My hands ached with the effort. I crawled along a suspended wire high above the chasm, nothing but blackness - a void that sent phantom drafts of cool moist air up my gaping shirt. The earthquakes had separated us from our supplies and it was my turn for a salvage mission. The four other people on my crew waited impatiently in one of the few surviving vehicles (a van) inside the only passage remaining that was large enough to drive into. They were not idling - fuel was not to be wasted. The burning pain of my shoulders pulsed down my arms. The line was shaking badly as my terror swayed to a panicky rhythm.
Halfway across is when it happened. I could see the supplies amongst the rubble of what remained of the storage cache. The dark grey cave walls glistened with moisture that seemed to ooze from the walls. Each layer of heaved stone betraying layers of years and unknown depths.
A mild earthquake shook the cavern as the bellows of the earth belched a green-grey mist. Goosebumps stood up my arms, back and neck. A tingling numbness spread over my body. My heart was already racing in fear that the cavern could collapse at any moment, my own clumsiness a daily torment now current torture.
A bone-chilling cold moved through me as the serpentine strands crawled into my airways as I breathed in the rising mist. Suddenly I could move again, the paralyzing fear that had held me shaking in suspension had been lifted. A sense of knowledge and confidence restored my witts and strength. It was as if the chilling force that moved through my body erased all fear. And just as suddenly, I knew with certainty that I was dying from what I breathed in, I had time yet, but it was just as I'd heard it described by the whispered rumors that ran through our camp. I had an impending sense of doom, a sense of foreboding boiling up inside me until I could not deny that in moments, the cavern WOULD collapse. Quickly I maneuvered, knee to hand across the guide line to the other side, like a spider on her web. I let my feet drop from the suspended chord and dropped lythely to the ground in a crouch. I could see more clearly in the dark - had my eyes adjusted to the dimness inside at last? Moving toward the cache I could see crates of medicine and stored food supplies, much was still intact, despite the earthquake that had caused the loss of so many supplies set aside in good faith during better times. Times when those in charge thought this may be a good area to retreat to should the Others return.
Using the pack I'd brought, I shoveled handfuls of medicine, preserved food rations and any other supplies that would fit. There were a lot of unspoiled food items still left in the cache- my pack was nearly as large as I was and I knew I hadn't anymore time. All the while mild earthquakes continued to periodically rock the cavern - I could see where my comradeswere parked - the van was shaking helplessly. Two of them were preparing their packs to cross the line if I signalled that this cache warranted more than one trip. I had always been the most feeble member of my crew and I'm certain they wondered how I had survived to be a part of them. I am tall and awkward, flat chested and nearly scrawny. My only redeeming qualities (in the eyes of my betters) were my rare green eyes and knack for finding supplies. Somehow I always KNOW. Being female made me valuable for survival reasons, but beyond that, I'm sure I would've found my CO less than understanding of my frequent blunders.
I pulled the sliding door open with a force that rocked the van and threw in my pack.
"What are you doing Jade?"
"Get this piece of shit moving, now. We have to get out of here before the whole cavern collapses!"
"But there's a lot more supplies still in there! Earthquakes like these won't make this cavern collapse" Heith accused.
My blood boiled at his comments. Heith was always pointing out my every mistake. Ideas I would have he would discredit in front of everyone else, and then a minute later he'd propose the same idea to a different group as his own, taking all the credit. I tried hard not to let myself hate, I knew from speaking to the elders as a child that hate is the "little death" that feeds on life's light. The foreboding was now nearly sufficating and forced me to focus on Heith. Suddenly an image of Heith slammed into my minds' eye, an image of Alornea in a light I'd never seen her flashed across my vision at a council meeting. This all happened within fractions of a second, and I realized how to handle Heith's latest attack on my integrity. "I know that Heith." I said in silky voice of near-hatred. "Even as I know you're thinking about how to get Alornea to go with you tomorrow night to council - I know with the foresight of the doomed that we need to get out right now."
The cold certainty in my voice and the tendrils of energy that I could feel emmenating from me affected my crew's emotions. Rumors of the doomed, as they've come to be known, were growing. If what I'd just realized were true, I'd eventually be marked as doomed by my eyes. I retracted my will from theirs, even as I infected them with fear for survival. I had no idea how I'd done what I'd done, but like a kitten learning to walk on it's own, it lacked finess and coordination, but got the job done. I knew I was responsible for projecting my feelings outward and into them. It was as natural as breathing, and as slippery as trying to run from someone in a dream. Keisan put the van in gear as I slammed the door closed. My commrades that were assembling their gear to join me on the other side of the cavern hadn't been able to help their frantic dash back to the van from the edge, leaving the suspension cord behind. The whole place began to shake more violently. I was calm and silent as others around me shouted in fear. In the end, Keisan saved us all. The jagged edges of rock shook threateningly above us as he slammed the van into gear and flored it. Gravel spat backwards as the back end of the van swung out towards the ledge. The movement of the speeding van was accentuated by the now violently shaking earth. I could smell and taste sulfur as a huge section of rock fell with a thunderous crash in front of us. Keisan wove us past as adeptly as rushing water parts before a boulder. We made it outside as the mouth of the cavern collapsed.
All eyes in the van turned to me. To find myself the scrutiny of such intensity nearly unnerved my new found confidence when I remembered my warning had just saved us all. Heith glared at me as Keisan looked straight ahead and offered "I think we should report back. We can't go back in there until we can get at least two other crews to help clear a path again, and Jade, if you are... what you say you are, Brocam will need to know." I shuddered at the mention of his name.
"Ok, get this heap going and let's head back!" Chase said as if he were anticipating a good show. He looked at me with a slightly manic smile, Alornea refused to look at me at all. The 5 of us were a newly formed crew, and not likely to form the closeness some units had. For one thing, Heith enjoyed drama and felt he should be the commanding officer, often raving about how much better off we'd all be if Brocam weren't in charge -a sentiment that was easy to agree upon. Alornea was quiet, efficient, and utterly loyal to Heith. Chase liked upsetting Heith more than anything else, and Keisan patiently endured all of us. if I had any role, it was a pathetic one. I was the one who slowed people down, was clumsy, eyes downcast. I deliberately tried to make myself as small and quiet as possible, except when I sensed a supply cache or something unexpected coming. The best I could hope for was not to be noticed when tripping over a rock or dropping my dinner fork as I walked from the food line to the tables in the mess hall. I think that may be why Keisan chose to listen to me that day. I never, ever, spoke out or tried to get attention. I nearly regretted that I had, and wondered reflectively if I should have kept my secret hidden.