Jorde climbed further and further, placing each step with great care, further than anyone had ever gone before. He was nearing the bottom.
The glorious cream-colored mesas of Apexa towered dauntingly over him, rising miles and miles into the stratosphere. The air along the plateaus of their summits was light enough to be oxygen rich and maintain the settlements. But Jorde was well below the choke line now, deep within the invisible ocean of krypton gas that covered the planet’s surface.
No human had ever been to the surface, but he would be the first.
The air was thick and moved in ropey whorls like heat lines. The wind was slow but persistent, pressing him ever downward. There was a beautiful golden gray flower here that hadn’t been seen before. Its petals held it to the rock face while its roots dangled in the open air. Jorde thought they might—
His crampon slipped and his weight shifted outward. In a panic he swiped his axe at the rock face. The serrated underside tore his rope like papier-mâché. He went into a free fall.
Jorde bounced off a stone ledge and went tumbling sideways down the steep crag. He tried to slow himself by splaying his limbs, but he only succeeded in causing compound factures. When he finally ran out of momentum he had more shattered bones than not, and his oxygen mask was completely ruined. He’d asphyxiate in a matter of minutes.
He still managed to force a toothless smile, though. He was the first person to reach the surface of Apexa alive. All alone at the bottom of the world.
Maybe they’d name the flower after him. Yes, the Jorde flower. He would like that.