Chapter 40: Almost out

Knowing only the time of day because of their watches, Jack and Celina returned to their sleeping area, now located on the decompression chamber three floors up—or in their case, sideways.  They were spread out and they slept in their separate bags.  Celina had no problem sleeping as she was used to tents and dirty archaeological sites.  Some of the main problems were the low level of ventilation and the smell of urine and feces.  Although they had designated an area in the centre of the corridor, the dog likely did not receive the memo and did her business on the place where it was trained to do it, on soft ground, and that generally meant the blankets.

It was only after mentioning the problem to the Colonel that they received two chemical toilets, loads of bleach, and formaldehyde to neutralize the odours.  Eirik had yet to climb up and was mainly resting and gathering his strength for the climb to come.  The dog for its part was attached back to the makeshift leash.  At least she had stopped howling when she was left alone, which was not often to begin with.

It was the Colonel who started howling in fury for the first hour after he received the news of Celina’s decision to take the risk to teleport to the unknown.  In truth, the real reason for his frustration was that she had abandoned her post while in charge.  Although he was only a few floors above, he swore that she would never be again left in command of anything, ever again.

For the Castaways, today, the plan was to climb to the top and attach the second section of rope ladders together to make sure

Eirik could climb.  As for the dog, she would be pulled up in a cage that had been sent the day before.  Also on today’s agenda was that they were supposed to receive grappling hooks and a large inflated mattress to help in the reception of oxygen tanks, to allow them to breathe a little better.

“Jack, have you listened to Lawson?” asked Celina, putting the final touches on her gear before their departure for the top of the Facility, as planned.

“Yeah, I know he was supposed to meet with the Council today.  That’s likely why he has been acting like that,” replied Jack.  “We have yearly contracts.  But that only means that they have to pay us for a year, not that they have to keep us in the Facility.”

Celina had not thought about it, but it made very little difference at this point.  Using the pony bottles they had just received helped them breathe better and cleared their lungs.  These small scuba tanks could not afford much air underwater because of the pressure, but at the surface, it was helpful and widely used by the climbers on Mont Everest.  The first part of the climb had been relatively easy, thanks to the ladder, and the transition to the other side was also smooth despite the equipment they were carrying.

They had divided the ladder’s length between the two of them and Celina’s peak athletic shape had once again surprised Jack.  For the climb past the corner, Celina got rid of all her gear and secured her harness to the railing while Jack acted as support for the first push.  Placing her feet on his shoulders, she reached the railing on the top of the corner and was pulling herself up using her hands.  The railing was dusty, but her climbing gloves were gripping the railing without much effort.  Hanging by one hand supporting her full weight, she passed the rope at the highest railing holder and pulled down with all her might to test the rigging.  It was solid.  She then attached the ladder and pushed with her feet, unfolding the rest of the ladder and attaching it has she climbed.  At the midpoint, she gripped what she assumed to be yet another door frame, but she couldn’t enclose the frame with her fingers, as she had done with the others.  Peering inside with her hand-mounted light, she noticed that it was a corridor and not a room.  Ignoring it, she continued, telling herself that she must have completed more than halfway by now.  She climbed a few more metres and stopped in midstride.  Jack, who had not noticed, bumped his head on the heel of her boot.

“Is everything okay?” he asked, trying to look past her to see what had stopped her.

“Damn it!” she exclaimed, relaxing her grip to the railing and looking down at Jack.  “It’s a goddamn root.  For a second, I was sure it was a snake.”

She climbed a little more, ignoring the fixing of the ladder, grabbed at the root she found, and then pulled gently.  The wood was bending a little and was springy.  Definitely live roots.

“The roots are alive and strong.  They must have expanded quickly in an attempt to find water,” concluded Celina.

“We are less than twenty-five metres from the top,” offered Jack, as he rolled the ladder around his forearm in an attempt to calculate what was left.

“We should press on then.”

The dust and dirt was becoming thicker, which forced her to remove it before inserting the rope around the railing and attaching the ladder.  Jack obviously didn’t like the idea, but had not said anything.  A few more steps and she could see the root disappear on the top.  As they hanged, Jack heard the muffled voice of a girl, but he couldn’t make it out.  He told Celina to stop for a second as he opened the front pocket of his jacket and grabbed his FastCom.  It was Chrissy, no mistake.

“Chrissy, we can hear you.  But if it’s not important, can you call later?  We are almost at the top and we are hanging on the wall,” asked Jack, politely enough for a man covered with dirt all the way to his underwear.

“Sorry.  I’ll call Eirik,” said Chrissy, a clear sense of urgency in her voice.

Celina was looking at him and he understood at once, as he was as curious to find out what could be so urgent.  “Okay, Chrissy you can talk for a minute.  We are secure enough for a quick chat,” rectified Jack, raising the FastCom to make sure Celina understood the conversation more clearly.

“I have a piece of info for you.  First, the reactor is apparently not nuclear.  It is something much more powerful.  I also know that the Council wants to get the transporters out of the Facility for study,” Chrissy continued.  “These orders come from high up.  Lawson is leaving tomorrow for Washington.  Apparently, the Council is giving us four weeks to find a solution to the access level problem.  They want to gain access to some of the areas, including a few rooms which only a handful of people can get in to,” explained Chrissy, wondering if two people make a handful.

“Do you know what the plan is when these four weeks are over?” asked Jack, knowing that if the military couldn’t access something, they would just blast through.  That was demolition 101, he thought.

“Not sure.  A form of high explosives, I guess, or maybe extremely corrosive compounds,” said Chrissy.

“That’s what I was thinking,” replied Jack.  “Chrissy, we have to go.  If you have anything else to say, can you call Eirik, please?”

Jack replaced his device in his pocket and motioned to Celina to go ahead with less than ten metres to go.  “For us, it changes nothing.  We have to get out of here.”

“Her source, that’s likely her father.  He is in the Council,” said Celina rhetorically, as she attached more rungs to the railing.

Jack nodded to Celina and they continued to climb.  Carefully, she poked her head over the plateau and paused for a moment, grabbed the railing on the top, leaped, and landed with the agility of an Olympian.  She didn’t pay any more attention to Jack and walked on the flat top, knowing that the ladder was now fully secured.  The ground was covered with dirt and roots as far as her light would allow her to see.  At first, she wasn’t sure of what her eyes were resting on.  It seemed like a light in the distance. Doing the only logical thing in her mind, she stopped and closed her light. To her surprise, she had indeed seen light penetrating from a hole at least fifty metres away.

“Jack, I see light!” yelled Celina, before jumping on her side and tripping on a root while hitting the roof with her ponytail, which cushioned the blow.  “Shit, didn’t know you were so close.”

“That light is coming out of the ceiling over there, which is the wall now,” observed Jack.

“Yeah I can see it.  Damn, the air is much better here,” observed Celina, taking long deep breaths, shifting her eyes to him.

Jack wasn’t too interested by the yoga display.  All he wanted was to see if the light was a way out.  He would have all the time in the world to clear his lungs on the surface.  He gently went around her and walked ahead for the first time since they had started the climb nearly two hours earlier.

The roots were thickening as they made their way toward the light, the sunlight dispersing as it shone through the leaves and branches of the canopy above.  As they approached, the ceiling slowly started to cave in.  Jack, who had so far walked with his head bent, was now almost on all fours.   The roots were now so thick that they couldn’t continue anymore.  They now stretched from the ceiling and bent down at an almost ninety-degree angle as they reached the floor.  The humidity and the warm moist air of the jungle above hit their faces as they made their way toward the exit.  Celina, who was also on all fours, was smiling.

“At least one of us brought an axe,” she laughed, as she handed him the handle.