“It is time to get up, child. They have zero tolerance for slacking.”

“I’m getting there,” I say, rubbing my eyes to get the fog out. The woman in front of me looks sixty years old. Why on earth are they keeping someone who should probably be retired in their mining sweatshop?

“Come with me,” she says, extending her hand. I take it and use her to hoist myself up. The room is alive with fifteen or so other people, all scrambling to get busy. “Let us get you some appropriate clothes. Your supervisor will not like what you are currently wearing.”

“Umm, okay.”

She leads me to a small closet full of dirty, light-blue jumpsuits. The two adjectives are almost opposites, but they managed it somehow. I pick one that looks almost the right size, and slip it on over my normal clothes.

“Why are you helping me?” I ask.

“That attitude is exactly why,” she answers. “You are lost. I can tell you do not belong on this island. Also, I do not recommend layering like that. You will get very sweaty from the work.”

“I’m not taking my clothes off in front of all these strangers. And I don’t think any of us belong here, to be fair. We’re literally prisoners right now.”

“You are too young to be here, mixed in with this crowd. No matter what you did to be in this position, this place and the men who run it are unjust. My name is Mary. I try to help everyone, and today, you have my full attention.”

“Luna,” I say, “and thanks, I guess. I don’t want to sound rude, but you seem to be a little too old to be here.”

“My life is full of many mistakes, Luna, but my biggest was taking one too many loans with the wrong group. You are right, none of us should be stuck in this awful place, but we cannot change that. Our times to leave will come, and we will be free.”

Great. Another person shipped away for poor money management. Did anybody here actually do anything wrong, or were they all unfortunate?

Once again, she has me follow her to a separate room, where I stand in line with the three transplants I was shipped here with last night. They’re also clad in the blue jumpsuits.

“I must leave you now, Luna,” Mary whispers, backing out of the room. “Good luck today. If you need anything later, find me. I will be cleaning one of the ships.”

“Not so fast, woman,” a voice says from behind us. I recognize the owner immediately. Goosebumps line my neck and arms, and my jaw tenses angrily.

Mary slumps her shoulders and joins the four of us in line. Looks like she doesn’t want to cross the big baddy, either.

“So glad to see you again,” Slaphand says, appearing in front of us. “I hope you slept well.”

“What’d you do with my cat, you freak?”

“Don’t worry. He’s in good hands.”

“I wouldn’t say ‘good’ hands. ‘Monstrously large,’ maybe.”

“That’s no way to talk to your supervisor, now, is it?”

Of course. Of course he’s my supervisor. Why not? It’s not like this was already an awful situation. Actually, I needed more reasons to hate this place.

“As you’ll remember, the position of Excavation Overseer has an opening, and so that’s what you’ll be doing. I’m glad one of your fellow inmates took the liberty of getting you dressed, but you’ll be wearing a yellow set instead.”

“Oh, you poor child,” Mary says next to me.

“And what exactly does that mean?” I ask, ignoring Mary’s comment.

“It mostly means you’ll be making sure people are working, and you’ll handle any infractions. If someone’s not working, you’re in charge of fixing that in whatever way you seem fit.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“What’s the catch?”

“There is no catch. You’ll be on a team with three other Overseers. Feel free to tell me if any of them aren’t doing their job, either. The rest of you know where to go. Get to work.”

This sounds too easy. There’s no way that’s all I’m doing.

“Why’d you say ‘poor child’ when he told me my job?” I ask Mary, trailing her to a second closet, presumably filled with yellow jumpsuits.

“Those on the floor and in the mines dislike Overseers,” she answers, tossing me a second suit. It’s bright, yellow, and, frankly, equally disgusting. “The one before you was murdered because he was too forceful in getting people to get to work. Tossed down a quarry. You will need to avoid picking fights you cannot win.”

And there’s the catch. I’ll be physically assaulted if I try to do my job, and if I don’t, I’ll be snitched on by one of the other Overseers. Towing the line’s the name of the game.

At least I won’t have to dig in dumpsters for food.

We walk out of the Housing building together. Although the sun is hardly peeking over the horizon, I can see the flat, expansive island is flush with the ocean in every direction. Two buildings stand directly in front of us, one labeled “Mess Hall” and the other “Administration.” You can tell which one is deemed more important by comparing their upkeeping on the outside. They’re connected in the middle by a long makeshift tunnel of wood and aluminum siding.

To our right, a vast field of quarries covers most of the land, and a shipyard with three standard-size airships stands slightly above the ground. The massive mine machinery is already buzzing with life, and even though we’re standing quite a ways away, it echoes loudly.

Everywhere my eyes stop, I can see workers moving around. There has to be two hundred or so of them. How can Bijabers and Slaphand get away with a process this big without even being heard of by someone like Orion? Where’s the government in all of this nonsense?

“What if you follow me to the shipyard, and I tell you more about working here?” Mary offers.

“I’m okay with that,” I say. “This is overwhelming.”

The two of us make our way to the shipyard. People in blue jumpsuits are walking on and off the ships, loading and unloading heavy-looking crates. One notices me and Mary walking up and drops his box for a moment.

“Mary, you’re working with the new Overseer?”

“This Overseer is just a kid, Antoine. She belongs here no more than we do. I am helping her today because she is a lost soul.”

“Whatever you say, Mary. You’d better be right on this.”

“Have I ever been wrong?”

“I feel like I shouldn’t answer that, señora.” Antoine picks his box back up and carries it away, shaking his head. At least Mary has some friends in this prison.

“Why haven’t you asked why I’m here?” I ask her, as she grabs a bucket and sponge from a nearby shed.

“For two reasons, Luna,” she says, filling the bucket with less-than-pristine water. “I can sense the great trouble you have endured for way too long. You hurt deeply. I am afraid that the trouble and hurt will follow you and grow into something that nobody can control.”

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t just make me sound like a terrorist. And the second reason?”

“You are not the center of the universe, child.” She smiles at me. It isn’t forced or unnatural.

“Ouch. Fair, I guess, but it didn’t need to be said.”

“Did it not? You are a fierce young adult. The world has wronged you many times, no doubt. But you have a passion that could get you into a lot of trouble here. Try not to be a hero. Heroes get killed.”

“Heroes like Orion?”

“I do not know Orion or his character. I have only heard the stories that get brought in with new people. All I can say is if he were truly as pure as people say he is, we would not be stuck on this island.”

“Preach it, sister.”

That said, I still have a little hope that he’ll pull through. Orion always stands up for the little guy. Surely he’ll defeat Bijabers soon and free us all.

Boy, what a hypocrite I am. Yesterday I was telling Freckles how unhelpful Orion and the Clockwork are, and now…

Now, I’m Freckles-less and begging for the self-proclaimed rescuers of Carmsborough to come rescue me, too. My heart pangs again, longing for my mechanical partner. Maybe Mary’s right. I’m not the focus. Freckles hasn’t even been on my mind since I woke up. Although, in my defense, that was maybe an hour ago.

“Actually, I think you’re half-wrong, Mary.”

“And not half-right? How so?” She turns to face me, rubbing away at the side of the metal airship with her sponge. I’m not sure how she plans to get this whole thing clean with a bucket and a sponge, but that’s not my problem. She’s staying busy, after all.

“This isn’t about me. I’m planning on rescuing my best friend. My cat was taken from me by these awful slavers, and I’ll be darned if I’m not breaking him free within the next week.”

“There is that dangerous ambition I was speaking of,” Mary says. “You are very good at riling yourself up. It might even work on me. Please be careful, Luna. I do not want to welcome two new Overseers in the span of one week.”

Speaking of Overseers…

One of the other three walks by, clearly staring directly at the two of us. I guess that’s my sign to get started for the day.

“Well, Mary, I’m off to do whatever patrolling I’m supposed to do. Try not to get yourself into too much trouble.”

She chuckles.

I begin with the shipyard, circling it once or twice. Walking the perimeter and being this close really puts the size of these airships in perspective. They’re far from normal sized, and certainly aren’t vessels for transporting their kidnapped debtors. Are they preparing for some sort of battle?

And also, how have these not been noticed by someone from the outside? Something this big, let alone three things this big, has got to be visible from miles in the sky.

Other than the three potential warships, there’s nothing else interesting happening at the shipyard, so I move on to patrol some of the quarries. Each has ten people working at them. Half are operating machinery while the rest are in the quarry, digging and wheeling dirt to and from their worksite. Reminds me too much of the scrapyard.

The first pit I glance into goes on for what looks like a hundred feet. I’m not exactly sure what they’re mining for, but whatever it is, they haven’t found any yet today. Multiple empty carts line the ledge.

The second one goes even further, but none of the machinery is doing anything. All ten people are inside, chipping away at one of the quarry walls. I take a peek in a barrel at the edge, which has an enormous amount of coal. What do they use all of it for?

“Are you the new Overseer?” a voice asks to my side. I turn to see another Overseer, a large man that stands at least a foot above me.

“Yeah, I am.”

“Good luck, kid. You’re gonna need it.”

He walks away, leaving me to stew in his words. I’m glad Mary found me first. I’d probably have started fights with almost everyone if she hadn’t. Or panicked.

I make my way to a third quarry, where the workers are sitting idly by in the grass.

“What’s happening here?”

“Our machinery broke down. We can’t do any mining.”

“What are you mining for?”

“Coal, just like our neighbors.”

“Then why can’t you mine it just like your neighbors?”

“You want us to go into the quarry and start smacking the rocks? Is that what you want?”

“I mean, I don’t see why you can’t. Looks to me that your pit’s as deep as theirs.”

“Once you get some mechanics on their way over, maybe we’ll talk about doing it by hand.”

“I’ll see what I can do. For now, at least try to seem busy, I guess.”

I feel like mechanics should’ve been mentioned in my little onboarding session. Is it my job to find the mechanics and get them to fix stuff?

I search for one of the other Overseers, hoping for insight, and spot the one from the shipyard earlier. I job embarrassingly across the field of quarries and arrive gasping for air.

“Is there something I can help you with?” she asks, crossing her arms. Apparently, “stuck-up” is a common characteristic here.

“Hey. The people in the third quarry told me their machinery is broken, and that they want a mechanic. Is that our job, and where do I do that?”

“Let me lead you to the mechanics shop. I needed to go that way, anyway. I don’t know where they get off forcing a kid like you into the Overseer position. I’m Lana, by the way.”


“No kidding? Well, ain’t that funny.”

Luna and Lana. That sure won’t get confusing.

She turns and starts moving, expecting me to follow. We walk to the Administration building and enter through a large overhead door. Inside is some sort of workshop, with welding masks, tools, and a billion different pieces of scrap scattered on the floor. A lot of this stuff could make for some useful makeshift weapons if necessary.

“This is the mechanics shop. Usually, you find one of them somewhere in here and tell them who wants help. They work directly for the supervisors, so we have no authority over them and vice versa. At best, they’ll get to the quarry in a couple hours, maybe more. At worst, well…”

A few of the mechanics, wearing gray and brown, walk out of a door and into the workshop. They look as goonish as the people that brought me here last night.

“Hey, boys,” Lana says, her demeanor changing into something a little more promiscuous. “Wouldn’t you do me a favor and give quarry three some love?”

“Anything for you, Lana,” one of them says, forming a heart with their hands.

“Anyone else need some love?” another asks.

“Hmmm. That’ll depend on how well you do with the first one.”

I quietly take my leave, but they don’t seem to notice or care.

That was… disturbing? Disgusting? Both?


I decide to head back to Mary at the shipyard to check on her. At least she won’t try to seduce three gross mechanics.

When I arrive, the third Overseer is hovering over her. The two are in a heated conversation.

“What’s going on?” I ask, sizing up the Overseer. He’s not as big as the one from the quarries, but he’s still pretty large. I could probably take him if I catch him by surprise.

“I needed a short break from all the exertion I was putting out is all,” Mary says. “I was on my way to get to work again.”

“You’ve been sitting here doing nothing for fifteen minutes, old lady,” the Overseer says. “That’s way longer than you should need for taking a sponge to the side of an airship.”

“Well, like I said, I was—”

“You’ve gotta back off, dude,” I say, raising my own voice. “She’s like, sixty. Of course she needs a bit of a break every now and then. It’s not like she tones her muscles hitting the gym after work.”

“Please, do not interfere in this, Luna.”

“Absolutely not. You deserve respect just as much as he does.”

“Do you have a problem, kid?” the Overseer asks.

“As a matter of fact, I do. Maybe go hound on the ten people at quarry three for not doing anything all morning instead of an old woman taking a fifteen-minute break.”

He stares at me, no doubt determining whether or not I’m worth it. Before he gets to say anything more, however, a long beep sounds off from some overhead speakers. The hundred or so people working at the quarries drop their stuff and funnel towards the buildings.

“You’re lucky it’s lunchtime,” the man says, looking past me to Mary. “But you better stay busy.”

He gives me one last glare and makes his way to the mess hall himself.

“That was very selfless of you,” Mary says, standing up off the ground. “It surprised me.”

“Yeah, I guess that was pretty selfless,” I realize. Why does that surprise her? Or me, for that matter?

“Do not do it again.”

“What? He was being harsh on you. I couldn’t let that happen.”

“Yes, you can and should. It is his and your job to do so. If you want to get you and your pet out of here, then you have to focus on yourself. The last thing you need is to make more enemies than necessary.”

“I appreciate it, but you’re not gonna stop me from helping you. You helped me this morning, after all.”

We walk together to the mess hall and get ourselves a plate of whatever slop they’re serving. It doesn’t look too appetizing, but honestly, I’m still glad it’s a guaranteed meal. The two of us sit side by side at a long table populated with other shipyard workers. For the most part, they’re all laughing and having a good time, but seem a little wary being this close to me.

“Fifty-eight, by the way,” Mary says, between bites.


“While we were at the ship, you said sixty. I am actually fifty-eight years old. Just figured I should tell you.”

She smiles, and I smile back. I’m glad Mary’s one of the good ones.


About the author


Bio: Michael has always had a love for writing that stems from writing a short story about turtles on his family computer in second grade. From there, he never stopped writing, and wrote his first ten-thousand-word book in the third grade, igniting his passion for storytelling.

Now, the only thing stopping Michael from writing more is his schedule. Ideas like LUNA ON THE RUN and THE GHOST OF THE HINDENBURG keep him up at night, plotting his creative path forward.

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