Chapter 5 3

A Gaming Arcade That Time Forgot (Three)

From the memoirs of Captain Randall Origami-Picket, Gentleman adventurer and intrepid explorer of places long found, 541-639

Summit fever. Our nemesis. When the peak of the mountain is so tantalisingly close, all logic, common sense and ethics are swept aside and replaced by the overwhelming desire to reach the summit.

The Barrachulish Spur is the second highest peak on the vast crater wall which marks the circumference of Tycho Crater and by a considerable margin the most challenging. At six thousand plus metres high, measured from crater sea level, the peak is considered extreme altitude. Or more dramatically the death zone. At that altitude the oxygen levels are considered insufficient for life. Sleep becomes impossible. Digestion stops. Summit fever and altitude sickness. Bad combination. Bad decisions.

Our summit attempt had been doomed when, at around midday, the regular clockwork weather pattern of Tycho had temporarily stalled in its relentless rotation around the crater. A bank of impenetrable cloud stood between us and our ultimate destination. A seemingly endless expanse of white. Cloud, snow and ice enveloped us, removed our reference points and slowed progress.

In the grasp of summit fever we persevered. For three hours we attempted to continue the ascent. Glory beckoned. Alas, when the cloud lifted we immediately realised we were way off course and even farther off schedule. Energy spent. Crestfallen.

We had set out that very morning seeking glory but the realization hit hard. We were doomed to spend the night on the mountain. Exposed. With night approaching and the temperature already beginning to plummet we found ourselves in a no man’s land. An impossible summit versus a treacherous descent to Camp 2 via an uncharted and unknown route.

Steadfast and resolute we endeavoured to undertake the descent. But after an hour of frustration and worsening light we decided our best option was to dig in. Survive the night before making our way back to the original descent route at first light.

Hastily, we made temporary camp just east of the Verbratten Couloir. Huddled in a tight group. Inadequate supplies. Fighting the cold. Teeth chattering relentlessly. The quest for glory replaced by the grim determination to survive.

We only have each other.

And the view…

There is no denying that what I see below me is breath taking. Tycho is the largest of the inhabitable craters on Sako by some margin.  A vast flat plain sculpted millennia ago by some catastrophic impact. An ancient scar around six kilometres deep. A trillion tonnes of material blasted away in an instant to eventually become a haven for life as the planet healed. Whatever had hit the planet had bought with it enough raw materials to constitute an atmosphere.

From here Tycho Crater fills my field of vision. At the South foothills of the crater wall, directly downhill from me is the South Tycho Sea. At my current altitude our reservoir and prime source of fresh water appears as a black silk blanket laid carefully in an almost perfect line joining the craters 5 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions. To the far North, towards the crater centre, I can just about make out the artificial lights and sprawling expanse of South Tycho City, partly obscured by the fog of pollution that perpetually hangs above it. Further North is the central impact mound known as The Grenade. Itself a formidable climb, but from my vantage point it looks paltry and insignificant.

And on the other side of this damn mountain, itself a kilometre below me and obscured from view is the true surface of our planet. Outside the craters the air was thin and noxious. Even the nomadic indigenous peoples who roamed the true surface utilised ‘Tops Suits’ to make the environment less hostile. The true surface of Sako is a vast expanse of almost nothing. A crater scarred landscape stretching as far as the eye could see. Maybe the occasional glimpse of a trail left by the Indies and their caravans as they navigate the surface. Only the Pipes offer any true waypoint. They would break the surface here and there. A nightmarish tangle of brown rusted metal. Sako’s true mystery.

And to the East, just past the horizon, the peak of Mount Thumper. A volcanic titan. The largest individual landmark on the planet. The absolute summit.

Two worlds. One nestled together under a blanket of sustaining atmosphere and the other just dust.

Dust and the Pipes.