This is chapter 18 of my novel, Foreign. I release a new chapter each Friday at noon. If you want to stay current, subscribe to my blog and you’ll get each new chapter sent right to your inbox. If you’ve missed a week, you can check out the archives by clicking here. Don’t forget to spread the word!
“I’m not sure how much more of this I can take,” Mark confessed to Justin as they sat in the small TMT. “I thought they were gonna catch us for sure back there.”
“Yeah. I know what you mean. I’m super hungry and we’ve been running throughout the entire city.” Justin agreed.
“I mean, just like twenty minutes ago we were crawling out of a flaming car, and now we’re using public transit like nothing happened at all. We’ve got to figure out how to find a way to Lower Tielmetra. We can’t stay out here forever,” Mark lamented.
They had no sense of how far the Routing Station for Industrial Park was from where they had entered. The smaller TMT they had entered was more like a local bus making frequent stops along a route than the larger one they had ridden earlier. It filled up quickly as it meandered through the various districts, stopping at major production plants like the Tieladium plant they had left.
By and large, the Industrial Park was the underbelly of Upper Tielmetra. Since they weren’t stuck in a falling car this time, they were actually able to look out the window more freely. There was none of the glitz and glamor of the Commercial Loop, or even the subtle elegance of various sectors in the Domicile Square, and certainly none of the pomp and circumstance of the Imperial Plaza. From the sheer size of the countless buildings, Mark estimated that most of the population of Upper Tielmetra actually worked down here in the Industrial Park.
The TMT came into a clearing while descending to the bottom of the area. Mark and Justin could see the routing station and its resemblance to the others. To Mark’s surprise, the Routing Station was actually located in the middle of a large park. It had to be bigger than Central Park, by the look of it. As they drew closer to the Routing Station, it became clear that Industrial Park was indeed, much bigger than Central Park. In fact, even the trees were significantly larger than what Mark had expected. All the proportions appeared normal, but there were oak trees that loomed at least one hundred feet above the roof of the routing station. This was a park beyond anything Mark or Justin had ever seen. They were eager to get out of the TMT and see it.
Inside the Routing Station Terminal, the smaller TMT had unloaded them in a place that was different from what they were used to. While people went about their business all around them, Mark asked Corti a few questions.
“Are we actually on the ground level of Upper Tielmetra?”
“Yes. Of course.”
Jeez The computer doesn’t have to make me feel dumb…
“Ok. How far are we from the perimeter of the city now?”
“You are 4.2 miles from the inner side of the wall.”
“What’s the fastest way there? Can we take a TMT to closer point?”
“There are TMT’s that will take you closer to the edge of the city, but none of them stop anywhere on the ground floor like the Routing Station. The most direct way to the edge of the city is through Industrial Park.”
Justin had made up his mind. “Let’s just do it and get it over with.”
“Corti, are there any Tielguards that patrol the area or any checkpoints that we’d have to go through?”
“Other than the standard public property deployment of 2 Tielguards per cubic Zic, no.”
Mark had one last question. “What would draw more attention to us? Walking along the main pathways or blazing a trail though the trees?”
Corti said, “Generally speaking, the Industrial Park is one of the least crowded sectors in all of Upper Tielmetra. Tielguards don’t pay much attention what occurs here unless it is reported by somebody else.”
Mark finally felt sure enough to concur with Justin. “Alright. We’ll go through the park. Corti, lead the way.”
They exited the routing station, walking down a path to their right, toward the eastern end of the city. Many people were near the vicinity of the routing station, but for Tielmetran standards it felt deserted. Most of the groups of people faded away as Mark and Justin walked further into the park.
Strolling down one of the larger trails, it was difficult to not feel insignificant in the presence of such large trees. Growing up in Washington, Mark had seen many tall trees. He remembered a trip his family took to see the Redwoods. He had also seen the Great Sequoias in Eastern California. But these trees were entirely different. None of them were conifers, but they were all taller than the largest coniferous trees he had ever seen. These had the same proportions of most deciduous trees of the Mid West, but they were simply massive. Some had leaves that he could have hidden his body behind. Trees with a 200 foot circumference were commonplace.
Yet, even as he marveled at the enormity of the flora, Mark found that he cared more about the thoughts of his family. While walking through the park, he had the first opportunity to slow his thoughts down. He imagined what his mom was doing. If it were during the day, she might be in a counseling appointment with a client, or maybe she would be gardening with his dad if it were still warm enough on a Saturday afternoon. His older sister, Mary, was probably studying no matter what time it was. She never really did anything because she had to take the BAR soon. His thoughts shifted to Tamara. They hadn’t spoken more than a few words to each other over the past few weeks.
Would she even notice that I’m gone?
Mark got anxious as he thought that maybe his family wasn’t doing anything he had imagined because they were all so worried about what had happened to him.
“Do you think anybody knows we’re missing?” he blurted out.
“Huh?” Justin had been walking silently, deep in thought himself.
“Back home,” Mark clarified, “Do you think anybody there knows we aren’t there?
“I dunno. I think part of that depends on how long we’ve been gone. I mean, it’s been pretty tough to keep track of time out here. It felt like we spent a few days trapped in that prison place, but other than that, it’s hard to tell. It’s been dark above us ever since we left Imperial Plaza.”
“Yeah. A lot of crazy stuff has happened, but it couldn’t have been that long ago, could it?” Mark asked.
“Beats me. On top of that, I’m still trying to sort out what happened when we were brought here.” Justin continued.
Mark picked it up, “One minute we were fighting about Heidi dumping you and then I saw white flash that pretty much sucked me into it, just like the ones we’ve used here a few times, only that first one was way more painful and disorienting. And we lost all our stuff.”
“Oh God, Heidi. I hadn’t even thought about her,” Justin realized.
A knot twisted inside Mark’s gut.
I really need to tell him. I’ve let it go on for long enough. There won’t be a better time.
Justin went on, “I still can’t believe that she cheated on me for that asshole. I could see us together for a long time. I… I think I loved her.”
I’ve just gotta say it.
There. I said it. No going bake now.
“What the crap?” Justin stopped walking and faced Mark.
“I’m sorry man. I saw it happen. They killed her. I couldn’t do anything, I swear. I tried everything imaginable to save her. You have no idea how mad it made me. I swear it.”
“What in God’s name are you talking about? How the Hell could she be here and why didn’t you say anything sooner?”
“She’s dead, man. I was trying to survive, just like you. I was waiting for the right time to tell you because I knew it would make you upset.”
Justin grabbed Mark by the shoulders and shoved him down onto the ground. “Damn right I’m upset, you bastard! Maybe if you told me earlier I could have done something to help her.”
Still lying on the ground, Mark looked up at Justin. “No. You couldn’t have. They killed her right before my eyes. They brought me into some kind of twisted observation room and like locked me in a chair. Any time I struggled they shot some poison up my arm through that thing you took out. While I sat in that chair, they made me watch one of the those jungle scenes with those giant bugs. They threw her in there with them and those assholes made me watch their pet insects tear her to pieces.”
“Shut up. Just shut up.”
“It’s true, man! Why would I make this up?”
“I don’t know,” Justin said, repeatedly shaking his head. “How could it have been her? We were the only two people in our apartment. We were the only ones they took.”
“We don’t know that. They had a crapload of people in that place. After all, that took that guy, Barry, too. And she was with us then. Maybe when they took him, they had to take all of us, too? I dunno, man. It’s all messed up. I just know that I totally saw her. I’ll never forget it. She didn’t have any hair like us, but it was her. With her same hot eyes that she always had. I could recognize her voice as she screamed.”
“Shut. The. Hell. Up. Now. I mean it.” Justin said in a flat voice, trying very hard to keep it together.
“Ok. I’ll stop talking. Just know that it wasn’t my fault!” Mark pleaded.
“What part of ‘shut up’ don’t you understand?” With that he turned and stormed off.
Terrified of being left at the bottom of the metropolis, Mark quickly got to his feet and scurried after Justin, but decided it might be best to give him some space.
That could have gone better.
For the remainder of the trip through the park, Justin didn’t say a word to Mark. Mark was glad for it to some extent. He didn’t particularly enjoy being chewed out for things he couldn’t prevent. While they walked, Mark kept mulling over the conversation, wondering if he really should have told Justin about Heidi. But he would’ve had to eventually. And it never would have been easy. Sooner or later, Justin would have found out and if he discovered that Mark had known, it would have been far worse than it had just been.
From time to time Corti, gave Mark various directions through the forest, and Mark assumed that Corti was telling Justin the same directions because they continued onward in silence. During the silence, Mark mulled over what Justin had said. Aside from the storm of swearwords, he couldn’t answer Justin’s main question: “How would they have gotten Heidi too?” She wasn’t with them that night. Even more troubling, why would they take Heidi? What was the connection they had with her and with Barry? And how was Barry not dead? Justin had stabbed him on that terrible night, but there he was, fighting those bugs as if nothing had ever happened. And Justin was in the same group? How had they not killed each other?
Their altercation aside, Justin and Mark had an uneventful walk through the eastern half of Industrial Park. It would have been a gorgeous place if they had been there under different circumstances. Mark daydreamed about what it might be like to take Tamara on a date through the forest, assuming that he’d ever muster the courage to actually have a conversation with her. They could have a picnic in one of the grassy meadows and walk between the trees during the twilight hours of the day, watching the sun rays flicker in between the large leaves. Wait, there’s no sun down here! Even still, it would have been perfect, but Mark doubted he’d ever be able to go on a date with Tamara, or anybody else for that matter. Assuming he ever made it back home, how would he explain what he’d seen? Would he tell people about it and accept the risk of having people think he was weird, or would he just try to keep it all inside? A large part of that decision rested on what Justin would want to do, as well. They’d have to decide what to tell and to whom. That also seemed like a distant possibility at the current moment.
After what must have been two hours of walking outside the Routing Station, Mark could barely see a dark grey, matted surface beyond the brush in the distance. He became more sure that it was the wall with each step they took. It amazed him that he hadn’t been able to see it any earlier. It was massive and it rose far above him. The low light conditions had made it difficult to see very far.
They walked up to the wall, a few minutes later. It was jarring to see a giant metal wall in the middle of such beautiful scenery. The wall was so big that Mark couldn’t perceive any curvature when he looked to the left or to the right. This city truly was huge.
“Looks like we finally made it. Now we just have to figure out where to go from here.” Mark said.
Justin didn’t respond.
The silence made Mark uncomfortable, but he didn’t know what else to say or do, and he certainly wasn’t going to apologize for something that wasn’t his fault. That much he had decided during their walk in silence.
Mark examined the surface up close for any clues about how to proceed. As far as he could tell, it was one seamless surface that extended for thousands of feet in all directions. But he know that just because a wall had no seams that didn’t mean that there was no way through it. He had already see far too many doors that seemed to just appear from a wall.
Mark switched his visor to its infrared filter while Justin just sat against a tree, in his own world of angst. Most of what he saw around him registered as a navy blue, some things were black, and some were a bit lighter blue. Over all, mostly everything was cold. He panned over to Justin who registered more as a reddish orange. Directly in front of Mark the wall appeared as a solid black.
Nothing of interest there.
He looked in various directions on the wall and some spots showed up as a dark blue, but he couldn’t find any discernible pattern. He asked Corti how thick the outer wall was. She told him that she had downloaded the schematic information they had requested while in the Imperial Hall of Records.
“In order to maintain structural integrity, the perimeter wall of Tielmetra is at least 200 feet thick, using your standard units of measurement. However, it is not solid in all places. For example, power, which is supplied in Lower Tielmetra, needs to run to all of the city. Some of it is carried through large wires in the wall. Also, as you noted earlier, since Lower Tielmetra processes all waste within the city, there are waste management lines that down into the base of the city,” Corti explained further.
“Great. So how do we find those places and get inside them?”
“I’m afraid I can’t completely answer your questions. According to the data you retrieved, most of the wall has periodic hollow spaces for the aforementioned utilities. These utility spaces are big enough for people to fit inside them, though people are almost never inside them. They are located all over the city wall without any external identifying marks, in no apparent organization. I believe they were placed in their particular locations in order to best meet the particular needs they were intended to serve.”
“Ok. A few more questions: How thick is the interior wall in these hollowed out spaces?”
“So you’re saying that in some parts of this giant wall there’s empty space only 1.2 inches away?”
“Oh, Corti! I love you! One more question. “Would there be any reason for these utility rooms to be warmer than the rest of the wall?”
“That would depend. If there were sewage traveling through pipes, it’s possible that the sewage could be warmer than the wall. The overall temperature of the wall is generally cooler than the rest of Tielmetra due to the extremely cold temperatures and constant wind outside the wall.”
Mark scanned the wall again using his infrared filter. Just like before, most of the wall was black but there were some occasional patches of blue.
Could those be utility rooms?
The closest blue patch was up to his left, about forty feet away. He switched to his regular vision and looked around.
Yes! You’ve got to be kidding me!
Right in front of the thinner part of the wall there was a huge poplar tree. It couldn’t have been a more perfect ladder. Walking over to it, he surveyed the general area, making sure that nobody else was close by. He began to climb up its straight, oversized trunk, using the branches like rungs on a ladder. After climbing roughly twenty feet up he turned on his infrared filter again. Looking through the black branches and leaves he could see patches of dark blue on the wall.
He switched off the infrared and yelled down to Justin. “Dude! Come on up here. I think we might be close to finding a way out.”
Without speaking, Justin perfunctorily approached the tree and climbed in, joining Mark twenty feet up.
Justin said one thing. “Let me be clear. If we get out of this slimy shithole, we will find a way to come back so I can slaughter those people who killed her.”
Shocked, all Mark could do was say, “Uh. Ok?”
Justin was silent again.
He’s flipped out!
Mark shimmied around the trunk so that he was standing right in front of the wall, supported by branches above and beneath him. “So this wall right here is only a tenth of a foot thick. On the other side of it is a utility room of sorts. It think it might have some of those pipes that connect part of the sewage system, which must drain out somewhere. We just have to figure out a way to get through this wall.”
His plan didn’t sound as hopeless in his head. How would they break through over an inch of metal while twenty feet up in a tree?
“Corti, what’s the wall made out of?”
“Most objects are made of Tieladium.”
“Is that a strong metal?”
“It’s the strongest metal we have, especially since we started mining it from the Monten Tal Tiel in the last 200 years. We use Tieladium for just about everything.”
“How old is this wall?
“Construction of Tielmetra began 397 years ago.”
“So this isn’t the strongest type of the metal?”
With one arm holding himself in the tree, Justin swung his arm as hard as possible straight the wall. His fist went clear through, like it was tin foil. As he retracted his hand he peeled the metal back. The the hole was big enough to fit both sets of fingers in it, he peeled it wide open. After a few minutes of manipulating the metal, Mark and Justin stood in front of a hole in the wall of Tielmetra that they could fit through. Without looking back, they climbed through.
For chapter 19, click here.