Knowing when to wake up was not an issue, there were plenty of abrupt noises that could have dragged even the the stoutest of Drunks from a dead sleep. John sat up, his arms were sore. It was considered a sign of growth in the body when muscles ached but as an Angel, he had not once experienced physical pain, he had not even thought of it during his descent into the Mountain.
“I see you’re awake.” A woman he had seen dancing the night before was there, she had a look of impatience on her face.
John rubbed his head lightly and smiled. “Sorry, am I the last one to wake up?”
“No, some of our Elders are slow to wake up as well. It is a sign of age.” She turned to leave but there was a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
Still clad in armor, John felt sweaty. More precisely he felt hot and it felt like it was on the rise. ‘Whew’ Pulling at his collar, he stood up and straightened himself before following the Woman. “Umm.. sorry, last night is a bit of a blur. Could you remind me, what was your name?”
She didn’t bother to turn around while she answered, there seemed to be something else on her mind. “Enat.”
The hesitation that seemed to linger before her answer left John feeling as if she didn’t want to talk. “I do appreciate it, I’m new to this place.”
“If you’re hot, take off the blanket. It gets very warm down here.” Her admonishment aside, Enat seemed to be telling the truth. As they both returned to where the Elder’s Chambers were located, the temperature in the carved cavern Village only grew.
‘Contempt?’ John didn’t mind that others were weary of him, tense situations were commonplace in his previous life. “I’ll be fine,” he said.
“Don’t complain about it later.” Turning a corner, the Chief was standing watch over a group of Children. Enat’s shoulders relaxed and she stepped aside to allow John to pass, it seemed like her job was over.
Busy, the Chief was equally short with his speech, “I see you’re finally awake.”
“Ahh.. Yes, it’s been some time since I last slept.” It was an understatement but too much detail would only confuse matters and John knew it.
“No matter. What are you plans?” Chief Bates took a bite from something in his hand, it looked like meat from a distance but it was gray in color.
John’s stomach growled, disrupting them both.
“Are you Hungry?” The Chief pulled meat from under a cloth and passed it over.
‘Where did..’ “Yes, Thank you.” John couldn’t refuse charity, not when he was in need and his stomach had started to talk for him.
“It doesn’t taste as good as the soup but it keeps longer.” Tearing another piece from the dried meat with his teeth, Chief’s face twisted slightly.
A whiff of the meat drifted into John’s nostrils, he cringed but his stomach didn’t care. A grumbling later and he chose to risk it. The Meat was dry like a Sponge, it soaked up his saliva and was hard to swallow.
Patting one of his shoulders, Chief Bates passed a cup of water to help wash it down. He said, “The Young are so eager.” There was a look of satisfaction in his eyes.
“Tell me about your Village.” John sat down near the wall and asked.
“What’s there to know? I’ve been Chief my entire life. There are few of us left but living is easy for us here. Truthfully, until we saw you, we thought we were the last. It came as a surprise to Ilani, she had a hard time sleeping last night too.” Chief Bates sat beside John with his hands rested firmly on the seat.
“Are you doing okay? You seem weak.” John noticed the old man’s posture.
“There is nothing anyone can do. I’m old.” Chief Bates waved his hand lightly for John to stop with his concerns and continued. “I’m more worried about what will happen to my people after I’ve gone. What will they do. With your arrival, questions about what lies beyond are bound to come up.”
“Well, I can tell you that it is dangerous out there. Life is always dangerous but risk is necessary for such a reward.” John crossed his arms and leaned back along the wall.
“Life as a reward. That does not sound bad. My Daughter is set to be the next Chief but she knows nothing of dangers that come with risk. Our people have remained hidden in the mountain, none of us have gone out, even to hunt.” Chief Bates took another bite from the meat in his hands and looked over at the kids who were still playing no more than twenty feet away, “By the way, how did you come to find us, I asked at last night’s supper but you did not answer.”
Rubbing his head again lightly showed timidness but when Chief Bates looked at John directly, he answered honestly.
“I see.” Bates stood up and whistled. The Children came running. “Ilani.”
When she heard her name, Ilani froze, her head ratcheted slowly to the side and she clearly didn’t want to be involved in whatever was to come. “Yes?” Giving in to her father, her mannerisms changed instantly, she suddenly became very respectful.
Chief Bates sent the others away once he had given them something to drink. Turning toward Ilani once again, he noticed her facade and attempt to appeal to his better side. “Explain.”
It didn’t take much to turn the strong willed girl into a stuttering mess. Composing herself after a few failed attempts to communicate; Shaking her head wildly to diffuse the situation, she said “I’m sorry Father. I went out to the edge and into the halls.”
“And you took the others with you again, didn’t you?” He knew, a Father tends to see those things clearly. “It’s good that no one was hurt. There are Factu on the loose at the Cavern’s edge. I will discuss your punishment later on, go back to the others.” Chief Bates turned his view, looking John directly into the eyes, “I’m grateful that you have treated my daughter and her group well, thank you for showing them mercy.”
“Ah.. that.. truth be told, like you, I assumed everyone was gone. I’m not actually sure what happened anymore.” John spoke as earnestly as he could but in the back of his mind he was thinking, ‘Was I guided here?’ “Tell me, what do you intend to do about your people. There was some sort of creature when were passing through one place, I’ll assume it was the Edge that you were talking about…”
“A Factu.” Bates sat down again.
John grabbed the blanket and gently followed his lead, he had to ask, “She used that word too, what exactly is a Factu?”
Chief Bates didn’t know how to respond for a moment.
‘I bet he’s never heard of anyone that didn’t know,’ John smiled awkwardly and tried to change the expression on his face but the Chief started to explain.
“They were the sick. At least, that’s what my grandfather says his grandfather use to say. They changed their bodies, slowly, they changed their bloodlines too.” The Village Elders were the ones that were chosen to pass on lessons and stories, it was no surprise that the Chief would have intimate knowledge of most things concerning his people. He shook his head, though he knew some things, much was lost over time.
“I understand.” John had watched the fall of Mankind but as an observer, he only got the visuals. His attention had been strained, “..things get lost in time.” Standing up, he felt that he couldn’t stay any longer. He turned to the Chief and said, “I should not remain in this place..”
The Chief had his own thoughts on the matter, Men, especially healthy-looking ones, were few in the Village. Reluctantly, he nodded and spoke softly, “It is your choice. I would not lie to keep you here. Come back anytime.” Getting to his feet, Bates pulled something from under his shirt.
“A Map?” John was curious, he took a look without a second thought.
“How can we have a forbidden area if we don’t even know where it is?” Throwing up his hands, Chief Bates laughed, waved goodbye and turned his back to leave.
‘This Map isn’t half bad.’ It was crude and showed a lot of turns that led to no where, it would save him a lot of time. John stuffed the map into his armor, he could smell food in the distance, the villagers were cooking again. ‘I better get something to eat before I leave.’
Finishing his meal quickly, John didn’t stay for questions or small talk. Taking the same route he and the group of children had come along, he retraced his steps to the best of his ability. There were hardly any places to deviate, it was only when he came to the space where the children had been so cautious that he felt a bit turned around.
The Map had been useful but there was only so many corridors that could be drawn on it.
While checking the surroundings for markers, the Factu from before came into view. He found it breathing heavily on the stone floor and fast asleep. ‘It must be nocturnal’ There was no reason to attract attention or disturb it.
As soon as he could feel the metal walls of the Hall, he regained his sense of direction. ‘I have to know.’ John’s sense of intrigue was piqued as he recalled what he was doing before meeting the group of village children.
The Assembly Machine had completed the device. Holding it in his hands and flipped it over a few times, he took notice of it’s buttons and there was a lingering stench in the room. It stank of chemical and John wanted to gag. He took the blanket from his back and wrapped his face, when that didn’t work to stave off the smell, he threw it aside.
“I better get out of here,” saying it under his breath, he slowly found his way back to the room he had fallen into from the freezer. The dust had settled but stirring it was as easy as breathing, John climbed up the hole and checked the supplies that had not fallen through the hole. Everything had long since spoiled or turned to dust.
The broken lock kept it from shutting completely. In a moment of clarity, John closed the door to the Freezer as best he could then closed his eyes. Kneeling down to pray once more, he poured his thoughts to God. “Dear God, please help me make the right decisions. I don’t know what your intent is, surprisingly. These are things I did not consider, things I did not see coming. It is your will that drives me to find these people, it is you who guides me. Your followers have all gone, as we understand it. What am I to do?” John had questions, his mind spun while he consolidated his thoughts. “Lord, I know that I am here for a reason. I ask for guidance, show me the way.”
A grease pen hanging on the outside of the Freezer door was one of the only useful items in the vicinity of the Freezer. John smiled, took it down and wrote his prayer around the door frame.
The search for food had been a struggle but when hunger chose to strike again, he would have to search once more. There was a lot of facility to explore, he had only made it to the Cafeteria before he lost himself in the darkness below. John’s surroundings became more familiar and he took to exploring.
The Doorway to leave the had a number on it. ‘Cafeteria 3’ Reading it in his head, John smiled. Many thoughts crossed his mind but in a moment of greatness, he chose to search the cashier station and found a laminated facility map stuck to the counter top.
John sighed, the Map was stuck but that didn’t mean it was hard to memorize. A few passing moments
was all it took to commit the layout to memory. There were a total of eight Cafeterias, fourteen infirmaries and almost two hundred large offices or labs spread in every direction. “I guess I got lucky?”
The transparent Entry Card dangled from his neck and tapped against his Armor while he did a sweep of the Complex. Most of the offices were locked or destroyed, John took notice of a lot of things while he tried to figure out exactly what had happened. He had questions, and there if were answers to be had, he intended to find them.