Under the Mountain: A POST APOCALYPTIC NOVEL (Into the Outside Book 3), page 11
After a quick trip to the bathroom, Luke ascertained the contents of the refrigerator. Visitors to Mt. Weather had prepared meals delivered daily by the service staff, each labeled with its contents and microwave heating time. Fresh meals in boxes were an unexpected treat. Luke and his sibs had heard plenty of stories from their grandmother about the luxuries that used to exist before the Terror War, including something she called frozen dinners, but this was no frozen brick needing thawing. This was actual food.
There was also a box of eggs, a loaf of bread, and other assorted foods in the refrigerator that Isabella had ordered through the computer. She had discovered bacon and eggs at Telemark village and had introduced him to it as well. Dr. Rosario almost had a heart attack when he saw the first breakfast she cooked them. The old man had not eaten this well in five decades.
Since he was the first one up and did not want to disturb his sleeping sib or the scientist, Luke pulled a box labelled sausage and biscuits with gravy from the refrigerator. He was halfway through inhaling the decadent breakfast when Dr. Rosario emerged from their bedroom. The man was already showered, shaved, and dressed. Again. Luke wondered if he naturally awoke that way every day.
“Do I smell sausage?” he asked, as he rubbed his hands together and smacked his lips. The look of pure joy on his face was so childlike that Luke almost laughed.
“There is another box in the fridge. Would you like me to heat it up for you?” Luke was not done eating, but he did not mind. After all the assistance he had gotten from the man, how could he? Luke never would have made it to Mt. Weather and found his sister without the wizened old man’s assistance. Actually, I’d be dead if it wasn’t for him saving me from the tiger! After Luke had left the mutant village of Telemark, following their Wiccan sear Araddea’s directions to find Isabella, a tiger had followed him and just as he reached Dr. Rosario’s fenced pharmaceutical company compound, the tiger attacked him. Araddea had been watching Luke through the eyes of an eagle and the giant bird gave its life to fend off the tiger, but in the end, it was Dr. Rosario’s gunshot that scared off the big cat. The scientist had pulled the unconscious boy into the building and patched up his wounds. Luke owed the man his life and would be happy to pay him back in every small way possible, for the rest of the man’s life.
“I can manage it, boy,” replied Dr. Rosario, but before he finished the sentence, Luke was already out of his chair and fetching the box.
“I got it.” Luke put the small container of gravy into the microwave, and the biscuits and sausage on a plate and inserted it into the convection oven. He set the timer for 30 seconds, as the directions instructed. A minute later, he handed Dr. Rosario a plate of aromatic breakfast.
“Thank you, boy. But yours is probably cold now,” replied Dr. Rosario, voraciously tucking into his plate as if he had not seen food in forever.
Luke ate the last few bites of his sausage without replying. It did not matter what temperature his meal was; he ate everything ever put on a plate in front of him. Luke was indiscriminate about food, except Brussel sprouts. He hated Brussel sprouts. He had not even liked tending the ones growing in their hydroponics garden back home.
The scientist quietly ate his breakfast and wiped his mouth with a napkin, and then hesitated a moment before getting up from the table.
“Yes and no. Three days ago, we injected the first round of vaccine into test subjects and today when I get into the lab, I will see how well the subjects have done after three days of radiation bombardment. They were not doing well yesterday, and I’m rather not looking forward to getting there today.” He cleared his throat, and then finally stood up. “But, I must go see how they are doing, even if I am certain I already know.”
Luke put both plates in the dishwasher – a marvelous machine! – and then said, “You don’t think your vaccine protected them?”
“No, boy. I am almost certain it did not. I did not design it to counter that much radiation at once. All my work revolved around site-directed mutagenesis, a genetic manipulation that I engineered to reverse damage and prevent harm from ubiquitous environmental contamination. The process is slow and steady. It cannot be used against the barrage of radioactive energy these test subjects are being subjected to.” The scientist swallowed hard and finished, “I fear the worst.”
* * *
Long after lunch – if you could call the gruel they ate lunch – the cell’s thick metal bars opened quietly for a change and a single soldier entered. It was the one that looked oddly at Malcolm the last time. His nametag had the initials “M-I-L-L-E-R.” Malcolm knew the letters but still had trouble sounding it out in his head. The man looked around the dark room before spotting Clay on the lower bunk. He looked over the boy, and then his eyes panned up to the top bunk and regarded Malcolm.
The soldier crossed the room to their bunks in two steps. “You, up top. Come down here.”
Malcolm obediently jumped down from his bunk and stood in front of the soldier, who surprised him by whispering, “Are you Malcolm?”
Why would a soldier use my first name? he wondered. We are only numbers. Why is he being quiet?
Malcolm simply nodded to the strange man whose actions were so unlike any soldier he had known so far, although he was dressed in their uniform. “I’m Miller.”
Miller then looked at the boy on the lower bunk, who was sitting up on his mattress by now, legs crossed, watching the activity next to his bunk. “Clay?”
Since Malcolm had only nodded his response, Clay did likewise. If Malcolm was not going to speak to this man, obviously neither would the boy.
The soldier took a small box from his pocket and removed a vial. He spoke in a hushed tone, assuming no one would hear his quiet words, but of course, he had no way of knowing that some mutants had enhanced hearing. Malcolm knew that the only one of their cellmates that had that trait had already been taken away, but there was no way Miller could know that. “Gift from your wife. Give me your arm.”
Malcolm looked down at the man and into his eyes. Though the soldier was not undersized, Malcolm stood a head taller than most men.
When Malcolm did not comply, the soldier silently mouthed, “Please.”
Humans – especially soldiers – did not say “please” to mutants!
Malcolm held out his arm and opened his palm to receive whatever gift Isabella sent him, but the soldier only jabbed his upper arm with a thin needle. Startled, Malcolm pulled back and was about to hit the soldier when the man said, “It’s an inoculation.” He then knelt to the lower bunk level and injected Clay with a second needle.
The boy rubbed his arm at the injection site, but said nothing.
Miller said, “You’ll need those shots where you are going.”
They are sending us to the Hot Zone, thought Malcolm miserably. Just when he thought his life could not get any worse, this happened!
Still in hushed tones, Miller said, “These will protect you. Do you know which cell your three females are in?”
Females. As if they were animals.
When Malcolm did not immediately answer, the soldier prodded him. “Come on, this is for your own good. It’s all been arranged. Now make this easy and tell me so I don’t arouse suspicion asking each little girl their name.”
“What’s been arranged?” asked Malcolm, still not understanding that this soldier was helping them. If he told the man where to find Andra, Shia, and Kalla, they would also be injected, and then sent to the Hot Zone with Clay and himself. But Miller would find them eventually no matter what Malcolm did.
“You are on tomorrow’s transport to the Hot Zone as cleanup crew, but these inoculations will help you survive.” His quiet voice lowered even further, taking on a conspiratorial tone. “We have a plan to help you.”
It finally sunk in. Isabella had arranged their escape! Miller was not being cautious so that the other prisoners would not hear him, but so that the soldiers outside
Malcolm told Miller which cells the girls were in and thanked the man. Miller turned and left, quietly closing the prison door behind him.
He did not bother climbing up to his bunk, instead sitting down next to Clay, ducking his head to fit. The boy was almost in tears as he said, “Tomorrow we’ll get to see the girls again. I’ll see Kalla again.”
Clay was like his own son in many ways and Malcolm put his hand protectively on the younger boy’s head. “Yes. Yes, we will.”
But Malcolm had no idea when or if he would ever see Isabella again.
She was not sure what time she finally fell asleep again after being awakened before 5 a.m., but Isabella opened one eye and looked at the clock on the table and was surprised to find it was well into mid-morning. She was not, however, surprised to find that both Dr. Rosario and Luke had already left the apartment.
Luke left a hand-written note on the table saying that he left her a breakfast box in the fridge that she should try because biscuits and gravy were AMAZING. He had actually capitalized the letters. She laughed, despite herself, hearing her sib’s words in her head with a lilting cadence, upturned at the end of the sentence whenever he was truly impressed by something. Those moments in life were few and far between, especially for the two of them and their sibs growing up in an underground shelter. Few things were truly amazing.
She had four more hours to kill before Daphne returned so she took Luke’s advice and heated up the food. It was not bad, but she still could not appreciate meat so she left the sausage for Luke. The food was indeed tasty, but what really amazed Isabella was how boxes of it appeared almost as if by magic in the refrigerator. She knew the service staff delivered them, and figured out that they waited until they knew the apartment was either empty or everyone was sleeping, not wanting to disturb the visitors – this was the guest floor after all – but she marveled at the sheer luxury of it all. Small groups of people were scattered all around the country in underground shelters or Federal Relocation Center’s and she knew that none of those people had this kind of extravagance. Many of them went without the basic requirements of life, and yet the people who lived at Mt. Weather, or visited it, had unheard of luxury. It appalled Isabella, yet she did not know what she could do to change it. Her immediate concern was getting her husband, daughters, and two friends released from prison cells.
She showered and dressed, then took the lift to the concourse level and walked along the beach, alone. She missed Malcolm so much. Her disobedient eyes brimmed with tears and it looked like she might give in to the sorrow, but as a single tear trickled down her cheek, she noticed a small boy holding his mother’s hand. The boy reminded her of Shia and Andra. He was about the same age. My girls look much older than three years, she thought. She rubbed her face and moved on, her mind in deep contemplation but her eyes now dry.
The new humans matured at an incredible rate, due to their fleeting life span. Nature had seemingly adapted the new humans to bear children earlier. Isabella did not know if it was so that parents could live long enough to raise their offspring, or because the younger they were when they had children, the less radiation and poisons they absorbed and thus passed onto an unborn fetus. Either way, the new humans all looked much older than they were. Her friends Clay and Kalla were both only eleven, but both appeared to be at least fourteen. Clay would turn twelve next month. Once Kalla reached twelve a few months from now, if they lived that long, they would be considered adults in the new human world, and be officially paired together, and they would begin having children. Some might even survive to adulthood. It was a cruel new world Outside.
Isabella realized that even in her innermost thoughts, she considered Andra and Shia hers. She was their mother now, and they needed her. Crying about missing them was not helping them, and it was not helping her. They needed her to be strong so she could be their mother and help raise them.
Isabella’s face was set with determination as she made her way back to the elevator. She would go back to her apartment and spend more time on the computer, learning anything and everything she could about Mt. Weather, its structure, layout, and its government. She had no idea what knowledge might be useful in the coming days. Plus, it would distract her useless self-pity, while she killed time until Daphne returned after her shift ended.
She unlocked the apartment door with her palm print and marched straight to the computer. Isabella knew the city’s history, how it was founded and when, and that there were over 6,000 people living in it today. She knew less about its layout. Her sib had gotten an official tour when he and Dr. Rosario arrived, but when her own transport arrived, her tour was from the viewpoint of a prisoner, and when Daphne brought her to this apartment from level ten, she did not give her a sightseer’s tour. Isabella’s own explorations of the city over the last four days revealed interesting places, such as stores and eateries, and of course the fabulous concourse level, with its lake and beach. It truly was an unbelievable habitat.
Isabella now concentrated on information that would give her a feel for the politics of Mt. Weather. President Tyler Harrison had been in office for six years, and was halfway into his second and final term. He was the head of his party, the Social Conservatives, along with being the Commander in Chief of the Joint US Military Service. Congress, the president’s office, and all other government offices and residences were on level one, directly below the concourse. Harrison had been Vice President for eight years before being elected President, and some of the archived news articles she read seemed to say that he had been very much in charge even in that position.
The US government no longer consisted of two houses of congress as it did before the Final War, because of the country’s minimal and wide-scattered population. There were no states anymore, only far-flung shelters. The single remaining group of legislators were not Representatives, Senators, or Governors, but simply Congressmen and Congresswomen. The voting age had also been raised from eighteen to 21. That explained Teagan’s comment that most of their group was not even old enough to vote. She knew all of them were at least a couple years older than herself and Luke, other than Mathias who was sixteen.
She and her sibs had not been taught anything about the current government because all her grandmother’s books were from before the Final War. Isabella suspected that none of this information was available to the far-flung family shelters, so she dove into the data with enthusiasm.
There were two main political parties: The Social Conservatives and the Progressives. Their ideals were self-evident in their names. The first group’s goal was to make life as comfortable as possible for everyone. The Progressive party claimed to be more forward thinking, but Isabella did not understand enough about politics to really comprehend the nuances between the two. They both claimed to have the people’s best interests as their only goal.
Each of the 96 Federal Relocation Centers and roughly 30 large private shelters had direct access to their congressperson through either radio or email. Her own small family shelter, and others like it, probably had no representation in the government. Growing up in her underground home, Isabella had certainly never heard of any.
The FRC’s were set up by the government in the mid 1900’s so they could save some citizens in the event of nuclear war or other national emergency. There were also a few larger shelters built at the beginning of the 21st century that originally held about 200 people each. Within a few decades, the birth rate made them all over capacity, so the government started moving young adults out of them when they came of age. Most came to Mt. Weather, to Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, or to one of the five military bases. Luke had visited both Picatinny Arsenal and West Point and knew that besides soldiers, there were students and civilian support staff at both.
Looking up at the clock on the wall, Isabella realized it was fifteen minutes past three o’clock. Waiting, she t
“Relax. I just stopped at home to change,” replied the young soldier.
In her apprehension about her family, Isabella had not noticed that Daphne was dressed in loose fitting jeans and a plain t-shirt rather than the uniform she had last seen her in earlier that morning.
Without an invitation, Daphne walked into the living room and retook the seat she had occupied just a few days ago when she agreed to help Isabella free her family. Four days ago, she had been the resolute soldier, full of pride and duty but disillusioned by her own government. That Daphne had stood in military at-ease stance while talking with Isabella, Luke and his friends. Today, her sense of ethics had matured and her allegiance had shifted from loyal and obedient soldier to defender of human rights for all, including the new humans. This Daphne almost jumped onto a couch like an excited teenager. “I have great news!”
Isabella sat next to her, tucking her left leg under her right thigh, a trick she had learned as a child to feel taller when sitting. “And?”
Daphne almost belatedly remembered that it was probable this apartment was bugged and jumped up, ran to the kitchen, and returned with the pad and pen she knew was there. Quickly she wrote:
My friend Kirby Miller has inoculated all 5 of your family. He made sure that they are all on the list for the cleanup crew going out tomorrow morning. He put both girls ages as five years old on the form, because they don’t use children younger than that.
Isabella replied in a hushed voice, “They are only three.”
Daphne nodded and replied, “I told him that, and he seemed surprised. They look older.” She then started writing again.
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