Carpathia III: Episode 5 - The Arid Sea
Jaze couldn't tell if he was falling or floating. There was no frame of reference in the inky, black void. There was nothing to see. There was nothing to feel. Though he could breathe, he could feel no air rushing past him as he would have expected if he were falling. Panic began to set in almost immediately. It felt like ages before he first spotted a tiny pinprick of light in front of him. He quickly became transfixed by it, mainly because there was absolutely nothing else to look at in the suffocating blackness around him.
The pinprick of light slowly grew larger and larger. Eventually, he could make out details within it. At first, he could tell the light was orange. Then he could see bits of green mixed into the orange. For a long time, he couldn't tell what it was he was looking at, but he finally understood that what he was seeing was landscape of some kind, with sandy, orange soil mixed with scrubby green vegetation. Something that appeared to be water lapped upon the orange shoreline, but the color was all wrong. He could see waves and ripples of a flowing sea, but the water was a dark, dull tan.
Jaze came to the conclusion that he was indeed falling and his chest tightened in fear when he realized he had no idea how fast he was falling. It wasn't as though he had experience jumping off of buildings or anything, so he didn't know how fast the ground should be approaching. He took little comfort in his feeling that the ground was approaching far too slowly, for he knew how easily wrong he could be about that.
Jaze instinctively tensed when the ground was close enough for him to make out small cracks in the soil and scraggly leaves on the plants. Suddenly, a gust of air whooshed up in front of him and he landed roughly on the hard soil.
The landing did little more than knock the wind out of him, as though he simply rolled out of his own bed and and landed on the floor. Aside from getting a mouthful of dirt and perhaps a bruise or two, he felt fine. The ground, he immediately noticed, was hot, as was the air around him. The stifling heat pierced his skin, and he was already sweating. He rolled over on his back to see where he had come from. Above him was the same orange and blue mist that enveloped him earlier, ascending into the sky, and now he could see the blackness in the center which he came out of. In the very middle of the black void was something silver and blue that he couldn't make out, but it was rapidly growing larger.
To his horror, he suddenly realized he was looking at the front of the vehicle that he was riding in with the others just a short time ago and it was falling directly towards him. Quickly, he rolled to the side just as the truck hit the ground, missing him by mere inches. The truck landed with a crash and somersaulted down the hill and into the sea, where it rolled to a stop, half submerged. He looked up again. The blue and orange mist and the black void were all gone.
Jaze ran towards the truck in the sea. As he stepped into what he thought was water, he was shocked to find that it was actually light sand. The sand swirled around his legs as he waded deeper and deeper towards the truck, splashing up against him like waves of water and was even hotter than the oven-like air around him. The fine grit was getting everywhere, into his nose and eyes, making it difficult to proceed. He could see into the broken windows of the truck and he was relieved that nobody appeared to be inside. As he got closer, he could see the bottoms of the seats and eventually, even the floor, but there was nobody there. He felt it was safe enough to try to reach into one of the broken windows to try to retrieve the bags of chips or the sodas that they brought along, but when he was within about two feet of the truck, he felt a shock, like static electricity, only stronger than usual. Jaze jumped back in surprise. Hesitantly, he stepped forward again and was greeted by another shock. Around his legs, small blue arcs of electricity were beginning to form. He took one last look in the windows of the truck and, satisfied that nobody was inside, he turned and waded to the shore as fast as he could.
Once he was back on the shore, he started brushing the sand off of him, cleaning as much as he could from his clothes, eyes, and nose. Suddenly, he remembered his camera, tucked into his sock. He reached in and pulled it out. A few grains were lodged into some crevices, but it seemed okay otherwise. After blowing on the grains to get them out, he turned it on. Everything worked normally, thankfully unaffected by either the sand or electricity. Satisfied, he switched it off and tucked it back into his sock.
Then there was the sand itself. Curious, he returned to the shoreline. Small ripples of sand broke upon the shore and dissipated with a poof. He slowly put his hand inside and examined it. The sand was strangely buoyant and dry as he lifted it out and watched it swirl around in his hands before it blew away. In every respect, it behaved like water and he noticed a strange tingle in his fingers, as though the sand was charged with electricity.
Now wasn't the time to play with the sand though. He had to find his friends, if they were even there. He had no idea where he was or even if he was on any planet that he knew of. The sun was high in the sky and felt sweltering and close. He didn't know of anyplace on New Berengaria that even remotely resembled this sort of harsh landscape or sweltering climate. He reached into his pocket for his galaphone and pulled it out. There was no signal, further confirming that he was no longer on New Berengaria, since the Archangel Galacom antenna array covered the entire planet. He put the phone back into his pocket and climbed up the slope to look around.
Behind him and to his right, the sandy sea stretched out before him to the horizon. To his left was nothing more than a flat, green and orange plain. Before him were mountains. He could see nobody. No trace of his friends. No animals. Not even any insects. He called out, hoping someone would hear
Only the sound of the rippling sand and the wind filled his ears. He called louder.
Jaze: TOMA!!! TOOOOMMMMMAAAAA!!! ADELL!!! RYUU!!! KAORU!!!
Still no answer. Jaze was growing more and more panicked by the second.
Jaze: I'LL EVEN SETTLE FOR ARTEMIS!!!
Still nothing but the wind and the water-like ripple of the sandy sea. He was about to call again when he heard a huge, thundering crash and felt a shock go through his body. He turned in the direction of the noise and was horrified to see that a storm had apparently welled up out of the sand.
Three lightning bolts struck near Jaze's feet, each closer than the other, in rapid succession, as though reaching out for him. After that, Jaze wasted no time turning and running as fast as possible in the opposite direction.
The heat quickly became unbearable as he ran and he sweated profusely as he headed to the mountains, which he hoped would be the best chance of finding water. No matter how fast he ran, however, the mountains never seemed to get any closer and he eventually began to feel weak, whether from dehydration, being shocked multiple times, or both, he did not know. Nevertheless, his legs became wobbly and he soon could not continue any farther. He slumped to the ground and scratched at the soil, in the vain hope that he would find some water just beneath the surface.
Again, Jaze lost track of time. He had no idea how long he was laying there in the dirt and he felt as though his mind was slipping away from him as he absent-mindedly pawed at the soil. He was only vaguely aware of two figures approaching him but whether or not they were real or figments of delirium, he did not know. The two figures stood over him and had a conversation that Jaze could barely register in his mind.
Voice #1: This must be the one.
Voice #2: Only one though?
Voice #1: I haven't seen any others.
Voice #2: He's too old. We should just kill him now.
Voice #1: Idiot. Thirteen's instructions were clear. We need everyone we can get.
Voice #2: He's going to be mad anyway since we only found one.
Voice #1: Then imagine how much worse it would be if we came back with zero. Now help me pick him up.
Voice #2: Fine, but the old ones are trouble. I'll kill him myself if he gets out of line.
Jaze wasn't sure if what he was hearing was real or a dream. His mind was getting foggier and foggier and he was forgetting most of what he heard as soon as it was spoken. He felt something grab the underside of his arm and start lifting him up.
Voice #1: You will remember your place! You don't do anything unless I give you permission! Now get his other arm.
Jaze felt another hand roughly grab under his other arm and then he was lifted up. The last thing he remembered before he passed out was being dragged limply across the desert.
To be continued...
Commissioned art in this episode from:
All city pictures from SimCity 4
Desert storm image from SimCity 4 and modified by Jporter