Chapter 42, Part 2

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The landspeeders hovered across rugged ground as Ben surveyed drone feeds. No da phelu, although there remained leftovers of the failed mining expedition. He spotted old semi-autonomous vehicles like drillers, dumpers, and even the scraper Specialist Teel eluded to earlier. There were dangerous old explosives likely meant to detonate inside drilled holes. Technological infrastructure, such as sensors for dust and motion, was common.

Ben wondered what it would be like doing this work, not seeing the light of Tyrius or Taria for days at a time, gathering quadanium and loading it in skips carrying it above ground. Was this the great job SKYE offered the citizens of Iskaayuma, Rupoya, Sukabeku, and neighboring cities? That seemed preposterous in these dismal, monotonous conditions.

Then again, the years of military service in the autori provided a guaranteed pay check and a hot meal. Yet after that, where was the rising generation to find work? Mines provided steady work, not demanding a person go weeks between odd jobs.

Mining here might be preferred to selling tourist trinkets, manning food carts, being a cartel's muscle, or pimping on the streets. It was no surprise Rodia spawned someone like Krul who hated his circumstances and tried to peg down those responsible for his people's plight.

Ben's network appraiser indicated he needed to throw out another comm booster. He dropped it over the side of the vehicle. "Check." He should have brought another droid to do this task.

"Still good," said Til'trius.

"Commander Kenobi," said Teel, joining the channel, "I thought you should see this." Ben's HUD showed a live feed from an outer fly drone. Even with image enhancement it was hard to discern objects. A mining vehicle had crashed into a wall, and a solid wall of loose rocks towered before it. Great; a prior cave-in. Another vehicle lay in the middle of the tunnel, its doors ripped off. "Any chance of removing this fallen rock, sir? The speeders can't advance."

Ben checked the maps for an alternate route on his visor. No such luck. "I'll move ahead with Alpha and check out the collapse," Ben said. "I might be able to fix it. Sergeant Chalmers, take us there, and slow down on the approach."

"Got it, sir," said Chalmers.

"Specialist Teel, get me more detail on those vehicles," Ben directed.

The drone flew toward the vehicle jammed against the wall. The vehicle had an enormous, long saw with jagged teeth jutting into stone wall. The saw itself was grimey -- perhaps microbes grew over it in time. The vehicle had no cabin, likely controlled remotely. Scouring marks against its hull. No scraper did that. The mutants had been here.

The copter zoomed in on the other large vehicle, a long drill on it suggesting it had been a bolting rig. Stains from likely Rodian blood -- perhaps that of da phelu as well -- still darkly caked the vehicle in patches.

Ben tried to recreate the scene in his mind -- miners fleeing from a horde of furious mutants. Teleoperators of the cutter swinging the saw madly to try to kill the da phelu or give time to the miners to escape. One vehicle being overtaken by da phelu. The other vehicle, presumably as an accident, slamming into the wall and triggering the cave-in, and dooming many if not all of the miners.

Or perhaps the ramming of the wall had been intentional, a desperate move to stop the advance of the mutants while miners deeper in the tunnels could discover other means of escape. That seemed unlikely to create a tunnel collapse, but then again he was no expert in mine architecture.

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