written by Fyren
The heavy cord creaks and tenses as a massive balloon rises into the permanent cloud cover, the cord keeping it tethered to the city of tents we now call home. Higher and higher it rises, taking some light with it as well its cargo; me. The balloon comes to a sudden stop with a jerking motion, sending me to my knees. A broken spyglass is my only tool to survey the surrounding area. We had been separated from many people on the journey here, and it was my call that had us press on without searching for them. Not too distance I can make out a light, faint and flickering. Words that could also describe our hope, though if there are survivors out there they are surely worse for wear. I descend the cord, to tell the people what I saw.
“There appears to be a light, not too far off. It could be survivors from our expedition. The very same ones that we were forced to leave behind.” Those who had lost family members during the trip exchange glances that are a mix of excited and mournful. “I need volunteers to gear up and head out into the storm to find who they can, and bring them back. The journey will not be easy, and it may claim your life.” In the space of only a few breaths, a full team is assembled. If they make it back their experience out in the frostlands will be invaluable. Rangers I will call them. The plan was to wait for the dawn of the following day, but the rangers were eager to be on with their new assignment and so they left immediately. Now, if only I could get that kind of enthusiasm for everything that needed to be done.
While the rangers are out blazing a trail through the snow to find whatever or whoever is out there, work continues in the city on our coal mine. It is nearly operational by now. It should be ready soon. Three bodies now occupy the corpse pit, and the sick and injured continue to pile up like so many drifts of snow. The temperature continues to drop and the generator struggles to keep up on the meager diet of coal we feed it. I am out in the field, with several children around me. We are picking coal from the ground with nothing more than simple hand tools. “Sir!” I can barely hear the shout; the snow deadens the sound. I look up. “Sir!” the man calls again. I can see him running through the snow and having a rough time of it. He reaches our worksite and doubles over, lungs having a hard time sucking in the frigid air. “Take it easy lad, catch your breath.” I tell him. He takes several moments to deal with a violent coughing fit before vomiting into the snow. “The mine is ready, it just needs the steam core.” he manages after wiping the vomit and spittle from his face. Ah yes, the steam core. A miniaturized version of our generator, and we were only able to bring one of them with us. “Let us see it done, this is vital to our survival” I tell him. I turn to the kids “Keep it up for now, but look on the bright side you may not be doing this tomorrow.”
With the steam core in place the mine is fully operational. At least for now, our fuel worries should be taken care of. There is still plenty to worry on however. Another day comes and goes. I sit in my tent after a long day’s worth of hard work and I hear outside several people… is that laughter? I peek through the flaps of my tent to my citizens gathered in the open area around the generator. One is standing on a box, flailing about. He hunches over and does an exaggerated impression of a person sort of skulking about and grumbling. Then he straightens up and starts pointing at the crowd. I can’t quite make out what he is saying from here, but the small crowd gathered around him seems to be enjoying it. Laughter fills the small courtyard area for the first time since our arrival. The wind picks up and carries a few words my direction “Get… work… it done… don’t care… die… you want”. Bits and pieces of things I have said. The man is doing a caricature of me. I didn’t think my heart could sink any lower. I head back inside my tent to the sound of more uproars of laughter, the sound hurts now more than the stinging cold. I find my stashed bottle of whiskey, and drink the last of it.
The sound of a horn blast wakes me with a jolt. The rangers have returned. Making their way into the sheltered hole we call a city is at least 30 people. Families rush to see if their loved ones are among those who were lost, but now found. As happy as I am I realize that I had forgotten to plan ahead in case the rangers found success. We have no shelter for all these people. With more people comes more problems for a leader. Those problems will come, no sense in worrying about them. “You can’t please everyone.” I hear my mother’s voice in my head once again. “No, I can’t… obviously” I grumble to myself thinking of last night’s revelry. I set out to round up some workers to start constructing shelters for our new arrivals. The team of rangers is being celebrated throughout the city; they didn’t just find people out in the frostlands, they found some small measure of hope and brought it back with them. One breaks through the crowd to talk to me. “We saw what might be another settlement out there. We couldn’t investigate with these folks in tow, but we want to head back out there as soon as we can.” he tells me. I say nothing, but nod in agreement. The man smiles and scampers off to tell his team the news. Once the celebration dies down, the rangers re-supply and head back out into the bitter cold, biting winds and driving snow of the frostlands, eager to live up to what many of the people have now been calling them – heroes.
Continued in No Exceptions