While the EIU worked hard to pull bodies from the dirt, an underground news agency called the Diggers took shelter in it. Hundreds of miles from the site of the collapse, a small group of vagabonds were gathered in Klammath at the biggest Digger hideout. As they stood facing one another, their shadows cast silent spectators high onto the walls.
“What happened to Meg?” Dirth, the leader, let his voice settle solemnly onto the den floor. Nervous breathing flickered against closely held candles.
“Mardeth? Kingsley?” Dirth turned to face each guide. Their eyes drifted downward. “I’m not upset,” he offered. “I just need answers! Why has one of our best messengers disappeared on a ten mile mission to Brownsborough?”
As the older Diggers averted his gaze, one of the younger Diggers, Aniah, stepped forward. “She was kiwwed sirrah,” he said. The others stirred. “I sawl her wying in the gwass. White zneers had witten Bwownie on her chest.” The adults pulled Aniah back into the crowd.
“But Meg wasn’t a brownie, she was from Windsor.”
As soon as he had spoken the words, Dirth let his head drop back in realization.
“She still looked like a brownie, Dirth.” Kaemi, his partner, confirmed.
Dirth slammed his fist into the earthen wall. “Frraaa! Why didn’t anyone remind me when I was making assignments?”
The air was pelleted with responses.
“She wanted to be sent!”
“She was desperate for work!”
“Nobody knew there’d be sneers!”
Kaemi spoke calmly again. “It would’ve been wrong of you not to send her. She would have hated being kept from a job just because she was brown.”
“Somebody should have told me so I could have made an informed decision.”
“She made us swear not to, Dirth.”
Dirth whirled into the group. “Made you swear not to?! Imagine how she died then, you who swore! Imagine a pack of four or five sneers, waking to her smell whispering past their fire. Imagine their faces – not having fed in weeks; imagine their glee – coming upon a living, breathing being. Upon Meg! Brownsborough, Chinks Valley, the Redlands, Blackwall. Man, woman, animal, child, the sneers feed to live, and they live to hate!" Dirth circled, spewing the words that ran thick in his mind. Several Diggers recoiled, shrinking back from such cruel images. He stood in the center of their ring. “And we let Meg die with their grunting faces as her last image. For a $6 mission and a delivery to Grandma Freed. Farmer Tuck. And for what? Because you swore? Swore to what?! If we can’t protect Meg in Brownsborough, then who can we protect? If we can’t even share information among each other, then who out there can we hope to inform? Who are we fooling, if not ourselves…” His voice trailed off, defeated. After a few moments of quiet, he drew his leather cloak close. No matter what, it was important for him to lead. “Her memorial service will be at half past eleven tonight.”
“Our biggest delivery is at midnight,” someone interjected.
“Then we cancel it! Tonight, honoring our fallen is our only concern. The news can wait. The news has waited – we haven't had a new story in weeks. Readers are sick of our dirt.”
Nearly everyone cried out in objection.
There was a knock at the door and everyone turned, immediately on guard. Signaling half the Diggers to flank the left wall and the other half to the right, Dirth motioned them all to keep quiet.
“Who’s there?” Dirth called.
“It’s Jakob. I have two girls here who want a word with you, Dirth.”
Everyone held their breath as they waited to hear Jakob give the safety signal.
“Should I ready the gate?” he asked.
Everyone, Dirth included, breathed a sigh of relief and eased off the walls.
“Ready the gate,” Dirth confirmed.
At this, the dusty door creaked open and two teenage girls came slowly down the walkway.
“Stay there. Who are you?” Dirth voiced firmly.
“I’m Sandy. And uh, this is Barb.” As all eyes turned towards her, Barb tugged on her mini-skirt.
Inside Dirth’s tent, the two girls sat quietly as he mulled over their proposal. “Now if I understand you correctly, the two of you must be out of your mind.”
They sipped their tea.
“The two of you have no regard for your future. Is that right?” Neither Sandy nor Barb could meet his gaze. “Do you have families?”
“My brother died in the collapse,” Barb offered, quietly. “He was a real asshole.”
“Is that what this is all about then?” Dirth went on. “What you’d risk your lives for? You drove hundreds of miles through level five danger zones so you could –
“Look, do you want our help or not?” Sandy interrupted. “This is the biggest story to hit Pureside in months, and the Herald’s already been on it for a day. You guys didn’t even know about it!”
Barb looked up in shock at her friend’s outburst. Her eyes met Dirth’s, and she suddenly realized how clear his gaze was, how readily he stared back. The calm that she saw in him made her childish and nervous. Startled, she looked back down at her tea.
“The Diggers here may not have known," Dirth replied, "but I’m sure the word is spreading across our network as we speak.”
Sandy snorted. “Yeah, it's called the Herald. All you had to do was go outside and pick one up.”
"The Herald doesn't deliver here."
"What? That's insane. The Herald delivers everywhere."
"They stopped after we began sidelining their messengers.”
“Way to keep abreast of the competition,” Sandy darted back.
“Everything we do is for a reason!” Dirth shouted. He lowered his voice. “We couldn’t have the Herald delivering so close to home without being discovered. So we lured a pack of sneers here to drive them away…" Barb noticed his hands turning over on themselves. Something had gone wrong. "…and it was over before anyone could think twice.”
“Including you,” Sandy jeered.
Dirth pretended not to hear. “Our biggest pickup happens in the morning. We would’ve found out about the collapse in six hours.”
“Yeah, whatever, and the Herald will already have moved on,” Sandy snorted, as she stood up and started putting on her jacket. “You’re the fucking Diggers, man! Barb and I have been reading your dirt since pre-fucking-pubescence. And you’re a fucking sham! You don’t know a story when it walks right into your cave wearing a mini-skirt.” She took a few steps towards the tent entrance. “All you had to do was say okay, and we woulda gotten you the best story you ever dreamed of. Guess we’ll have to do it on our own. Come on, Barb.”
Barb stayed rooted to the bench. While she desperately sought the words to fight Sandy, nothing seemed quite pointed enough.
“Come on, Barb, I’m not playing. Let’s lose ‘em.”
Suddenly a strange voice, unfamiliar to Barb, sounded from her lips. “We have to stay.” As she spoke the words, they became true. “We need them as much as they need us."
“I’m not playing, this was my fucking idea,” Sandy urged. “Let’s go.”
Barb waited a long time, long enough for her neck to swell. “No.”