Gabriel was both afraid and curious as he, his sisters, and the Brothers Manheart were going through the gateway. Where would they end up? What scary things would be waiting for them? What would they do when they got there?
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They all soon found themselves in what looked to be another dimension. All around them, there were five tunnels with mining carts and poor, tired people working. They were pushing the carts back and forth into the caves, filling them with jewels and rocks. Robots, about ten feet tall, were watching them as they put the jewels through vacuum-like chutes, and threw the rocks down a large, bottomless pit.
“What’s going on here?” Valerie asked. “It looks like a labour camp!”
Suddenly, all seven of them were whipped from behind. They jumped around to see a robot glaring down at them.
“Get to work!” he ordered.
“But what do we do?” Sara asked.
“Get to work!” the robot repeated.
Gabriel looked at the other workers. “I guess we do what they’re doing,” he answered.
The children and the Brothers Manheart all searched for an empty tunnel. They couldn’t find one, but they did find a mining cart that wasn’t being used. They pushed and pulled it through the tunnel, thirty miles long. About halfway through, Valerie and Sara’s arms got tired.
“We can’t go on!” Valerie complained. “Not like this!”
“But we just started out, and the cart is still empty,” Steve said.
“Well, this is too heavy for us!” Sara whined.
“All right, take Gabriel and meet us at the end of the tunnel,” Brent said. “Pete and I will take over.” The girls took Gabriel and rushed ahead.
At the end of the tunnel, Gabriel, Valerie and Sara met two men filling their cart with jewels and rocks. One man was dressed as a police officer, the other as a fire fighter. Valerie shook her head at their clothes.
“You’re dressed a little strange for this place,” she said to them. “Where are your miner’s outfits?”
Gabriel went up to the policeman and studied the crest on his sleeve. Surprised, he turned to Valerie and said, “Valerie, what are you talking about? This is a real police officer! And look what the crest says! ‘Marigold City Police Department.’”
“And I’m from the Marigold City Fire Department,” the fireman said.
“And this is how we looked when we first got here,” the policeman added.
Gabriel introduced himself and his sisters, and they all shook hands.
“I’m Robert Loveless,” said the policeman. He pointed at his fireman partner. “And this is Greg Soiler.”
“We’ve never seen you here before,” Greg said. “Did you just get here?”
“Yes,” Sara said. “How long have you been here?”
“Four days,” Robert answered.
“Three days,” Greg answered.
Gabriel’s eyes widened. “So this is where Marigold City’s authorities have been disappearing to. Who sent you here?”
Valerie interrupted before Robert and Greg could answer. She looked at Gabriel and Sara and said, “I noticed their cart is only half full. Let’s help them fill it up while we wait for the Manhearts.” She started putting jewels and rocks into the cart. “If those robots come in here and catch us goofing off, who knows what might happen?”
A few minutes later, they heard the Manhearts arrive. Gabriel introduced them to Robert and Greg, then said, “Robert and Greg, please meet our friends. This is…”
“I know who they are,” Robert interrupted. “Ken, Pete, Brent and Steve Manheart. The police department works closely with these guys.”
“I know that,” Gabriel said. “I just wonder why I never see the cops in the same panel as them. I mean, they’re not exactly the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles here. They’re normal human beings, they don’t live in the sewer…”
“Gabriel, shut up and come help us!” Ken ordered. Gabriel nodded, then he, Valerie and Sara went to help fill the Manhearts’ cart.
Before Robert and Greg left, Valerie asked them, “So, why are you guys here?”
Gabriel smirked. “Too easy,” he said. “It’s obviously Napoleon’s latest scheme to take over Marigold City. See, if he can get all the city’s police, fire fighters and military working as slaves in another dimension, then he can have regular citizens working for him, committing more crimes.”
“When did you figure that out, Sherlock?” Valerie asked sarcastically. “Honestly, when we get home, we’re going to get you help. It’s time you stopped reading those comic books!”
“Stop it, you two,” Pete said. “We have to find a way to free these people and get out of here.”
“Let’s worry about that later,” Ken suggested. “We have work to do.” He looked at the children. “When we fill this up, you all run ahead to the loading area and wait for us.”
“Sure thing, Ken,” Gabriel said.
A few minutes later, the cart was full. Valerie, Gabriel and Sara ran through the tunnel, out to the loading chutes. The chutes looked like giant plastic tubes. They were connected to a wall about fifty feet away. A few feet below was a large window that a stocky man was looking through.
Sara pointed at the window. “Who’s that man looking at everything?” she asked.
“Darned if I know,” Valerie answered.
“It can’t be Napoleon,” Gabriel said. “He’s still in Marigold City.”
“Then maybe it’s his father,” Valerie guessed.
Suddenly, a robot came up from behind them and shot laser beams out of his eyes. “Get to work!” he ordered.
Gabriel turned to the robot and yelled, “Quit giving orders!”
Sara pointed at the man in the window. “Who’s that guy looking at us?”
The robot shot more laser beams at her and said, “Get to work!”
“Leave us alone!” Valerie blasted. “We’re waiting for our friends!”
Then they heard a voice yelling through a bullhorn. “Yeah, leave them alone!”
They turned to see a thin man with light brown hair, in his early thirties, carrying the bullhorn. Valerie smiled at him and said, “Thanks for your help, we needed it. Who are you, anyway?”
“Chris Quindlen,” he replied. “I’m the foreman.”
“Fore who?” Gabriel asked.
“Foreman,” Valerie repeated. “He’s a worker in charge of us.”
She introduced herself and her siblings, then pointed at the man in the window. “Do you know who that person is?” she asked Chris.
Chris looked at him and answered, “Yeah, that’s Mace Napoleon, one of the richest crime bosses in Marigold City. You may have heard of his son, Vinnie. He dropped out of college shortly after his father died. Well, Vinnie then decided to take over the family’s ‘organised crime’ business.”
“You were from Marigold City?” Gabriel asked. Chris nodded.
Sara looked at the window again with wide eyes. “That man’s dead?!” she cried. “Then, where are we?”
“Limbo,” Chris answered. “Mace wasn’t good enough to get into heaven, and when he was refused, they decided to send him somewhere where he wouldn’t cause any more trouble. That’s why he was sent here.”
“And what about you?” Gabriel asked.
“I was killed in an accident two years ago, while I was driving through the countryside,” Chris explained. “I lost control of my brakes and was hit by semi-truck at a road crossing. I saw the bright light and went to it, but I must have taken a wrong turn, and somehow ended up here.”
“How’d you get to be a foreman?” Gabriel asked.
“I was one of many slaves here, working for Mace Napoleon,” Chris said. “I can still remember getting whipped by these robots for being lazy. About six months ago, someone set off a gateway and freed all the old slaves. All of them escaped except for me, and three other guys. We all became foremen, watching these robots work. But the robots stopped working when all these guys came. I still don’t know what’s going on.”
“Why were there dead people working here?” Gabriel asked. “Shouldn’t you have to be alive to do that?”
“They were spirits,” Valerie explained. “They probably missed their way to heaven, just like Chris did, and wound up here in this… horrid place.” She looked at Gabriel. “People can work in the after-life, too, you know.”
Soon, the Brothers Manheart pushed their cart out of the tunnel, towards Chris and the children. Chris ran up to them and asked, “Excuse me, but why are there police officers, fire fighters and military people working as slaves here?”
He followed them to the chute, and Ken told Chris about the disappearances of the Marigold City authority figures.
“Napoleon figures that once he gets rid of these guys, he can do his criminal work freely,” Ken said. “He lured all seven of us to a fake gym just to send us away.”
They started separating the jewels from the rocks. They put the jewels through the chute, up to where Mace was. They threw the rocks into the pit. Sara sighed and said, “What’s the point of this? Look at this, diamonds, pearls, rubies, emeralds and more. These stones are so pretty. Why do we have to give them to that guy up there?”
“They make him rich,” Chris answered. “When the jewels get to him, they fall into buckets he’s laid out. Once they’re full, he empties them in this huge, secret safe of his. I don’t know what he uses them for, it’s not like he can buy anything.”
“Well, that’s not fair,” Sara protested. “I think we should keep some of these for ourselves.” She took some jewels and placed them on the ground. She took some rocks and went to the chute.
“No, Sara, don’t!” Chris cried.
“Let’s see how he likes these,” Sara said as she put the rocks in.
The rocks went through the chute the way the jewels would. Chris, the children and the brothers looked up at the window to see Mace’s reaction. Mace threw the rocks out the window into the pit, and glared at them through the hole he made. Suddenly, they heard sirens and bells. Lights were flashing.
Valerie glared at her sister. “Nice going, Curious Georgette,” she said coldly.
Soon, four robots picked them all up, and took them to Mace’s office. The robots held them so tightly, they couldn’t get free. The girls were screaming at them to be put down, but the robots didn’t listen.
Meanwhile, Pete shifted himself to face the robot carrying him. He made a fist and took one quick punch below the shoulder. He was only able to make a small dent. The robot looked down on him, and his eyes glowed red.
“Uh, Pete, that’s not a good idea,” Chris said. “That robot could fry you with his lasers. Besides, that’s steel. You can’t smash it.”
“Are you kidding?” Gabriel asked. “With strength like that, he can smash through anything. They don’t call him ‘Powerhouse Pete’ for nothing.”
When they got to Mace’s office, the robots threw the group down on the floor and left. They stood up and faced the huge man. In his hands were three rocks that Sara put through the chute.
“Who is the one that put these with my jewels?” he demanded.
Sara stepped forward and shouted, “I did!” She took some jewels out of a bucket. “You know who deserves these? The poor, the homeless, the one-parent families who are just getting by! You are the greediest, most crooked man that ever lived; you don’t deserve them! You can’t use these just to make yourself rich! That’s wrong! Why don’t you use these to pay your workers?!”
Mace laughed at Sara. “Foolish girl,” he said. “Don’t you know that slaves don’t get paid?”
“She’s right, Mace,” Valerie said. She took him to the window and pointed at the slaves.
“That is all wrong,” she told him. “Look at those people. Those are the men and women who risk their lives every day to help others. They bring peace to their city, and order to the world. You have no right to treat them this way.”
“Besides,” Gabriel added, “they’re all from Marigold City. Remember that place? Your son, Vinnie Napoleon, is doing no good over there. These are the city’s police, fire fighters and military.”
“I know that!” Mace retorted. “What’s your point?”
“Their job is to keep Marigold City safe and peaceful,” Gabriel said. “Instead, they’re all trapped here working as slaves. If you keep doing this, the city will be in big trouble.”
Mace laughed and went up to Gabriel. “I don’t care, little boy,” he replied.
He picked up an old safe in the corner, and threw it out the window. When he made a hole big enough, he went back to Gabriel. Before he could react, Mace picked him up by the legs and put him through the hole.