The native people whose ancestors settled the forests of Vex thousands of years ago believe that the mighty River Fleuve is a blood vein of the very planet itself. They say that in the beginning of all things, it cut a path into the very heart of the world, where the gods had imprisoned a beast with no name. This, they say, is how light came to the world and how the stars came to be in the sky, a gift of the River Fleuve and a terrible curse.
Not a breath of air stirred as Tinjin walked slowly from camp toward the rim of the canyon. Here and there, the burnt, arid landscape blazed white with patches of melting snow that had accumulated overnight. Tinjin paused, feeling the chill lifting from the morning air as the sun mounted higher in the sky.
It was seven degrees centigrade, balmy for winter. Down in the canyon, however, it was much cooler. The lack of wind prevented the cold, moist air of the inner canyon from mixing with the warmer weather above, and the temperature difference filled the canyon with a thick fog.
Tinjin looked out across this sea of clouds. Spires and long, jagged ridges of rock rose from the vapor, like mountains and ships poised on the ocean. After eight weeks stationed on the rim, Tinjin had surveyed much of this section of the canyon and knew every cliff and crag visible from camp.
It seemed less familiar now, however, cloaked in its strange, white veil of secrecy. Cacti and small, hardy desert mammals native to this region were the only things hiding in that fog, but that knowledge did nothing to prevent a tingle from running down Tinjin’s spine. Or perhaps it was simply the chill in the air.
Isak touched a hand to his temple, his fingertips coming away covered in blood. His vision was dim and blurry, but growing clearer with time. With a groan, he propped himself up on one elbow and tried to shake the fog from his mind.
We are coming up on the end of our first year of operation here at Roggen Wulf. 2014 has been an incredible ride, and we could not be more pleased with progress we are making. It has been a roller coaster to be sure, and we expect another fast paced year to come.
We came a long way very quickly this year. We have made a lot of friends, developed a lot opportunities, and explored many potential roads to success. With just two days left in 2014, I would like to wrap up this year with a recap of where we’ve been and to give you all some sneak previews of what we have in store for 2015.
There is but little along the highway between Silverfallet and Kiruna. The western coast of the Torneträsk is home to Abisko with its national park and precious little else. Except for the passing trains and the very occasional helicopter when there has been a road accident, it is a quiet place, forlorn sometimes. It was no place I would expect to hear the powerful engines that roared menacingly in the night not far from my bedroom.
My father told me of a boy about the same age I am now who was recruited to the Munckska at the time of Ådelen. He would have joined the Hemvärnet, but was instead transferred to the shores of Nakerjaure where in 1939 he trained fighters for the vinterkriget. After joining the Finns in the battle of Raate, he was sent to Oscarsborg festning, then to Hamar, to Elverum, and finally to Narvik.
What happened to him after Narvik, no one really knows.
Assuming that all matter is both homogeneous and isotropic, the universe can only exist in one of three shapes.
He glanced up to find his wife watching him from across the room. Her expression was pensive, her breath short and nervous. Between them stood their child, the Reductive HDFM Generator. One of its three tall, metal arms obscured her from view as she moved to one of the control stations, examining the computer screen.
She cast her eyes upward; her gaze quick and nervous. The student commons were busy, echoing with the gentle hum of humanity. The sound soothed Sara, especially on bleak, grey days like this, when it was chilly outside—when the warmth of company invited the students indoors. Her eyes darted upward, stared for a moment, fell back. She sighed, feeling the keys beneath her fingers and pressing softly until a note rose from the piano.
Sara’s hands moved, delicately stroking eighty-eight black and white keys with graceful, exploring fingertips. The big instrument rumbled and growled for her, then warbled and chirped nimbly. She gazed longingly, then closed her eyes and let her hands say the words that always caught in her throat.
It looked remarkably as if she were pulling a gun out from under her backpack. Tom started in surprise and took hold of her wrist, giving Chad a nervous smile that he hoped would soothe the unsuspecting bully. Chad gave him a disgusted sneer.
“Hiding behind your new girlfriend, wimp?” Chad spat contemptuously.
“What are you doing?” she hissed at Tom.
“Just be cool,” Tom hissed back.
“But I have encountered an enemy!” she snapped.
Horse stumbled as the ground beneath her shook violently. Around her, the trees swayed and thrashed, their trunks groaning pitifully as they were whipped back and forth until, no longer able to take the strain, they toppled like the one that had crushed her downed fighter jet. Horse’s feet hammered the leaf litter as she dodged the hail of falling limbs.
One particularly large tree crashed to the ground only meters in front of her. Without checking her speed, Horse ran at the fallen tree; grabbing hold of a gnarled limb and hoisting herself upward then planting her feet and scrambling on top of the trunk. The tree was long dead, however, and very rotten. No sooner had Horse’s weight come to rest on it than the trunk caved in beneath her and she fell into the giant, hollow tree.
It was early afternoon when the young soldier reached the crossroads. The day was clear and cold, the sun shining in the frosty air and sparkling on snowy mountain peaks. His once elaborate uniform no longer kept the heat of his body, and the makeshift cloak he had fashioned for himself on his journey was full of so many holes that it hardly warmed him.
Half a day’s walk behind him lay the ruins of Tirano, a lifeless husk firebombed into oblivion to keep the infection at bay. Ahead of him rose the Bernina Pass, which would take him high above the burning plains of Italy and deep into the imposing Swiss Alps. These mountains towered in his mind both angelic and demonic. The infection had spread to the high valleys and crags of the Alps only with great difficulty. He would be relatively safe in there.
The Alps, however, posed their own terrible dangers. His errand, one upon which the fate of the world now rested, would lead him to Val Poschiavo and St. Moritz, then on to Brig, following the train tracks toward Luxembourg until he finally reached his destination, the secure city of Geneve. Nearly one hundred tunnels and more then two hundred bridges lay between St. Moritz and Brig alone. The prospect daunted the soldier, sending a barb of icy fear through his heart, making him stop to catch his breath.
Brig was still a long way ahead in his future. He was not even in the Alps yet. Passo del Bernina was his most immediate concern, the start of this next most treacherous leg of his journey. He had failed his sister, his wife, and perhaps his country, but while his infant daughter still lived in Geneve, he would not fail her and he would not fail his species. For his daughter, the human race must survive. For the human race, he must survive the Alps.
Still, chilling fear remained in his heart and he stood for a long time staring down at his decision. He had at last reached the train tracks that would lead him into those grand, terrible mountains.
Such were the soldier’s crossroads. Tirano was lifeless, and thus free of infection. He could return there and hide from his mission, from failure and death, until he succumbed to whatever horrors lay in that decimated wreck of a city. Or he could follow the train tracks and face the fate that the Alps had in store for him.
The moment had come for him to decide. To flee or to go onward; these were now his only choices.