After renting all our equipment and making sure everything is in working order, we head off. I let Sol lead the way, since he’s the one that’s done this before. Even so, we walk slowly. In unfamiliar territory, it’s only too easy to misstep or hit your head on a low-hanging rock.
We spend the first few minutes in thoughtful silence. I’m hyper aware of how different the cave feels now that we’re outside the Hive area. Along with the unfiltered air, I feel the uneven ground beneath my boots – each of its tiny imperfections and pebbles. In the Hive, the rock floors have been pounded smooth by thousands of feet constantly passing over them. I realize that, out here, I may be stepping on earth that has never been touched by another human foot, and that thought alone excites me. It makes me feel like I’m claiming my own tiny spot in the universe – that in this one fraction of time, it’s mine alone.
As we walk, Sol and I stumble a few times as we become accustomed to the new terrain. I continually make small adjustments to my radar helmet as its soft beeps ping in my ears at different rates – telling me how far away different objects are. Even though I can’t physically see them, in my mind I paint a picture of my surroundings that is as clear as any photograph. When I was little, I read about dolphins using sonar to find their way around and to locate prey. I never imagined I would one day be using these very same skills myself. I wonder if dolphins still exist in the oceans above, and it makes me feel sad, because I doubt they do.
“So what do you think so far?” Sol asks, breaking the silence. “Pretty cool, huh?”
“Yeah,” I agree. “I feel like a bat with this radar helmet on. It’s kind of fun.”
“Just wait. The best is yet to come.”
“Where are we going?”
I grin to myself. I love surprises.
After a while, my radar picks up movement several yards ahead. There seems to be quite a few small things scurrying about.
I hear Sol come to a stop and I stand beside him.
“We’ve reached the main hunting grounds,” he tells me. I grip my spear tighter and my heart starts beating faster with excitement. “Let’s do this!”
“Be careful. Most of the creatures are just cave rats but there may be some mutated beasts still lurking about.”
Sol’s warning gives me pause. After the wars, there was talk of how the radiation affected the remaining wildlife in a frightening way. Those that didn’t become extinct mutated in awful ways. I’d never come across a mutated creature myself and so figured the stories were largely exaggerated. But what if they’re true, after all? What if there really are monsters lurking in these caves?
Still, the excitement to hunt overpowers my trepidation, and I grab Sol’s hand confidently and say, “Ok, I will. Let’s catch us some dinner!”
I spear a cave rat almost immediately. There was a time when I found killing so much as a bug abhorrent… but that was before. Now I feel a weird sense of pride in taking this small creature’s life, especially knowing that it will feed me and add to my own nourishment. I never thought of meat that way before, back when it was readily available. I almost have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. There were so many things I took for granted.
Sol is less lucky with his own hunting attempts. Even with a heat-seeking gun, his bullets hit wide and ricochet loudly off the cavern walls. “I hate this thing,” he grouses.
“You better not hit me with your terrible aim!” I tease him, though technically, that’s impossible. Before leaving the weapons rental, he scanned our arm chips into his gun, programming it to ignore our own heat emanations.
“I’ll just leave the hunting to you then,” Sol grumbles.
“But that’s why we came out here!” I start to feel sorry for him. “Here, you can use my spear for a bit.”
“No, it’s ok. Have fun with it. And besides, hunting’s not the main reason I brought you out here.”
“There’s something else I want to show you.”
I’m intrigued again. His games may drive me crazy, but this is the most fun I’ve had in ages. “Ok, let me catch a couple more first and then you can show me!”
“Alright,” he says. “But we still have a long hike ahead of us.”
Hours later, I’ve snagged a veritable feast of cave rats – five, to be exact, along with one lizard. Hive protocol demands that hunters donate fifty percent of their kill to the community kitchens, but that will still leave plenty of meat for me and Sol to share later. My stomach rumbles at the thought of toasted lizard on a spit. I almost want to go back now and start cooking, but I’m eager to learn what Sol wants to show me.
“I think it’s this way,” he says. “We better hold hands. We’re pretty far from the Hive and I don’t want us to get separated.”
I have no objections to that, whatsoever.
© 2012 Tania del Rio
This article was written by Tania