The throbbing in my head woke me up. I sat up and glanced around. Somehow, I ended up in an underground tunnel. With the help of the wall, I stood up from the floor. Except for a few dirt spots on me everything seemed to be all right.
The walls looked intact, and the track wasn’t broken. Five or six people remained on the other side, maybe several yards away. I patted around my head to be sure it wasn’t bleeding and no blood on my hands.
“Hey!” No reaction. “Hey. You over there.” They ran off. So much for that. I turned around to what must’ve been the stairs to lead up top. Rubble blocked them, though.
I stopped to listen but nothing, so I took a chance and crossed the tracks. I kept going, and they moved down. Even without stairs, I could feel the slope move downward. Lights were still there, cobwebs and street art decorated the walls.
The usual rats, mice, and bugs were absent. No vagrants down here either. Where did they run off too? Why did it smell so clean?
Up on a wall, a big yellow poster with black letters across the way got my attention. “Stop the war. It must end or the conclusion of humanity will be upon us. Defy the government.”
That’s right. We entered another war against Korea. Mass evacuations, financial institutions declaring bankruptcy, and any health care facility were packed. Bombs fell and everybody ran for cover. Someone must’ve pushed me down here or left me behind.
OK, so now what? The only thing I could do was to keep moving. A feel around my body and pockets, I realized no electronic equipment was on me. Not even my wallet. My smartwatch was missing. Somebody stole them. None of that was necessary at the moment, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t need them.
It had to be at least five miles and it hasn’t ended yet. Maybe Mother dearest put me down here and wished for the best. Who knew? Chances were though, at the first clue she arranged to get out without a care in the world for someone else.
I reached the end. At last. It had to be with a mixture of rocks, cement, and pieces of metal blocking the rest of the path again. The light got dimmer too.
Something made a noise, and when I turned to the left, someone stood in a shaft and waved me over. Well, that meant I had to cross the tracks again. Up and over and… they disappeared.
After calling out several times, and not getting an answer, I persisted anyway. I should’ve gone back, but there was nowhere to turn around to.
Either a chemical weapon exploded and changed all the animals into enormous beasts or something had a very long tail. I believed the latter. It led the way down a burrow. The walls changed from cement and metal to rocks and dirt. There were even skeletons scattered about.
I didn’t stop to investigate to find out if they were human or animal. A sudden shiver went down my spine. “What on God’s green Earth did I get myself into?”
To persevere was to generate progress. Either that or end up like whoever or whatever they were. I needed to stay focused instead of letting my mind wander. There was a mission to carry out. Dammit.
OK, calm down. Deep breath in and out. We, or I should say myself, ended up at an entrance. Voices, clanking, and other noises came from beyond. The tail disappeared. I needed something to keep on track. Tails do not exist on their own. They’re attached to something. “Get a grip.”
I stepped over a pile of rocks at the entrance and it was a unique world. Some animal grew up to be life-sized wearing clothes. Rats or mice or something. “Unbelievable. I had no idea an entire society existed below the surface. The scientific research that could be done to help understand how they could live down here undetected would be an undertaking. To say the least.”
Something stepped in front of me and made noises. Pointy noise, rounded ears, and long whiskers. It had on a blue sundress even. “It is about time. Sometimes I forget that humans can’t run as fast.” It laughed. “I’m Dixie. I’m a juvenile down here and when I went out exploring I found you. You don’t look well for a human. We get them down here, but they rarely last long. The elders say they lose their minds because they can’t process what their new life has to bring. Some do though. Not very many.” She made noises again.
“Is your stomach mad or something? There’s a noise that sounds like hunger pains. Is that you? If it is, I know where you can get sustenance.”
Boy she liked to talk. What I took as a smile and a cheerful voice I went along with it. Better to make friends than enemies. “Hi. I’m Adelaide Quartermaine.” I left it at that.
She stared at me and clicked her tongue before she ran away. I came this far, so I thought I might as well keep going. Everybody looked alike. Sure, these creatures wore different clothing, but there had to be another way of defining who they were as an individual. Not as a group. A lot of communication is done with scent. We saw it in dogs.
I kept going, and no one paid attention to me. I seemed to be ignored. The further I kept going, the more I saw. The deeper I explored, the more humans came to light. “So that’s where they were. Down that passageway.”
Many people like me, none of them resembled those creatures back there. I kept going as I looked at the human population. Some had human children. A door stopped me from going any further.
I didn’t want to intrude, so I turned back around to be met with three creatures. This time, they had white hair instead of tan like Dixie had. “Hi. Can I help you?”
“Yes. We are the elders here. One of our juveniles mentioned that she brought an out of sorts Topper down here. We were wondering if you might help us.”
“If I can.” I wondered if I would end up as dinner if I didn’t give them what they wanted. God, make them vegetarians.
They stayed quiet as we went through tunnels and chambers filled with these creatures. I had no idea what to call them. Giant mice came to mind, but I didn’t want to be disrespectful. Animals were not my area of expertize.
We stopped in a metal-lined room filled with books of every sort. “Some of these we have been able to translate thanks to our Toppers. Others couldn’t comprehend the language enough to explain to us what the meaning of these words entails. Could you?”
I knew American English and Latin. “May I see?”
He reached for one and gave it to me. Foundation for Scientific Research in bold letters on the cover. Not like them to leave these around. I opened the cover.
This was talking about my division. “This one is explaining the cataloging of genetic markers in viruses for better identification.”
“What would be the purpose of such a thing?”
“To better identify them in case a vaccine is necessary. Sometimes viruses mutate and can return. In which case, we would need to seek out a better way to break down their genetic structure.”
“Oh yes. Yes, of course. All right. And this one?”
Another one from the same place. Lab G: Genetic Manipulation of Living Species for Better Understanding. That was the God Complex division. I opened the first page and his picture right smack dab in the middle. Tobias Sheridan, division head. Rumor had it he got the job because the Board of Trustees needed to fill a spot. That and his family made up a majority of the board.
That division researched to combine species for other uses by the government. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know anymore.
I gulped and prayed they didn’t read it yet. “This is just talking about the same thing.” You are such an awful liar.
I held it out for him to take. “The words seemed more complicated than that,” the older male said. “Are you certain of this? Not that we believe you speak with a forked tongue. It is that no one wants to tell us what is in it.”
“Really. I’m not lying.” What was it they said about it being easier to tell the truth? Less to keep track of?
“All right. If you wait a bit, we will see that you are taken care of. Thank you for your service.”
Another turned around. “We just need to righten your burrow and bring you your sustenance.”
That one spoke with a female voice. Maybe the other one’s wife? I needed to concentrate.
“Uh. Excuse me.”
They turned around. “Would you mind if I stayed here? I’d love to read this.” So I could find out if I needed to get ready for a six foot deep hole.
“Oh, of course. Of course. That way, we will know where to find you.” They left at the same time.
Dixie came back and pulled me along behind her. I had no idea where we going. I hoped it wasn’t to the execution chamber.
Well, I found what these creatures were called and how they came about. They labeled these creatures as Molers. They were created to be the government’s new weapon. They started research in WWII and didn’t stop until this new war. After years of genetic manipulation, they thought they had it right. Creatures they had control of, lacked human emotion, unable to reproduce, lacked cognitive ability, and since they created them, they could destroy them. I worked for these people and had no idea this was going on.
Whoever was in charge of this project failed to do the necessary observations. If they did, they would realize they got every one of their goals wrong.
They created another sentient being. I had to get my mind off that subject before something happened.
She took me to a spot out in the tunnels where a table had been set up. Various fruits, vegetables, and breads sat there. I sniffed the mug and it smelled like wine.
“Thank you. I’m not sure what to say.”
“Quite all right. Quite all right. If you wouldn’t mind clearing up after yourself. Predators might sniff the area, you know.” She left.
I had no idea what she was talking about, but I was hungry enough not to care. Everything tasted fresh. The fruit was so sweet and juice squirted when I bit into them.
I ate everything and cleaned the table. I was happy to do it. After that, I looked around to see what I could find.
A section of workers judging by the headlights and them not having any clothes on. They ignored me and kept on working. A little further down from that I found the farm. UV lights and shelves of plants.
I mentioned this before but an entire society—
“Adelaide,” Mother said.
I turned around and sure enough. “Mother. I didn’t expect to find you here.”
“Where else would I be?”
“I’m the one that pulled you down here. You should be grateful to your lifesaving mother.”
“Well, I’m waiting for you to explain to me how it is you got here.” Why do I have the feeling you had everything to do with this?
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because dirt is beneath you.” Above you and on all sides. “Let’s face it. You would have a panic attack at the mere thought of you touching dirt.”
That smile of hers faded. Gee, I wondered why.
“What are you implying?” Her lips came together as if they were magnetized and she had slitted eyes.
I would’ve loved to have been able to tell her that I had better things to do. At the moment, there was nothing. I heard that noise again.
“Oh, there you are,” Dixie said. “Toppers don’t come down this way. Walls fall in down here until they’ve been doubled up. Come. Your burrow is ready.”
I was never so happy as to see her again. It gave me an excuse to continue with that nonsense conversation later. The only thing I could figure was she funded this thing. For what reason I didn’t know.
We stopped near the entrance, about a few holes down, when we stopped. I peeked inside and noticed a pile of straw with a few pieces of material stacked next to it. A short passageway that led to the back. “Is this it?” I asked, as I pointed.
“Yes. Be sure to turn out the lights before bedding. For elimination purposes, there is a separate room for that. I don’t think I brought you there yet.” We left my burrow.
Down the alley with other people, behind the closed door, was the what she referred to as the elimination room. It should’ve smelled horrible but it didn’t. Again with the workers chatting away at each other. “This is where you eliminate. All we ask is that you do the best you can to be sure you don’t make a trail. It can be hard, we know, but try your best.” We left the area.
We made it back to my burrow and Dixie left but Mother stayed. It had to finish at some point because I had a feeling I would be called out for my lie.
“OK, Mother,” I said as I turned around to face her. “Start explaining. These people didn’t just appear out of nowhere.” Don’t you dare say it’s all a figment of my wild imagination.
She cleared her throat. “I don’t have to answer to you. You have to answer to me. I am on the board you know.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, none of that would make a difference. In case you forgot, chances are any remnants of a life on the surface would have been destroyed. So start talking.”
“I still have age on my side and I don’t have to answer to you.”
“I guess I don’t have a choice then. I’m sure the elders would let me read the reports from the Foundation about this society they created. A new army. They created them. They could kill them. Dig holes. Dig tunnels. Provide a safe space to stay until all the bad guys are dead and nobody would be the wiser. Of course people would find out. It would only be a matter of time. You can’t stop people from talking no matter how hard you try.” I stood close to her out of the need to see her squirm. “So either you tell me or I find out the facts for myself. I recognized a few staff members and I’m sure they would love some company.”
“All right. Fine.” She ran her hand through her hair. “I funded this program because they told me a war was about to start and the only way to stay safe was to continue to fund it. So I did. You and me don’t get along but that doesn’t mean I wanted to see you dead. I put you in your position so that you would have a safe space when war broke out.”
To say, I saw red would have been an understatement.
“They’re stupid people. They can’t read or write. They can’t even go shopping. Why would you care?”
I pointed toward the opening. “Get out.” She didn’t move. “Get out of here now. I was told I got in based on my own work. They liked it enough to hire me and put me in my position. You turn around and tell me you had everything to do with it.” I needed a breath so I went to the opening for a second before I turned around again. “These are not stupid people. One of the elders explained to me that they translated some texts. That tells me while they don’t read our language they created their own. That’s not stupidity. As for going shopping, they’re a self-sufficient people. Why would they need to go shopping?”
I heard that familiar chattering. Sure enough, “Dixie… .”
“I will let the elders know the goings on here. They will need to know.” Dixie left.
“I expect you to get me out of any trouble you got me into.”
Oh, dear Mother. I had no intention of doing that. “You got yourself into this mess. You can get yourself out.”
Two Molers came and escorted us in the same direction as those metal rooms. Once we got there, I caught a glimpse of Dixie with her now red ears, her lips up, and teeth chattering. The slit eyes completed the look.
The same elders came to us. “It is our understanding that there is a bit of chattering between the both of you.”
“If I may ask, what are you saying?” I was confused.
“What we are saying is that the both of you were heard from quite a distance. Everything was heard and recorded. So the only thing we would like to know is, were you speaking with forked tongues?”
“No. Unfortunately. I’m sorry. It’s just… Dixie brought me here. She was nice and all but I didn’t know if you wanted me for dinner or not. What I mean by that is I didn’t know if you had eyes on me as your dinner. I kept a lot back, and yes, I spoke with a forked tongue when you asked originally to interpret the journals. I should’ve been up front with you.” Guillotine, starvation, ants, or any method that would be painful.
“We accept your word,” the male said. “We were unsure about you as well. The older one of you gave us an uneasy feeling when we socialized with her. We had hoped that it was only because we are a new people.”
I let go of the breath I didn’t know I was holding. Some how it didn’t make anything better. There had to be a catch. There always is.
The female stepped forward. “We asked another Topper to read the book for us as we interpreted it for others to read. It is our story about how we came to be. The juveniles have a right to know. What you say, is what the book told us. Because of that, we believe you no longer speak with a forked tongue. Instead, we would like you to be a member of our community. Come back to us after a full moon and we will talk again.” She stepped back and they left at the same time.
I closed my eyes and felt any amount of tension leave my body. I opened them to see Dixie standing in front of me. “Does this mean you don’t hate me?”
“You mean think of you as a member of another clan? No. I have to take you back to your burrow. Toppers get turned around down here.”
She led and I followed. I looked back at Mother and she still stood there. Not sure what she thought and didn’t know if I wanted to ask. I was almost afraid of the answer. Whatever she planned to do from this moment, I hoped didn’t include me.