Sirens blared, sending reverberations down every tunnel, rattling doors, and threatening to shatter windows. Two shorts blasts and a single sustained squeal meant someone had gone Topside. Troops flooded the alleys in an effort to quell public panic. They were only adding to the confusion.
Kennedy and Bradley sat on the worn couch in their cluttered apartment playing a video game, and trying to talk over the signal noise.
“I heard it was Channing,” Bradley turned up the volume on the television.
“Seriously?” Kennedy furiously worked the toggles on his game controller. “I remember as kids he was such a puss.”
“Yeah,” Bradley twisted his shoulders to mimic his soldier Sim, firing his plasma blaster at enemy aliens. “Can’t forget that sleepover he had for his 13th birthday, bawling about his mom turning on a lamp.”
“Gawd, that’s right,” Bradley said. “He was afraid of the light.”
“He thought there was a boogie man in every halo and under every fluorescent tube,” Kennedy jumped up to get a better vantage point for his attack. “Pratter said he heard that the goober stowed away in a tanker, one of them that WW Management uses to jettison trash.”
“Good riddance, I say,” Bradley slammed into Kennedy, trying to throw him off his game and the couch. “If the wimp wants to go Topside, let the radiation get him. Darwin at its best.”
“Truth,” Kennedy said, leaning hard into Bradley, keeping his roommate’s dominant hand trapped against his side. “Nobody ever comes back from outside.”
Kennedy and Bradley continued their battle, soon forgetting about their mutinous friend.
Topside, abandoned decades ago after a World War devastated the surface, was verboten territory. Survivors went underground. Any insurgents attempting to escape were exiled, and never allowed to return. Fear of contamination breaching the underground sanctuary was too great.
A small faction was building, one that defied the status quo. Rebel leaders refuted government claims that Topside was still contaminated, and that it would never be safe. A few volunteers had tried leaving, but were never heard from again.
Channing was the latest to attempt a crossing. His was the third generation born underground. Only a handful of original settlers were still living. Aiding the insurgents, these elders were speaking out about the fallacies in Topside Law, preaching that enough time had passed for the air to be clean, and the land habitable.
The ruling class was as afraid of the truth, as underground youth were afraid of the light. Spending their entire lives in dark tunnels, and never experiencing sunshine, citizens called the rebels mad for willingly leaving the comfort of their subterranean world.
Channing’s escape tank broke the surface, bobbing on the water like an oversized fishing buoy. A group of watchers on shore rushed in to pull the vessel from the lake, tapping a predetermined code to let the passenger inside know he was among friends.
Once on shore, the hatch was opened, and the tumbled and seasick Channing was helped to dry land. Greeted by previous rebels escapees, he was given fresh water and sunshades for his eyes.
Turning his face up, feeling the warmth of the sun for the first time in his life, Channing took a deep breath of clean, unfiltered air.
“The light ain’t so scary.”