Monday, September 20, 2010

Working on story posts.

I have been having problems with a mild (serious) case of writers block. I have worked my way through it and will be pubilshing a new story post soon.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter XV - One Year Later

Chapter XV
April 19th 2028
08:00:01 am
Dr. Elias Hood appeared quite suddenly in the air over a half mile crater. Well, crater is not the correct word. A crater is formed from an impact that displaces a certain amount of soil and bedrock. It is seldom perfectly round. The impact, absorbs and deflects some of the energy. Picture the shape of half an inflated, round mylar balloon and that is the most common shape of a crater. This hole was perfectly round like inside half of a basketball. So Elias fell, shocked and naked about thirteen hundred feet, to the floor of the hole. It was fortunate that the bottom had been filled with dirt, debris and snow. And perhaps a lingering effect of the projector absorbed some of that energy too, but he survived the fall with only a sprained ankle and some bruises.

He was tempted to just lay there, but he knew he had to get moving, the cold was already leaching into his bones. His ankle was a throbbing mass of pain, but he was in excellent physical shape which was one of the reasons he was deemed a good test subject. He had served in the Marines about twenty years ago and had kept a strict regimen of exercise out of habit. Another reason was that he had never had any kind of surgery in his entire life. Still had is tonsils and his appendix as well as all his own teeth. Not so much as a filling. No serious scars either. For his age he was a near perfect specimen. Back in college he had been recruited by the head of radiology department for use as a medical reference. He was scanned from head to toe with all the leading edge (at the time) medical imaging equipment. He was probably in more modern medical texts now than Jonas Salk. When you have a perfect specimen for comparison it is easier to spot flaws or damage.

He did not waste time trying to figure out what happened or where he was at this time, there would be time for that later, if he survived. He reached a point where the walls curved up out of the accumulated dust and debris. The bedrock had a smooth, almost polished look to it. It was slow going, but he managed to pull himself up by using some cracks in the rock. He spotted what looked like a cave in the side of the crater wall about a quarter of the way up. If he could just make it there he could rest and maybe find some way to get warm, he just knew he was far too exposed here.

He knew even before he pulled himself up to the scorched tile floor that the cave was not natural. It was perfectly square, what had not crumbled when this end of the corridor partially collapsed. By the time he got there his hands were a bloody mess and the frigid temperatures only made it worse. His ankle was swollen to about double its normal size. All his abused body wanted to do was lay there on the tile floor, he was beyond feeling or caring about the cold. But that is the very thing that got him going again. As a doctor, he knew that in cases of hypothermia when a person stopped caring about the cold was when they were in the most danger.

He forced himself to get up. At first the best he could do was crawl which did not make it easy to get around and over the rubble partially blocking this section of hall. It was very dark in the corridor, rubble from the roof collapse blocked most of what little light that entered the severed end of the hallway. But he could make out some colored stripes running down the length of the corridor, these stripes would lead newbies to various places within the facility. He recognized the color combinations. The top stripe was green indicating the cafeteria, second one was red indicating the gymnasium (complete with heated pool), the third was a brown indicating dry storage and the fourth was blue. He had never looked at the directory to see what that was for though. There was a junction in the hallway up ahead He fumbled around in the darkness and found what he was looking for. At the end of each hallway or junction like this one, there was a compartment or cabinet set into the wall, in those cabinets were emergency kits complete with a flashlight, first aid kit and emergency phone. The flashlight batteries were still good. The phone was dead. He wrapped his swollen ankle in an Ace bandage and swallowed a couple of painkillers. As much pain as his ankle was giving him he wished for something a little more powerful like Oxycontin. He settled on some Excedrin he found instead.

He limped into the gymnasium, his imagination working overtime on the bizarre shadows thrown by some of the more complicated pieces of equipment. He felt about in the darkness for a few minutes before finding the door to the locker room. He knew he would find some clothes there.

He was quickly found his locker and was again grateful that he had spent so much time in the gym. The lock was a dial combination lock, which was good, because, although he knew right where he had left his keys, he had no idea where his keys were now. The locker he had left them was just outside the projector chamber and that space was now just empty air.

He found three sets of sweats in there and put all three on. He put two socks on his left foot, but could only manage to get one on over his injured right ankle and he did not even attempt to tie his right shoe, opting to just tuck the laces in under the tongue. He sat down on the bench and tried to remember the layout of the facility. He knew his living quarters were on the other side of the Projector Chamber. But try as he might he could not remember if there was a way to get from here to the other side without taking a corridor that would now just open up into that pit.

The base was dead, that much was obvious. Something had gone horribly wrong. He had no idea what. He was a medical doctor, not one of the physicists that dreamed this crazy idea up. But it looked like no one had come out to clean up the mess. The portions of the base not erased by whatever had happened were littered with empty piles of clothes. He could not bring himself to examine them too closely and stepped carefully around them whenever he came to them. He did take a closer look at one of them though. He had missed it in the darkness and kicked something solid out of the pile. It was slightly larger than a softball not quite round. Reflexively he grabbed at the object and found himself holding a man's artificial heart. There was only one person here that had a prosthetic heart, he had done several maintenance checks on him. He was a good natured man, always ready with a smile or a joke to lighten your mood. He had gently placed the heart back where he found it and backed out of the room. He was not a religious man by nature, but found himself saying a quick prayer for the man.

This had been a major corporate project with a yearly budget of well over a billion dollars. The company expected a return on this investment. There would have been an investigation. What could be salvaged would be. The remains of the facility would have most likely been deemed unsafe and demolished. Even in the remote Alaskan wilderness the company would not have just abandoned it.

He would investigate more later, for now he see if he could find something to eat. One of the three cafeterias was right next to the gymnasium and while he was sure all the fresh and frozen food was long gone over, there would be plenty of dry and canned food. Exhaustion caught up with him and he fell asleep in the pantry on top of some fifty pound bags of flour.

After four days his ankle was recovered enough to support his weight as long as he took it easy. He had lived off of dried food found in the large cafeteria pantry. The batteries of his flashlight gave out the first day, but he found several boxes of candles and used those. They also had the added benefit of heating the small office he had been sleeping in. It was not too cold in these man made caves, but it was not very warm either. The office had belonged the head chef and kitchen manager. It was a small but comfortable office with a desk, file cabinet and large leather couch that he was using as a bed.

The four days of solitude had given him time to think about his situation. He was pretty sure that he had been projected the full year forward in time as planned, because he was still alive. He was not an astronomer or physicist, but it had been explained to him in terms that he could understand. A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless another force slows it down, stops it or deflects. Even if an object is teleported in time or space, it still has that energy. Due to the movement and rotation of the earth through space, if that motion is not in alignment with the motion of the place the object "lands" in, it will continue on in the direction and speed it was already going. Thus an object that was on the day side rotating in towards the sun suddenly teleported to the night side that is rotating away from the sun will continue in its original direction until something stops it. The rotational speed of the Earth at the equator is about 1037.5646 miles per hour. This would shoot the object or person out into space unless he was stopped by a solid object first. There would not be much left to bury. The rotational speed was of course less here in Alaska. Here it was only about five hundred miles an hour. He did not know if that would be escape velocity, but as a doctor he had personally seen what a seventy-five mile per hour vehicle verses pedestrian looked like. Granted the car was moving, not the pedestrian, but there was a quote from one of his favorite movies that really fit. "Whether the pitcher hits the rock, or the rock hits the pitcher, it's going to be very bad for the pitcher'". And on top of that the Earth is moving 66,660 miles per hour around the sun. So if you appear on the earth at the wrong point in its orbit, it is either, whoosh, out into space or splat, you're a puddle. He had seen the video of what had happened to one of the early test subject as a result of a minor miscalculation. The poor Guinea pig's body was shredded as soon as it materialized inside its cage. The plastic cage exploded and bits of shredded Guinea pig and plastic sprayed all over the main window of the control booth. The skull actually embedded itself in the bulletproof plexiglass. Several of the booth operators were suddenly and violently ill. One tech, a rather large, round man with a beard had fainted.

He had busied himself gathering supplies for the trip back into civilization. He had tried calling for help, but all the base phones were out. There were no other phones. All personnel working at the facility were contractually obligated to leave any personal communication and data storage devices at home. They were not even allowed to take handwritten notes off base. Violation of this policy meant sacrificing all of one's pay, retroactive to the day he or she was hired. Anyone employed less than two years would be fined an additional three years pay. It would mean financial disaster. But still there had been a couple that had been caught. One was a ten year company veteran. Last Elias heard he was now working at a McDonald's to survive. The company had forced the sale of his home and personal property to get back what was owed. And still they were garnishing half his pay.

The location of the facility was classified. There were not even any roads leading to the facility, everything was brought in by cargo helicopter. Personnel were flown in and out in windowless helicopters to a small private airfield. People on the ground opened the door and lead them to a windowless van that took them to Anchorage International Airport. From there they could arrange transportation to wherever they decided to go, at company expense. The chopper pilot and the ground crew never exchanged a word. It was a long trip, made longer by the intentional variations of the route. The only ones that knew the exact location were the top level project managers, pilots and the control booth technicians. It's a little hard to input the target time and spacial coordinates when you don't know where the hell your are. But he estimated that the base was about 150 to 200 miles from Anchorage. Probably if he had paid more attention when they were trying to instruct in the fine art of navigation in boot camp, he could figure out exactly where it was. But his interests were elsewhere. His father had been a marine and his father before him. Both career men. But Elias had wanted to go to med-school. He knew that his father could not and would not pay for it so he had to find another way. And the marine corps educational benefits would help a lot. He signed up for a four year term, was granted the full fifty thousand dollars he was entitled to and enrolled in medical school. His father was not happy about it, but he knew his mother was proud.

It would be a long walk to Anchorage, but he didn't think that he would have to walk the entire distance. Since he really had no idea where he was, he decided that he would just head due south. He would eventually come to a road and find his way from there.

On the sixth day he figured he was as ready as he would ever be. But he had yet to be up to the surface yet. All the elevators that lead to the top were in the area of the crater along with the personnel stairs. There was a drive-in loading dock on the other side. Maybe, if he was lucky, he would even find a truck in there that would actually start. He would have to cross the crater to get there. But that would prove problematic. Despite a year of weathering, the upper edges of the walls were near vertical and he did not think he would be able to handle them well in the best of conditions.

There was a big laminated map of the facility in the Chef's office and he would take that with him. Peering out across the crater he could see what looked like a partial service staircase exposed on the opposite side of the crater. It joined a corridor just before disappearing. There were some service passages down lower that would open up a little closer to the bottom of the crater. If he found the right one he, it would save him the dangerous climb down.

He hesitated at the stairwell door, staring at the alarm box. Though he knew that no one would be around to hear the klaxon he was reluctant. There was a small chance that the battery would be dead, but it had only been a year. He paused a moment considering that. So much had obviously gone wrong it was rather silly to assume that just because he was supposed to jump one year that was actually what happened. Suppose, that instead of jumping ahead one year he had jumped ten or more. But then he considered the condition of the place and relative freshness of the canned food. It could not have really been much more than a year, two possibly, three at the most.

He decided to stop piddling around and just go. He pushed the paddle on the steel door leading into stairwell and even though he was expecting it, jumped at the sound of the fire alarm. The right key would shut it off, but he had no idea where to find it. Presumably the facilities maintenance or security staff would have a copy, but he did not feel like poking through those piles of clothes, especially considering the very real possibility that they were on the inside of the area that God had taken his over sized ice cream scoop to. He tried to cover his ears while he consulted the map but it was impossible to juggle the flashlight and the map too. He moved down a couple flights of stairs to get away from the sound. It did not help much. According to the map he would have to go down 3 levels to the water treatment plant. From there he would take the north service tunnel either to an opening in the bottom of the crater or all the way to the northern service junction, which would lead him up to the loading docks.

The alarm continued for about ten minutes and then just quit. By that time he had reached the bottom of the stairs. It had been slow going because of his ankle and the supplies he was carrying. He was also moving with caution because of the dark. There was standing water in the bottom of the stairwell, not enough to even cover the top of his shoes but enough to make footing somewhat treacherous. Stenciled onto the door were the words "WATER TREATMETN". Elias shook his head at the misspelling. The public education system was really a marvel. The door was very stiff, but it was unlocked. He had been afraid that he would lug everything down here and find that the door was locked.

The darkness on the other side of the door was unlike anything he had imagined. The weak light of the flashlight only enhanced the darkness. Elias had never really considered himself afraid of the dark, but he briefly considered turning back. Pipes and cables crisscrossed the ceiling and crept up the walls. Large pipes, bigger around that he was, shut off valves, control boxes and unidentifiable equipment cast shadows that seemed to devour what meager light he had. Water dripped almost everywhere.

The door had opened up onto a metal platform with a rail and stairs.

Stairs that led

He panned the flashlight around until he found the object he had been hoping to find. A pair of heavy rubber waders. They were hanging on a hook and next to them was a heavy keyring with a key fob that read "Keys I haven't Lost Yet". He stuffed them into his pocket and struggled into the waders. They were designed to fit over clothes but he had never worn them before and they were very cumbersome.

It was only three steps down but that put the water up over his knees. It took him a minute in the darkness to even find the tunnel. Movement was slow in the water and the heavy waders were not helping in that respect. But he was glad to have them. The water was cold even through his heavy sweats and the insulation the waders provided. He knew he would get chilled long before he got out.

The tunnel was probably about eight feet wide and eight feet floor to ceiling, but the pipes and such that ran its length took up a lot of space to so that in reality there was less than six feet floor to ceiling and maybe four feet side to side. The water he was wading through made it seem like even less. Mud and who knew what else had formed a treacherous sludge on the bottom so he had to move carefully.

In the darkness, it was easy for his imagination to begin to misbehave. So the first time he heard the clicking he dismissed it as just that. He stood there for a moment listening and heard nothing but the ever-present sound of water dripping. He moved on. After what he estimated to have been half an hour into the cave and maybe a quarter of the way across he stopped for a break. This was exhausting. He peeled open one of the candy bars he had brought with him and quickly ate it, washing it down with some bottled water. He stuffed the candy wrapper into the bottle, crushed the air out of the bottle and screwed the cap on tight before stuffing it back into his gym bag.

A series of clicks froze him. He waited listening. The clicking stopped for a moment and he was just about to move on again when a series of sharp clicks sounded again. He could not tell for sure, but he thought it was closer. It was probably some kind of cricket, he thought. The flashlight revealed nothing. He felt like a thousand tiny eyes were watching him. The clicking stopped and it became very still. Even the constant dripping of water seemed somehow muted. He knew he should not waste anymore time down here, but for some reason just stood there. A series of large ripples lapped at his waders. He watched them for a moment and swung the light around again. There was something bobbing in the water back the way he had come and he almost panicked, but it turned out to be a rubber boot, probably left by one of the maintenence workers. He turned to start back on his way and found himself staring into a pair of milky, blind eyes above a mouth full of needle like teeth.

The teeth were about four inches long a narrowed down to fine little points interlacing like the bars of a cage. It had the appearance of a large evil grin. What he could see of its body was serpentine. It just bobbed there, head swaying on a slender, but muscular neck, staring at him. Elias was completely frozen with fear. Suddenly the mouth snapped open and the creature let out a breathy hiss and reared back. Elias fell back into the water trying to get away. The head plunged into the water and he knew he was finished. Cold, wet and his ankle still not fully recovered, he was out of his element. No match for this apparition. But instead of sinking a couple dozen needle sharp teeth into his leg and twirling him around in an underwater death roll, the creature quickly popped it's head back up out of the water. Half a dozen writhing little ... things clutched in its mouth. They were trapped good, unable to wriggle through the gaps in its teeth they were effectively caged. Several tendrils in the underside of its mouth forced them back where they were swallowed whole. The creature once again regarded him with its blind eyes before sinking back into the water and disappearing.

An hour later he was back at the WATER TREATMETN doorway, stripping off the waders and his now water logged sweats. That was when he saw the three inch leeches stuck all over him. There were at least a dozen of them. They were easy enough to dislodge, but his stomache clenched in revulsion everytime he had to touch one of the slimy rubbery bodies.

Once again he was left naked and cold. He hurried up the stairs to where he had started. He knew he would be able to find some more clothes in the gym locker room. He was halfway up when he saw the emergency exit signs and started laughing. He had been so intent on the tunnels when he was looking at the map that he had forgotten about the fire exits. These stairs would lead up to heavy steel fire door. He vaguely recalled the fire exits being mentioned, but with this being a privately owned, top secret facility, fire drill codes were not enforced so the fire exits had been forgotten. There was most likely an alarm and cameras up there to discourage unauthorized exit, but he would deal with them the same way he had dealt with the alarm on the stairwell door.

One thing was certain. He was never going back down to those service tunnels again. In fact the sooner he got away from the remains of the facility here, the better.

It was a long hike to the other side of the crater. He had plenty of time to stare out across it. Looking down at the bottom of he he marvelled that he was still alive. He thought he could even see where he had landed. If he had landed facing the other way, he probably would have seen the service stairwell that he had spotted from the other side and saved himself a lot of trouble. But with the shock of his sudden appearance and sudden fall, he had not taken the time to adequately survey his surroundings.

He was pushing himself somewhat, he wanted to reach the other side before night fell and not just because of the cold either. His encounter down below had convinced him that, well, monsters did exist. At least here they did. He decided that confidentiality agreement or not, he would report what had happened here to whoever would listen. Projecting a man forward in time was one thing. Releasing unknown monsters into the Alaskan wilderness was another. Thinking about the aforementioned unknown monsters spurred him on a little faster.

He spotted a couple of buildings a few hundred yards from the edge of the crater on the other side. Though he had only see the larger one from the inside as he was lead into the helicoptor he did recognise it. Having never seen either of the two smaller buildings at all, he decided to investigate them first. There were a couple of pickups in the small garage, but they would not start. Most likely the batteries were flat. A small shed a short distance away housed a couple of snowmobiles, one antique with a pull starter that would probably be his best bet, but he was hoping for something with heat. He moved on to the large hanger where the helicopters were kept. There were usually a couple of trucks inside as well as the ramp leading down into the subterranean garage.

Luck was with him and there was a generator inside with a handcrank starter. It had been scrupulously maintained beforehand and started on the third try, after he read the directions over a second time and found out what he was doing wrong. The heaters suspended from the ceiling started up a few minutes after the genny was running and within minutes he was warm for the first time since his arrival. As cold as it was he knew it could get much colder this far north. There was a battery charger and jumpstarter on a large wheeled cart. It was really nothing more than a large battery itself and needed to be hooked up for a while to be charged before he could use it. It w several hours for it to fully charge. As well as the one large cargo helicopter, there were four large trucks and an SUV to choose from. He started with the Suburban. But after three tries he gave up. He was pretty sure that the gas was bad. He looked over the larger trucks. One was a straight diesel, two were hybrids and one was a brand new fuel cell vehicle. A big four wheel drive International. There was a pile of clothes in the driver seat and a cell phone plugged into the power outlet on the dash.

He took the phone and plugged it into a power outlet at a nearby workbench. It powered up instantly, but it showed a 0% signal. He had never even seen a 0% signal. Not even while driving along the cell phone restricted zones of the I-70 turnpike last year, well at least two years ago now. Some states had passed laws enabling them to install short range cell phone signal scramblers along the lane marker stripe in 'high risk' areas that only allowed 911 calls through. Even in those areas he usually got at last a 5% signal. He decided to leave it to charge and check it later. He plugged the International in to the generator. It should not take too long, he hoped, for it to replenish the fuel cells.

He found a hot plate on one of the workbenches and finally fixed himself a hot meal of canned soup. Chicken noodle was not his favorite, but right now it was better than any meal served in any 5 star restaurant.
* * *
The International ground to a halt just as the trees parted. He had almost drive over a cliff yesterday and was a little wary now. There was not much in way of roads in this area so he had been following game trails and when necessary, frozen streams and rivers. This whole region seemed to be dotted with little lakes and they were all frozen over this time of year with ice several feet thick. Intellectually he knew that there was probably no danger, but having spent much of his life south of the Canadian border he was reluctant to trust it. He kept picturing the International crashing through the ice and his body being found frozen several hundred years later being put on display in a museum somewhere. This was a much bigger lake than the little ones he had skirted around. He estimated that it was about three or four miles across. At his current rate it would take days to get around it. And he didn't think the fuel cell would last that long. He decided he would have to risk it. The back of the truck was filled with food and survival gear, but he had no delusions about his chances of survival without the truck.

There were mountains in the distance, but without a map he still had no idea where he was.

He found the smoothest path down and eased the truck out onto the ice covered ice. As tempted as he was by the prospect of getting across the ice as fast as possible, he kept the speed down to fifteen miles per hour.

Halfway across he heard a groaning that sent a chill through him despite the truck's powerful heater. A loud crack sounded and he thought to himslef 'To Hell with taking it easy' and he pushed the accelerator down about three quarters. The International was a powerful truck, but it was not a fast truck. That was what saved him.

The big truck lurched forward, its four electric motors whining in protest. The speedometer jumped up to forty-five. Of course the wind chose that moment pick up and scour light, dry snow up from the frozen surface of the lake. Elias was suddenly driving blind. Even with the wipers on he could not see, it was like driving in a blizzard. He was convinced that the ice was going to drop him into the lethally cold water below. He plowed on.

The surface of the lake was not entirely flat. Snow drifts rippled its surface in places. Sometimes the truck rode up on them like a boat riding up a wave and sometimes he just rammed through them . The truck rode up one snow drift and Elias suddenly realized that it was not a snowdrift at all. He had ridden up the lake's shore and there just ahead of him was a line of trees. He slammed on the brakes and yanked the wheel hard to the left. All four wheels of the massive truck locked up. It skidded out of control and slid sideways towards the trees. The right wheels dug into the snow and the truck tipped up on the right. The cargo box of the truck snapped off a branch of the nearest tree and the remainder of the branch stabbed through the wall of the box near the top. The collision sent a cascade of snow down onto the roof of the truck. The truck dropped back to the left towards the lakeshore the right wheels now leaving the ground. Elias could only stare out his window as the truck tipped more to the left. He threw himself as far to the right as the seatbelt would allow, not really beleiving for a moment that he had enough mass in his body to tip the balance, but the truck was suddenly stopped as if jerked by a chain and once again settled onto four wheels.

Elias sat there for a moment, waiting for the both the wind to die down and for his heartrate to shift from scared hummingbird to something a bit more sedate like a rampaging elephant.

Eventually the wind stopped howling and he could see again. He was surprised to see a cabin about forty feet away. He carefully climbed out of the truck to inspect the damage and found a tree branch poking into the cargo box. It had hooked the roof of the cargo box preventing it from tipping.

The trapper's cabin was small but well stocked. It would make a good refuge till he decided what to do next. And it had one priceless commodity. A map tacked to the wall with a pin marking a single location, Written in black Sharpie was the label "Middle of Fucking NOWHERE"

© 2010 R. Keith McBride