He pulls me down the wide, familiar central corridor that we call the Spine and from which all the smaller corridors branch out leading to housing, dining, recreation, and tech areas. Each time I feel the whoosh of circulating air from each of the passing side-passages, I wonder if we’ll be turning down that corridor. Instead, we keep making our way down the Spine, further and further away from the heart of the Hive.
“There’s nothing down here,” I start to protest. Eventually the Spine will lead to the enormous, heavy gate that keeps us locked in and secure from the rest of the underground. Citizens are allowed to exit the Hive to hunt for food in the remainder of the elaborate cavern system, but only with a pre-approved permit. And you have to be at least 17 years old.
Suddenly, I realize what’s going on. “We’re going out?” I whisper with a mixture of horror and excitement.
“Well, you’re 17 now, aren’t you?” Sol replies lightly.
He answers me by squeezing my hand. “You’re not the only one who keeps track of time around here.”
I’m flooded with an unexpected wave of emotion.
I’ve never been old enough to leave the Hive. Until now. Sol is a year older than me; so he’s already been out exploring a couple times – a fact that would make me envious; despite his assurances that I wasn’t missing much. But now, I’m able to go out for the first time since entering the Hive four years ago.
With Sol beside me.
My heart sings.
And then it sinks.
“But I haven’t got a permit!” I suddenly realize.
“Don’t worry,” he laughs. “I’ve taken care of all that. We’re good to go.”
My mind is still reeling from the fact that not only did he remember my birthday but he had this all planned out ahead of time! He is my best friend, so maybe it’s to be expected, but it still makes my insides melt with a warm, cozy feeling.
As we approach the gate, I hear the guard stamp his feet and hear the cocking of a weapon. “Identify yourselves, citizens,” he says in a stern voice. We slide up our left sleeves and proffer our arms, and I hear a low hum and feel the subtle heat of the guard’s handheld scanner sweeping over my exposed wrist. It detects the unique microchip which is embedded within – and a series of high-pitched chirps tell the guard what he needs to know via an earpiece which translates the data into English.
“Permits?” the guard asks. I hear Sol hand over the permit chips he’s procured. There’s a series of more beeps and blips as the guard scans them into his device.
“Alright. It all matches up,” he says, his voice sounding less authoritative and a bit friendlier. “Proceed to the weapons rental area. Happy hunting.”
With an enormous rumble, the main gate opens. When the guard gives us the ok, we pass through to the other side.
Goosebumps prickle all over my skin as I take in the gravity of the situation. Sure, we’re still underground in the subterranean cavern system and it’s still pitch black and cold, but already the outside seems different. Without the constant pumping of oxygen generators, the air outside the Hive smells somewhat stale, yet alluring, like an old book… ancient, moist, and crystalline. It fills me with trills of excitement, and I squeeze Sol’s hand in gratitude since I can’t think of just the right words to express how I’m feeling.
“The weapons rental booth is just over here,” he says, leading me down a gentle slope. “We’ll also need to rent personal radar-helmets to keep us from stepping into any holes.”
He pauses. “I packed emergency oxygen canisters… but maybe a couple of gas-masks wouldn’t hurt, just in case…”
In my excitement to explore outside the Hive, I’ve managed to momentarily forget how dangerous it actually can be. Many an unprepared citizen has passed through the gate, naïvely expecting to take a short hike, never to return. As a result, the vast majority of our citizens choose to remain within the safety of the Hive and never venture out. Our best hunters are celebrated as heroes for risking their lives on a daily basis to bring back meat to our kitchens. When your main food consists of synthetic and artificially flavored vitamin biscuits, a little meat goes a long way, even if it does consist of only cave rats and lizards.
The weapons area is well stocked with all the standard weaponry we’ve been trained to use as citizens of the Hive. We may have left wars behind us, but from a young age we’re required to know how to defend ourselves, should the need ever arise.
There are guns with heat-seeking bullets – quick and efficient (the most popular choice), electrical tasers and crossbows as well a wide range of daggers and knives. But I opt for my personal favorite – a simple spear with an electrified tip and a long retractable leash that hooks to my boot so that I can easily retrieve it after I send it flying. It’s not the most glamorous of weapons, but it’s the one that feels most at home in the palm of my hand.
Sol opts for a heat-seeker gun. His choice surprises me, like me he’s always been more skilled with a spear, but he explains that one of us should have a gun in case we run into something unexpected or unpleasant. His voice sounds strangely distant when he says this, and another thrilling wave of terror mixed with adrenaline courses through my veins. What has he encountered out here? I’m about to find out.
© 2012 Tania del Rio
This article was written by Tania