Moy was in a mood. Though they had spent the last six months almost exclusively with each other, she had not gotten any better at reading him. Now, he sat on the tracks by the dying fire, his hands clasped loosely over his bent knees as he stared into the embers, his scarred face brooding in the dim, orange glow. Ryn sat across from him, just looking at him – trying to figure him out, as usual.
“I’m going to go blow them up,” he had said that day, flames stirring in his eyes. That fire – that passionate fervor – was something she hadn’t seen in him since.
It had already been six months or so since he had torn past her on the windy street, running for the dome with his long coat billowing out behind him like a cape. He’d looked like he was gliding over the dust – a beige angel riding on the wind.
Ryn’s lip curled as she watched him now, turning over the embers with a long, flat stick until they crumbled into black ash.
“Are you going to add more coal?” she asked him softly.
In the gloom, she could just barely see his irritated look. He didn’t answer – just kept stirring the now almost totally extinguished fire.
That day, he had reached the great gilded structure, which had glinted blindingly in the sunlight. He had squeezed through that massive fissure in the side of it. This was one of the many entrances, Ryn remembered. There were tunnels dug through the street as well, so that the machines could be maintained, and so that the other old government employees, like Ryn, could go to work.
She had watched him slip through the crack from far away, debating if she wanted to follow him. He had told her to stay away, but her friends were all still under there, just doing their jobs. Surely they didn’t deserve to die – to be exploded and scattered over the street like rubble.
Ryn had glanced down at her government card. The morning message still filled the display. GOOD MORNING, COMRADE! blared from the screen.
BLESSINGS AND GOOD WILL TO THE PEOPLE. WITH THIS NEW DAWN, BE FILLED WITH HOPE! THE DOME STANDS SOLID AS THE EARTH ITSELF, UNPERISHABLE AND ETERNAL. IT IS A SYMBOL OF THE LOVE AND PROTECTION THIS EMPIRE OFFERS EVERY MAN, WOMAN, AND CHILD. THROUGH THE DAY, KEEP YOUR WORDS HONORABLE AND YOUR THOUGHTS LAWFUL, OR BE AWARE OF JUST CONSEQUENCES.
At the time, she could have recited these words by heart. They were old words, but though there was no more government, everyone still knew them. But now, rather than appearing commonplace and ordinary, Ryn had really seen the words. And rather than inspire indifference, as they had done every other time she’d read them, the words had pricked at her, the words “UNPERISHABLE AND ETERNAL” floating before her eyes like the splotchy purplish imprints a bright light makes. She’d felt something in her chest, like someone had just lit it with a match.
And she had run after him, her thin coat flapping around her in the wind.
“Wait!” she had cried. She had slipped through the fissure in the dome and stepped into the familiar structure.
The inside of the dome had been huge – much huger than it had appeared on the outside. It had a dirt floor, of course, since the floor was really just the street, and the ceiling was like a spiderweb of beams, with dull yellow lightbulbs hanging intermittently over the various departments. By the fissure entrance, there had been a clunky metal reception desk, whose chair had been empty.
If Ryn had been heading to work, she would have gone straight ahead toward a cluster of white plastic tables at the far end of the dome, with flimsy maps and charts attached clumsily to the dome’s copper-plated walls. But as she scanned the space, she’d seen his coat disappear into one of the exit tunnels.
“Wait!” she’d called again. “That’s an exit!” And she had chased him.
Ryn sighed and adjusted her position on the dirt. She should have run straight for the public health department. She should have run straight for her friends, but instead, she’d followed Moy. Why?
“Ryn,” Moy murmured, and she shivered at his voice. It was now totally black; without the fire, and beneath the ground, there was no moon or stars to light them up.
“Nothing. I just wanted to make sure you were still there.”
She sighed, her breath squeezing from her lips and going out into the heavy darkness. The air was so close, it felt like she was breathing inches away from a solid brick wall.
“I’m still here.”
It was quiet for a while. She could still hear Moy’s stick turning over the dead ashes in the fire pit, and in the stuffy silence of the tunnel, the scraping, sifting noise was deafening.
Ryn had chased him down the tunnel. It had been a tight squeeze at first. She had had to shuffle through the dry dirt on her hands and knees. The tunnel widened out quickly – though not in the way she’d expected. In Ryn’s experience, the entrance and exit tunnels had been short and shallow, going just far enough underground so that workers could squeeze beneath the dome’s wall, with a sharp upward curve to the surface of the street. This tunnel, however, was a steep, consistent, downward incline, with the tunnel growing wider and wider as they progressed. At first, it was incredibly dark, but after awhile, as the tunnel widened, she found herself being able to just make out Moy’s shoes several yards ahead of her. A few minutes later, they came upon a yellow lamp imbedded into the roof of the tunnel, which Moy nearly hit his head on. After that, there were lamps every few feet; she had to blink to get used to the light. Soon, the tunnel was so wide that Moy got to his feet and start walking instead of crawling, only stooping a little beneath the roof of the tunnel. She followed suit.
As she walked, she saw debris scattered around her feet. It looked mostly like broken machinery – twisted and cracked pieces of metal; huge, round display screens with endless colored buttons on them that no longer blinked; enormous computer consoles that looked decades old. Some things Ryn knew well, but other things were completely mysterious to her.
Moy had stopped for a moment, but then he turned to her, a broad smile spread across his face. turned back to her, grinning. It had been a brilliant expression, one that almost made her stop in her tracks.
“I was right,” he said happily, letting her catch up to him. “And we’re getting close. Do you see all this stuff?”
He started walking again, this time adjusting his pace so Ryn could walk by his side as he babbled on about the various pieces of equipment littering the dirt floor of the tunnel. As they went deeper, the air got warmer, and Ryn felt she was struggling for each breath. Moy was frowning next to her.
“We should have gotten there by now,” he said softly.
Ryn had nodded, afraid to let too much precious air escape her lungs through speech.
Finally, they turned a corner and saw a white light several yards ahead through a wide archway. When Moy saw it, he cried “There!” Triumph was in his eyes.
It had later occurred to Ryn then that she had had no idea how he intended to blow up all of the government systems. She had been following him blindly up to this point, and, breathing in the underground air slowly and heavily, she had had no idea if she would survive this event. Why hadn’t Moy dissuaded her from coming? Was it because, like now, in the firelight, he had needed to know she was there? That anyone was there? Did it matter that it had been her?
Of course not, Ryn thought irritably.
Moy had run toward the archway, and Ryn had followed him as quickly as she could. She’d stepped into the bright light only a moment after he did, and she had had to blink to adjust to the brightness. It was a huge cavern, silent but for a slight humming noise. It was completely empty – the floor was black rock, but there was a white light coming from above. Ryn had looked around, bewildered, scanning the flat ground and slightly curved walls for any sign of machinery or technology. She’d expected an enormous machine, as big as a room, blinking and beeping ferociously as it sent out signals everywhere – to the trains, the doors, the government cards, all the automated machines. She had not expected such emptiness.
There was another archway at the far end of the cavern just like the one they had come through, but it was dark.
“What is this?” she had said, breathing hard. She had looked at Moy for the first time, who was then, to her, a total stranger.
But he hadn’t answered. He was staring at the ceiling, from which the white light was coming. She had looked up too.
She had assumed the light was coming from fluorescent fixtures similar to those that had lit up city hall while it still stood. Instead, the ceiling was just an enormous, flat screen, beaming white light down on them.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Moy had said rapturously. Her eyes had been fixed on the ceiling; she hadn’t seen him slip it out from behind his coat.
“You could say that,” she had said breathlessly. On the screen, which was as big as a ballroom floor, was the word INTRUDERS, fading in and out slowly, alternating with the words GET OUT.
The directness of the command had made Ryn’s skin crawl. She hadn’t been able to take her eyes off it – not until she heard Moy shout “Look out!,” a note of euphoria in his voice. She had looked over at him for a split second, seen the enormous, sinister looking device in his hand, and then dropped to the ground, her arms covering her head.
All she had heard was a shoop!, and then an explosion of shattering glass. Moy had grabbed her arm in a vise like grip and pulled her toward the second arch as shards began to rain down from the ceiling.
Ryn shivered at the memory, though the underground air was warm and close. For six months now, they had been scavengers in the underground, scrounging for food and coal. With automated systems destroyed, there was no way up anymore – all the doors were sealed off. And there was no light down here.
Ryn stared into the darkness at where she knew Moy was sitting. The man who had been so violently sure of his purpose, so ecstatic to destroy the electronic systems that governed all human life, was dead. All that was left was this shell of a man, staring angrily into a coal fire, himself defeated by what should have been an act of heroism that day under the dome.