Then Chaos Unfolds

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Underground

It took us the whole day to reach the underground settlements. Harlem, the old man who was arguing with Jack, helps people who want to reach the underground cities aided by his two children. They’re one of the 5 families that lead the underground settlements.

“Ok, we’re almost home,” David states. I look around in confusion at any hint of human life, but all the land looks similar to me. There’s no sign or landmark to mark the underground settlements, but I suppose that’s to protect them from the war... and the rest of humanity.

“Alright, I’ll take the lead. Ellie, Jacklinso follow me. Namazzi, stay with your brother until he hides the car then follow us.”

“Yes, baba.”

They move quickly and silently. Harlem walks in a weird way, counting his steps and taking random abrupt turns. He finally stops and crouches down. Then he slides his left sleeve up and does something with his watch; a click is heard before a little window slides open in the ground.

“Password,” a voice growls at us.

“Grained.”

The window slides closed before something groans and a trap door, like the one in Carla’s little bunker, opens.

“You didn’t take long this time,” a burly man stands under the door, looking up at us.

“They had the payment, unlike the last ones,” Harlem answers as he ushers me in. I slowly lower myself down, taking hold of the rusty rungs.

“That’s a good change of pace,” he helps me down before stating, “Vander,” and it takes me a moment to realise he’s talking to me.

“I’m Ellie,” I state back but Vander already turned around to continue talking to Harlem.

“Carla again?”

“Who else?”

Vander lets out a little chuckle before continuing, “Sticks her neck out for us, too much danger...”

“I know, I know, and gets nothing in return. It’s the same thing we’re doing, Vander.”

“Eh, I just lounge here all day, drinking potatoes and waiting for you.”

Harlem grunts in response as he subsides towards us before Vander resumes, “Speaking of, there’s another meeting today.”

Harlem sighs, clearly annoyed, “Again? This is the third one.”

“They keep arguing about the increasing human count. The farmers and fishers can’t provide for the rising numbers, and you know the scouts barely bring anything back.”

“We’re just supposed to leave these children now?”

“I didn’t say that, Harlem.”

Harlem puts a hand on Vander’s shoulder and exhales, shrinking a little. I can tell the two men are rather close. I wonder if everyone here is close-knit. Do they all live as one huge, weird family?

Vander hands the other man what looks like a plastic cup of dirty water, “Here, you’ve had a long day.”

Harlem nods slightly, taking the cup, “We’ll talk later, let me just get these two to a room. Don’t close the doors, David and Namazzi shouldn’t be too far behind.”

As if on cue, the two siblings come down the rickety ladder and join us.

Namazzi whispers something into her father’s ear. It’s apparently bad news since he visibly scowls and whispers harshly back at her, “What do you mean another one is down?!”

They whisper back and forth, a conversation that seems to get increasingly heated before Namazzi turns around and storms off. I stand there awkwardly with Jack who seems to be lost in his own world. I sigh. He spent two days here and yet he looks as if he aged years. We didn’t laugh or joke during the whole 6-hour ride to this place. He wouldn’t even look at me. It’s not fair! I came all this way, excited to see him again and he just... changed. Two days on this planet! Two days! How did he just turn into a completely different person?! Consumed by my anger, I don’t realise, someone’s calling me until I’m nudged by Jack.

“You ok?”

“What?” I reply rather harshly.

He takes a step back, confused, “You’re tearing up.”

I register the tears on my cheeks and wipe at them furiously, “It’s nothing. Let’s go,” I tell him noticing that Harlem and Vander were leading us somewhere.

We walk behind them silently. I spot Jack stealing glances at me every now and then, which infuriates me even more.

“Obviously there isn’t much space here, so you two kids will have to share a room with others. That fine with you?”

Jack looks at me before replying, “Yeah it’s totally fine.”

We follow the two men down a remarkably long staircase. How deep underground are these settlements?

“Watch your step, kids. I don’t want to have to carry anyone down,” Vander chuckles, “Again.”

This earns a hearty laugh from Harlem followed by a jovial conversation between the two. I look around at the tunnel-like stairway we’re in. The only non-dirt material is the wood lining some of the stairs and the torches along the brown walls. We descend for what seems like hours, taking a turn every now and then the tunnel opens into a well-lit, crowded area.

I squint, taking in the place. The underground looks as run down and weary as 916... and yet it has a very different atmosphere. One of comfort and satisfaction, oblivious to the waging battle up top. We walk through the muddy streets, between the bustling people. People greet each other with embraces and exuberant gossip. To our immediate right is an ancient sign with the word ′Pond′ imprinted on it. I tilt my head in confusion. Is the pond... underground?

“These here are the dwellings,” Vander points at the rows of wooden shacks on our right, “They’re obviously very small so we all have our meals outside in the dining area,” four large tables are placed behind the dwellings. About half a dozen crooked, unstable chairs surround each table.

“But that’s only,” Jack takes a pause to count, “About 24 chairs.”

“Well, we don’t all eat at the same time, do we? Some people prefer eating in their rooms. The fishermen and their families usually eat in their lodgings,” he gestures back to the different looking rooms near the ‘Pond’ sign.

“You’ll be taking the 10th room, I think,” Harlem states unsurely, “The one with that little fella, Drew?”

A voice suddenly appears behind us, “Yes?”

I turn around and spot a brown-haired boy, probably younger than me, carrying a bundle of rags.

“Upgrading yourself, I see,” Vander says.

“A little more and they would’ve split in half. I gathered enough from the mission.”

“Drew,” Harlem pats him on the back, rather harshly too. The boy stumbles forward catching the flying rags. “These two will be staying with you. You do have an empty room, right?”

“Yeah, it’s really lon-”

“Just take them to the room, ok?” Vander cuts in, sounding rather hurried, “Show them the ropes, too.” He then shoots Harlem a look flashing his watch. They both hurry away toward the stairs.

The three of us stand there before Jack breaks the silence, “So where is the room?”

“Oh, I’m heading there right now, let me show you.” Drew seems to perk up at the realisation that we’ll be staying with him. He starts speed-walking through the rows, which turns out to be more of a maze, of dwellings. We finally stop in front of one of the rooms. Drew nudges the door open, striding in proudly, “Welcome, to the Drew dwelling,” he spreads his arms as a wide grin overtakes his face.

Jack and I look at each other before Jack chuckles at him, “It’s fantastic.”

The room is smaller than I expected. Two sets of bunk beds and wardrobes seem to be sufficient to fill it. The room is halved by a dusty, tattered curtain.

Drew points to the right, “The bed at the top is mine. The other three beds are empty. You can choose anyone you like. I head to the left half of the room and raise myself on the top bed.

“I’m taking this one.”

Jack looks around then comes to the bed under mine, “Sure, I’ll take this one.”

Drew looks momentarily disappointed but then he seems to remember something. He slams his forehead with his right palm, “You haven’t got your clothes.”

“We don’t have money for that though.”

“Don’t worry about that, the first set of clothes are free. Money would be useless anyway; we trade with more valuable things here.”

We get some clothes, water and our first food rations before going back to our room. I put my things in the wardrobe which seems to be falling apart.

“I’ll take the two bottom rows,” I tell Jack, in hopes of starting a conversation.

“Because you’re too short to reach the upper ones?”

I smile to myself, grateful that his mood has improved, even if just temporarily. “I’m not even short, Jack.”

“I know, French fry.” he stifles a yawn, “I’m just kidding.”

I laugh at him, “You should sleep. Actually, I should, too.”

Jack nods in agreement, succumbing to a second yawn.

“Goodnight, JC.”

“Night, El.”

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