This is chapter 26 of my novel, Foreign. I’m finally in uncharted territory! For the last 26 weeks, everything I’ve published was already written in some form. From here on out, all of it is brand new. It’s a surreal feeling. The events described in this week’s chapter have been ten years in the making. It feels great to finally press forward and write scenes that have been in my mind for almost a decade. So keep reading, keep the feedback coming, and spread the word. As always, I post these new chapters on Friday. However, I don’t think noon is going to be a realistic goal in the future. Also, if you need to catch up on previous chapters, click here. Enjoy!
“It’s time to leave for your journey; I’m going to miss you,” Deena’s sorrowful voice woke Mark from his sleep. Opening his eyes, he saw that she was sitting at the foot of his bed. She rested her hand on his leg, and added, “You should take one more shower while you’re here. I’m more than willing to help you get ready.”
Still half asleep, he was sufficiently awake to feel creeped out by her continual advances. “No thanks. I think I can clean myself.”
“You don’t have to stay here,” Mark eventually added, hoping she’d give him some privacy.
“I don’t mind.”
The shower didn’t help him wake up. He wasn’t sure if it was the only six hours of sleep he had been getting, the fact that he was probably going to die in his second escape attempt through sewage, or the fact that it always looked like night in the Pit, but he felt miserable.
All cleaned up and clothed, Mark came out to the common area, where he found Justin already eating his third shift portion of nadelle. “How you feeling, man?” Mark asked.
“Like trash,” Justin answered.
“So no different than most of your Saturday mornings, eh?” Mark responded.
“Hah. Hah.” Justin said sarcastically. “Eat your nadelle and shut up.”
After showers and breakfast, Deena led them from their living quarters back down to the main floor of Hauzel’s place. Once their elevator doors opened, they were blasted with the loud music and flashing lights of the dance hall.
“Jeez, man. Does this party ever stop here?” Mark asked.
“This is Hauzel’s main source of revenue,” Deena explain. “There are always people who want an escape from life in Old Tiellandra. Hauzel is happy to provide it, eighteen hours a day. Follow me down the stairs, out to the front. Hauzel has a transport ready for us.”
Their second time at the pull-up ramp was completely different than the first. Just a few short days ago, Justin was unconscious, and Mark feared for his life. Now he was leaving, no longer in his Tielsuit, accompanied by a pretty, yet creepy girl. Granted, he still feared for his life.
Deena led them to a transport that looked nicer than the one they had taken to Hauzel’s place, but it still didn’t compare to anything they had seen topside.
“When we get to the Tielrina, we’ll be at the very bottom of all Tielmetra. Most people don’t ever see it,” Deena shuddered, as the three of them sat down in the transport. All strapped in and surrounded by the gear which had already been loaded, the driver steered the transport away from the ramp.
Fortunately, the transport handled more gracefully than the transport of their previous Pit excursion. Similar to the last trip, though, Mark wasn’t able to very far out the front window because of the smog and lack of ambient light.
After a few minutes of descending further into the Pit, Mark discovered that Hauzel’s place had been the brightest, most opulent place around. “What do most people do down there? There are so many featureless buildings? Is this where people live or work? Or both?” he asked Deena.
“Most of us work in sanitation, energy production, recycling, or fabrication,” she began, but then interrupted herself. “Hey, look! I think I can see the Tielrina below us!”
Considering how bad the visibility was, Mark was doubtful Deena could see all the way to the bottom of the Pit from where they were. However, before he finished his thought, the aircraft began to slow its descent.
Looking straight out the window, there was no indication of the enormous size of all Tielmetra. The buildings were so large that only a few were visible. Between each were featureless dark brown corridors of fog. The city lights reflecting upon the pollutants in the air kept the empty space from looking pure black.
“When we get out, it will be just a short walk to where we’ll meet Hauzel. Everything should be ready,” the copilot told them.
The passenger door opened to a jarring juxtaposition: in the same field of view was the filthiest poverty Mark had ever seen along with flying cars and gargantuan buildings. And however well he thought he had adjusted to the pungent smell of the Pit while staying with Hauzel, he realized there was a whole other depth of knowledge he had been yet to experience.
They all exited the transport.
We made it. We are standing at the bottom of The Pit, the bottom of Tielmetra!
Mark looked up into the coffee colored haze above him, letting the enormity of all twelve miles of city above settle on him. They had actually managed to find a way to the bottom of this technological Hell hole. And here they were, in the bottom of the Pit.
Indeed, what he saw around him looked like he was in the pit of hell. The Tielrina, the “great river” was much less great than he had envisioned. It was a small river, maybe a couple hundred feet wide, its squalid water hardly flowing. Mark guessed the reason the river flowed so slowly was because of how polluted it was. Here was a thousand cubic miles of people’s trash, flowing continuously in a river out of the city, with the poorest of the poor, sifting through it, looking for something of value. Worst of all, floating along with the trash were countless bodies, all at various levels of decomposition.
Don’t these people value human life at all?
And this was their ticket out of Tielmetra, the supreme city. In a river of trash.
“Well, we’ve already swam through shit to get here. It’s only fitting that we float out with the trash to leave, eh?” Justin comment.
“Very insightful,” Mark added.
The copilot motioned for them to follow him, “This way. Let’s not keep Hauzel waiting.”
They rounded a corner from where they had landed and walked along the shore of the Tielrina. They were between the base of a massive building and the edge of the river, along with maybe fifty others who were either near the river’s edge, or on the shore, examining their loot. Mark did all he could to not vomit as he took everything in, trying to follow Hauzel’s men. Even the ever-enthusiastic Deena walked with a somber gait. Instinctively, Justin held her close; she didn’t resist.
I’m not sure which will make me vomit first…
After two minutes of walking in silence, Hauzel, a few of his attendants (the clothed kind), and two over-sized coffins emerged into view ahead of them, near the edge of the river. Another two minutes, and they were reunited.
“I wasn’t expecting you come all the way here just to see us off, “Mark commented to Hauzel.
He replied, “I’ve never done it any other way. You all are our best hope.”
“Well, thanks. I hope we can live up to your expectations,” Mark replied.
“Don’t worry. Of course we won’t,” Justin stated with confidence. When nobody laughed, he added, “But we’ll try.”
Hauzel didn’t let the awkward comment hang in dead air. “You’ll find that everything is prepared as we discussed yesterday. Remember, once we load you with your supplies and seal the transports, they will be locked for the duration of your trip, until you open them.”
“We know,” Justin pointed out, “I took a dump right before we left.”
Not amused, Hauzel asked, “So you’re ready to leave Tielmetra, then?”
Feeling like he was about to enter the lair of a final boss in a video game, Mark said, “Yes.”
“Well, get your suits on. Once you are fully clothed, we’ll load you into the transports.”
Mark was glad for the practice they had from the day before, but it was still a cumbersome process to place himself in the water-tight suit, while wearing his clothes underneath. Eventually, though, he managed to get dressed and he found Justin had already been done. Their supply packs had already been loaded into their transports, which were nothing more than durable, air-tight coffins.
Hauzel glanced toward the river and the transports. “Mark, you’ll find the spherogun in your transport. Do not use it unless you are ready.” Bringing his gaze back upon Mark and Justin, he held is chin higher and began his final remarks. “I cannot say what lies beyond the inner walls of our city. Unknown dangers most certainly lie ahead. However, the fate of Old Tiellandra and your people lies in your hands. May the Twins guide you.” He paused a moment, his emotions preventing him from continuing.
“Alright. As you both enter your transports, my men will seal them and push you out into the river. Don’t open them until you see the light above. Don’t forget, we have designed your transports so they should float right-side-up. Should you get capsized, just wait; eventually you’ll right yourself. And when you get out, assuming it is still the second shift, the suns should still be be to the Southeast. Follow the Tielrina out this valley, hopefully toward your people. I am sorry that I cannot do more for you.”
Choking back some tears, he continued, “If you find Leonard, please ask him what has taken him so long. Also, please tell him I’m sorry that I could not do more for Eleanor. I pray every day that Elizabeth is safe.”
“We’ll look for him, I promise,” Mark said, as he shook Hauzel’s hand. “And thank you for your help.”
“I can’t take it!” Deena said as she burst into tears. “I know I’m not supposed to make a scene, but I’m going to miss you both so much! Please come back. I’ll be waiting… especially for you.” She reached up and kissed Justin on the lips, lingering long enough that Mark felt awkward watching.
Afterward, Justin said, “I won’t ever forget you, my dear.”
Oh Please. What’s he gonna do, take her back to Earth with him?
The door clasped shut over him as Mark heard his transport splash against the waters of the Tielrina.
This is it. We’re leaving Tielmetra, whether I want to or not, at this point.
Their journey out of the city began as a slow and uneventful one. Mark’s transport lazily drifted down the river, among so much trash that nothing flowed with significant movement. His transport had a four-inch diameter window right in front of his face so he had a tiny element of situational awareness. Inside his transport, Mark had the distinct feeling of being buried alive. There was barely room for him to roll over onto to his stomach, and the steel case was thinly padded while he laid in it. His legs, torso, and arms had seat belts that he could fasten for when it would get bumpy, while his backpack with supplies was secured near his feet. So the four-inch window was maybe ten inches in front of his face. This all amounted to him laying still, and seeing darkness out of his window, with the occasional hint of dark brown as he gazed up from the river.
However, after an indeterminate amount of time, the sound of water lightly splashing against his coffin sounded more like water rushing past him. Still only darkness out of his window.
With the sound of rushing water came the feeling of abrupt changes in velocity as Mark felt shoved about, like the transport was colliding with other objects. In addition, he occasionally felt the sensation of spinning around. Without any visual references, it was impossible to guess what direction he was headed. Even more, he began to feel queasy.
The sounds of rushing water grew louder. While Mark sensed he was moving faster, he noticed that the spinning and collisions were diminishing – as if everything were gaining speed and separating. Trying to distract himself from the nausea, and trying to anticipate his next move, he began to think.
The only things that could be causing me to speed up would be gravity, higher water pressure, or some kind of motor. I’d rule out the motor or engine. Supposedly, nobody’s ever been here before. A motor can’t run for a few hundred years without maintenance.
So it’s either increased pressure or gravity. Pressure would come from having the same amount of water flowing through a smaller area, or more water through the same sized area. The river (maybe now in some kind of pipe) can’t be shrinking. There was too much junk earlier. It would get clogged. And where would the extra water be coming from?
The rushing water sound was definitely growing louder. Although the change had been gradual, Mark had the sense that he was moving much faster now than when he had begun.
Gravity. I must be going faster due to gravity. And if I’m going faster and faster, the slope is getting steeper and steeper.
At this realization, his heart sank.
There’s a waterfall.
He quickly reviewed everything he could remember about people surviving waterfalls.
Should I strap in? That will keep me from getting battered around, but will I just get crushed? Will the gravity here make a difference? Shit! I wonder if Justin’s figured this out?
Before he could think any more, the sound of rushing water vanished, and he was weightless, as the coffin dropped beneath him.
I’ve gotta protect my head!
He wrapped his arms around his head, preferring to injure his arms rather than his head. In midair, he felt as if his feet dipped below him, like he was standing straight up in air. And just as quickly as he was launched into the air, the bottom of his coffin jammed into his feet. His body crumpled as much as physically possible in the confines of his transport. Mark’s knees slammed into the top of the enclosure while it plunged into the water.
The next few minutes were a blur. Water surged around the capsule while Mark was tossed around inside. With still no light coming in the porthole, he had no way to orient himself. The sound of rushing water was deafening, while his sense of gravity continually changed directions. Struggling through the constant variable forces, he managed to strap his torso into what was originally the bottom of the transport box. With his torso strapped in, he was better able to get his arms through the shoulder restraints.
I thought these things were supposed to level themselves?!?
Eventually, the tumbling began to subside. The coffin still moved and bobbed about, but it no longer felt like he was tumbling through the water. In the newfound quiet, Mark realized that he felt right-side-up once again. But the window was still dark.
Well now what? Was that just the first of many waterfalls to come? Or something worse? How will I know? Should I get out now? But how will Justin know I’m out? Crap. We shoulda thought about this more before we left…
As the minutes passed by, the water continued to flow at a steady pace so Mark unstrapped himself. It was as good a time as any to take inventory of any injuries. His right knee was sore to the touch, but he could bend his leg without significant pain. His elbows felt similar. The place where Justin had removed that device in his shoulder still felt tender, too. Nothing felt debilitating, though. All of it made sense, but his right ear throbbed also.
Man, that Tielsuit would have come in handy about now.
Doing a reverse pushup, he brought his face as close to the porthole as possible, hoping to increase his field of view.
Still darkness. He craned his neck, peering to the side as much as possible. Still darkness. His eyes scanned the full 360 degrees, desperate for some orienting object. About 270 degrees through the scan, he saw it. A white blurry light, in the lower left portion of his vision.
Not sure what the light was, he moved his head while still looking at it through the window; it didn’t look like it moved anywhere. Continuing to keep his head close to the window, he swayed his body, hoping to the move the capsule. It rocked back and forth while the light remained stationary. Whatever it was, it seemed far away from Mark.
Maybe I’ll wait a bit and see if it’s still there.
He decided to count to five hundred, just to be sure he had drifted and adequate distance. Looking up again, the light looked exactly the same.
Either I’m not moving, or that light’s really far away. And if I can see something far away, I must not be inside the wall of the city anymore! I’ve made it out!
In his excitement, he opened the release clamps for his capsule. And then he remembered Justin. How would he find him? Or communicate with him?
What the hell?
“Mark, you there? It’s Justin.”
Shit! Oh yeah! Our unicom!
The pain in Mark’s right ear suddenly made sense. He must have banged his ear in the waterfall and the unicom made it feel worse.
“Dude, you there?” Justin repeated.
“Uh, yeah, can you hear me?” Mark replied.
“Yeah, man. Of course! You ready to get out?”
“Wait, what? You’re already out? And how did you know how to use the incomes?”
“Dude, Hauzel didn’t explain it to you? And yeah, I’m out and on the side of the river. I can see you floating along in the middle of a bunch of dead bodies. You’re gonna have a pretty nasty time getting out.”
“Thanks for the assessment, you ass.”
“Ok, grab your stuff, and pop open the top of your transport. You’re about as close to the shore as you’re gonna get. And I don’t want to run much further to keep up.”
“Yes, now. Go for it,” Justin encouraged.
Mark pulled on the two levers at his sides. The front sprung off toward the sky and fresh, frigid air rushed against his face. So cold, in fact, he had to close his eyes at the shock of it. But after he adjusted, he dared to open them.
And he opened his eyes to the most majestic night sky he’d ever seen. A mottled haze rent the night sky in a way he’d never seen the Milky Way do. Was he he even looking at the Milky Way? To his left, he finally saw what the white light had been: Zearyth’s moon looked about half the size of Earth’s. Even though it was a full moon, one half was brighter than the other. If the stars were this visible with a full moon, Mark couldn’t imagine what he could have seen without it.
“Dude, are you gonna get out?” Mark was snapped back to reality by Justin’s question. He crept his torso up to look around his capsule without capsizing it. A snowscape glistened in the moonlight to his left. And Justin stood maybe 500 feet down the river at the bank, waving his arms. As Mark looked down the river, the river held a layer of moisture right above it, just like a lake at dawn. Surrounding his transport, he indeed was floating alongside a mass of decaying bodies. Maybe the air wasn’t as fresh as he’d thought.
How did he see me all the way down here?
“Once you have your backpack, just jump out and swim to the shore.”
“Are you crazy? I’m not swimming through this shit!”
“I think you have to. Around the bend, I think there’s another waterfall. I don’t think you have time to do anything else.”
“I’ll press my luck,” Mark said as he leaned over the edge of his coffin and tried to paddle with his hands. It was gross enough to jam his arms that were even in a drysuit between the bodies to paddle. He didn’t want to think about what it would be like jumping in.
But he couldn’t paddle effectively with all the bodies around him. Even worse, in order to move the entire capsule, he’d have to move it through all the bodies. He looked back at Justin. 400 feet away.
I don’t care what it takes, I’m not jumping in this crap.
He tried to shove the closest bodies away, giving his arms room to paddle. While pushing one away, its decomposing head broke off in Mark’s hand. He started to dry heave while leaning over the edge. But the detached head left room for Mark to paddle with his arm. He paddled with all his might, not stopping to steal a look at how much time he had.
Just focused on paddling and pulling as hard as possible in the putrid water, he was surprised at how close Justin’s voice sounded when he said, “Dude, it’s not working!” The voice was no longer just coming through the unicom. Mark looked up and Justin was right in front of him.
“I’m telling ya, man, get the crap outta your capsule and swim to the edge or you’re not gonna make it.”
Still about fifteen feet from the bank of the river, Mark crested the bend in the river. On the other side, his transport picked up speed as he began to approach what he hoped were only rapids.
Panic set in and Mark yelled out, “You were right! Screw it,” as Justin came running over the river bank to keep Mark in view.
Backpack slung on his back, Mark jumped over the edge of capsule, right into the floating pile of nastiness. His only hope was to stay underwater and swim past all the refuse. Searing cold struck his face as he completely submerged.
The current was stronger than he had imagined. Swimming as long as possible underwater, he had to come up for air. Bodies still on top of him, he gasped for what air he could and continued again. Two more times of this and he had only gone about half the way. Only seven feet from the edge, and he was getting exhausted while he fought the current and tried to free himself from the bodies.
I’m not gonna make it! “Dude! Help!” He gasped, but saw no response.
Another stint underwater and he was in desperate need for air. Trying to come back up, the bodies were piled on top of him; he couldn’t get a good breath. In panic, he began flailing about.
Amidst all the chaos, his flailing arms brushed against something firm. With all his might, he paddled in that direction. His fingertips felt it again but slipped away. And finally, they connected.
Justin’s hand grasped Mark’s and pulled him out from under the bodies. Dripping sewage, Mark collapsed onto the ice at the bank of the river.
Exhausted, smelling like shit, looking up at the foreign sky, Mark thought to himself:
We finally made it out of Tiel fucking metra.
For chapter 27, click here.