Under the Mountain: A POST APOCALYPTIC NOVEL (Into the Outside Book 3), page 2
Ms. Meisner directed Luke and the doctor away from the water to a sidewalk lined with small stalls that housed shops or eateries.
“The White Shore area is a recreation zone. If you are looking for a place to relax, this is it. You can access it by taking any elevator to the concourse level and walking here or taking the monorail. This sidewalk rings the perimeter of the complex. Behind those stalls, which you cannot see from here, are the outer walls of the facility. We have tried to make it look as much like a waterfront recreation area as we could. Even the elevators blend into the simulated outdoor environment. You can come back here on your own and explore at your leisure.”
Luke and Dr. Rosario followed her, all the while marveling at the shops. After touring the area, their guide led them back to the monorail station. A large sign hung over the entrance. White Shore Station.
They walked back through the café area toward a series of elevator doors at the back wall. “Ah, here we are,” Ms. Meisner said as she pressed a button on the wall. They waited a moment, then a ding! announced the third elevator to their right had arrived. When the door opened, they entered the small box of a room and she pressed the button for level nine. “Sorry I couldn’t get you anything nearer the concourse level, but the temporary quarters are in the lower levels.”
“Putting us in the basement, ha?” Luke quipped, though he winced even as he said it. Pathetic joke, he thought to himself, but Ms. Meisner smiled warmly at him. Within moments, the elevator stopped and the door slid open.
They walked down a conventional interior hallway, although much wider than those Luke had seen in Dr. Rosario’s office building or inside the military base. Doors on the left and right sides of the hall had labels designated with letters and numbers.
“You’ll quickly learn the marking system and I’m sure you won’t get lost. The complex descends ten floors beneath the concourse level. The city is a gigantic oval made up of three concentric rings that circle each level. Therefore, everything on this floor will be designated ‘9’, then a letter for the ring, “A’ for the outer ring, ‘B’ for the middle ring and ‘C’ for the innermost ring. In the center, there is a small park, with a playground for the youngsters.”
Luke noticed the numbering system on the doors. They passed ‘9A103’ on the left and even numbers on the right. “Are these all living quarters?”
Their guide nodded. “Yes. ‘A’ ring contains apartments and ‘B’ ring is where you will find shops and services. On most levels, the inner ‘C’ ring houses educational services but here on level nine, there are apartments for visitors and temporary residents. Level one, directly below the concourse, houses the government in all three rings. Naturally, the Congress and the President’s office and residence are on level one.”
“Is that the only level that was here when the complex was originally built?” asked Dr. Rosario. Mt. Weather had been a secret facility when Dr. Rosario was young, and although Luke had heard a lot about the city during his lifetime, the old scientist had spent the 50 years since the war inside of his research lab. He had less knowledge of today’s world than Luke had. To Dr. Rosario, Mt. Weather was the faceless seat of a government that only communicated with his facility via the military. Even that small contact had been cut off when they abandoned his research facility three years ago.
“No. The planners built the first two levels under the concourse right from the start. Level two was traditionally the home of the Congressional delegates and other government workers. Today, most of the Congress people choose to live in the newer apartments on lower levels,” she replied.
“Sounds like level one is ready for a refurb, huh?” asked Luke, using some lingo he remembered from a horribly written book that he had read a long time ago. He instantly regretted opening his mouth. He was not sure why he kept saying stupid things to her.
Ms. Meisner tucked a lock of hair behind her right ear and ignored his comment, but smiled at him anyway. She had a smile that could melt your heart, Luke thought, even when it was clearly disingenuous. “Above us on 8C is the elementary school; level seven houses the middle school; and levels four and five have post-secondary technical and university classes. Luke, you will have to go to level six for the high school ring. Tomorrow morning, at 8 a.m. sharp, please report to the administration office at 6C101. They will set you up with an educational assessment so you can be placed in the appropriate classes.”
“You mean I have to go to school!” he almost shouted. The nerve of these people!
“No, not immediately, it is still August after all, but if you remain at Mt. Weather, as we hope you will choose to do, come Thursday, September first, you will be required to attend school with your peers. Is that a problem?” For the first time she lost her smile.
“No, ma’am. No problem at all,” Luke muttered, no longer as enchanted with the beautiful guide as he had been.
Dr. Rosario had lost interest in the school discussion and changed the subject. “You mentioned a hospital. Where would I find that please?”
“Are you ill, sir?” She looked at him with great concern and sadness in her expressive face.
“No, Ms. Meisner, I simply could use a dentist. It’s been quite a while and my old teeth could use some attention,” he laughed. “Would that by chance be on level ten?”
Ignoring his question, their guide stopped at a door marked 9C129. She raised her left palm to a panel on the wall and the door opened inward. “Here we are. My print is the only one keyed into the entry pad right now, but if you will please raise your palms now, it will record your imprints as well. From then on, the door will only open to each of you and the service staff.”
Dr. Rosario placed his palm on the panel and it chimed.
“You next, Luke,” said their guide and he raised his left hand. After it chimed, they stepped into the apartment. The door closed automatically behind them.
“Wow!” exclaimed Luke, staring at a living room that was easily as large as the entire underground shelter where his mother and grandparents had raised him. “This is all for us?”
“Yes, Luke. Is it sufficient?” she asked, again with that almost exaggeratedly concerned look, as if something was very, very wrong. She seemed incredibly bothered by anything that could be potentially upsetting to anyone.
“Perfectly, young lady,” Dr. Rosario answered for him, seeing that Luke had lost the power of speech once again.
They entered an apartment that was nicely if plainly furnished, with a couch, two plush chairs, a low table in front of the couch, and a flat screen on one wall of the living room. The walls were a bland shade of off-white and, of course, there were no windows, but the pictures on the walls gave some impression of a homey atmosphere. The kitchen had a table with four chairs, and another smaller screen on the wall near the refrigerator.
Claudia smiled at them, clearly pleased that everything was in order. “The kitchen is fully equipped with all the cooking tools you’ll need, both bedrooms have extra linens in the closets, and the bathroom is well stocked with toiletries. There are basic food items in the cupboards and refrigerator, but if you find you are missing anything, visit any of the ‘B’ ring shops, on any level. You can access the central computer through screens in the kitchen and living room. It can give you a directory of available services, including that dentist you asked about, Dr. Rosario. Services such as general dentistry, eye care, and doctors are scattered throughout the complex in ‘B’ rings. The main hospital on the concourse level is for more serious injuries or illnesses.”
“Thank you, Ms. Meisner. What about my research?”
“Settle in today and do some exploring. The medical research labs are on level three and the researcher in charge will contact you tomorrow. His name is Dr. Xavier Serra. Is there anything else I can do for you before I leave?” she asked with a pretty smile and a bat of her long lashes.
“Nothing I can think of, ma’am,” said the scientist. “But you never answered my question about level ten. What is down ther
“Nothing that will concern you,” Claudia Meisner answered then smiled. It seemed the woman never lost her captivating smile.
Luke ventured a guess. “That where the mutants are kept?”
“Now why would you think that, young man?” Not waiting for an answer, she smiled again, spun on her high-heeled pumps and walked out the door.
“Humph,” muttered Dr. Rosario. “Why do you irritate people, boy? She’s hospitable and you immediately have to jump to conclusions. Why didn’t you just regale her with an air drum solo?”
* * *
The HSPC jerked and Malcolm woke with a groan. Isabella was already awake and whispered to him, “It’s okay, just a bump. We’re still moving.” She took his hand and he squeezed hers in return.
“How long have I been asleep?” He had meant to stay awake to protect his family in any small way he could. Although against soldiers with guns, held captive in a rolling prison, he was uncertain what he could do if they were threatened. Their mere presence in the vehicle was a threat; a threat against which he had no defense.
“A few hours. You can’t stay awake all the way to Virginia. I’ve been up for a while, but I didn’t want to wake you.” Isabella shoved her thick, curly brown hair behind her ears and stood up.
She turned to Daphne and said, “I have to go to the bathroom.” Before the soldier could respond, Isabella walked to the back of the Spec and disappeared into the toilet stall.
Malcolm assumed that prisoners were prohibited from walking around the vehicle, although they had not actually been told they could not get up. But, it was a good guess that they should stay put. Up until now, no one had dared to move from his or her seat, other than to shift a child to someone else’s lap. Of course, thought Malcolm, the one to break the unspoken rule would be Isabella. He smiled.
“Gutsy girl,” muttered Corporal Daphne Noble. She rapped on the cab window and a speaker overhead crackled and then came to life.
She keyed her lapel mic. “We need a bathroom break. I’m going to need extra security back here while we cycle through everyone hitting the latrine.”
Within moments, the vehicle stopped and the two drivers entered through the airlock. They stripped off their NBC suits and hung them on hooks near the entrance. With six guards now, they ordered the 24 prisoners each in turn to use the toilet facility, the small children escorted by a parent until the entire group was finished.
The guards did not relax their weapons until all the mutants were once again in their seats.
The burly driver and his companion each used the bathroom themselves before breakfast was served. Daphne and three soldiers warmed pre-packaged meals, handing them to their fellow soldiers first, then to the prisoners. Once the drivers finished eating, they donned their NBC suits and returned to the cab. Before Malcolm swallowed the last of his packaged eggs and toast, his world was in motion again.
Sitting in the seat with nothing to do but hold on was really starting to get on his nerves. Isabella told stories to Andra and Shia for a while and he listened, but eventually his wife got tired of storytelling and their little girls got bored.
When Malcolm and Isabella left the mutant settlement at Telemark, in search of the scientist their seer had seen in her visions, Malcolm had known they would face danger. He had tried to leave his two daughters behind with their tribe members that stayed in Telemark, but Shia had put up such a fuss, that he acquiesced and brought the children. They travelled east toward the ancient city of New York, along with their best tracker, eleven-year-old Clay and his intended mate, Kalla, to find the man who might save them all, and to their surprise, they had.
Dr. Rosario was old and wrinkled, alone in his research center for many years, and when they found him, they gave him the final piece he needed to solve the puzzle of a vaccine for the toxins and radiation Outside: Andra’s cat Pumpkin. The orange ball of fur’s genes contained the key. Cats were the only creatures that had not mutated from the effects of the war.
They should have gone back to Telemark, but instead Isabella insisted they go north, and although reluctant, he had agreed. They travelled up the Hudson River to warn more mutant tribes about the dangers they faced when the hidden human population finally came out of their shelters. The human government did not want to share the earth; they wanted to exterminate the mutants. That event would not happen for at least 50 years, but if Dr. Rosario was successful, the extinction of the mutants would be imminent and their warning to other tribes would be useful.
Getting caught was not in their plans.
Malcolm cleared his throat. “Corporal Noble, it’s going to be a long trip for all of us. Is there any way you could get those TV screens working? Maybe some entertainment would help pass the time.” It was the second day in the vehicle and everyone was getting fidgety, especially the children.
The look of surprise on the young woman’s face rivaled her expression when she had found out Isabella was not a mutant. “You know about TV?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Malcolm’s smile showed all of his brilliant white teeth against his deep, ebony skin.
“Where have you seen television?”
“Working? Nowhere. But there were plenty of old, broken and smashed TV sets in my home city. We have stories handed down to us from our elders and all of us know about the technology that the world used to have. Just because we haven’t seen it in action doesn’t mean we don’t know what it is. But I deem your TV’s are broken too.” He frowned dramatically, more for effect than actual sorrow, and slumped back in his seat, dejected.
“Our televisions are just fine!” shouted the soldier next to Daphne. “See!” she said as she turned on the quad-system. Four monitors lit up in each corner of the vehicle, allowing all the seated occupants a view of the screens.
“You tricked her, didn’t you?” whispered Isabella almost directly into Malcolm’s ear.
His response was a toothy grin and a whispered comment. “Reverse psychology is another thing handed down to me from my elders. Or at least my father!” This earned him a thankful kiss from his wife.
The TV screens showed a menu which the female soldier controlled with a small black plastic object in her hand. She pushed buttons and the list scrolled down. Malcolm could barely read, making the viewing options a mystery, but Isabella jumped when she saw something. “Stop there!” The soldier glared at her.
“Please,” said Isabella, more quietly.
The video footage showed a woman sitting behind a desk. She was obviously reading from pages in front of her. However, it was the photo on a screen beside the woman that made Malcolm gasp. Bodies lay on the ground, bleeding or dead. The sight made Malcolm’s heart catch in his throat. “What happened to them?” he asked.
“It’s only a news broadcast from the cleanup of Cleveland,” answered Daphne Noble, repositioning herself in her seat to get a better view of the screen.
Malcolm stared back at her, uncomprehending. “But why are those people dead?”
“They are the cleaning crew,” she said, as if that explained everything.
“Sorry, I don’t grasp this…”
“What part of cleaning don’t you understand, you dumb mutant?” asked the other female soldier next to Daphne.
“Any of it! Why are you cleaning cities? Are those dead people mutants? Why are they dead? How did they die?” He grasped Isabella’s hand tighter, gripping her five flawless fingers with his four-fingered hand.
She squeezed back and spoke softly, so quietly that they had to strain to hear her over the television monitors. “Please. We simply don’t understand what is going on.”
The female soldier, Stephenson, replied matter-of-factly. “We use mutants to remove irradiated top soil in the cities we plan to repopulate once it is safe for humans on the surface.”
Shia suddenly sat up in his lap and threw her small arms around his neck. “Papa, are they going to hurt us?”
Malcolm stood up. “No one will hurt any of us, because we will not go into those contaminated cities for these people!”
“Sit down, mutant!” Stephenson stood up and aimed her weapon at Malcolm’s chest. He dwarfed her by a head and a half but her weapon more than compensated for the difference. “Sit down right now.”
Malcolm did not stop his speech. “My family and friends will not clean for you. If you want to waste time removing the radiation, feel free, but do it with your own people. Use safety suits. We will not take part in it. You may shoot each of us, but we will not die working for you.” When he had made his point, and only then, did Malcolm finally sit.
Luke was a night owl. His grandfather had always joked that Luke’s body clock was in a different time zone because he never wanted to go to bed when the rest of the family did. In the shelter, there was not much to do late at night other than read, but here – this was another story!
After a shower and three minutes with a brand new toothbrush, Luke changed into clothes that awaited him in the closet. The pants fit well enough but the style was nothing like the straight-legged jeans he had worn in the shelter. These slacks were made of some tough but light fabric that was a bit too roomy and had huge pockets, like parachutes hanging from each side. They sat lower on his hips than his old jeans, but the solid red T-shirt was just like any of his own. Apparently, that style had not changed much in 50 years.
Dr. Rosario made a decent dinner in their kitchen, which Luke ate, but he was still unsatisfied. Food – oddly for him – was not what he craved tonight.
“I’m going out,” he announced at nine o’clock.
Dr. Rosario muttered something about teenagers as the apartment door closed behind Luke.
Luke decided to explore ‘B’ ring first. He followed the corridor from their apartment to a wider hallway and turned inward, reaching the middle ring. There were indeed shops and services here just as Claudia Meisner had said, but most had closed their doors for the night. A sign in a general store’s window announced they would re-open at 10 a.m. Next to that was a bookstore, also closed. Luke saw an extensive collection of books through its window and wondered if these were newly printed, or antique books scavenged from Outside, from before the war. He wished the shop was open because he really would have liked something to read.
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