The room remained quiet as I processed Annaliese’s news. At first I was saddened by the thought of him being alive and held prisoner and then anger replaced my sorrow. I looked at the walls searching for answers.
“How…when did he…” I couldn’t bring myself to finish the question. I struggled with my emotions, despair, sorrow and anger. I continued gazing around the room, starting and stopping speaking while my mind spun out of control.
A hand reaches out and takes mine. Annaliese watches my face, tears staining hers. Breathing deeply I fight for control.
“What happened?” I ask in a much calmer tone then I feel. “Did you talk to him much, how did he…die?” I needed her to tell me everything about his stay here. She leads me over to a cluster of chairs. When we’re seated she composes herself and with great effort she starts at the beginning of the arrival of my father and the other men from the Capital City.
The men were marched through the city from the opposite end that I appeared, the Prophets proclaiming that the outsiders were caught spying on the city. The procession traveling past throngs of wide-eyed city dwellers that stared at the strangers as harbingers of evil. The crowds angered by those who posed a threat to their peaceful existence.
The men were led to the cages and awaited a ruling by the Prophets on their punishment. Annaliese’s face brightens as she tells of the talks she has with the prisoners.
At first she admits she was scared and intimidated by the strange men. She had been tasked with delivering their meals and had ignored the men’s attempt to talk to her but slowly she became less afraid and more curious about the newcomers and the world where they lived.
The prisoners regaled her with stories of the ice dome they called a city and the brutal fight on the planets surface, a surface that was as alien to her as this shiny city was to them.
She stopped in her tale and smiled, more to herself than to me. “Your father bragged about you, you know. He constantly said his last wish was to see you one more time.” The smile faded. “When I saw you locked in that cage a few days ago I was certain you were his son. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do but I knew that I would not let you end up like the others.”
Her eyes welled up again as she looked at me. A weak smile returns to her face. I was stumped, I didn’t know what to do or say. I choked out thanks and waited for her to continue.
She told me of the mock trial the prisoners were put through and how in the end they were branded as spies and sentenced to work in the oil mines. Not certain what the oil mines was I asked her to explain?
“The mines.” She said. “They are really a underground pit where oil was discovered hundreds of years ago by our ancestors. They are the reason the prophets built this city and have jealously fought to keep it a secret from outsiders.” She paused recalling the cities history.
“When the world turned against the prophets they retreated back to Adams Mountain as a refuge. Then, according to our history the climate on the surface changed. When the volcanoes shook the earth releasing the dust and ash and blocking the sun our ancestors were trapped here.”
“Then the temperature continued cooling and as the surface slowly became uninhabitable the prophets people began tearing down the giant metal wind machines and began constructing this city.”
“By some miracle, we are told, the heat from the city combined with the close proximity of the Adams volcano kept the snow and ice from consuming the city. As the ice and snow built and the cold increased the city was enveloped with the heated air and over decades an ice dome formed over the city to shroud and protect us.”
“The oil mines. Who works them, where are they?” I pried. Then the question I was skirting around. I gulped before asking. “Can I go there? Is my father buried there...is there some…” I fought for the right words. “…Is there some kind of reminder of him there?”
She shook her head again but wouldn’t look at me. “I’m so sorry.” She repeated again as if she was to blame for his death. Everyone in the room remained quiet leaving me to deal with the news. I sat motionless. I had never grieved for his loss before because against all odds I held out a flicker of hope that one day I would meet him again.
I sat for hours lost in my thoughts, memories of my father and the brief time we shared together played over and over again in my mind.
A rustling by some of the others pulled me out of my reverie. I sat and watched as several of Annaliese’s group donned the military robes they had worn when I arrived and appeared to be about to leave.
Standing I walked over to where they had gathered and tried to figure out what was happening. I remained quiet as the group talked amongst themselves and then started to leave the room.
When only Annaliese and a couple of others remained I turned to her. She must have noticed the puzzled look on my face.
“The city will be awakening soon, they have to return to their homes before their absence is noticed.” She explained.
“What about you.” I asked but as the words left my mouth the dawning of what she had done for me struck home. “Won’t your father and the others wonder how I escaped?” I waited for her to answer but the question was rhetorical.
She looked at me then turned away. Quietly she murmured. “They will know.”
“You were the only one who had access?” I hoped I was wrong in my assumption.
She walked away leaving me standing alone. From the door Marcus came to my side.
“She can’t return home, can she?”
“No. She will be hunted the same as you.” He replied sadly. “She knew the risk she was taking when she released you.” He added. “We tried to talk her out of doing it but she said she was willing to take the risk.”
“What will happen now?”
“Well…I suppose we wait down here and let the Prophet’s men search the city until they convince themselves that the two of you have left.”
“Will they.” My tone was underlined with worry, not so much for myself but for Annaliese, the daughter of the High Prophet.
“I’m not sure. Nobody has ever left the city before.”
“Is there a way out, a way back to the surface?”
“There must be but none of us have ever tried.” He pondered my query. “The Prophets send men out on excursions to the surface but how and why is not something that they share.”
“So what?” “We hide here and hope that they don’t discover us.” I fired back. “How many people know about this room, the tunnels under the city that we came here through?”
“Very few.” He answered. “This small group you met here is all. We discovered these tunnels years ago and have kept them secret.”
“How long do you think they will search?”
“Again. I don’t know. The Prophets are relentless with their rules, they make and uphold the laws with out any leniency.”
Leaving Marcus I wandered over to where Annaliese stood.
“I guess I’m the one who should be sorry.” I apologised. She turned her face up to me and smiled a weak smile.
All through the day and into the next evening we sat and bided our time. It was nerve wracking sitting hidden and not knowing what was happening in the city streets half expecting the Prophet’s guards to come bursting through the door.
Idly chatting, Marcus and Annaliese told me of the dangerous hard labour awaited those who were sentenced to the oil mines.
“There can’t possibly be enough…” I searched for the right word. Prisoners were all I could come up with to describe foreigners to this hidden city. “Prisoners to work the mines and I can’t see the people of this city volunteering to work them if they are as dangerous as you describe?” I waited for an answer as I tried to wrap my mind around how this city functioned.
Marcus depicted how people who objected or questioned the Prophets were subjected to a life in the mines as a way to discourage further dissidence and to quell any resistance to the Prophets.
Needing time to myself I sat alone and dug out my reading paper trying to remove my mind from the waiting and worrying of the present situation. Annaliese joined me after a while.
“I have seen old papers like yours before.” She said.
“I thought you said that your history records only went back to the start of this city?”
“All the public ones are.” Then she went on to clarify. “Years ago when these tunnels were discovered Marcus came across some old papers stashed in a cave a little distance from the city.” “The story in those papers is similar to the one that is written in yours.”
“You didn’t turn it into the Prophets?” I asked curiously.
“No. When Marcus showed me the papers we agreed to keep them hidden. Over the years we have heard rumblings, rumours really that the history taught us by the Prophets, my father included, was written to add truth to their teachings. A way to keep the people of the city from wondering about or questioning our laws.”
Throughout the day members of Marcus’s group would pop into the hidden room and update us on the search now taking place. The city had been placed under a very strict curfew as the Prophet’s men roamed the streets and checked building after building in pursuit of me.
Most of the city’s residents were forbidden from leaving their homes. We were told that the city was at a standstill, the lives of the Prophet’s followers halted because of the lockdown, as the already nervous population of the city remained mostly indoors scared of what was happening.
Marcus explained to me that as far as he could remember a search of this magnitude had never before happened. The city had a small underground resistance of sorts to the ruling Prophets but it had never grown big enough to cause the leaders of the city any worry.
Aside from watching a few of the resistance from a distance the leaders had not attempted to quell the small secretive gatherings. Names were known, people and groups spied on but never to the extent where the population was ever harassed or locked down.
I sat talking with Annaliese when the door of the hidden room was flung open interrupting us. One of the men who had been here when I first arrived rushed into the room and ran to Marcus. Annaliese and I jumped up and hurried over to them.
“Daniel was taken by the guards to see the Prophets.” The man gushed. “He wasn’t going voluntarily by the way he was struggling with them.” “He knows where this place is, that these two are hiding here.” He spoke frantically. “What if he talks?”
“Where are we? “ I ask her. “What’s with the guards?” Questions roll out of my mouth as I try to figure out what is going on. I stand looking down into her eyes waiting for an explanation. Why is she working with the guards? I wonder, is this how the prisoners are done away with.
Turning my head I scan the room. Small groups of people are clustered. The sound of mumbled conversations radiate around me. The groups looking at me then quickly averting their eyes as my gaze falls upon them.
One of the guards in a small group at the far end of the room strides in my direction followed by the others in the group he was talking with. He stops beside Annaliese and extends his hand.
“I am Marcus.” He says as he shakes my hand. “Annaliese has told us about you. It was her idea for us to help free you from your cell.”
“But you’re a guard?” I reply trying to understand their reasoning. “Why would you help free me?”
Marcus laughs as he looks at the military garb he is wearing. He shrugs out of his robe and tosses it against the wall. The other guards in the room follow his lead.
“Disguises.” He explains as the smile leaves his face. “The city is under a permanent curfew. When the evening lights are turned down only the night watchmen are allowed out doors and on the streets, the rest of us are required to remain indoors and all gatherings are prohibited.”
“So you are all here against policy?” I ask. “What will happen when my disappearance is discovered or are you planning to return me to my cage before that happens?”
Marcus looks at Annaliese. The two shrug.
“We haven’t planned that far ahead yet. This has never happened before, none of the other prisoners have ever left their cells until it was time for them to be taken to the oil mines.”
I digest this news. “Have there been a lot of prisoners before me…?” I pause. “So if none of the others have left…why me?” I have to ask.
Marcus remains looking at Annaliese then he prods her on. “Go ahead…tell him.”
She drops her gaze to the ground and nervously shuffles her feet. The murmuring in the room stops, I look around at the others in the room. Again nobody meets my gaze.
Annaliese shuffles a while longer then starts talking. I strain to hear her voice. “Several years ago a group of men where brought down here. They were paraded through the city and branded as spies…” She went quiet again. “…Where they came from nobody knew…how they came to be here was a mystery.”
“You have to understand. The prophets control this city, they control everything that goes on around here so if they say the men were spies then we believe that they are spies.”
“I was the only one aside from the guards and the prophets allowed any contact with the men. My dad is the high Prophet so I was chosen to deliver food to the prisoners while they remained in the cages.” “During their short lockup I talked with them asking them where they came from, why they would spy on us, why they wanted to do us harm.” She grew quiet again. I waited wondering what this had to do with me.
“The stories they told me were entirely different then the explanation my dad and the other prophets spread. You see, very few of us in this city have ever wandered outside the city limits other than short walks into the lava fields but no one has dared venture to the surface. In fact very few would even know how to get there.”
“The prophet’s words are law in this city so we have had no reason to doubt them but after listening to the strangers I had a hard time believing that they were sent here to do us harm. The men told me that the military guards from this city accosted them while they were making a run in what they called an ice sled.”
The term ice sled caught my attention. “What did they look like…how long ago was this?” I blurted out the questions. Numerous crews from the New Capital had been lost over the years while running the surface, could this be one of our crews?
Annaliese’s gaze once again returned to the floor her voice growing quieter. “One of the men said he was an explorer. He told me that he was assigned to the crew and was searching for signs of metals or fuels that his city was so desperate for.” She continued ignoring my queries, her voice now a whisper. “This man was older but he looked just like you, Mike.” She finished then raised her head to look at me, the rims of her eyes wet, a tear slowly meandering down her cheek.
I was speechless. I was a teenager when my father and the crew he was accompanying failed to return to the Capital. More victims lost to the frozen unforgiving surface of this desolate planet. The loss of my father was the reason I became an ice racer.
Secretly I hoped that in my travels on the surface I would stumble across the lost ship and at least have a chance to bid my father farewell. Over the years my determination waned and as time went on reality slowly set in and his memory started to fade. I came to accept the fact that he was gone and I would never see him again…and now this.
Annaliese had to be mistaken. My father and his crew were lost on the surface like all the others before and after, unable to defy the odds of survival against the blizzards and winds, the freezing temperatures that ruled the surface of our planet, how would they end up here. I struggled with the dilemma, memories of my father flooded back.
Finally I found my voice and with hope stared in her face. “Is he here now perhaps in the oil mines you talk about or still held as a prisoner elsewhere in this city?” “Can you take me to him?” I asked hopefully.
More tears flowed over Annaliese’s face as she returned my stare shaking her head. “I’m so sorry.” She blurted.
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I let out my breath then gave the cage door a shove. It moves ever so slightly and the hinges squeal that horrid noise only metal on metal can make. If this is a trap I am fool enough to bite. I pull the hood of the robe over my visor and stand in the opening while I study the crudely drawn map.
The first line of the map directs me straight down the long dark hallway of the building, the way Annaliese came and went. I am only feet from the front door of the building and a short run back into the rocky landscape that I had crossed coming to the city. I debate the door then without further hesitation I turn to my left and as quietly as possible I move in the direction drawn on the map. The sounds of my footsteps ring in the still darkness.
I pass a long row of cages similar to the one I had left. The hallway seems endless as the darkness gives way to the enhanced light of my visor. I feel so anxious. I keep expecting to hear the sounds of running feet at any second as my escape is discovered.
A grey metal door appears at the outer limits of my view. A sliver of light outlines the slightly open door. Creeping closer I strain to detect sounds of movement from the other side. As gently as I can I slowly push the door open ahead of me, still tense, still waiting for some kind of alarm announcing my escape?
The lights in this section burn a little brighter, another long building with shelves and lockers. Half way down the map shows a door. With a little bit more urgency I hurry, ignoring the clap, clap of my boots on the hard floor. The next door is also sitting ajar. I stand tight to the door again listening for unseen activity. The hum of the city generators is the only sound.
Overhead lights greet me as I step outside the building, brighter than the prison I was in but not awash in light like during the daytime when I arrived. I stop and look around. The long building blocks my view of the streets that I had walked entering the building. I’m in an alley of sorts, the map points in the opposite direction of the city entrance. Most of the alley is cast in long shadows.
For the next hour I follow the maps direction, away from the openness of the craggy volcano rocks and deeper into the heart of the city. The farther way from the cage I get the less I think this was a setup and the more I am hoping that Annaliese had somehow set this in action.
The place is quiet, eerily quiet other than the constant hum of the machinery powering the city. I start jogging wanting to bring an end to this journey. Coming up to a break in the alley I am about to round the corner when I see beams of light coming from the around the corner.
Stopping short, my heart pounding in my chest I cast my eyes about for a place to hide. A few steps behind me there is a cluster of crates and a large metal bin. I squeeze into a small opening between the crates and the bin. I press my back against a wall as I fight the pounding in my chest and wait.
Seconds, maybe minutes pass. The distinct sound of footsteps approaches quickly followed by voices. Twin beams of light travel across the ground at my feet. Searching but not whole-heartedly. My pulse pounds in my head almost deafening me. I find that I am holding my breath scared that the sound of my breathing will betray my hiding spot.
The beams of light pass over again and the footsteps signal the lights carriers moving away from where I wait. When I can no longer hear the footfalls in the alley I gradually peer around the bin. The beams of light are faint and moving much further away, the people holding the lights are wearing the same type of military outfits as the guards who had marched me to the cage after my capture.
Once again I release my breath and slip from my hiding space and head for the exit on the opposite side of the alley. Warily I look around the corner and find to my relief that it is deserted allowing me to continue following the route that was mapped out for me.
I walk and then run almost the length of the hand drawn trail. I must be miles from the entrance now, from my calculations, the taller metal buildings completely block any view of the way I have come.
In the final alley of my trek through the deserted, unfamiliar environment I stop and study the map one last time. Somewhere close to me should be a door? I search the shadowed walls in the dark lane. I spot other crates and bins stacked against walls on both sides of me.
Moving with deliberation I study the walls up close, searching through the dark shadows for some type of opening, any break indicating a door. My concentration is totally focused on finding the opening.
A hand grasps my shoulder. I freeze, afraid to turn around. Then accepting that I’m caught I work my hand under my robe and finger the bent spoon in my suit. It’s the only weapon I have but with the element of surprise I am determined to fight my way free.
I turn quickly, the spoon in my hand shooting upwards. A grunt as my weapon hits flesh. Then just as quickly the spoon is knocked from my grasp and I am thrown back into the wall. My head jars as it contacts the wall. Bright lights buzz in my brain obscuring my sight. I shake my head to clear my eyes. Standing in front of me is a small group all dressed in the same robes as the guards?
I am prepared to launch myself off the wall into the group when the guy I stabbed holds up his hand to silence me and then motions me to follow. His other hand over the hole in his shoulder he received from my bent spoon, a wet dark patch under his hand.
As one the group turns their backs to me moving toward a metal bin and a pile of crates. The group walks toward an opening between the two objects and then through an open door not discernable unless one is looking for it. The last one to cross turns and motions me to hurry up. I take a couple long strides and cross the threshold; the door is closed behind me.
Once again I am motioned to remain silent as I am led deeper into the building and into a small room. On the floor a hatch is pulled open revealing a set of stairs in a weakly lit opening. I follow the robed people down two flights of hastily constructed stairs, slightly sturdier than a ladder. From the stairs into tunnels built beneath the city. I pause to look around at the tunnels, which look more like natural openings in the lava rock than man made.
This journey down and under the city lasts another half-hour at best, the trial ending in a room sized, softly lit cavern. Standing across the room I spot Annaliese. She looks up as I enter behind my guides and as our eyes meet she smiles, a sad, timid, sorrowful smile.
I stand at the entrance trying to figure out what was going on. Why would she be hiding with military guards and why bring me here? She crosses the floor and stands in front of me. Then raising her hand she passes my reading paper back. I look at her trying to understand.
Again she smiles her sad smile, as she looks me in the eye. “I told you not to give up hope.” She says but in her eyes and smile I read something else.
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Annaliese left the prisoner and walked through the long building. The reading paper the man had given her secretly hidden in the folds of her robe. As soon as she returned the tray to the building’s cooking area she would race to the privacy of her room in what the towns folk secretly called the palace.
Her father’s house wasn’t anything like a palace but it was certainly grander than the other homes in the city. A perk she supposed came with being an elder and the most revered Prophet. Until now she had paid no attention to the whispers and snide remarks from the other towns people.
People were very careful about what they said when she was around but she occasionally overheard their shielded cries of discontent. Her father and the other prophets were stringent and not at all forgiving when it came to the rules being followed.
To question the Prophet’s laws or beliefs was received with extreme prejudice and any outward show of defiance was treated as blasphemy and dealt with quickly and harshly. This she accepted without question, but in her outings around the city she could tell that not everyone had the same unwavering faith. Ever since the stranger had been captured she had started questioning the strict system.
The one time when she was a child and she had raised her concerns to her father she was sternly scolded and warned about such dangerous thoughts, even threatened of the consequences of rebellious thinking. The repeated and scripted explanations her father used to quell her doubts started to sound feeble and contrite.
Annaliese knew that being the daughter of the High Prophet, she of all people should without a doubt accept the word of her father but after seeing the fear hidden behind the eyes of the city’s inhabitants she could no longer simply ignore the depressed and scared nature of the general population.
If her father found or even suspected that she had on her person a paper containing word of a history that preceded their own records and was different than the written archives in the city she would be dealt with in the harsh manner that had befallen other free thinkers, High Prophet’s daughter or not.
A lot of the archives in the libraries and schools contained accounts of history that she found harder and harder to believe as her mind searched for clearer meanings, the explanations didn’t make total sense to her whenever she spent time thoughtfully reviewing them. The accounts of the Climate Prophets and history of the city were taught to the young when they were old enough to understand and presented as the one and only truth.
Annaliese rushed back to her room and locked her door before tentatively sliding the reading paper out from the protection of her robe. Sitting in her bedside chair on her folded legs she soon became engrossed in words and a history alien to that which she learned as a child.
Skimming back and forth through the paper she at first dismissed the new accounts of history and then found that some of the writings fit better with what she had pieced together than the twisted artificial history the Prophets wrote and preached. Not to say the writings weren’t still disturbing to her.
She paused in her reading. How could she even consider this paper to be anything close to the truth? Could the prisoner not have believed in a history that was falsely presented to him and believe in it the same way she was told to believe the Prophet’s version?
Wouldn’t she be conceived as being irrational by simply dismissing a history that she lived with all her life, a history accepted as gospel by the entire city for a written narration passed to her by a complete stranger, in fact maybe even a spy as he was being called although she didn’t think he was a spy or was that because she kind of liked him. He seemed different than the people of the city, gentle in a way. For some reason she had a hard time believing that he came here to do any harm to the city or her.
Long into the night she read about the rise of the Climate Prophets, the climate wars and then the construction of the giant wind turbines and how eventually the earth started to vibrate and shake. How long doormat volcanoes became active again spewing ash and dust. How soon all the world’s volcanoes began erupting at the same time until the combination of dust and ash blocked out the sun slowly freezing and killing the planet.
She had never left this city, she had never been to the surface, the Prophets forbade it, but she had heard rumours that the surface consisted of nothing more than ice and snow like this diary claimed. The deeper into the paper she read the more uncertain of the Prophet’s version of history she became.
Alone in my cell again I sit down to eat the food the girl brought me. Each mouthful was chewed with no memory of the taste of the food as I dwelled on her parting words and then dismissing the subject I laid down and resumed planning my escape.
If she was right and they came for me tomorrow I needed a plan of some sort once I was removed from this cage. Where they were to hold this council and how many people it involved was an unknown. I knew that the more people around the harder it would be to escape so if I was going to get away it would have to be between this cage and the area where the meeting was to be held.
How many guards would they send? The same number that escorted me to this building I wondered. If it was four again I needed a plan to overpower them, maybe wrestle a gun away. How well trained the guards were I had no idea but I knew that the years of hard work on the ice sled had given me an uncommon amount of strength and for my sake hopefully enough to overpower the number of guards sent to retrieve me.
I lay thinking, my hand turning over a spoon from the tray of food. The spoon was made of a light metal and bent very easily. I played with it bending it this way and that until I fashioned a stout point on the end then I stuffed it in my suit. As a last resort I could at least gouge with it. It was the only object I had for a weapon.
The hour was growing late. I left the metal shelf and restlessly paced the small confines of my cell, my thoughts flashing between my captivity and Annaliese. I started to tire so I sat back down. If something was to happen to me tomorrow I didn’t want to spend my last hours sleeping or so I told myself as I struggled to keep my eyes open. Sleep eventually overcame me.
Sometime later I was roused from a troubled sleep by the sounds of clanking on the cages bars. By the time I discovered where the sound had come from and stood at the bars distant footsteps in the dark were all that remained. Disgusted by my tardiness I was about to return to the metal shelf when I glanced down.
On the floor at the outside of the cage was a bundle. I bend down to examine it. Squeezing my arm through the bars I grab the bundle and by twisting and pulling I work it through the bars. As I lift up my hands to have a closer look something falls and clinks against the floor.
Up close the bundle reveals itself. A robe. In the dim light I can see that it is a brown robe like I saw the town folks wearing. I don’t get it. What meaning would the robe have? Then I remembered the sound of clinking. Kneeling down I slowly search for the object that fell. The light was too dim so I place my visor on and look again.
Inches from my cell lay a shiny flat object. Once again squeezing my arm through the bars up to my shoulder, I stretch my fingers and then slide them along the floor until I feel the object, which I work closer to the cage.
I slide it close enough so I can use my finger and grab it. Raising it to my visor I study it, a strange looking object, one that I have not seen much of before, a key. Then it dawns on me as I look toward the door on the cage. Maybe, just maybe this is my way out of here.
I stand for only a second contemplating the object and the robe and who might have left them then with a rushed urgency I pull the robe on over my suit. My hands go instinctively into the front pockets, checking.
My right hand closes over a piece of paper. Drawing it up to my visor I check it out. A crude map is drawn on the one side of the small piece.
For an instant I think this might be a trap but it’s a chance I am willing to take. I reach my hand through the bars, the metal in my hand held tight. Reaching and twisting I line the key up with the front of the cages lock. I am careful not to drop the metal while I manoeuvre it toward the hole in the door of the cage.
It takes some patience but I finally manage to insert the key in the lock and holding my breath I twist. Clunk.
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Standing tight to the bars of my cage my gaze remained lost in the dark where Annaliese disappeared. A feeling of despair overtakes me. What can I do, how can I leave when I can’t even get out of this cage?
Pushing off the bars I dejectedly arrive at the steel shelf and sit down, the tray of food forgotten. Sitting hunched over I stare unblinking at the floor ready to surrender to what ever awaits me.
Then gradually the bleakness that has me in its grip starts to recede. Sitting up straight I gulp a few breaths of air. It occurs to me that I have faced far greater dangers on the frozen unforgiving surface of this miserable planet while working on my ice sled. A dangerous occupation causing many of our people before me to be lost to the ravages of the ice and snow while transporting goods across the plains, goods the New Capital desperately relied on for further survival.
I once again take stock of what I have. In the cage with me I have nothing, but outside the cage the environment is warm and the air is breathable. Outside of the building I am locked in are thousands of people and a whole city of wonder; surely there is something I can use, some sort of tools or weapons to aid in my escape.
I stand up and pace, my mind focused on recalling everything I noticed on my short walk to this building. The crowds of people, the tall shiny buildings behind them, guards with guns and maybe somewhere in all of that a way out.
Annaliese had said something about pumping air from the surface which means there has to be a way up and out of here. She had also told me the name of this place is called the Adams Mountain City. From the few geography lessons we were taught at the New Capital the Adams Mountain was less than forty miles from Mount St. Helens.
I thought about this. Forty miles didn’t seem that far but on the surface when you’re fighting against frequent blizzards and minus seventy-degree temperatures, even with my thermal suit, walking the forty miles would be near impossible. Without the ability to recharge the batteries in my suit I wouldn’t last more than a couple of days. My backpack and shovel had been forgotten back on the trail and I didn’t think I ‘d have the time to retrieve them.
The afternoon passed while I was lost in thought planning my escape. The sound of feet shuffling from the far end of the room roused me, supper no doubt. I glanced at the uneaten food on the tray that was delivered earlier. Grabbing the tray I walked the short distance to the bars ready to exchange the trays.
I released a quiet sigh of relief when I noticed Annaliese carrying the food. Waiting for her to slide the new tray through the opening I slid the tray with my cold dinner back to her.
“Is there something wrong with the food?” I detected a touch of concern in her voice as she asked.
“Um…no, I am sure it is fine. I don’t have much of an appetite I guess with the worry of what is going to happen to me.” I lied. I couldn’t really tell her that I had forgotten all about the food as I tried to figure out a plan for my escape.
She lifted her head and with sorrow filled eyes briefly looked me in the face before dropping her gaze back to the floor.
“They are to take you to council tomorrow.” She whispered. “Soon after that I am certain that they will do away with you…I’m sorry.” The words barely escaped her lips.
“I don’t want to die yet, especially here in a strange city.” I stammered as a flash of anger took hold of me. “No. I will not die here.”
“I am sorry.” She apologized again and she stood on the other side of the bars looking at me.
“You don’t have to apologize.” I consoled her. “It isn’t your fault.” Then not wanting to be left alone I asked. “Can you stay and talk for a while.” She didn’t answer but remained standing, the tray clasped in her hands.
“What do you do here?” I started the conversation hoping she would stick around.
“Not too much.” She finally answered. “My father is one of the Prophets so I have free run of the city. When I watched the guards bring you here I volunteered to deliver your meals.”
“Well, thanks I guess. What’s it like living here?” I quickly fired off the question searching for a way to get her talking. “Are you happy here? What do you do with your time?”
She told me how she was in the habit of roaming the city helping out where ever she could and about the day-to-day workings of the city, sadness underlining the tone of her voice. Changing the subject she asked me about the place I called home.
I told her about the giant ice cave at the bottom of Mount St. Helens and how I was an Ice Racer. I forgot about my captivity as I described my ice sled and explained how I basically lived on the surface while my crew and I explored and transported the meagre supplies of oil and scavenged materials we were able to find.
I marvelled at how lucky she was to be living in a city that had power and heat and I presumed good food from the trays she had served me. Unlike the substance we ate back at the Capital. Food that consisted mostly of a type of moss that grows along the rivers of lava. We have a small variety of food that the producers carefully tend but the quantities are small due to the lack of proper heat and light.
“I would offer you a chair.” I say in way of lightening the mood and waved my arm in a sweeping motion around the cell. For an instant the corners of her mouth lift in what is almost a smile.
“I’m good.” She responds. “You told me about your reading paper…would you mind if I looked at it?”
I hesitated. The paper was my most prized possession and I jealously guarded it.
“You said something about it containing writings about the Prophets. How far back in time does this paper go?” She stopped. “All the writings we have here date back to the founding of this city, nothing before that. We are told that writings before this time were blasphemous and contained nothing but lies about our people.”
I slipped the paper out of my suit thinking about her request before shoving it through the bars toward her. She set the tray of cold food on the floor and gingerly took my offering.
“There’s a button on the bottom to turn it on.” I instructed. She slid her thumb over the button and held it until the power on my reading paper lit up. I remained silent as she quickly swiped page after page. Her eyes lit up as she noticed the dates of the diary entries.
“Did this stuff really happen?” She asked with out taking her eyes off the paper. I launched into a brief family history and how my great-great grandfather started the diary before the climate wars and how the paper was passed down to my grandfather then my father and finally to me.
“I have never thought about it that way but I can’t imagine people making up things to write in a diary. The history the elders taught us in school told the same story.” I explained who the elders were and how we relied on their recollection of history because of the lack of writing material. All our teachings were done orally and memorized, passed down from generation to generation, there was no other way.
I thought hard about what I was about to do and then gulped before speaking. “Why don’t you take the paper with you and read it. If I’m to be done away with tomorrow I would rather you have it then it be lost or destroyed.” I tried to add with bravado so she wouldn’t worry.
Hiding my paper under her robe she bent to pick up the food tray and turned to walk away.
“Don’t give up hope just yet.” I heard her whisper as her footsteps retreated into the darkness at the end of the building.
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.