the light within
It’s awfully dark down here.
The only light comes from the blood in my own veins, glowing a faint blue. The chemicals sense my awakening and brighten just enough for me to see the surroundings of my room. I allow myself to stare up into the dark abyss above, dotted with thousands of little lights. I know they’re tiny bioluminescent organisms, but I like to believe they’re stars in the sky.
The sky – it’s hard to believe that it even exists. I’ve heard about it; the expanse of blue, changing shade with time’s passing. Time – another myth. Here, that’s all meaningless. All we have is our light, the glow-worms above, and the sound of the bell every now and then.
I roll out of bed, walking into the corridor. I’m the only one awake - every other doorway is dark and soundless.
My faint light guides the way as I jog cautiously. A rebellious feeling courses through me, even though it’s not against the rules to be up this early.
It’s against the rules to go where I’m about to go, however.
The hallway opens into a common room, the walls filled with lockboxes for each teenage resident. Mine’s number 237, labeled Kitai Cade.
Today’s rations will have to wait – the lock’s too loud. Instead, I tiptoe into the street.
Being the only one awake is a surreal feeling - I can’t help but fantasize about the land above, with its sky and people that don’t glow.
I navigate the network of streets from memory, passing the adult compound, then the children’s and elderly’s. Finally, I reach a wall, stretching up and curving inwards into the abyss.
Our colony used to live above, generations ago, but we were forced underground, into the cave system we now call home. A massive electromagnetic pulse took out everything that used electricity – and back then, we’d relied on it. Suddenly, we’d lost our only source of light and warmth, and countries descended into nuclear warfare.
Our colony used to live in a small town - only an oceanside dot on the map. We packed up and settled in the caves when bombs started falling.
Soon enough, our shelter became our prison.
The entrance caved in, trapping all of us inside. The only thing we managed to salvage was our research on bioluminescent creatures.
The scientists engineered a chemical compound that reacted with human blood to create light, and eventually, each human accepted the luminescent chemical.
It produced Vitamin D, a vitamin we’d had to get from the sun. We were healthy once more. Since then, we’d survived down here, not paying much thought to the world above.
I duck into a back street, looking for an opening in the cave wall. Running my hands along it, I quickly find the indent and crawl inside.
Claustrophobia isn’t a problem when you live in a cave, but I’m glad when the tunnel opens up wider. My light guides me as the passage opens into a grotto, cliffs above a cascading river.
We humans don’t deserve this beauty after what we’d done to our previous world, but maybe, just maybe, nature was giving us a second chance.
I soak in the river’s sound as I sit, staring up at the glow-worms. My stars.
A strange noise diverges from the burble of the river. It’s barely audible at first, but slowly it gets louder.
It’s the sound of footsteps, making their way down the rocky cliffs from above.
“Who’s there?” I whisper, turning around to look at the cliff face.
The footsteps stop, and a single bioluminescent figure appears from behind a boulder.
“What’s going on?” I ask, as the figure climbs down. In my worry, my bioluminescence gets brighter – a natural instinct.
“Kitai?” The figure asks. “What are you doing here?”
“Same could be asked of you,” I call. I can’t quite make out their face just yet.
“You’ve no reason to be snooping around.”
“I have the right to do whatever I like, thanks very much.”
In my annoyance, my light brightens, streaming out from my hands and illuminating the cave. It’s just enough for me to make out a face.
He glares at me – I’ve never liked him, so I return the expression. I squint up, light flooding from my fingers.
In the darkness, I hear more footsteps even though Lyran isn’t moving.
“What was that?” I ask.
“Lyran, is this her?”
Another figure appears above me, beside Lyran. She is wearing strange metal armour, dagger at the ready, and her hair is cropped short, but I barely notice these features.
Her skin doesn’t glow like mine. She’s a human shadow, half-melting into the darkness of the cliffs.
“We’ve missed you, Kitai.”
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