Snippet from the Novella available at amazon.com & smashwords.com
Cirac’s temple was a monument to the man who built a kingdom none could oppose that ushered in an era of peace and prosperity for the Jarufani people. It was constructed in the polar region, south of the Sea of Iden. The temple itself was actually a network of tunnels dug into the side of a mountain located just inland of the frozen waters. Apart from the fusion reactors that were used to heat the structure, some emergency vehicles, and communication devices, the temple contained no modern conveniences. According to the builders of the temple, Cirac came with nothing more than his faith. The same should be expected of any pilgrims. Conrad R. Slade walked slowly through the dim caverns, sliding his fingers along the dark andesite walls. Etched into the rock were images depicting Cirac’s escape from his slave masters, his voyage across the sea, his journey through the wasteland, and then being blessed with the Quilcanju. It was the journey through the wasteland that Slade was dreading. The Frost Meditation required pilgrims to hike onto the ice sheet, cut a hole in the ice, strip off their clothes and plunge into the frigid water. The ritual was intended to replicate Cirac plunging through the thin ice and having the Quilcanju reveal itself. Many pilgrims perished. Those who survived claimed to have visions. Pilgrims usually came in small groups. One individual would do the ritual while the others would retrieve him from the water and tend to his recovery. Slade was alone. Soon he would join twenty other pilgrims as they trekked onto the ice. His contact was supposed to retrieve him only after he was in the water. If that didn’t happen, he would certainly die of hypothermia. As Slade moved through the temple, he was surprised to notice that only a few of the Jarufani were staring at him. Perhaps, as the old mariner said, the temple received human converts with some regularity. On that particular day, however, Slade was the only human in the temple. As he walked, he was surreptitiously examining the other pilgrims. Some of the faces he recognized from the ocean liner. Others he saw for the first time at the temple. He knew that at least one of them was a Jarufani Intelligence operative and they would make their move as soon as they identified Slade’s contact. Slade finally sat down and started gearing up to go outside. Maybe I’ve been out of the game too long, he thought. There was a time when he would have had no trouble spotting enemy surveillance. Either I’m rusty or they’re just that good. After he was bundled up and ready for the trek across the ice, he joined the twenty other pilgrims who were leaving that day and waited for the large metal doors to open. Slade stepped outside and quickly scanned his surroundings. A staircase, which had been carved into the rock, led down to the ice sheet. If the mission was still a go, his contact was supposed to signal him by leaving three granite stones on the top step, arranged in a triangle. Slade saw the stones sitting there but they gave him no comfort. Any number of things could still go wrong, but successful completion of this mission was the first step to getting
reinstated to his former position. Attempting to motivate himself, he recalled an old saying and repeated it to himself. “One who says he never had a chance, never took a chance,” he sighed. He adjusted his gear and followed the others as the two guides led them into the icy wasteland.
Although those undergoing the frost meditation were encouraged to avoid modern technology, the guides would frequently use a laser to cut a hole in the ice. After a twelve kilometer hike, most people didn’t have the energy or the patience to use a hand auger to cut the ice manually. The guides cut two holes in the ice, each with a diameter of one meter. Slade watched as the first two pilgrims undressed and tied ropes around their midsections. Cold weather tended to inhibit the movements of Jarufani so they approached the hole as if they were treading through molasses. After whispering a prayer to themselves, they jumped in. They stayed in the water for approximately five minutes before their friends used the rope to pull them out. As Slade’s turn approached, he quickly removed one glove, snuck a pill out of his pant pocket and swallowed it. Let’s hope this lasts long enough, he thought as he replaced his glove. The pill was designed to oxygenate his blood and counteract the effects of hypothermia for up to ten minutes. He expected any Jarufani Intelligence operatives to wait at least that long for Slade’s contact to reveal himself. The human spy wasn’t important to them, finding their leak was. When Slade’s turn came, he removed a rope from his pack, then undressed and tied it around himself. The biting cold against his skin felt like hundreds of needles pricking him, whenever he moved. He quickly ran to one of the holes and jumped in. The frigid water felt like a wave of ice was going right through him and reflexively, he screamed. Before he let out too much air, he caught himself and held his breath. He tensed his muscles in a futile effort to warm himself as he floated just beneath the surface. Four minutes passed and he was still holding up well. The pill was working, at least. By this time, he should have been delirious. His heartbeat should have slowed dramatically and his muscles should have shut down, but so far he was just shivering. He found himself counting the seconds until his contact could get him out of there. It wasn’t until he started feeling the instinctive urge to gasp for air that he started getting worried. This was the first sign that the pill was wearing off. Come on, he tried to signal his contact as if he could communicate telepathically, any time now. Panic set in and he could no longer fight the urge to try and swim to the surface. Unfortunately, his limbs were failing him. The harder he tried to move, the more rigid his body seemed to become. Slade wasn’t sure when it happened, but the time came when he stopped feeling the cold, stopped feeling desperate for air, stopped feeling anything at all.
On the surface, the rest of the group was tending to their brethren who had just finished the Frost Meditation. After being pulled back to the surface, they were quickly dried off, wrapped in furs and placed on a heated stretcher. As soon as possible, they were made to drink a hot herbal tea while they were being carried back to the temple. Two of the pilgrims watched the hole in the ice and the taut rope anchored to a metal stake. They exchanged uneasy glances. At first they held out hope, but time was running short and the realization set in that the human spy’s contact wasn’t going to show.
The two Jarufani Intelligence operatives now had a choice to make. Their original plan was to use Slade as bait and wait for the contact to reveal himself. Now they were wondering if they should cut their losses and get whatever they could out of the human. As if they were of the same mind, the two operatives sprinted as quickly as they could toward the hole and grabbed the rope, pulling as hard as they could against the dead weight. As they were slowly bringing the human to the surface, one of the rope threads snapped under the tension. Then another, and another. Finally the last thread snapped, sending the two Jarufani stumbling backward. They scrambled to their feet and got back to the hole in time to see Slade disappear into the dark waters.