Check back every week for a new instalment of the online exclusive by Richard Cozicar The Ice Racer
With my back against the wall, standing in the darkest shadows of the tunnel I breathlessly listening to the sounds from the cave. People shuffling, running feet and then shouts from what I can only presume belong to the guards.
Other voices are raised, some in pleading, others in resignation then a woman’s voice. Annaliese. Her voice is raised in struggle. I put my hand to the rifle slung over my shoulder and clench my fist. My first thoughts are to barge back into the cave and help her. I am frozen with indecision.
Louder voices drift through the opening of the tunnel, slowly moving closer to where I am hidden. Pivoting, I proceed deeper into the darkness, never forgetting the need to move cautiously to prevent any noise that will betray my position.
Volcano fumes thicken as I move away from the voices and further into the unknown. My lungs fight against the noxious fumes when I stop to catch my breath, and my eyes strain to seek out safe footing in the darkness.
In all the excitement I had forgotten that Annaliese had returned my visor. With shaking hands I pull it out from under the robe and slide it over my head, I fasten it tightly then turn on the air scrubber. In seconds the air clears and my burning lungs get relief.
Playing with the light amplifier I adjust the screen, the shadows of the tunnel recede. Directly ahead of me the tunnel shrinks. Bending low I move onward. The man who brought us to the cave had said the tunnels would lead to the lava river. Whether this one goes directly to the river or how far I had to go I did not have a chance to ask.
I work my way forward, I run my hand along the wall to my left to ensure that I remain strictly to the one tunnel. Along the way I had passed several others that branch in different directions. My thinking is that if all else fails I can return to the cave by this same trail.
I pause and listen for sounds of others chasing me. Nothing. The only sound is my own laboured breathing. In a small alcove I sit down and try to think ahead. What are my plans, what are my options?
At first I convince myself to wait and then return to the oil mine and try to find the air chute to the surface. Thinking that through I decide against it. Even if I wasn’t caught in the mines how long could I reasonably last on the surface? I didn’t have any food, my backpack with my shovel and heat pods remained behind where I was first discovered.
And what about Annaliese? She and Marcus risked their standing in the city to free me from the cages. Could I leave them to their fate? Was it my problem? All I wanted at the moment was to return home.
Feeling the need to move I wander aimlessly while my mind fights to come up with a decision. With my mind preoccupied I don’t notice the heat in the tunnel increasing. Suddenly I become aware of the sweat soaking my body, I must be close to an opening to the lava river so I rush ahead.
I move quickly over the jagged rocky trail, around a sharp bend then I run into a dead end. My way blocked with a wall of craggy solidified lava. The rocks blocking my way are hot to the touch so I must be close but I will have to find another tunnel to get me there. After backtracking several hundred feet the tunnel branches off.
Decision time. If I stray from the tunnel I have been following will I be able to find it again and return to the oil mine? That option would, with luck, get me back to the surface and I could leave all this behind.
I struggle with indecision once again then the sounds of Annaliese’s voice as she struggled against the Prophets men cuts through the fog in my mind. I realize that my choice is already made.
I will not leave Annaliese. I will find a way to help her.
My options are not good. If I return to the cave I am certain that I will be recaptured. These people know the mines a lot better than I do so I wouldn’t stand much of a chance. No. I will have to try these tunnels and find my way to the river of red. The river runs not to far from the Adam’s City.
Easy. I fool myself. All I have to do is navigate these tunnels, walk along the river without getting cooked and then sneak into an armed city and free Annaliese. What could be easier? Besides, no matter which course I choose I figure the outcome is bound to be the same.
It was my life to do with what I needed and at the present I didn’t picture myself living to old age. So, back to the city it was then. With the last shred of doubt cast away I take the new tunnel with renewed determination.
Several hours pass and then another dead end. The tunnels are hot, but I keep pushing on. My breathing is laboured as I try tunnel after tunnel. Sometime, hours later I sit with my back against a wall and rest.
The exhaustion over takes me and I doze off. I am not sure how long I sleep for, but in my dreams screams from Annaliese as she is tossed off the edge of the cliff into oil mine startle me awake. I sit straight up with a jolt and look around. It’s too dark to see. My body is soaked inside my thermal suit. Fumbling with my visor I power up the light amplifier. It was a dream.
My stomach rumbles letting me know that it has been a while since I last ate. Groggily I stand up, the determination to find the lava river starting to burn in my mind again.
For the next two days I scramble in and out the tunnels searching for an opening to the river. Some tunnels were stifling with heat, others almost freezing cold.
Thirsty and starving I stumble through yet another endless tunnel. The heat increases as I move forward but I don’t get too excited. I have been down this path of hope before. The floor is treacherous as I make my way around another bend.
Light. A glow of red rises in the distance ahead of me. With renewed vigour I half walk half stagger forward. The heat increases as I approach the end of my search.
Slowly I creep close to the tunnels end wary to not stumble. Loose rocks litter the mouth of the tunnel as I stop at the edge. Leaning over I put my hands on my knees and peer out over the river of red, the screen on my visor dripping with water.
There in front of me, about twenty feet below, is a thin stream of liquefied red rock as it flows by. The heat is intense, my body is worn out but not far from here I hope lays the shiny city. A short drop from the lip of the tunnel is a ledge that juts out running parallel to the flowing river of molten rock.
I turn and lower my legs over the tunnels edge. Easing myself nervously over the edge until I am holding on with only my fingers I take a deep breath and with a little prayer I let go. The drop is farther than it looks.
I land awkwardly and as I clamber to gain my balance my foot slips over the crumbly side of the ledge. I land hard on my knees and the jagged rocks tear into my suit. Instinctively I roll onto my backside dragging my foot back onto the precarious shelf only feet above the heat and the certain death the passing river brings.
My heart beats rapidly in my chest, through my open mouth I gulp in the stale air inside my visor. I don’t pause long, the heat from the river is almost unbearable and my dehydrated, fatigued body does not need much of an excuse to surrender.
Swinging my head from side to side to check my surroundings I try to orient myself in the direction of the city. A wrong guess and my chances diminish. Left, I decide, the city has to be left. Don’t ask me how I know, but years guiding the ice sled across the frozen surface of this planet have instilled a sense of direction that I have learned to trust.
Standing precariously I cling to the uneven cliff wall and foot-by-foot I move. The enhanced lighting provided by my visor along with the glow of the heated lava provides plenty of light for me to see my way. At times this is almost a bad thing as the ledge gets smaller and then widens, dips closer to the river then suddenly climbs high above it.
Everywhere I look I see towering walls formed of age old solidified lava. The river is nothing more than a trickle in a vast tunnel that has been worn and formed over hundreds of years of volcanic activity.
My strength and hope are dwindling as I robotically slide one foot after the other. I feel like I am being cooked alive inside my suit but surely without the suit and my visor I would have been long dead from the excruciating heat and the deadly fumes drifting up from below.
One more step, one more bend to climb around I keep telling myself. I slide up to a protrusion blocking my path; the ledge I am on is almost non-existent now. With my hand I feel for anything to hold on to as I edge very hesitantly around the protrusion.
A few times I lose my footing as I gingerly place my feet. With a death grip I cling to the wall for fear of falling into the heated river below. Nearing the end of the bend the ledge again widens and with quickened steps I scramble to a more secure space.
Once again I am left gasping as I collect myself, my body supported by my hands on my knees. I rest, probably longer than I think and with a last shove of determination I straighten up. The outcropping I am standing on is wide enough for me to turn around.
Tearing my gaze away from the tunnel behind me I look past the protrusion. Up above me the shadows in the cavern are lighter. Almost like…like the glow from artificial lights are warding them off. I chance a smile and my hopes lift…the city is not far off.
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.