Looking out the window Elwin felt fearful that the old man he had just turned his back on was boring a hole in his back with his eyes. Elwin wanted to look back at him, and at the same time wanted avoid looking in his direction ever again. The train hit a bump and Elwin sneaked a surreptitious peek over his shoulder while everyone was struggling to regain their balance, but the old man was looking elsewhere as though he had already forgotten Elwin had even existed. Relieved by this Elwin looked out the window again and this time with enough presence of mind to notice something as if for the very first time: There by the entrance to the coal mine was a colossal machine.
The machine was technically a vehicle, yet it was taller than most buildings. It could have easily stood eight, nine, or even ten stories high. It towered by the side of the train yard like a gigantic sauropod made from steel and rubber. Instead of jaws it had a huge wheel with a series of buckets built into it. A large conveyor belt ran along the neck section into the body. An immense platform for caterpillar tracks supported the massive apparatus. It had been said in the old times these machines could dig through entire mountains and do the work of ten thousand men in a single hour. Whoever the ancient people were who built these great machines, the secrets of their technology were now long forgotten. No one alive could recall this machine being used. Instead it had been left to gather rust outside the train yard standing as a constant reminder that giants had once walked the Earth.
The train pulled up into the mining station and the workers poured off the carriages and marched through the machine plants used to process the coal before it was shipped out across the district to fuel the factories. Elwin remembered the old man talking about how they used to use electric trains. He knew where the power plant for the electric train was located and decided to use the few minutes he had spare to quickly go in and have a look at the machine. He slipped quietly across to where the great coal crushing machine stood. He sat down and marvelled at the apparatus. Although it was not nearly as big at the colossal mining machine next to the rail yard, it was nonetheless an impressive machine on account of its size and the thickness of the steel used in its construction.
While he was admiring the machine he was so distracted that he hadn’t noticed a group of people coming towards him. By the time he noticed they were almost on top of him. Realising that he needed to get to a work station within five minutes he quickly got up and tried to slip away undetected. However, as he stretched his right leg the thorn inside his knee moved and he tumbled over onto the floor letting out a shriek of pain as he did so.
He was noticed by the approaching group immediately.
A Delphorian from the group went to help him up, but a Kellite snapped at him to leave Elwin alone.
“What are you doing here? You’re meant to be in the mine digging out the coal.”
Elwin looked up in horror at the Kellite engineer standing over him with his hands on his hips.
“I… I… just wanted to look at the crushing machine,” stammered Elwin.
“You’re a Delphorian, why on Earth would you be interested in this machine?” snapped the Kellite.
“I thought that if it could be fixed we might be able to use the electric trains again.”
“Oh really, let me guess, you thought that maybe you would be the one to fix it,” he sneered at Elwin.
The Kellites in the group immediately burst into laughter, and the Delphorians joined in a moment afterwards so that everyone was laughing at Elwin at once. Elwin hung his head down low and frowned, he felt a knot in his throat and he realised that at any second he might burst into tears. Seeing how fragile Elwin was the Kellite engineer kicked him savagely in the shin causing him to fall over. Elwin yelped and proceeded cry with great gobs of snot falling out of his nose.
“You Delphorians are pathetic. It makes me sick that we keep you lot around still; after your lot fouled up this world. If your ancestors knew how to build machines properly it wouldn’t be up to us Kellites to fix them all the time. It’s a waste of our time and talent picking up after your idiotic people.”
Elwin struggled to his knees.
“Well, stop snivelling like a baby and say something you miscreant.”
“I just thought I could help you,” he half wailed between tears and swallowing gobs of his snot.
“You, help? What would you know? You’re just a Delphorian fool! Oh, listen to that, Delphorian fool! I used alliteration,” the Kellite lead in close to Elwin’s hear and repeated the word alliteration emphasising each syllable, “ah-LIT-er-EY-shun. That’s such a big word that a stupid Delphorian like yourself could not possibly know it. I mean, really, tell me what do you think alliteration means, this will be funny.”
He stepped back with his arms wide and a cruel smile cast on his lips.
“Alliteration is a similar concept to rhyming, except in this case the sound at the start of a word is the same as the sound at the start of the following word,” said Elwin obediently.
Elwin’s lifetime of instruction that he should answer any question a Kellite poses to him had kept him out of danger for his entire life: until now. Elwin knew the meaning of the word alliteration from the books on English grammar that Rebekah had lent him; however, importantly he had never learned that word in school. It was not one of the set words that Delphorians had to memorise. Elwin’s display of uncommon knowledge set the entire room into stunned silence. The lead Kellite engineer gaped at him, lost for words at Elwin’s unexpected knowledge. Eventually the Kellite regained his composure as he circled Elwin menacingly.
“Where did you learn that?”
Elwin realising the danger he was in quickly formulated a story he could say that technically wasn’t lying, for he knew that the thorn in his cheek wouldn’t allow him to lie, even to save himself.
“I learned it from a Kellite girl.”
The Kellite rounded on him aggressively his confidence fully restored, “A Kellite girl? Was she teaching you grammar?”
“No, she didn’t teach me anything, but I listened to her talk carefully.”
“Ahh!” snapped the engineer with some relief, “So you no doubt sat near to a Kellite girl who was reciting her homework and learned a thing or too vicariously from her.”
“I do not know,” answered Elwin hesitantly.
“Do not know what?”
“What vicariously means,” lied Elwin, as he was speaking this lie the thorn in his cheek ached as it did whenever he tried to lie, making the delivery stuttered. If Erian, Holda, or even Kylie had seen him stutter like this they would have instantly known he was lying, but this Kellite engineer did not know Elwin. Taking the stuttering to mean he felt disgraced the engineer smiled victoriously.
“Of course you don’t, you’re just a Delphorian fool. Well fool, you will have to be punished for eavesdropping on a Kellite. No doubt you paid so much attention because you also felt lustful for her superior physique to that of your inferior women. So the punishment should be double. I, Scharron, command that you be sent to work in the deepest darkest level of this mine for two shifts back to back without break. Go now before I decide not to be so lenient!”
Elwin obediently trudged away.