For Krim the Bell Tolls: Chapter 44

Read all previous installments here.

Shortly after Wynefrede was in the woods, running away from the compound, she heard the bell ring behind her and froze in panic. Then she slowly turned around and dropped to the ground and crawled behind the nearest tree and waited for the ringing to stop. Was this a signal for the cult members to assemble in order to chase after her?

She lay still, peering back towards the compound, watching for any sign of movement. Having her glasses would have come in handy about now.

But no matter how hard she looked, she didn’t see any signs of pursuers. Instead, she heard faint changing in the distance. The cult members must be holding a public prayer. Or an execution.

She stood up, dusted herself off, and turned towards where she and George had stored their stolen provisions earlier in the day.

All the bags were still there, so George hadn’t had a chance to swing back yet. Wynefrede looked through them. Bread, cheese, some greens, a couple of sticks of salami, and lots of root vegetables. She rearranged the contents, putting the most perishable together into one bag, and covered up the rest. Then she headed down to the waterfall, in case George had circled back there and was waiting for her.

While she was still a few minutes away, she heard George’s whistle, stopped, and looked around. She couldn’t see him, so she whistled back, and waited. He appeared from behind shrubbery.

“You need glasses,” he told her. “I’ve been waving at you for five minutes.”

“I’m glad you escaped,” she said. “I heard them yelling about chasing you.”

He shrugged. “They were slowed down with armor and weapons,” he said. “I ran over to the road and down to the second switchback, then hid in the woods until they passed by. They’re probably all the way down to the ocean by now.”

“We need to go down and warn the others,” said Wynefrede.

“Why?” said George. “The road doesn’t come out anywhere near where we’re camped, right?”

“They’re bringing in reinforcements,” said Wynefrede. “I heard them talking. They’re going to search the whole island for us.”

“When?”

“Sometime later today,” said Wynefrede.

“Probably not until the guards get back to the compound from chasing me,” said George. “They’re the ones who know the island best, probably. So we should have a little time.” He glanced down at the bag she was carrying. “I’m going to go up and grab more supplies,” he said. “Then I’ll catch up to you. Which way is it?”

“There’s a deer trail that goes around the waterfall, then meets the stream about a mile down, then branches off into the woods and eventually gets down to the coast. It starts over there.” She pointed down to a downed tree downhill from where she was standing.

“Got it,” he said, and took off running back to the compound.

Didn’t he ever get tired?

Wynefrede hoisted her bag back on her shoulder and started trudging down hill.

That night, they all ate well. Or, as well as could be expected, since they couldn’t light a fire for fear of attracting attention.

They hadn’t seen any signs of pursuit yet, but didn’t hurt to be cautious.

While Wynefrede and George had been spying on the cult and stealing food and other supplies, the others had been hard at work. They had used the shovels and axes to dig down and back into a hillside then used the tarp to create a roof, which they’d then covered with several layers of leafy branches

Temeliel, or Torralei, or maybe Finnbogi, turned out to be very capable at construction work. Which made sense. If he was actually Finnbogi, like Avourel told Vladimir, then he was an engineer. An aerospace engineer, to be sure, but still, someone with an aptitude for building things.

After dinner, all of them had gone down to the shore to watch the sun set. Wynefrede and Finnbogi stayed behind, hidden from view behind a rock outcrop, looking out over the ocean, while the rest went back to make the shelter more comfortable to sleep in.

“So you’re saying I work up there, among the stars?” Finnbogi pointed up at the sky. “I can’t believe it. Well, I kind of can. But it also seems a little crazy.”

“And living on an island run by a crazy guy who thinks he’s god and not having any memories from more than two days ago isn’t crazy?”

“You’ve got a point.” Finnbogi leaned back. “So, what was my work like?”

“Back when I worked for you, you mean?”

He nodded.

“Well, we had an office in the inner asteroid belt, on Ceres. It was a space station called Torus-Beacon, named after the founders. But it was also a torus.

“And I built space stations?”

“You designed space stations. Other people oversaw the building, and robots did the actual work. There was one project, Base…”

“Seventy eight?”

“You remember!”

“No, I was just guessing,” said Finnbogi.

“That’s a pretty random thing to guess,” said Wynefrede. “I bet all your memories are still there, if you can figure out how to get to them.”

“Okay, tell me more.”

“Torus-Beacon spun around to create gravity,” said Wynefrede. “But the two of us had our offices closer to the hub, so the gravity was less, and the Coriolis effect more noticeable. You were always fiddling with your anti-nausea settings. We were the last firm to have people physically up there. Today, it’s all done virtually.”

“Virtually?”

“Instead of sending someone’s physical body up there, which is expensive, and dangerous, and time consuming, they just send your virtual projection. So it looks and feels to you like you’re up there, but your physical body is somewhere nice and safe. Back on Earth, say, or on Mars. Or you don’t have a physical body at all.”

“What?”

Wynefrede patted Finnbogi’s shoulder. “I hate to break it to you,” she said. “But you died in an accident shortly after Base 78 construction started.”

“I did?”

“It was weird. We were all talking about it. You had a do-not-resuscitate order in place, too. But it hadn’t been filed correctly, so when you died the life insurance kicked in automatically and you were brought back. Virtually, at least. You now exist on a computer chip somewhere in a hosting facility, probably buried under the surface of Mars or some other tectonically stable, well-shielded location.”

“I can’t believe I’d want to die,” he said.

“You didn’t. Apparently, you got really drunk one day and signed the order. Nobody knows why because you had your privacy settings in place. Anyway, after that, you put a lock on your policy to make sure that nothing like that ever happened again. We all did.”

“So now I’ll live forever on a computer chip in a data center?”

“Well, until the Sun evolves into a red giant and fries Mars to a cinder in five billion years. But we’re working on backup plans so that we’re somewhere else when it does. Then all we have to worry about is the heat death of the universe.”

“I think I need to get back to my job,” said Finnbogi. “I don’t think we have five billion years. What if a black hole rips through our solar system? Or another star collides with it? There’s a lot that can happen before then.”

“I take it things are coming back to you now?”

“No,” he said. “I remember facts about building facilities beyond the heliopause. You want to have stations outside the solar system, as backups, but…”

“The heliosphere protects us from interstellar radiation,” said Wynefrede. “I know. Once we get outside that, you can’t rely on the solar winds anymore to keep the worst of it off us.”

“It’s particularly bad for computer chips,” said Finnbogi. “But it’s something we’re going to have to deal with if we want to have hosting centers beyond the solar systems. As backups in case something happens.”

“So you are remembering things,” said Wynefrede.

“No.” Finnbogi slammed his fist down on his leg. “Just random facts. I remember that the heliopause is more than a hundred times the distance from the Earth to the sun, but stretches out hundreds of astronomical units behind the solar system. And Voyager 1 hit termination shock at ninety four astronomical units. I remember that. But I can’t remember why this was important to me.”

Wynefrede hesitated to reach out and comfort him. She still thought of him as her boss, even though it had been years, and she’d progressed in her own career since then. “It’ll come to you eventually, Finnbogi,” she said. “And you’ll get it all back when you leave Krim.”

“What did you say?” he turned to face her.

“I said, once you’re off Krim, you know, if you die, or leave through a hypergate…”

“No, what did you call me?”

“Finnbogi. Finnbogi Sturluson.”

He looked at her suddenly. “But who are you then?”

“My real name’s Cassia Stylianoum,” she said. “I was your assistant, about ten years ago, for a very short time.”

“My god,” he said. “We have to get out of here. We have to get out of here right now.”

2 thoughts on “For Krim the Bell Tolls: Chapter 44”

  1. Noreen Brenner

    Wow, what a fantastic tale! I absolutely love this futuristic science-fictiony chapter! Congratulations, Maria, on this well-researched instalment.

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