He found himself wandering the long white corridor that led towards the transit station near to where O’Brien had left him. Next to the base of the cargo lift a wide descending ramp led underneath the floor. It was used to transport the large agricultural machines that wouldn’t fit the narrow halls of the lower sector. The air was still and tepid, only the gentle hum of the ceiling light panels and Fen’s steady panting hinted at any sign of life. It felt to him that every piece of certainty, every knowable future had fallen away, the path that had once stretched out beyond him stopped now, right there at his feet. Each step another small carving into an undetermined potentiality that was as paralysing as it was symbolic. Only six months ago he’d had the comforting blanket of knowing, the knowledge of the road his life was sure to take, where it would lead and where there had been rocks in the rivers path, he had known where it flowed. Alphy had changed all that.
The journey to Eleanor’s Square had taken close to an hour. Commuters returning home from the first service shifts of the day packed the transit line and it had been difficult to find enough space on board a cart with the addition of Fen. The square had been named after Eleanor Capet who had been responsible for improving the efficiency of the domes solar energy cells to such a degree that power shortages in the past three hundred years were unheard of. Information on how the dome came to be was sparse. Of the available digital records salvaged and subsequently made public, only one contained any record of events before its construction. It told of something named simply, “The Descendance.” A phenomenon in which glowing spheres of light had descended from the space above the sky and for seven days and seven nights, they emitted strange fumes that blanketed the world in a great miasma. The square itself was nothing more than a large domed stadium that was blanketed in rubber chippings. There had been tree’s there when Simon was younger, brought in from outside the dome thanks to the success of the agriculture project. He couldn’t remember when they had been taken away but recalled hearing they’d had trouble staying alive in the unnatural environment. The walls at least were still the same bright shade of green, some of the only colour left down in the lower sector. Metal benches lined the outskirts of the stadium and large wall mounted fans had been installed to simulate a breeze. In a gated off corner a small sand pit no larger than five square feet was where dogs could do their business. He wondered what had happened to him, the square had been his favourite place to go when he was younger. Him and his friends would come here after basic and play ball. Now it seemed like any other place and smaller than he remembered.
After Fen had relieved herself he unclipped her leash and rolled it around itself to form a tight knit wad resembling a ball. “Ready girl?,” She barked, tail wagging, bouncing around in circles. “Go get it!” And she tore off after it, skidding into a slide without stopping as she neared, scooped it up in her mouth and bolted back to him. She dropped it at his feet, looked up at him, barked, looked down at the would be ball, barked. He threw it for her again and wondered what it would be like to be a dog, wished for the bliss of ignorance that came with youth. He spent the next hour playing with her, chasing her and burying the leash under piles of rubber chips and watched as she dug holes looking for it. He’d been reprimanded for that in the past but the square was quiet and he found himself wholly apathetic in that moment. He checked the time on his P.u.d.s. If he wanted to make it to Entertainment West by 8 they’d have to head off. Fen dropped the leash at his feet having found it’s most recent burial site. “We gotta go,” she stared at him, head tilting to the side. “Don’t give me that look. I’ll bring you back tomorrow.” The events of the day crawled back into his awareness. “Gotta find something to keep me busy eh girl?” He hadn’t let himself think it since the conversation with O’Brien but it had grown louder and he found himself unable to stop it. The words formed in his mind. They know.
Entertainment West was one of the lower sectors Free-Zones, a recreation area which used to house small makeshift theatres and other social gatherings now lay almost empty. In the distance were a few shuffling bodies, small groups of youths huddled close to each other, no doubt dosing on the pip they’d managed to score that day or drinking their boredom away on makho, one of the few alcoholic beverages that the dome could produce from starchy tubers that grew well in artificial lighting and recycled air. Simon fished out the hat he had been instructed to wear, bleached wool with a blotch of dark staining on the front. “Fen girl, stay close to me.”
The entertainment blocks across Lower Sector had fallen into disrepair over the years and the checkpoint into the main complex was staffed by a single officer who looked half asleep slumped against a scan terminal. He barely noticed Simon and Fen’s approach.
“Hey, you. Oh, Simon,” It was Brendan Wishaw, the man had lived in his complex for a year before the birth of his first child. “Ello Fen,” Brendan said, crouching down to pat her. “How come the two of you are all the way out here?”
“A friend from work wanted to see Fen,” Simon said, “never seen a dog before.”
“And what a fine first specimen,” Brendan said stroking the fur on Fen’s chest. “Everything alright with you? How’s Elijah, Marie fairing any better?”
“Can’t complain”, Simon lied. “Elijah had to take Marie in for treatment today, I don’t think she’s responding too well but I didn’t pry for details.”
“No, best not when it comes to such things,” Brendan said, “Poor guy, he’s had a rough year of it.”
“Yea,” Simon said, an awkward silence falling between them.
“I have to get going, said I’d have Fen back soon,” Simon said. “It was good to see you Brendan, say hello to Laura for me.”
“Will do. Good to see you too Si.”
He scanned himself through the terminal, eyes searching for any sign of her. He didn’t know much about who he was meeting, save that she would be looking for the hat on his head. Inside the courtyard of the complex it was a little busier. A small group passed him unable to contain their surprise of seeing a dog. A young boy with his parents reached out to stroke her before his father pulled him back, “Don’t touch David, do you want to get bitten? That’s how you get bitten.” He continued through the courtyard until he reached an arched entranceway with another of the five principles emblazoned above it. Pleasure is earned. Never Squandered.
There was a young girl with her back resting against the side of the archway, she looked about his age, an oversized grey overall hung from thin bony shoulders and her chestnut hair was tied back in a long flowing ponytail. She sized Simon up, he saw the green flash of her eyes glance to the hat on his head, scan down his body and finally come to a rest at Fen. She looked back to his face, a surprised questioning arch in her eyebrows. He started to walk towards her, noticed her eyes widening as the realisation that this was who she had been waiting for dawned. “Hi,” he said, “I’m Simo-”
“You brought a dog?” The girl interrupted, her tone one of both surprise and clear disapproval.
“I’m sorry.” Simon said, “With the short notice I didn’t have time to-”
She tightened her lips and gave a curt shake of her head. “Follow me.” She said turning and walking away.
Simon followed her through the building, the once white walls had worn away revealing the silver metal underneath. A small group of children were scrawling pictures on a chalkboard that had fallen off the nearby wall and now lay flat on the floor. Their parents stood huddled in a group close by and Simon overheard one of them, a short stubby woman with knotted blonde hair talking about the recent changes to food provisions, “…three days and the queues, don’t get me started,” her voice fading to an ineligible mumble as they passed.
The atmosphere inside the complex was bleak, there were a few table ball boards still standing but the netting was missing or torn on all but one of them. A large projector hung above rows of descending metal benches, a make shift auditorium but the projector had been broken for years and had never been replaced. Speakers that had once broadcast music, mostly simple synthesised melodies across the centre lay in disrepair leaving an eerie silence to fill the gaps in the soundscape. They left the main room and headed down a narrow side corridor off to the right, past some disused toilets and arrived at a security door. The girl lifted her wrist to a small black sensor which chirped as the door clicked open. “Come on,” she said curtly.
The corridor beyond snaked to the left and led to another locked door marked security. Again the girl motioned with her wrist and the door clicked once, twice, before swinging open. “The others will be here shortly, can I get you a coffee?” she asked, eyes on a row of display monitors that appeared to show the various areas inside the centre.
“No, I’m alright, thanks. Are those monicam feeds?”
“How astute,” she said. Simon could hear her eyes rolling.
He chose his next words carefully. “How were you able to get in here, unlock the doors I mean, don’t you need security clearance to acces-”
“I am security.”
Underneath the monitors were a number of blinking consoles that would emit occasional chirps, Simon couldn’t make heads or tails of the machines or what information they displayed. A wooden coffee table sat in the corner of the room next to a small sink and fridge.
“Here,”she handed him a stained mug filled with a steaming black, sickly smelling concoction. The alcoholic fumes filled his nose making his eyes water.
“Good for the nerves,” she said with a feigned smile and Simon noticed the stained dark gums of a pip addict beneath her lips.
“Yea, thanks.” He said, diverting his eyes back to the monitors.
He was surprised by his lack of fear, the absence of his usual anxiety, of the itching on the back of his hands that accompanied the nervous sweats he got whenever he found himself in an unpredictable situation. It was as if he’d crossed a line that he could no longer step back from. What was coming was coming, whether he cared for it or not.
He took a seat by the table and Fen lay down at his feet, perfectly at ease in the strange environment. Ten minutes passed in silence, the drink given to Simon remained untouched, no longer steaming.
“They’re here,”she said. The sudden breaking of silence startled him and Fen’s head shot up, ears darting around around like little antennae.
“I need to go and let them in, wait here and don’t touch anything.” She left the room, doors clicking shut with the automatic locking mechanism. He realised he had never let himself think this far ahead. It had all been talk up until this point and now he was here, about to be met with the full brunt of his decision, the reality started to sink in. He thought about the various ways the next few moments in time could play out. It could have all been a set up. That one he had contemplated before, it would have been stupid not to, but it didn’t make sense. Why go through all the trouble when they could just have easily thrown him in indefinite confinement without trial. It had to be something more, something that was bigger than him. Alphy had told him everything that night, they both had a reason to be part of this.
“Simon. I’m so glad you came.” His dark grey suit was impeccably fitted, a bright sprawl of pink formed in overlapping layers was tucked into his front pocket. “It’s a flower, not real of course. Rhododendron to be precise,” he gave the boutonnière a flick with his finger, “one of the perks of my position,” and he gave a lazy shrug. Behind him more bodies were squeezing into the room, all garbed in light grey service suits, little clones playing follow the leader.
The girl who he’d met outside closed the door behind her and strode over to a small metal hatch next to the solitary sink. It was so covered in grime that Simon hadn’t noticed it. She pulled a long metal bar from behind the fridge, inserted it into a small gap between the floor and popped the hatch open with a practised deftness. “Down we go,” smiled Alphy gesturing toward the hole. “What about Fen?” Alphy looked down at the dog who was quietly licking away at her paw, his gaze lingering on her for the slightest moment, “Elena will look after her.” The girl in the jumpsuit raised an eyebrow, lowered it, then gave Simon a gentle smile. She kneeled down beside Fen and gave the top of her head a quick scratch. “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of her, she’s in safe hands.”
The ladder was barely two feet wide and descended deep below the building. The rungs were covered in grime and on more than one occasion his boots slipped on the hard metal bars. By the time they’d reached the bottom his arms ached. He was standing in a narrow corridor lined with dark stone walls glistening with moisture and the air was filled with a smell, not unpleasant but alien to him. “The smell of freedom my lad.” Alphy had reached the bottom behind him. “Well, at least it was, the majority of this tunnel collapsed long before I was born.” Simon gawked at him. “This leads outside of the Dome?” Alphy pursed his lips and gave Simon’s shoulder a small squeeze. “It did. Don’t worry, you’ll get caught up with all the details soon. The door ahead is open, best we get moving.”
They walked along in muted darkness, reams of small lights hung along ropes lined the stone walls, the electrical wiring dangling loosely and disappearing into the rock above them. Around two hundred metres or so in they came upon a tall metal door fitted with a cylindrical latch. “Two turns anticlockwise and a not so gentle push if you’d be so kind,” Alphy’s voice echoed behind him. The mechanism turned with a lubricated ease and the heavy door swung open without protest. The large dark room they entered into was lined with uniformed desks and terminals. Images of strange depictions Simon had never seen before plastered the walls and at the far end of the room, a shoddy white canvas hung freely from two small hooks drilled into the wall. Alphy’s voice rang out from behind, “Let there be light.” And the room whirled into life.
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