Her world was dark. It always had been. From the slave-pens she was born and raised in, to the hold of the ship she found herself in. Darkness was her world. Darkness was her home. Darkness was where it was safe. It was what she knew. Light often meant fire. Heat. Burns. Singeing flesh and blinded eyes. Daylight was a story, an abstract concept she had heard of, but rarely witnessed.
The cargo hold was dank, reeking of sweat, metal and various other odours she could not determine, a putrid mixture that battered the senses of those confined within it relentlessly. They were packed like sardines, elbow to elbow, with scarcely the space to move. Not that many would try if there was. They knew better than to disobey, knew better than to cause a fuss. Years of training and conditioning had beaten the fight out of the broken souls, forced into a life of slavery. In the scarce light of the few bare lightbulbs swaying overhead, the glint of metal could be detected, thick bands circling the head of all those packed like cattle. Not many understood the exact workings of the torturous devices, though they knew enough to wish to avoid its consequences, for the pain it could bring was unlike any sensation one could describe.
Still, there had been an altercation. A slave that had attempted to bolt for freedom. He had not gotten far. His screams of agony still seemed to linger in the silence.
Disobedience meant agony. If the voice that echoed through their skull, amplified within their own mind, was not obeyed, a nerve shattering shock would be triggered. It was a sensation that could not be ignored, setting the nerves of the body on fire. The pain was so strong, so absolute, that any act of defiance was smothered within seconds, bodies crumpling to the floor in agony. Not even the strongest of mind could stand its torture for long.
Among the throng of forsaken souls -though easily missed by those not expressively looking for her- she stood. A girl, scrawny of stature, though hardened by nature. 3337. No name, merely a number, indicative of the fact that her life was owned by another. Standing at a measly five foot even, she was small for her age, her tiny frame giving her the appearance of a malnourished child. A thick band of metal was clamped around her temples, the very same band sported by those around her. Her bright eyes seemed dull in the low light, almost devoid of spirit as she stood there, merely waiting for the time to pass. How long had it been since they had taken to air? Time seemed to lose meaning when there was no passing of light and dark to indicate the day had moved along. Only the steady beat of her own heart was testament to the fact that time passed on.
No, her life had obviously not been rose-tinted. In fact, a shade of black seemed to be more fitting for the eighteen year old “sparkie”, for her job of retrieving and repairing equipment from narrow and often dark places meant a constant exposure to soot and ashes. It was not even sure if her dark brown-blackish hair was her own shade, or simply the result of years and years of dirty jobs.
She was getting “old” now for her previous job, thus losing her value. So up for sale she was once more. Though there was little doubt she was able, her body simply was not as small as other, younger sparkies, often mere children who did not really understand the dangerous job they were doing. Not many lived past their teenage years. Many never even made it to their teens.
Yet somehow, the young woman had managed to survive a gruelling fourteen years of service as a Sparkie, against the odds. The “pet” name of her specialization was enough of a hint of the lethality of the job. Sparkie, called so for the crackling light show that would happen if they'd mess up on the job, fiddling with and trying to retrieve technology. Electrocution was a common death on the job, though it was not uncommon for the small, “useless” slaves to be crushed between moving parts, scolded or burned by steam or metal, or to get trapped underneath collapsing rubble. Their lives were cheap and easily discarded. They were the runts of the litter, the sickly or small children who grew up in slavery and were determined to be of no other use. 3337 was no exception to that rule.
Like many of the other Tech Retrieval slaves, she had been born in slavery. Premature and tiny, her life expectancy had been low, yet she had somehow managed to survive her baby years. Still, she had remained small and scrawny, weak and somewhat sickly. So, at the age of four, when she was assessed, it came as no surprise that she was “condemned” to the class of slaves known for their short lifespan. The kind of slave that was regarded useless and disposable in any other way. Not strong enough to work the fields or construct homes, not pretty enough for concubines or “trophies”, nor judged to be long-lived enough to become a house-slave.
Yet, unlike the others, it seemed 3337 had some good luck, for though the years had scarred her, they had not killed her. Though, perhaps it was not luck that was completely to praise for her survival. Despite her apparent weakness, the lanky girl was clever. She had lived long enough to learn, to understand the whys and hows behind the equipment she had so often serviced.
Already, it felt like they had been travelling for days, the constant noise of the engines an almost soothing hum in the background. How long had it been since they had been jostled into the belly of the airship, how long since the bay doors had closed? How long had it been since they had all been jostled and shaken as the airship took to the sky, how long since those that had fallen, had scrambled to their feet again?
A strange stuttering sounded through the hum of the engine, a hiccough in the otherwise steady drone. A sound unnoticed by most of the cargo of lethargic slaves, but one that did not escape the attention of 3337. Something was amiss.