Most days resemble each other, a peaceful routine of exploring nearby cavities, sketching maps, and maintaining the hydraulic power generator. Every now and then a minor discovery would punctuate the otherwise uneventful thread of my existence. A small artifact, a note from a long-deceased explorer, a psychedelic dream of the abyss, or just a very vulgar rock formation would sometimes draw a chuckle out of me, breaking through my usual weariness. Moments like these kept me aware of my ever-degrading will. At least three weeks had passed without any significant progress in my research. I had even abandoned any daring expeditions, sinking in the dullness of a comfortable routine I justified as restful.
Yet today I saw myself forced into a very different expedition. One I had been anticipating since moving into the quarry I now call my empire of dust, two and a half months ago. This day I quit my artificial limbo to ascend to the surface once again. A necessary deed for my survival as my initial stock was running low and the thin portions surely were contributing to my overall lassitude.
However, it would be dishonest to any theoretical reader of my rambling if I solely attributed my excursion to the impending shortage of supplies as I had an unusual event to attend. The focus of my excursion, which had been in my thoughts for days now, was a geology lecture I had been invited to by the stranger I met in the majestic spine of the roman salt mines, nearby. Despite the superficial nature of our conversation and my natural predisposition to keeping to myself, I had formed an attachment to that person. A feeling that I could not fully understand nor fully embrace.
As I took my first steps outside, carefully covering my eyes for a while, I was pleased to hear the leaves flapping in the breeze but not a hint of the deafening drum. It seemed that the sound in my head that had driven me to the quarry was no more. Could it be that I was freed of my curse? I slowly looked up through the branches and felt that warm caress I left so long ago. A day outside couldn’t be that bad after all.
The soothing short hike through the woods that mantle my empire wasn’t even close to easing me into the brutal busyness of a human metropolitan area. The startling visual noise of all these people flocking around, fenced in the unquestioned frontiers of their fabricated ecosystem, made me feel estranged. I hated myself for being incapable of such innocent whimsy anymore. These people drowned restlessness in manufactured complications. They found faith in fiction, they took pride in futility, and discarded objectivity for the illusion of purpose. Yet in a fundamental irrefutable way, I was the unnatural, the mutation in that well-greased organic hive.
Despite the darkness of my thoughts and my startled senses I was nevertheless pleasantly affected by the sight of familiar places and faces. The warmness of a paved street lined by colored facades and freshly trimmed vegetation.
As I walked up to the local university, reminiscing the endless programming courses I had gone through behind those sturdy brick walls, I was transported to a simpler time. A time when I would share my latest exploration photographs under the dim light of a pub with my half-drunken accomplices. These were the days when my weak mind had not yet been enslaved by the insatiable craving for more. Although my unusual interests at that time were alluding to my adventurous inclination.
As I approached the amphitheater my thoughts were harshly interrupted by the close human contact of a swarm of students rushing past me in the noisiest manner.
I remained there standing in the back of the echoey lecture room for as long as I could. The noise was overwhelming. Stressful. But just as I thought of giving up and rushing through the door the stormy sea of students settled. Then I saw the person I had come for and almost in the blink of an eye, the lengthy and unsurprising lecture was over. A decently documented overview of the static water zone theory. A cave formation process that reminded me of that wrecked U-boat and the violence with which it must have been flushed to the abyss.
As I write these lines, sitting on a well-shaded and isolated bench by the campus I am patiently waiting. The reasons for my presence here or the role that I am supposed to fulfill today still evade me completely. Yet she said “I’m so glad you could make it! I hope you enjoyed the topic. Oh, wait for me outside, I’ll be there in a couple seconds…” when I instinctively rushed towards the stage against the violent current of relieved teenagers. It’s been 11 minutes and 23 seconds, 24.