As the sun rose over the horizon of the city, thousands of Delphorian workers crept out of their district housing towers and trudged down to the train station. They trudged down the shadow clad streets in pairs; for gathering in the streets in numbers greater than two were forbidden. They all wore the same style of blue working overalls. About half of them wore clothing that was worn and tattered from excessive wear and tear, while the other half were wearing fresh clean pairs of overalls. There was however no pair of Delphorians with one person neatly attired, and the other raggedly so. It was as though Delphorian society were divided into two different sub-species. Along the roads patrolled Groods brandishing wooden maces ready to pounce on any Delphorians wandering too closely to another pair.
Normally, Elwin would travel down to the station with Erian, but this morning, Elwin was traveling alone. The Groods eyed the one lone Delphorian suspiciously, as though at any second he would join up with a pair of Delphorian commuters and commit a public offence: One that the Groods openly relished correcting by pouncing on all three or four offending Delphorians and beating them with their maces. The other Delphorians nearby detected the anomaly and the increased danger the non-conformer presented to them and consciously made an effort to maximise their distance from Elwin. Thus an invisible circle of exclusion surrounded Elwin as he made his way down to the station.
Once safely through the gates of the train station the no gatherings greater than two rule no longer applies. The Delphorians who had taken great pains to keep their distance from each other immediately coagulate into one loud chatting mass in the safety of the station mustering yard. Elwin who had been completely alone for the entire walk through the streets was immediately surrounded by curious Delphorians barraging him with questions.
“Why are you coming here so early today? Where is Erian? Is he ill? Are you two fighting? It is 6am, don’t you usually start work at 9am?”
The questions kept coming. Elwin just muttered that he couldn’t sleep and wanted to get ahead with his work for that day. Eventually the crowd picked up this message and started repeating it over and over to each other. Then from out of the crowd Kylie emerged.
“Hey Elwin, I heard you couldn’t sleep, me neither, look I just got two shifts at the library, how about we meet up this afternoon for lunch? I will pay for your meal because I would like to chat to you.”
Elwin looked at Kylie curiously. Her face appeared earnest and more serious than he could ever recall her being. Elwin just nodded an agreement with her and she smile and quickly disappeared into the throng of Delphorians clamouring in the mustering yard.
The reason that each morning Delphorian workers leave their condominiums and aggregate around the district train station was to find work. Work all Delphorians need to do if they are to ever pay off their social debt. There is a courtyard outside the station and it is here they bid for the jobs available that day. The lists of jobs varied from district to district. Elwin lives in district MBSE4, which is mostly an industrial region. There are no shortages of coal mining jobs, factory labour, construction, and administrative work in MBSE4.
There came a ringing of a small bell from atop a podium on one side of the mustering yard. The Kelite officiators call out to the crow, already hundreds strong, for workers interested in working in the coal mines. Hundreds immediately put their hands up. Elwin puts his hand up with theirs and half-heartedly tries to jostle to the front of the crowd. The Kelite officiators count out one hundred and fifty Delphorians, Elwin was number one hundred and forty-four. They were allowed through the barrier onto the platform where they bound a train heading towards the coal mines.
The train carriages had no seats, it was standing room only. Elwin positioned himself where he could just see out the window if he stood on tip toes. The train lurched off and Elwin could only keep himself from falling over by grasping one of the old leather belts dangly from the ceiling. A puff of smoke entered the carriage via a window and it was quickly closed. The Delphorian workers nearby the window started coughing from the inhalation of the smoke.
An old Delphorian man, perhaps in his late fifties chuckled nearby. A younger man who had been coughing snarled at the old man demanding why he was chuckling.
“Oh, I was just remembering when we still had electric trains here in MBSE4. We could keep those windows open for the entire journey, no smoke from the boiler furnace you see.”
The young man just spat at him and turned away. The old man croaked an insult but the young man just ignored him. Elwin’s jaw was hurting badly at that moment, but he managed to ask the old man a question.
“Why did they stop running the electric trains?”
The old man looked at Elwin taken aback by the interest in him. Elwin didn’t think the old man was going to answer, but he eventually nodded and spoke again.
“There’s a great big machine that crushes the coal before it can be fed into the generator for the train line. It’s a special generator that needs to have the coal passed into it in a fine powdery form. Without this crushing machine they can’t start the generator to run the electric trains.”
“Are electric trains better than steam trains?”
“Oh, way better, they’re faster, quieter, and can carry more people.”
“Why can’t they fix the this coal crushing machine?”
The old man studied Elwin’s face carefully and lowered his voice.
“Because none of those Kelite engineers know what they’re actually doing. Every so often one of them comes to the power station and has a go at fixing it. They fail every time, because between you and me, those Kelites are not nearly as smart as they think they are.”
Elwin felt a chill of discomfort at hearing the old man’s heresy. The Kelites were better than the Delphorians. They were wiser, nobler, and stronger than the Delphorians, or at least it was dangerous to say otherwise. Elwin remembered the beatings some of the boys got for speaking ill of the Kelites in school. With the abrupt movement of a reflect, Elwin turned away from the old man and looked out the window so as to avoid making eye contact with him.