Copyright © 2017
Nathan M. Hurst
& Amir Zand
He pushed a check across the desk to the hotel receptionist, the small memory module contained unlocked credit, untraceable credit. A small rectangular key was returned, the receptionist didn’t even look up from the vids screening in his holovisor, he just grunted, “Sixteen.”
Room 16 was as dark and dank as the rest of the hotel, just big enough for the sleep module and wash station, although from the look of the wash station control it had not been maintained in a while, it would likely flay his skin rather than wash it. He would go unwashed tonight.
Sitting on the edge of the sleep unit he flicked on the vid screen in the room and navigated using the touch screen to the local news channel and let it run. Transasia was boasting about its productivity again, its technological advancement and latest successes off world, Usea was an empire in decline, social unrest and curfews, the military brought in to back up the local law enforcement. The Scandanavgrupp were fighting their own battles, the eastern states defending their borders from the wastelands.
Scanning the channel for word from the isolated western volcanic archipelago of Fastvatn he looked for any clue that his message was getting out.
“Next, the latest situation on the largest of the Fastvatn islands,” said the newscaster, her blond hair framing her face like a halo, “where a full scale quarantine has been implemented and half a million people evacuated to the mainland.”
He watched the aerial shots intently, looking for any indication of the things he had witnessed several days before. Transfixed, reflections of the white snowy scenes flickering in his eyes, his mind began to replay the events of that day, when his world changed.
Stepping to the cliff edge, Jagen Robertsson stood atop a sheer fall, the cliff face below him craggy and grey. Scanning the ground of Þingvellir below, the ancient site of power for generations past, he felt the mild exhilaration of the trek he had made across the white rugged landscape to get there. In the cold, heat flushed his cheeks and his breath misted the air. Where he stood his ancestors had come to govern these harsh lands, to decide on the fate of their kinsmen and protect each tribe against the environment and invaders. The ground he stood on was steeped in history. Looking down on Thingvellir or the assembly field, the old forum of ages, he felt a deep connection with a time long past. It had been worth the trip.
Taking his deck from his jacket pocket he started to film the area, a panoramic shot from left to right along the ridge picking up the fields of the Thingvellir and the meandering frozen river alongside. It was beautiful. He would take some stills from this, he would layer them through his article on the new geothermal activity in the area and warn his readers of the latest threat to their safety.
He had coined the term Geoshock, where humanity’s continuous plundering of the planet had caused an accelerated depletion of the atmosphere, and tapping off geothermal energies had altered the natural tectonic processes and volcanic venting. All these things had been imperceptible at first, but after a few generations the canary in the cage had been the widespread extinction of a vast number of smaller mammals, birds especially. With the drop in oxygen levels as rapid as they had been, evolution for these mammals just couldn’t keep up.
Taking a deep breath, his lungs chilled with the intake of cold air. It was cool but refreshing, his implanted ORBs, or Oxygen Re-Breathers skimming out the residual oxygen as he exhaled, regulating it back into his system. Humanity had the advantage of being an intelligent and adaptable animal, if not in addition a terribly destructive one. Most wealthy world citizens now had their ORBs implanted at birth, lower tech countries still depended on rebreather masks which were pretty cumbersome. He often thanked his chance birth to the Scandinavgrupp, he was one of the lucky ones.
Dumping his rucksack, he began to unpack his airwing, a light strengthened material wing which suspended the pilot below during flight. It was the nearest he had ever experienced to being a bird, free from the ground and able to swoop and soar with the wind. It was exhilarating and he loved it. He had saved for months to obtain the latest variant, a model 3 Osprey with the new rigid wing technology. Fast and manoeuvrable it was especially designed to operate in the thinner more refined atmosphere, he touched the control on his holographic gauntlet and the wing material spread out in a crescent eventually pulling taught against his body harness. Taking hold of the toggle controls he leaned forward to take the strain as the oncoming wind inflated the wing, causing it to bellow and rise above him like a huge kite.
Sprinting for the cliff edge the air speed over his airwing increased, in turn physics dictated the wing begin to take his weight, his final steps moved him across the threshold into full flight as the ground below him fell away. Catching the updraft, the prevailing wind rushed vertically as it navigated the cliff face before it, he ensured he was clear and safe then flicked the airwing control to stiffen the wing and the suspending frame. Instantly he felt the airwing solidify and the control feedback tighten, flight became more responsive. He let out a whoop of delight and turned the Osprey hard right to follow the ridge line. He would follow the slope lift along the ridge for a while and get himself settled, then get to work.
As he climbed, he scanned the horizon for his target. At first glance there was nothing but the beautiful rolling snow fields and craggy outcrops of Fastvatn, but geopower companies had become good at camouflage, hiding their operations from the local inhabitants, it made their job easier the less obtrusive they appeared. He knew though this was simply the tip of the iceberg, as underground there would be a vast network of boreholes and channels syphoning super-heated water around to drive massive turbines and convert these energies. It was all about scale. Planetary energy demand was enormous, solar and geo-energy were the only viable options, but it was the scale that was crippling.
Locking onto the small number of buildings which at distance looked much like a small village, he manoeuvred the Osprey and headed out towards the geopower facility. His plan was simple, he had been there several times over the last three years conducting an aerial survey of the area, collecting data on the effect of geopower operations to the local region, geological shift, temperature, atmospheric variation. This was his final data set to confirm his findings before he published. His editor had been pressing for the last few months but he wanted his work to be solid enough to stand up to the level of scrutiny he knew would be applied.
Distracted, he suddenly felt an increasing flutter and then a more sustained vibration through the airwing controls and harness. He looked up concerned that he was having some malfunction in flight control, but on quick inspection everything checked out.
The vibration became more intense and base, to the point where he began to feel it within his chest, a sonorous sinking feeling. If he knew what the problem was he could rationalise it, but in this moment he was beginning to panic, all he could do was hope being airbourne was the safe option and that his airwing could deal with the forces being thrown at it.
Out the corner of his eye something caught his attention, a huge area of the land below his was falling away, something like a large sink hole was developing and sucking in the terrain for what seemed a square kilometre. Dust and debris was being thrown into the air and he found himself suddenly leaping to a terrible conclusion. The geopower plant must be undergoing some catastrophic failure. Several thousand people would be working on that site alone, the casualties would be disastrous.
His adrenaline was up and the shock of the situation focussed his senses. He swooped the airwing into a circular orbit of the sink hole, the air smelt of earth and rock, particulates stinging his face and pinging off his goggles as he looked down intently, directing his filming and recording everything he saw. The hole was deep, a gaping maw in the landscape opening up to swallow him whole, the vision was profound. His instincts screamed at him of the impending danger, but he continued filming, captivated by the scene below.
He began to narrate, to add further reported substance to the recording. This was the evidence he had been after, the proof that Geoshock was not just an academic theory, but a real, world affecting phenomenon. It was immediate and it was now.
“We are witnessing the result of man’s intense plundering of the natural resource at the core of this world. Below is the Thingvellir geostation, powering 20 million people across the Scandinavgrupp, but to what cost?
“Here is the cost,” he proclaimed as he moved the focus of the camera in to the darkness of the sink hole, a dramatic emphasis to his point.
As he did so, the camera began to pick up what appeared to be movement, something rising from the depths towards him and against the flow of the silt, rock and debris tumbling into the vast hole. Through the dust a column of enormous size began to rise above the surface of the ground below, rumbling its way skyward with a constant intent. The world continued to shake and vibrate around him, his film footage blurred as the scale of the structure moved beyond the scope of his view. He zoomed the camera back out. Already the structure had reached his altitude, he widened his orbit to give himself a safer distance to observe the object.
Then as suddenly as the event had begun, it stopped.
The rushing of the wind as his Osprey cut through the air was all he could hear, the voluminous vibrations had gone, the unidentified structure before him had stopped its ascent. Dust and rock was falling away from it to reveal a smooth surface below with what looked like large repeated runes placed in a patchwork across its height. Again he zoomed the camera in, this time to get a clear view of one of the icon arrangements. It was a circle interlaced across several other circles and bisected by the edge of the structure, it was a simple design, as to its meaning he had no idea.
Circling for several minutes he captured as much detail on the structure as he could, rising to its apex he took a reading of his altitude, one thousand standards. It was high, almost as high as the tallest of the city rises he knew. This was incredible.
“I do not recognise the icons, I do not recognise the structure. Is this a military experiment? I see no indication of their presence and there have been no warnings to the local population. I have been here several weeks in preparation of this survey, I would have heard of something.”
Verbalising his thoughts for the recording seemed to help them form into a reasoned argument in his mind. If this was not a military event then what was it? Scientific research? The Subterranian Power Corporation ran the underground geostation, what seemed most feasible was for it to be a new construct of theirs, a power converter or power storage tech.
“I know STC have no permits to run this level of intrusive research in this area. This is yet another example of the arrogance of corporations putting their own interests above that of the local populous and laying waste to protected land. It must not be allowed to continue.”
Mental alarm bells began to go off. It didn’t really matter whether this was the doing of the military or the STC, he was now a witness to huge breaches in both environmental and geopower law. He was sat on the next big environmental scandal, his footage was now gold. Any network would pay top money for this, it could really hang STC out to dry, illegal trials of uncontrolled power containment would be global news in hours. He needed to get back to the city and meet with some contacts quickly before news broke on this from another source. He had as much as he needed, it was time to leave.
Deciding to make one more close pass of the incredible structure before him he gently moved the controls to slip the Osprey to within a couple of wing spans of the obelisk. As he approached he checked his camera to make sure he got a good final shot but noticed a change, a light had started to circle one of the closer icons etched into the surface, moving and intensifying. A moment later he was engulfed in a beam of light and his mind awash with images and data, equations and history, starships and cities in deep space, battles and discoveries, an epoch of humanity lancing into his brain with pain and awe in equal measure. Tears began to well in his eyes as a millennia of a history long forgotten was transferred into his mind at such a pace and in such disorder that he found it to be torturous, his mind of such limited capacity to understand what was being presented.
The light stopped, the cold wind in his face returned him to the present. His eyes were wide with the chaos which now churned like a tornado through his mind. Flashes of the lives of millions, like echoes of the past, hammered to the forefront of his thoughts. A noise filled his head and ears like the sound of a banshee, he was screaming. He gasped an emotional lungful of air and tried to calm himself. The noise stopped.
An alert sounded on his deck, the Allcom linked to his auditory augs, it snapped him out of his dreaming. The room came back into focus.
“What are these, Jagen? They just look like a hole in the ground. What am I paying for exactly?” came Olstren’s voice on the end of the link.
“Evidence of an illegal geopower research experiment by STC.”
The link went dead.
“Olstren?” He queried his link. The connection would not reinstate.
Shouting and screaming muffled and distant began to encroach on him. With his thoughts momentarily elsewhere it wasn’t until an insistent thumping at the door interrupted them that he started to wonder what was happening outside. Still working on why the link to Olstren had been cut off, he opened the door cautiously.
A figure pushed his way in and closed the door sharply behind himself. It took him completely by surprise, an involuntary cry escaped him, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”
The man turned slowly, leaning heavily on the small corridor wall, his eyes were intent and focussed, his face in a grimace of pain.
“Back, get back,” said the intruder through gritted teeth. He back peddled into the room and found himself sprawled across the sleep space. The man stumbled his way to the window and flicked the control to the window blinds, they closed pushing the room into darkness and shadows.
“Jegan, is that your name?” The man was now in front of him, balled fists gripping his collar, spittle falling from his mouth as he spoke. The sweat across his face was apparent even in the shadowy darkness of the room, the glow of the display screen giving the man’s face a blue-grey pallor. He was stunned into silence.
“Is that your name?” the man insisted, shaking him to emphasise the point.
“Yes, yes it is,” he replied. A crackle of noise and shouting sounding as a backdrop to his answer.
“Good,” said the man. “Take this, watch this,” he said, passing him a memory card. “People need to know what you have seen. But understand this, from this moment on you are in danger, terrible danger.”
The man’s left side was now slick and sticky, in the darkness of the room he realised the man was bleeding heavily. With ragged breathing, the man spun himself round as much as he could and began to head back to the door. He continued to impart his message.
“What you have seen is not the first, but you will be silenced if you don’t leave now.”
“Who are you? What are you talking about?”
“Survive, watch the message I just gave you. And remember, Palomino.”
A boom reverberated through the entire building, it shook the walls and the window shattered into a million small cubes which sprayed across the floor.
“Go,” said the man again, the door now open and a tall shadow standing the other side, “Not long now. Estel is now assigned to you, he will keep you as safe as he is able.”
He grabbed his kit and went to the door, a man with sharp blue eyes look down on him.
“Stay close,” Estel said as he started down the corridor away from the noise.
Looking back at the guy holding the door open he paused, there was an object in the middle of the hall the size of a small barrel, some small display screen was flashing a green light and the words ‘Command required.’
“Go!” said the man again, his eyes serious and compelling. More automatic gunfire erupted from the far end of the corridor and much closer this time. He didn’t need to be told again, he set off down the corridor after Estel.
Estel was at the turn in the corridor, he was hunched forward with a snub nosed automatic weapon tucked neatly into his shoulder, the sight on top of the carry handle had extended forward and angled around the corner to give him a view of the unseen beyond. Estel had clearly heard him moving up behind him, he casually raised a hand and indicated that he should stay close to the wall and behind him. He did as he was told, hugging his carryall to his chest more to self-comfort than to keep it safe.
The man in front of him who had suddenly become his lifeline, disappeared like a shadow in the dark in front of his very eyes, around the corner and gone. He had been given no instructions since the last, he thought it better to stay exactly where he was.
Gunfire flared all around, chipping plaster and stone out of the walls in front of him. He flinched and cowered to the floor becoming the smallest target he could manage. Screams and anger raged, then stopped. A head popped back round the corner.
They weaved down the corridor, dodging and stepping over bodies, he counted four, all sprawled face first to the carpet. Army fatigues but no insignia, no regimental markings. Special ops? Private mercs? It didn’t matter. His journalistic mind parked the information for later consideration.
“Here,” said Estel. They were at another room, 28 was marked on the key pad, Estel simply opened the door, no key, no knocking, the door must have been left on a latch. He kept his weapon and eyes focused into the room.
“Follow,” he stated again and they slipped into the darkness.
The window was open. “Stand here,” came the instruction. He stood next to the window, he could see they were now at the rear of the building. The building opposite was likely an office block, after hours empty and blacked out. At his angle to the window he could see something attached to the side of their building, clamped to the vertical face was an enclosed jet bike, two seats in tandem, the sliding side door open.
“Jagen!” His focus flicked back to Estel, his blue eyes crystal and cold.
A nod. “Good. Step here,” Estel indicated the window sill, “grip here,” pointing at the window frame, “step here,” a safe part of the bike frame, “sit here. Strap in.”
“Got it.” He slung his carryall over his shoulder.
He moved and tried not to think of the height at which he was working. Freezing now would be bad. He manoeuvred himself into the seat and found himself with his back down, legs up and looking at the sky across the headrest of the pilots seat. He wedged his bag between his feet and strapped in. Estel was already in the seat, practiced experience speeding his action.
His harness buckle clicked into place as the door closed and the engine of the bike wound up to flight readiness.
He had hardly got the word past his lips before the clamps released, the bike fell backwards into the street and away from the building. A moment of sickening negative g as they fell towards the ground was immediately followed by a massive positive g surge as the engine thrust them skyward. Disorientation overtook him as he fought to keep hold of his senses.
They cleared the top of the hotel in a couple of seconds and he began to see angry fireflies buzz past them as those on the ground understood what was happening. He craned his neck around to try and get a better look but he found fighting the increased gravity too difficult.
Mirrors to the front of his canopy gave him some limited rear view, but suddenly they were completely orange, a ball of flame where the hotel used to be roiled into the sky. The canopy took on a reflective glow before a violent noise overtook them and the whole bike shook and rattled his vision.
The steady whine of the engine and heavy g continued for a while. The fireflies had gone away.
“Goodbye Angus,” said Elsted quietly. “Safe journey.”
He thought it best to stay quiet.