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Marcus wheels around and looks at us with an expression of concern covering his face.
“He’s right. It won’t be safe here for the two of you much longer.” Turning his attention back to the young man who came to warn us.
“Go back up the tunnel and warn us if you hear or see the guards coming.” Marcus instructs, the man quickly leaves our small gathering and bends to scoop up his discarded military robe on his way out.
“What are you thinking?” Annaliese asks him.
“Grab some supplies.” He replies. “We’ll have to stick to the tunnels for as long as we can…from there…I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out as we go.”
I stand back and watch as Annaliese rummages through sacks stacked against a wall assembles a collection food and water and places them into a smaller sack. When she is finished she returns to our side.
“Do these tunnels run under the whole city?” I ask.
Marcus shakes his head before replying. “No. They’ll keep us out of sight for a while but we will eventually come to a dead end, there we’ll have to ascend to the streets.”
I relieve Annaliese of the sack of supplies she has packed. Marcus passes me a flashlight as he takes one last look around the room then proceeds to check the hall leading from the hidden room before signalling us to move.
We follow Marcus for a short distance down the tunnel before he ducks into an intersecting tunnel that leads us in a different direction away from the original entrance. The lava tunnels change from a comfortable open space to where we have to squeeze and crawl through further sections.
The three of us hurry through the labyrinth of sharp lava rock tunnels in silence. How Marcus knows where each tunnel leads and what direction to follow is beyond me. He leads us past tunnel after tunnel walking in some, crawling through others.
The stale air is laced with the smell of sulphur from the volcanic rock. The confined spaces grow humid and tight but still Marcus leads on at as fast a pace as we can manage.
Coming to a halt in a closet sized cavern Marcus paces for a second in the little space before talking.
“We are going to have to surface not far from here. These tunnels end under a street a few blocks away from the entrance to the oil mines.” He says while staring into Annaliese’s eyes. His face is contorted with apprehension.
“Is that were you are leading us?” Annaliese asks with an evident note of surprise.
“There’s no where else to go.” He diverts his eyes. “You know that your dad will have the city torn apart for looking for you two. The people in this city are too scared of him and the rest of the prophets and most would never consider helping or hiding you for fear of retribution. Even for a short time.” He adds.
On our journey Marcus had summarized a brief history about the small resistance that had been growing in the city against the iron-fisted rule of the prophets. A large portion of the people of Adam’s Mountain resented being over lorded and this resentment had been festering for years but the majority of town folk were too afraid to act fearing being sentenced to the oil mines.
The city people would guardedly grumble to their closest friends and then look at their neighbours while suspiciously wondering if they were spies for the Prophets. The distrust that rippled through the community helped the Prophets maintain rule.
“Can’t we leave the same way I was brought here?” I implore.
“No. The path ends not far from the city. A giant crevice makes it a dead end. Several people have died trying to cross it.”
“Then how about along the lava river, surely we could follow it away from here.”
“It closes up farther past the city, besides, the heat from the river would kill you before you travelled very deep into it.” Marcus releases a quick breath. “Your only hope is to climb through and cross the oil mine and try for the air chute, it will take you to the surface.”
I gape at Marcus, confused by what he is saying.
“The surface.” I repeat as I try to comprehend his words. “Annaliese doesn’t have a thermal suit like mine. I don’t know this place at all, but I have to believe there is another choice. She would not survive out there, not even for a short period.” I argue. In my mind I am frantically searching for a plausible solution. “Hell, I don’t even know if I could survive on the surface without a sled full of luck.”
Annaliese gently touches my arm.
“They will kill you if they catch you.” She states matter-of-factly. “We don’t have much of a choice.”
“What will happen if they catch you?” I search her face for answers as I ask.
She turns to look at Marcus; the two exchange a knowing look.
“I’ll be alright.” She mumbles, but her face pales in the glow of the flashlight.
“How about you Marcus? If your friend talks they will know that you two helped me.” There is obviously something they aren’t telling me. I push further, “I am not going another step until you guys level with me.”
“Dissidents get sent to the oil mine as punishment.” He quietly confirms. “I can avoid them, Annaliese should be okay…her father is the High Prophet.” He says without sounding convincing.
“So the only real option we have is if the three of us leave the city? That is the only option I will accept. If the three of us can’t escape then you two should turn me in and tell Annaliese’s father that you recaptured me. I won’t let you take the fall for me you don’t even know me. This is insane!”
“Let’s get away from the city and try to cross the oil mine then we can worry about what to do after.” Marcus declares. “We need to get out of these tunnels. If they start searching down here we’ll be trapped and we won’t have any choices.”
We continue, Marcus in the lead as we snake through the tunnels. Suddenly the beam from Marcus’ flashlight highlights a solid wall of made of rough, sharp rock that appears to have footholds chiselled in it.
“Turn the lights off.” Marcus whispers as he set a foot on the rock ready to climb. In the blackness Annaliese and I wait. The only sound comes from Marcus’s feet in their search for the footholds as he works his way to the surface, only to be punctuated by intervals of the sound our nervous breathing makes.
The scraping of metal signals his arrival at the top of the climb. Then a light flashes back down lighting the wall and the floor.
“Its clear. Hurry, climb up.” He urges as he shines his light for us to see our way up the jagged wall of rock. I motion for Annaliese to go ahead of me, then with caution I follow her to the street above.
Marcus helps her climb out and then lowers a hand to assist me. Out on the street we wait while Marcus gently replaces the cover hiding the tunnel’s entrance then we all creep to the side of the alley we have emerged into.
In the shadow of a building we wait while Marcus adjusts his military disguise. When he is finished he whispers for us to follow and leads the way to the end of the alley. Abruptly stopping he points.
“We’ve got about another six blocks until we come to the entrance of the oil mine.” He describes. “If we are lucky enough to cover the distance undetected we will have to find away around the mine’s guards and down into the pit before we can cross it.”
He has already explained to me how the mine was the most guarded part of the city, not so much to keep city dwellers away, no one in the city was overly eager to see never mind venture into the pit he has depicted, but to insure the dissidents sentenced to a life of labour in the mines have no chance of escape. He did add that the Prophets were extremely protective of the mine. Without it the city would surely perish.
Giving us the signal to move from the mouth of the alley we stealthily creep along in the buildings shadows, our target the start of a new alley that will lead us on a direct route to the mouth of the oil mine.
Ten strides away from the alley we had just departed a stern voice calls to us.
“Identify yourself.” Two guards appear at the far end of the block stepping out of shadows and raising their guns. The three of us stop dead in our tracks.
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I stood gazing into the dark long after she disappears. I stand glued to the spot, the tray in my arms all but forgotten as I try to make sense out of her warning. Who would do away with me? The old men running the place, the guards…who?
And what did she mean by the others. What others? Were there a lot of people locked in these cages before me.
The weight of the tray on my arms breaks into my thoughts. I walk over to the metal shelf and set the tray down and sit beside it. I don’t know what to do about this new development.
First I am swept off my ice sled, then the fall through the ice cavity to the bottom of this cavern. If the all of that and the discovery of the strangers on the path wasn’t enough, now I find myself locked up in a cage awaiting an uncertain future.
I take stock of what I have with me. Not much. I had forgotten my pack miles back when I had gone in search of water and then came across the people on the path. All I have remaining is my reading paper and my thermal suit. Not much to work with.
I remove my helmet and check to make sure I have powered off my thermal suit to save the batteries, I have a feeling I will need it when I take my leave of this place. The ominous warning by the girl resonates through my mind and I have no plans to be done away with by anybody.
The tray contains solid food of some sort and a flask of water. I sample the food while I sit in the dark. It’s good, unlike the drab sustenance I’m used to. Daydreaming I wonder what it’s like to live in this shiny city eating tasty food and walking about without a helmet to filter the air and no need for a heat suit.
Paradise I realize. Too bad I have come upon it under such unfriendly conditions. I gobble down the food and drain the flask then settle back waiting for whatever comes next.
I sit and try to remain vigilant but the combined warmth of the building and the food makes me sleepy.
The creaking of an opening door stirs me from my sleep; the lights in the room turn on. Blinking my eyes for focus it takes me a second to remember where I am. Voices approach from the doorway and then a group of old men gather at the bars of my cage inspecting me.
“Why have you come here? How did you find us?” One of the elders asks. “Who sent you?”
“I fell through the ice from the surface. No one sent me because we didn’t know you existed or that your city was down here.” I tied to explain. I watch the men look at each other, disbelieving looks exchanged between them.
“My name is Mike Ryan. I’m an ice racer. I come from the New Capital, a long way from here, at the base of Mount St. Helens.” I keep talking trying to convince them that what I say is the truth.
The group turns their back on me mumbling to each other amongst themselves. They turn back in my direction and continue watching me like a specimen in a…in a cage.
“We’ll be back to talk to you.” The spokesman for the group says as they leave. When the door closes the lights go out and I find myself standing in the dark alone with my thoughts again. I need a way out of this cage and I need it soon.
I hear a sound from the far end of the row of cages. The morning has passed. The same girl walks out of the darkness, another tray in her hands. She stops short of my cage and raises her head to look at me, wary that I’m standing close to the bars. Backing away I talk to her.
“What’s your name? What did you mean last night when you said they would do away with me?”
She slides the tray through the slot and waits for me to grab it then she backs away and with her head motions to the used tray sitting on the shelf. I quickly exchange trays and slide the empty one back through the slot.
“Annaliese.” She replies then lowers her eyes to the ground.
“Where are we Annaliese?” I ask trying desperately to start a conversation. She remains quiet and in the dim light I can see she’s nervous. “What is this place?” I try again.
“We live in the Adams Mountain City.” She very softly answers without raising her head. “You’re not here to spy on us like the others so that your people can return and attack us are you?” Her voice trembles as she asks the questions. “That’s what the prophets say.”
“The Climate Prophets?” I ask certain that I had heard her wrong.
She gasps and backs farther way from the cage. “You are going to attack us aren’t you?” She says. “How else would you know who they are?”
“No…no, I…” I scramble to pull my reading paper out of my suit and power it up. “Do you read?” I say as I show her the paper. She looks at me like I had just grown a third eye.
“Doesn’t everybody?” She replies. I have no answer for this because at our city we have extremely little reading material and to learn to read is not a luxury many want or need to spend time doing.
“Ah. Yeah, sure. I just thought…” I didn’t know what to say then remembering the paper I shove it toward her. “I only know about the Climate Prophets because of my great grand fathers diary.” I shook the paper hoping she would understand. “Who has been attacking you?”
“No one that any one remembers but the Prophets tell us this every time a stranger appears. It’s the only way to keep us safe they tell us before condemning the men to the oil mines.” She adds sadly. “No one knows what happens to them after that.”
The word oil catches my attention. “Oil. There hasn’t been oil for over two hundred years. It was outlawed and destroyed during the climate wars.” I said incredulously my hand tapping my reading paper.
Maybe I grew yet another eye on my face judging from the way she looks at me.
“What do you think powers this city, the lights and the heat? The huge air purifiers and the air pumps from the surface? All the equipment? Where are you from?” She finally asked.
Suddenly I become aware of the constant humming and vibrations I had been feeling, machines powered the city. I struggle with the concept. Nobody I know would think this is possible. We have a few very tiny crude generators at our city but the small amounts of fuels we have been able to find to run them make them almost useless.
A thousand questions rush into my brain and trip over each other as they leave my mouth. The girl, Annaliese, gets scared and backs farther away from my cage.
“I’ve said too much.” Her quiet voice almost blocked out by her retreating footsteps. “I will be back with your supper.”
With the bars grasped in my hands and my face pressed tight to the cage I call after her. Her footsteps fade into the darkness.
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The closer we walk the brighter the light becomes. My visor’s not equipped to handle a light of this magnitude. It was designed to enhance the dim light of our world there was no reason for it to block out light of any kind. My eyes start burning from the intensity but I find I don’t want to turn away…I can’t to stop staring…the sight is…unbelievable.
My worries change from being discovered to amazement as I draw closer. Buildings start to materialize in the light. Actual buildings like my grandfather had described to me, not caves of rock and ice like the ones in the New Capital, but metal structures.
Shiny metal like the kind we would occasionally stumble across trapped below the surface in the ice. The metal we found always belonged to the giant metal behemoths with the huge blades that lay below the surface trapped in the ice and snow. This is not the case down here.
I slow down to a shuffle as the sights in front of me overwhelm my senses. From the distance it looked wonderful but as I get closer I start to wonder if I hadn’t died when I fell and perhaps I am now approaching heaven.
A push in the back lets me know I’m not dead or dreaming. Then a more forceful shove urges me forward. I stumble a few steps then regain my footing. My thoughts of amazement fade quickly as I am returned to the brutal reality of my predicament.
Shading my eyes I increase the gait of my stride. The path we are following leads downward at a slow but steady slope then bends around a large outcropping of rock. The view of the city is momentarily lost although the cascade of bright light remains to illuminate our way.
Winding around the rock the view of the metal buildings and surrounding area slowly start to reappear in front of me but now they become much clearer and larger as each footstep brings me closer to this alien place.
A crowd of people can be seen gathering on the trail ahead of me. More footsteps, the buildings and crowd of people growing bigger with each step I take, the city now rising right up in front of me. I keep my eyes focused straight ahead on the trail ahead of me not wanting another push to the back reminding me to keep moving.
I can’t help it. I slow again and stare dumb struck at the sites. The whispers of the crowd’s voices start to drift down the trail to my ears. People can be seen walking from all directions in front of me increasing the size of the crowd that had already gathered.
Everyone is clothed the same as the two people behind me, flowing robes but in a variety of colours, some with sashes some without. It takes me a while to notice but these people aren’t wearing helmets of any kind or any type of breathing apparatus that I can see unlike like my two captors.
Could it be possible? Is the air clean enough and the temperature warm enough to allow breathing with out any mechanical assistance or are these people different in some way that the air caused by the erupting volcanoes is not toxic to them?
I think back several hours. Didn’t I experiment with the air quality myself? When I discovered my feeding tube had broken when I fell. Do I dare shut off my suits air scrubber?
I decide against it. Probably not a good time to experiment with my breathing until I find out what lays in store for me. I should find out soon. I am only yards away from the crowds of the glimmering city.
I take a chance and look from one side to the other. We have obviously traveled a great distance from the river of lava, but I don’t see any signs of packed ice anywhere around. I look up. The height of this cavern is enormous, the brilliant light of the city is not able to penetrate the darkness at the upper reaches of the dome.
I am now close enough to clearly make out the faces of the crowd awaiting our approach. All the faces carry the same blank look. Everyone is staring at me like I am some strange entity unlike anything they have ever seen before.
“Stop.” A voice from behind me commands. I do as I am told and stare awkwardly at the people standing in front of me. As much as I want to look up at the shiny city behind the crowd I am unable to raise my eyes. I hear murmurs but everyone is standing still looking at me and me looking back at them.
Then in the back of the now sizeable crowd I notice movement. Men and women moving aside as a small group of colourfully robed elderly men stride toward me followed closely by four other people, three men and a women who are dressed in what I think is some type of military uniforms. The four soldier types have guns strapped to their sides. My heart races in unknown trepidation.
Three very old men dressed in bright green robes stop in front of me, the soldiers are a step behind them and I watch as they all look quizzically first at me and then at each other.
“Who are you?” One of the men asks. “Where are you from?”
“Mike…my name is…” I start to answer but another of the old men motion with their hand silencing me.
“Take him to the cages.” He says as turns to address the soldiers behind him.
“Hey!...I…” I start to protest as two of the soldiers grab my arms and begin leading me forward through the blank staring milling crowd. People watch me closely as I am paraded through the throng of people on my way to who knows where.
The grasp of my new escorts is firm on my arms; the other two soldiers follow tight behind us. What have I fallen into I wonder. Nobody here seems very happy to see me in fact I notice fear hidden behind the eyes of the watching bystanders as I pass.
I try to catch glimpses of the city as I am led to wherever and whatever the cages are. I mean I know what cages are but is my definition and theirs the same? And why a cage. Obviously these people can see that I am not a threat. From the looks of these strange people and the bright, shiny city they must know by looking at me that their technology is certainly better then anything I would have.
My journey doesn’t last long. The soldiers stop just inside the outskirts of the city. One of the soldiers behind me rushes in front of our group and opens a door to a low-lying building.
I try to resist going inside but am overpowered. Lights flicker on. Cages…rows and rows of cages. I am dragged to the one nearest the entrance and watch as the cage door is opened. The two men holding me thrust me through the opening. By the time I regain my footing I hear the metal door clang shut.
“Stop. You don’t understand.” I manage to say before the soldiers walk back outside leaving me alone in this room filled with cages. I stand unmoving staring at the closed door. Now what.
Finally I come to terms with being locked up. The lights in the room are dim, almost dark but with the help of my visor I have no trouble seeing the contents of my cage. A shelf over on the far wall, which I presume is a bed and a hole in the floor and then lots and lots of round metal bars to keep me confined.
I wander over to the shelf and sit down. My throat is scratchy and dry. The thought of a drink enters my mind again. I forgot how thirsty I was amidst all the excitement.
“Can I get a drink of water?” I holler a few times. The echo of my own voice in the room is the only answer I get. I hang my head in despair feeling sorry for myself.
I don’t know how long I sit like this before I hear a voice.
“They are going to do away with you…you know.” A quiet female voice announced. I jumped to my feet and walked the few steps to the front of the cage. With my hands grasping the bars I turn my head trying to get a glimpse of the girl in the poorly lit room. Looking toward the far end of the room I gaze unblinking.
Slowly out of the shadows I spot a girl about my age walking toward my cage, her hands holding a tray in front of her. As she comes closer I see a drab brown robe draped around her shoulders, her arms jutting out from an opening in the front of the robe.
“Who are you?” It was my turn to ask to ask the question.
The girl stops in front of the bars and looks up at me with sorrow filled eyes. Through a slot in the bars she passes me the tray.
“What do you mean…who are you?” I desperately ask searching for answers.
“They will do away with you like they did away with all the others.” She repeats as she backs away from the cage and disappears the way she came.
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My need for a drink forgotten as I strain to get a better look at the people moving in the darkness, my curiosity winning out against my growing trepidation. Crawling around the pile of boulders I survey the landscape between where I’m hidden and the path the others are taking.
I don’t see much in the way of cover, no darker objects blocking my view in this poorly lit section of the cavern, the only light provided by a very faint glow created by the liquid lava.
I have to move carefully. I have no way of knowing if the people I am watching can see any better in this light than I can. Just because I can barely make them out does not mean that they have the same problem.
I wait and watch as the distance between them and me increase. When the silhouettes are almost out of my sight I slip from my cover and cautiously follow.
The trail weaves in and out, around and then straight skirting small piles and then larger boulders created by bygone lava flows. A few times I stumble. Tripped up by the uneven footing and the dim lighting.
My breathing increases from the exertion bringing with it a metallic taste in my mouth and a slight burning in my lungs. Tinges of the ash-laden air in the cavern. Switching my air supply to the suits filters alone I sit down and wait for the filters to refresh the air.
By the time I stand back up and am ready to move I find I have lost sight of the shadows I was chasing. I can’t even be sure if I had actually seen someone or the air mixture had caused me to hallucinate.
I stand looking around. No. I am positive that the figures I spotted were real. They had to be. How else would I have found this trail worn through the lava field? Moving forward I continue picking my way along the path, my attention more focused on my footing than checking ahead for others.
The path runs parallel to the river of lava. My eyes seem to be adjusting better to the light as I can make out the trail clearer now. Soon I walk with my head raised as the footing has gotten better, the path wider.
There. Up ahead I watch the two figures I had seen earlier round a bend then become blocked from my sight by a pile of boulders. I pick up the pace. I don’t want to loose them again.
Rushing to make the bend I stumble as loose debris rolls under my foot. Getting up I hurry over the last of the trail stopping at the stack of lava formed boulders and peer around. Nothing. I put my arm up and lean against the pile letting my breath catch up with me.
Damn. I’m obviously not very good at this type of thing. I’ve never had to follow anyone before. Very few people ventured up to the surface and our ice dome wasn’t really big enough for somebody to disappear.
I stop the self-pity. I realize that I just have to stick to this path; it must lead somewhere so if I follow it I should be able to find out where the others were heading. That will likely give me time to study them and try to discover if there are friendly, if they can help me get back to the surface.
My throat is dry. I had forgotten all about finding myself some water. I will have to head away from the path, away from the effects of the red river to find ice to melt. Pushing away from the rock pile I turn the corner.
My heart jumps and my eyes go wide. Standing in front of me are the two people I was following. Standing behind the rock cover looking back at me. I stare at them, they stare back at me, nobody moves.
Their suits are different from the one I wear. Brown in colour and flowing…almost like a robe of some type. I have never seen these type of suits before but for some reason they seam eerily familiar.
“Hi.” I stutter. “My name is Mike.” I continue standing not knowing what else to do. The strangers continue looking me over. I can make out the features of their faces through their visors. One man, one woman. Neither looks pleased to see me.
I watch their faces. I can see their mouths moving as if they are having a discussion but I can’t hear a word they are saying. Then the man raises his hand to his visor and touches a button.
In a monotone voice he asks. “Who are you? How did you get here?”
Again I stutter trying to get the words out. “I…I fell through a opening in the ice from the surface.” I finally manage to say. The looks on their faces tell me that they are having trouble with what I am telling them.
The man pulls a gun from under his robe and motions me forward. Not so friendly. I turn my head to look farther down the path then back at the to robed figures. With a more threatening gesture of the gun I am urged to get moving.
Now what am I going to do I wonder as I move, the two figures falling in behind me. My head is down watching where I step. I move slowly. The sight of their robes troubles me. More so than the fact that I was being ushered down an unknown path at gunpoint.
We walk forward. No words are exchanged. Well none that I can hear anyways. Suddenly I stop suddenly.
The robes. There was a faction that used to wear them but legend has it that they were eliminated decades ago. They were the ones blamed for the ruin of the world. The Climate Prophets.
But that can’t be. We were taught in school that they were hunted down and killed. All of them hunted as pariahs. As history goes they were the reason that the earth suffered the wrath of the volcanoes. Their destruction of the fossil fuels resulted in massive fields of giant turbines being built to replace the power source.
As energy by fossil fuels was prohibited and destroyed more and more turbines were needed. Eventually billions upon billions of the metal skeletons with their massive blades took the place of the once abundant forests crowding the landscape.
Combined with the turbines millions upon millions of holes were drilled into the earth weakening it as people tried to take advantage of the thermal heat buried there. Then the unthinkable happened. The turbines vibrated and shook. Eventually the vibrations caused volcanoes around the world to start erupting.
A few at first but as the earth shook more volcanoes erupted, volcanoes that hadn’t erupted in several centuries. With the eruptions came the dust. Annoying at first but then slowly choking out the sun.
I can’t remember exactly but I think that the sun hasn’t shone through the dust for well over a century. No sun, no heat and on top of that nothing could grow. The earth cooled and ice age started.
I felt a hand shove me forward. Keeping my head down I walk on. All sorts of thoughts and doubts tug at my brain as I place one foot in front of the other.
Fear started to creep into my thoughts pushing aside all others. If these people were ancestors of the Climate Prophets and they kept themselves hidden this long…what were the chances that I would be able to leave…or maybe even live.
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January 23, 2046
In a meeting held among the remaining officers we were left with no choice but to gather our decimated troops and retreat back to help protect the Bakken oil reserves in Northern Dakota. The ever-expanding climate army has over run our positions in Northern Alberta. There are thousands of civilians willing to join them and fight on their side in exchange for heating fuel and food and these extra bodies are reinforcing the climate army’s troops now.
This winter is especially cold and we’ve been hearing rumours for months now about people either freezing to death or dying in fires that they have started in unsafe conditions to heat their shelters.
I honestly can’t say I blame people for choosing the side of the climate prophets. They are the ones controlling most of the remaining fuel reserves in the world now and can at least offer the freezing masses some sort of help. Our united armies are constantly retreating now and the minute amounts of reserves we fight to preserve are by no way enough to help even a fraction of the large masses of people.
January 30, 2046
For the past week now we have had our men load and fuel up our transport vehicles in the dead of night to avoid prying eyes. The plan is to move our convoy of vehicles out before dawn tomorrow morning and try to slip out of this post to travel to North Dakota.
The forecast for tomorrow is calling for severe blizzard conditions, which I hope, will mask our retreat. Most of the climate army’s troops have little if any winter gear so the cold and snow will work in our favour. The big four-wheel drive transports will lead the way, breaking trail through the snowdrifts that cover the roads. There is no spare fuel to be wasted on road clearing.
Sergeant Griffins came to talk to me earlier this evening. He has been away from our camp for the past few days on a scouting mission. He explained that conditions away from our camp are desperate. Small towns are overrun with transients seeking shelter from the cold. Very few towns have any wooden buildings left as the materials have been scavenged for heating and cooking. Several communities are now sending out caravans of men and wagons into the forests to cut trees for burning.
Months ago when I was first sent to this post you couldn’t turn around without bumping into the forest. Now, as far as I can see, only the odd stump sticks up through the accumulating snow. It’s just stumps and paths packed in the snow from the wood gathering caravans as they make their pilgrimages back and forth.
Buildings of brick or steel are mostly what remains as community shelters with large fires burning on the inside resulting in a staggering amount of deaths. This is one of the coldest winters I can remember and there is no fuel or electricity to help the masses make it through. If the cold weather persists the water supply will freeze over bringing only compounding these problems.
February 5, 2046
We have been on the road for almost a week now. The going is slow because we have to stop often and clean the roads by hand. Even the largest, heaviest trucks in our convoy are getting stuck trying to break a trail through the snowdrifts covering the road. Every man is taking turns wielding shovels, myself included.
As the week ends, each and every man is dragging from fatigue caused by clearing the roads and the lack of sleep brought on by the cold. Even we don’t have near enough fuel to continue running the vehicles and providing heat for ourselves. I am having doubts as to whether we will make the long journey to Minot, North Dakota.
February 6, 2046
We have stopped just off the highway near what was once the middle of the Alberta city of Lethbridge, located in Southeastern Alberta, an area that we thought had been deserted for some time.
Once all the wood and paper in the city was burned for fuel there was no reason for any one to remain here. This part of the province had very little in the way of trees to begin with, the small supply disappeared quickly, so the people who lived around here joined the massive exodus west for the mountains.
The Rocky Mountains to the west provided shelter in the way of caves, animals for food and for now an abundance of trees much sought after as fuel for heat.
One thing I’ve noticed on our trek from the north is the vast open spaces. Areas that were not long ago covered in forest lay bare with only the odd tree stump protruding from the ground. The wind is ceaseless now as it blows across miles and miles of barren land.
As we drive I spot farms and small towns lying in ruins, any building materials that weren’t burnable are left in shambles. The lack of fuel has caused ordinary people to resort to any means possible to stay warm and cook the now dwindling food supplies.
February 7, 2046
I am sitting down to write a few words before our camp is broken down and ready to move. It’s a cool morning, the sun is starting to rise, the sky is clear. The day promises to be cold.
Gun shots. Our scouts reported that they had not seen anyone in this area when we stopped last night. I can hear the sentries scrambling, yelling at each other...
I power down my reading page. The mixture of air I’m breathing is making me a little dizzy but overall I feel fine. I grab a couple food pouches and remove my visor. The grumbling in my stomach exceeds my need to be cautious. The food has no taste but it serves its purpose.
Setting my visor back in place I stand up looking for some ice to melt for a drink. I will need to walk farther away from the river of red molten lava that flows through this large cavern. The area around it is free of ice, the ground soft and muddy.
Clambering over mounds of soft earth and boulders I walk away, my back to the heat thrown off by the lava flow. The ground firms up as I put some distance behind me. Walking around a pile of boulders I stop. A noise startles me. Almost sounds like voices. People talking.
I crouch in the darkened shadow of the rock pile and slowly creep around looking for the source of the noise. In the dim light I stare, struggling to peer into the distance darkness. Not far from my hiding spot I can just barely make out the silhouettes of movement.
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I fall briefly, my arms flailing in the dark. I land hard and I am left gasping for breath. My body is stopped by a solid surface deeper inside the ice hill. I lay still calming my heart, trying to regain my breath. Lying on my back I carefully feel around with my hands, checking the area around me before moving. My instincts tell me that the cave I’ve fallen into is large; I try not to move around too much incase I’m on a cliff or shelf of some sort I don’t want to fall again.
Noticing a glow above me, I watch as the blade of my shovel tumbles through the space above me. The red blade of the shovel is growing larger as it nears me. Pushing with my arm I shove and roll out of the way as the blade clatters down inches from were I had landed. I sit up and dig in my suit for a light.
Turning it on I move it this way and that, the beam cutting through the darkness searching the cavern around me. I seem to have fallen into an expansive ice cave, it was probably caused by trapped air as the ice hill originally formed.
The floor is slick, my hand and my feet slip out from under me as I try to stand causing me to land face first onto the floor. My visor smacks on the ice again and the shovel flies from my hand. Lying facedown, my eyes lock straight ahead of me through a clear ice floor at a faint red glow far below me.
For a moment I remain motionless, my mind trying to comprehend what I’m seeing. A loud snap brings me back to reality. The ice I’ve come to rest on is cracking. The floor shifts downward then holds. My breath catches in my throat, my heart quickens. Very gently I start to rise to my feet.
A loud groan fills the space as the ice floor gives way. Once again I find myself tumbling through the blackness. The faint red glow that was far below me is rising fast as my descent continues.
At this point I’m not even sure if I am awake or still dreaming. The all-encompassing darkness blots out everything but the glow below me. A scream is frozen in my throat and I’m aware of an up draft tugging at my suit as I fall.
The whole scene is surreal. I know I’m falling but with nothing except blackness around me I feel as if I’m floating. The only perception I have is the growing glow rising up to meet me.
Seconds, minutes, I’m not certain how long I spiral downward. I struggle to inflate my suit to capacity hoping that it will help cushion my fall if and when I make contact.
I think I’m screaming. The fear and adrenaline overwhelm my brain. Then complete blackness takes over as I pass out. I open my eyes briefly when my fall is abruptly halted with a bone jarring impact, the air build up in my suit takes a portion of the crash and I am aware as my body bounces and then finally settles.
How long I was unconscious I have no idea but when I awake I find myself sweating. That is something I have never felt before in my life. My home and my whole planet is a block of solid ice, so perspiring is very uncommon. The closest anyone gets to this is in the warming rooms and even there a person is more cool than hot.
The only time a person would experience any type of sensation close to this is as a newborn when we are raised in the incubation rooms for the first few months of our lives, but my memory isn’t that good.
My eyes blink bringing me back to consciousness. My eyesight is blurry. I lay totally still, dazed as my mind races to catch up with what I have been through. A searing pain works its way to my brain. I am lying on my side, my arm twisted beneath me. I move my fingers and have to stop as I pinpoint exactly where the pain is coming from.
Gingerly I sit up. The ground beneath me is soft and mucky. I raise my good hand up to my visor but my vision is still blurred. I shake gently to try and clear my head when I realize that my sight is fine but something is clinging to the outside of my visor. Wiping at my visor I realize my hand is covered as well so I use the sleeve of my suit to clear the outside of my visor than stare at my hand.
Mud. My glove is covered in mud. But how is that possible? Sitting up straighter I slowly turn my head. Behind me I discover the source of the red glow I’d seen from above.
A river of lava is flowing across the landscape a couple of hundred yards from where I sit. Slipping in the soft muck I try to stand. I slip and instinctively move my injured arm out to steady myself. A cry of agony leaves my mouth as I land on it once again. I hesitate, waiting for the pain to pass then I try a second time to get to my feet, being a lot more cautious this time.
Using my good hand, I half walk and half crawl farther away from the stream of lava. The heat is more intense than anything I’ve ever felt. My feet finally find a solid footing as I move further up the embankment to a spot where the heat is not nearly as bad. With the help of the faint light from the lava I search for a place to sit and evaluate my condition.
I know that my arm is in bad shape and the pain from it must be blocking out other receptors in my body from reporting injuries. Injuries, which I know will reveal themselves when the pain from my arm subsides. On a positive note, hopefully that means none of my other injuries are as sever.
I dig around in my suit for a strap and fasten my injured arm to the front of my suit. Then it dawns on me. With my good arm I reach behind my back and feel for my emergency kit. I let a sigh out. The shovel and flashlight I am certain are lost but from what I can tell my pack is still intact.
Unstrapping my bad arm I grit my teeth and work the pack off my shoulders. When I have the pack in front of me I fight against the pain and recompose myself. Using my feet to hold the pack still I undo the flap and search around for my medical kit. In the dim light I find a pack of pain reliever and try to attach it to my feeding tube only to discover that it was damaged in the fall.
Obviously the heating modules and the breathing filter in my helmet weren’t damaged which I never thought of until now, but the tube that I eat and drink through didn’t fair as well. If I was going to take the pain reliever I will have to remove my visor. On the surface this would mean instant death from the subzero air, but in this cavern I know that I won’t instantly freeze but that doesn’t mean the air isn’t poisonous.
Methodically I undo my visor. I am going to try to quickly consume the pain medicine and then refasten my visor. Holding my breath I flip up the visor and then grab the top of the foil envelope containing the medicine in my teeth and fight to rip it open. It takes longer than I want. My body is bucking, fighting for air. I finally tear the package open and pour the powder into my mouth.
Dropping the foil I hurry to reseal my visor. It’s awkward to do with only one hand. I can’t hold my breath any longer. As is human nature, I gasp and then take a big gulp of air to fill my lungs breathing in the cavern air before my visor can be sealed. With trembling fingers I manage to finish the task and then wait expecting the air to poison me.
I slowly relax my tense body still expecting to become violently ill and fall to the ground dying. I am not sure if something like that would be instant or if it would take a while. I don’t have anyway to test the air and I have never breathed air without the safety of my helmet before.
I forget about the pain while the reality of this new experience intrigues me. Mind you I’ve never breathed poison air before so I really have no idea how long it will take to effect me.
In the New Capital, we are told that the air in our ice settlement was toxic so at no time did we ever remove our helmets to breathe it.
Our ice dome is a couple of miles from the base of Mount St. Helens, close enough so that the elders are able to pipe heat to our small community but far enough away to protect us from the numerous eruptions that take place within the volcano. Close to the base of that volcano the same rivers of red run like the river that I am now sitting and looking at.
I close my eyes and take several deep breaths still expecting to fall sick and die. Leaning back I close my eyes. The effects of my ordeal begin to takes its toll and I fall into a restless sleep. I wake up several hours later from the pain in my arm and now my growling stomach.
The breath of air didn’t kill me after all. Do I risk removing my visor so I can eat or am I pushing my luck? I am too tired to move around yet. I contemplate my decision and give in to my stomach. Grabbing a food pouch I prepare myself to once again open my helmet. The movements have to be thought through carefully.
I set the pouch within easy grasp, flip my visor up quickly and then grab the pouch and tear it open with my teeth. I hesitate. I stop. I put off eating for now and instead turn the filter in my helmet way down letting the air in the cavern mix with the filtered air. I will try this for a while and if I don’t have any bad side effects than I will remove my visor for a short time.
I take a taste of my food pouch, and while I wait breathing in the mixture of air I pull the reading paper out and turn the power on. The page lights up. At least it didn’t get damaged when I fell. I will read a few pages to take my mind off my experimenting with the mixture of air from the cavern. I swipe my glove across the page stopping at a random entry.
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Global warming never happened. Not the way my great grand father had explained it to my father. They were warned that the world was supposed to heat up, the oceans would rise and lay claim to millions of hectares of inhabitable coastline, the drier areas of the world they were told would become barren desert unable to sustain humans.
Boy, were they wrong.
The great climate prophets of the early twenty first century railed against the continued use of carbon based fuels forcing governments to discontinue their uses. Only green power was promoted, massive turbines driven by the wind, solar panels to catch the suns rays and geothermal heat from deep with in the earth would be permitted.
I remember something my grandfather told me years ago. His stories were always told with a smile as he fondly remembered the days of his youth. “Mike,” he would say. “When I was a kid, my brothers and I would run out the front door to meet our friends with just our clothes on. We didn’t need thermal suits back then. In fact, if I recall correctly, sometimes we even wore short pants, pants that came above the knee and no socks or shoes on our feet.” And every time he told this story he would stop and I could see in his eyes the longing for the times he once knew.
He was old and I never questioned him because I enjoyed spending time with him and listening to his stories. I often wonder if he made them up himself or if his grandfather had told him similar tales. Sometimes I would lie by his side and close my eyes dreaming along with him of the wonderful world that existed only in his mind.
I knew he was old and his thoughts weren’t clear anymore, but still, the way he describes it, these places would be heaven. When I asked my dad about grandpa’s stories dad would laugh and remind me to not to take him too seriously because as long as he or anyone else knew the world has been a frozen tundra.
In the summer, the hottest time of the year, the temperature climbed to a balmy minus fifty, too cold to even consider walking around our dome without even a thinner heat suit on.
These were the things I thought about as I sat on the only obstacle to break up the horizon. A large hill of solid freezing snow packed and formed by the non-stop artic winds. Peering through the tinted visor on my helmet at the never-ending plains of white that stretched out in front of me I planned my next move. The batteries in my thermal suit still have some of power remaining and if I alternate turning then on and off I may be able to find my way out of this vast white frozen collection of shifting snow dunes soon enough to have a small chance of survival.
I say a small chance because I’m in hostile territory. Funny. Anywhere outside the massive walls of the New Capital was hostile territory. Hostile in the fact that anyone alone and separated would perish, if not from our enemies than from the wrath of the surface of this icy globe we call earth.
My crew and I were on the return trip to the New Capital with a cargo of much-needed fuel and food that we had collected from a site several hundreds of miles from home. The ice sled I was on got caught in a blizzard. A blizzard we were trying to out run even though we knew the odds of success were miniscule.
Just as we figured it would, the storm caught up with us and as the pilot I tried to force our way through. Being stopped by these storms meant undue hardships for both the crew and ship and with limited power supplies any length of storm could possibly leave the whole lot of us stranded. Besides, the Capital was in desperate need of the cargo, desperate enough that I had to risk running the storm.
I left my co-pilot manning the rudder while I ventured outside to fix one of the sails that had been damaged by the storms hurricane force winds. Stepping out of the shelter of the cabin I was ravaged by the wind and ice pellets. I was fully aware of the risks but it was my ship and my crew and the people at our settlement that depended on me.
I had not been outside for more than a minute when the sled careened off the edge of an ice hill that was camouflaged by the storm, tossing me overboard. With the ferocity of the storm I knew that by the time my crew realized I was gone the time for rescue would be gone. For my crew to turn around and search for me would put the ship and their own lives in jeopardy. The loss of one person was better than having the whole ship and crew disappear on this run.
I realized and accepted that fact; it had been burned into all our minds when we trained for these missions. I was not the first person to be lost to these storms and I certainly would not be the last.
How long I had been stranded I wasn’t sure but it must have been hours before the storm abated and by that I mean the winds died from hurricane force to a more normal savage howl.
Every man and woman that ventured out to the surface from our city had an emergency kit permanently attached to the back of our suits. The kit contained packs of food rations, a thermal shovel and a few small heating pods.
The thermal suit had its own emergency air supply but like the thermal heat in the suit I had to use it sparingly so I didn’t drain the batteries.
The air supply was turned on once I had made contact with the surface. The only option open to me when I was tossed from the sled was for me to sit down and wait out the storm. That part was fine but the winds from the storms bring large amounts of blowing snow with them so even a short time of being stationary resulted in being buried in several feet of snow. At least the snow helped insulate me against the frigid temperatures.
I switched on and off the air supply along with the heat in intervals in an effort to maintain the batteries. I waited under the snow and ice patiently and when I detected the winds decreasing I dug my way out to the top and searched around for shelter of some kind; but, I have to admit that in all my years of captaining a sled I have never been aware of seeing anything that resembled what I would consider shelter, just show and ice hills anywhere you turn.
Fortunately it was still daylight when I emerged from my temporary snow cocoon and made my way to this ice hill. In my time daylight only means that the dark isn’t as dark. All my life this is the only ‘daylight’ I have known. They said volcanic ash clouded the sky barely allowing light to filter through to the surface. That was how it was explained by elder knowledgeables when I was in school and it has been this way for the past century and a half.
Enough thinking. Time to either find some sort of shelter or dig deep into one of these ice hills and pray that I have enough heat to keep me alive for the next couple of days while I try to figure how I am going to survive and return to the New Capital.
The odds of me surviving are stacked against me but as long as I can still function I won’t give up hope. I don’t believe in miracles but now would be a good time for one.
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.