag. "Get out of 'em what you can