Thursday, 9 January 2014

Number Nine.

By Michael Carta. 


Nuclear fallout marks the beginning of the slow process in which nature is cleansed and slowly reborn from the ashes of the failed world.


A vast underworld has formed in the remaining underground subways of several major cities across the planet. Hundreds now live in relative harmony in their own makeshift societies. Niko has been living deep within the subway system in the California underworld for ten years. It was the day of her fifth birthday when her father ran her to the safety of the tunnels.  
Darkness ruled the majority of the day unless it was your shift to go into the “fray”. This was the term used for venturing out into the abyss of ruins to scavenge.  A thick cloud layer of debris and ash smothered Earth’s surface from the Sun. The days were windy and endless without any hope of change.
Just before he left for fray duty one day, Niko’s father had given her his only prized possession; a small photo of her mother. She understands now that it was his way of telling her that he was not going to return.
Niko lived for the time she spent in the fray and cherished every moment of it. The tunnel lights were always a pale orange, but on the surface things looked different, less muggy. She especially enjoyed taking out her mother’s picture to see it more clearly and would always remember her father’s face when he thought of her. It was the only time she had ever seen him smile.
Quickly she jumped up and moved into the changing room to assemble her gear for fray duty. She was completely covered head-to-toe in less than a minute with a pair of worn goggles on her forehead. They always went out in groups of three: a digger, a collector, and a navigator. All tethered together by a long chain. Some foolish groups detached themselves since the chain could get snagged, but this was risky. The terrain was rough, uncharted and unpredictable.
“Come on we’re burnin’ daylight here!” she shouted playfully at her comrades still assembling their gear.
“Niko, what does that even mean?” Said 188, the boy next to her.
“Yeah, you say that every time!” Said 137, the smaller boy next to him.
“I dunno. I think it means: “hurry up slow pokes!”, my father used to say it many moons ago”
“Moons?”
“Don’t ask!” she said giggling.
Niko was one of the only ones known by a name instead of a number. The number was assigned when you were established as a member of the group and those with a lower number were more senior and had more authority. All single digit members had names, she was technically number nine, but widely known as Niko. Only two others remained of the original single digits and were the real decision makers. However, she was too young to be a part of their council.
They ran at a brisk pace and within a few feet the amber light from the common area diminished. With their hands along the wall they could tell when the tunnel turned and where to stop. After a mile or so they reached the dead end where the metal wall was pinned against the entrance of their enclave.
“Group C reporting for duty commander!” she announced proudly to the man seated next to the wall.
188 and 137 smiled since groups did not have names and the doorman never spoke. Niko was always being silly and they enjoyed her presence.
“How are you always so chipper Niko?” said 137 in wonder.
“Well.. there’s darkness all around us, but that does not mean it always has to be dark in here.” she said as she tapped his head and smirked.
“We can make our own light”
Slowly and methodically the old man pushed the barrier to the side. The metal screeched against the concrete revealing a small two foot opening just big enough for the three of them to dart out quickly. A relentless wind burst through, bringing with it thick amounts of soot. Niko lunged out first and the man was already closing the opening as the others barely squeezed through.
“Close one!” she shouted.
The others could not hear her over the gusts of wind. They huddled up for a few moments to let their eyes adjust to the light difference. 188, their navigator, moved first and hooked Niko to the front of the chain, 137 in the middle, and himself to the rear. His job was to log their route so that they could follow it back. If a team was lost, there was no rescue. The next team out would search for them, but their primary focus would be to find some useful quarry. During his first time in the fray, 188 was nervous about getting lost or left behind. Now his fear was numbed and he thought that such a fate would be better than dying in the darkness anyway.
Strangely the wind began to settle and the mixture of soot and dust was not as thick. Niko trudged forward with excitement. She moved at an ample pace since she did not want to drag the two behind her. After a short while there was a brief tug as if 188, or 137 stopped suddenly. She waited patiently and did not turn around. Those two were always looking for excuses to stop.
“What’dya think we’ll find t-”
Before she could even finished her thought she was yanked viciously off her feet backwards by the chain. Her body slammed into rubble and her lungs burned as she gasped for air.  She was dizzy from the impact and her eyes were too watery to see what was going on. There was a brilliant spectral flash of light that she never imagined possible followed by a deafening boom that shook her to the core.  
            “So beautiful!” she thought, but then her heart skipped a beat. She was blind. A wave of panic rushed over her as she anxiously pulled the chain. It came quickly and was too light. She cried out and heard nothing but a constant ringing in her ears. Within a few frantic moments she held the end of the broken chain in her hands. She was alone and lost in the darkness... or so she thought...

1 comment:

  1. Great story, Michael! Wish I could keep reading - what is out there??

    ReplyDelete