Of Earth and Ice
a sci-fi web-serial
by Jeremy C Kester
Edited by: Beth Townsend-Smith
6: The Run
Gerald arrived to find Evie standing perfectly still on her one leg. It was quiet. Only the hum of the generators made any sound, though both women had tuned them out for the moment.
Most of the colony was asleep, except for a crew of slushers out on evening waste removal and the guards who patrolled the corridors. Gerald discovered this was an ideal time to visit Evie each night, foregoing her own rest. Few were around to stop or acknowledge her existence, and even fewer would dare question her motives if they had.
“How long have you been at it today?”
Evie’s eyes opened as Gerald moved into the room and sat on the same chair she always sat in.
“Does it matter?” Evie snidely replied. She squatted down and pushed herself off the ground trying to jump. Once she landed, she slipped onto the ground with a loud thud. “Damn it!” She pounded her fist on the floor.
Gerald ran over to Evie with a look of concern. She worried that Evie was trying too hard and may hurt herself even more. She worried there was a chance Evie would still fail.
“Don’t help me up,” Evie said, trying to brush Gerald away.
Ignoring her, Gerald gripped Evie’s arm and supported her as she got back up. “You need to take it easy. You are going to make it worse.” Her voice, though always authoritative, betrayed her dismay. “What were you even trying to do?”
“I need to be able to jump without both my legs,” Evie answered matter-of-factly.
“You don’t need to do that,” Gerald shot back as she helped Evie hop over to her cot.
Evie now roomed in a standard officer’s quarters. The walls were more robustly insulated and were actually painted a less-dull hue of white making the room a little brighter. The furnishings, though, matched her caste and were a dull grey and brown, torn, and in general disrepair. It was a fair balance, Evie had thought. She felt lucky enough just to have her own room, rather than have to share space with a few dozen others from her caste.
It hadn’t taken long it to be determine that the room inside the medical sector was too valuable to be taken up by her. She was given the prosthesis, instructed on what supplies she would need, shown how to change her dressings, and been sent on her way. Gerald had lobbied as much as she believed she could to extend Evie’s stay there, but social norms and practices had won out.
What Evie did manage to keep was far more than any caste below the first four would have been allowed.
Evie looked earnestly at Gerald. “I told you, I need to be able to work without that leg. It’s only a matter of time before they take that, too.” She looked at the fake leg sitting in the corner. It was dramatically more clean than it had been when it was first given to her. The activity had taken her days of scraping as there was no water allowed to her to soften any of the grime that had been left on it.
“They won’t take it. I won’t let them.”
“Just because you’re the Commander doesn’t mean they’ll excuse your support for me. If they found out about us, I’d be sent out to freeze and you would be exiled.”
Gerald remained still, contemplative. Though she had once executed others for that kind of infraction, she had never considered what that meant in relation to her own actions. She felt immediately hypocritical. Falling in love with Evie was the last thing she’d expected when they met. At the time, Evie wouldn’t even talk to Gerald, due to her caste. Their initial discussions about becoming an officer had been done through a mediary, as was the standard. Now, Gerald felt a deepening rift between her principles and her heart.
“I won’t let that happen,” she finally said, dismissing her sudden worries. The statement sounded as unsure as her feelings.
Evie shook her head as she pulled herself away from Gerald. She leaned over to reach the prosthesis. Gerald saw it for the first time since Evie has been dismissed from the medical sector. It had been heavily modified since then. Nothing was truly recognizable from the original.
Gerald watched Evie adjust the straps. Where Evie had gotten any of the components to do what she had done to it was a mystery to Gerald. She’d never had to forage for anything. Being in the highest caste made it easy to get anything she wanted. And as Colonial Commander, Gerald had far more privilege than any of her counterparts.
Once secured, Evie stood up and took steps towards the door. Aside from the hint of a limp, Gerald saw a woman who had fully relearned how to walk.
“Where are you going?” Gerald asked.
“I’m going for a run.”
“A run? Now?”
Gerald looked perturbed. “Are you avoiding me?”
Evie turned, realizing what she meant. She smiled as she looked at her lover. Walking over, she reached out and gently touched Gerald’s chin, lifting it just enough to give her a soft kiss on the lips. Gerald smiled back, closing her eyes. “I will never avoid you. It’s just easier to run with the halls empty.”
“I can’t argue with a kiss like that,” Gerald smirked. “I’ll just let myself out and see you tomorrow then.”
Evie grinned and turned to leave.
The brisk air of the hallway greeted her sharply as she walked out the door. The common areas were not kept nearly as warm as any of the personal quarters, even for those of her caste. It was an effort to conserve as much energy as possible. Envigorated by the cold, she began a short jog, stumbling a little with each step. Though she was proficient in walking with her new leg, running was still a challenge, and she needed to be even faster than she was before if she was going to be personally satisfied with her recovery.
It didn’t take long before she had left the officer’s sector and entered the markets. It was a small zone where all trading was permitted, outside of the rationing distribution centers.
The whole colony was once the underbelly of Chicago. Now they were nearly 1,000 feet under the ice that had moved through the area, decimating the statuesque skyline that preceded them. It looked nothing like it once had, having evolved into the honeycomb system that it was now.
The colony was divided into multiple sectors, two of which circumscribed the rest. The outermost ring was occupied by the Iradiles, with general militia and defense systems the next circle in.
Inside these two rings, the remaining 5 castes were organized, interspersed with common areas. The council quarters and council chambers were the most insulated, being at the core, and surrounded by the officers stations, which provided another layer of defense. Directly outside the officer’s chambers were several stations, manned each night to monitor the traffic going in and out of all sectors.
Evie passed through with ease, as they were now used to her new nightly ritual. She typically left for her runs after she and Gerald parted ways, but tonight was different in that she felt even more eager to master her abilities.
The sounds of her off-balance steps echoed in the empty corridors as she jogged lightly. Each time that her replacement limb hit the pavement, she felt as though she were going to topple over. Her heart leapt forward each time until she settled into the rhythm. It was the same each night: she would begin her run unsure and unbalanced, but eventually find her stride.
She passed the markets and the trading zones. Each place was empty, save for those of her caste moving waste from the area. They made no contact, thinking that she had abandoned them. She didn’t blame them. She could only hope that her actions, that her success would one day drive change. It was why she always pushed forward. Maybe in proving her own value, the value of others could be more easily discovered.
As she turned down a long hallway that led to the first living zone, she was surprised by an abrupt, heavy hit to the back of the head. Her body fell forward, propelled by her prosthetic leg.
The attacker was dressed all in black, their face covered by a mask. It was an eerie mask, reminiscent of a rabid dog guise some child might wear during those old harvest celebrations. Evie yelped as she hit the floor.
The suddenness of the attack threw her off her guard, but despite the hit she was able to spin around to grab the attacker.
The masked individual was fast and strong. Using what once was her dominant leg, she tried unsuccessfully to kick the attacker off.
A knife slashed back and forth. Evie fought furiously to parry each swipe, only to end up with a slice across her forearm and shoulder. She screamed, pulling one hand around to punch the attacker in the side of the head. The attacker grunted before rolling off to the side clutching their ear, the knife fell and skid away out of reach. Amateur, Evie found herself briefly thinking seeing the attacker lose their weapon. She focused though trying not to let her ego get in the way. Evie saw blood trickle from the between the person’s fingers. Earrings, Evie thought as she tried to stand. In the moment, her mind went immediately into patterns of training and instinct instead of considering her injury, and she lost her balance, falling down again.
The attacker saw this as an opportunity and lunged forward once more, pulling out the small club that was used to begin the attack, and swung a direct hit.
As she lost consciousness, Evie heard the attacker hiss, “If you don’t stop, you pathetic pissant, next time we’ll kill you.”
Previous Episode: 5 – A Casual Meeting
Next Episode due May 18, 2015