Art by Melissa Mead
by Thomas F Jolly
Joshua Hemmings and Beverly Amherst climbed up and up and up. They had spent weeks devising a plan to avoid the elders who would have kept them from venturing to the surface. In a thousand years, a lot could change. Whatever catastrophes had occurred in the past would have healed by now, the surface returning to its pristine, life-filled abundance. A new Eden awaited.
Their entire population had moved underground over a thousand years before. Thanks to a steady degradation of their technological assets, due to a lack of production facilities and spare parts, it only took a few hundred years to forget their past, forget the surface, and forget where they came from. All they had were the few books they discovered in their library, a rare resource in light of the digitization of all knowledge into a wonderfully handy and portable, but ultimately irreparable, technology.
The physical resources given highest priority were their thermoelectric generators, tapping the core's heat to light the lights, grow the plants, and circulate the air that kept them alive. While their scientists had lacked design data on the generators and pumps, they learned what they had to to duct-tape them into functionality.
But for Jeremy and Beverly, the books from the library opened up an entrancing view of the surface of Earth. Trees and flowers in abundance, animals wandering wild on the Earth's surface, and nothing they could find about why they ended up down here in the darkness in the first place. If the information ever existed, it was lost with the electronic files centuries before. Now there were only tales told by the elders, warning them of the dangers of the surface. "Don't leave the city!" they would warn. "Only death awaits." An ambiguous, undefined death.
Joshua was surprised to see that the metal ladders progressing ever upward had survived a thousand years. Even the rock in which they were mounted seemed more worn than the metal. Dim lights still lit the wide shaft, their permanence and utility attestation to the capabilities of the original engineers. Motes of ancient dust swirled in the cool, dry air. He glanced down at Beverly and said, "I expected these ladders to be completely rusted through. No corrosion or anything."
"This doesn't look like the metal we use at home."
He examined the ladder under his sweating grip. "Maybe you're right." He hung his arm over the rung and sighed heavily. "My arms and legs are ready to drop off."
Beverly, five rungs below him, pointed. "I think I see something ahead. Is that a door?"