This is chapter 25 of my novel, Foreign. I publish a new chapter each Friday at noon. If you’ve missed any previous chapters, check out the archives page here. Make sure to subscribe to my blog so you’ll get each new chapter as it comes out on Friday. If you like what you’ve been reading, please spread the word. Enjoy!
Deena returned after what felt like a short time, announcing that it was already half way through the first shift, time to meet Hauzel again. Mark couldn’t look at her the same way, knowing what Justin had described to him earlier in their conversation.
Hauzel greeted the three of them in the same meeting room as before. Only, this time, he had a few assistants with him. Along with his additional assistants, there was a meager pile of supplies spread out on tables in the middle of the room.
“This is all you’re giving us to survive out in the wilderness?” Justin was incredulous.
“You both will face significant challenges in leaving Tielmetra,” Hauzel stated. He went on, “Old Teillandra is responsible for managing and disposing of all the waste of the entire city. We dispose of our own biological waste and the material waste of the entire city. The city was built with a pipeline drawing water from the Tielrina. The river feed helps make up for the water lost in the city’s recirculation process, but it also provides a way to expel the city’s waste. Our garbage disposal plants incinerate and break down material waste. The broken down trash goes into outgoing water along with all of the biological waste of Old Tiellandra.”
“So, let me guess, we are going out with the rest of the trash?” Mark asked, remembering a similar line from The Empire Strikes Back.
“Precisely,” Hauzel responded, oblivious to Mark’s cheesy pun. “My workers are still fabricating the cases you’ll be transported in. They are designed to be light enough to float in a river of garbage, but durable enough to withstand the pressures of our waste disposal system – while keeping you alive. This will mean several things. First, your space inside the transport unit will be very limited. Second, you will have to exit the transport while still floating in the river. So all of your gear will get wet in the process of your escape.”
“And by “wet” you mean, covered in liquid shit,” Justin added.
Hauzel glared. “Yes, that is one way to describe it. Lastly, your clothing will need to protect you from cold weather and the harsh elements of high elevation. And admittedly, I have no firsthand experience in those kinds of conditions. Have either of you experienced anything like this back on your home planet?”
Justin replied, “Well, I’ve never gone swimming in a river of flowing poop… But we did just recently go down a waterslide with a lot of it. Does that count?”
“But we have done some amateur climbing and hiking in the mountains and hills around our school,” Mark offered. “We’ve got basic navigation skills and some rough survival skills.”
“Good, because we’ll need to discuss with you which items will be the most important to pack. As I said, none of us have any experience outside of our home here, where the temperature is always regulated,” Hauzel explained.
Justin muttered, “Yeah, regulated to be hot, sweaty, and nasty.”
Mark spoke up quickly, trying to cover Justin’s comment, “So let’s look at these supplies. I think we’ll need to make sure we have a source of fire or heat, food, water, a portable form of shelter would be awesome, navigational tools would be great, and some kind of weapon would be great if there’s room.
“Alright. I will have my assistants work on procuring the necessary equipment, and in our third shift today we can examine what they’ve brought. While you are here now, try on these clothes I’ve had tailored for you. By our estimates, they should be able to keep your body warm in temperatures below freezing. But they aren’t waterproof. We have waterproof suites, but they won’t be warm enough. So you can either wear the waterproof suites and change into the cold-weather clothes on the shore, or you can wear the cold-weather clothes under the waterproof suites. We fabricated two different sizes for the suites for each of you, depending on your choice.”
Mark thought for a while and then made up his mind. “I think it would make the most sense to wear the cold-weather clothes and try to get the wet suits on over the other layers.”
“Just be aware that with all the layers you’ll have on to keep you warm, the waterproof suits will not fit perfectly, so their effectiveness might be compromised,” Hauzel warned.
They both changed into the first layer of clothes, which felt like an adult-sized onesie, covering their bodies from neck to toes, including the hands. Since the fabric was stretchable and all one piece, they stepped into the cloth suits from the neck hole and wore them like a giant body-shaped glove. Their next two layers were essentially the same thing.
“It never gets cold enough for us to need any material warmer than what you have on. So the only solution we have for surviving in the mountains is to give you as many layers as possible,” Hauzel explained, apologetic for the cumbersome outfit they were wearing.
With their three-layered unitards in place, Mark and Justin put on a set of sturdy boots that looked like they were used for construction or factory work. With their boots firmly secured, they were ready for the hardest part of suiting up: getting their waterproof suits on over their clothes.
The wet suits fortunately had zippers in the front, but even still, they were made of a form-fitting rubber material which made it close to impossible to fit their boots down into the pant legs. By the time they were fully dressed, everything on their bodies was covered except for a circle around their noses and eyes. They had spent a solid fifteen minutes trying to get dressed.
Justin waddled around the room. “This thing feels like a spacesuit. I can hardly move.”
“How many times have you been in a spacesuit?” Mark retorted.
“Never. But you know what I mean, ass.”
“I do. Hauzel, are you sure you don’t have anything waterproof that’s lighter than these rubber suits? Like a hazmat suit or something?” Mark said.
He replied, “We do have other options, but none of them are as durable as these rubber suits. And seeing as you’ll be climbing through garbage to get out of the flowing water, you’ll need suits that won’t leak.”
“That makes sense, but I still don’t like it,” Justin said.
Hauzel understood their frustration. “After you both get some sleep during the second shift, you’ll have all of third to practice maneuvering in those suits. It will be tiring work. So you should head back to your quarters to get good quality rest. You only have third shift tonight and first tomorrow to finish your preparations. You should head back now and I’ll see you at two hours after third. Deena, help them take their clothes off and lead them back to their rooms.”
Deena was more than happy to follow orders.
Even though they had gone to sleep before the end of the first shift, Mark still felt exhausted waking up at the end of the second shift.
Barely eight hours of sleep is not enough when you’re on a foreign planet!
Another breakfast (was it breakfast even though it was in the middle of the day?) of nadelle, a shower, and then Mark, Justin, and Deena headed out. This time to a different room than earlier. Deena led them into a large room easily the size of three football fields.
Justin leaned close to Mark. “I guess we’re seeing some of what’s hidden inside this place.”
As they walked deeper into the plain room, they saw that it looked like it could have been on the set of the 90’s TV show, American Gladiators. The space was filled with a variety of obstacle courses and even had a large swimming pool.
Hauzel was standing at the end closest to the entrance, with a few of his assistants. In front of him was the pile of clothes they had worn earlier and also a collection of what looked like survival gear. “Alright, gentlemen. You have one shift to master these supplies. And your life depends on it.”
“I wonder if he rehearsed that.” Justin said.
Hauzel responded, “You may laugh now, but you won’t be laughing when it’s freezing cold and you forgot how to start a fire. Now put your clothes on and grab your gear.”
The simple command was not so simple to carry out. After wearing all the layers of clothes, there was still a daunting pile of gear to pack in a backpack.
How am I going to carry all this?
To his surprise, the bag full of supplies was much lighter than Mark had expected. Clumsily slinging the pack around his shoulders, he remembered the lower gravity on Zearyth. They’d be able to carry more supplies for longer distances before getting tired. However, that still didn’t change how awkward it was to maneuver with so many layers of clothes.
“Good. Now that you have all your gear, you need to get accustomed to walking, moving, and performing basic tasks with it all. We will spend the next few hours working on this – walking, climbing, running, and eventually swimming,” Hauzel explained.
In the time that ensued, Hauzel and his assistants were amazed at what Mark and Justin were able to do, wearing so many layers clothes, and wearing such large packs of supplies. They clamored over rock walls, they ran, lifted one another over boulders, and eventually even swan in water with relative ease. Granted, their agility did not match their strength. They had a limited range of motion and were forced to be deliberate with their movements. But even after two hours of exercises, they did not feel overly tired from what appeared to everybody else as strenuous work.
After Hauzel was adequately convinced that Mark and Justin were more than physically capable to face the elements, he gathered them together and had them empty the packs so they could see what tools they would have at their disposal.
“We understand that both of you have more experience in traversing wilderness environments than we do. So tell us if you think there is anything else you need,” Hauzel explained. “Our biggest constraints were fitting you and your supplies inside of our transport units and also making sure that you have enough food to sustain you until you can hunt.”
“Hunt?” Justin asked?
“Of course. We do not presume to know how long your journey will take. You will really only have enough space for eight days of food, assuming you do not need to store large amounts of water. Naturally, the lower you travel in elevation, the more water you will need to store since you will not have access to water in the form of snow,” Hauzel continued.
“In addition to eight days of nadelle, you will have water in insulated containers. You will have rope and carabiners for climbing or pulling objects. Also, you will both have climbing picks, knives, a minor first-aide kit, and waterproof fabric for constructing a shelter.”
“I have no reason to believe that you both will need training with any of those tools. However, there is one device that you will need to acquaint yourselves with. It’s called a spherogun.”
Hauzel gave Mark and Justin a tool that might as well have been a wireless blowdryer.
“This tool is powered by the smallest spheromaks ever built. I’ve had a team of scientists working on it for years. This is the only working prototype we have. And you will need it. To be honest, I had forgotten my scientists had researched it. I had quit thinking it would be used a long time ago.”
“The circular portion of the gun is a fusion reactor, similar to the large tokamaks that power all of Tielmetra. This tiny spheromak is self-contained and will keep plasma burning hot for years. As it creates fusion, the gun will have a continual power source strong enough to create an electrically-conducted laser induced plasma channel,” Hauzel explained.
“So what does it do?” Justin asked.
Hauzel aimed the spherogun at an object thirty feet away in the obstacle course and pulled the trigger. With the sound of a prolonged thunderclap, a bright spark arced from the gun to the target. As Hauzel held the trigger down, the target blackened at the point of impact and quickly lit ablaze. Before long, the entire target caught on fire.
“Holy shit!” Justin exclaimed. “It’s a real laser gun!”
“Now you have to be careful with this. It is not a laser gun in the sense that you might think. The arc of light you saw connecting to my target was electrically charged. So don’t use this gun if you aren’t insulated from what you are aiming at or you could get electrocuted. Also bear in mind that every time you use it, you will hear that sonic boom because of the intense heating of the air around the laser beam. Essentially, the spherogun shoots a straight, steady, and concentrated lightning bolt.”
Mark asked, “How often can we use it? Does it ever run out of energy?”
“The fusion reaction inside is constantly active and calibrated to put out just enough wattage to power the laser. So you would be able to use it as long as you need, but the heat from the plasma channel is so strong that it will damage the barrel of the gun if you leave it on for too long. A good rule of thumb is that you should wait about ten times as long as you used it before using it again so the barrel doesn’t overheat. I wouldn’t advise using it for more than five seconds consecutively. Also know that as long as the plasma channel is being created, you’ll hear the sonic boom. And beware of the power of the arc. It can easily destroy more than you intended. Are you ready to give it a try?”
Hauzel placed the gun into Mark’s hand. Holding it in both of his open palms in reverence, Mark noted that it felt cool to the touch.
He asked, “Is there a safety switch or anything?”
“No,” Hauzel answered. “This is a prototype. My engineers assumed it would be used in a controlled environment.”
For chapter 26, click here.