writing chapter 14.2
Upon investigation, they discovered that there was a little food in their storage bags, so they ate, a sort of MRE, otherwise known as lunchables. Not very nutritious, not very tasty, not very filling, and full of chemicals, but they didn’t care at all, and scarfed it down. Anomia carefully put the wrapper back into her bag, and scowled at Josh as he let his go into the wind. Then they sat there on the snow covered ledge and looked out on the view.
If they’d been on the highest peak of the mountain, they could have seen the sea, way off to the north. But from where they sat, all they could see was a great ice sheet, fed by glaciers coming off their mountain, part of a range of mountains going east to west. Far, far to the south they could see another range of black mountains stretching as far as they could see along the horizon. These were totally denuded of snow in places – just black rock, with thready glacial tongues descending from the passes and peaks and plummetting to the ice sheet below.
Then the sun became covered, indistinct as clouds topped the range behind them and snow began to swirl and updraft all around them. Night was falling rapidly and they were sitting in the open. The wind picked up, howling, and suddenly they could hardly see each other. Now what? They had no tools in their bags, no tents, and sitting still was allowing the frostbite to attack even the bits inside the heated suits. So they crawled back into their snow holes, scooping and packing the snow to make a den of sorts, where they huddled together until morning, alternately pleading with and cursing xKurt and the kernel.
When it grew light they emerged to find the sun up and the sky clear, tho the wind still howled. They ate another lunchable for breakfast, and as they were sitting there wondering what to do, the ice vanished once again. They saw their mountain chain looming high above steep valleys leading to the shores of an inland sea which stretched all the way to the black mountains on the horizon, which now looked twice the height.
“I think I know where we are,” Anomia said. She’d drawn most of the maps for the Antarctica game, and hadn’t recognized the terrain when it was covered by ice. “I think we’re in Marie Byrd Land, or somewhere close to it. See, that water is the Ross Sea, and those mountains are the Transantarctic range.” She pointed to an active volcano halfway along the huge southern mountain chain. “That’s Mount Erebus. I think that’s where McMurdo would be if this were the realworld.”
“Yeah, too bad it’s not there now. We could use a rescue. Not that we could get there from here, ” he finished bitterly, measuring the distance between their mountain and the Transantarctics.
And then the ice was back, like snapping a white plastic lid on the world.
“What did you do?” Josh asked.
Anomia looked at him in surprise. “What? I didn’t do anything. It’s been coming and going like that since we got close enough to notice.”
“What does it mean? Is it a glitch?”
“I don’t know. It ‘s sure not supposed to be happening. I”ll report it as a bug.” She brought up the bug database – but it was gone. Empty. File not found.
“What, don’t we even have administrative privileges anymore?” Josh asked, looking at his own display. A dreadful thought occurred to him. Maybe he and Snake broke the game doing something sneaky and underhanded. “Fucking Snake,” he muttered.
Anomia heard him. “What did you boys do?” she asked shrilly.
“What?” he responded, offended. “It was that Fairy – and Radhu – fucking around with the game parameters.”
“But the kernel would have caught any attempt to change the program.”
Josh stayed silent and avoided her eyes for awhile. Anomia regarded the scene.
The ice continued to flicker in and out. It seemed to pulse for a minute, the ice rising and falling as if the ground were breathing in and out. The clouds came lower and hovered just above them, grazing the peaks, foaming over the passes and shedding tendrils of snow, like mist curling in the wind. The clouds capping the sky, the snow capping the earth. It was like being underwater and watching the surface ripple and surge with the passing waves, as if the clouds were echoing the ice’s movements, a dance of the watery elements.
But then everything changed.
The world seemed to flutter, to shine, to fast-flicker all around then. As if the kernel was changing its mind (?) and changing it again, going back and forth between the two states – frozen and thawed – flicking between them in the process of making up its mind, onoffonoffonoff.
And then it decided. Like flushing a toilet, suddenly all the ice – the glaciers descending from the peaks, the ice caps covering the sea, the icefalls and ice tongues coursing between high and low, all began to liquefy and swirl inside whatever configuration of mountain that held it. Like a time lapse film of the retreat of the ice.
Suddenly their butts were wet as the snow underneath the turned to slush. The snowy slopes around then went gray and brown and translucent, and holes started appearing here and there. The sound of dripping water became a roar as the ice melted from the top down and the bottom up. Ice began slipping downslope, gaining momentum like a snowball made of melting snow, sloughing off like a reptile’s skin in molting season, peeling off the mountain.
Some of the liquid turned to fog, and Josh and Anomia were enveloped in a fine mist of embedded drops that spattered their faces and dripped off the fur lining of their parkas. They began to slip toward the edge of their rock shelf. Afraid of avalanches, they pulled themselves back to safety in the center of the ledge, but it wasn’t all that safe, because the ice and snow above them was beginning to slump, curling onto their ledge like boiling milk overflowing the mug in the microwave, threatening to push them over like a wave breaking on shore.
They scrambled to the high spot on the ledge, and the slush wave broke to either side of them and went dripping off the edge with sickening plopping sounds, The sound of rushing water was deafening. The booms and cracks alarmingly violent. They looked out into the far distance and saw the continental ice cap coming – first oozing and then spouting – thru the passes and down the mountainside, glopping onto the thinning ice shelf which broke up into enormous state-sized icebergs that spun and drifted out to sea.
All of this extraordinarily rapid, like putting an already abbreviated timelapse on fast forward. They sat and stared for the couple of hours it took for the whole mess to melt They felt privileged to witness the transformation. Like witnessing the total destruction of a planet would be a privilege, of sorts. And when it was melted, there was no more flickering between states. The ice was gone, the mountains were bare, black rock, the Ross Sea was dark blue with white flecks bobbing on the tide.
At last they looked at each other. “Now what?” Josh asked.
“I guess we get down off the mountain?” Anomia offered.
They looked down. “It’s thousands of feet,” Josh observed.
“It’s all loose rock,” she observed, “and if I remember, it’s really dangerous to try descending a scree slope. Maybe we’ll start an avalanche.”
“We could fly down?”
“Can you think happy thoughts at the moment?” she asked.
“I’m happy we’re not stuck on a glacier,” he began, but stopped. “We might have been able to ski down if it were still snow.”
“Well, I don’t think we ought to chance running down the hill and jumping up to fly, do you?”
“I guess not. If we weren’t able to lift off we’d end up rolling all the way down.”
“With those big rocks coming down after us,” she added.
They examined the mountain below them for a viable route down. The slope was still wet, maybe from the melted slow but certainly from the dripping fog bank that continued to pour over the peak and course down the mountain all around them.
“Well, let’s start,” he said, getting to his feet.
But Anomia still sat there. She was distracted by a puzzling sight. Over their shoulders, to the north and mostly obscured by the mountain behind them, there seemed to be a heavy rain of almost individual drops, something that shouldn’t have been discernible at that distance. It was like seeing individual drops of dark oil in a rainstorm.
“What the fuck is that?” he demanded.
“I don’t know,” she mused. “It almost looks like falling rocks.”
“It’s far,” he observed.
“It’s out to sea,” she observed. “Rain doesn’t look like that.”
“Well, I don’t care,” he said, reaching down to grab her hand and pull her to her feet. “I’ve seen enough strange shit for one day. Let’s get down the mountain and see if we can make it in one piece.”