Of Earth and Ice
a sci-fi web-serial by Jeremy C Kester
Doors opened to reveal the outside world. A blast of cold air rushed through the entry tunnels. Two guards hurried to close the inner doors before too much heat was lost. They were distracted. The man being drug outside was thrashing and screaming wildly. It took several more soldiers than was customary to contain him despite the restraints. People were normally violent when being carried out to the cold, but this man was beyond theatrical.
He was a scrawny, pale young man with a tattoo above his eye. It was an illegal tattoo, a mark from a small political movement against the castes. His eyes flashed wildly to and fro as he tried to free himself.
The soldiers struggled to drag the man to a small platform at the center of a clearing. It shown a hue of blue from the sheer cold. In the center was a heavy chain and shackles. Ice surrounded it much like everything else in the area in an eolian fashion only further created by the whirling winds that charged through the clearing. They fought feverishly to bring the man and secure his arms to the post. The man lashed out spitting, cursing, and biting at the armor of the soldiers.
As the metal touched the man’s flesh he let out a howl of pain. Once he was secured, the soldiers swiftly backed off.
A few minutes passed and the doors opened once again. Three individuals passed through. Those who had brought the man out stood at full attention, saluting their commander with a closed fist over their heart.
Gerald was dressed in a non-combat environmental suit. It guarded only against the bitter cold without the added armor necessary for fighting. Her escorts donned their combat suits. Each held a rifle in front of them aimed directly at the man. Having the man already secure made the weapons appear a bit excessive Gerald thought to herself, but it was protocol in order to guarantee her protection.
The man fell silent upon seeing Gerald. Cold battered him down. His attempts at resisting turned to bracing against the cold. The execution cloak was warm and was the only thing between him and death at that moment. Steam pulsed through the cloak’s opening matching the hurried rhythm of the man’s breathing. His eyes were barely visible; although, his glare burned in a manner that could have melted the glaciers surrounding them all.
Gerald approached confidently despite her fatigue. She was tired. Unfortunately her attendance was always required. Executions were broadcasted throughout the colony as a solemn reminder to those who chose not to cooperate with the laws. Such were always unfortunate events. It was supposed to be a message to the weight of the situation that the Colonial Commander issued the final declaration of death. Gerald wasn’t sure whether the people understood that message.
The lump of heavy fabric trembled.
“Fuck you!” the man cried out. His voice was strained from the constant fight that he had put up before being chained.
“Obsidian Tyrol,” Gerald said. “You have been found guilty of treason for your involvement in factions disloyal to the safety and peace of the colony. Do you have any final words before you are sentenced to the cold?”
Wind screamed all around them enveloping the silence that followed. The man said nothing. A vision flashed across Gerald’s mind before she gave the order to pull the cloak free.
Beneath the cloth Gerald saw Evie there. She knew that it wasn’t Evie in body, but she realized just how close that her love was to death. Breaching colonial law was immediately punishable by banishment to the cold for an Iradile. Evie’s privileges had protected her. Unless the woman was able to prove that she was still useful, she could easily be banished for occupying a position that although she had been appointed to, it was illegal for her to maintain. It was a position Evie did not want in the first place.
And now there was a group that sought to punish Evie further if she continued pursuing anything other than resigning her position and taking her rightful place among those in her caste.
Could she truly back out though? Could Gerald convince the council to give her special protection if Evie willingly resigned? Would Evie remain a target for those wanting to protect the traditions of the castes?
“You have no right to do this,” a shivering voice came from the man. “You pretend to protect us, but you have made us all slaves! You cannot keep us in this cage by your rules! We shall all be free!”
“Is that all you have to say?” Gerald asked. “We have heard this rhetoric before.”
The man was silent for a moment. “She will die! You will use her as an example to keep them all in line! You say it is a gesture of goodwill and of change, but all it will do is place us all in chains!”
Red-hot aggression washed over her. Gerald wanted to ask the man if he was a member of the group that had attacked Evie. She wanted to punish him for the deed. If it was indeed this man even, the satisfaction of feeling his pulse slip away through the crushing grip of her fingers would be great. She couldn’t break protocol. She couldn’t reveal her emotions. “Pull it off,” Gerald instructed plainly. Pulses from her heart jammed in her throat. She wanted him silenced.
“She will die and it will be by your hands!”
Two of the guards stepped over forcibly removing the cloak from the man. Unlike when he was brought out, he did not resist. Before the group was now a small man with tattoos covering his entire body. Above his eye was the tattoo mocking the upper castes. Cold hit the man immediately as steam from his heat syphoned into the air. He tried to speak but only moans, clicks, and grunts could be heard as he struggled to make any sound. Death would follow quickly.
After a moment he was able to utter a quiet, stuttered “fuck you” before he appeared to fall unconscious.
“Leave him,” Gerald said to the soldiers who went to check him. “Note his time of death and close the records of his execution. He has now made amends with our society and shall be treated as a citizen of his caste as he was,” Gerald instructed in the same words that ended every execution.
“Broadcast is down, ma’am,” a voice came through the communications channel in her helmet.
“Understood. Thank you.” Gerald felt thoroughly drained. Although the man was now deceased, his words continued to shout at her. “She will die and it will be on your hands!” Such words frightened her to no end.
“What was that guy’s problem? Why would anyone want to get a tattoo like that?” one of the soldiers remarked to Gerald.
The words passed by her without her notice as she thought of Evie.
“Huh?” she responded jerking to face the soldier. “What did you said, sergeant?”
“Nothing, commander. Nevermind. Are you alright?”
“Just finish with the procedures and return to your duties,” she snapped as she walked back towards the doors. She pressed her comm link and requested the doors opened for her.
When she passed through the inner doors beyond the reach of the cold, a visitor stood awaiting her. “That did not go quite as expected. Normally they simply say sorry and then die quietly,” Chairwoman Urbina said as she came in step with Gerald.
“No execution goes well in my opinion, madam councilwoman.”
“Geraldine,” Urbina said. “You have known me long enough that you can dispense with the formalities. I came simply to tender information and to see how you were doing.”
“Why do you think I need checking on?”
“You’ve never stopped anyone from speaking before. I assumed that he may have rattled you some, threatening your little Iradile officer.”
“His words are incendiary regardless the target. He couldn’t have been allowed to continue.” The words rolled off of her tongue as if they had been rehearsed.
“A fair retort, if I may say.”
Gerald stopped and faced the councilwoman. She pulled off the helmet to her environmental suit. Hair stood in disarray on her head and matched the fury in her eyes. “What are you here for?”
“I might as well forgo the pleasantries then.”
“Our conversations are very rarely what I would call pleasant.”
“Yes, yes. Such is the life we live. Anyway, it appears this little group is gaining more momentum than we had thought possible.”
“Explain. What do you mean by little group?”
Urbina gave a knowing smirk that could almost have been mistaken for embarrassment for what she was about to admit. “Every few years there are little political groups that form among the people. Most are pretty harmless and disappear without so much as a flyer being passed around. Knowing this, the council generally takes little interest in such matters.”
“So you choose to ignore potential political uprisings and neglect inform me of their existence?”
“We do not ignore them. We absolutely monitor their growth, and we choose to tell you what we tell you.”
“How am I supposed to police these groups if I am not privy to all accounts?”
“Geraldine,” Urbina said like a mother trying to rationalize with a toddler. “Do you understand what would come of our society if the Colonial Commander were chasing after every little group that so chooses to dissent from our politics? We would go completely corrupt. The people need to feel as though they have a say, even when they most certainly do not. If they felt trapped, it might cause a revolt. Besides, we simply dispose of the leaders if they come to be a little too roucous.”
“So you put hits out on our citizens?”
“Oh you do not follow. Most of those you executed in the past weren’t killed for the reasons supplied. They most often were dissenters whom we’ve framed for crimes against the colony.”
Gerald’s eye twitched as she tried not to react to the information being given to her. A few soldiers had passed by but with the lowered tones that the pair spoke in, it was doubtful any fragment of the conversation got out. They were still in the outer sector prior to entering the Iradile zones. Gerald tensed and then released it. She focused all that she could to relax. Were Urbina to see an emotional reaction, the conversation might change from where it was going. A lot could be gained by listening. Gerald knew this. She knew to play along.
“That seems like it would still signal to the others that you were doing it out of political retribution.”
“Discreditation,” Urbina smiled and licked her lips. “We destroy their reputations in a way that no one suspects it as retaliation often employing the aid of the very people supporting them without their even being aware what they were doing. Plus keeping you and yours out of the loop helps keep the rumors down.”
“The council seems to do a good job keeping it under wraps. So why bring me into the loop now? What has changed that I need to get involved.”
“This latest kid you just put to the cold was not a leader. We don’t know the leader of these groups this time. And our attempts to have failed.”
“Yes. I heard your officer was attacked the other day?”
“A counter group to the one this kid belonged. They believe Iradiles to be below filth and that they should be exterminated. For them it isn’t enough for Iradiles to be as removed as they are. This kid’s group however wants to destroy the system we’ve so delicately constructed. They believe in full equality.” The councilwoman laughed. “As if equality ever truly existed.”
“You have a war brewing between these two groups? This has gone beyond your grasp and you need me to clean up your mess.”
“That is why I am telling you.”
“And what of Evie?” Gerald watched a shade of distaste in the councilwoman’s mouth when she used Evie’s name. “I assume you are really telling me so that you can use her as bait to incite something further allowing us to clean house?”
“We all want your little soldier to succeed. She’s a great example as to what an Iradile can be. We truly do care for her.” The words felt like spit laced with lies. “But letting her continue on after her injuries has apparently awoken these groups from dormancy. We must put an end to this. I don’t want any further incidents. I just want it stopped. But do as you seem inclined to do so long as the deed is done.”
Gerald kept hearing the words: “She will die and it will be on your hands!”
Previous Episode – 7: Fresh Wounds | Next Episode coming March 2016