Chapter 1: Milo ~ Vercury Dust

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WARNING: While this novel is rarely graphic, themes involving death, murder and suicide make it appropriate for mature readers.

As he rose from the depths of the mine to the surface, Milo released his mask and sucked at the fresh air. Twenty other miners packed in closely around him did the same. Human and humanoid, they were equally coated in vercury dust, a silvery residue that clung like silk and tasted of ash. In the back, someone coughed. For a last moment, after the elevator jerked to a stop but before the accordion gate retracted, Milo felt the unspoken relief that united them all, and then the gate released them to disperse across the yard and up the darkening streets of Dixonas.

Milo rubbed his nose and sneezed, smearing the metallic grime on his knuckles. He hoped dinner would be waiting for him at home.

His friend Benny fell into step beside him as they started up the slope.

"Did you hear about the guy in one-twenty-one D?" Benny asked.

"Yes," Milo said. Despite the ache in his muscles, he could feel his mind expanding, shedding the darkness and focus of work

"He had his beacon off," Benny said.

"I know."

"You think he was scavenging?"

"No idea," Milo said.

He didn't want to talk about the dead miner. Any death in the mine reminded him of his father, and Benny ought to know that.

Milo shifted his lunchbox to his other hand and peered over the shops to the evening sky. He'd never say so, but he liked to imagine his father's spirit was up there, traveling alongside his sister's, restless with unfinished business, or better yet, exploring. He searched for a star, any star in the deepening violet, until he found a low one and felt an inner tick of rightness, the pinpoint of sorrow.

They reached the top of the hill where the city flattened out and the boardwalk stretched along the skyport. Several families lingered there, waiting for the miners, and a brown, dark-haired girl stood alone by the railing, coolly observing the miners as they passed. Her gray coat was open in the front, revealing a swath of vibrant yellow like the inner layer of a breaking chrysalis, and Milo recognized Denisha at once. He felt a childish, embarrassed temptation to ignore her, and turned his face so she wouldn't identify him.

She couldn't be there for him. They'd had only one awkward night together, and she couldn't wish to repeat it any more than he did. When he was well past, he glanced back once more to find her still watching the miners as they crested the hill.

"You coming to Ito Glow tonight later?" Benny asked. "Ditri will be there."

"No. But thanks."

"Too expensive?"

That was part of it. "No, I'm just not in the mood," Milo said.

They edged past a group of kids that were clustered around one boy's phone.

"All the more reason to go, if you ask me," Benny said.

Milo half listened as Benny expounded upon his favorite bands and which ones might be playing at Ito Glow. Milo was still needled by the image of Denisha standing there so idly and expectantly, and he couldn't figure out why. Domling girls rarely came to Dixonas. Denisha was out of place, almost predatory, but it wasn't just that, or that he'd struck out with her.

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