By John S. Aissis
I lost three toes first. My fingers lasted longer, but eventually, they took two from each hand. The machines saved the rest of my body. I don’t remember any of it; they kept me unconscious from the moment they pulled me off the mountain. The doctors of Mardi, the biggest city on Quebec of the Night, had no idea what to do for me. We have little experience with disabilities and none with the insanity that caused my injuries. Technology is grand, but it only goes so far and it doesn’t help a society blessed with a safe world deal with someone who so casually throws it all away.
In the end, they sent me to the Caribou, that truly horrific sect granted sovereignty outside the equatorial band of the planet. I know the Mardians justified it as an act of kindness, an attempt to send me to the only people they believed were as foolish as me. But I knew the truth; I had been exiled.
They brought me by boat, traveling north along the coast until the pack ice was too thick to continue. The Mardians abandoned me at the dock rather than making the trip to the glacier-covered wastes that permeates nearly the entire planet except for a thousand-mile stretch around the equator.
Maybe they would have tried to find a place for me if I had useful skills, but I had been lazy and had gotten my degree in old Earth biology, of little use on a planet with nothing other than vegetation and the few domestic animals we brought with us. At least that’s the excuse I allowed myself. It’s more likely that they were afraid of me, a living, breathing object lesson, best out of sight of the colony of Canadians that were lucky enough to migrate to this planet.
The boat cruised along the edge of the isthmus, the sea ice growing thicker as the air dipped below freezing during the height of summer. I was wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, which would have been a recipe for a quick death if not for the Paradise attached to my belt. The device created a small sphere of warmth, keeping me safe from the brutal environment. “It’s what makes this world tolerable,” my father once said, lamenting the loss of Earth.
The boat turned into a bay thick with ice floes and the last piece of bare land before the glaciers. It seemed a fitting place to meet the Caribou. The rocky beach marked the southern boundary of the lands ceded to them by the government of Mardi. In the distance, I could see a lone figure sitting on a boulder, dressed in furs and without a Paradise. I recognized Samuel, the leader of the Caribou and one of the original settlers.
“Hello,” I shouted from the deck but Samuel didn’t move. My nerves were warning me to stay on the boat, wondering if all that the Mardians told me about the Caribou was true. Born as Inuits, the people of the Canadian Arctic of Earth formed a small group on Quebec of the Night. Mardian students were often told of the colonists who swore off modern comforts to live on the ice the way they did before the Great Warming on Earth.
“Samuel was born there,” my father had said just after I agreed to live with the Caribou. “Canada was too poor to build its own starship, so they had to wait while the best prospects were taken by the superpowers flush with money. In the end, to get the funding, they had to agree to include the aboriginals of Canada, including the Inuit.”
“Why send us here,” I asked, and I realized for the first time a cold planet like Quebec of the Night could not have been the Canadians’ first choice as they had told us in school.
“The only habitable planet close enough was a dim red star twenty-two light-years away,” continued my father, telling me the true history of the settlement, even as he cast me from my home. I appreciated his honesty. It helped me believe he had my best interests at heart. “After waking fifty years ago, the original colonists discovered the star produced far less energy than predicted, leaving only a portion regularly above freezing around the equator. The rest was cold and dark most of the time. That’s why they called it ‘Quebec of the Night.’”
“What went wrong with the Inuit?” I asked my father, hoping to gain some insight into those who would take custody of me.
“The Inuit were happy to have a planet full of glaciers and sea ice, just like home before global warming. Even though most of the Inuit were scientists–very few knew how to live off the land–they still petitioned to go north, to the glaciers. We thought ‘we didn’t want them anyway, let them have the rest of this frozen rock.’”
And the Mardians hardly thought about them and neither did I, until the accident.
I used an inflatable raft to get to the beach while Samuel waited patiently for me. He appeared old, very old; it occurred it must have been his actual age plus years of living under the sun with no protection from a Paradise that caused all the wrinkles. He waited for me to pull the raft onto the beach before walking over.
“Does it hurt?” said Samuel, looking at my fingers
In the six months since the amputations, no one dared mention them to me. I ignored him. “I’m Rennie.”
“I know who you are. I wouldn’t be sitting out here on the passing chance someone would come by. Now, tell me, does it hurt?”
I held up my hand as if looking at it for the first time. My missing index finger and pinky still seemed like I was looking at someone else’s hand. “Not anymore. Sometimes it feels like they’re still there, but it doesn’t hurt.”
“We’ve had some frostbite but no amputations since we landed.”
I didn’t know what to say, but I didn’t like being analyzed.
“There will be plenty of time for us to talk later, Rennie. Let’s get you to town.” He looked down at my belt. “You’ll notice no one in our community uses Paradises on the ice. They choose to live as the Inuit did.”
“That seems a bit silly since we’re twenty-two light-years from Earth and our red sun makes the snow look pink.”
“It’s more about balancing our past with our future.”
“It didn’t bother you to use the technology of a starship to get away from a dying Earth.”
“True,” he replied but decided to say no more on the issue. “We have a bit of a hike to get to New Whati.” Samuel turned and walked away from the beach, up onto the glacier. I didn’t know what to expect, but with the boat leaving and few choices available, I followed him into the wastes.
Robots built the city of Mardi years before most of the originals were woken from hibernation. They landed on a planet waiting for them; a house for each colonist, farms already producing food, the beginnings of industry and their Paradises to protect them from the cold.
New Whati wasn’t like Mardi, but it also wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. I had worried that they were living in tents or even in caves of snow so I was surprised to find actual buildings. They weren’t very solid, just thin layers of sheet metal with stoves, but it was better than being out in the open. There was room for about one hundred people, not the thousands I expected after fifty years separated from us.
Samuel led me through the well-trodden snow between buildings to what appeared to be a structure the size of a couple of houses. Outside, a sign announced Community Lodging. I stood for a moment on the doorstep and watched as the sun descended behind a peak. Sunset on Quebec of the Night is beautiful. The light of the red giant shines through layers of ice crystals, coloring the vast snowfields of our planet from pink to deep violet.
“It’s just as beautiful as it was on Earth,” said Samuel, staring over my shoulder. I had forgotten he was one of the few still alive who had witnessed both.
We went inside and I shut off the Paradise as Samuel peeled layers of his clothes off. The walls separated the building into small rooms along a corridor that ran from the front to the back.
“I asked a few tribal members to join us. Ordinarily, we celebrate new arrivals with a meal and a welcome ceremony. But….”
“But everyone who comes here chooses to live here, unlike me who had no choice,” I said.
I wanted to scream at him that I would never willingly live like the Inuit, but instead, I just shrugged. Shame and sadness filled in where the rage left an emptiness. After all, these people were willing to take me in when my own people abandoned me.
“We are a people who could use your talents.”
What talents? I thought. I’m just a fool who got himself maimed and has a worthless degree in the study of creatures that don’t even exist on Quebec of the Night.
“Come, meet our party,” said Samuel, leading me into one of the small rooms. I expected an office, but instead of a conference room table, it looked like a museum of the Inuit culture–artifacts of all of the tools necessary to live on the sea ice. Except it was clear that the snowshoes, picks, ropes and other gear I didn’t recognize had been used recently.
There were four people in the room, sitting on the floor, smiling, no doubt enjoying my terror.
“We’re ready, Maniitok,” said the short stocky man, prone on the floor stuffing some kind of fabric into a bag.
I turned to Samuel. “Maniitok?”
“It’s my Inuit name. Maniitok means ‘rugged.’”
Everyone laughed and I could see why. Samuel had to be eighty. And while he wasn’t frail, I would hardly call him rugged.
“Let me introduce you to the rest of our search party.”
“Search party?” I interrupted but Maniitok ignored me and continued. “Iluak is getting our food and tents together.” Like Maniitok, Illuak had the dark, lined skin of a native.
“This is Tunerk,” he said, pointing at the sole female. She glared at me from the floor as if I had offended her. She was far younger than the others, closer to her teenage years than her thirties. There was a long pink scar stretching across her cheek to the side of her mouth.
Why didn’t she have that repaired? I must have been staring because Tunerk unconsciously stroked her face.
The last member of our group looked like he belonged in New Whati less than I did. He was tall with blond hair and fair skin. “I’m Iqniq.” The only thing Inuit about him were the furs covering his body. I realized he was one of the few non-Inuits to move to New Whati. He nodded at me and pointed to the Paradise clipped to my belt. “You planning on using that thing?”
“Since you live in the middle of an ice cube, yeah, I’m using it.”
“What about your clothes?” asked Tunerk. “They’re too light.”
“With the Paradise on, I’ll enjoy a pocket of air at whatever temperature I choose. These things are foolproof,” I said, suddenly realizing how stupid that sounded in light of what happened.
“Nothing is foolproof,” said Tunerk, grinning.
They must know how my accident happened.
No one made any jokes as Maniitok handed me some furs. I reluctantly took them and began dressing.
But I planned to leave the Paradise on.
We left before dawn. It took a couple of hours to crest the top of the glacier. Below us was a snow-filled valley extending to the horizon. Maniitok told me we were searching for a sheltered valley that would be more suitable for the Inuit to build a new colony than New Whati. But I assumed this was really a ritual to help us bond into a team.
As I stared, I suddenly realized the whole valley was moving. “The land looks like it has waves,” I said.
“Good eyes,” said Iqniq. “I had to walk on it before I realized it was sea ice.”
“It’s very thick,” said Tunerk “But it’s also craggy and does not completely cover the water. “We must be very careful. Follow me to the Sinaaq.”
I looked at Maniitok, but it was Iqniq, the other transplant from Mardi who would be my translator for this trip. “It means the edge of the sea ice.” We followed Tunerk.
The sea ice was far worse than it looked. Even with the Paradise, it was slow going through the boulders erected when the individual pieces of ice ground together. After working up a sweat and getting no clearer understanding of what we were doing, I lost patience.
“What are we searching for? There’s nothing living here.”
“Perhaps the world is not as lifeless as you think,” said Maniitok and that was enough to scare me into silence.
We set up camp on the sea ice as soon as the sun went down. I kept hoping Maniitok would order the rest of the group to turn their Paradises on, but they stayed true to their vows and began building shelters from blocks of ice. They used hand lasers to cut the ice. I didn’t point out their hypocrisy, but I felt no shame leaving my Paradise on and using a tent as psychological protection from the night.
Illuak set up a propane stove that gave off enough heat to melt water and warm our food packs. We sat around the fire, quiet while dinner was cooking. Maniitok, as our leader, took responsibility for getting us talking.
“We must know each other better if we are going to work together. We have the right to know you, and you, us.”
I sighed. I didn’t mind listening to them, but I didn’t want to tell them about me, What if they reject me like the Mardians? Or worse, what if their truths are so bad, I can’t live like them?
“I’ll begin,” said Maniitok. “I was born in Whati, in the original Northwest Territories of Canada. I lived with my parents and siblings, learning how to hunt and fish. I was the last generation to learn to hunt on the sea ice before it finally melted for good.
“When Canada won the right to colonize Quebec of the Night, we hoped the planet would have a region cold enough to support ice. Never could we have imagined a world with such a large Arctic region. It was as if the spirits built this world for the Inuit; a place to reclaim the old life that was taken away when the superpowers warmed the Earth.”
“How many of the original Inuit are left?” I asked.
“Of the original fifty, most of which were scientists, only five are left. I am the only one left still able to travel on the ice…and I will do it until I die.”
That’s a masterful performance. I wondered how many times he had given that speech to new arrivals.
The water on the stove finally began to steam as Illuak slid over to sit next to me. The wind had picked up and Illuak’s voice was so soft, I could barely hear him.
“My mother was an original settler but Papa was a white Canadian. They fell in love after landing, before the Inuit abandoned Mardi. They married, I was born and named Charlie. Papa died when I was three and my mother decided to rejoin her people. I was raised here and devoted my life to learning to live off the land from the original settlers. Eventually, they stopped calling me Charlie and renamed me, Illuak. It means a person who does good. Rennie, this is a place where no one will care what you did…and you won’t either.”
Illuak seemed sincere, but I doubted it would ever be true for me.
Tunerk eagerly went next. “You don’t belong here, Rennie. You want a nice easy life; drinks, parties, and civilization. I was born on the ice floes of Quebec of the Night. My parents were original settlers who couldn’t wait to embrace their heritage and struggled to build a new home here; my home.
“I don’t mind the occasional southerner coming up here to have a look.” She scowled at Iqniq. “But you’re only here because you’ve been rejected by everyone else. And I was born with the name Tunerk; not renamed in a meaningless ritual.”
She sat back down, ignoring the rest of us.
“Well, Tunerk, I guess we know how you feel,” said Maniitok.
I think he meant it as a joke, but no one was laughing. I didn’t care. She was the one dressed in furs, living like her ancestors two hundred years before we left Earth.
“Iqniq, if you want to scare me, let’s just skip the introduction,” I said.
“No need, Rennie. My decision to live among the Inuit is meant to ease your concerns, not frighten you.” Iqniq made sure to look at Tunerk. “I was born David Longstern III. My father was an original colonist who came from Toronto. David Longstern was the Prime Minister of Canada, so my father decided he had to be a leader of the Mardi. And that came with a lot of baggage for his kids. Everyone knew our family. We had money, we had power, we had property. That was great until I was 21. There were literally no challenges left; there was nothing to do but exist.
“After graduating from college, I went on a world tour, which was basically a trip around the equator to all the cities, created by the same robots, with all the same architecture. You get the idea. The last stop on the tour was New Whati, to see how the Inuit live. To say I was enraptured would be a great understatement. I decided to write a book about New Whati and came back again and again. In the end, it was Maniitok that realized I was using my book as an excuse to stay here. I finally gave in two years ago.” Iqniq smiled. “They accepted me, at least most of them did. They named me ‘Fire–Iqniq’ for my red hair.”
The wind began to howl at an almost deafening roar as it squeezed through the ice boulders.
Maniitok was forced to shout to be heard. “Rennie, your story will need to wait until tomorrow night. We need to get into our shelters to avoid the worst of the wind chill.”
“I know you have Paradises,” I shouted.
“We only use those when death is imminent,” said Tunerk. “We don’t violate our ways without just cause.”
We climbed into our tents. I bet they all lay there, freezing, uncomfortable, praying for morning. I thought about them momentarily as the Paradise kept me warm, safe and…bored. I shivered, remembering the exact same feeling washing over me on the side of the mountain the night of the accident.
The winds calmed by morning. I left my tent to find the pink, blinding light of the sun reflecting on the ice and a camp full of packed gear but no people. We were surrounded by crags towering over the ice and I was almost in a state of panic at having been abandoned. I climbed the nearest one and found the Inuit in the next valley standing in a circle looking down. I clambered down the other side and made my way over. No one noticed me as I joined the group. They were staring at a break in the sea ice, open to the ocean below. The black water was relatively calm but I could see something moving underneath.
“What’s that?” I said, calmer than I actually felt. Whatever it was looked bigger than a dog.
“It’s leery of us,” said Maniitok, ignoring me. “Maybe they’re learning their predators come from above the ice.”
“Maybe or it could be genetic,” said Illuak. “They could be imprinted to know the predators are on the ice. It doesn’t mean it’s learned from experience.”
“Illuak is right,” said Maniitok. “It means nothing other than the population is growing.”
I felt terrified…and exhilarated. There were strict rules on Quebec of the Night about birthing the embryos we brought. One of the few benefits of having a degree in Earth biology is that I knew every type of animal brought on the voyage from Earth. There weren’t any seals on board the ship, and yet I was certain I just saw one. “Who did this?”
“We did,” said Tunerk. “We knew we wanted an environment like Earth’s. The original settlers started with plankton fifty years ago, and we worked our way up.”
I couldn’t imagine what the government of Mardi and the other cities along the equator would do if they found out. Importing an Earth species without clearance was tantamount to treason. Iqniq’s father was one of their leaders. I tried to hide my feelings, but they were all looking at me, waiting for my reaction.
“Well, Rennie. You have expertise in these creatures,” said Maniitok. “What do you think?”
So that’s why they were so happy to offer me a place to live. I was too confused to make a decision, so I bought time. “What the hell do I care about Mardi. They kicked me out.”
Iqniq clapped me on the back while everyone made their way back to camp. Up to this point, I thought this was an excuse to help me understand the Inuit way of life. Now I knew it was more than just an altruistic gesture; they were searching for help to recreate Earth’s Arctic. I suddenly wondered whether they intended to bring back creatures even larger than the seal and if they intended me to help.
We hiked all day, following imprints that Illuak and Tunerk could see in the ice, imprints that eluded me. They moved slowly, the wind blowing hard again, snow falling and the temperature plummeting below zero. It didn’t affect me with the Paradise on, but I still had to crawl along with the others or lose them in the blizzard.
“Ho!” called Tunerk, several yards in front of us on top of one of the crags. The others ran but with the aid of the Paradise, I was the first to reach her. For once, she treated me like a human being and pointed towards the sea ice. The others caught up and we all strained to see what had excited Tunerk.
On the ice, at the limits of our visibility, was a blob of snow moving perpendicular to our path.
“I think we should get closer,” said Tunerk.
“It would be reckless to approach it in the middle of a storm,” said Iluak. “It will sense us the moment we leave this crag and will either run or attack.”
“Let it know we’re coming,” said Tunerk. “I’m not afraid.”
“Is that all you care about?” said Iqniq. “Adding a story to the annals of Inuit lore; one where you’re the hero?”
“You’re just an opportunist, pretending to join us but spying for your father. Will you tell him what we’ve done? Where we really live?”
“Is that what you think I’m doing?” Iqniq turned away from whatever was running on the ice to face Tunerk.
For a moment, I actually thought there would be a fight, not just of words but an actual physical confrontation like I read about in the old books from Earth. Before that could happen, Maniitok stepped between the two. “Enough children. Your anger and paranoia don’t interest me. They are reminders of what we are trying to leave behind; distrust, fear, petty disagreements. We are here, a great distance from Earth, where the life of our forefathers was taken by greed and thoughtlessness. We have been given a second chance on this cold world. And we are so close.” He looked at everyone now. “Did you see it move? Wasn’t it beautiful? How can you think about who belongs or gaining prestige?”
His words were like a slap in the face. Even Tunerk looked ashamed. By the time we turned back toward the sea ice, whatever was down there was gone.
“There is no safe way to follow the creature in these conditions,” said Illuak.
“We must wait for the storm to pass,” said Maniitok
Tunerk wasn’t happy but no one complained as set up camp. We erected the tents in a circle to block the wind and face the openings towards a common center. As the water heated, everyone stared at me.
“What?” I said, hating the attention almost as much as I hated them ignoring me.
“It’s time for your story.”
I thought about lying but I was tired of hiding. I might as well let them see my stupidity and why my own people shunned me.
“Like Iqnik, I’m the son of an original settler. Life is relatively easy in Mardi, with robots automating all the physical labor in the colonies. I spent my youth in school, playing outside, skiing on the fringes of the habitable zone and partying.”
I paused waiting to see if they were laughing at me or disgusted with the way I chose to live my life. I saw only curious faces, so I continued.
“I never had a job. I went to high school, then college. I got my degree in Earth mammals, essentially the easiest major I could find and not suitable for any career. After graduation, I moved back in with my parents and lived a hedonistic life. I would still be living that way now, except…except for what happened.”
“Let’s skip the good times and talk about when your life changed,” said Maniitok.
I opened my mouth to speak but found I could hardly breathe. I never told the story before. No one in Mardi wanted to hear my side of what happened; they just assumed I was drunk. And then when they found out I wasn’t, well, that was worse.
“I was on a ski trip far into the interior mountains, four degrees north of the equator. The closest city was Cold Yukon, and we took snowmobiles for the fifty miles north to the mountains where virgin snow waited.”
“Why didn’t you just go to a ski resort?” said Iqniq.
“Because we were young and wanted an adventure. We made our way out to the mountains easily enough and spent the first few days hiking up slopes and skiing back down as fast as we could. At night, we set up camps completely surrounded by Paradises and partied until we passed out. On the fourth day, there was an avalanche.”
“You all had your Paradises,” said Tunerk, sneering. “And locator chips in your neck. With your technology, you were as safe if you were in your mother’s arms.”
“I turned mine off and snuck out at night to ski in the dark. I was on the mountain when the avalanche struck.”
The others turned and looked at each other. Tunerk stared at me and for once, didn’t look like she wanted to hit me.
“I was buried in the snow up to my head, so I could breathe but it took until morning for my friends to realize I was gone and longer to find me. By then…well, you can guess the rest. A rescue, a bunch of doctors that had never seen my injuries before, the loss of body parts, not to mention the investigation….”
The wind began to howl again and I wondered whether everyone wanted to wrap up in their tents. But no one moved, eagerly waiting for more.
“From the moment I left the hospital, I could feel the difference in myself and the way people looked at me. It was as if I had something they could catch. In the end, they didn’t want me around anymore and they thought, maybe, you would welcome a freak.” There was no anger in my voice, just an acceptance of my situation, and hope of a bit of empathy.
To my shock, they all looked at each other and nodded. “You might not be that bad after all,” said Tunerk. She laughed and they all climbed into their igloos. I remained outside mine, thoroughly confused.
I set my watch for dawn, afraid to miss another impromptu foray. I popped my head out of the tent but everyone else was still in camp, packing up. As soon as we broke camp, I placed myself close to Iqniq, the only one who seemed to have any real understanding of what I was going through.
“What are we looking for?” I whispered.
“You haven’t guessed?”
“I’m afraid to guess.”
“Then maybe it’s better if you’re surprised. Relax Rennie, after last night, they want you to see it. ”
“I’m sure after my story, they consider me a fool.”
“If that’s what you think, then you are a fool. That story proved you’re more like us than our countrymen on the equator.”
“Are you kidding?”
“You shut your Paradise off and snuck out in the middle of the night. Why?”
“I’m an idiot. That’s why.”
“No. You were bored. You couldn’t stand a world where there was no risk, nothing to accomplish. That’s why you did it. That’s why I’m here. That’s why the Inuits are here. We all want a life of purpose.”
Illuak came to a stop in front of a wide opening in the sea ice. Next to the hole, the snow was stained red. Illuak began shouting. Tunerk dropped to her knees and Iqniq abandoned me to join the celebration. Only Maniitok held back, although whether it was because he disapproved or was showing restraint, I couldn’t tell.
“It survived!” cried Tunerk.
“What survived?” I called.
“That!” said Illuak, pointing towards a smear of red on an otherwise white creature moving slowly across the sea ice.
Ninety-nine percent of the people on Quebec of the Night would have no idea what was loping less than a mile from us, but I did. “That’s a polar bear. You lunatics brought apex predator to this world!”
“We brought an entire ecosystem,” said Tunerk. “We tried to tell you, we are recreating the Canadian Arctic.”
The creature was majestic, even if it scared the hell out of me. Iqniq was reaching into his pack for a camera with a large telescopic lens. “You’re going to kill it?” “We need to capture an image of the bear,” said Iqniq. “To prove all of the hard work of the Inuit community led to this.”
“We will have to wait,” said Maniitok. “Look.” He pointed the western sky and giant storm clouds were rolling in. “We must take shelter.”
“Wait! How did you do this?” I said, my curiosity pushing aside my fear of the polar bear and the storm. “I mean, it would take sophisticated machines and lots of people to bring all the embryos to life, to raise them, and teach them to hunt. New Whati is a bunch of run-down outbuildings.”
They all smiled at me, and then looked towards Maniitok as if to ask, what do you want to do?
“I can have us out of the storm in an hour,” said Illuak.
We had been traveling for days and I was pretty certain we hadn’t gone in a circle so New Whati wasn’t close to us.
Maniitok pulled down his scarf and smiled. “Time to bring Rennie home.”
No one argued as Illuak led us away from the bear, west. The sky looked like a giant red blanket, the kind my mother used to knit, being thrown over the top of the world. At the edge of the sea ice, we faced a line of snow-covered hills. I could see a pass between two of the ridges that we were walking toward, trying to outrun the storm. We made it to the pass just as the snow started, a glow coming from between the peaks even without the sun shining.
Inside the overhang, the glitter, appearing as a wall in front of us, blocked our way forward. I touched it and felt as if my fingers were asleep, the phantom pins and needles spreading throughout my remaining fingers. I knew that feeling, it was a Paradise field. Maniitok smiled at me and removed a stone to reveal a biometric hand analyzer. He put his palm on it and the wall disappeared. Behind it was a dirt path.
A dirt path? Where’s the snow? I wondered
I rushed forward to the edge of a steep drop and looked out over the valley. Laid out before me inside a ring of hills was a city. I call it a city, but it was far more beautiful than any of its kin on Quebec of the Night. There were no buildings over two stories and no two were the same. The glacier had receded and left deep ridges in the valley. The melting water collected in a lake at its low point near the center.
Whoever designed this place used the natural landscape so that the vegetation ebbed and flowed around the buildings. There were warehouses for manufacturing at the far end of the valley and open space everywhere…and people, lots of people. Most were staring up, watching the snowfall as if it were some kind of novelty. Others were focused on the pass, understanding that the dropping of the shield meant that someone was entering their valley.
Maniitok came up behind me and pressed another biometric device. The glittering wall re-appeared behind me and rose up in an arc, creating a dome across the valley. The snow stopped and the land was covered in a gray glow from the light created by the field. They had built a giant Paradise, big enough to fit an entire city.
“It’s their own version of Shangri-La,” said Iqniq. “The dome is usually covered with snow, so even their satellites cannot see us.”
“We prefer your people believe we live humbly in New Whati. We brought engineers and scientists to this world for a reason. We needed to build our ecosystem and to live in peace and comfort if we wanted to, or on the sea ice, or both if that is their choice. You see, Rennie; we offer a balance between the old and the new. Either way, we wanted to be far from the destructive hands of the more civilized of our species.”
I was silent for a while and the silence let me think. Finally, Tunerk spoke. “It’s not an easy way to live. You could die on the ice. But you could put some of those worthless college skills to good use and help us finish building the ecosystem.”
“It would be the kind of challenge you were looking for on the side of that mountain,” said Maniitok.
Two weeks later, I left the protection of the valley with the team, my team. This time, I knew what we were doing. Out on the glacier, Maniitok stopped us and turned towards me, waiting, hoping I was ready. I knew what he wanted, what all of my new friends expected. I had thought about this moment for a long time, but really, I knew what I would do the first time I walked into New Whati with Maniitok. Wrapping my three-fingered hand around the base of the paradise, I switched it off.
I started forward, heading towards the sea ice, my body feeling the intense cold for the first time since the accident. I was sure there would be pain, there would be fear and the polar bear might just kill me.
I can’t wait….
About the Author: John Aissis is a science fiction and horror writer living in eastern Connecticut. He is a graduate of A Viable Paradise Science Fiction Writers Workshop, 2017 His short stories have appeared in The Colored Lens Magazine and Nova Science Fiction Magazine. His twitter handle is @JohnSAissis.
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