Excerpt from The Ice Racer
Global warming never happened.
At least not in the way my grandfather explained it to me. That thought floats through my mind while I sit huddled in the lee of a snowdrift, seeking refuge from a monster blizzard raging out of the North. I am totally exhausted after the last few hours of fighting my way through the snowstorm. The irony of my grandfather’s words is not lost on me as I struggle to remain awake, my chin incessantly bobbing off my chest.
A moving wall of ash and snow block the world from my view. Defiantly, I stare into the storm, my eyelids drooping from fatigue and the words of my grandfather echoing in my head. Global warming, a warning issued by the Climate Prophets of the early 21st century to the people of the earth, stop the use of fossil fuels or suffer the consequences of escalating temperatures.
The words are like a fairy tale. A solemn history of a bygone world, a written record passed down through the generations of my family. I vividly remember my grandfather telling me how the old world faced a catastrophic battle foretold by scientists using computer models to track the changes of climate patterns.
The specialists grew alarmed by their findings and warned the leaders of the world. The failure to stop the rate of environmental abuse would bring about irreversible damage to the planet. Their theory foretold the melting of the ice caps, which in turn would cause oceans to rise, flooding millions of hectares of habitable coastline. That was the beginning. Other regions of the world, scientists believed, would become nothing more than barren wasteland, unable to sustain any form of life. The warnings went on and on.
I can't help but think how wrong those scientists were.
I lean my head back; the cold winds whine as they howl past. The driven snow is relentless as it swirls around my shelter and continues to isolate me. I lift my gloved hand in front of my face. At less than a foot from my eyes, my hand disappears in the blanket of ash-gray powder. I’m still too exhausted to move. My head sags and I find myself watching the large white flakes as they settle over my body; my thoughts return to those words of long ago.
The world leaders ignored the science, and that led to the rise of the Climate Prophets. The environmentalists lectured about the continued use of carbon-based fuels. Over time the world became divided between those who believed they were saving the planet and those who chose to ignore the warnings. The prophets used fear to recruit followers and with numbers came power.
When the movement controlled armies, they declared war against the denying governments. A fierce battle began that would push humanity to the brink of extinction.
The prophets proclaimed that renewable energy would be the only accepted source of fuel. The clean energy was comprised of massive steel turbines erected to catch the blowing winds. These metal towers began covering the earth; solar farms were used to catch the sun’s rays, and geothermal heat from deep within the earth would now help power civilization.
I remember something my grandfather said to me years ago. His stories always began with a smile as he fondly reminisced about the days of his youth. “Mike,” he would say. “I remember my grandpa telling me that there was a time, not long before he was born, when children just like you could venture outdoors and play all day under bright blue skies with their friends, the lot of them wearing only the flimsiest of clothes.
He told me that back in those days, children didn’t need thermal suits. They played in sunshine and rain on the grass-covered ground and in forests of green trees. In fact, if I recall correctly, sometimes my grandpa even talked about a type of short pants, pants that came above the knees. Kids would run about under the open skies without socks or shoes on their feet. And every time my grandfather told this story he would stop, and I could see in his eyes the dreams of a world so long ago, a world I think he tried to conjure in his mind much different than the world that existed today.
My grandfather was old, and I never questioned him because I treasured our time together. I often wondered if his aging mind invented these stories, or if his great grandpa had shared these tales with him. Sometimes I would lay by his side and close my eyes dreaming right along with him of the wonderful world that existed, if only in his mind.
I knew he was on in years and his memories probably confused, but still, the way he described his dream of clear skies and soft grass where kids could roam out doors free of protective clothing sounded a lot like heaven. When I asked my dad about grandfather’s stories, my dad would laugh and remind me not to take the old guy too seriously. My father was practical. He would often warn me not to waste my life daydreaming about a long forgotten world with sunshine and blue skies, when in reality the topside of our planet was barren, deadly tundra.
The surface of the planet is snow covered, cold and void of life. The hottest time of the year is summer, when the temperature may climb as warm as minus fifty, much too cold for a person to even consider walking the caves of our city without the warmth of a thin heat suit.
The thought of minus fifty temperatures jolts me back to my current dilemma. The storm has increased in strength. The blowing snow has collected over my outstretched legs while I rest. It seems like the winds are determined to erase any evidence of my existence from the surface. I keep my head down; the frozen pellets scrape across my visor. The wind moans and howls past my helmet and its icy fingers tug at the fabric of my thermal suit.
The ferocity of this storm worries me. For the last several months, I have noticed that the intensity of these blizzards has been building. Something ominous is driving the increase in activity, almost like the winds are trying to blow everything off the face of the planet. Whatever the outcome, it can’t be good. Not when the surface is as deadly as this.
I’m tired. My energy sapped. I tell myself a couple more minutes then I’d better move. The muscles in my legs still burn from slogging through the high drifts and fresh accumulation of grey snow. Shortly after I recovered from the fall off my ship and picked myself off the ground, I have been chasing after the ice sled. At first, I was able to follow in the depressions left by the wide metal skis of the heavy ship, but the wind and snow conspired against me. Not long into my walk, the tracks began to fill in. The blizzard was erasing the trail.
Every step was a struggle. How many times I sank body deep into yards of the fresh powder, I can't recall. Each time I would have to swim back to the top, feel around for solid footing and then start walking again. More than once I fought back to the top utterly exhausted and contemplated giving up and letting the storm claim me. Each time, a voice inside screamed for me to stand up and continue my journey.
The tracks had disappeared hours ago. I kept walking. I tried to mark the ice sled's direction in my mind and stubbornly forged on, but in my heart, I knew I was fighting a losing battle.
Dwelling on my earlier ordeals distract me while I rest, stranded in the middle of this frozen sea with only drifts and ice hills to keep me company. The drifts built by the ceaseless winds, the hills of ice formed by decades of repeated cycles of snow and sub-zero temperatures. I swipe my glove across the front of my visor removing the accumulating powder, but the wall of flakes still obscures my view. Not that there would be much to look at other than an endless sea of shifting snow.
The frozen pellets hammer at my helmet and scrape across my visor while the cold wind shrieks and pulls at my clothing. I ignore the disturbance. Monitoring the readout displayed on the inside of my mask, I check on the battery life powering my thermal suit. The batteries are wired into the fabric and recharge as I walk. My movements over the last few hours as I pushed through the drifting snow did little to restore them. But if I alternate between turning the suit on and off, I may be able to prolong the inevitable. By rationing the remaining power, I can extend the batteries long enough to survive until I find a way out of this vast collection of snow dunes. If not, then I will succumb to the cold.
The protection of my suit leaves me a small chance of survival.
I say a slight possibility because I am in hostile territory. Funny, I think. Anywhere outside the massive caves of the New Capital is considered unfriendly territory. Hostile in the fact that anyone stranded alone on the surface will undoubtedly perish, if not from some unseen enemy, then from the unbridled cruelty of this frozen sphere we call earth.
I think back to earlier in the day, when I was piloting the ice sled. The crew and I were on a return trip to the New Capital with a desperately needed cargo of fuel and food supplies. We had scavenged the cargo from a site several days travel from our home. A massive storm blew out of nowhere. A blizzard we tried to outrun even though we knew the odds of travelling ahead of the storms edge were small.
Just as we figured it would, the storm bore down on us, and as the pilot, I tried to force the sled through. When you are an Ice Racer, your job is to deliver. Being delayed by these storms meant undue hardships for both the crew and ship and with limited power supplies, any length of a delay could leave the whole lot of us stranded. Besides, the Capital was in dire need of the cargo. I had no choice but to risk running the storm.
I left my co-pilot manning the rudder while I ventured outside to fix one of the sails damaged by the hurricane-force winds. Stepping out of the cabin onto the sled's deck, I was stunned by the ferocity of the gale. The wind and snow tore at my footing. I was well aware of the risks, but it was my ship and my crew. They, along with the people back at our settlement, depended on me.
I had barely finished the repairs when the sled careered off the edge of an ice hill camouflaged by the storm. The ship tilted sideways tossing me overboard. With the savagery of the blizzard, I knew that by the time my crew realized I was gone, any form of rescue had already passed. For my team to turn around and search for me would put the ship and their 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; the reality had been burned into all our minds when we trained for these missions on the surface. I was not the first person to be lost on one of these voyages, and I certainly won’t be the last.
I don’t know the amount of time that had elapsed since the sled disappeared; but it must have been hours that I walked braced against the savagery of the storm. Eventually the winds calmed from hurricane force to a less vicious howl.
My suit has a backup air supply, but like the thermal heat, I have to use it sparingly, so the batteries don’t run dead.
I instinctively turned on my emergency air supply and dug myself out of the loose powder in time to watch the back of the sled vanish into the blizzard. I attempted to pursue the ship, but after a few futile steps, where I sank to my waist, I realized that option no longer existed. I dropped to my knees to formulate a plan. At first, I thought about simply digging in and waiting out the storm. The reasoning was sound, but the winds were blowing large amounts of fresh snow, it would be only a matter of time before the sled’s trail would be erased. Even for the few minutes I remained motionless and contemplated my next move, a fresh layer of powder fell over me. At least the snow helped insulate against the frigid temperatures.
I found my footing and began walking until I stumbled upon this windbreak, too weary to march on.
Every man and woman from the New Capital who ventures onto the ice sleds has a survival kit attached to our suits. The packs contain food rations, a thermal shovel, and a few small heat pods. We trained for unexpected emergencies, but adapting the theories in real life-and- death situations are worlds apart. Stranded on the top of this unforgiving cap of ice and wind, the only things I can rely on are common sense and my refusal to surrender.
I decrease the suit’s air supply while I rest. I toggle the heat function off and on in intervals to prolong the life of the batteries. I patiently wait, the snow piling higher. I sense the winds decreasing, so I think of digging out of the drift. Shelter from the conditions will be a priority, somewhere safe to ride out the night. I do have to admit that in all my years of piloting a sled, I have never noticed anything that resembled a haven, only endless windblown plains of deadly shifting landscapes. I postpone moving, telling myself I’ll wait a few more minutes. The exhaustion of my trek still weighs heavy on me.
I must have fallen asleep. My eyes flash open, my body shivering uncontrollably. The biting cold has seeped past the outer layer of my thermal suit. I push myself away from the drift, the fresh snow that has cloaked me falls away. I stand on weary legs. It’s time I move and find a place to spend the night. If I march in the direction I believe will lead back toward home I can search for shelter along the way. My hope is to locate a sizeable ice hill where I can burrow deep inside and escape the elements. After that, all I can do is pray that I have enough resources to keep me alive for the next couple of days.
Fortunately, it is still day, although daylight is a bit of a misnomer. The distinction between day and night only means that the dark is a lighter shade of black. All my life, this is the only ‘daylight’ I have known. As I grew up, my grandfather regaled me with stories of an earlier time where the skies were clear and blue and the only time the sun didn’t shine was when rain clouds blocked its rays. Not so in today’s world.
“But that all changed during the middle of the 21st century,” he would sadly end his tale. As the Climate Prophet’s armies marched across the globe in their drive to end the use of fossil fuels, they left behind fields of metal towers that reached hundreds of feet into the skies and channelled the blowing winds to produce energy for the power-starved planet.
Before the end of the great Climate War, the combined shaking of all these turbines caused rifts in the land to open and then the vibrations travelled deep into the earth's core, disrupting the planet's stability. A series of eruptions followed as long-dormant volcanoes exploded to life, spewing lava and plumes of ash. The toxic ash poured upward, flooding the atmosphere and choking out the sun. The grey clouds thickened and over several decades blocked the sun's rays from reaching the earth. Since that time, the distinction between night and day varied little. It has been this way for a very long time.
I shake the memories from my head and step into the teeth of the raging storm, leaving the temporary shelter of the snowdrift. The odds against my surviving in this unforgiving hell are small, but as long as I can still function, I refuse to give up hope. No one ever lost on this frozen tundra has ever been seen again. I hope to change that. I don’t believe in miracles, but now, I think, would be a good time for one.
The Long Cold Walk
A couple more hours have now passed since I left the snowdrift and resumed my trek. Camouflaged areas of snow are so loose that I sink to my chest. Every move is arduous, and my steps are now more a shuffle than a walk. One foot in front of the other, I plough through banks of snow. I keep the wind at my side, the same direction I had steered the ice sled. At times, I use my arms to pull my body over pools too deep to walk. The one saving grace is that the atmosphere is dry and the snow doesn’t pack easily.
I force my legs to move, my breathing laboured as I push on. I wade through the white expanse, partially blinded. Along with the driving snow, the warmth of my exhaled breath obscures my sight. It fogs my visor, the warm air I release condensing when it meets the cold winds buffeting against my helmet.
The unrelenting wind is the thing I find the most disturbing. It tugs at the fabric of my suit and shifts the snow, continuously reshaping the area around me. The wind whines as it blows over the open plains and past my head. I can’t escape the haunting moan in my ears. At times, the wind tricks my mind by giving the impression of stealing my breath, even though I’m protected inside my helmet. The wind never lets up.
I march on.
When I left the snowdrift, I chose a direction I hoped would lead me closer to the New Capital. In all honesty, I have no idea if I am heading on the right path, only my instincts to guide me. All around are endless miles of ash-blended snow broken by the random bulge of snowdrifts. There is nothing tangible to help me navigate. Volcanic ash permanently blurs the sky; there is no way to know what direction I am walking, no sun to follow, and no landmarks to guide me. For all I know, I could be moving in a large circle.
With each step, I move onward, my eyes fixed straight ahead on an imaginary horizon. Being the pilot of an ice sled, I have developed a sixth sense in regards to directions. I am somewhat confident that I am on the right course, but only time will tell.
I came to grip with reality the moment the storm shook me off the deck of the ice sled. I am lost and will more than likely perish in this desolate, merciless landscape, and the continually blowing snow will eventually bury me. If I were smart, I would sit down and conserve my energy as I wait for the last breath to leave my body, but I guess I’m not that smart.
To become the pilot of an ice sled, a person has to have an unyielding sense of survival and an undaunted willingness to persevere. I was at the top of the class when those attributes were needed. Again, maybe I am not all that smart.
I trudge thru the waist-deep drifts and reflect on how I ended up stranded on the surface, separated from my ship and crew. I try to keep my mind busy. The encompassing snow and screaming winds will otherwise drive me mad.
Few people living in the New Capital are suited or volunteer for being a crewmember on an ice sled. It is the one job that is a near- perfect guarantee to get you killed. Very few members of society have ever ventured out and walked on or even seen the earth’s surface. People are afraid to leave the safety of our ice-domed city for one reason. The environment above our ice dwellings is a harsh, bitter place to survive.
As a teenager, I volunteered and trained for work on the sleds. My father had piloted one of our sleds and while out on a run, failed to return. He vanished along with his crew days before I turned sixteen. Over the last five years, I have strived to become the best pilot in our group. I found my fear of the surface much less than the fear of remaining hidden underground and barely subsisting, going through the motions and waiting to die. For that reason, I am willing to take risks that others find too dangerous.
I figured being top side and facing the elements couldn’t be any worse than cowering in caves buried deep beneath the frozen layers of snow. I felt trapped in the confines of the frozen city. I missed my father and wanted an opportunity to find him. I needed hope and an avenue of escape.
Life in the New Capital is hard. Every day is a struggle. We fight to keep from freezing, grapple with the shortage of food and struggle just to make it to another day. The people of the New Capital do the best they can, but we are a civilization trying to rebuild. The great climate wars of the 21st century decimated life on earth and now we are pitted against an environment that turned hostile. We work arduously to prolong life.
The living conditions are the reason we have sled teams willing to risk their necks. Every time one leaves our small community and ventures onto the frozen plains, their odds decrease. Ours is a continuous search for fuel to aid our survival. We have precious little and what we do have is rigidly guarded and rationed among the several thousand occupants that call the New Capital home.
The transportation of fuel and supplies is where I come in.
Several generations ago, explorers from the Capital stumbled across a buried cache of oil and gas reserves. Since that discovery, the job of the ice racers has been to brave the elements and replenish the dwindling fuel supply at the New Capital. Only a few of these metal ice sleds remain, and with their small size and our inadequate energy sources, we can transport a limited amount of fuel at a time. It’s a vicious circle.
The trips can average weeks, so by the time we find our way back with the cargo, we have to turn around and head out again. We would build bigger sleds, but materials are in short supply. If we are lucky, the blowing wind will expose one of the metal wind towers that our ancestors erected hundreds of years ago. These huge metal windmills once covered the earth’s surface but now lay buried deep beneath tons of snow and ice.
On occasion, one of the sled crews may accidentally stumbled across the odd metal behemoth exposed by the shifting winds. The discovering sled team takes great effort to mark the location for a crew of inventor's to follow and cannibalize the rig of its precious metals and wires. However, most times the snow and the wind are quicker to reclaim what they uncover than our people are at returning to the site. Such is life. But it is our life, and we keep going.
The pain in my legs stops my reminiscing and switches my focus back to my predicament. My muscles are burning from the struggle through the snow. The permeating cold sends shivers throughout my body. The exertion from my struggle has helped stave off the risk of hypothermia and prolonged the life of the batteries. But once I stop, I will need power to heat the suit.
Dark is turning darker, and I prefer not to sit down and wait out the night while the storm envelops me. In the failing light, a break in the blizzard reveals a rise in the ground ahead. A mirage no doubt, but with luck it may be a hill of solid ice I’ve been searching for. A place I can burrow into and escape the storm's wrath for the night.
Willing my legs to move one shuffling step at a time, I head for the protrusion hoping my eyes are not playing tricks on me. I focus on the bulge in the grey snow, afraid that if I blink, the hill will vanish. The muscles in my legs quiver from exertion, my breath in rasps. I am so worn from the hours of battling the blizzard the cold is temporarily forgotten.
One step follows another. My movements are mechanical. The next step is onto a freshly covered crevasse. The ground under my foot disappears and I sink into the yawning pit of dirty snow. I tumble and flail about, swimming back to the top. I climb in a flash of panic, my head swivels frantically to relocate the ice hill. The dark is all- consuming now, pushing at the limits of my sight. I peer from behind the light enhancement of my visor through the whipping snow and inky darkness. With a surge of pure determination, I fight my way out of the bowl scrambling until my feet contact solid ground. I push forward.
My efforts are rewarded and I approach the mound. One foot slips on the side of the hill sending me crashing down. I struggle to my knees. Too tired to even think I kneel in the snow at the base of the hill to catch my breath and give my over burdened muscles a reprieve. Within minutes, the numbing cold seeps back into my thermal suit reminding me to hurry and find shelter from the coming night.
I grip the handle of my thermal shovel and remove it from my pack then start sweeping aside the looser snow before plunging the heated blade into the ice. I start carving an opening. Fighting back fatigue I tunnel into the ice that forms the hill. I dig and shovel cutting a path upwards. Several feet into the hill I change directions and begin tunnelling downward. The purpose of the change in direction is to keep the wind from entering. I pause to rest. The strain on my body helps ward off some of the bone-chilling temperatures. With renewed effort I push the shovel into the hill, the heated blade melting through the ice. I need to burrow deep enough into the hill that I leave the wind and cold behind.
Time passes, I stop tunnelling. I must be at least ten feet down. The wind no longer tugs at my suit. I use the shovel to melt and remove excess ice. The hole grows bigger. I now have room to turn comfortably, but not so big that my heating pod can’t warm the space. I lean the shovel aside, then rifle through my pack. Activating a heat source, I sit with my back against an ice wall, my muscles protesting from abuse.
It a good thing I’m used to talking to myself, otherwise I would go crazy. Outside the tunnel entrance, the wind howls. Letting my mind dwell on my situation is too dangerous. I try to occupy my mind by rummaging through my supplies. Pulling out a food packet, I fasten it to the feeding tube in my helmet.
Food in our community is a simple matter. It starts with a moss that grows on the edges of the lava flows near our city. The purple lichen is dried and added to our meagre supply of vegetables grown in the city’s greenhouses. The combination ground and stored for use. I puncture the package and draw the substance into my helmet through a feeding apparatus. When the powder comes in contact with the saliva in my mouth, it expands into chewable semi-solid form. I don’t know if it tastes good or not, because it’s the only food I have ever eaten. I'm exhausted and starved. At this very moment, the food is the best I've ever eaten.
I settle back against the wall of the cave and reach a hand into a front pocket of my suit. My searching fingers find my reading page. The battery symbol flashes on the page when I power it up. I waver between charging the paper with my suit and further depleting the battery supply, or facing a night alone with the worry of being stranded.
After a brief debate, I decide to charge the reading page. I’m lucky to have it along to keep me company. Reading pages are scarce in our city. My grandfather set it into my hands shortly before he died. He advised me to keep the paper secret. "Even from your father," he warned. The elders would confiscate the reading page if they discovered it in my possession. And yet, stranded as I am, I'm lucky to have a means of distraction.
This reading page had been passed down from a long-deceased ancestor to my great grandfather and then to his son, my grandfather and now I guard it. I keep the page hidden in my suit at all times. I jealously hide its existence and have never mentioned it to my father for fear of losing it. From the moment I began reading the historical memoirs in the diary, I came to realize that my grandfather's tales were not simply the ramblings of an old, feeble mind. The journal documented the tragic history of humanity’s march toward extinction.
A distant relative, Jeff Ryan, had begun recording the journal back in the middle of the 21st century. The man was a captain during the last war fought on earth, a battle that pitted the peoples’ army against the steadily growing armies of the Climate Prophets.
The page lights up. I start reading a random entry.
July 3, 2044
We continued training with troops from the European Union. Our allies arrived a week ago, and we are anticipating rigorous drills for the next three weeks preparing for war against the forces of the Climate Prophets.
The war was totally unexpected. At first, the governments of the world had not taken the radical threats seriously, writing the group off as annoying fanatics. The Climate army’s now number in the millions and is proving to be a dangerous adversary with their expanding reach and co-ordinated attacks.
The prophets have been hugely successful in recruiting large numbers of volunteers with promises of a green planet, the continued opposition to fossil fuels and a dogged campaign of bombing strategic world oil reserves. The terrorist actions by these organized groups are now having a devastating effect on the continued harvesting and transportation of necessary supplies. At the rate that the attacks are occurring most countries are now struggling to maintain day-to-day operations.
I was informed yesterday of my new promotion. I will now be the youngest captain in the Canadian Army at 23 years of age. I was born in the U.S., but shortly after my mother moved to Canada. My father, Charles M. Ryan died months before I was born. Mom told me he died a hero while saving the president of the United States.
Captain Jeff Ryan. Cool. The promotion has a nice ring to it. But my celebration is short-lived. Our world forces are collapsing under the determined advances of the Climate Prophets and their growing anti-oil army.
I received news this morning that my training here in Wainwright will be cut short. I am to report as a Canadian liaison to the American Army at Yakima Training Center in Washington State. There, I will join fellow officers from across the continent to devise plans for the retaking of American fuel reserves that the enemy has captured.
I hate to leave at this time. Since the rains of June have stopped, we’ve experienced nothing but blue skies and plenty of sunshine; the temperatures are climbing into the high twenties. The moisture has turned everything green, and the air is clean and fresh.
I close my eyes and try to imagine the beautiful world described in the pages. I wonder what fresh air after a shower of rain would smell like or grass under my feet and the rays of the sun on my face?
My daydream is interrupted by reality as the bitter cold touches the tips of my fingers and chills my toes. I scan the readouts on my visor. While I was tunnelling into the hill, I switched off the batteries to conserve power, but forgot to turn them back on.
Wearily, I climb to my feet and move around inside of my small ice cave, swinging my arms and stomping my feet to drive out the encroaching chill. I’m restless. Even though I accepted the terms with my situation while I trekked through the snow, the desolation is hard to accept. I’ve never been alone before and have certainly never been outside of the city and above ground by myself. No one has. I'm afraid I don’t quite know how to deal with this.
Heat radiates from the elements sewn into my suit and starts to warm my limbs. I sit back down using the wall of my small cave as a backrest. I need to keep my mind busy, so the feelings of doubt and despair don’t paralyze me.
Picking up the reading paper, I swipe my gloved hand across the screen and stop at a page in the diary hoping the words will keep my mind busy.
June 10, 2045
The Climate Prophet’s armies are growing exponentially. The world governments are losing the battle. Climate armies are burning and destroying all our sources of fuel at an alarming rate. Their actions are forcing us to retreat on many fronts. The lack of fuel is slowing and in some cases stopping our progress to protect strategic oil deposits around the world.
Today the European president ordered a significant number of troops to pull back and defend the remaining caches of oil they still control. The Climate armies have since invaded the Saudi Conglomerate States, decimating the Saudi armies and destroying vast tracts of the Middle Eastern oil fields.
The forces of our enemy have embraced the strategy of starving the rest of us of all fossil fuels. Not only is this affecting the army’s united against them, but also it’s created a shortage for the oil thirsty population invoking worldwide rationing. For the time being, the only manufacturing left untouched by the ration is the munitions factories.
People by the thousands and soon millions will be without work and soon, they will be without the necessary supplies to operate their vehicles and heat their homes
If the war continues to drag on, everyone but the people fortunate enough to be enlisted in the military will be left to fend for themselves. The army can’t fight off the Climate forces and at the same time maintain the peace in the countries being ravaged by the energy shortage. I am afraid that anarchy will soon overtake us.
October 5, 2045
Everywhere our unit travels we come upon caravans of displaced families, their few possessions in tow. Parents hold tight to their children as they watch us drive past, lines of worry etched on their faces. In their eyes, you can see the pride that refuses to let them beg for assistance. Jobs are becoming scarce, and the military has stopped recruiting. We are no longer able to accommodate the growing stream of applicants who were signing up as a means of supporting their families.
Travelling through the major cities is disheartening. There is no more room for the influx of travellers who arrive daily. Factories and high-rises are becoming deserted. Since the power grids were shut down, the structures lay barren, the buildings stripped of any useful materials and the streets filled with homeless families. Adding to the dilemma, the late-fall weather is turning cold. Winter is not far off and very few families have the essentials necessary to survive the coming cold months.
October 7, 2045
Plumes of smoke rise all around us. The air is thick and a haze from the many fires stings my eyes. The blanketing smog burns my lungs with every breath I take. Most of us have taken to wearing bandanas wrapped over our faces, the cloth tied tight around our nose and mouths. Now that the snow and cold have drifted down from the North, people have resorted to burning whatever materials they can scrounge for warmth.
Everywhere I turn, I see reminders of where wooden structures once lay, the buildings stripped of all flammable materials right down to the concrete foundations. Piles of refuse mark the destroyed homes like grave markers. And now even the residents we were sent to protect watch us suspiciously as we pass, their loyalty wavering against us in their desperate fight to exist.
Law and order is this country is crumbling and things most people believed sacred are slipping by the wayside. The assault on libraries is one of these. Protection of reading materials has fallen under the army’s jurisdiction. Volunteer groups in each community help the army guard the historical books, but with the need for heating fuels increasing, the defense of these bastions of written wisdom will inevitably fall.
We were passing through a small city in Central Alberta. Dark clouds of smoke drift into the sky from the centre of town. We hurried to the scene. People rushed about the street. The townsfolk formed a bucket brigade and were passing pails of water to fight a blaze that had engulfed a pair of houses. I jumped out of my transport and waved men from my unit to help.
Screams came from one of the houses. I rushed past the line of buckets and peered into the roaring inferno. Another scream. This one was a cry from a small child. I moved closer to the house. An older gentleman grabbed my arm to hold me back. He sadly shook his head and pulled me away. Within seconds the roof collapsed, shooting sparks outward, some falling on a neighbouring house. As I stood there helplessly watching, the next house began smouldering.
"Where in the hell is the fire department," I asked the man. He glanced at me and then turned back toward the fire.
"There is no fire department left in this town," he grimly replied.
Every day on our journey, reports filtered back to my regiment with horrific stories of men, women, and children succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning, numerous others dying in fires that blaze out of control, as families desperately try to heat their homes and escape the cold of the approaching winter. I’m not aware of too many fire departments that remain in most of these towns and cities. A lot have been destroyed or had their equipment and fuel supplies stolen. Still, it would be unlikely of many to venture out to fight house fires, the fuel they are allotted needs to lay in wait for more severe responses. What that is… I’m not certain.
October 30, 2045
We were met with bad news when we awoke this morning. A great portion of Europe has fallen to the climate armies. The defeat came only weeks after the sacking of the Saudi Conglomerate States and the destruction of the Middle Eastern oil reserves. The growing armies of the Climate Prophets have marched north. The numbers of their ranks have swelled by millions, swayed with promises of shelter and food for the upcoming winter. Energy is power these days. If you have it, you make the rules for society.
Analysts predict that the siege of the United Kingdom is only weeks, at the most a month away, and the majority of soldiers across the North American continent are being deployed to the eastern seaboards. There, the extra bodies will be required to reinforce our defenses. Preparations for when the climate armies head west with their impending surge from across the ocean. We have not received any oil shipments from abroad for months now, and our fuel supplies have dwindled. I will be part of a unit left behind to protect the oil fields in Alberta and the Dakotas.
So far the unity of the western provinces and states has been able to limit the amount of damage. But the environmental movement is growing in strength. Their plan is to divide us. It will take a monumental effort to keep the remaining resources from falling into the hands of the enemy.
We can’t expect help from the South Americans, either. No country is immune from the Prophet's armies. The South American governments have banded together and are currently locked in a fierce battle of their own. The last report from the southern hemisphere is that the war has pushed far inland, and large tracts of the country’s resources have been destroyed by the roaming Climate Prophet’s armies.
I turn the reading paper off as my eyelids flicker closed. I power down my suit. The long walk today has taken its toll on me. I fight to remain awake, worried that if I do fall asleep, it may well be for the last time. But the exhaustion from my trek is overwhelming. I compromise and lean my head back, reassuring myself I’ll only close my eyes for a minute. Images flash in my head. I focus on pleasant thoughts filled with sunny skies and green grass, trees blowing in the breeze and the laughter of children. Why, I wonder, would our predecessors who lived in a warm and luxurious haven resembling paradise, want to destroy everything they had built? This thought is even more unsettling to me than being alone and stranded on the surface of this dead planet.
I drift off into a chilled, restless sleep. My dreams waver between a warm, hospitable planet and the white, frozen world of today. Images roll into nightmares. My sleep is uneasy. In one scene, I am walking barefoot over hills of swaying grass with the sun high above me. The next minute a north wind brings dark clouds and snow. The grassy fields morph into the ice and cold of today’s world. My bare skin grows chilled as I walk and then suddenly the ground beneath my feet shakes. A large crack appears, and I fall into the abyss.
Awakened by the reality of my dreams, my eyes dart open. It’s dark. Through my glove, I feel water on the floor beside me. The lack of light in the cave adds to the vividness of the nightmare, leaving me shaken. I turn my head slowly staring into the dark space that surrounds me. A dull glow of orange to the side of my feet catches my eye. The light radiates from the blade of my thermal shovel. I curse for having forgotten to turn it off. I am still drowsy. Then the floor shifts again. Maybe I am still sleeping. The groaning of fractured ice echoes in the cave and the floor gives way. It wasn’t a dream. Suddenly, I AM falling.
River Of Red
My mouth opens wide in shock, and my voice rings in my ears. The crack in the floor widens, sending me tumbling into the darkness, my arms swinging at the air. I land hard, the breath driven from my body. I bounce awkwardly, and then lay still as I try to refill my lungs. I have come to rest on a slick, solid surface well below the ice hill. I continue sucking in mouthfuls of air to calm my racing heart. Lying on my back, I carefully stretch out my hands and slide them around, feeling the area around me before I risk moving. Echoes of my fall tell me I’m in a cave, one that is much larger than the hole I had dug. In case I am lying on a cliff or shelf or who knows what, I resist the urge to stand quickly. I don’t want to fall again.
I can see the glowing blade of my shovel through the opening. I scramble as the shovel slices through the dark, hurtling after me. The heated rim of the blade appears larger as it drops. I straighten my arm, my fingers scrambling to find traction against the slick surface. With a grunt, I push hard and roll out of the path of the blade. The shovel smashes into the ice inches from where I lay. Sitting up, I stretch my arm to reach for the shovel, while plunging my other hand into my suit, my fingers searching for a light.
I swing the light this way and that, it’s beam stabbing through the darkness to illuminate sections of the cavern. I seem to have fallen into an expansive ice cave, one probably caused by trapped air when the ice hill originally formed.
The floor is slick. My hands and my feet slide out from under me as I try to stand. Losing my footing, I topple forward and crash face first to the floor. My visor smacks the ice, the shovel flies from my fingertips. I lay sprawled on my stomach, the front of my helmet tight to the frozen surface. Dazed, I stare straight down. I grow increasingly nervous when I realize I am looking through a transparent floor. Far below me, a faint red ribbon winds across the dark.
I remain motionless, letting my brain piece together the sight below. A loud snap reverberates off the cave walls and the floor trembles, the ribbon below temporarily forgotten. The ice I'm laying on shifts a fraction and then holds. My breath catches in my throat, my heart rate quickens. Very gently, I start to climb to my feet.
The ice groans a warning seconds before the floor gives way. For the second time in minutes, I find myself tumbling through the blackness. The faint glow that was far below me is growing brighter as I tumble through space.
At this point, I’m not even sure if I am awake or dreaming. The darkness blots out everything but the glow from the ribbon, which grows redder as I somersault downward. My throat is raw from screaming, and I become aware of an updraft pressing against the fabric of my suit.
The scene is surreal. My brain tells me I am falling, but within the encompassing darkness, I feel as I’m floating. The only perception of movement is the red ribbon looming closer.
Seconds, minutes, I’m not certain how long I spiral downward. I struggle to inflate my suit to its full capacity, hoping that this will help cushion my fall.
I think I’m screaming. The fear and adrenaline overload my senses, sending me into the safety of unconsciousness. My eyes flutter open briefly, shaken awake when I hit the ground with a bone-jarring impact. The air built up in my suit cushions a portion of the crash, and before I pass out again, I am aware of my body bouncing before it settles.
Consciousness creeps into the void of blackness. My fluttering eyelids signal my return to the present, and my senses respond. Dazed and confused, I lay motionless, letting my brain navigate the fog of uncertainty. The steady beat of my heart comforts me until snippets of the fall from above flash in my head and my pulse increases.
I move uncomfortably, my left arm pinned awkwardly beneath me, and a layer of sweat coats my body. How is this possible? My muddled thoughts fish for an answer. The New Capital, the cabin on the ice sled…hell, the whole planet is nothing more than a frozen ball of ice. The only reason a person would sweat…memories of the red ribbon resurface. I sit up quickly to check my surroundings, the movements too fast for my sluggish condition because my head swims and a wave of nausea roils deep in my stomach.
My unconsciousness dissipates and I feel a bolt of pain shooting up the arm I landed on. The intense pain blocks out my previous thoughts and pushes me closer to another blackout. Sweat drips from my forehead and my teeth are tightly clenched as I grimace against the discomfort and gently wiggle my fingers. Jolts of electricity race like fire in my nerves, sending alarms screaming into my brain. Fractured but not broken, I diagnose, and then let my arm hang still.
My mind clears, but my vision remains blurred. I bring my right hand up to the front of my visor. All I can see is a distorted image. I shake my head side to side to drive the lingering fog from my brain and concentrate. The inside of my faceplate swims into focus. My eyesight seems fine, so something must be wrong with the outside of my visor. Swiping my hand across the front of the helmet only makes my visibility worse. My gloved hand is adding to the problem; so I use my sleeve and scrub the front of my visor clean and gaze down at my hand.
Mud. Soupy, black soil covers the palm of my glove and the legs of my thermal suit. Again, I wonder how this can be possible? Struggling against the suction of the soft earth, I straighten up and study the ground. The only place I know of that has enough heat to cause sweat and warm the soil is...I rise to my knees and scan the area. Twisting around, I look behind and discover the source of heat needed to melt the frozen earth. The ribbon I had seen from the cave floor above is a river of liquid rock.
A shimmering stream of lava meanders not more than a hundred feet from where I landed, flowing from between rising banks of rock. From this distance I have no way of knowing if the banks are rock or cooled lava. I am too far away to see clearly in the poor light thrown off by the river’s red glow. The heat from the melted lava would certainly explain the film of moisture coating my skin.
Swinging my leg under me, I brace my foot and rise from the soft muck. My boot slides and I instinctively reach with my fractured arm to steady my body. White bursts of light flash before my eyes as I fall face down in the muck, my teeth clenched while a wave of pain floods my brain. Minutes pass before I build the courage to climb to my feet a second time. My good arm braced for support, I push away from the soft ground.
From my knees, I use my hand for balance, and I half walk and half crawl up an embankment away from the stream of lava. The footing is slick, and the ground sucks at my boots. The heat from the ribbon of red behind me is intense. The greater the distance, the more the air begins to cool. Soon the soft soil gives way to jagged patches of cooled lava. When my boots grip onto the solid ground, I stop and look back. I’ve climbed up a rise, leaving the river far enough behind that the cold cavern air offers respite from the heat. The faint light from the flowing lava barely reaches the darkness this far up as I look for a place to sit and evaluate my condition.
I know that my arm is in rough shape, and the pain from it might be blocking out other receptors in my body. I know my injuries will reveal themselves once the shock from the fall wears off. I take the pain in my arm as a good sign that my other injuries aren’t as severe.
I will need a strap from my pack to fasten my injured arm tight to the front of my suit. Then it dawns on me. I twist my right hand behind my back and feel for my emergency kit. I let out a sigh. My shovel and flashlight slipped from my grasp when I fell, but my pack seems intact.
I grit my teeth and gingerly slide the kit from around my shoulders, taking precautions with my injury. With the pack in front of me, I breathe deep to quell the pain shooting from my throbbing arm. I place the backpack between my knees and undo the flap, searching for my medical supplies. Slipping the pain reliever from the pack, I lift it to the intake apparatus built into my helmet. The tube is shattered, broken by my fall.
The heating modules and breathing filter in my helmet escaped damaged, and the light modifier in my helmet is still functioning. But the system that allows me to eat and drink didn’t fare as well. Now, the only way to take the medication may well be for me remove my visor. On the surface, this would result in death from the sub-zero temperatures, but probably not so in the heat of this buried cavern. My worry is the toxicity of the air in this space. I have no way to know if the vapours rising off the running lava are poisonous.
I stare down the hill toward the visible thin red line of the river and review my options, the awful pain clouding my thoughts too much to ignore. I have no choice but to open my helmet so I can swallow the medicine. If I am quick, I should be able to quickly reseal it before I breathe in the cavern air.
Rehearsing the moves in my head, I plan out the steps needed to accomplish this feat. Laying a foil pouch of nutrition on my knee for easy access, I hesitate, and then touch the clasps on the front of my helmet. My fingers shake as I loosen the seal. Dragging a chest full of filtered air deep into my lungs, I hold my breath and quickly flip open the faceplate.
My hand drops to my knee and I snatch the waiting packet, lifting it to my mouth. Jamming the corner of the envelope in my teeth, I bite and tear to rip it open. It takes longer than I planned. My chest starts bucking as my lungs fight for air. I tug at the packet and succeed to rip it open. A small portion of the white powder leaks from the envelope, but the rest I manage to pour into my mouth.
Dropping the foil, I slam the plate of my visor shut, my movements awkward, hampered by the use of only one hand. I can’t hold my breath any longer. As is human nature, I gasp and then involuntarily gulp a mouthful of cavern air, filling my lungs before I can safely replace my visor. With trembling fingers, I seal my helmet and wait to see if the air is poisonous.
Seconds pass, my breathing calms.
Tension subsides as time marches. In the back of my mind, I imagine myself falling to the ground violently ill. I am not sure what the effects of breathing poison air would do to my body or if the symptoms would be instant or slowly poison me over time. Back at the New Capital, the same volcano that supplies heat for the city also contaminates our air. Therefore, I have never taken a breath without the safety of my helmet.
The pain in my arm is temporarily forgotten while I puzzle over this new experience. The situation intrigues me more than it concerns me. I have never breathed volcanic air before, so I have no idea of its effect. Surrendering to the inevitable, I scan the area for a comfortable place to rest and await the results. I choose an outcropping of rock that will work as a backrest.
Our ice dome is not far from the base of Mount St. Helens. Close enough for the inventors; the engineers of our city, to pipe heat into our small community, but far enough to protect us from the eruptions that ravage the mountain. The proximity to the active volcano and vented gasses means the air is un-breathable. Near the base of St. Helens, I’ve also seen similar rivers of melted lava much like the ribbon of red downhill from me.
I close my eyes and draw long, cleansing breaths of filtered air. I am still wary of the unprotected breath I took and half expect to fall violently ill or perhaps die. Leaning my head against the rock, my eyelids grow heavy from fatigue and I fall into a troubled sleep.
Several hours later, the pain in my arm and a growling stomach pull me awake.
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’s demands. Grabbing a food pouch, I prepare myself to once more test the air quality. I carefully map out my movements conceding that not being able to use my injured arm will restrict my motion. I plan accordingly.
The food pouch rests within easy reach and I prepare to swing open my visor and tear the envelope with my teeth, when a thought occurs to me. I rethink my plan, wondering if I should refrain from eating for now and instead adjust the filter in my helmet to a lower setting to allow the cavern air to mix with my suit’s filtered air? My stomach growls, but I push aside my hunger, deciding that if there are no ill side effects after my experiment, I will remove my visor while I eat my meal.
I set the food to the side and adjust the filters, then tentatively breathe in the mixture. Slipping the journal from my pocket, I take a cursory look at its condition, thankful the paper was not damaged in my fall. The screen lights ups as I press the button. Ignoring the growling in my stomach, I concentrate on reading a few pages. Losing myself in the diary’s words will take the edge off my experiment. Sliding a gloved hand across the thin screen, the words materialize.
I’m Not Alone
January 23, 2046
In a meeting among the senior officers, we find ourselves left with no choice but to gather our decimated troops and retreat south. The decision is to abandon this post and reinforce the squadrons protecting the Bakken oil reserves in Northern Dakota. The ever-expanding Climate army has begun to overrun our positions in Northern Alberta. The environmentalists roam the province, recruiting bodies with promises of food for the starving and fuel for heat to stave off the months of winter cold. A majority of the population in this area is without both these staples and are swelling the ranks of the Prophet’s armies in exchange for these necessities.
This winter is extremely harsh, and stories bombard us daily of families dying from the lack of accessible food or perishing in fires as they desperately seek warmth from the deadly winter. Asphyxiation and loss of life from fires flaring out of control in confined, unsafe shelters are killing more people than the war.
I honestly can’t say I blame civilians for choosing the side of the Climate Prophets. They are the ones controlling the majority of fuel reserves now, and can at least offer the desperate families some semblance of hope. Against overwhelming odds, we find that our government forces are steadily retreating these days and the small amounts of oil we are fighting to preserve are sadly not enough to help even a fraction of the people.
January 30, 2046
For the past week, our men have been loading and fuelling up our transport vehicles in the dead of night to avoid prying eyes. The plan is to drive our convoy of vehicles out before dawn tomorrow morning, and try to slip away from this posting and travel to North Dakota.
The forecast for tomorrow calls for severe blizzard conditions, which I hope will mask our retreat. Most of the Climate army’s troops have little, if any winter gear. 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. The drive on the winter roads will be arduous; there is no extra fuel to waste 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 have become overrun with transients seeking shelter from the cold. The wooden structures in these communities have disappeared, the material stripped from the houses and repurposed for cooking and warmth.
The word is that centres all through the north are organizing caravans of men and horse drawn wagons to venture into the receding forests for the precious commodity they contain. Communities have begun hoarding the wood against the remainder of the cold months, pitting town against town for the rapidly depleting source of fuel. I don’t envy these people. The northern winters are brutal at best, and by all accounts this one is shaping up to be colder than average. I fear that within the month, this particular community will be cut off from help if the heavy snowfalls persist. May they all be successful in surviving until spring?
January 31, 2046
As we leave Fort McMurray, I look about, disheartened. When we first arrived at this posting, the forests crowded the highways, and the trees had licked at the edges of the small towns along the route. In the shine of the truck’s headlights, all that is visible are barren fields leading away from the highway in unbroken blankets of snow, with the odd tree stump poking above the white layers. Moonlight casts shadows across spindly stalks of willows standing desolate where once was a healthy forest. Trails crisscross the snowy landscape, pounded into the frozen earth by townsfolk as they voyage further and further for a supply of wood.
The next town south is a graveyard of concrete foundations. The building materials stripped from the houses leave only brick or steel structures standing for shelter. These serve as community centres where large fires burn around the clock. As we leave the North, I find my thoughts troubled by the unfortunate amount of casualties caused by the onslaught of frigid temperatures. With the persistent cold spell the water supplies are beginning to freeze. The Northern part of the province is proving deadly for the locals.
February 5, 2046
We have been pushing south for almost a week. The going is slow. We are often forced to stop and walk ahead of the convoy with shovels to clear a lane on the highway. Even the largest, heaviest trucks in our train have become stuck breaking a trail through the drifted snow that blocks the roads. Each man in our unit takes turns wielding shovels, myself included.
As the week draws on, every man collapses from fatigue at the end of our drives. Hours are wasted every day while we fight the winter conditions and the lack of sleep brought on by the extreme cold only adds to our problems. We can't even spare the extra fuel to leave the trucks running at night to warm ourselves. I am having doubts as to whether we will make the long journey to Minot, North Dakota.
February 6, 2046
We have stopped for the evening just off the highway near the city of Lethbridge, in southeastern Alberta, only a couple hours north of the U.S. border. The city sits on top of a river valley and was regarded as a bastion of activity on the open prairie.
This part of the province had very little in the way of trees to begin with, and the small supply disappeared quickly. We had heard that the majority of people who once called this city home migrated west, joining the massive exodus to the mountains. The Rocky Mountains provide shelter in the way of mountain caves, animals for food an abundance of trees for fires.
One thing I’ve noticed on our trek from the north is the vast open spaces. Areas that were a short time ago covered with farmhouses, barns and wind belts and surrounded by green flowing fields of grain lay in the winter snow, stripped and deserted. The odd pile of scrap and abandoned foundations stand like grave markers on the dead farms. The wind is ceaseless now as it blows down from the mountains and across vast tracts of open land.
February 7, 2046
I am sitting down to write a few words before our camp is broken down and loaded into the trucks. It’s a crisp morning, and the sun is just starting to rise; the sky is clear. The day promises to be cold. Ice crystals dance in the air and glitter in the first light of day.
The calm is broken by gunshots. Our scouts reported they had not seen anyone in this area when we stopped last night, but now I can hear the sentries scrambling. The men are calling to each other...
Back in the cavern, I power down the reading page. The mixture of air I’m breathing is making me a little dizzy, but overall I feel fine. I grab a couple of food pouches and remove my visor. The grumbling in my stomach exceeds my need to be cautious. The food has little taste, but it serves its purpose. I consume my meal while I keep casting my eyes about, growing familiar with the area. I escaped the deadly temperatures on the surface, and I was damn lucky not to die from the fall, so I resolve to be more vigilant, especially since I don’t know what lies ahead down in this cavern.
Placing my rations in my pack, I secure my visor tight to my helmet and stand up, looking for banks of snow that I can melt down for drinking water. My eyes follow the hill upward, away from the lava flow. Rocks of all sizes litter the rising slope and meld into the background where the light from the river and the darkness of the cave become one. At about that line, I spot tinges of lighter ground cover. I walk uphill. The area under my feet is still spongy, but as I increase the distance from the river, the footing grows firmer while the temperature drops rapidly.
Clambering over mounds of earth and boulders, I walk uphill, my back to the heat thrown off by the lava flow. The light from the river fades to dark. A pile of boulders blocks my path. As I begin to wind my way around the rocks, a familiar and surprising sound breaks the silence. I stop in my tracks. Behind the cover of boulders, I stand and listen. I hear people talking.
Crouching in the shadows, I slowly inch my head forward. The cavern opens wide in front of me. I search the area near the boulders, then raise my head, methodically sweeping the horizon. Slowly my eyesight adjusts to the darkness. Scattered piles of tumbled rock soon become distinguishable. All is still, but I continue peering into the dark for the source of the voices, my eyes narrowed, my sight strained as I concentrate on the shadows.
I pick out the faintest outline of a trail as it snakes across the ground and I trace the path with my eyes until it disappears in the dark void. At the edge of my vision, I see a slip of movement, then another. I hold my breath in anticipation and lean closer to the rocks. Is the cavern air playing a trick on my mind or… mesmerized I watch as two silhouettes walk among the field of scattered rocks.