724 Underground

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The Underground, as it turned out, was a much larger place than Alex initially realized. She wasn't shocked by this — it was a subterranean community existing in old tunnels — but some of the passages and corridors looked positively ancient. And the whole complex seemed to go on for miles in either direction, including down.

Lee excitedly gave Alex her first official tour, taking her by the hand and proudly showing her the wonders she grew up with, garnering stares wherever they went. There seemed to be no end to the intrepid whimsy.

I had plenty of room to run, lots to explore, and a very big imagination. There was always Mother and Em or Taft nearby to keep me company. Goliath too, so that led to lots of adventures.

That certainly pulled Alex up short. "He's been down here since you were a child?"

Well, yeah. Lee shrugged, skipping over a large fissure in the concrete and pausing to help Alex. They were headed to one of Lee's favorite waterfalls. Goliath always was and always will be. He was here before Mother founded the Underground. Em told me the first time Mother met Goliath was shortly after she came down here. She and Em were out in the lower tunnels, working. Mother had me in a carrier and set it down to look at something. I'd been crying and then all of a sudden, I wasn't. Em said she and Mother both turned, and there was Goliath crouched over my carrier. Neither of them saw or heard him walk up. Kinda imagine that scared the shit out of them, seeing him for the first time like that.

Alex's eyes were as wide open as her mouth. "He just appeared out of nowhere and started playing with you?"

So I've been told.

"That's terrifying."

According to Em, Mother almost shot him.

Now that, Alex could believe. "I'd think about doing the same thing, too."

Nah, Goliath is harmless. He's saved me more than once. That's really the only reason Mother trusts him. When I was three, I went missing for almost four days. Wandered off too far and got turned around. Goliath found me stuck in a pipe I'd fallen into and brought me home.

The nonchalance with which Lee told these stories made Alex truly stop and look at the woman. How different had their worlds been? How different were they still?

It took all summer for Alex to learn even a tenth of the nooks and crannies in this subterranean kingdom, each new discovery a revelation all its own. There were rooms like the Chamber of Echoes where you could hear the beating heart of New York echoing through the pipes. There were cisterns turned communal bath. Alex was mildly perturbed to learn the entire time she was healing, hot baths were within walking distance. There were small nooks carved out by past Undergrounders dedicated to places of worship, some elaborately decorated with votive candles still burning. There were deep caverns under the bedrock of the city lined with microscopic crystals that turned lamplight into living fire across the walls.

Lee showed Alex everything, their time together bringing the two closer like revolving magnets: just out of touch but pulling towards one another, internally straining across the distance.

Alex soaked up the stories, happier than she had been in years. The change in her demeanor didn't go unnoticed. Georgia — who was still unwilling to let Alex get closer than arm's length — told her she smiled more and was quick to laugh and joke, picking up on Lee's humor. Even Phillip remarked that she looked happier, believing his friend had finally taken his advice and found herself a steady partner.

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