Under the Mountain: A POST APOCALYPTIC NOVEL (Into the Outside Book 3), page 12
He confirmed that the 5 other team members that agreed to go along with the release plans tomorrow will all be in his HSPC.
Isabella knew that a significant minority of the young people of Mt. Weather disagreed with the older generation’s idea that mutants were sub-human, so it stood to reason that some of those people were soldiers. She was, however, surprised that so many of Daphne’s friends in the military were of that mindset.
Isabella grabbed the note pad and wrote.
Aren’t there two HSPCs on each cleanup crew? How will Miller make sure that all of my family are in the same one?
Daphne nodded and said quietly, “He just will. Trust me.” Daphne pulled a piece of paper from her pocket and unfolded it, smoothing it flat on the low tabletop. It was a map of the country with Mt. Weather clearly labeled near the right edge. There were thick, red X’s drawn over Washington DC, Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles and thin red circles surrounding a large area around each. Isabella knew those were the four cities blown to oblivion with thermonuclear bombs during the Terror War. She also knew there were about 30 cities that had been hit with smaller nukes, including some like New York City, which had been attacked with “dirty” bombs. Dirty bombs were conventional bombs that caused a lot of destruction but also contained radiation, which made the cities uninhabitable.
There were five blue circles on the map: Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cleveland, Charlotte, and Richmond. Isabella remembered the television news broadcast in the Spec as they were being transported to Mt. Weather, and the dead cleanup crew made up of new humans. Daphne had said the city on the TV was Cleveland, so she now knew what the blue circles represented.
Daphne pointed to the blue circle around Richmond and said, “There.” The listening ears, if anyone really was listening in on their conversations, would have no way of knowing what Daphne was talking about.
Isabella hoped there really were no hidden cameras, but Teagan and Roan had both reassured her that was not the case. Their government was still a democracy, even if it did lately feel more like a totalitarian regime, but the citizens of Mt. Weather would riot if they thought they were being watched. Listening was publicized as a measure of public safety on the premise that if anyone was injured or threatened in the city, they could shout for help and an emergency response team would be dispatched. It kept violent crime down because it was well known that a rape victim or someone being assaulted could scream, and the perpetrator would be heard and stopped. Cameras, however, were too big a violation of privacy, so although that had come up for vote a few times over the decades, those measures never passed.
“How far is it?” asked Isabella quietly as she studied the map. She was good at maps and using the legend at the bottom, she could easily figure out that it was about 125 miles south, but Daphne quickly figured out Isabella was not asking about distance.
“Five hours.” Daphne took the pen in hand again and wrote out the rest.
The cleanup crew will give them instructions to head east, toward the ocean. They will be given three days’ worth of food and water. There are rivers and inlets, all very wild and confusing in that area. They can get lost there and no one will ever find them again. They’ll be safe.
Isabella wondered how she would get to these wild lands on the Virginia coast and reunite with her husband, but she would worry about that later. For now, her new family had an opportunity to escape and Isabella would do whatever she could to make sure they got to safety.
There would be 24 new human prisoners in each HSPC, including some of the 20 test subjects that had been inoculated with Dr. Rosario’s radiation vaccine; those that had survived the radiation bombardment. “What about the others?” she asked.
“Up to them,” replied Daphne, who then took the pen, flipped over the note pad to a new page, and wrote:
They can run if they want. The cleanup crew will look the other way. It’s about a day’s walk out of the worst of the Hot Zone, for a healthy person. Not sure how long for the rest. They will start weakening pretty quickly there.
“That’s not what I meant,” replied Isabella almost frantically. She grabbed the pad and scrawled in a nervous hand:
The other HSPC! The soldiers in that one aren’t your friends and aren’t in on this plan. What will those soldiers do when our group escapes?
Daphne smiled reassuringly and shook her head. She took the notepad back and wrote:
They’ll be positioned in different parts of the city, so only the six soldiers in your family’s Spec will matter.
Isabella visibly relaxed and she sank back into the soft couch. She should have trusted Daphne to have a workable plan. Of course, the two HSPCs would be in different parts of the city. There were 48 prisoners in all, and it made sense to distribute them to do the cleaning duties. They would use shovels to scoop the top soil into an open trailer being towed behind the Spec, as Isabella had seen on the TV news broadcast. The Specs would dump the irradiated and chemically poisoned soil into a deep pit a few miles away, on their way back to Mt. Weather.
Each load of soil taken out of the city would make it a little safer for people. It would take years until all the soil was removed and carted off. Machines did most of the dirt clearing work, but areas near the buildings were too delicate for anything other than hand labor. Eventually, they would cap the pit with a plastic cover, sealing the contamination inside. Isabella had researched how the process worked over the last few days. The soldiers would work the prisoners until they died. Every single team. Every single mission.
Eventually, they would clean it all up… and kill every single new human in the process.
She had to do something more to stop this, but Isabella had to concentrate on getting her family to safety first. She was not sure what she could do to change things, even with the help of the rebel group Social Dissonance, and the renegade soldiers.
The sound of the apartment door opening pulled Isabella from her deep study of the map and she jerked her head to see who it was. At the same moment, paranoid reflex made Daphne fold up the map before she saw Dr. Rosario come into the room, alone.
Isabella said, “It’s okay,” and motioned for Daphne to unfold the map again.
The scientist slowly walked to the living room and took a seat on the overstuffed chair, his body deflating as he sunk into it. “It is anything but okay, young lady.”
Isabella got off the couch and walked to his side. She put her hand on his shoulder and asked, “What’s happened?”
“The worst, of course. I am not surprised, but I am still distressed. Today, ten of the 20 test subjects died, and the remaining are suffering severe symptoms of radiation poisoning.” He exhaled audibly, then leaned forward and put his face in his hands. Isabella thought he was going to cry, but then he raised his head and his mouth twisted, his brow creased. “I can’t believe they made me do this! That vaccine was not design for this type of test! They made me kill those men!”
Would the same thing happen to Malcolm? wondered Isabella, her heart beginning to race as panic flooded her body.
Daphne stood beside them. “It’s not your fault, sir. Like you said, your vaccine was meant for normal levels of radiation and poison. This experiment was wrong, and they should not have forced you and your team to test those mutants that way.” She took his hand much more gently than Isabella expected for a tough soldier, and knelt on the carpet beside his chair. She did not say another word, just remained there, holding the old man’s hand.
Finally, Dr. Rosario squeezed Daphne’s hand and almost leapt from the chair. He clasped one wrist behind his back with the other and paced the room. “Thank you… both of you young ladies, but now is not the time to wallow in pity or to dismay. I must press on. Due to this failure, my team has been ordered back to the drawing board, as it were, to try again. We must continue our research and make modifications to the serum and test again. But this time … this time! ... I will not allow the massive bombardment testing. I will work on the formula, and on
“Do you think the current version works at all, Dr. Rosario?” asked Isabella, almost inaudibly. For once she was not being quiet so the eavesdropping devices would not hear her, but rather because she was terrified. If it did not work, then Malcolm, her daughters, and her friends were in great danger tomorrow.
He looked at her miserably, his eyes wide and his shoulders hunched. “I believe it does, but do not have enough empirical evidence to say for sure. I wish I did.”
* * *
August 20, 2101
Malcolm woke with a start when the cell door banged open and four heavily armed soldiers burst through.
“Get up! All of you!” shouted the shortest one of them. Dressed in the same uniforms, military caps, and guns, they looked alike, except for their height. One was familiar though; the one with the nametag that read M-I-L-L-E-R. Without even their usual breakfast of gruel, or a moment to use the toilet, Malcolm, Clay, and the five other remaining prisoners in their cell were herded out at gunpoint. They turned left down the hallway and the soldiers propelled them at a brisk pace. Further down the hall, they saw other prisoners being force-marched ahead of them. When they came to the cell that Andra was locked up in days ago, Malcolm saw the cell empty. Andra was gone!
Veins throbbed in his neck and, finally losing control, Malcolm jerked to a stop. “Where is my daughter?!” His voice rose to a shout as he stabbed his finger at the empty cell. The solders’ only response was to jab him in the back with their weapons, ignoring his protestations as the group continued down the hall.
They rounded a corner and went through an open metal door. Two familiar looking HSPCs loomed ahead. The group in front of them was already getting into the left-most vehicle, but Malcolm and Clay were directed to the vehicle to their right.
Clay went first and gasped as he entered. A moment later, Malcolm saw what had surprised his young friend. Kalla, Andra, and Shia were seated in the Spec. He rushed forward and scooped up Shia and hugged her tight to his chest. “Oh, Sweet Pea!” Then he put her down, but still hugging her close, he pulled his adopted daughter, Andra, into the hug. Through his peripheral vision, he saw Clay and Kalla embracing.
Shia asked, “Are you okay, Papa?”
Malcolm had been so worried about his children and here was his little girl asking if he was all right! He almost broke down in tears.
“Yes, Sweet Pea, I’m just fine now that I’ve got all of you back.”
Two soldiers sat at the back of the vehicle and now two more entered, including Miller, who instructed them to sit down because they would be leaving shortly. Malcolm did as he was told. All the prisoners did. All of them had been brought to this place in one of these vehicles and knew how rough and bumpy the ride could be. He patted his lap and both little girls jumped in it, wiggling themselves down to share the space. Neither let go of his waist.
The HSPC silently began rolling out of the vehicle bay. Its engines were electric so it ran quietly, except for a fan that circulated air and kept the temperature constant. Malcolm reveled in the relative luxury of the temperature-controlled room and his daughters on his lap, and tried not to focus on the fact that they were being taken into a heavily irradiated city that they were expected to clean. He would figure out a way to escape, if it meant killing each of the guards with his bare hands. He only wished he knew how or when he would ever see Isabella again. At least she is safe here, he thought. She’s back inside, living underground like a mole, like she had all her life. Even if he never saw her again, he would be happy, knowing she was safe.
Andra’s quiet whisper as she stretched up to reach his ear broke his reverie. “Papa. The soldier stuck me with a needle yesterday.”
“Good,” he replied. “Isabella sent him. It’s supposed to keep us safe from the poisons. Did you get stuck too?” he asked, directing this to Shia.
The little girl nodded. “Kalla too.”
“Good,” said Malcolm. “Then we are all safe.”
His reassurance to his children did nothing to assuage his own worry. They would never be safe if he could not free them from the soldiers once they arrived at whichever Hot Zone was their target.
* * *
Luke would never get over the memory of the music shop owner who was so disappointed in Vaughn – who turned out to be his star pupil – and completely wrote him off because of Vaughn’s beliefs. The shop owner did not believe mutants were worth the air they breathed; Vaughn and all the members of Social Dissonance were fighting on their behalf to stop their extermination. Not all of the younger generation thought that mutants were worth saving, but the vast majority of them at least believed that they should be left alone to live as they wished.
America was a vast and empty land. Most of it would still contain too much radiation to live in, even after all the top soil was carted off and buried. The areas that were cleaner would be where the shelter folk would live in another 50 or so years once the radiation had dissipated to acceptable levels. That still left most of the country available for the mutants to inhabit. New humans, as his sib called them.
These were the thoughts that raced through Luke’s mind as he played Vaughn Michon’s drum kit. The tom made a satisfying dooooom sound intertwined with the blatt of the snare. The big bass drum went bum brrum brrrumble as his right foot struck it with the peddle. The rest of the band members let him play, mostly ignoring him. Luke knew he did not have much talent, but he enjoyed it, especially the badum tish sound of a drum roll as he finished with a rim shot.
Luke put the drumsticks down on the floor as Teagan came over and planted a warm, wet kiss on his mouth. “Wow,” said Luke. “Now I know you like me if my lousy playing deserved a kiss like that!”
Teagan took two steps back, away from him. “I do like you, you idiot. Not sure how you aren’t clear on that subject.” Her face showed genuine confusion.
I really must be the dimmest bulb in Mt. Weather, thought Luke. Up until that moment, he had truly questioned her interest in him, naturally assuming her fascination with him was as simple as the fact that he was something new and a little bit different because of his travels Outside. Teagan had met other shelter kids and people who came to her city from FRCs, but never one who had walked Outside.
“I really didn’t think there was anything special about me. I’m glad I was wrong,” he said to her as he put his arm around her waist and guided her out of the music studio.
“Hey,” yelled Maddox. “Where you guys going? We were just going to practice a new song. Thought you would like to hear.”
Teagan turned back to the band members and flashed her warmest smile. “Some other time. I know it will be tough on your fragile egos, but you guys will do fine without an audience.”
They headed to the lift and Teagan pressed the button for level five. A smile dangled at the corner of her lips. “Coming back to my domi with me, or should I press nine for you?”
“Five is good,” replied Luke, then turned her face up to his and kissed her with an urgency he had not felt before.
Teagan’s hands wrapped around his waist and her fingers slipped beneath his shirt. Her delicate hands felt warm on his back and he leaned closer to her, pinning her against the elevator wall. The shrill sound of the lift stopping finally made him pull away and stand straight, but as her hands fell away from him, he touched her hand and gently entangled his fingers in hers. They left the elevator and she led the way to her domicile.
“My parents are at work,” she said softly, as they neared the apartment door and she placed her palm on the keypad.
All thoughts of music and revolution receded to the farthest reaches of his brain as he f
The prisoners were told that the trip to the Hot Zone would take several hours; they were given the chance to use the bathroom, and provided food as they traveled. There were two drivers in the cab, plus four soldiers inside the troop transport section of the vehicle, who took turns guarding everyone while the others used the facilities. Malcolm wondered why the drivers never stopped the vehicle and came back to the troop transport section to use the facilities or eat. He felt sure that this was not the standard procedure, based on their trip to Mt. Weather, but had no idea why. Perhaps these soldiers were in a hurry to get their “cleaning crew” to the city they called Richmond and be rid of them.
Kalla leaned in toward Malcolm and said, “That soldier, the one named Miller, is who came to my cell and injected me.” Kalla’s reading skills far outweighed Malcolm’s and she had no trouble reading his nametag while Malcolm still struggled to figure out words from letters. She had been Isabella’s best student back in Telemark and on their journey to find the scientist. She continued. “Did all the prisoners get injected? If we survive the radiation, we would be much more useful to the humans than mutants who die a few days into the job, right?”
“We sure would be. But no. Miller told me that the injections were a gift from Isabella, and he only stuck me and Clay with the needles. Belle probably got the shots from Dr. Rosario and couldn’t get more than a few. The others here won’t have any protection from the poison and radiation in Richmond.” He frowned, then said even quieter, so he was sure only Kalla would hear him. “They will die there.”
Some of the prisoners in the Spec already looked like they were dying. A handful were in such pitiable health, Malcolm wondered if they would even last the day. Perhaps those were the people that had been experimented on. They would simply die once they were forced into the toxic city. Malcolm knew such places as the Yellow Zone, but the soldiers called it the Hot Zone. It did not matter… it was deadly by any name.
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