Log #178 – Escape

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The opportunity arose for an insane escape from Klescher.

Klescher Maximum Security Prison was hell. I couldn’t imagine a worse place in the verse. When I had run out of oxygen while exploring the mines, a group of inmates had rescued me. At least that’s what they called it. First they stabilized my oxygen supply with an oxypen, then they put me through the wringer. Kicks, punches, the whole program. Just because I couldn’t pay them for the so-called rescue. After they took everything I had on me, they let me go with a warning. They would be back and then they wanted to see Merits. There it was again, my basic problem. I didn’t have a mining tool to earn merits with mining and I didn’t have merits to buy a mining tool.

For weeks I tried to get by somehow. It was hardly possible. I had to get out of this hell. Urgently. My life depended on it. And then it happened. Once again I received a message from Ruto, with a job offer. Someone had tried to smuggle a data chip out of the prison on his behalf. But the mission failed. The poor sod was lying with the chip somewhere in an escape tunnel. Ruto wanted me to recover the chip and bring it to him to Grim Hex. He had prepared everything for the escape. This was the opportunity to get out of here.

The day of freedom had come. And I stood doubtfully in front of the huge fan that was embedded in the rock wall. The rotor blades were taller than me. Like a giant circular saw, they spun, ready to rip apart anything that came too close. Carefully, I tapped a sequence of numbers on the number pad. I could only hope that Ruto’s plan and the code worked. First I felt the airflow weaken. Then I could clearly see the rotor blades turning slower and slower until they finally stopped.

The way to freedom was open. Only how long would the fan stand still? The motor could start again at any time. If I was then in the area of the rotor blades… I didn’t even want to think about that. With a queasy feeling, I first pushed one foot through the fan. Then my upper body and the second foot followed. Relieved, I took one deep breath and exhaled again. I had made it, I could go on. Slowly I felt my way through the ventilation canal, when I heard the wup wup of the increasingly faster rotor blades behind me. There was no turning back.

After a few meters, I reached a circular, vertical ventilation shaft almost 10 meters in diameter. Ominously rotating fans stretched across the entire width of the shaft. One a few meters below me, the other 20 or 30 meters above me. Ruto had said nothing about more fans. I saw no number pad to turn them off. No way past the fans. No way out. I was trapped.

And now? Frustrated, I sat down on the floor and let the wind from the large fans blow past me. At some point, I noticed a hole in the wall on the other side of the ventilation shaft. A narrow metal walkway led around the edge of the shaft to the other side. In front of the hole grew a plant with blue leaves. Then I remembered what the prisoners told each other, “If you desire freedom, follow the blue flower.”

This had to be the way out. Carefully, I walked across the metal walkway and crawled into the hole. It led me directly into a cave. It was dark and narrow. The narrow passage was more oppressive than the mines in Klescher. In some places I could only crawl. Slowly I followed the light of my helmet lamp. At some point I reached a place with several forks. A blue flower was nowhere to be seen. On the off chance I took the first best way.

Again and again there were forks. Disoriented, I wandered around until I finally reached a smooth rock face. A face was carved on it. A circle, twice an X for the eyes and a mouth that stuck out its tongue. It almost looked like the face was mocking me. Why had someone painted that? A few meters further on, I got the answer. In front of me was a blue flower and a blue light. The place looked more than familiar. I had walked in circles and was back to where I started. My hope for freedom was displaced by the worry of not finding an exit.

Twice more I passed the spot. It was exasperating. But then I discovered a blue flower on the ceiling in an alcove. After I had climbed a rock wall, the cave became wider and higher. New hope sprouted in me. After a while, I reached a passage and stood on a ledge. In front of me was a gigantic cave. It went down so deep that I could not see the bottom. The rock walls rose steeply and were lost in the infinity of a faint light that shimmered at the very top. Between the rock walls were metal structures, like ruined bridges, reminiscent of a path that no longer existed. I looked up into the dizzying heights. Up there was my destination.

First fascinated, then with dwindling confidence, I stood on the rocky outcrop. How could I continue? In front of me was the deep abyss. On the other side, far away in the darkness, was another ledge. It was too far to jump. Without hope, I stared into the darkness as I remembered that the moon Aberdeen had a low gravity. Was the distance manageable after all? With all the courage I could muster, I took a run for it, ran toward the ledge, and jumped.

Unsteadily, I flew through the air, arms flailing, and landed on the other side, right on the edge of the cliff. My foot slipped and dangled over the abyss. The rumbling of falling rocks could be heard. Heart racing, I just barely found my hold on a root. If I had known that this was only the beginning, I probably would have lost my courage.

The way up was characterized by daredevil jumps. Again and again I had to jump distances that I would not have believed I could manage. It was madness, but there was no alternative. I had to get out of Klescher, no matter what. At some point, I stopped thinking and acted only on instinct. The deep-rooted drive to survive took control of my actions.

Halfway up, I found another prisoner. He was lying on a platform in front of a locked door. On the metal floor he had carved the word “help.” But for him any help came too late, he was dead. In his backpack was the data chip. This chip was my ticket to freedom. But first I had to make it to the top.

After a few more insane jumps, I reached the highest point. I stood on the remains of a collapsed bridge and looked down into the depths. On the other side of the abyss was a half-ruined ventilation shaft. A circular tube bored into the rock. Bent metal struts and plates stuck out like tattered remnants of the former bridge. It was a long jump to the other side. I didn’t have much room to take a running start. With all my power, I sprinted three steps and pushed off.

The screech of steel rubbing against steel echoed through the cave as I landed. For a few seconds I didn’t dare move. Nothing happened; the construction held. Relieved, I went deeper into the ventilation shaft.

Shortly after, I reached a perfectly constructed service tunnel. A metal walkway secured by railings led through the center of the round tunnel tube. Anticipation gripped me. The exit could not be far. Faster and faster I ran through the tunnel until I suddenly stood in front of a wall.

After climbing through a narrow opening to the other side of the wall, I found myself in a gigantic ventilation shaft. It led from the surface deep into the moon. Above me, the stars twinkled. They seemed within reach. I was out in the open and excited like a little child sitting in front of his present, waiting to be allowed to unwrap it. But I was not yet on the surface of the moon. A rusty staircase led to the top. Full of impatience, I ran and took several steps at once. As if from nowhere, a hole opened up in the steps in front of me. A maw that wanted to swallow me and take me back to the depths of the moon.

Just in time I was able to stop and hold on to the railing. Several steps had broken away. Half laughing, half horrified, I looked into the hole. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Not so close to the finish. I remained on the stairs for a few minutes, trying to calm down. “Don’t make any mistakes now, Zero. Act calmly and deliberately”, I said to myself.

And then I was finally at the top. I was standing on the lunar surface of Aberdeen. Outside the walls of the prison. It was night. The deserted grounds of the facility were well lit. A hundred yards away was one of the containers where a URSA Rover was supposed to be parked. I took off running.

After a short sprint, I stood in front of the code lock and entered the combination of numbers. The door opened. All the tension fell away from me. My muscles went slack. A warm feeling of happiness spread through my body. With a smile, I looked at the Rover. Freedom at last.

Suddenly, I felt a knock on the back of my neck. Then it went dark.

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