The company pounder jostled down a long tunnel in the bowels of the rock. Its eight legs drummed a steady rhythm that Chocky felt in his bones. When the tunnel curved, and the pounder changed direction, the bodies inside it kept moving. Thing called momentum. Chocky didn’t know how many there were. The pounder could hold two tons of ore; instead it was full of people. Those on the outside of the huddle slammed up against riveted walls, caked with frost from their breathing, so cold that skin stuck to it and got pulled off in strips when yanked away. The ones who touched the walls fought their way inward desperately, biting and clawing and kicking toward the warm center of the huddle. Those nearer the center clawed back. Chocky fought savagely, thinking he could feel himself dying but never really sure. His numb parts were hatched by cuts, marked all over by sores and bruises.
Chocky couldn’t die. Not while the virgin needed him. He was her servant, and he felt for her a ravenous, insatiable need.
The pounder was never meant to hold living, breathing creatures. The company liked to improvise. Chocky felt a curve in the tunnel, a change in the rhythm of its claw steps, and he braced himself for another round. Fear and lust and fury, a turning heat between his ears. His breaths were shallow, his heartbeat was slow. No sight, no vision. He lived in a darkness so total that he had forgotten the word for it. No need to distinguish between dark and not-dark. There was only the ashen touch of skin-on-skin, the sounds of bodies, moving and breathing and farting. Murmured threats, sexual moans, bawdy anecdotes intermingled. On top of that, distant rhythms: the churning servos of the pounder; the machines of the company grinding the rock’s mineral flesh to slurry; the rhythms of distant sounders feeding it all back, turning it into song. He barely felt it, but it was enough.
Chocky’s left side began to burn. So close to the edge, he needed the warmth of the center. He sidled inward, looking for crevices in between flesh. Skin like stretchy fabric. Bite into it and it comes apart.