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May 16, 2012 / Daniel

Trial and Error 4: Next

(Read the complete Trial and Error series in the GSU: The Wastes section.)

[1191 words, rated PG]

Toby leaned briefly on the latched door before slowly walking out of the library; Liam’s whimpers growing quieter and quieter as he left.

When he emerged into the daylight, a group had gathered on the front steps; mostly boys and girls that had finished their first dig run. They all stared at Toby, curious, worried, frightened. Few of them had ever seen the Librarian, but enough stories about him circulated that he was still very real to them.

Karrin walked up to the second step, and hugged Toby around the ribcage.

In the crowd stood Thisson, a younger boy with oil-black hair and bangs below his brows “Is Liam…” he wanted to know, but didn’t want to know.

“I don’t know.” The small bit of shake in Toby’s voice was not unnoticed; they were all tuned to notice tiny changes in sound.

Toby slid from Karrin’s embrace and made his way down the front steps toward Thisson. He stopped in front of Thisson and looked into his eyes for, something. He didn’t seem to like what he found there; he didn’t react to it, at least, and walked on past him without further discussion.

A few from the crowd fell in behind Toby at a short distance, following him silently. The rest milled about on the steps, some hoping to hear about Liam, others wandering away into their own directions.

They followed Toby wondering what he would do next. There have been occasional injuries, cuts and scrapes, twisted ankles and sunburns, all that, but not very often had someone gotten into the dig, and the times they have, it wasn’t nearly as bad as what happened to Liam. Stories, sure, the worst of the worst were used during practice drills and even their banter-songs were all based in lessons on being careful.

Toby was soon back on the trail, with the curious behind him, making his way back to the spot where Liam fell.

The incoming line was bantering in a low harmonious mumble-hum.

“Out, out, out, while the sun’s about.
In, in, in, keep it off your skin.
Bring, bring, bring; Bring the unknown thing.
Don’t stop now, do it all again.”

Toby walked faster than the outgoing line, passing them up, getting back to the spot.

Ahead, one of the boys was talking loudly, making his point well known to the others, “…no point to this. I’m serious, completely worthless for us to be doing this.” He shoved the boy next to him to punctuate his correctness, bent down for a handful of stones, throwing small ones at those coming back from the dig with their loads and laughing when they’d duck.

“You too, we’re all making this happen; we suffer because of us,” he continued as Toby approached from behind. “Oh, and these ones…” he pointed out a smaller-statured girl in the incoming line, throwing a small stone at her face to make her stumble, “It’s these little shits that make it the worst. Clumsy. Weak.”

Toby was right behind him at this point.

“Every last one of us. Dumb animals running patterns. ‘Go get shit. Hey, I got some shit! Go get more shit. Hey, I got more shit!!”

Toby whumped his hand onto the bully’s shoulder and jerked. He spun around, stumbled, a little shocked at the change in momentum. Toby hurled the square of his fist, with a goodly heft of body weight behind it, and connected, landed soundly into the bully’s eye and cheekbone. He went down hard, without protest.

Both lines stopped.

Toby knelt down over the bully and put his nose against his nose. “There are things bigger than you. There are things smaller than you. There is a point to this. We are building a huge puzzle with a million invisible little pieces. That’s why it takes us all. Who made you well when you got the dark fever, the hollow death, and who healed your broken leg in an afternoon? The Librarian. Everything we do, we do for that. When we all help us, we all help him, because ignorance is death. You can help us do this, or you can keep pounding on the things smaller than you with all your soulless rage. But remember that there are things smaller than you that can kill you. Either way, you keep this shit up, keep not helping us, I’ll bury you right here.”

The bully elbowed himself up to sitting, pressing the tender spot on his face, wincing.

“I still don’t see the point,” he twisted his neck around, dealing with the pain. “All this shit that we’re collecting, one bucket of black crap after another. How do you know he’s not just a crazy old man with some stupid idea, and we’re just collecting ash or black dirt, random dust of pulverized rocks? What’s the point of organizing us into amateur geologists, collecting the leftovers of what got left behind. There’s no point in saving what’s useless.”

Toby stands over him and moves his own headset from his neck to his ears, fiddles with some dials, tuning the seeker tone inside. He hits a certain setting, looks around. Toby goes into the scrub and rubble on the side of the path, picks up a handful of black stuff bare-handed, brings it back, pours it onto the ground. He re-tunes his headset, goes out, comes back with another sample, bare-handed, adds it to the pile. Again, he tunes, goes back out. When he returns, his arm is covered in the black powder up to the elbow.

The bully scurries backward a bit when he saw; The stuff was seething, churning crawling around like a living pool of dry liquid. Moving quickly, Toby uses the fingers of his other hand to rake and scrape at the stuff, having it fall away from his skin, and dropping to the pile of black already on the ground. His skin beneath was unharmed.

The pile of powder on the ground began to seethe and churn when all three ingredients were together. It kneaded over itself and convulsed. Toby removed his headset. Those with headsets still on quickly ripped them off, because the resulting seeker tones emitting from the pile were piercing storms of horrific noise.

The pile began to settle inside itself, take on a form, shapes, facets. It piled itself up to about the height of Toby’s knee, and settled further, undissolving itself into a plate of structured forms, crystals of quartz, solid, perfect, unmoving. The sunlight splintered through the quartz, washing small rainbows around them where the light refracted outward.

“It’s not just minerals in the black stuff. It’s minerals and machines. Machines with plans.”

The silent crowd fell into a deeper, reverent quiet.

“If we can figure that out, we win everything. The most valuable thing we own here is our time. We control that. I’m here to see you do not waste it. Now, get back in line.”

Toby walked on down to the spot where Liam fell, yoked up his glass buckets, went back out to the dig to finish filling, and continued making the rounds for the day.

[Jump to Part 5]

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