The bright lights of Zaxxius irritate the sensitive eyes and pale exoskeleton of the Cavern Sphexx, and the group of mine workers seek out a dark corner of the Outpost where they can wait for their transport away from that harsh illumination. Thankfully, travel hubs like Zaxxius have no shortage of dimly lit corners. It is here where many shady deals and illicit transactions take place, but in the case of the Sphexxian Mine Workers, those shadows provide quiet and comfort, not a place to profit away from the watchful eyes of others.
“How long until we can leave?” the first worker asks, its communication a series of clicks and chirps that only fellow Sphexxians typically understand. None save their race can actually speak this language, for no race other than the Sphexx possess the unique vocal characteristics of the insectoids from V’zapir.
“Three cycles,” the second worker chirps.
The Sphexxians grumble at having to wait so long in the Outpost for their transport, but it was the only one available at such short notice that would take them to their next job site. Their crew of five tunnelers and one flier are headed to a newly discovered deposit of Dorriaan gas. Of course, the riches that the gas will undoubtedly bring to the Sphexxian’s employers are stuck behind walls of solid ore, which is where the tunnelers and their trusty drills come in.
Like many of the other Sphexxian sub-species, Cavern Sphexx operate under a hive mentality, communicating not only with their clicks and chirps, but also via mental connections shared amongst members of the same hive unit. Those connections prove invaluable in the deep mines where the sounds of drilling equipment operating would drown out any audible communications.
“Here – food,” a third worker says as it returns to the group with small bags of rations.
Each member of the crew reaches a claw out for one of the bags, their chittering thanks causing no small amount of commotion in the room.
“Stop your noise!” an angry duoderm to their side roars. The Sphexxians reply back with their apologies at the noise they have made, but of course the reptilian does not understand their language and he quickly rises from his seat and exists the room, leaving the Cavern Sphexx on their own.
“How much will we make from this job?” the first worker asks after the duoderm has left.
“If we can complete the work in under fifty cycles, we are looking at maybe 3000 units for each of us,” the lone flier replies. In addition to running supplies and messages from the surface of the mine to its depths, the winged member of the crew also handles the contracts and payments for the jobs that they operate.
The payment is a tiny fraction of what their employers will make on this gas deposit, but the Sphexxians consider themselves lucky for the work. The company is fair to them. The pay is nearly double what they’ve heard some other crews make for similar jobs, and they are only ever sent into mines with recent safety inspections. Mining is hazardous work, but their crew is fortunate that they have not lost a tunneler since they began working together nearly 10G ring cycles ago. Even the transport they are now waiting on was paid for by the company, something few other operations would cover. Crews usually need to arrange for their own transport, so even though they have a lengthy wait ahead of them in the Outpost, they are thankful that they do not need to dip into the payments from their last assignment in order to get themselves to their next one.
“3000 units is good,” the fourth worker chirps. “We can probably each send half of that back to V’zapir. Even if it is a little less, that will help out for sure.”
The other Sphexxians chirp their agreement.
V’zapir is not the world it once was. Ages of unchecked depletion of the planet’s resources have left the Sphexxian homeworld in ruins, and a violent revolution to wrest control of V’zapir from the companies whose practices led to that ruin further damaged the stability of the planet. The colonies came together to win their freedom, but they lost so much in the process.
With V’zapir needing to be rebuilt, its people were forced to look for ways to salvage their livelihoods and their culture. For the well-being of their colonies, Sphexxians began to leave V’zapir to find work elsewhere in the Universe. Many of the Cavern Sphexx who made their homes in the deep, subterranean world under the surface of the planet found themselves taking jobs as miners, harvesting resources from other planets the way their own world was once used for profit. It is an arrangement that many Sphexx have struggled with, but with limited options, they have done what they have to do to survive.
This particular mining team has been one of the fortunate ones, finding employment with a good organization that treats their workers and their job sites with respect. The crew has run into other mining units at other Outposts they have traveled through, and the stories those crews share are not always positive ones, nor are the employers they work for always as forward-thinking and generous as what this team enjoys. After every meeting like this, the crew finds themselves grateful for where they have ended up, and how they are able to do honest work to help the world they have left behind.
“May I join you?” a voice asks.
The Sphexxians all look up at once to see the tall form of a robed Grayborn standing before them, a large wooden staff in his hands.
The Mine Workers realize that these words were in their heads, not spoken aloud. Like the Sphexx, Grayborn have the ability to communicate telepathically, breaking through language barriers and, in this case, the vocal limitations of the Sphexxian race.
“Please, you are more than welcome,” the first worker responds. The message goes out telepathically to the Grayborn, as well as to its fellow workers.
The tall being takes a seat, his large black eyes taking in the mine workers before him.
“Tell me,” he says. “I have heard stories of the mine workers from V’zapir and the songs that they sing in the deep darkness of the tunnels where they ply their trade. Are those stories true?”
The Sphexxians nod their heads in unison, answering the question as one.
“Would it be too forward of me to ask to hear one of these songs? I know this is an unusual request, but for someone like myself who hears so much of what happens in the Universe, to be able to experience something new, and something that so few others have heard, would be a rare honor.”
The Sphexxians look to each other. The request is a surprise, for the Sphexxian culture is mysterious and little is known about their ways beyond their own hives. The Cavern Sphexx, due to the remoteness of their subterranean homes, are even less known about than many of V’zapir’s surface races. As such, the “Song of the Sphexx”, as it is sometimes called, is something that few outside of the dark depths where the Cavern Sphexx dwell have ever even heard about. Fewer still have ever heard it sung.
The winged flier stands as its fellow crew members look forward, and it begins the song.
Sphexxian vocal chords can produce the clicks and chirps that are part of their language, but the Cavern Sphexx have additional vocal strands that allow them to also resonate in a way that is both eerie and beautiful. This is what is done when they sing.
There are currently no other travelers waiting is in this dark corner of Outpost Zaxxius, and they are far enough away from the main corridors of the hub that no one is likely to stumble upon what is happening in this room. It is a private performance, the likes of which have likely never been heard outside of the caverns of V’zapir or the deep mines of other planets serving as Sphexxian Mine Worker job sites.
One by one, the other Sphexxians add their voices to the song, and their lone audience member sits in silence, listening.
The notes of the song rise and fall as the Sphexxians sing of the troubles their world has seen, and their hopes for its future. This is the song they sing in the mines as their drills cut into the rock and they harvest the riches they find. They sing these words to remind them of where they came from and why they had to leave. The song is their history and their future, equal parts sad and hopeful, just like the Sphexxians who sing it.
The song ends and the Grayborn nods his appreciation. This is not the kind of performance that one applauds for, as moved as you may be to hear it.
“I thank you for that,” he says as he rises, leaning on his staff as he does so. “It is what I needed on this day, and I count myself lucky to have crossed your path here in this Outpost.”
The Sphexxians bow their heads as one and reply in unison, “We too are grateful for this meeting.”
The Grayborn allows a smile to cross his normally stern face, and he nods one more time as he makes his way from the room, leaving the mine workers alone once again.
The room is silent for a time, and then the first worker speaks up, communicating with its fellow crew members telepathically.
“It was good to sing of home,” it says.
The others nod, missing what they left behind, but excited for the possibility of what they will be able to build once they are able to return home to a free V’zapir.
The journey to the worksite is uneventful. Their equipment is waiting for them when they arrive, and they quickly outfit themselves with their drills as the tunnelers make their way into the depths below the surface of the planet they now find themselves on.
There is no light in the tunnels of the mine, but the Cavern Sphexx do not mind. Their eyes adjust to the darkness instantly, and the coolness of the depths feels nice against their exoskeletons.
The crew finds the spot where they are slated to begin working and their drills are turned on. One by one the spinning drills begin to cut into the rock, and the Sphexx start to sing.
Published on 03.21.23