Chapter 9

Chapter 9

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Flora gazed down the chasm for what felt like eons, but simultaneously, like no time at all. At the logical level, she knew that eons and “no time at all” couldn’t coexist. But practically speaking, that was what it felt like.

Time had frozen and thereby become eternal.

She, for sure, had frozen. Otherwise, she couldn’t comprehend how she managed to hang on to the ladder rung at all; how her sweaty hands didn’t just slip, pulling her into the darkness, where Viktor had disappeared to; how she didn’t crash into the ladder on the way down, smashing a few rungs, and died from a heart attack or from the impact of the clash on the river, or—if she was lucky—landed on one of the lower floors before breaking a hundred bones.

Only gradually did it dawn on her that maybe, just maybe, time hadn’t stopped. Such a thing had been impossible so far and there was no reason to believe that time should suddenly function differently.

Even when considering that odd incident with the Firmament wait cursor showing up for the first time.

Even when considering that one hour had passed for the world while many more hours had passed for Flora.

Also, maybe, it was a good idea that she moved, instead of remaining frozen. So she looked up at the wall across the chasm.

Thousands of eyes stared through the open hatches. Never had this many people focused their attention outside of their individual booths, and especially never on only two matters of interest: either Flora or the spot where Viktor had been, the last time he’d been visible.

All was quiet except for the rushing torrent and faint Firmament video noises; that was how intent everyone was.

Among the stock-still onlookers were pitkeepers, too, scattered throughout various levels of the pit structure on both sides of the chasm—which reminded Flora of the pitkeepers right below her.

She glanced down. Those pitkeepers still gazed down at the chasm, as if hoping that they could rewind time, will Viktor to surge out of the darkness, and demand an explanation from him.

Flora glanced up. There was Ellie, staring down at the chasm instead of Flora.

Then, finally, a splash echoed.

The entire pit shivered.

Viktor had hit the river.

Ellie’s gaze darted toward Flora, and Flora flinched even though she truly had done nothing wrong, at least not the wrong stuff that Ellie thought Flora had done to or with Viktor. Ellie looked positively murderous.

Now or never.

Flora looked directly ahead, through the empty space between the ladder rungs. She adjusted her posture so that her weight was evenly distributed on both feet. Both her hands held the same rung. Viktor had said to jump, really jump, not just limply fall.

Okay, then, Flora. You’re going to jump.

With all the energy in her, and with the maximum surface area of the soles of her bare feet and palms, Flora pushed—

—and she regretted it terribly and immediately.

Gravity pulled her down.

Her limbs flailed.

Her long hair whipped her face. Some got into her mouth and nostrils, making breathing even more difficult than it already was.

The pit floors became a blur. All the faces, the sparse lamps along the walkways, and the cries jumbled together into a dark-brown, loudly echoing, disorganized mess.

For how long did she have to bear this uncertainty, this suspension?

Her dusty T-shirt was probably clean by now, that was how fierce the wind was. No more modern art painting. All the years-old smudges were being thrashed out of the fabric.

The air thickened—not just because of the speed, but because of the increased humidity. The splashing amplified and added context to her surroundings:

That the booths on either side of the river sometimes got closer to each other, making the echoes sound different.

That near the river, irregularly-shaped rocks lined the uneven walls to the left and right.

And just how ridiculously fast the stream was, how impossible it was going to be for Flora to attempt to swim her way out—

With her head and upper back, she hit something hard, which was nevertheless liquid enough to swallow her whole. She gasped, gulping down what felt like gallons of water.

Now, breathing wasn’t difficult, it was impossible. Her limbs punched at a substance with much greater resistance than wind: water, not air.

The river. Fast-flowing. Tearing her away from column PPPPW, in the direction of ZZZZZ.

“Vik—” she said.

She couldn’t finish her sentence because the river pulled her down.

“Vik—” she said again, the next time she emerged.

Underwater, she could see nothing, even with her eyes wide open. She soon thought it wise to keep her eyes closed if they couldn’t collect useful information anyway.

Who knew what the water concealed? Monsters? Or more likely, dangerous objects made of sharp plastic and metal? Or poison?

Eyes shut, she kicked and pushed with her arms, to finish the word she so wanted to yell out:


Then she was down in the water again.

For so many times.

Again and again.

At some point, no more lamps illuminated the walkways. None at all. Column ZZZZZ had come and gone. No more pit residents lived here. This was no man’s land. Barely any sunlight reached the river. The chasm was too deep. An abyss. The impenetrable obscurity suffocated Flora as mercilessly as the water.

The river randomly pushed her up, pulled her down, making breathing unpredictable, dizzying her, chilling her to the bones, making her forget why she’d jumped into the river, to begin with…

© 2022 Ithaka O.

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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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