The oppressive heat of the tunnels made
Carmel feel as though she was traversing
further and further into some gigantic oven; voluntarily baking herself alive.
The cluster of pipes that ran along the length of the tunnels sweated with the scorching steam that travelled within, so she had to be extra cautious not to touch the surface of them, else a slight brush up against them would sear her skin.
Sweat drenched her face as the moisture in the air caused her hair and clothing to cling to her already overheating body, yet she kept on moving deeper still; deeper and closer to the center of the mystery she was determined to uncover.
All of her life, she, and everyone living topside hundreds of levels above, had gone about their lives in the seemingly utopian city in the clouds, Himmel, unaware of the dark secret that dwelt directly below them in the depths of the massive floating island's engines.
Until, that is, a few weeks ago when
Carmel and her friend Luciana were in the
archives doing research for a project in history class and had stumbled upon an
What made it so odd was that it was so old and moreover, that it was not made of regular holographic paper as every other book in Himmel, but actual organic pulp-paper.
It had been wedge in behind the shelves of all the other identical, super-thin books as though someone had hidden it there for them to find.
Within the book, the fragile pages were filled with handwritten entries from whoever had authored it. The journal told of how the people of the city were being lied to by the Counsel of Elders and that there was a hideous secret that they hid from everyone; the secret of what actually ran the floating city.
The girls had snuck the book out of the archives easily because there would be no digital tracking on it like the other books housed there, and so they had hurried home to Carmel's family's unit, high up in the Avex Sector, to pore over its contents in secret.
The journal was hard to understand because of the scrawling writing, yet they followed along as the author told of a secret entrance to the tunnels below the city that led to the hidden engine room down deep within the bowels of the floating continent.
After searching for the clandestine tunnel entrance for weeks, Camel and Luciana had found it; an abandoned maintenance hatch in the dingy Hallum Sector that must have been long forgotten even to the Counsel for it was unguarded and, though the hatch wheel was rusty, unlocked.
Once they had found the entrance, they had gone back home to prepare for their journey to uncover the truth and snuck out after nightfall as the city powered down for the evening.
Steeling themselves, they hefted open the hatch and climbed down the rusty ladder that led down to the tunnel below.
At first, after getting over the darkness and initial scariness of the tunnels, the going was fairly easy, just long corridors of old pipes and wire casings that hummed constantly as they made their way down the seemingly never ending levels.
Every so often they had to choose which way to turn down a new corridor, and more times than not, the way they chose stopped in a dead-end of impassable pipes entering the thick metal wall, so they had to back track and go the correct way.
Until the door.
After what seemed like the entire night had passed, they had become weary and tired, so they stopped to rest and eat some of the protein snacks they had packed. While sitting there in the dim lamp light,
Carmel had noticed a door
at the far end of the tunnel. They had come across a few doors which led to the
stairwells to the next lower level, but they had all been fairly thin doors
with portholes through which they could see the stairs.
Yet, this was a big, thick door with no window and another hatch wheel, with what looked to be frost built up around its seams.
She pointed it out to Luciana, who said they probably should not open it because if it did not lead down then it was probably just some dead end room, perhaps a cold storage, which was causing the frost.
Since she was already holding onto the hatch wheel,
Carmel was able to keep
herself from being sucked out of the door that opened right out into the frigid
open air of the night sky.
Luciana was not so lucky.
Unprepared for the vacuum of air that was powerful enough to lift her right up in the air, she screamed as she flew toward the opening and hit her head on a low hanging pipe, knocking her unconscious.
Once the vacuum had depleted itself, the pull of the air outside died down so that she could crawl herself along the pipes and over to the next set of stairs, where she slammed the stairwell door shut and fell to the ground in a sobbing heap.
That had been what felt like a lifetime ago now, as she tried not to think about Luciana limp body falling forever downwards into darkness and wiped away the sweaty tears that welled in her eyes.
Now, she was almost to the end of their journey and was determined to find out the horrible secret the old journal had spoke of, and uncover the truth behind the lies the Elders were feeding to the masses back up on the surface.
She was determined for her friend, Luciana, and so kept on even through the maddening heat, down further into the ever-constricting tunnels.
Until at last she came to a final hatch, and had to cover her already singed hands with cloths torn from her sleeves in order to grab onto the wheel and wrench it open.
A gush of air from behind the opening door made her flinch and grip harder onto the scoring hot wheel, but it only let out a cooling breeze that felt like the refreshing open air compared to the stifling heat of the tunnel.
went through the opening and let the door shut out the heat behind her.
Everything was dark in the coolness of the room she was now in and she once again turned on her lamp to light the open space in front of her.
All of the heat and energy of the outside tunnels must have been to keep this vast, open room cool, because she shivered as the drop in temperature caused the sweat on her skin to instantly go cold.
In the muffled silence of the dark room, she heard a laboured breathing from somewhere off in the middle of the open space. Moving as quietly as she could,
crept closer to the sound which was then joined by the noise of rhythmic
motion, a kind of trotting pace.
As she moved further into to the dim room, she could tell it was not just one individual in there with her, but many; a multitude of labouring beings, breathing heavily from their movements in the cold dark.
Abruptly, she hit into a metal railing that blocked her from going further and she could see a dim glow from what seemed like below her. She looked down from the ledge she must have been standing on to see figures moving in unison on the floor below.
As her eyes widened to adjust to the low light, she could make out the shapes of the massive amount of figures below.
Though never having actually seen them outside of picture books of old fairy takes, she recognized recognized the creatures instantly, and she gasped in shock.
For running on stationary treadmills, with wires connecting them to the light-filled machinery that lined all the walls around them, were thousands of galloping horses.
Himmel, it would seem, was run on horsepower.