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Blazing North by Kati Bumbera

When he heard the sled dog speak to him through the wind, Eriksen thought he’d lost his mind.

“You’re safe, Sir. Rescue is on the way.”

Eriksen surveyed the Arctic wilderness, stretching away from him in every direction. For countless days he’d marched on sea ice, hauled the sled as the ropes burned into his shoulders, crossed ice floe after ice floe, pressure ridge after pressure ridge, until the landscape seemed like a rolling carpet of an infinite pattern repeating under his boots. The dog was his only companion left—besides the Captain, who haunted his dreams. It was the Captain who urged him on, insisting he still stood a chance to reach the Pole.

“Stop and rest for a minute,” the dog spoke again.

Eriksen shut his eyes. Pain flickered behind his blistered eyelids with colours of another world. He saw crackling fire. Sycamore leaves dancing and swaying like flames. His daughter’s hot little hand, clutching his own.

He opened his eyes again to find only the blinding snow.

“The Captain warned me,” Eriksen told the dog, “after he’d fallen into the rift. I said to him, Captain, I pulled you out, but you were frozen. He said, Eriksen, get your gun and kill that dog. A single sled dog is of no use.”

“You’re delirious, Sir. The isolation, the harsh conditions deceive the senses. But rest assured the effect is temporary.”

“I told the Captain I wouldn’t kill you.” Eriksen continued. “Not after everyone else had perished. I had enough walrus meat for both of us.”

The dog sat down. Snow settled on her snout.

“Only, the Captain still troubles my dreams. He says you aren’t a real dog. Says you’re a saboteur. That I’ll never conquer the Pole unless I ditch you.”

“Sir, can you recall where you are?”

“In the Arctic. The land beyond the sun’s reach.”

“You’re in Nevada. The world’s biggest artificial snow dome, recreating weather conditions that used to occur naturally on the planet. You’re a participant in our Polar Adventure, inspired by early 20th century expeditions. I am an autonomous surveillance drone tracking your progress.”

Eriksen squinted. His memories swirled like snowflakes. They blackened and turned to ash.

“The Captain—”

“None of your companions came to any harm. It was your choice to complete your journey alone.”

Eriksen didn’t remember a choice. He remembered a hand, slipping from his as they were scrambling. There was a crack…

… but he looked up instead of down. The canopy was in flames. The sun was roaring at the earth.

The orange sky filled up with smoke.

Falling trees buried his daughter’s last scream.

“I was the only survivor,” Eriksen said. “She didn’t make it.”

“We’re terminating your experience now, Sir. You’ll be safe and warm soon.”

Eriksen pulled the trigger. The dog shattered, bloodless, against the ice.

“I’ve already been rescued,” Eriksen said, taking up the harness. “But I still need to escape.”

He turned around and resumed his slow march North.

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