This is chapter 19 of my novel, Foreign. I publish a new chapter each Friday at noon. If you have missed any previous chapters, you check out the archives by clicking here. Subscribe to my blog and you’ll get each next chapter right in your inbox every Friday. Don’t forget to spread the word by liking the page post once you’ve finished it. Enjoy!
“Dude! I can’t believe you just punched through that wall! That was so sweet! How did you know you could do that?” Mark was blown away.
Justin’s answer was short. “I figured the metal in our suits was better than the metal in the wall.”
The utility room was pitch black with just a portion of the dim light from outside pouring in through the hole. What they couldn’t see, they certainly could smell. Their Tielsuits must have been equipped with an air filter because after a few breaths the smell instantly vanished.
Justin swore. “I can’t see a thing in here.”
“These suits must have flashlights.” Mark noted. Above both of their visors a solid white beam emerged, following their line of sight.
The room took shape before their eyes. It didn’t fill the entire width of the wall. It fact, it was no more than a forty foot cube. The room was filled with sixteen pipes that came down from the ceiling and continued down through the floor. Each pipe looked to be four feet in diameter.
Mark walked up to the closest pipe and touched it. He could feel a strong vibration in the pipe. The pipe to his right was also vibrating the same way, but the pipe to his left was still. Right before he removed his hand from the left pipe it was flooded with an intense vibration and the first pipe he touched went still.
Perplexed, Mark walked among all sixteen of the pipes and found that most were active, but some would cease for a short time before resuming. The back of the room was just the same as every other side. In all, the room was featureless save for the pipes in the middle.
“Well, what now? You were the one who wanted to come down here in the first place.” Mark said, exasperated. It wasn’t quite the surefire escape route they had hoped to find, but then again, they had no idea what they would encounter.
“I’m thinking,” was the only response Justin gave.
Their hopes of immanent escape were vanishing before Mark’s eyes while Justin was just standing there, silent.
After waiting until it was awkward, Justin finally spoke up.
“So here’s the plan. These sewage lines all go inactive at times to ensure that they don’t get clogged. Whenever there’s a steady load coming, I think somewhere above us the sewage gets steadily dispersed to many different pipes. I think these sixteen pipes here are one room in hundreds of thousands like this all around the city. As I’ve been timing the pipes, looking for a pattern, I’ve noticed the back left pipe hasn’t had any activity at all. I think it’s clogged already. I also think that there are so many of these pipes everywhere that once one gets clogged they just don’t use it for a while until everything inside decays. So I think we can open that pipe and crawl into it to find a way out of here.”
“What?” Mark was dumbfounded. “How do you know all this?”
“I figured it all out with my suit right now.”
“How? I didn’t hear you talking to it?”
“You don’t have to talk out loud to your suit. There’s a whole operating system that you can access in your own visor. Ask Corti if you don’t believe me.”
“Forget about that for a second. You’re telling me that we are about to rip open a pipe that’s probably clogged with rotting crap, jump inside, and just go along for the ride?
“Unless you know of another way out of here.”
Justin had him at that. So far, it was sewer surfing or sticking around Upper Tielmetra, trying not to die, which had already proven to be difficult.
“What if the clog is right here and we open a pipe filled with shit?” Mark didn’t buy it.
“Our suits have an internal air supply that lasts up to ten minutes. That should be enough that we can get through any blockage.” Justin said.
Mark had to point out, “You realize by ‘blockage,’ you mean the poop of hundreds of people that’s just been sitting in a rotten pipe for days, right?”
“I can’t believe I’m saying yes to this…”
“Good. This is our only way out. Over here. This is our pipeline to freedom. And for the record, just because I’m talking to you does not mean that I’ve gotten over what happened earlier.”
Wonderful. I’m about to swim in crap and he’s still mad at me…
“These pipes feel weaker than the wall be came through to get in here, so I think we can punch into this and rip it open.” Justin explained.
“So should we just go for it?” Mark asked, not wanting to know the answer.
“Sure.” Justin slammed his fist into the pipe. It went straight in. There was an awful suction noise as Justin’s slimy arm came back out. A putrid, black ooze trickled down the side of the pipe from the hole.
Mark almost got sick inside his suit even with the air filter turned on. Simply the thought of what he was about to do was revolting.
“Dig in,” Justin said, half kidding, as he punched another fist into the pipe. “We need to make holes big enough for us to crawl into.”
Reluctantly, Mark followed suit and punched a hole into the pipe. He was surprised had how easy it was to pierce a thick metal pipe like this. His Tielsuit never ceased to amaze him.
After a few minutes of ripping away the piping, there finally was a hole that could fit them one at a time. The inside of the pipe was clearly clogged. The sludge retained most of its shape even with the side of the pipe removed.
“Ready?” Justin asked Mark.
“As ready as I’ll ever be…”
Justin hoisted Mark into the tube of sludge, face-first.
This is completely insane.
Mark wriggled his body so he could slide downward, further into the pipe in order to make room for Justin. He couldn’t see a thing, but he trusted that he couldn’t go too far due to the size of the pipe.
With Mark completely in the pipe, Justin climbed in after him. Between Mark’s wriggling and Justin’s squirming to get fully in the pipe, they created enough movement to loosen up some of the blockage. Mark felt a churning behind his feet. He laid as still as possible in the pipe, waiting for Justin to get all the way in.
As he lay vertically in the pipe, his own weight started to pull him down, further through the sludge. His movement created a vacuum where he had been waiting. The extra pressure pulled Justin all the way in the pipe along with more sewage. The onslaught of Justin’s added weight and the moving sewage with him was enough to get the whole plug moving.
Mark tried to grab the sides of the pipe before the surge of sewage was going to build up, but he couldn’t gain any traction. There was simply nothing to grab. He kept sliding down further which continued the chain reaction above.
Before they knew it, both Mark and Justin were flowing down the pipe with the unclogged blockage. They were at the mercy of plumbing, flowing wherever the pipe would lead.
Mark felt almost like he was riding a water slide, only, he didn’t know where it would lead and he wished he was actually sliding in water. His visor light shone down the pipe into a black abyss that revealed nothing. The sewage broke up as they gained speed so that it changed in consistency from sludge to more liquid.
“You still back there?” Mark managed to cry out through his suit. He wasn’t sure if the sound was able to travel through all the muck. Justin’s lack of response answered the question. He could only hope Justin hadn’t gotten stuck somehow above him. Otherwise he’d be in this mess alone.
Before long, Mark felt a thud as he slammed his side against the pipe. It was turning, and his body didn’t handle the turn well. The impact knocked him 180 degrees around. The sensation of falling headfirst and upside down disoriented him, and he struggled to right himself, but the surge of sewage combined with his momentum was too strong to fight.
Washed in the new direction, he thought he could see a hint of light reflecting on the wall of the pipe above his head, but he wrote it off, thinking it was his visor light. The light brightened as the flush kept carrying him. Though he couldn’t see its source, the light became exceedingly bright, engulfing the darkness in pink, yellow, and orange hues. Mark could see the foul color of the sewage in the new light as it raged around him. A growing fear mounted within him as the light increased. What would he find at this source of light? What might find him?
His fear was beat out of him when his head rapped on a hard surface. His body instantly stopped flowing down the pipe while all the fluid gushed past him. The pressure brought his body in close to him and pressed him against the wall. His body in a backward somersault position, pressed against the wall, he strained to roll over and gain control of himself. His efforts came to no avail because he felt another body collide with him, contorting his body further.
Justin wasn’t alone, though. He was riding on the full pressure of the pipe as it was completely unblocked. The wave of pressure kept them pinned against the barrier and completely submerged.
Is there another clog?
The liquid kept flowing after the pipe was totally filled. The flowing sewage did not relent. It created a magnificent force that neither Mark nor Justin could counteract. Feeling powerless and claustrophobic, it was easy to get in a panic.
What if this pressure never stops? Am I going to drown in liquid shit?
A minute of this passed by and finally they could feel the pressure relent. After it had sufficiently diminished, Mark and Justin fell away from the barrier and onto the bottom of the pipe. They got resituated to see what was going on around them.
The pipe was just wide enough for them to crouch inside of it. On their feet, they could finally see what the source of light had been. What they saw was the absolute last thing they would have imagined.
Mark and Justin crouched in the pipe with their arms holding steel bars that formed a grid, preventing them from exiting the sewage pipe and plummeting a few miles into a snow field far below. They looked straight out ahead and saw a gorgeous, although unfamiliar, mountain range silhouetted by a sunrise. It was a sunrise unlike anything they had ever experienced.
“Dude! There’s two suns!” Justin burst out, “Like, two, real, independent suns, rising above the mountains at the same time, right next to each other! It’s like Star Wars, but real!”
Mark was speechless. It was such a simple thing, but he just couldn’t wrap his mind around it. After one yellow disc had risen in the sky, another shortly followed it. Both looked just like the sun he knew, but each was smaller than the star he had always called the sun. They both appeared to be about the same same size, although the lower one had a slight reddish tint to it. That could have been just because it was closer to the horizon, still.
Most of the mountains were at their level or shorter, but some rose even higher. Directly beneath them, as best they could tell, the outer wall of the city flanged out like a giant cone. There were no entrances or exits so far as they could tell. It was a flat, featureless wall, except that it was peppered with dark dots that had long, dark streaks that ran down from them. Beyond the base of the city there was a massive snowfield. The snowfield fed into a tiny river that cut into the snow and ice.
“What do we do now?” Mark asked, high winds howling past them, obscuring his voice. The enormity of this foreign world had already been difficult to grasp inside Tielmetra, but this was a whole new perspective. There was an entire uncharted world outside this city: craggy mountains looking so untamed and harsh, fierce wind howling around them, while the ground looked impossibly far away. Tielmetra, as behemoth as it was, was the only piece of civilization for as far as they could see.
What are we doing here? What can we possibly hope to accomplish?
The gaps in the bars were just enough to squeeze a head through. Mark felt his stomach tense and his hands clam up inside his suit as he looked directly down, with the only thing separating him from death being a few metal bars. With the increased visibility, he was able to glance up and see how high up Tielmetra went. In the dawn light, it was impossible to tell exactly how high up the city reached. But Mark could tell that the top was miles above them. Nothing stood out against the sheer face of the city wall. It just looked like a flat surface that stretched to the limits of the troposphere.
“I can’t see anything of note out there,” Mark said as he brought his head back in through the grating. “You take a look.”
Justin complied. At first he didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary either.
“Dude, watch out!” was all that Mark was able to say before the next wave of sewage met them at full force. Justin didn’t have time to pull his head out so the liquid pressed his body against the pipes. Mark didn’t fare any better even with the extra warning. There simply was no traction so he was pressed against the grating too. They waited helplessly for another few minutes until the pressure finally subsided again.
“That’s it! Look!” Justin yelled out.
“What? Let me see!”
“I think its those heat vents for that ITOR thing,” Justin said. “I think they just opened up. And they don’t look too far down there.”
He came out and let Mark take a look.
“It’s kinda hard to see if you look at it straight down, but if you look down and to the side, where you can start to see the wall curve a bit, you’ll see a little out cropping. Once you catch that, follow it with your eye until you get directly beneath us. Then you’ll notice it.” Justin explained.
“Ok. Um. I think I… Oh! There it is! Ok. I’m following it around. Dang! That’s small down there. How far down do you think it is?”
“I’ve got no clue. We don’t know how big it is so it’s hard to tell. Could be small and close or big and far. Either option sucks.”
Mark agreed. “Yeah. I can’t really make out any detail on it. I wonder why I didn’t see it when I was looking a minute ago.”
“Don’t know,” Justin said, “Maybe it just opened up?”
“But shouldn’t another one have been out before this one, then?”
“Ya. I think that’s what that computer told us. I don’t know then. Aw shit. Here comes another wave.” The liquid rushed in and pushed Justin into Mark who was just able to pull his head out before the wave hit. Similar to the last wave, they waited, unable to fight against the excessive pressure. Once it died down, Mark stuck his head back out through the grating to watch where the liquid fell. It really threw him off. The liquid went out much further from the wall than he would have expected.
“Dude, come look at this. That crap really flies far out into the air.” Mark moved to allow Justin to look.
“Humph. Maybe it’s just going really fast?”
“I dunno, man. Even still, that crap is way out there, and it didn’t look like it was falling that slowly. In fact, some of it got caught up in the wind and just blew away, almost like a cloud of crap or something. It’s really weird.”
His mind began to race. “Holy shit! I think this place has low gravity!”
“What?” Justin didn’t follow.
“Think about it! Everybody around here has the body of like a teenager.”
“Ya? So. What does that have to do with gravity?”
“When you are in space a long time, your muscles start to get smaller if you don’t exercise them right. These people have never had to move in as much gravity as us, so their muscles aren’t as big as ours. Maybe after a ton of time, their bones never develop like ours either. Or think about those crazy bugs! They looked just like bigger versions of preying mantises we have back home. Maybe that’s because they can actually grow that large here because of the lower gravity.”
“How does that make sense? You just said the people were smaller because of the low gravity. How could bugs be bigger?” Justin was really confused.
“I think it could probably go both ways. I’ve always heard that Godzilla movies are fake because Godzilla would crush himself. His body would weigh too much to be supported by his bones and muscles. But maybe here, creatures that were limited in size in Earth can be much larger and still support themselves.”
Justin still wasn’t buying it. “I dunno. That seems a little far fetched.”
“Is it, though? Why else would we be so much stronger than everybody? Do you really think you’re such a badass that you could beat up those guards so effortlessly? I mean, you destroyed those guys. You like, bashed their faces in. That’s gotta be because we’re used to moving in Earth’s gravity. Why does this place have to have the same gravity as Earth?”
“I guess I just assumed it did because there was air like earth and everything else looked similar.”
“Man, I could go on and on. How else could they build a city so tall? Most of these buildings are like miles tall. That sort of thing is impossible on Earth. Or think about that forest we just went through and how giant those trees were. They looked just like trees we have, but some were enormous.”
Before Justin had a chance to offer a response, another wave of liquid hit them.
Dammit! I’m getting sick of this crap.
Right before the pressure let up, Mark noticed a flashing light in the bottom of his visor. Corti told him that there were only 2 minutes left of his internal air supply. It would need at least 20 minutes to refill.
“Is your air running out too?” he asked Justin as the sewage was gone.
“Yeah. So what if your theory is right. How does that help us now? If we don’t get out of this shithole soon we’ll drown in it.”
Mark thought for a moment. “Well, if there really is lower gravity, I guess we might be able to try jumping down to those vents beneath us.”
“Are you serious? That’s practically suicide.” Justin was incredulous.
“So is staying here. I’d rather die out there than in a sewer pipe, surrounded in other people’s pee and crap. I think we could probably break through these steel rods and hang down from them like a ladder, and then just let go. If that vent really does go around the whole city, we should just fall right into the opening.”
“You got balls. That’s for sure. It sounds like an idea I’d have, not you,” Justin said.
“Ya, well, I suppose we don’t have much of a choice. Let’s start working on these rods before more crap comes. If we can kick out the bottom of the vertical bars then we should be able to slip out the bottom while still holding onto the higher vertical ones. We don’t have much time, though.” Mark sat on the bottom of the pipe, held the bars in the mid section, and started kicking the vertical bars where they joined with the pipe.
After the first few kicks Marks plan didn’t seem promising. Justin got down next to him and kicked the same bars. With their kicks in unison, they felt the first bar give a little. The sign of progress was enough to keep them from abandoning their efforts. Working together, they timed their kicks so they might deliver the most possible force with each blow, hoping to break the first rod free from the base of the tube.
Thirty seconds passed until it finally broke free. Mark counted the vertical rods. They had six more. At their pace, the next wave of sewage would probably come back before they finished. They wouldn’t have enough oxygen.
“We’ve gotta go faster! We only have one shot at this or we’re dead!” Mark yelled.
Justin continued to time his kicks with Mark, and they got into a better routine. The next rod took maybe twenty seconds. Another minute passed; they had done five of the seven rods. While they were working on the fifth rod, the next wave of sewage collided with them. Their grip on the rods helped keep them from getting too knocked around, but they found it near impossible to effectively kick while under the pressure of the fluid.
Mark’s visor indicator flashed again. One minute of air remained. They still hadn’t gotten the sixth rod free. It was much harder to coordinate their kicks with the chaos of the sewage around them. They finally broke the sixth rod. Just one more to go, but Mark didn’t think they’d break it before they ran out of air. He kept kicking. The flashing indicator on his visor flashed faster and faster until it was almost constant. The harder Mark tried to break free, the more air he used. Before he knew it, the indicator ceased flashing and he heard a beep, but he kept kicking while suffocating on his own carbon dioxide.
The rod was coming loose, but still not fast enough. Mark wasn’t sure how long it would take before he’d start to notice the lack of oxygen. With one final blow of desperation, Justin kicked through the last vertical rod. Hope sparked inside Mark as he tried to pull the free rods apart, but his hope quickly flagged when he realized that the vertical rods were connected the horizontal ones. They would have to break free some of the lower horizontal ones before the whole grating would be flexible enough to let them through it.
But then the pressure of the liquid began to subside. Soon they were breathing air instead of their own carbon dioxide.
Justin spoke with determination, “If we break off these bottom two rungs on each side, this whole bottom half of the grid will be free and we should be able to push it out enough to slip through. But this is our last chance. We won’t have any air once that sewage comes through.”
“Then let’s get to it,” Mark said.
They went at each of the four joints with a renewed fervor as the end was in site. It seemed that luck was with them because they broke through the last joint and the next wave still hadn’t come yet. With the entire bottom half broken free, they were able to kick at the grating and it gradually bent out from the wall. The rods bent much easier than they had separated, so it only took a few kicks.
Mark was the first to climb out of the pipe. He got on his stomach and lowered his feet out the hole. It was an odd feeling, his feet lowering into absolute nothingness, with the ground thousands of feet below. He couldn’t believe he was actually doing this, but he had already done many things he never imagined he’d ever do. As his torso neared the edge to the pipe, he reached up and behind to grab a hold of the grating. He kept going, so that this whole body was outside of the pipe, dangling from the pipes he was holding.
Fully outside of the city wall, Mark found that the wind was much stronger than he had anticipated. Justin was getting in position to lower himself out, too, but Mark wasn’t really paying attention to him. He was looking up at an unending wall. He didn’t dare look down or even from side to side because he was afraid to know how high they really were. Buffeted by the strong winds, he struggled to keep his grip as he also struggled to find the logic in his escape plan.
Justin had completely lowered himself so that he was dangling next to Mark.
“Are you sure about this? We can just let go?” Justin yelled, barely loud enough to be heard in the heavy winds.
“Of course I’m not sure. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, though.” Mark replied.
“Shit, man! What now then?”
Mark looked straight ahead and saw the next incoming wave of sewage. “Let go!”
“Just let go! Now!” Just before the wall of fluid flushed him into oblivion, Mark let go of the rod. His stomach floated into his chest and air whirred around him as the pipe ascended away from him. The once empty hole vomited a jet of dark sewage that splashed into a misty cloud of filth beyond.
For chapter 20, click here.