Tag Archives: underground

The Cost of Survival, Part I

A knock at the door. Jeffery knew his son would have been the first to grab his bag and run out of the school when the bell went. He would have run down Thoroughfare Tunnel 204, bouncing on the broken travelator. He would have pressed his nose against the window of the mushroom farm in the central cavern, then turned into the Side Tunnel 73 where their apartment was. Not once would he have considered the kilometres of rock above him, because he had never known anything else.

Jeffery opened the door to reveal his son, excited and out of breath. Adam ran inside and jumped on the sofa.

“Dad! Today we learnt about stars!” said Adam. “They are big balls of fire and beautiful and they twinkle and they’re really far away! Have you seen them?”

“Yes,” said Jeffery. “When I was your age. I’d lie in a field and gaze up at them.”

“What do they look like? Did you take pictures?”

Jeffery shook his head. “A picture couldn’t capture what it was like,” he said. He thought for a minute, then took out a dark blue towel from the cupboard. “I’m going to put this towel over your head.”

“Okay,” laughed Adam. “Woo! I’m a ghost! Are you scared?”

“Yes,” agreed Jeffery. “Terrified. Can you see anything?”

“No,” said Adam. “It’s dark.”

Jeffrey turned the boy to face the light coming from the kitchen.

“Now bring your hands up under the towel and push the towel away from your nose. What can you see now?”

To be continued…

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Controller (Part III)

Continued from Part II.

“Jack! Help us!”

The steps down to the platform plunged into a torrential stream of water, sparkling sickly colours under the emergency lights. The water poured from a large crack in the tunnel wall at the far end. It churned and tossed and swept debris down the train tracks, disappearing into the dark behind the stairs where Jack perched.

He peered into the gloom. The Controller was in the water, head just above the raging stream, one bloodied hand at a metal post jutting upward, caught in the fixing that once held a display screen. The Controller’s other arm held up the head of young boy, who flailed his arms furiously against the water.

“His legs are gone!” yelled the Controller. “Ready… catch!” He let go of the boy, who was swept towards the stairs. Jack leapt forward and caught the boy before he went past and dragged him out of the water. “Go! Run!” The ceiling cracked and fell into the water. The Controller disappeared from view.

Jack grabbed the boy and carried him upwards. Up and up and up until the sunlight and the open air hit his cheeks, and they both collapsed into a crowd of paramedics and police. Jack looked back over his shoulder. Then he watched a man, in bloodied shirt and tie and dripping wet, hobble out from the darkness and limp towards him.

“And that,” laughed the Controller, lying down on his back on the pavement, breathing heavily, “is why I’m the boss!”

Controller (Part II)

Continued from Part I.

“This is an emergency,” said a calm electronic voice that emanated from the ceiling. “Please evacuate immediately.”

Jack and the Controller reached the bottom of the spiral staircase. They found themselves at the end of a small tunnel that stretched out a few metres and then turned a corner. There were bright lights and tiled walls. Over the noise of the alarm, the sound of rushing water and screams echoed from beyond the bend in the tunnel.

They ran on, weaving through the passages, until they came to a gate. On the other side was a much larger tunnel, packed with a crowd of people filing slowly past. Professional men and women in suits, mothers with young children, teenagers, the elderly. Yet the clothes and colours and tribal differences had melted away, leaving a group of human beings to press together against their fear on common terms. Their faces showed not panic but grim determination.

Jack hastily unlocked the gate, and ushered people along the tunnel to the spiral stairs. The new exit eased the crush and the crowd began to flow faster. Over the heads of the escapees he saw the Controller pushing back through the crowd, heading away down the larger tunnel.

A young woman stood to one side, calling out encouragement and calming words. Jack squeezed up to her.

“Tunnel collapsed!” she said. “Water’s coming in, flooding the tracks.”

With thanks, Jack sent her on up with last of the crowd, and headed down after his boss.

To be continued…

Controller (Part I)

Jack Alderman’s two hundred and seventeenth unsuccessful attempt to flirt with the Controller’s assistant, Marcie, was a particularly memorable one. It failed not, this time, due to Jack’s ineptness at movie star impressions, but because of the interrupting vibration that shook the walls.

Pictures rattled around their hooks, papers fluttered. Marcie’s mug shuffled off her desk, spilling coffee onto the threadbare carpet. Screams of surprise floated over from other desks. Then the door between the control room and the office flung open and the Controller appeared at full sprint.

“Jack, follow!” he yelled as he thundered across the room. His arms stretched out to slam open the double doors at the far end, and then he was gone. His footsteps echoed as he hammered down the stairs.

Jack looked at Marcie. Marcie shrugged. Jack placed his mug down where Marcie’s had been, and ran towards the staircase.

As he jumped the lower steps of each flight, an alarm started screeching. Jack caught up with the Controller five floors down. The Controller was still galloping but breathing heavily. The sweat was beginning to show through his shirt.

“What was that?” shouted Jack as they ran.

“Earthquake!” came the reply. “Red lights over the entire board!”

Two flights down the stairs became a spiral, digging further below the lowest floor. Another fifty steps took them towards the tunnels, and a sound, out of place, floated up to great them. The Controller halted, breathing heavily, shock creeping across his face.

“Water!” he gasped.

To be continued…