This is chapter 24 of my novel, Foreign, I publish a new chapter each week at noon(ish) on Friday. If you want to catch up on previous chapters, check out the archives here. Make sure to subscribe to my blog so you’ll get each new chapter right when it comes out. And spread the word if you like what you’re reading.
“Wait. What?” Mark couldn’t believe what he had heard.
“I think your people are still alive. I don’t know how many by now, or if they’ve stayed in the same place. But I want you to find out.” Hauzel explained.
Justin sputtered, “But we wouldn’t even know where to look.”
“I do.” Hauzel said, directing their attention to the map. “Look here. Tielmetra is seated in the heart of the Monten Tal Tiel where the Tielrina runs down from Tielmonta over here.”
“In the heart of the what? By the what? Down from the what?” Justin asked.
Trying to conceal his frustration, Hauzel explained, “Tielmetra sits in a valley where the Zella River forks off from the Tielrina, the biggest river in Tiellandra. Fortunately, it’s not as big all the way up here, in the Monten Tal Tiel, Tiellandra’s largest mountain range. We’re also about 1800 zics south of Tielmonta, the tallest mountain in the world.”
He pointed all of these features out on the map before them. “As I was saying, Tielmetra is in this valley where the rivers split. If you follow the Tielrina to the South, you’ll descend the mountains alongside the river. It’s the safest bet to navigating your way out of the mountains into a more hospitable environment where you’ll be more likely to survive. It’s also the direction that all the others of your kind followed.”
“What else is that direction?” Mark asked.
“I’m not certain. Roughly 500 zics down the Tielrina is the Kouzner Waterfall. My father had always told me about a military research station that was there in the free days. I am not sure how he knew of it. But we’ve sent people in that direction as it’s their best chance of discovering something helpful.”
“What do you mean? Helpful in what way?” Justin wondered aloud.
“Helpful in that it might provide some tool to resist or even fight against the bastard topsiders.” Hauzel remarked.
“If they found something, wouldn’t you know about it by now? Wouldn’t they have tried to use it?” Mark questioned.
“That’s been my fear as well,” he confirmed. “As I had said, I’d given up all hope until I saw you two. But unless you want to spend the rest of your lives here in Old Tiellandra, doing the shit work that the topsiders don’t want to do, never feeling the warmth of Castor and Pollux shining on your skin, never seeing the snow on the Monten Tal Tiel reflect their light, getting to that waterfall is your best hope.
“How can you be certain?” Mark asked.
“I’m not,” Hauzel replied. “It is simply the direction I told everybody else to go. However, once people leave the perimeter of Tielmetra, we lose all communication. So I have no idea if anybody has actually followed through with my directions.”
“We’ll find out, I guess.” Justin shrugged.
“I hope so. For your sake.”
Mark asked Hauzel, “So how soon can we leave Old Tiellandra and begin our search?”
“It isn’t that simple. People don’t just leave Old Tiellandra. There’s no official way in or out of the city. If you’re born in Old Tiellandra, you die here.”
“Then how did everybody else leave?” Justin asked.
“The only thing that leaves Old Tiellandra is the trash. Everything else is recycled. Those who’ve gone before you went out with the trash. I would be dishonest if I told you the process were without risk.”
“Has anybody died trying to escape this way?” said Mark.
“I do not know, as we lose contact with everybody once they reach a certain range from our communication receivers. After that point, I am not certain of anybody’s success. But I do know that the potential for death remains significant.”
Mark was confused, “So you mean to tell me that you have flying cars, giant buildings that tower miles high, can recycle everything you use, but you can’t communicate with people outside the walls of this place?”
“That is correct. Think about it. All of Tielmetra was built with the sole purpose of keeping the rest of the world out. The entire city is covered by a shield. It reflects all waves on the electromagnetic spectrum. No sound waves, no radio waves, or light can penetrate it. Additionally, the shield blocks all forms of radiation. Not even the latest types of weapons cannot damage the exterior. So once you are outside of that shield, there’s no way to communicate with anybody on the inside.”
“How do people cross through the shield, then?” Mark asked.
“I’m not sure, but I do have some theories. Which is why the two of you will need to prepare for your journey. You have a little more than five remaining shifts until you should leave. The sooner you can leave, the better your odds of survival will be. Days are getting shorter and the air is getting colder each day. You should be prepared to leave in the middle of the second shift so that by the time you get out of the city wall, the first sun will be rising. This will give you the maximum amount of time to find shelter in the daylight.”
“Until then, you both need to regain your strength. You need to sleep, eat well, and learn the most you can about Tiellandran geography and Zearythian physics. Meanwhile, I will work to make sure that you have all the supplies you need.”
Hauzel glanced at the display on the wall. “It’s almost half past third. Come back here at half past first and I should have gathered some of your supplies by then. Until then, I’ll have Deena take your measurements so we can tailer some winter clothes for you both.”
Deena shifted in her seat, excited about her new assignment.
“After that, you are both free to do as you like until we meet again. Just don’t do anything stupid.” Hauzel stood up. Clearly, the conversation was over.
“Understood,” Mark said. “And thanks for your help. I want to get home.”
“During our free time, where would you suggest we go?” Justin asked.
“I usually go to the roof when I need to get a good perspective. But it has been quite some time since I’ve gone up there,” Hauzel answered, looking past Justin, focused on something intangible. “Deena will see you both back to your quarters.”
After an awkward time of Deena taking (in Mark’s opinion, but not Justin’s) way too detailed measurements for their clothes, their dinner of nadelle felt even more awkward, and finally the third shift was over. Three more hours and it would be half past the first shift, time to meet with Hauzel again. Apparently, the Teillandrans lived on an eighteen hour cycle.That would take some getting used to. It was also strange that sleep was considered the middle of the day.
Zearyth must be smaller than Earth.
When Deena was finished cleaning up their meal (lunch?), Justin asked her if she could show them the rooftop. Her eyes grew wide, “Of course! Are you both ready now?”
“Sure,” Justin said.
She led them back to the elevator. Mark could feel her nervous energy as she pressed the buttons. “You know, I’ve never been up to the roof. He must really think you guys are special.”
“Really?” Justin asked.
“He’s never let anybody on the roof as long as I’ve worked for him. He’s never gone up there himself, either. It will be so great to get outside!”
Mark asked, “How often do you get to go outside?”
If only this girl knew what being outside were really like…
“It’s been seventeen days.”
Justin stole a glance at Mark.
“Seventeen days?” Mark repeated.
“Yes. I’ve been lucky recently. He sent me on an errand that took me outside of the compound.”
Mark glared at Justin, this time.
In what world is being stuck inside this place for seventeen days lucky?
Mark’s ears popped as the elevator door opened. Thick, rancid air rushed toward them. Distant sounds of urban activity come from some unseen place. The roof of Hauzel’s casino looked surprisingly similar to what Mark had imagined.
Deena was enraptured as they walked closer to the edge of the rooftop, and rightly so. Although the roof itself was ordinary, the view was like nothing Mark had ever seen. Hauzel’s casino was so tall that it rose above the thickest layers of smog. The skyline below him looked like the refinery scene of Terminator 2, but it extended for miles all around. Complex looking buildings, manufacturing who knew what, flames burning waste, raising to the sky. Only, there was no sky. Mark thought he could barely see the ceiling of the Pit, maybe a few thousand feet above them. The metallic surface, though covered in suit, reflected the city light from below.
Through what open space there was, three-dimensional grids of moving lights connected every building. Mark could only imagine how many people were traveling through all that traffic.
“Holy crap, dude! Come here!” Justin was standing against a railing on the edge of the roof, peering down. “You’ve got to see this.”
Reluctantly, Mark crept toward the edge of the massive building, feeling his toes tingle with nerves. The view looking over the edge of rail was staggering. “Dude, that must be close to a mile, straight down.” The illuminated letters on the front of the building must have been a thousand feet below them and close to a thousand feet tall themselves.
“Seriously, man,” Justin agreed.
Mark wondered aloud, “I wonder what Hauzel uses this whole building for. Surely it’s not all a casino. This place is massive.”
“I don’t know,” Deena confessed. “Isn’t this place incredible?”
“Yeah. Hey, do you know what those words on the front of the building say?” Mark asked.
“Yep. Everybody in Old Teillanda knows. They say, ‘Hauzel’s Haven.’”
“At least he’s modest,” Justin said.
Deena caught the sarcasm in Justin’s voice. “He’s a good man! And it’s true. People from all over Old Tiellandra come here. It’s the one place people can have a good time. People save all they have to come and experience a little joy.”
“And he conveniently gets rich providing his haven for people,” Mark quipped.
“He can’t just do it all for free!” she was getting defensive.
“Look, forget about it. I don’t wanna start an argument over it. This view is pretty incredible.” he tried to be placating.
“Oh Pollux! Why now?” Deena yelled out. “I’m sorry guys. I have to go. Hauzel just messaged me. He needs me for a bit. You can either stay up here until I come back or come down with me back to your quarters.”
“This sure beats our rooms,” Justin answered.
“Ok. I’ll be back as soon as I can,” she said.
“Take your time,” Mark said as she began to walk back toward the door. She looked hurt by his comment.
After it was clear that she had gone back inside, Mark looked over at Justin, the two of them leaning against the rail, looking out at the city. Breaking the silence, Mark asked, “So, you trust him?”
“What other choice do we have?” Justin replied.
“I suppose you’re right. I mean, he’s the best chance we have of getting home.”
“I just get a bad feeling about him, though. Like, are we his captives right now, or are we free to leave?”
“Does it matter?” Justin asked. “I mean look at this place. Can you believe it? We are standing on the rooftop of some guy’s casino, on a foreign planet. Who knows what’s waiting to be explored on the other side of these walls?”
“Yeah, but don’t you want to get home?”
“I guess. But, come on, this is amazing! Who knew that stuff like this actually existed? I mean, warring nations, secret human hideouts! This is like all of our favorite movies, but in real life!”
“Yeah, but,” Mark reflected, “It’s also like all of my nightmares, but in real life. Those people on the top side are terrible! I mean, they murdered Heidi! Not to mention tons of other people. And all so they can study us? I kind of just want to find some way to get the hell out of here and leave a bomb on the way out or something. I mean, look around us. There are like millions of people here, who’ve never seen the light of day. They’ve just living in their own filth. Breathing their own crap in one massive gas cloud. It looks like prison.”
“That’s just it! Imagine if how cool it would be if we found this human hideout, and helped Hauzel fight the people up top! We could change history here!”
“Or die. I mean, hasn’t Heidi’s death had any impact on you?”
“Of course it has, ass. And wouldn’t it be cool to make those bastards pay?”
Trying to make up his mind, Mark asked, “So we just do whatever this Hauzel guy asks us to do?”
“Well, for starters, just yesterday he was like a 400 pound pimp casino owner, wearing a loincloth thing and had naked women all around him-“
“My point is that today he’s like a totally different kind of guy. And he shared all that stuff with us. He doesn’t even know us. Why the sudden change?”
“You heard him. He said we’re the first to come through here in like ten years. Maybe we’re so badass that we’ve helping him clean up his act.”
“Or maybe he’s got some other plan,” Mark offered. “Maybe he’s working with the people up top and that’s why he’s so rich.”
“He’s rich because every guy who wants a piece of ass comes here and pays for it, not to mention all the other ways he makes money. It makes good sense.”
“Speaking of, you screwed Deena yet?”
“Are you just asking so you can judge me again?”
“That means ‘yes.’ Dude, didn’t Heidi mean anything to you?”
“Alright, three things we need to get straight: One, of course I cared about Heidi. But my feelings for her died when I found out she was givin’ it to that assface Frank, or whatever his name was. Two, yes, I banged Deena. I hardly had any choice in the matter. She was all over me. And three, the way I cope with my crap is my business. I don’t need your self-righteous judgments about everything I do.”
Mark softened his demeanor, “Look, I get it. It’s just that, I’ve been concerned. You haven’t been acting liking yourself lately.”
“Acting like myself?!?” Justin retorted. “We’ve been somehow taken to a foreign planet with all sorts of crazy shit going on, and you’re concerned that I haven’t been myself? Man, if screwing a hot alien chick is the only thing I’m doing, I think I’ll be ok.”
“Ok. I’ll drop it. By the way, though, how long do you think it’s been?”
“What do you mean?”
“How long do you think we’ve been here? You think time is the same here as back home?”
“I dunno,” Justin offered.
“Like, if we ever make it home, will it be at the same time? We must have gone faster than light speed to get here. What if it’s like 200 years in the future when we get back?”
“You’re assuming we’ll ever get back…”
“Yeah.” Mark shivered at the thought of spending the rest of his life in the Pit, never seeing his family again.
For chapter 25, click here.