Fortress 0
~ ~ THE FORTRESS MUST SURVIVE ~ ~
A COLLECTION OF LETTERS FROM SVALBARD AND THE LAST WRITINGS OF ROLF STAALASEN
The following transcripts are taken from a set of letters written by famed archivist C. Umbreit during her third trip to the Svalbard Archipelago, Norway.

Home to some of the northmost permanent settlements in the planet (as well as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault) and with mean summer temperatures of 7 °C (45 °F), it would immediately be declared uninhabitable by any civilian below the 60th north parallel. However, the ~2000 citizens of Longyearbyen would beg to disagree: the northmost settlement in the world with over 1000 inhabitants is nothing short of cozy — or so says C. Umbreit, world-wide explorer of liminality.

Not satisfied with her camp in the Crown of Aurorae near the Inuit town of Akulivik in Quebec, she has once more traveled North to the frozen archipelago in search of greater beauty in greater solitude. What she claims to have found is far more than that: not just the unique beauty of a newly-discovered and inaccessible Threshold among the freezing winds of Spitsbergen island, but a mystery left by the last inhabitant of the ghost town of Pyramiden.

As her new location is too isolated from any source of internet, her findings have been collected in letters sent to her friends at the Oslo Society of Explorers (hi, everyone!) for transcription and uploading to the Database. Monthly transcripts will be uploaded beginning on June 4, 2007 at the following directory:

2KDD6159F3JAE/AAAAA_oslo/umbreit_letters.

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THE FORTRESS MUST SURVIVE
TITLE: THE DEAD CITY OF PYRAMIDEN DATE: 04/06/2007
FILE: 2KDD6159F3JAE/AAAAA_oslo/umbreit_letters/1 # 1/8
pyramiden.jpg

The only friendly bear I came across in all of Svalbard.
I arrived to Pyramiden at the tail end of summer, purely out of the kindness of a friend in Longyearbyen who agreed to lend me a snowmobile. No one in the entire city wanted to take an unarmed tourist with near-incomprehensible Norwegian out of Longyearbyen at the verge of polar night — and frankly, for good reason. Guns are mandated when excursioning due to a certain ursid problem plaguing Svalbard.

Nevertheless, the ghost town was very welcoming. A soft breeze whistled by, singing its traditional song across the deserted streets of its home. It's exactly as the Soviets left it. Even with a Lenin bust! I'd expected it to get vandalized, stolen, or thrown to sea in the years following the collapse, but the population of Svalbard is too busy and small to have ruffians of that petty caliber, even among the Russians.

The extraordinarily high food prices of Longyearbyen have tightened my expected window by about two weeks, so I walked around town for just about eight hours: home after home I entered (when they were open), room after room I checked, and cabinet after cabinet I opened. However alien its alphabet still feels to me, I think I could understand some of the writings of the locals: general worry about the city, sadness for its decline, and an implicit nostalgia for the beloved red flag. Despite these feelings, it seems to me that the spirit of communism never left Pyramiden — even after its people did.

I think I registered the entire town before calling it quits for the first day, having found nothing of note. Surprisingly, there was a bed left made in one of the homes closer to the cliff with the entry to the abandoned mine — but I had no luck with heating. I should have expected that, Soviet infrastructure and all.

All of this sounds so irritatingly mundane, but something about this place feels different. It has that aura, that smell to it. I think I read a short letter by Solimán Acacio that talked about it. In places so old and loved yet left alone, where everything is ancient, busted, both or worse, this particular scent can be almost felt in one's ears. Like an itch over the freezing cold stinging them. The scent of misery: a loved, abandoned kind of misery. The scent that leads one beyond the Great Veil.

I can't say for sure if it was the particular neglect typical of Soviet architecture or something else about Pyramiden, but I can smell that scent. I'm close to something new, I am sure of it. I know every abandoned place on Earth has a feel like that to it, but it feels so unique here…

I hope I'll have something more exciting to say tomorrow. But now the wind is singing me a good night song, and the sheets are as cozy as they were left in '98 — it all calls for a long nap below the slowly-setting polar sun.

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THE FORTRESS MUST SURVIVE
TITLE: THE LAST TO LEAVE DATE: 05/06/2007
FILE: 2KDD6159F3JAE/AAAAA_oslo/umbreit_letters/2 # 2/8
pyramiden2.jpg

Миру мир! / Peace to the world!
Today I plunged into the abandoned mine right after a ten-minute walk across the entry gallery (the double hallway you see on the bottom right of the photo I took). Those are supposed to have trollies to move miners up and down the mine, long dead on both sides — but it didn't stop me from trying!

The entry to the mine was beautiful. These abandoned passages have a livelihood to them, in spite of the peeling paint and the chunks of concrete dripping from the ceiling. It's like the collapse of the Wall didn't even dent things over here. The firm Soviet brickworks have survived far more than just ten years of abandonment.

So imagine the disappointment I felt when the gates themselves were closed. Far too firmly for me to bust open. I can hear the wind howl just beyond the gate… But I just can't get there. I think I stared past the gaps between the steel bars for just about an hour before I went back and decided to explore the facilities before the mine. The disappointment was dented just a little by my discovery that the bar was still supplied with some imperishables. They'll let me stay for a while, but I don't want to sack the bar too much.

I also spotted a little house right over the power plant, built on a plateau on the cliff. I think I know whose it is… Give me a minute to gather my thoughts.

I read that this was a rather prestigious place to be in when it was populated: perhaps the only place where Communism truly came to be in the world. Brotherhood among workers was a big deal in the letters and journals that were left behind, which makes a certain local story all the more endearing: the little tale of Rolf Staalasen.

That man was obviously Norwegian: a vagabond from a settlement south of Pyramiden (most likely Longyearbyen) that arrived one day to the mining town.

Although evidently from a decent background — he appears to have had some sort of education in physics or mathematics — and despite the enmity between Norway and the Union, he got along well enough with the families of miners that they helped him get a job with Arktikugol, the Russian company that ran the city. Some described him as an ingenious writer, especially in improvisation: despite an unusual sense of humor and communication, he would repeatedly charm the other citizens of Svalbard with tiny stories scribbled on borrowed paper.

From where he came and what his background was, no one seems to know. He was evidently disgruntled with Norway's proudly Lutheran society and felt more at home among the fiercely atheistic Soviets, so much so that he even built a little home just north-east of the city's power plant with the miners' help.

When the citizens of Pyramiden started dwindling after the Wall fell, pulling back to the Russian mainland, Rolf stayed in his little house. It's not hard to imagine him waving at the last ships leaving port.

When returning from the failed trip to the mine and moving camp to the power plant, I think I caught a glimpse of that little house. Judging by the amount of food left in the bar, it might just be possible that our friend is still around.

I'll visit after a quick nap. The sky is slowly darkening, but there's lots of coal lying around. There's a nice red shade below the clouds.

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THE FORTRESS MUST SURVIVE
TITLE: THE GHOST OF ROLF STAALASEN DATE: 06/06/2007
FILE: 2KDD6159F3JAE/AAAAA_oslo/umbreit_letters/3 # 3/8
pyramiden3.jpg

Pyramiden's coal is still heating up people, even almost ten years after.
Rolf's house rests only a few dozen meters away from the cliff. It's small — just one room, two windows. One looking over the cliff, another toward the town. There's a bed, some drawers, a shelf with books, a chest, several dozen unlit candles, and a table with two chairs.

It's also empty, and the door was open when I came here. It bounced back and forth on its hinges, rhythmically hitting the frame. There's no electricity, no gas: just a small fireplace and corresponding chimney. The drawers are half-empty with canned beans and other imperishables.

On the table there's no plate or cutlery. Just a line of photos around one of the chairs. Beside it rests a red flag, furled around a pole. There's a wide chest against the wall that I can't open — the key's nowhere to be found, probably lost with Rolf.

This house hasn't been empty for more than a year, maybe two. One can still hear Rolf Staalasen's breathing, almost see him stepping in and out of his home. As if his ghost was still wandering around his beloved town.

I walked around for twenty minutes before I found something else — a hole in the ground, leading into a small cave. It's pretty narrow, goes for about fifteen meters. I can see the sky growing red as I approach the cliff.

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2KDD6159F3JAE/AAAAA_oslo/umbreit_letters:

AAA_intro ---- "The following transcripts are taken from a set of letters writte"…
1 ---- "I arrived to Pyramiden at the tail end of summer, purely out of"…
2 ---- "Today I plunged into the abandoned mine right after a ten-minute"…
3 ---- "Rolf's house rests on a small plateau a few dozen meters away fr"…

4 ---- "Rolf must've gone into the Threshold. That much is evident. He d"…
4_script_supplement
5 ---- "Scene 2 kicks off with the Scribe's entry into the Common Room o"…
5_script_supplement
6 ---- "The Scribe leaves the fortress from a door on the side of the Co"…
6_script_supplement
7 ---- "The Scribe walks across the Library, intending to meet the Justi"…
7_script_supplement
8 ---- "The Spider and the Scribe flee. They flee across the Common Room"…

>3_thresh_supplement


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NEXT: DROPS IN THE SEA & WELCOME TO THE ISLAND FORTRESS
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