Friday, August 19, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 19: “The One Who Walks Out” • by Carol Scheina


19. “The One Who Walks Out”

by Carol Scheina

Two miners walk into a cavern and—

Ronja had heard variations of that joke far too many times on Odin III. She only wanted to finish her beer in peace as she nestled into a dark corner in Weber’s Place. It was just her luck that a bearded man in dusty miner’s overalls cut through the bar noise with his deep, baritone voice. 

There were so many ways the story could go. Someone’s forgotten their headlamp, or they find stolen gold, or so on.

Ronja knew, though, the joke only went one way, and it wasn’t funny. 

Two miners walk into a cavern, and only one walks out.

She gulped the last of the foam in her mug and made for the exit. 

Outside, a young man stood in front of a well-traveled van, groaning as he pulled at a locked door handle. “Not again.”

Ronja slipped her pocketknife from her overalls and pushed the man out of her way. “Here, let me.” She jiggled the knife in the keyhole with practiced ease until the lock popped.

“Thanks! I’ve got to remember to take the keys out before I lock up.” The man’s tousled hair looked like it had seen the bad parts of a comb. He stuck his hand out. “I’m Father Luigi.”

“Ronja.” She shook the hand hurriedly, then turned away.

The priest called after her, “Nice lockpicking. I’ll be sure to ask for you next time!”

Ronja didn’t answer as she fingered the pocketknife in her hand. She used to say there wasn’t a lock she couldn’t pick. That skill kept her and Maia fed for quite a number of years back on Earth, when they were scrambling to keep out of foster homes and stay together. That was before she got the idea that there would be more stability and money in a mining job. Galactic Mining was looking for anyone to work for them, and Ronja guessed that the company wouldn’t care that she had had a few brushes with the law or that Maia was a year too young. 

Galactic was only too happy to hire them.

The plan was to hang out on Odin III for a few years and save up enough money to buy a home on one of the nicer planets. 


Two miners walk into a cavern

Ronja didn’t think there was enough beer on Odin III to help her sleep. The nights alone in her home were always too dark and too long.

* * *

Early in the morning, she headed to the mines. There, at least, she could keep busy. The caverns filled with fine, gray dust as the dig-bots chipped away at rock walls. Her job was to keep an eye on her bot, as it couldn’t distinguish between ordinary rock and ore. A bot would easily pulverize a section of ore if a miner didn’t keep watch. Ronja let her eyes focus on the bot’s swinging arms as her baggy overalls turned lighter with dust.

The songs of the miners echoed through the cave, There’s a light at the end of the tunnel where my love is standing true…

It was so easy to imagine Maia working right behind her, hidden by the particles clouding the air, and to let the hours slip by.

When Ronja walked out of the mines, always the last to leave these days, the priest with the van was waiting. 

“The others said you were still in there. I wanted to make sure you got home okay. There’s a dust storm coming.”

He was right; Ronja could see the dark clouds rapidly moving in, so she yanked open the van door and slipped into the seat. “If you’re trying to pick me up for a date, I’m not interested.” Her voice came out harsher than she intended.

Luigi sat in the driver’s seat. “No worries. My heart’s already spoken for by a great woman named Shelley.”

“So you just spend your days driving around, looking for people to shuttle?”

The van bumped down the rocky pathway toward town. Outside, the winds beat against the vehicle’s frame. Dust storms only happened a couple of times a year, but the locals had warned her not to take them lightly. She could see why.

“Mostly, I spend my days looking for people to help,” Luigi said.

“You get a promotion or something for every person you convert?” After all, everyone on Odin was there for money. Galactic made their fortune with ore, the miners hoped to earn enough to find better lives. Like she and Maia, and their dreams.

Luigi shrugged sheepishly. “I’m actually not the best person to ask about the Bible and God. All that still seems new to me. But I do know the Catholic Church is doing good things here. I wanted to join in on that.”

Outside, the dust specks tapped a furious rhythm against the windshield, hiding the road from their eyes.

Luigi slowed and braked. “Guess we’re not going to be able to outdrive this. Should be fine to wait this out; it wasn’t supposed to last a long time.” He put the van in park.

Ronja stared out the window.

The priest continued. “I guess I’m trying to ask if you’re okay.”

“No.” The force of the word took Ronja by surprise. “No, I’m not. It was my idea to come here. My sister just followed along. I was the one who said we should volunteer to work on Odin II.” That was the job from hell. Temperature too hot, air too thin—no wonder Galactic didn’t allow workers to stay longer than thirty days, but the pay was double.

Ronja dug her fists into her eyes as though that could block out the memories. No wonder she never talked to anyone anymore. This was all she could think about. “If it had been a cave-in here, she would’ve been fine. But Odin II’s oxygen levels are too low, air couldn’t get in, she couldn’t breathe. She suffered brain damage.”

Two miners walk into a cave, and one comes out on a stretcher covered in oxygen tubes.

Luigi stammered. “I’m so sorry.”

Ronja dropped her fists and glared. “I don’t want to hear anything about God’s will or any shit like that. I brought her here. She trusted me. And now, it’ll be a long time before she’s strong enough to take a ship back here. She’s alone in a hospital on Odin II, learning to move again.”

“Why aren’t you there with her?” Luigi’s voice was quiet.

“Galactic makes you wait before they’ll approve another rotation. I ask, they say no. So I keep working here, and that pays for her therapy.” All the dreams now got funneled into hospital bills. They would’ve been better off picking locks back on Earth.

Luigi started to say something, but Ronja cut him off. “I think the storm’s ending. I can walk from here. We’re done.”

The storm was slowing but still whipping dust into the air, stinging Ronja’s face. Her mining goggles were back at the job site, so she used her arm to shield her eyes as the winds ripped at her hair. She kept her gaze on the ground, noticing that the van’s headlights illuminated the road as she stumbled on, following her. Dumb priest thinking he could fix things with a bunch of wise words and some dead god. The real world was family and money, and right now, she had neither.

The sting of dust eased up, but she still refused to turn around and acknowledge Luigi. Talking didn’t help. There was no changing the past.

* * *

The priest was waiting for her at the mines the next morning.

“I don’t want to talk to you.” Ronja brushed past him.

“Wait,” Luigi called. “The Church’s booked you a ship to Odin II. Galactic’s authorized you to get paid time off.”

Ronja froze. Slowly she turned. “How?”

“Father Francis, my boss, worked out a deal with Galactic. He knows people. Plus, the Church has money. Someone told me they sold a lot of artwork years ago or something like that.”

She still didn’t believe it. “Why?”

“I told you, we want to help people. It’s hard and lonely out here, but life shouldn’t be every man for himself. Or woman for herself. Someone’s got to be the one to help, to look out for folks. That’s why the Church set up locations on different planets.” 

Ronja still didn’t move.

“The ship leaves in 45 minutes. Can I give you a lift?” Luigi turned to open the van door, which refused to open. “Dang it, locked them inside again.”

Ronja slipped out her pocketknife. “I got this,” she said, “and thank you.” She tried to put all her heart into the words.

A smile grew on her face, feeling stiff from not having used those muscles in a while. It felt good.

Two miners walked into a cave and… and maybe a better life still awaited them.


Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative fiction author from the Northern Virginia region. Many of her stories were thought up while sitting in local traffic, resulting in tales that have appeared in Cossmass Infinities, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, and other publications. You can find more of her work at