Personal log of Kowalski, Roger
We were thrown out of sleep to wake by some rattling noise in the camp. Rubbing my eyes the fire had gone out and Dan who should have held watch had fallen asleep on the other side of the fire, covered in a blanket, not going to wake up from the noise. “What the fuck?” Babs moaned in my arms and lifted her head, too. “What’s the matter?” “Who is making this noise?”, I asked loud, so that the people woke up. “What’s?” Dan jolted up. “I didn’t sleep. What’s up? I got it! I got it!”
Something crashed and ripped. “Fuck off Mark, don’t make…”, and after that Skylar just screamed loud. “Aiiiiiiiiiiie!”, and sprang to her feet, running away. “It attacked me! I’m bleeding!” She went off into the next brushes and in the half light of the dawning day we couldn’t really see anything but shadows over shadows. Babsie had risen and pulled the blanked with her. “What?!” Somebody was in panic running into us and we went to the ground. I could hear the cocking of Richards rifle from the place where he slept. “Everybody keep still for a momemt? What happend?” The screaming of Skylar was coming from behind the brushes. Mark yelled: “It’s here! I got it! I got… Aaaaaah!”, he screamed. “It attacked me! It’s on the provision! It’s in the provision!”
A shot of the rifle went off. I tried to find mine in the chaos. The person who ran into us tried to get on his feet. Babsie was not there. Suddenly I heard her laughter. She didn’t stop. “Everybody silent! Everybody stop!”, Richard yelled. The place fell silent but the giggling of Babsie and a coughing and wheezing from the place where Mark had been and where the provision of the geeks had been.
The provision bag moved. Something inside. “It’s something small”, Babsie giggled. “It’s cute!” “Who had left provisions on the floor?”, Richard was shouting really angry. “Do they teach you kids nothing?” It was not our provision. I had hung up our bag in a near tree with a rope. Babsie still giggling. “It’s over there!”, she laughed. “It’s getting away.”
A flashlight was putting a spot on the floor, Richard tried to find the animal, which tried to escape into a near bush. The light searched for the noise it was making and found a spiky ball the size of a football just vanishing in a bush. "It’s a porcupine ", Richard said and let the air out. “Damn you. It’s harmless. It’s no threat just let it go.”
The light of the flashlight fell onto the white face of Dan. “It was your watch, wasn’t it? Did you sleep? Why is the fire out?”, Richard was really furious. “Everybody there?” Mark who had screamed confirmed. “I am hurt.” “Thaniel?” “This sucks. Big balls.” “You two?” “We’re okay”, I said and tried to protect my eyes from the light. Babsie was still giggling. “Where is Skylar?” “She ran that way.” “Damn. Dirk, you come with me. Rest stays in the camp. Skylar?! Answer!”
We found her down the slope, she had fallen over a log and hurt her head. She was bleeding but she responded after short time. We helped her back to the camp. “Dan, relight the fire, damn you? Babsie, hold the light so I can see what’s with Skylar.” Mark had come, too. “I have quills in my hands”, he said. “Just shut your gob, please?” Richard tried to find out about what happened to Skylar. She was only half conscious at the moment. “Nothing too bad”, Richard said after a while. He found a few quills in her underarms, hands and one on her shoulder and in her face. “Just don’t move.” She screamed when he removed the first quill, the one in the face. “You’ve been lucky. Just don’t move. Can someone hold her?” Babsie did.
The whole operation was taking a bit longer than ten minutes, after that the quills were removed and the wounds disinfected. Skylar was crying partly of pain but most of shock. She had a laceration on her forehead where Richard had put a plaster. With Mark he had been less careful: “Just stop crying and keep still. You thought you’re a hero or what? And now can anybody tell me what happened?”
The porcupine had plundered the provisions of the three hackers, had bitten in a few of their snacks, finally had found some energy bars with real peanuts and caramel syrup, which it had considered yummy and destroyed most of it. Almost half of the rations the three had with them were destroyed, lost, bitten open or had been squashed in the fight.
Richard did an inventory. “Did you guys have any real meals with you? What do you think? That you can survive a week in the wilderness with softdrinks, selfheating pizza”, and he was holding up the destroyed aluminium plates where the heating paste had mixed with the filling, “and energy bars? I did send you a detailed list what to use, didn’t I?” The three were saying nothing to it. “It’s stuff what we eat. We are used to that stuff.” Skylar fell into a little hysteric laughter. “You should have seen what Mark and Dan said when I one time offered them something green. Ouch, that hurts”, she said and held the place where the quill had perforated her face and stopped laughing. But the other two grinned. “Green things are for cavemen”, Dan said. “Isn’t it like that?” Mark nodded. “We have evolved.” “rEvolution!”, they yelled almost synchronized.
“Where is Thaniel?”, Richard asked. From somewhere down the slope Thaniel answered: “I’m taking a shit! Sorry. This really sucks.” But he came back in a good mood, smiling. “In fact that was funny. You three are like some clowns, are you?” The three engineers didn’t looked like they found that funny at all.
“Okay.” Richard sighted. “When we are all up, we can as well have a short breakfast and start. I better make a short report to the base camp that we have to get taken back from the shelter by the copter. I don’t think you guys like to try to live a week without food, do you?”
He went to his backpack. He hesitated. “Oh no.” “What’s up?”, I asked him. “The warning shot.” He put a finger through his pack. “Let’s just hope that wasn’t important. I must have hit it when I fired the warning shot into the sky. It was hanging up there.” “Shit.” “The medpack is okay. It’s gone through some of my clothes and… shit.” He pulled out the satellite phone. “Just great. So folks. No emergency call. Do me a favor and just don’t get in serious trouble, will you? This is getting serious. We have lost our safety net. Anybody else capable to do a satellite call?” Everybody shaking heads. “Just short distance.” “Usual commlink implants”, the developer crew answered. “Are you fucking kidding me?”, Thaniel first sounded scared, then fell into laughter. “Okay. That’s just the trip I need. With the three cyber-Stooges here, Miss badass elven warrior princess an insurance jerk, clerk, sorry, and spare-time Rambo, prepare for the end of the world.” He just laughed his ass off.
Everybody was looking at him. “This is no fucking goth-party here either, elf poser looser”, Skylar said. “Everybody just stop bitching”, Richard thundered. “It’s no problem, it’s just that we have too few to eat and no way to call the copter. But this is just making this trip a bit more realistic, isn’t it? Just enjoy it.”
He stood up and walked away. “I have to let off some steam. Clean up the camp, when I’m back we start going. Everybody check their feet. There is some feet powder by the medpack. Use it. I don’t think anybody has their own, no?” He was off sight when Babsie said surprised: “We have!”
“This sucks big balls. But it’s funny. I really start to enjoy this. And my coat is dry again too!” Thaniel smiled satisfied.
Half an hour later he was wet again. His coat had started to lose contour by the wetness, for he had been made for some indoor goth parties but not for outdoor adventures like this one. After everybody had been ready and left for the call of nature the whole mood had lightend up, which was the reason we made good progress.
It had gotten colder and the sleet had changed to snow over the morning. Most of the trees were still white from the frost of the night. Babsie let herself fall back and walked at my side. “I can smell some shit”, she said. “What?” “It’s in my nose. I can smell my stuff. Please. Take care of me, will you?” “What do you mean? Talk sense, girl.” “The mood! Don’t you see that?! They are all high as a pigeon. Somebody is using Novacoke. At least one of them, if not everyone. Can’t you smell?” “Oh shit. Richard too?” “No, I don’t think so. I think the geeks take it. I don’t know what the goth is on. Maybe it’s something else, but it’s too dreamy for coke. Their mood is… pushed. Please! You watch me, yes? I really can feel the urge to escape this shit, too.”
I laid my arm around her shoulder. “Don’t be afraid. You’ll make it little Bunny. Just stay with me, will you?” She nodded. “I really don’t want to get on again. It’s the first time I feel again my own feelings. Even if I don’t like this here. It’s for real. And it isn’t that bad, is it?” “No. It’s not us who have to starve because we were stupid ignorant city-dwellers.” “But we are stupid ignorant city-dwellers, aren’t we?” “Hm. But not that stupid.” And we both watched the rest of the group leaving the woods and enter the open, where the snow field began.
After some time we took out our gloves, the geeks had some electric driven fingered gloves, and Thaniel had those gaze gloves in black, which couldn’t be warming much.
“Can I have a softdrink?”, Skylar asked. “They got bitten”, Mark answered but was in a good mood about that. “Drink your water.” “Water?” “Your water bottle.” “I have no water anymore.” Richard stopped. “You don’t have water?” “No. Did you see a tap somewhere or what?” “We were camping at a creek. We had water.” “I don’t drink that stuff. It’s not clean. There are fishes in that. Maybe animals have pissed in it. Germs and that.” She smiled. “No problem. I don’t need water.” “You need water.” Richard stared at the young woman. “Girl? Do you want to die or something? You fucking didn’t fill your water bottles?” The hackers were shaking heads. “There was no tap anywhere.” “Are you… mad? What did you drink? This?” And he kicked the pack of Orange Crush with the tip of his shoes. “No!” Skylar had put her hands to her hips. “We are not stupid, are we? I had these isotonic sports drinks with me. But they are empty now. This shitty squirrel exed them, didn’t it? It’s Dan’s fault.” “Girl. This is no question about which fault it is. You three are without anything to drink or what?” “And if? Pffft”, she made. “It’s just a hill. We gone through worse, didn’t we?” Her two colleges smiled. “We did.” “So let’s do it.”
Richard was looking, hopefully to us. “You have water?” “Yes.” Babsie nodded. Thaniel ignored him. “Look there! It’s so high here. Can’t you smell the air?” Richard started at the boy in black, shook his head and turned. “It’s too late. We just get over the ridge. There is water farther down the slope on the other side. You will survive a day without water. You can always melt snow, if it’s too bad. In your self-heating cans.”
Reality had left us. Most of us, it seemed. And Babsie had come over the first weakness that came with the discovery that the others all were using. It was a long, hard climb. At one time Mark had let himself fallen on his back and was sliding downhill. He was speeding up and the only thing that prevented him to get hurt was a bush that caught his slide. He ran uphill again, laughing. “That was fun!” The rest of the geeks were laughing or giggling. “Stop this shit. You get yourself killed, you idiots!” Richard was losing temper.
Three hours climb, then we took a break. “Is there something I don’t get?”, he asked us. “You seem to be the only normal people here.” “They are using”, Babsie said. “Using?” “Drugs.” “Oh shit.”
He walked back to the front. “Up! Up! Up! We have to get over the crest before noon. Or we will get caught in the ice on our way down by nightfall. And that night will suck big balls”, he was looking at Thaniel. “In the ice. Without a fire. And without proper clothing.”
He was starting to fight for real survival. We could feel it, but the high part of our group was totally oblivious to the danger and were dawdling around, playing games, making jokes and throwing snow balls at each other. It was way after noon when we finally reached the top of the crest. Only stones, gravel and snowfields around us. No shelter, strong wind and the view was limited by fog and thick snow flakes. The drugged part of the group was staggering more than walking, giggling most of the time. Thaniel at least had some kind of stoic astonishment on his face, oblivious to the cold and the freezing of his fingers.
“Kid, let’s see your fingers and feet”, Richard demanded, but Thaniel just ignored him. “I’m fine. It doesn’t hurt anymore. Isn’t it beautiful here?” “Stop that shit. Let me see it.” “Warriorprincess, how do you like it up here?” “Damn.”
Richard had removed the thin gloves and the fingers were dark blue and not moving. “Feet”, he demanded, but the result was even worse. He cursed. “We have to get down here the fast we can or he will lose some of them. If it’s not already too late. Is the rest of you okay?” “My boots are new and hurting”, Babsie said. “And I think I have a few sore wounds, but it’s okay.” “New boots, too”, I said. “But I’ll survive it.”
Richard was kneeing and examining our feet, while the geeks were laughing and Thaniel was left alone to put on his shoes and gloves again. “Such an idiot”, Richard cursed silently in my direction. “He said it’s a question of style. He would better be dead than to wear the stuff we have. And I just hope it doesn’t come to that. Please keep an eye open on the kid, will you? You are directly behind him.”
Thaniel was at the end of the plateau and had turned around. He smiled manically. “It’s not far down from here. I don’t lose anything. It’s just a joke. A damn joke.” He started to laugh. Then he just let fall himself backwards and vanished from sight. “Nooo!”, Richards screamed. “Stop him! You idiots! Stop him!” We ran to the edge where the slope went downwards and Thaniel was gliding on his coat like on a slide, lying on his back, head first, arms stretched in both directions, laughing out loud. “Just a joke!” He passed the point were the slope went down steeper and his speed suddenly increased. “Just a joke!”, he cried. “Stop, boy! Turn around! Stop!”, Richard had tried to reach him, but he was too fast sliding downhill. Richard finally fell on his knees, almost himself losing control and gliding down.
We saw him gliding faster and faster, snow splashing around him. His laughter getting sucked away by the size of the scenery and the snow, until he was just a fast moving black point in the white glaze of the snow field. He reached the end of the snow field and hit a large boulder. His body thrown into the air, turning, tumbling, he bounced several times, hit other rocks, at the end he was flying over a stony edge, flying in a large, flat arc down into the rocky field and vanished into the woods, where somewhere below was the next creek.
We were standing there for a while, staring down. Nobody said a word. Even the geeks had understood what had happened. “But… but… he could be still alive, couldn’t he?”, Skylar stared downhill. “Guess not”, Mark said. “That was kinda cool”, Dan commented. “LOL.”
Richard just looked at the geeks, then at us. “Okay. We move fast. No break. We have to get down from the snow field before sunset. Or we’ll wish we had chosen his way down.”
The descent was hard. Richard had chosen a brutal pace, almost running down and I could hear Babsie cough of pain, when her feet were moving inside the boots. Downhill was brutal for my feet too, for they slipped inside and our sore feet didn’t make it any better. The self-heating soles of Mark had broken after two hours and the fluid was squeezing out. He started to complain about his feet getting cold. “Then run faster”, was the only thing Richard had to say. When Skylar tumbled and fell he helped her up. She was disorientated and didn’t recognize where to go. “Girl, you are dehydrated”, he said, and to the geeks, “has one of you water? No?” “Don’t look at me”, Babsie said. Richard gave her the rest of his water. “We have at least three hours to go to get to the water and haven’t even left the snow field yet. The sun is going down in one or two hours. I’d say, we try to push our pace, if you don’t like to die.”
Babsie used the break to drink water, I offered mine to the geeks, got an empty bottle in return. I stuffed snow in it, hoping it would melt when I carry it under the jacket.
“Are you mad?” Babsie turned around and meant the water. “There’s no gain if they slow us down any further.” “Hm”, she said and everyone lacked the breath for talking, even Richard seemed to be on the edge. He had the heavy work to cut our way through the snow and nobody had taken his turn. Wind had started to blow and icy crystals were cutting in our faces and every piece of uncovered skin like knifes. We followed his arduous path down in serpentine, breaking in from time to time and with strength-sapping struggle we pulled our feet out.
So after two hours down Dan just puked out what he had in his stomach and Skylar followed. I could see Babsie fighting against it but taking a shot of water instead. “Faster!”, Richard yelled, who didn’t stop. “Faster! Or do you want to die?”
The backpacks of the geeks were bulkier and looked heavier than ours. They had to carry all their tech-shit with them, so they truly were exhausted. But Richard managed to get us down and running for an other hour, when Skylar just collapsed with a sigh and didn’t move anymore. Even when we tried to get her up, she was clearly unconscious. “Just half an hour and we are past the snow field! Dirk, help me!”, he yelled. I stood for a moment before I realized he meant me. “Yes.” We got her between us and were pulling her feet behind. “Go!” We slipped her after a dozen steps. It didn’t work. I suggested: “Mark, Dan, take her load. Or get rid of this shit.” “Man, our tent only works if every part is there. We have a team-thing going here.” “Then move your teamy asses!”, I shouted between panting and released her backpack into the snow. “Your problem now.”
The two geeks were falling behind, while Babsie for a while tried to make the path for us, for she was still lightweight. But she had to give up and staggering she fell back in a fatigue trot behind us. Her head was red and she was panting. The harsh wind that was coming down from the ridge didn’t make it any better and took our breath away.
Finally I collapsed. I blacked out for a moment. I don’t know how long, but Babsie was rubbing snow into my face. “Get up! Up!” Richard had tried to get forward and had throw the light girl over his shoulder. But he was fighting against the soft snow where his legs were sinking in to the knees. “There!”, he panted. “It’s over there!” “What? I don’t know what you mean.” Babsie tried to see what he meant. The sun just vanished over the ridge and darkness was falling fast. “Get her to the boulder up there! We camp there!” “In a boulder!” Babsie stared forward. “Behind the boulder! There’s a pit in the snow where the wind was removing the snow behind it! He means behind the boulder!”
And with the last effort of her muscles she managed to take lead. I fell several times to my knees, got up again. I don’t know how. But we reached the place. Behind the boulder there was a gap in the snow that was almost as deep as a grown man. We slid Skylar to the wind protected side at downhill and Richard started to dig a hole in the snow, entrance in the gap. “Help me!”, but it wasn’t more than a wheezing cough. Like drowning men Babsie and I got to our knees and we started to dig.
In the end we had a snow cavern where we could put Skylar in, sitting on her camping mat, covered in a blanket. The other two fell into the gap without caring to catch their fall. “Help us!” But they didn’t move anymore, so the three of us worked hard to get the cavern widened by an other meter so we all would fit in there if we kept close together.
Babsie offered me the last of her water, she filled her canteen with snow, then we scooted ourselves in. Babsie collapsed the moment she had covered herself with her survival blanked, I huddled her into my arms to keep ourselves warm, the geeks kept unconscious Skylar between them, Richard at the other side of Babsie.
The last I could see was the blood that was running down the noses of Dan and Mark. Then I blacked out.