Author : Ian Hill
Suspended above the ethereal ocean of dense fog was a network of free-standing platforms connected by thin, low hanging wires. Each platform was suspended hundreds of feet above the roiling accumulation of toxic gases. The towers were manned by a single sentry who kept an eye on their surroundings. It was an alert system, a sort of wide-spread security lattice intended to report any advances of the nation’s enemies. The job was essentially a life sentence.
The single operator stood tall on the platform, his hands gripping the sides of the lone terminal as he swiveled his head back and forth to monitor the horizon. The console was a convoluted machine bearing a series of toggle switches and red keys coupled with a line of unlit bulbs. From the dirty terminal’s top right corner a tall antenna sprang up and reached high overhead to connect to the gently waving communication wire that shot off into the distance to eventually disappear in the haze.
The operator himself was a tall man plagued with vertigo. It was imperative that he remain completely still and anchored to the terminal so he wouldn’t topple over the precarious tower’s side. The dusty metal decking was large enough to allow only a few steps in each direction. The support beam was old and rickety, he didn’t dare unsettle it and risk structural integrity.
The sky was dark and infected with thick clouds of blackness that gradually hovered toward the uninhabited southern lands. Biting wind charged with particles of burning salt whipped around the operator as he tightened his grip on the stable console. Suddenly, a wave of nausea overcame him. The man looked down and closed his eyes, trying to keep from stumbling to the side and falling down far below into the deadly ocean of yellow fog.
What lay below hidden in the encompassing shroud was a hive of terror. The border operators who stood atop their thin posts had to listen as the monstrosities below clicked away, their massive claws dragging across the lowest level of rock. Sometimes they fought amongst each other, issuing forth deep wails of pain and hatred. It was unsettling.
Soon, the nausea had passed. The operator wearily opened his eyes and gazed down at the industrial terminal as its rusty cogs churned underneath the spotted faceplate. A light was blinking, a single point of green. Years back in the operator’s training he had been briefed on all different alerts that this console had to offer. Over time he had forgotten most of the strictures and ordinances, but this light was something that he immediately recognized despite never seeing it in action before.
The man recoiled back slightly, shaking his head back in forth to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating the notification. He glanced over his shoulder and followed the mile-long wire to his view’s edge. Below, the fog was raging back and forth as waves of the toxic miasma rose up and sunk.
The operator reached into his heavy coat’s pocket and removed a single iron key. Hesitantly, he poised the rusted device over the slot in the terminal. He glanced back at the blinking light to assure himself that it was, in fact, a reality and not some nightmarish figment.
This green harbinger was a call of distress from far, far away. Out on the furthest fringes one of the most far flung border operators had been felled. The wire had been severed and the tower’s thin column had disintegrated into nothingness. An invasion was beginning, an army from the depths was rising up from the mist to march on the father nation.
Another light in the row of darkened bulbs clicked on. Gradually, more and more of them became illuminated as more and more platforms were destroyed. The operator squinted off to the horizon fearfully, trying to see some sign of the impending doom. There were only thirty more towers before his light would be next in line. He had to flee.
The operator slowly unclenched his left hand from the terminal, his bones creaking and prickling in protest. He had almost forgotten how it felt to move this anchoring limb. He took one last look at the twinkling bulbs before climbing on top of the console. He unceremoniously tossed the key aside and began to shuffle up the thin antenna. It creaked under his weight, but the mechanism was sturdy enough. It was built to withstand torrential storms and hurricanes of sheering wind.
He kept his eyes shut and refused to imagine how terrible a fall from this height would be. Soon, he had reached the antenna’s top and began to shuffle across the ropey wire. A few sparks rained down from his glove’s contact, but the operator powered on.
It’d be a long trip, the harrowing horizontal climb would take days to reach the next tiny outpost. He would stay ahead of the deadly wave and he would relay news of invasion to the nation. It was just a matter of time before the wire would be severed.