Walking down the corridor, mounted lights bouncing off of uneven surfaces, Seth could feel a sense of unease running up his spine. His HUD had been displaying a steady drop in temperature with each step that he and the others took.
He looked over his shoulder at the small group of scientists and fellow soldiers behind him, trying to see if they were noticing. Bend, his second in command, nodded, knowing what Seth was wondering. He began to wonder why he had accepted this job for his squad. He should have questioned why the bigwigs in the UEM (United Earth Military) wanted trained soldiers to escort a bunch of scientists on an archaeological dig. There hadn’t been much digging to do.
After the tunnel had been discovered, it seemed like the scientists had cleared the worst obstructions out of the way within a day. It felt like the small group had been traveling for hours, even though Seth’s mission clock told him it had been 45 minutes since they entered the tunnel. Seth was starting to feel extremely nervous, even with his body armour pumping calming agents into his blood.
His flashlight stopped bouncing off of rock and dirt and reflected off of a door made of metal. It was ornate, with a small sphere in the centre. Looking back at the group, he reached out, almost instinctively, and brushed his hand against the orb. The door slid loudly along the ground, opening. Seth wasn’t the only one who gasped.
Through the doorway, a massive chamber, walls covered in frost, glowed a light blue.
“Bend, you follow the left wall, Carl, you grab the right, I’ll escort the scientists through the room. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for anything out of the ordinary,” Seth muttered through his helmet comm.
Seth motioned the scientists to lead the way, before shouldering his rifle loosely and following them. He didn’t know why, but he felt uneasy in this empty room.
One of the scientists noticed something on a wall and rushed towards it. Wiping the frost off of the wall, the scientist squinted and moved closer to the now shining surface.
“Guys, I think you need to see this,” he said, in heavily accented English.
He motioned them closer and looking, Seth was starting to feel justified in his unease. Someone was frozen into the wall.
Another scientist, the leader of this expedition, Bennett, brought Seth’s attention to another section of the wall, where she had found another body. Bend called from across the room, reporting another in the wall to everyone, instead of just the rest of the squad.
“Seth, I assume I’ll find more if I start wiping off this wall,” Carl said over the comm.
“What the hell is going on here?” Seth asked, turning to Bennett.
Bennett looked puzzled for a moment before responding, “This could be a tomb of some sort. Something ritualistic from old tribes during an ice age during the Ancient Earth period.”
Seth frowned at her. How had this place stayed preserved if it was so old? After the End War, most of Earth was left scorched and smouldering, recovering after only hundreds of years of hard work from the survivors and many generations thereafter. A room seemingly made of ice should have melted and disappeared hundreds of years ago.
Bennett bent down and wiped frost away from a plaque. Strange symbols were written on it. Bennett squinted and tried to read the script before giving up. Looking at it, Seth could have sworn the symbols were swimming but thought it may just be the concoctions his armour was pumping into his body to keep him level headed. He was starting to freak out but needed a clear head, so he manually lowered the dosage. It didn’t help.
Looking for somewhere to sit, Seth walked over to a pillar in the centre of the room. Before sitting, he noticed a sphere identical to the one on the door. Running his hand along it, he jumped as a blurry green image of a plain woman in robes appeared in front of him. The hologram looked nothing like the hologram technology that was used on Earth to communicate. Whereas Earth’s holograms were solid images with a light blue tint, this one was extremely green, and muddled, almost old looking, somehow. The others turned and watched as the hologram began to speak.
“Welcome, visitor, to the Freeze, a maximum security prison maintained by Altar’s Council of Criminal Punishment. Due to ongoing conflict on Earth, all guards and maintenance staff have been recalled, and prisoners have been left to serve their punishment in cryo sleep. Upon the end of the conflict, Altar’s Council of Criminal Punishment will re-instigate normal prison procedure. Since you have entered this chamber, it is assumed that it has been deemed safe to return to normal power.”
The chamber suddenly lit up, seemingly from nowhere, revealing walls full of criminals.
“What the hell is this place?” Seth asked.
“I have no idea. What’s the Altar Council of Criminal Punishment?” Bennett shot back, looking at Seth, “Is it some secret UEM department?”
“No, I have no idea what Altar is, nor have I ever heard of it before” Seth replied.
“Hey Seth, come check this out!” Bend said from a few feet away.
Walking over, Seth saw what Bend was pointing at. Hidden under 2 feet of snow, frozen into the ground like the criminals all around them, a young girl lay peacefully, frozen in time. She looked nothing like a criminal. She was maybe 15, with brown hair and a pale complexion.
“Why is she here? She doesn’t seem like a criminal” Seth said, voice barely above a whisper.
“Maybe it was a mistake? Maybe she was here with whoever else was here and she fell in?” Bennett suggested. “Maybe we should let her out…”
Looking around, Seth couldn’t see a way to open the tube. He was also starting to feel really bad about all of this, but before he could voice his concerns, one of the other scientists pointed to a sketch on the wall above more of those strange spheres. The sketch was circular, like the room, with symbols that matched different points in the circle with one of the spheres. One sphere was labeled the same as the middle of the circle.
After some more deliberation, the group decided that the girl must have been locked into the cryo tube by accident and that they should release her. The scientists also pointed out, almost exhaustively, that the cryogenic technology in the room looked incredibly ancient, and if this girl was from some ancient race, what could they learn from her?
Bennett tried running her hand along the sphere the same way that Seth had. Nothing happened. Bend tried next. Same result. Everyone in the group tried, as Seth held back. He was starting to think that he would be able to open the cryo tube, but he was also starting to feel like he shouldn’t. Something here wasn’t right.
Finally, it was his turn to touch the sphere. Hesitantly, he took a step towards it and reached out, brushing the sphere lightly, half hoping nothing would happen. Then he heard a hissing.
Turning around, Seth saw steam spewing from the cryo pod in the floor. Everyone in the room held their breaths, as the floor slid back from the cryo tube.
The girl was still for several minutes, and Seth wondered if she was even still alive. Everyone held their breaths regardless.
Finally, after what felt like forever, the girl sat up, slowly, and looked around the room. Her eyes roamed over everyone in the group, alighting on Seth, she shrieked. It was almost inhuman. Once the scream died out in her throat, the girl closed her mouth and started to open her eyes. With a start, Seth realised that her eyes were glowing red. Flames started rolling along the floor where she stood, before spewing in every direction, hitting some of the cryo tubes, starting a huge thaw.
“This may have been a bad idea, guys!” Bend yelled, raising his rifle.
The girl’s eyes darted to him before saying, “Thank you, visitors, for releasing us. We have been trapped here for far too long, conscious but unable to move. It’s been so cold. And now to thank you, I will not make you suffer, much, as I liquefy your intestines. I’ll make it quick, just for you.”
She grinned, and her eyes went from scarlet to onyx black. One of the scientists to Seth’s left collapsed screaming. He looked up in desperation and surprise, his eyes and mouth spewing blood. Seth joined Bend in raising his rifle. Carl was too slow, as he doubled over and started bleeding out. Seth and Bend opened fire on the girl, but there was no fear in her eyes. A flash of red in her pupils and their rifles melted into chunks of char. That’s when Seth turned and started running. Looking behind him, he could see Bennett keeping a close clip. If they could keep moving, they would be able to live to feel guilty about abandoning their acquaintances.
About halfway from the end of the tunnel, they could hear the girl yelling at the prisoners she had thawed. She was sending them after Seth and Bennett.
Seth picked up his step and Bennett followed suit. The hallway started to heat up and Seth assumed that the same flames that had thawed the prisoners was coming for them.
Hitting the end of the tunnel, Seth pushed Bennett to the right as he leaped to the left. Flames spewed out of the entrance, blistering both of their backs. He grabbed an implosion grenade off of his belt and primed it, sticking it to the outer edge of the tunnel. Picking Bennett up off the ground, he started to drag her away from the doorway. He understood her not already being up and running. She wasn’t trained to deal with pain.
Hitting the red button on his shoulder pad, he called for emergency evac, just as his implosion grenade blew. He looked behind and saw that no one had made it out of the tunnel behind them. He knew the block wouldn’t hold whatever the hell those people were for long, but he hoped it was long enough for them to get picked up.
Settling into a grove about 15 minutes walk away from the tunnel, he laid Bennett down and took her jacket off so he could treat her wounds. His could wait until they got picked up. Luckily, Command had been watching carefully once their comms went down on the way to the cave, so the emergency evac showed up just as he was finishing patching Bennett up.
As the helicopter started to take off, Seth started to feel the guilt about abandoning Bend and Carl, as well as the other two scientists. He knew he wouldn’t be sleeping for the next few days, and that he would have a ton of paperwork to fill out. Little did he know, this was the least of his worries.
What he didn’t know was that he had just witnessed the beginning of a much larger problem that would involve the fates of not one, but two worlds.