Check back every week for a new instalment of the online exclusive by Richard Cozicar The Ice Racer
The room shakes and wobbles as it descends. The clanking and grinding of the lowering mechanisms accompany us as we crawl deeper into the oil mine.
I quietly tell Annaliese to stick to the side and crouch with her gun ready. I do the same. Neither of us knows what to expect when the room reaches the bottom. Certainly there must be guards on the floor of the mine and I would bet anything that the space where this room stops is guarded as well.
We wait with bated breath as the room continues its climb downward. I steal a glance at Annaliese, her eyes wide behind the plate of my visor. A trickle of sweat snakes down my back, the hairs on my neck again bristling with uncertainty.
With a clunk and a jerk the room wobbles and then settles. Again I glance in Annaliese’s direction, her focus is locked on the door, her gun held high and ready. I steady my sight on the doors as well and take a breath waiting for the doors to open.
The doors shift and then glide back opening into a brightly lit area. A small group of guards are gathered close to the open doors, a couple of men are facing the open doors, and the others have their backs to us as they watch the area around.
There are too many men to take by surprise so I don’t hesitate to tighten my finger around the trigger of the rifle. Nearly simultaneously I hear the bark of Annaliese’s gun. The men in front drop. The others with their backs to us turn into more bullets sent flying from our guns. In a running crouch I leave the metal room and stand among the fallen guards my head on a swivel as I search for unseen threats before they see me.
A bullet crashes past my foot from above. Diving to the side I roll over to a stack of crates near by and search above me. My gaze travels up, all the way from the cliff building. There, lying in the open doorway are more of the Prophet’s men raining bullets down on us.
I panic. Where is Annaliese? In the brief meeting with the mine guards I had forgotten about her. My eyes travel back toward the metal room. There she hides just inside the doors.
“I’ll try to stop them and you hurry over here.” I call to her. Before she can answer I lift the barrel of my rifle and fire a few bullets almost straight up at the men hanging out of the building. My bullets are off target but close enough that the men duck for cover.
Annaliese rushes over. She ducks her head low as she runs.
“Wait here.” I say and foolishly dash back to the fallen men by the elevator collecting all the guns I can scoop up in my venture, my body braced for the strike of bullets from above.
Carrying the extra guns by their straps I duck back behind the cover of the crates. I passing Annaliese a few rifles to carry, the two of us work our way around the stack of crates and move farther away from the metal room. All the while my eyes comb the area ahead of us for more guards.
The black damp ground diffuses the lighting in this dark, pungent smelling area and the towering stained metal machinery stretches out all around us. Out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of movement as it dashes out of sight like a spectre in a nightmare.
Swivelling my head around I see more human shapes as they slip into hiding among the groupings of machines and piles of rock and debris. The air is thick with the mixture of oil and volcanic fumes, my throat burns, my eyes water.
Glancing back up at the cliff building I watch as the elevator we just left as it slowly climbs back up toward the cliff building. Staying low I nudge Annaliese and motion deeper into the oil mine.
The two of us move wearily at first as we distance ourselves from the bottom of the elevator shaft working around machines and rocks, my eyes constantly roaming trying to spot the Prophets guards before they find us.
A few hundred feet from the elevator we round a pile of oily waste and holding our breath we peer around the mound to watch the area we had just passed. No one is following us yet.
We hear the sound of feet on the rocks behind us. Tensing with my hand on a rifle trigger I spin around. Staring back at me is the dirt stained faces of a small bunch of men and women. Their robes stained and tattered, their faces haggard from the conditions of living in the oil mine.
More sounds distract us. Small pockets of haggard looking people surround us, none of them that I can see are wearing the robes of the military guards. I slowly spin on the spot my gun at the ready in case they rush us.
Without a word some of the members of the group behind us beckon for us to follow. I peer down at Annaliese. She shrugs and motions with her head as she hesitantly steps in behind to follow. I glance back at the others who had us surrounded before I move. Most of them have melted back into the dark surroundings.
With a fast gait the miners move effortlessly through the mire of rock and metal leading us deeper into the labyrinth of the oil mine. The soles of our boots crunch as we pass over uneven footing, and slurp through puddles of thick oil that are camouflaging holes in the trail. As my foot finds such a hole the slick footing throws me off balance. I twist and stumble, the guns I am carrying collide with a metal frame as I trip and fall to the ground.
One of the men who found us stops and lends me a hand up. My robe is saturated with grime and oil residue. Reaching down to pick up the confiscated rifles I pass them to the man who helped me as I collect them. Picking up the last gun, I straighten up.
The man I have passed the guns to stares from me to the guns and back again. I don’t know what he is thinking but I stand before him unarmed. He selects one of the rifles and passes it back to me, the other guns he redistributes to the small group accompanying us.
I nod my approval and he turns and we continue moving. The leader of the group stops at the end of the path and holds up his hand. The path opens into a wide clearing. In the middle of the clearing stands a platform with a metal tower in the center. Men and women are on the platform bustling about among pipes and levers and cables.
“That’s an oil derrick.” The leader notifies me as if he can read my mind. I continue to stare at the metal tower as he leads on turning and walking close to the piles of debris surrounding the opening. At the next break in the debris we leave the opening and walk down a tunnel like path leading toward the canyon wall.
Holes in the wall appear as we walk closer. The lights of the oil mine fade as we close in on the wall. Annaliese and I follow the group into an opening in the wall and after several twists and turns we arrive at the entrance to a large cave.
“You can rest here for now.” The leader tells us. Annaliese tugs at my visor and pulls it off her head to hear the conversation better.
“Don’t the guards know about these caves?” I ask. The leader shrugs as he turns to his fellow miners.
“They don’t need to. Other miners down here will eventually lead them to you.” He says apologetically. “Our survival down here relies on the food and water the Prophets send down for us every day.” The leader tells us in an explanation of how life in the oil pits work.
“Every faction of life in the pit is controlled by the city. Water is pumped down from the surface and food and other supplies are lowered into the hole by the guards operating the elevator.
“Any sign of an uprising is stemmed by the refusal of the life necessities. The food allotted is barely enough to survive on; water is rationed, as are other supplies. Down here life is hard and the work is harder. We have quotas to fill every day and if we fall behind then the punishment is smaller and smaller rations.
“Most of the people imprisoned here are suffering but they are not ready to admit defeat and die, so if it’s between hiding you or eating I am afraid they will eagerly help the Prophets recapture you. I am sorry.” He finished.
“Is there no way out of here?” I ask almost as a rhetorical question, these people would have had years to exploit any means of escape if there were. The leader smiled.
“You two came down the only way back out of here.” He kicked at some rocks on the cave floor. “And no. Even with the guns we can’t force our way into the elevator.” “The controls are at the top of the cliff and even by capturing the guards at the bottom the guards at the top will never allow it. The guards at the bottom know that their lives would be forfeit before the elevator lowers under threat.”
“I was told that there is a chute that pumps air from the surface. Is there no way to follow that to the surface?”
The leader gawked at me like I was a simple child. “I am sure a person could find a way up through it…you would freeze to death by the time you climbed a quarter of the way up.” Then for the first time I think he noticed my heat suit under my robe. Then he furrowed his brow as he stared Annaliese in the face.
“You…you’ve been on the surface before, haven’t you? So even if you could climb to the top what would you do, you probably couldn’t survive up there for long.” He paused as he struggled with his next statement. “…I used to be one of the Prophets men selected for surface excursions. There is nothing around for miles and miles but snow and ice and blizzards.” Then turning his attention back to Annaliese.
“Are you not the daughter of the High Prophet?” He asked in amazement. Her answer was lost as raised voices echoed through the tunnels leading to the cave we were hiding in.
“Do these caves lead anywhere?” I urgently asked.
“Eventually to the lava rivers but the air and heat will kill you as fast as the cold on the surface will.”
“We’ll take our chances.” I boldly replied.
“No.” Annaliese protested. She pushed my visor to me. “Both of us will not be able to escape but with your suit and visor you might have a chance.”
“I won’t leave with out you.” I say stubbornly fully intending to stand my ground. The voices in the tunnels grow louder, shadows appear across the opening of the cave. Annaliese steps closer to me and smiles.
“Good luck Mike.” She says and before I know what’s happening she raises her hands and shoves me backwards. I trip over a pile of rocks and fall into the mouth of a smaller side tunnel down a slight incline. Clambering to my feet I hear the voices from the tunnel as they enter the big cave.
“Shit.” I exclaim in my head and fall back into the waiting shadows of the tunnel.
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.