Check back every week for a new instalment of the online exclusive by Richard Cozicar The Ice Racer
“Follow my lead.” Marcus whispers to us as he takes a quick step behind Annaliese and myself.
He calls back to the guards. “Over here.” He waves, purposly calling attention to us. “I found these two sneaking around this alley.” He shoves us from behind moving us forward to meet the military guards.
The guards watch warily as we approach. Their raised guns slowly lower. My heart beats rapidly at the thought of being returned to the cage. Annaliese’s gaze swivells between Marcus, the guards and me as step by step we close the gap.
“Stop.” Marcus instructs us as we come almost face to face with the two guards. Stepping around from behind us, Marcus stops to the side of the men drawing their attention.
I had no idea what he has planned but seeing the opportunity I rush the guard on the right, my one hand clasping the other man’s gun hand, my shoulder ramming into the guy’s chest knocking him back into the wall of the building.
We struggle. The guy is strong but I can feel my adrenaline spike from fear and the thought of recapture. Raising my right hand I drive a fist into the man’s gut knocking the wind out of him.
He doubles over into my raising knee. A sickening crunch follows as the guard’s hand releases the gun and he topples to the street. Swiftly retrieving the gun I whirl around in time to see the butt of Marcus’s rifle connect with the other guards face.
The two of us stand staring down at the fallen men. Marcus relieves the other guard of his weapon and passes it along with his own to Annaliese.
“Help me peel their uniforms off.” He said to me in between gasps of air as he bends over to pull the robe off the guard he clubbed. With the military robes removed the two of us drag the guards back into the shadow of the building they emerged from.
Marcus rumages under his robe and produces a knife. Slashing and cutting at my discarded brown robe he cut strips and passes them to me.
“Tie their hands and feet and gag them.” He rapidly calls out as he continues cutting strips from the cloth. Our work is hastened from the fear of being discovered by other guards patrolling the streets.
With the stolen guns in hand and donning the military robes as disguises we leave the area at a brisk walk, sticking to the deeper shadows of the buildings, Marcus walking a few steps in front of us to scout for any other unwanted company.
“A few more blocks.” Marcus states as he points ahead of us; his breathe is still laboured from the brush with the Prophets men and the tension we are all feeling. We move as quickly as we dare while maintaining all the caution we can afford.
At an intersection in the road, he raises his hand signalling us to stop. Annaliese and I wait and watch while Marcus peers around the corner, what he is watching we have no idea but he remains silent and unmoving. Something around the corner is obviously troubling him.
After several minutes he returns to us, his face a readable map of what lies in the path of our escape. Marcus shakes his head and in a hushed voice almost imperceptible to my ears he relays what he saw.
“The door to the oil mines lies just ahead.” He starts, “The problem is there is a sizable group of the Prophets men clustered around the entrance.” I find that I am holding my breath as I wait for him to tell us what he is thinking.
“The only way through is to draw their attention away from it.” He hesitates.
“There’s not another way into the mines?” I ask. Surprising the first two guards was more luck then we deserved but to my thinking trying the same trick against a larger group would require more luck then the three of us had. I search Marcus’ face and I know he is thinking the same thing.
He shakes his head. “The wall separating the mine from the city is solid steel embedded into the rock cliffs, the door is the only way across.”
“What can we possibly do to distract them? There has to be a solution that doesn’t involve us splitting up.” I plead, not willing to give up. “We could try and shoot our way past them but that would no doubt draw every guard in the city down to this area.” I think out loud.
“No. Shooting has to be our last resort. Give me a minute I’ll think of something.” “There has to be a way.” He adds.
The three of us have shrunk into the shadows as we try to figure a way past the men blocking our only chance of escape. Suddenly Marcus stands up as an idea sprouts into his mind.
“On my signal you two run for the door.” He tells us.
“What are you going to do?” Annaliese ask, her voice laden with worry.
“I’m going to create a diversion, draw as many guards away from the door as I can.” He replies leaving us before we can protest. He creeps back to the edge of the building where the streets meet, pauses a second then disappears from our sight.
Grabbing Annaliese’s hand the two of us rush to the corner, stopping to peer across the street Marcus just entered. Clinging tight to the buildings wall we watch as he scuttles down the side of the buildings getting ever closer to the gate. Two-thirds of the way down the next block he runs across the street to a break in the buildings on the other side and into the opening.
I feel Annaliese’s breath on my neck as the two of us remain hidden behind the corner wondering what Marcus has planned. He suddenly reappears hollering toward the guarded gate.
“Here.” He cries and waves his arms frantically until he has the guard’s attention. “Over here. Hurry, over here. I just saw them run down the alley and around the corner.” He jumps and points down the alley then when most of the guards have left their post to head in his direction Marcus takes off running back down the alley and out of our sight.
Annaliese’s gasps as she witnesses Marcus’s ploy. I keep my eyes on the door. All but one of the guards has gone chasing after Marcus. Standing up quickly I turn to Annaliese whispering instructions.
“Stick tight against the building. We will only have one chance so we need to creep as close to that guard as we can while his attention is focused on the alley Marcus disappeared down.” I slide around the corner pulling Annaliese with me and then move as fast as I can in the cover of the building. The distance from our hiding spot to the door is not far.
The whole time we are on the move, my eyes are fixed on the guards face expecting him to notice us. His gaze continues toward the spot his comrades disappeared to in search of Marcus. Still holding Annaliese’s hand we close the gap. Twenty feet away and the guard’s attention is still turned away from us. Fifteen feet. Thirteen feet.
About ten feet out the guard swivels his head and looks right at us. Confused at the sight of us running straight at him causes a delayed reaction. I let go of Annaliese’s hand and without pause I charge right at the surprised guard.
Using the advantage of my momentum and his confusion I lower my head and charge forward ploughing shoulder first into his chest. My rifle flies out of my hands as the force of the collision carries us both backward until we hit the wall at an angle. I hear his breath rush out of his mouth as he is pinned between the weight of my body and the solid wall behind him.
I trip and fall away from the guard. He regains his footing first and grabs for his weapon when he suddenly stops, staggers and then falls in my direction.
Annaliese is standing behind the spot vacated by the fallen guard with her hands still in the air, facing me, her stolen rifle clutched in her hands like a club. I nod my thanks to her as I scramble to my feet, quickly I dust off my robe and retrieve my gun.
I hurry to the door and try the handle. Locked. The door will not budge. I rush back to the fallen guard and search for a key. Digging through the pockets in his robe I fail to find a key of any kind. I roll the man over onto his back. As I do a chain slips out from beneath the collar of his shirt. I grasp at the chain and pull. A key slides out and I quickly yank my fist back snapping the chain.
I raise my hand in triumph and show my find to Annaliese then I hurry back to the door to try the lock. The key turns smoothly, we listen to the lock click open. Twisting the handle I swing the door inward slowly, I prepare myself for another guard on the other side. Stopping to have a look around I see a vast cavern bathed in bright lights.
Noticing no other guards I pass Annaliese my rifle and rush over to the prone guard. Motioning for Annaliese to go ahead of me I drag the man through the doorway. When we are through I close the door and lock it before quickly glancing around again to reassure myself that my actions went unobserved.
I remove the guard’s robe, tearing it into strips to tie the man up as we did with the other guards and then roll him tight against the bottom of the door. Reclaiming my gun I raise it and drove it into the guards head a couple of times. Panting from the excursion I straighten up and glance at Annaliese then around the huge cavern containing the oil mine.
I stand still and look over the interior of the large cave. Not too many feet away to the left of the door stands a solid wall of craggy lava rock. The wall runs all the way to the underside of the cavern’s ceiling. Opposite the door, about twenty feet away is a metal rail. On the other side of the rail the stone shelf we stand on drops off.
My eyes follow the rail as it runs to our right, several hundred feet away from the door is a building extended over the edge of the shelf with large braces angled from the buildings underside back toward the rock cliff.
With my focus on the building I walk away from the door toward the metal railing. The hole on the other side of the rail is massive; I can barely make out the far side even with the bright lights that light the cavern.
Annaliese follows close behind me as I near the rail. Convincing myself that we have gained entry to this side of the wall without being noticed, I turn my head as we reach the rail and together we look down.
As one we both let out a gasp as we grip the metal rail and stare at the site below us.
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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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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.
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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.
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.