We sat in silence.
Of course we sat in silence. On the bus ride home there was always silence. Even though we sat in clusters of departments in the HUB. In the front sat the chemists. They mostly kept their noses face down at their screens. Presumably still working. In the middle sat the office workers. If there was occasional chit chat it came from this group. Usually from new hires. Soon enough they learned it’s best to keep quiet. They also kept their noses face down looking at their screens. Presumably they communicated with their families outside the gates. In the back of the bus sat the miners. That was my group. We avoided anything with lights and just kept our noses down and usually our eyes shut. At least, most of the miners did. I sat by myself and stretched out on the seat so that I could look out the window.
I worked at the HUB long enough to play by the rules. I never spoke to anyone. All of my dreams that I may have had when young had been sufficiently snuffed out. No aspirations of anything else beat in my heart or stirred my dreams at night. I endured each day.
Yet, I still looked out the window. The rising sun during the bus trip into the HUB and the setting sun on the bus trip out of the HUB was my only glimpse of natural light. The purple and pink glow of the sky at this time still excited my soul enough to increase my heart beat. It was those heart beats that allowed me enough courage to face my lot in life. I am a HUB miner. I will always be a HUB miner until my last breath releases me from my contract. Then my soul will be free. Perhaps it will float toward the sun and enjoy a never ending light. No more underground. No more darkness. That was a comforting thought.
But for tonight, I rode the bus heading home. I was anxious to get home and go to bed. Morning rudely came early and there never seemed to be enough time to sleep.
A commotion at the front of the bus caught my attention and I looked away from the setting sun. One of the chemists started talking loudly. It didn’t look like he was talking to anyone in particular just talking loudly.
The bus hit a hole and caused me to hit my head on the seat in front of me.
I recognized the chemist because I had overheard a conversation he had while we were waiting for the bus. He seemed upset at the bus stop and complained that some project they were working on was volatile. The other chemist he spoke to had called him Elliot and then pulled him away from the group. Even though I couldn’t hear their conversation after that I noticed Elliot continued to look upset. His coworker turned him so that Elliot’s back was to the rest of us. I didn’t watch them but occasionally kept tabs on the two while I waited. When he boarded the bus I could tell Elliot was still upset.
I didn’t really care since the HUB was full of secrets. It was best just to stay away and out of whatever Elliot was trying to stir up. Sticking to one’s own business is what a miner did best. We never questioned our orders we just dug.
I sat in my seat and watched as the sun began dipping below the horizon. That’s when Elliot started speaking even louder. He stood up in the aisle so that his coworker couldn’t quiet him down.
“We are all in danger,” he said backing away from his own seat toward the clerical group. “You are in danger. Things are not what they appear to be.”
The bus slowed down and stopped. Out of my window I could see the flashing lights of a security car passing the bus and then stopped in front of the bus.
“They are going to silence me,” Elliot said looking out the window. “They have come to silence me.” He let out a short laugh that sounded like a snort. “That is ironic.” He wiped his forehead. “They are too late, though,” he said backing up until he was in the miners’ area of the bus.
The doors opened and a couple of officers boarded.
Elliot reached into his inside coat pocket and pulled out a pair of gloves. The other chemists gasped and a couple of them slipped out of the bus behind the security personnel.
The chemist that had been sitting with Elliot groaned. “What are you doing? You know you aren’t supposed to take anything out of the lab!”
“Or what?” Elliot asked waving the gloves like a weapon. He slipped them on his hands.
Judging from the chemists’ reactions the miners sitting around him shifted in their seats. We may not have personally understood the threat he was waving around but we picked up on the chemists’ vibes.
“You are in danger,” he repeated again.
The security officers took out their guns and shouted at him to come with them.
“No, I am no longer part of HUB,” he said. “I am free.” With those words he raised his right hand to his mouth.
“Elliot, no!” the other chemist shouted.
It was too late. Elliot put his fingers in his mouth and pulled the glove off with his teeth. He did the same thing with the other glove.
Immediately his body began convulsing and he dropped to the floor. The gloves fell next to his body.
The officers put their weapons away and rushed to him. There was nothing they could do but wait for his body to stop shaking. Once it did they picked up his body to carry him off.
“Nobody touch those gloves!” an officer yelled at us. It was unnecessary. None of us had any desire to touch either glove.
Minutes later a containment unit boarded the bus and retrieved the two gloves.
About 15 minutes after that a professional looking man and woman boarded the bus.
“Now folks,” the man said, “we had some excitement here tonight, haven’t we?” The woman he was with watched each person on the bus sternly. “You have nothing to worry about,” he said with a smile. “Everything is fine.”
The woman continued to stare at each passenger. I found it best to look out the window. By that time the sun had set completely and it was dark outside. I could only see my reflection in the window.
“You will be taken home and you will report to work tomorrow. It is best if you forget what you saw here tonight. Don’t tell anyone. We wouldn’t want anyone to worry unnecessarily now, would we?” He was smooth but he didn’t have to worry about me. I lived alone and had no one to tell. Besides, I had learned it was best not to talk about work at all. If anyone did happen to ask me about work my standard reply was “fine.”
The woman gave one last penetrating look throughout the bus then they both left the exited. Ten minutes later we were again on our way home. If the bus was silent before it was even more so for the rest of the ride.
When we pulled into our stop I got off the bus and walked slowly home. The only thing I focused on was some hunger pain since I was late for dinner. I did my best to forget about what I had just witnessed and I tried even harder to forget Elliot’s warning.