The sounds of many footsteps bounce off of the stone walls. Sam had given us the day off, and I thought that I would visit my mother after lunch, given that the last time I saw her I was confined to a hospital bed. I begin to walk down the Straight, the hallway leading to the Atrium. A large group of small children chase each other down the hall, laughing and screaming. They remind me of how I never had a happy, carefree childhood. I was always ambushed with rules and doctrines. Uncomfortably, I wonder if that is part of the reason why I'm not normal. Why I can't stand up for myself.
I step into the bright Atrium lights. A few kind-faced people gather fruits in large baskets and exchange smiles. The room is so large that I resign myself to wandering through the aisles of plants, hoping that I'll eventually come across my mother.
"Enna!" A quiet shout. I look up towards the direction of the voice: the far right end of the room. My mother waves at me, smiling. Relieved, I jog to her and we embrace. "Don't take this the wrong way, but what are you doing here, honey? Don't you have training to do?"
Slightly winded, I shake my head and begin to tell her about the end of fight training and the beginning of propaganda detection practice. While I talk, she picks small red berries from a large bush and places them in a basket.
"That's so wonderful," she says when I finish.
"Do you need me to help you?" I offer.
"Oh no, no... You're fine. It's nice to have someone to talk to." I nod and stand by her as she bends down behind another berry bush.
"The day you showed Leah and I around the Depot, you said that you love working here."
"Yes, I did."
"Why?" She laughs a high, airy laugh.
"A lot of people wonder why. How could someone enjoy working with plants, right?" She straightens and looks towards the large tree that marks the center of the room. It towers far above us, a symbol of strength and perseverance. "You probably expect a dreamy, romantic answer. But the truth is, I simply think it's beautiful."
I tug my eyebrows together, confused. I don't understand why anyone would devote their life to something simply because they think it's beautiful.
"I know it's probably hard for you to understand, but one day you will," she says. I know what she really means: I'm from the city and I can't understand basic human tendencies, so I wouldn't know what she's talking about. Of course. My mother sighs and bends down to pick the berries again. "I like being here because it makes me forget where I really am."
Her next comment surprises me, and I stare at the back of her sweat-stained t-shirt. I never realized how hot it was in the Atrium. It must be the lamps.
"What do you mean?"
"Have you ever stopped to think about where we are? We're in an underground base, hiding from the government and fighting for our basic freedoms. It's not like we're down here for a picnic. In this room I can close my eyes and pretend that I'm up there. I can feel the sun's heat and see the plants surrounding me... Enna, if you learn only one thing from me it is this: Beauty can be found in every single moment, no matter how dire the circumstances. But you have to look for it, and sometimes it's hard." She stares at me intensely now and I nod, a little nervous. I've never seen my mother so serious before.
"Okay, mom... I-I should go now." I smile weakly and begin to walk backwards. My mom looks down sadly, her fingers slightly trembling.
"I'll see you later," she mutters. "Come visit me again?" A tear trickles down her nose and she wipes it away with the back of her hand. Not knowing how to properly respond, I leave the Atrium. I didn't know that visiting my mother could make me feel worse, but it did. Worst of all she made me question myself, and the last time that happened I fled from the Academy of Global Doctrines and hid underground. When did I start to believe that the Depot was a better place than the world I left behind? This is supposed to be a temporary solution to the problem of tyranny, not a permanent one. Humans can't thrive with injustice for too long. They also can't thrive underground.
Lost in my thoughts, I look up and realize that I had wandered down the wrong hallway. Before I panic, I remind myself that I have no training today and, therefore, I have the time to explore the countless tunnels of the Depot. The one I travel through now seems darker and more humid than the rest. Scrawled messages spot the walls in certain places and I stop to read them:
Missed my train
Street performers rule!
Amused, I stare at the words for a moment. Even though they seem overlooked, I feel as though I am experiencing a glimpse of the past. I'd forgotten that the Depot used to be a network of subway tunnels under the city. Why had they stopped running in the first place? I continue down the hall and come across a door labeled "Security Quarter". I vaguely remember Grace telling Leah and I about this place. She said that all of the surveillance equipment led back here, where people pored over screens all day.
Curious, I open the door and walk in. The room is very large and dark with myriad small screens on a single wall. No one is here right now. I walk up to the wall, overwhelmed. One screen near the bottom says, "Radio Recordings", and another reads, "Field Investigations". At the top of the wall, on a large monitor, I see the small stone room where Leah and I were attacked by Luke, Alex, and Matthew. It is labeled "Depot Entry Hall". Directly below it is a screen showing the lobby of the AGD. My stomach turns uncomfortably as I watch students of all ages pass through innocently. If only I could warn them, somehow. If only--
I jump out of my skin and wheel around. Sam stands behind me, looking dumbfounded.
"What are you doing here?" He asks angrily.
"I--I'm sorry. I just got lost. I was leaving," I start to walk past him, but he latches onto my arm. I yank it from his grasp defensively. "I told you, I got lost!" He glares at me and begins to walk towards the screens. Once again, I notice his limp.
"What happened to your leg?" I ask, feeling bold. For a while he just stares at the floor, rubbing his face with his large hand. Based on the way his disposition changed, his leg wound is a sore subject for him.
"Before I headed the Training Facility I used to work for the government. They shot me while I was trying to escape." I stare at him, wide-eyed, and he laughs mirthlessly. "I don't know why I'm even telling you this."
"Why did you leave?" I ask quietly. He looks up at the screens reminiscently.
"I discovered some of the things they were doing to people. I was furious. I was beyond furious. Sure, I could have held my tongue and stayed. But could I have lived with myself if I did? No way. There's no way I would do that to my son. So I brought him here, where I knew we'd be safe."
I remember the conversation I just had with my mom. What's going on that is so dangerous we must hide underground to survive?
"Sam... What are they doing?"
He looks at me, and instantly I know that he won't tell me. Or he can't.
I don't know which is worse. I just nod and leave the Security Quarter, pensively wandering the Depot's empty tunnels for the remainder of the day.
YOU ARE READING
Unplugged: The New World (#1, Unplugged Trilogy)Science Fiction
Choose to Rebel. RScreens (Reality Screens) are all the rage in America's future, just a few years after the climax of World War III. They were invented for sport, convenience, and -- most importantly -- surveillance. Enna Price, an 18-year...