Tomorrow I’m off to Alt Fiction in Leicester, where I will be appearing alongside today’s guest, Emma Newman. Emma is the author of the YA dystopia 20 Years Later, and the collection of short stories From Dark Places. She is currently working on a series of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds, an urban fantasy universe, leading up to the release of five full-length novels.
I’m delighted to be hosting this week’s story, The Promise of Riches. Over to her…
This is the twenty-fourth tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here.
THE PROMISE OF RICHES
His boss calls it the Sore. On days when it all feels futile and he can’t see a way out he calls it the Wound but today the mine is the Cauldron, a magical open cast pot turning sweat into copper.
He leaves the air conditioned car and in seconds his collar clings to his neck, the new suit will need to be laundered when he gets back to the city. The only mercy is the breeze, still hot but blowing past him towards the mine. In the nearest village to the west, populated by the stubborn and the sick who care more about ancestral bones than new slums they’re entitled to at the edge of the city, they call the easterly breeze the Devil’s fart. It’s a good name, he thinks as he strides up the ramp to the porta-cabin door, the sulphurous fumes do smell like they could come from hell itself.
He knocks once and goes in, wanting to be polite but also to remind the foreigner that this is his cabin, and this is his country. His mouth is dry and the armpits of his shirt damp, but he refuses to acknowledge his fear. The urgent pulse is nothing but excitement, the slick palms nothing but the humidity. This will go well.
The foreigner doesn’t look up from his paperwork. The man is sitting in his chair, behind his desk, relaxed as if they were his own. He waves a hand at the chair that is reserved for suits, the other one is pushed against a wall, its seat cushion stained by alluvial mud left by the steady stream of complaining workers.
“Tell me,” the foreigner eventually says. “How did you raise the output by such a remarkable amount this year?” His Spanish is heavily accented but grammatically perfect.
“The last man was too soft,” he replies, slowing his speech a little for the foreigner’s ear. “He forgot that his duty was to the company, not to the workers.”
“You’re saying he was too kind to them?” His gold pen runs down columns of figures as he speaks.
“He didn’t realise that miners will always be unhappy about something, and that if someone listens to them like their mother, they will complain like children.”
The foreigner looks up for the first time, his eyes are the colour of verdigris, his hair disturbingly blonde. “And you treat them differently.”
“I make it clear that the only way money flows into this mine and into their pockets is by sending the copper out of it. The more copper goes out, the more money comes in.”
“And yet their wages have been frozen.”
“But the incentives for the most productive have not.”
The foreigner smiles a little, nods. “I’ve reviewed the figures and I’m impressed. So impressed I reviewed your file.”
“Thank you sir, your attention humbles me.”
“There’s no need for that kind of talk,” the foreigner cools, sits back. “Don’t lay it on too thick,” he says in English. He speaks like the Queen and how he imagines everyone speaks as they drink tea and watch big red buses plough through thick London fog.
“I apologise,” he says, switching to English, hoping the foreigner admires his avoidance of the phonemic traps lying within its syllables.
“I understand you’re interested in an international transfer,” the foreigner’s voice sounds like refined murderous intent, but he knows it’s only because he only watches American films cheaply imported, and the villains are always British.
“I am sir,” he replies, suppressing the urge to signal he is prepared to bribe. Such things are not needed here.
The foreigner nods, his white eyelashes are barely visible, making the edges of his eyelids harsh as he looks back down at the paperwork. “I’m willing to take you back to London if you can leave tonight.”
“I can.” He’d anticipated such a test. The company wanted proof it was the most important thing in his life, like a damaged lover, wanting to see him drop everything for them.
“Excellent. Do you have any questions?”
“I do.” He leaned forward, lowered his voice. “I have heard it said that you are the best prospector in the company, that you have discovered copper deposits in places other companies have ignored, and in some cases, even after another company has carried out initial testing and moved on.”
The foreigner smiles, gives a slight nod. “And your question is?”
“What do I need to do to be as skilful as you?”
“Like all things, that is both simple and complicated,” the foreigner replies as he scoops up the paperwork and tidies it with three abrupt taps on the table. “If you continue to show such promise, I’ll train you myself. But for now, suffice it to say it’s thanks to the holy trinity.”
He fails to hide his surprise, the foreigner doesn’t give the impression of being a man of faith.
“Not that one,” he continues. “Blood, sweat and tears.” The verdigris eyes flick up at him. “But mostly blood.”
The foreigner grins, there is a dark mirth in those eyes and the breeze drives the stench of sulphur under the door. But he doesn’t notice. His mind is already in London.
Thanks for hosting Adam!
I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it’s all here: www.splitworlds.com – you can also sign up to get an extra story and get each new story delivered to your inbox every week. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site. Em x