The Black

Book Cover: The Black

The Black Dome arrived a decade ago wiping out Toronto.

The remaining city around it rotted out as a failing government poured resources into containment. The quarantine zone grew. Millions of people moved away from the constant fear of annihilation, while scientists and doomsday cults flock to it seeking enlightenment.

Dave is trying to get inside. Employed by the government, he works as a lead tunneling engineer on Tunnel 18, burrowing deep underneath ‘The Black’ where the field is the weakest. The job is simple: Dig, and dig deep. Avoid the lethal energy discharges and try not to die in one of the all to frequent tunnel collapses.

But the energy releases are happening more and more frequently, and the Government is becoming desperate. The Black is preparing for something. Whatever it is, if Dave and his team fail to gain access, it's likely extinction for the human race.

Coming Winter 2017...

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Dave lifted his ball cap to wipe his pale forehead. The back of his muscular arm was only marginally drier. Overhead, the late morning sun was heating the concrete beneath his feet. A warm gust of wind swept across the concrete of the decommissioned airport runway. The breeze provided minor relief from the humidity. The blades of grass that had long taken hold in the cracks simply fluttered for a moment before settling back down in the almost stagnant air.

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He looked toward the cause of the hanging air and scowled. The massive windbreak appeared to be a wall of impermeable darkness, rising more than seventy-five kilometres into the stratosphere and stretching at least 150 kilometres wide. It resembled a wall only when this close. From the air it was easy to see the vastness of the flattened dome shape. Even though the Black was at least a half-hour drive away at highway speeds, it felt like it was right next to him, ready to absorb him and pull him into its darkness.

It had done so to more than six million people a decade ago when it appeared.

Dave reflected for a moment that he was in his twenties when it arrived; he had been visiting Rochester, New York, when the black dome exploded into existence. No one knew what it was or why it was there.

People fled en masse from the area. The borders were closed for months, and if it hadn’t been for friends, he likely would have had no place to stay.

He remembered the early days, panic, end-of-the-world cults, the spike in suicide rates, and worst, the riots. That all had changed when the military had been called in and martial law declared. It had taken him three months to finally get back into Canada, but his own residence had been too close to the Black and was inside the ten-kilometre quarantine zone. It stretched around the entire circumference of the black dome.

He had seen the house only once when he was allowed to return to collect his things. It smelled rotten from the food that had been left in the fridge. The only things he had taken were a few suitcases of clothes, tools, and some old photos. There had been nothing else there for him. Nothing else, that was, except a job looking for underground miners.

Months later, Tony, an old friend, had called him up, asking if he still had all of his certifications up to date. Luckily for Dave, he did, and after a few weeks of orientation and security clearances he found himself on a crew, boring through the Canadian bedrock under the Black. He didn’t know why. He had suspicions, but the money was too good to ask questions.

Turning away, he refocused on the task at hand.

In front of him, a folding plastic table was set up and a nearby truck, placarded with explosive signage, sat ready for the Dave’s demonstration. He absently rearranged the tools of his trade on the table. Various explosive devices used in breaking up rock sat before him: shaped charges, detonation cord, and primers arranged in the familiar way a man might lay out his shaving kit each morning. None of these were new to Dave.

He had spent most of his adult life working underground, drilling, blasting and clearing miles of tunnels. What was unfamiliar was the quality of the men arriving for their training session. The group was disembarking from a set of nearby passenger vans and were sauntering slowly toward him. Looking each of them over, he assessed them for some sign of weakness or nervous tic.

The last few tunnels they had worked on had been prone to failure, Dave suspected because too many men were working too quickly for too much money. The contract that each man was hired under stipulated bonuses for distance cleared. Some crews had become so effective at digging that they had disregarded every safety check Dave had ever been taught.

He avoided working with those crews. Although he didn’t sign the men’s paycheques, he felt some obligation to reinforce the skills and training that had been beaten into him long ago. At least the crews he was not in charge of would follow some level of safety.

However, despite all of this, he wished he had picked a time later in the afternoon for the demonstration. Maybe next time he would do this when the sun was hidden behind the black dome that covered most of the Toronto area.

Even though he knew it was circular, it reminded him of the edge of the world. The wall of pure black reflected no light, and therefore no discernible curve. It was as though if you got close enough you would notice nothing beyond it, like a terrifying absence of material. Dave always felt like it was possible, near its edge, to step off the asphalt and fall into an abyss. The thought sent shivers down his spine as agoraphobia seeped in, threatening to pull him into the dark wall that stretched as far as he could see to the north and south.

Clouds above hung below the dome, hiding its true height.

His engineering-educated brain reminded him that it had mass and it was solid, but something inside him knew how wrong it was that the Black existed. The physics of it seemed to defy the universe’s laws.

Dave squinted as he turned into the sun to face the gathered men and women. Facing into the light was not helping. “Good morning,” Dave said. The crowd muttered varying responses based on how much coffee they had consumed.

Retrieving a cylinder from the cardboard box on the table, the mining engineer held it up for the new miners to see. They all crowded in and focused on the device. It was half the diameter of a pop can but about as tall.

Dave could see their eyes inspecting it. Each was a mining or blasting expert from a country comprising the United Nations and took the topic seriously.

“You guys might have used the mechanical matches or igniters for detonation cord and explosives. We won’t be using them on this project due to the need for a consistent timer. Here we use a mechanical timer, which is spring-loaded and sets off a percussion cap which fires the det cord.” Dave handed it to the nearest man as the translators in the crowd relayed the information.

“The ones I’m passing around are demonstration timers. They don’t contain any of the primer or explosive and are safe to play around with. Later on today we will use the actual thing, and everyone will get a chance to be familiar in a live environment before we use them in the tunnels.”

A shorter, dark-skinned man raised his hand.

“Yes?” Dave said.

“Señor Thompson, why not use the old timer fuses?”

“Because the Black affects some of the timers when they are stretched down the tunnel. It has something to do with the energy that it gives off. We tried that originally and it worked well, but the closer we got to the barrier the more it messed with the timer. We had a few accidents with the original charges and decided that for safety we would use this style of timer.”

The Mexican man nodded and resumed inspecting the device in his hands.

“Despite the fact that it is more consistent and easier to use, the drawback is that it compromises safety, since you are setting it before you attach it to the det cord.”

Dave held up another dummy timer and demonstrated its use. “To set it you pull out the arming pin and rotate the timer. Once it is set, press the mechanical release on the top and release. If it is running, you should see the orange paint around the edge and hear it ticking. You can even feel it in your hands.”

“It’s kind of like a wind-up egg timer?” an Irish voice from the front row noted.

“It works a bit like that,” Dave agreed.

Another voice called out from the second row of people. “Why can’t we just use an electrical ignition system?”

“Again, the material of the dome affects the electrical impulse. There are discharges of energy in the tunnel, and we are worried that the static buildup will conduct down the lines and set off the electrical-style igniters. Using a mechanical timer is safer and more reliable, even though it’s a bit more expensive and we can’t reuse them.”

“Sir, this sounds like a bit of a dumb question, but have you tried to blast through the Black itself?” The southern drawl of the man and the high and tight haircut gave him away as an Marine, but the heavy gut denoted that he was no longer in active service.

“When the Black appeared a decade ago, they tried a number of methods to break through the field. The only method we found that might work is tunnelling under the leading edge that is in contact with the ground. Since the Black is a large energy field, it is dampened by the bedrock and soil. The hope is that one of our tunnels will get close enough to a softer area near the base.”

Dave slid aside the boxes of demonstration timers and plucked a roll of paper from one of the boxes. Unfurling it on the plastic table, he weighed its edges down with the containers and pointed to the blueprint-style map. It indicated the large hundred-kilometre circle that now encompassed downtown Toronto and most of the waterfront of Lake Superior.

“Tunnel 18 is the best attempt so far. In the earlier tunnels, we moved toward the surface to quickly, thinking we had passed through the barrier, but once we moved upward, the field generated on the inside of the tunnel blocking it off; 18 is approximately a kilometre and a half long. The entire length is covered with discharging web made from copper and grounding wires.”

Dave could see Tony’s black car pulling up behind the crowd. A work visit from his friend was never a good thing.

“Take a break, and we will meet back here in fifteen. There’s coffee and bathrooms over in the hanger,” Dave said before turning away to watch the car come to a stop.

The crowd dispersed toward the building and the promise of early morning coffee, and Dave watched Tony step out of the back seat. The man perpetually wore a suit, even when it was a hundred percent humidity and forty degrees, and to see him now with no tie on indicated that there was something going on.

“What’s up?” Dave asked, reaching out to shake the man’s hand.

“I hate to mess with your day, but we’re having problems in the tunnels again.”

“Problems? I was down there yesterday, and we’re ahead of schedule?”

Tony continued motioning him away from the door. “The apparitions are back.”

“They are just energy discharges,” Dave stated, shaking his head.

“I know, but the lights appeared recently, and now the blast the last crew drilled for isn’t going ‘boom.’ They think it’s the ghosts.”

“Don’t call them that,” Dave said.

Tony stepped back. “You need to go down there and get them moving. Time is money, and we need to justify how we are spending the UN money. Do you have any idea how meetings I have with bean counters every week? A stoppage is—”

“Alright… alright, I’ll go take a look. I’ve got to find someone to finish the orientation for the newest crew first,” Dave said, pulling the radio from his belt. He could see the look of apprehension and worry on Tony’s face. It had become the staple appearance lately.

Dave queried the safety station at the entrance to the tunnel and confirmed that things had stopped. Sometimes just telling the crews he was coming down got them moving, but from what he was hearing, everyone was done for the day.

“Let me drive you down,” Tony offered.

“Sure, let me tell the guys we’re heading out.”

Dave strode across the aging concrete of the airport ramp and spoke to the nearest man before returning. Tony stood alternating between crossed arms and running his hands through his well-groomed hair.

On his way back Dave looked up at his monolithic nemesis as it hovered above them.

“Not going to make this easy, are you,” he muttered.

Ten minutes later he was in the back of the black car sitting next to Tony as they were carried through the abandoned downtown core toward the tunnel.

“They say that you guys find homeless people living in here, scavenging,” Dave asked, tapping on the glass of the window.

“It’s true. The soldiers and police have to clear out the buildings almost weekly.”

“Why not leave them alone? I mean, they get a warm place to sleep, and there’s no one to bother?”

“It’s not that simple. They are inside the quarantine zone, and those apartments, and buildings are still owned by someone. It’s still someone’s property.”

Dave nodded, understanding his friend’s point.

“Dave, we’ve been looking over the numbers and think we are really close this time.”

“We better be. I would say we are about five hundred metres past the field.”

“That’s why this is so important.”

“I know it is.”

“I mean it’s important not to have any mistakes,” Tony stated, brushing his hair back. Dave noticed that the normally well-kept man was unshaven.

“Seriously, I get it. What’s going on?”

“We’re running out of time… We need this to work, and work now. Tunnel 18 is the furthest along. When 17 collapsed, it was almost the end of this. If you hadn’t pushed 18 as far and as fast as we have over the last few years, we would be ruined.”

“What’s going on? Stop bullshitting me,” Dave asked calmly. “You’re giving me the same party line as everyone else, and I’m getting sick of it.”

...

 

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