Second half of chapter 5…
A few days passed without either snow or wind. It had snowed every day for nearly two months now, or at least, it seemed that way whenever one of us went up the ladders to feed or check on Jessie. It was always a light snow; the layers compounding on each other subtly, its depth creeping up like ivy on an old building. The meteorologists had predicted this to be the coldest year on record; we were now coming into mid-March. But now, without the wind chill taking the temperature down into double-digits below freezing, it barely pushed above zero – but just enough to let some of the snows start to melt.
Katie spent the time going back and forth above ground given the relative temperate weather we were experiencing, and so did I.
With the improvement in weather, I took my chance to go out for a run. I made it about two hundred metres before slipping on black ice and twisting my ankle. My foot in a splint, I could no longer climb the ladders without being in significant pain. The day it happened, I pondered staying with Jessie on her heated pad, but the temperature still dropped at night, and the heat only kept the ground above freezing. I carefully made my way down the ladder on one foot.
So, we took care of each other. After the first day, I had found a pair of old broom handles, of which Katie roughened the bottoms so that I could hobble around my lair. It would be a couple of weeks until I’d need only one, and another couple of months until it healed enough to walk carefully without them.
Katie became my only conduit to the outside world. She was quite keen to get out of my abode and stretch her legs, now that she had oversized shoes to borrow, which she padded with some of my rejected sketches. Gratefully, she gave frequent weather updates every time she came back down. It even rained on one occasion, which melted even more of the snow. On the fourth day, Katie reported seeing patches of earth, and that the trees looked more skeletal. It had been a while since I’d seen the actual shape of a tree – almost three months since the weather turned – that I joked with myself that I might struggle to draw one now. I was immediately told to shut up and shelve my melodramatic hyperbole.
Katie had also started using my computer system. She started lightly reading around our father, starting with the various media sites that controlled the majority of Terrata. I cautioned her to keep her searches very superficial; our activity would be monitored, especially my account, being the son of the author of the book of Mars.
I knew what she wanted, of course. To meet him, and then what? “What are you hoping to achieve, Katie? They’re not going to put up his schedule on there, are they?”
“They might do.”
“How many people do you think want him dead?”
“I can think of more than a few. That never stops these people.”
These people? He may be an arsehole, and his views and position of power may have conspired to bring him to inflict terrible things on humanity from our point of view, but…
“He’s not people, Katie, he’s our father.”
“He’s a mass murderer.”
“He hasn’t killed anybody.”
Katie stopped her searching and spun in her chair. “Do we have to have this chat again? If you hire someone to do the killing for you, you’re still a killer. If you create an environment where people are forced to kill each other to survive, you’re complicit. He’s responsible for creating this method of genetic and intellectual benchmarking of people. It’s nothing short of eugenics. And you yourself said, he’s not reasonable.”
“So you are planning to kill him.”
“I never said that. That’s not what I’m here to do. I told you, I want to meet him, because I’m his daughter.”
“That’s all. I have another target in my mind, and then from there who knows.”
“That’s a fantastic guarantee.”
Katie jutted her jaw forwards and took a deep, pissed off breath in. “I’ve said everything I can say. The rest is you,” she said, finally. I hobbled away, up into an alcove with a sofa and, picking up The Book of Mars from a bookshelf, flopped backwards onto the sofa. My foot felt instant relief.
A note, written on silk, slipped out of the Book and spiralled down onto the floor. I grunted and leaned forward to pick it up. Handwriting I recognised.
Nothing will come between us, Stephen.
Something was written on the other side.
Not even her.
I nearly dropped the book in surprise. Had someone come in here without me knowing? The secret entrance… but I couldn’t climb up there right now to check. All I could do was read, and get stronger.
On the fifth day, Katie came back down from one of her breathers and declared she was going back up immediately, and taking a shovel with her.
“Are we snowed in?”
“No,” she replied. “But I need to dig something up.”
“You what? Why? Do you need me to help?”
She would need to climb the ladder back out of here. Climbing the ladder meant gripping onto it. I’d given her some splints to tie around her fingers for the broken bones – one on each hand – and gloves that let her grip with the other fingers. Whenever she tried closing her fists, it looked like she was giving the middle finger. Something that I had to stop myself from laughing at whenever I caught her opening and closing her fists.
“I can manage, but thanks for offering. And you’re in no condition, anyway.”
“No really, I need the exercise. I’m going crazy in here.”
“Look, the snow’s melted a bit, and the ground will be a bit hard, but I think the area around where I was buried was warmer, too. Anyway, I want to see if I was buried with anything. Maybe a clue. And you can’t even stand without crying out in pain. You need to rest.”
She was right, of course, but the longer I went without being able to exercise properly, the more I worried about my heart. The pain was worse when I got stressed, or at the start of a training set, then it would subside. If I ignored it, it would spread to my arms, up and down my back, into my skull, like hot knives. Sometimes I got the migraine first, like an early warning system. Like right now.
“But I need to exercise. You’ve seen what happens when I don’t.”
“You need to rest.”
“I don’t care,” I said finally. “I’m going with you.”
“Fuck, fine, your funeral.”
“I don’t get it.”