I watched her fingers trace down the perforation on the side of the page. Ellie had always loved books and paper. They were “remnants of a more romantic time” according to her. I habitually made an effort to procure any that I could find whenever I ventured topside. The admiration in her eyes was well worth any danger that may befall me. I would have braved any danger, crossing the entirety of the North American continent just so I could witness her giddy giggle as she coveted her gift.
I’ve never quite understood her fascination with paper, with books, but Ellie, she kept some with her at all times. They took up space and space is something severely lacking down below, at least in the lower quadrants. We each have our own living area, a space of 7 feet by 9 feet, in which we are able to keep our personal things. Personal things consist of anything that the community doesn’t need to share for survival. In my room, I have a small sleeping mat, a pillow I’ve made from pieces of worn cloth, and trinkets I’ve managed to dig up on my excursions, none of which have any real value to the community. Even with my meager belongings, my space seemed crowded. Ellie’s space is barely passable. She sleeps, eats, and lives on those books and paper.
When the time came to live within the earth, the progenitors saw fit to transform a recorded history and the information they held into a digital format. Sadly, some of information was inaccessible and lost to us. When the great storms came, the people split into factions. Those who could afford it went into the great beyond, setting out to explore all of space. They took with them their knowledge regarding rockets and space travel. Still, most information is available to us if we care to take the time to search through the archives in the library. I admit that Ellie has likely learned things from the books I bring her that had been long before forgotten. Outside of what I dig up on my excursions, all of human existence, at least that which our fore bearers could recall, has been reduced to the size of a small plastic button with some soldered electronic components. It is not romantic like Ellie’s books, but it is convenient.
“Thank you so much, Kai!” Ellie said, her musical voice jeering me from my reverie. “I can write on this paper! Tales of your adventures! It’s important to record, you know, for posterity.”
“Sure, you’re welcome. It’s nothing,” I replied, praying that she’d eventually forget about recording my adventures for posterity. The things I do, the things I see, I often hope that the descendants will be able to avoid. Ellie doesn’t know what’s out there. She has no idea what has been left behind for us. We were both born here, but she’s never been topside. Personally, I’m happy to let her live in her aggrandized version of the past. The innocence in her eyes keeps me sane.
“Let’s have a walk down to the mess hall and see if we can find something edible, okay? I’m famished and your paper won’t miss you for a while, right?” Ellie nodded in agreement placing her new writing paper in a dedicated clearing in her space and took my arm hungrily leading me down the hallway.
“I can’t wait to tell you about the new plant in the greenhouse,” she said excitedly. “I think we may be able to make clothing from the fibers
“Let’s wait until we’re eating, an interesting distraction may help the food at least seem more palatable.” Ellie shook her head, her eyes full of incredulity as her lips curled into a sly grin.
“Kai, don’t let the cooks hear you say that you’ll be put on food restriction again!”
“Perish the thought!” I feigned worry, and Ellie’s hand went instinctively to her mouth to cover her laugh. Every sound down here carried, and since not many retained their sense of humor, let alone their joy, it would have seemed rude for us to be jovial.
“Made you laugh.” My elbow caught her lightly on the side, and she stumbled sideways for a step before we gathered our collective composure to finish making our way to the mess hall.