Freedom in a Dying World

short stories collection - a compilation of my short stories.

Summary

Flash, crackle, bang. Pit-pat, pit-pat, pit-pat. The flare skidded down the long, narrow tunnel that appeared to stretch downward forever. Another corridor, if you want to call the passages in this labyrinth of a make-shift cave that, ran to our right. Behind us, a sliver of light, flickering on and off, spilling in from the opening from whence we came. We all gave each other the look-n-nod, donned our breathing masks then proceeded to attach the hooks and ropes. Minutes later, one by one, we rappelled down into the abyss below.

Flash, crackle, bang. Pit-pat, pit-pat, pit-pat. The flare skidded down the long, narrow tunnel that appeared to stretch downward forever. Another corridor, if you want to call the passages in this labyrinth of a make-shift cave that, ran to our right. Behind us a sliver of light, flickering on and off, spilled in from the opening from whence we came. We all gave each other the look-n-nod, donned our breathing masks then proceeded to attach the hooks and ropes. Minutes later, one by one, we rappelled down into the abyss below. I landed first and immediately dropped to my knees, overwhelmed. There wasn’t a foul stench, an unbearable sight or a rapturous noise. No, something felt so wrong about this place that I couldn’t handle it. I looked around as the rest dropped down near me and flicked on their lights. A purple mist hugged the ground and a small rivulet of water passed by us, its trickle amplified by the still, quiet air.

— Hey, captain! — Jacque yelled, causing me to jump several feet in the air. Jacque was our resident technician; he was average at what he did but made up for it with humor and an unwavering tenacity.

— What? — I blurted.

— Come look at this! — he hollered once more as I rushed over.

— What? There’s nothing… — my voice trailed off as I pointed my flash-light down the corridor to our right.

For as far as our lights could cast, there was coal. But this wasn’t dirty coal. It wasn’t, by the looks of it, even natural. No, this had been placed here.

— There aren’t any mines for thousands of miles. This can’t be… — I quickly turned around and ran in the opposite direction, through a small underpass and into the opposing corridor. Nothing. Nothing but rock and dirt could be seen. Turning around, I ducked out of the passage and ran toward the others.

— Should we call… — Kit mumbled as he took out his receiver and started to dial. Kit came from a well-to-do family and his timid nature only amplified the sense that he’d been entitled and sheltered.

— We need to leave this place… — I said. Things weren’t adding up. I started to back away from the cave toward my rope. I gave it a tug, strung it through the rungs at my waist, and began to ascend.

— Wait, but… — Jacque stuttered as he also began his ascent.

— Now! — I yelled.

Turning around, I gave him a hand signal–both thumbs extended, wiggling. Immediately he began scaling the wall ever more rapidly and I could see Kit down below slowly putting away his equipment. — Hurry the fuck up Kit! — I bellowed as I reached the top of the tunnel, drawing my pistol and flashlight. Our lamp had flickered out and I couldn’t find the exit. Lighting another flare, I turned around and helped Jacque over the edge and looked over to make sure Kit was doing fine.

— Krill, what the fuck!? Why… — Jacque began, but I quickly cut him off.

— Jacque, did you see it? The coal, all that fucking coal? That isn’t ours!

— Calm down, Jesus. It’s just coal. We can take it, we need all…

— IT’S NOT OURS. Don’t you understand? Didn’t you feel it down there? Why was there another tunnel, empty? The purple mist? The goddamn water!? Water! There can’t be water here. Where are we?

— Ummmm…

— The Mojav desert! It hasn’t rained in a thousand years. There’s no aquifer nearby! Something’s wrong, very wrong. We need to leave.

— You’re just paranoid Krill. This could be our out! A way off this fucking planet.

— Shut up! Just shut up. Go help Kit.

I continued looking around for the exit and couldn’t find anything. Then, a split second flicker alerted me to the location and I ran over, throwing another flare through the hole. Red light flooded the entrance and I looked behind to see Jacque and Kit sprinting toward me, their eyes wide.

— Krill, go! We saw someone down there! Holy fuck, you were right. What the hell is this place?

I jumped up and out, drawing my pistol along the way. I peered into the darkness around us. Above me the moons shone bright, as always, and I could barely make-out our vehicle in the distance. Kit, then Jacque, climbed out of the hole. As soon as they were clear, I tossed a grenade inside and we ran. The darkness was pierced with a ray of light momentarily followed by an obnoxiously loud roar and then all was silent and Night’s cloth once again enveloped us. We made for the car and clamored inside. I revved the engine and gunned for the base.

— So, you found coal, eh? — We were greeted with the same, snarky comments by everyone who listened to our tale. None believed us. None wanted to. We couldn’t find coal here; it was a dead place, stripped of all its beauty and resources years ago. But we stayed. We had to. The company demanded it. So long as the possibility of mining that putrid substance remained, we were stuck here, on this dying planet in this out-of-the-way star system in a poorly charted portion of the galaxy. But hope remained that they would one day send a ship to retrieve us. There were clauses in the contract that would cause immediate evacuation. Unfortunately, most of them involved us already being dead.

— So, what do you think? We might be able to go back with more people and at least ID the stuff, right?

The star that held this system together was dying as well, long past it’s prime. It’s red light barely reached us and what little did was normally blocked by the many moons orbiting this hell-hole. Night. It terrified most, but we’d gotten used to it. Unlike other planets, where the night meant death, for us it meant life. Other operations had run afoul of their planet’s natural inhabitants–most encountered species appeared to have a chip on their shoulder that aggressing humanity seemed to relieve. But nothing lived on this scorched rock, at least, nothing that we didn’t own…

We threw our packs onto the car and jumped inside; it creaked a little and took a couple tries to get it going. — We’re heading back! We’re going to settle this matter. — I yelled over the roar of the engine.

— Why don’t we bring others along…that place freaks me out. We saw someone else down there as we were leaving! Remember!? — Kit said, clutching his pistol.

— You were seeing things. There ain’t anybody on this planet but us. — I responded and pushed my feet to the floor. Kicking up a storm of dust, the car lurched forward.

We arrived at the place, the earth around it still bearing the burn marks from my ill-advised grenade toss.

— Brilliant, and how do you propose we get back in? — Jacque said and began climbing out of the car.

— Get out the shovels

We began to dig. Kit was having a hard time and Jacque constantly grumbled. Slowly but surely the ground gave way and the red flare flickered back and forth in the night wind. In the distance I could hear what sounded like howls, but when I stopped digging to hear, they faded to nothing. I looked over at Jacque several times; his face was expressionless and beads of sweat had begun to roll down his face. Suddenly I heard a yelp and turned around.

— Jesus! Where the fuck did Kit go? — I turned toward Jacque, but he’d already rushed past me toward the hole.

— Calm down, he just fell into the cave, let’s go, — Jacque said as he secured his pack and jumped down into the hole. Grumbling under my breath, I followed.

The place was as we’d left it, dark and slightly humid. Lighting a flare, I tossed it in front of us and began to walk toward the edge. Peering over, nothing could be seen through the darkness. I lit another flare and tossed it down. It flickered for a bit and a slight breeze could be felt as it went out. Kit stood a bit back, his gun drawn as he looked nervously about with his flashlight scanning the walls in jerky arches. Jacque walked over to the edge as well and took out a small orb. Twisting it, he threw it over the edge into the darkness below. Nothing happened for a couple of seconds, then a light brighter than any I’d seen in ages pierced the darkness.

— What the…why do you have that? — I demanded and looked over to see Jacque smiled as he began to drive his stake into the ground.

— Think just because you’re the captain you get all the goodies? — he said, smirking.

I reached into my pack and pulled out the ropes and other equipment and began preparing for the descent. Kit didn’t look to be having any of this and sat down near the edge. A couple minutes later the ropes were secured and we began to rappel down. Kit stayed where he was and watched.

— Guys, I don’t think we should…

We ignored him and began rappelling down and hit the ground a minute later. Jacque and I pulled out our guns and I signaled for him to go right–where the coal was last time. Walking towards the cave, we peered inside and saw nothing, not a trace of the pile that laid there before. Jacque turned to look at me and the blood immediately left his face.

— What? It’s not that big a deal, we might have just been imagining…

— Shut up and look behind you, — Jacque whispered and pointed over my shoulder. I slowly turned around and suppressed a yelp. Two white orbs hovered in the darkness opposite us, the blinding light from the orb appearing to cease at the entrance to the other cave. I looked back at Jacque then at the orbs, they’d shifted slightly to the right and I saw them disappear and re-appear momentarily. Reaching toward my back pocket, I pulled out a grenade and silently released the pin. One…two…three…, the seconds ticked by and my heart began to stop. Four! The grenade rocketed towards the otherworldly orbs.

— Grenade! — I yelled and jumped toward Jacque, knocking him to the ground just as the cave exploded. The breath went out of him and I dragged him up after several seconds. He was mumbling something incoherent. I fought through the dust, found our ropes, and guided his hands onto his.

— Up, up, up! — I screamed and slapped Jacque on the face as hard as possible. He looked at me then snapped out of his dazed and began to climb. I followed suit. A half-minute later we reached the top and as we were about to climb over, something big flew over the edge and hit the wall opposite us. A screech was heard and a loud thud below extinguished the orb’s light.

— What the fuck was that? — I looked over at Jacque. He just stared at me, his eyes wide and his face white. Fearing for Kit, I quickly crawled over the edge. He stood near the back of the cave opening, his gun drawn. He looked completely gone and as we rushed toward him, he pointed his gun at my heart.

— Code! Give me the fucking passcode!

I stopped, confused for a second. No one had asked for a passcode since we were first shipped to this wayward planet. I fumbled through my mind.

— Figs…

— That isn’t the whole thing! — Kit screeched and I could hear the pistol’s trigger compress.

— …in a winkle. You fuck-tard, I wasn’t finished. — I yelled and Kit immediately lowered his weapon. I pointed towards the edge. — What was that? —

— You playing some game on us you sick fuck, — Jacque said and tried to crack a smile as he walked towards Kit. Kit was still expressionless and he occasionally gripped his gun tight and lifted it in front of him. I eventually disarmed him. Then suddenly, Kit was back with us and he jumped into the air.

— We need to leave! Something attacked me. I don’t know…fuck, what the hell was that? I couldn’t really see…it had eyes. There was no life in them, like two flashlights floating in the darkness…—

Looking at Jacque we both gave a silent ’oh-my-fucking-god’ and immediately ran towards the hole and crawled out. Turning around, I reached down and helped Kit up and out then began running towards the car. The engine failed to start, not a sound was heard. I quickly popped the hood and jumped back at what I saw. The engine had been removed, clean cut; pipes and wires the only indication of its previous existence. Jacque and Kit came over and saw the carnage. They looked at one another then back at the car.

— What the fuck!? How does this happen, — Kit blurted, his voice cracking a bit. — Give me back my gun. Krill, give me back my gun! —

— They don’t pay us enough to deal with this kind of shit, — Jacque said and drew his pistol once more.

— I bet someone at base is getting a kick out of playing games with us. Guess we’re walking back. Grab your stuff. — I said and slammed the hood shut. We got our back-up packs from the back and threw them over our shoulders. As we followed the car’s tracks back to base, I heard a howl in the night.

— Hey guys, stop for a second, — I said and stood still. There was nothing.

— Give it up Krill, we’re just imagining things. The night does that to people. — Jacque said and continued walking.

— Yeah… — I said and peered into the darkness behind us. I swear that the air shifted, but it was only for a moment. —…you’re probably right.

-biafra
bahanonu [at] alum.mit.edu

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©2006-2017 | biafra ahanonu | updated 12 december 2017
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