Under the mountain a pos.., p.14

Under the Mountain: A POST APOCALYPTIC NOVEL (Into the Outside Book 3), page 14

 

Under the Mountain: A POST APOCALYPTIC NOVEL (Into the Outside Book 3)
 


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  He lay there listening to the unnatural sounds of being underground. No wind, no rain, no rustle of leaves, no animal noises, no bird chirps. Inside this massive mountain, conversations came to his ears as echoes, bouncing off the walls, but partially absorbed by the stone and releasing only bits and pieces of their original words.

  Malcolm moaned as he rolled onto his back, not even bothering to open his eyes. There was nothing worth looking at in the cell. He preferred to see the images of Isabella in his head and enjoy the memories of their time together. He pictured her long brown curls and her radiant smile and heard her playing the harmonica in his mind. She was a snarky, volatile woman who could be surprisingly introspective at times, and he loved her with everything he was. Imprisonment was terrible, but nothing compared to knowing he might never see Isabella again.

  * * *

  Luke

  Luke and Isabella were quietly eating the breakfast of pancakes with strawberries that she had prepared, making use of ingredients she had no access to at home, when Dr. Rosario came out of his room. He was fully dressed and ready for work, as always.

  “Good morning, my young friends,” said the scientist. “I hope you slept well.”

  Luke grumbled and held up one finger, indicating he needed a moment to swallow before answering. “You really need to get that jackhammer snoring of yours under control, Doc.” However, before the old man could reply, Luke was already shaking his head and smiling. “Doc, don’t worry about it. I’m just yanking your chain. I’ve got professional musician-quality ear plugs now. I can’t hear a thing anymore. Sit down and eat before you go. These pancakes Izzy made are swank!”

  Luke had picked up the local slang from his new friends and had been waiting for the right moment to use his recently acquired vocabulary. Complimenting his sib’s cooking had not been his intention, but her smile was an added bonus.

  Geez, thought Luke. When had making Izzy happy become something that felt good?

  “Yes, sit and eat, Dr. Rosario.” Isabella filled a plate with pancakes and placed it in front of him, along with utensils and the bowl of cooked strawberries. She handed him a spoon to ladle it out.

  “Thank you.” His eyes crinkled in childlike joy and he flashed her a smile.

  The scientist tucked quietly into his meal, but a moment later said, “We are beginning work on version two of my vaccine today, by direct order of President Harrison. He is convinced that version one failed because of unsuccessful bombardment testing and is directing further research. I don’t know where to begin noting how many different kinds of wrong this is.”

  Luke screwed up his face in confusion. “But isn’t further research and perfecting the vaccine a good thing?”

  “Well of course it is, my boy, but what I meant was that I find it odd that the president of the entire nation is directing this project. America was a populous country when I was growing up. We had 320 million people in the country and over seven billion on the planet. Even though it’s been 50 years since that world existed, a major portion of my brain is still wired to think that governments are big, and presidents are much too important – and busy – to take interest in individual projects. To think that the president lives and works just a few stories above me, well, it’s odd. That’s what I meant by ‘many different kinds of wrong.’ That and the fact that we do not have thorough knowledge of the efficacy of the first version. He is pushing too hard and doesn’t know enough science to understand why that will not work.” He put his fork and knife down on the edge of his plate and massaged his temples for a moment before returning to his breakfast.

  Luke regarded the scientist and thought how much more tired he looked than ever before. He seemed to have aged years in the fleeting month he had known him.

  Before he could reply, Isabella came to his rescue. She was always more attuned to people’s emotions than Luke was. “We know you are doing everything you can to help, Dr. Rosario, and not just the shelter folk, but the new humans as well. I don’t know anyone who is as caring and remarkable as you are. Thank you for all that you are doing.”

  Dr. Rosario had been holding his fork in his hand, pancake stabbed through it, but the food never made it to his mouth. He put it down on his plate, got up, and hugged Isabella. It was such uncharacteristic tenderness from the gruff man that Luke almost chuckled. It was nice to see the scientist happy.

  “I’m so glad you climbed over that fence and into my life, Isabella. I didn’t know what to make of you and your odd group when we met, but I knew right from that first meeting that you were an extraordinary young lady,” he said with obvious heartfelt joy.

  * * *

  Isabella

  An hour after Dr. Rosario left for his laboratory, Isabella received a message from Daphne. Luke was in the living room looking through the menu of movies on the monitor when she called him into the kitchen to read the screen with her.

  ------------------------

  To: Isabella Bellardini

  From: Sgt. Daphne Noble

  Date: Aug. 21, 2101

  Subj: Back

  Isabella,

  It’s been a long day already, and I can’t wait for it to end. My project is back where it started, so I guess I’ll have to figure out some stuff. I’m on early shift today and off duty at 1300 hours.

  If you are up for a late lunch, I’ll stop by and I can introduce you to some more Mt. Weather food and “culture,” if you can call it that. I enjoyed meeting your brother’s new friends so if you want to ask some of them to join us, please do.

  — Daphne

  ------------------------

  “Code?” mouthed Luke, eyeing the monitor quizzically.

  Isabella nodded. She then grabbed their note pad and wrote, “She means that Malcolm and my family are back in the detention cells. Obviously, we need to figure out a new way to free them.”

  “Do you think they are alright?” Luke asked.

  Isabella was surprised that her sib was even asking. He did not usually care that much about other people, and she was continually amazed at how much his experience Outside had changed him. Or maybe it was just a softer side of him, brought out by having a girlfriend. Whatever the reason, he was genuinely concerned about her husband and daughters, and he had never even met them. This was a new Luke, and she was happy to have him.

  She scribbled her reply on the notepad they now kept next to the monitor.

  They are as okay as they can be, locked in an underground prison. Daphne would have let me know somehow if they weren’t.

  Isabella slowly typed a reply to her friend, telling her how sorry she was that work was so stressful today, and that she would be happy to have lunch with her, and then turned back to Luke. “Can you get the group together at that Mexican place today?”

  Isabella felt that was as good a place as any to make some new plans. She was pretty sure that hiding in plain sight in public places was better than meeting up in their apartment all the time.

  Luke wasted no time messaging each of the members of the Social Dissonance movement, asking them to meet at El Dorado at 1:30. “I’m glad Teagan doesn’t start work until four today,” said Luke. He then sent a message to the restaurant asking for a table for eleven people. With the addition of Daphne, they had become a large organization.

  Isabella knew there were other people in the city with sympathetic feelings for mutants, but the only ones actively doing anything for them was this group, with a band as a front for its raison d’être. She had a few hours, so she took a long, hot shower, enjoying the luxuries of Mt. Weather. As much as she was enjoying the city, she could not understand why everyone in the country could not live at the same standard. The government had manufacturing and enough greenhouses both at Mt. Weather and at the other major underground city out west, Cheyenne Mountain, to send resupply missions to each of the family shelters, and the 96 FRCs, which were what passed for small towns these days. It was a closed system – a very small closed system. As minimal as the
population was compared to before the Terror War, there were enough people delighted to work to create what their society needed. No one was at war, there were no longer any destitute people, and everyone had a purpose. They were all focused on the future when the world would finally be recovered, and humanity could once again live Outside. So why did the hatred of those not like oneself continue?

  Why couldn’t everyone just get along?

  Daphne arrived a little after one o’clock and the three of them set off for level five, stopping to pick up Teagan and Hayden on the way to El Dorado. Hayden worked evenings and hence was able to join them. His domi was on the same level where he had lived with his family, only at the other end of the hallway. She tried to think of these halls as roads, but could not. Isabella had walked the ancient and cracked roads Outside and knew a hallway for a hallway.

  Entering the brightly colored restaurant, they spotted the long table set aside for their group. They were the first to arrive and took seats at the back of the table, against the wall. Soon the others began to trickle in.

  Roan and Maddox arrived next. Roan was short and thin, with raven hair, in sharp contrast to flaxen haired Maddox, whose chubby frame stood half a head taller than Roan. Following almost on their footsteps, the twins, Noeni and Nuala sat down together. The drummer, Vaughn Michon, entered alone and Luke motioned him to sit beside him. Luke liked Vaughn, and Isabella knew that her sib had been eagerly soaking up all the musical instruction the older boy was willing to give. Luke was not a bad drummer, but he was self-taught, and Isabella often thought that what he played was more noise than music, in keeping with the strictest definition of the term.

  At sixteen, the unlikely leader of the Social Dissonance movement, Mathias Schmidt fittingly arrived last and took the seat at the head of the table. His dark grey eyes examined his team of revolutionaries and said, “I think we all know why we are here.”

  Mexican folk music played somewhat loudly from the overhead speakers; one of the reasons this group preferred this venue for conversations. Even when the restaurant was not crowded, the ambient sounds made it difficult to be overheard.

  Heads nodded around the table, and Mathias continued. “Daphne’s superbly engineered plan failed because of a traitor.” There was no sarcasm in his voice. He genuinely admired her plan.

  “Woah, what happened?” asked Hayden. “I only got up half an hour before Luke messaged me. Remember, I work late nights? I haven’t heard or seen anything.”

  Teagan looked confused. “You don’t work any later than I do. You’re home by 11.”

  “But unlike you, I don’t always turn on the screen. Some of us like to relax and unwind with a good book.”

  “You fell asleep ten minutes after getting home again, didn’t you?” Teagan scolded her brother.

  His response was a sheepish smile.

  Mathias gave a brief overview of how Isabella and Daphne’s plan went sideways. “I think we have learned from this that trust is not something we can give easily, outside of our core group. Five good people are in custody because of that failed venture. They knew the risks and did their part, and I am sure we all appreciate their help. That however, does those five soldiers not an ounce of good; nor does it free Isabella’s husband, family, or the rest of the captives. Isabella calls them new humans. I like the term and will be using it from now on. So, let’s put our heads together and come up with another strategy. But this time, we will not rely on anyone outside of the group at this table.”

  Again, heads nodded, but Daphne spoke up. “Mathias, I think you’ve got that part wrong. We can’t do this without help, especially from my friends in the military. We need them. I feel like crap about how Corporal Simon betrayed us, not to mention that one of my best friends, Kirby, has been arrested and is going to stand trial for treason, along with the four others that he convinced to go along with him. We will have to be more than careful who we trust information to, but I think we need help. Eleven people are not an army.”

  Isabella admired Daphne for her unwavering ability to maintain eye contact when she spoke her mind. Mathias might be young, but he was formidable and Daphne had no difficulties standing up to him. Chin held high, she forged on. “Of course, we will need to be careful who we let in on our plans, but we will need help from my friends in the military.”

  Mathias steepled his fingers together, elbows on the table, his chest visibly expanding as he suddenly sat taller in his chair. “Okay. Yes, Daphne, you make a good point. We cannot do this without help. So, what exactly are we going to do, with this military we may or may not trust?”

  The waiter took that moment to deliver menus and everyone immediately made small talk, chattering inanely as the waiter deposited glasses of water for each of them from a large tray on the sideboard table. The interruption gave everyone a moment to gather their thoughts before making suggestions.

  Once the waiter departed, Isabella leaned forward in her chair and began. “You should know that Dr. Rosario has been tasked with creating a new and improved version of the vaccine, and the order came directly from President Harrison. They are working with a scientist here named Dr. Xavier Serra. I guess he’s some hotshot medical researcher. I don’t know how long it will take to develop it, or what the government plans to do while waiting for it to be finished.”

  Teagan immediately jumped in, but not as loudly as her anger could have made her. The need for secrecy was now entrenched in her every action. “They’ll continue their ridiculous city-cleaning campaign, using and killing mutants with every mission. I mean, they’ve been doing it for years. Why would they stop because they are close to having a vaccine for us?”

  Luke said, “Yeah, and if anything, they’ll probably speed up those campaigns. Once a viable vaccine is developed, they’ll have more use for those cities. They’ll want shelter folk to have a place Outside to live, right?” Luke looked to Isabella for confirmation and she nodded back.

  Isabella knew their grandfather had known about the plan to get rid of the mutants for a very long time. Unfortunately, she had only found that out recently. Luke had overheard their grandfather on the shortwave radio talking to whoever his government contact was. Luke hoped the old man had been trying to convince the military to go find his granddaughter, but if that is what his plan was, her brother had never found out. Once he heard of the plan to exterminate the mutants, Luke had made his own plans to leave their shelter and find her.

  No matter how many disagreements they had had growing up together in their underground family shelter, Isabella would be grateful to her brother Luke forever for that selfless act. She had never suspected he cared about her that much. She had always thought the only person who cared for her like that was her mother, and maybe their grandmother.

  How wrong she had been.

  Mathias nodded but said, “That makes sense, but if they have a vaccine that prevents us from getting ill from the radiation and poison, does removing that irradiated top soil even matter anymore? We can just live Outside with the stuff sitting there. It won’t hurt us.”

  Fingers wrapped around his water glass, Vaughn’s fingernails drumming against it making a rapid-fire clinking beat, he said, “Mathias is right. Maybe this could work to our advantage. The faster your scientist friend develops the vaccine, the sooner the mutants – ah, new humans, won’t need to be sent to their deaths in cleaning crews.”

  Teagan’s eyes rolled skyward and she almost spat her reply at him. “You’re an idiotic bonehead! Seriously, Vaughn, you aren’t that stupid. The government wants them dead. If they aren’t being sent out to clean and to die a relatively slow death, they’ll just kill them outright. They’ll have no chance at all.”

  Isabella quietly listened to everybody’s suggestions and comments, which went on for 20 minutes until their food arrived, then continued as the nearly dozen young revolutionaries ate and discussed. During a lull in the conversation, she announced, “It sounds like our next step is to plan a mass jail break, fo
r the new humans and for the soldiers who helped us.”

  Heads shook in agreement. No matter what they individually thought about the details, they at least agreed to that general plan. Now they just needed to figure out the best way.

  Daphne said, “We’ll have one chance to do this, and one chance only. The timing has to be right, it has to be coordinated between those of you on the outside of level ten, and those of us on the inside, meaning our collaborators in the military.”

  “So, when?” asked one of the twins. Isabella still did not if it was Noeni or Nuala, ever. They did not dress alike, but they looked the same, and their hair and eyes were even the same. She was embarrassed to ask each time she saw them, which was which. She wished one of them would cut her hair short, or always wear it up in a ponytail. As Isabella pondered how to ask, Luke did her job for her.

  “Would you two wear nametags already? I never know which is which!” He smiled as he said it, but he was as confused as Isabella was.

  “Noeni,” replied the exotic girl.

  Maddox suddenly interrupted, pointing up at the monitor at the far end of the restaurant. It was a news broadcast, just like the one Isabella had watched on the HSPC ride to Mt. Weather. It was even the same female broadcaster. Text scrolled across the bottom of the screen.

  MILITARY TRAITORS IN CUSTODY.

  Maddox signaled the waiter who was standing behind the front desk. “Hey, turn it up please?” The man raised the volume above the restaurant’s background music level so they could hear the newscaster.

  “On a routine eight-day cleaning mission to Richmond today, five soldiers, ranking from private to sergeant, attempted to let their cleaning crew of 24 mutants flee custody rather than do their civic duty removing the top soil as they were ordered to do. As you know, construction crews have been cleaning and removing the radiation and chemicals from five cities: Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cleveland, Charlotte, and Richmond. This project is underway in order to make these cities habitable once the atmosphere is clean enough for citizens to once again move Outside. The job will take decades. These cities were chosen because of their close proximity to each other and to Mt. Weather and because they were physically undamaged during the Final War. The cleaning procedure includes removing the top layer of soil carefully with shovels because large equipment cannot get close enough to buildings without damaging them. An insurrection by radical extremists within our own military was foiled when Corporal Dwight Simon disarmed the five traitors. The conspirators were returned to Mt. Weather, along with all the mutants, except for two that fled the scene, and one that was fatally injured during the insurrection. Mt. Weather and all the citizens of the United States owe their sincere gratitude to Corporal Simon for his quick thinking and patriotic actions.”

 
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