Nihil – Chapter 1: Lost – Part 4

As I used the handle on the rusty door, it slid to the right, but only went halfway before the rust stopped it, thus I had to put myself through the gap. Once I got to the other side I had the chance to look around my surroundings.

“What is this place?” I was turning my head left and right, trying to figure it out.

[It used to be some kind of a research lab. No official records mention the place, so I’m pretty sure, that it was under the direct control of the High Council and it was used for some shady experiments, but for some reason they seem to have abandoned it.]

“What’s this High Council?”

[Huh? Oh, right! You don’t know anything!] Xcell sounded surprised and amused at the same time.

“You make it sound like I’m some sort of an idiot.” He was right, but still, the way he was dismissing me for my lack of knowledge felt a bit too insulting.

[Sorry for that. It’s just that I’ve never met anyone before, who’d ask me this question.]

“So?” I felt like he was testing my patience with his responses.

[I really don’t think we have time to explain all of this right now.]

“I’ll keep on moving while you tell me everything. Is that OK with you?” As I was talking with him, I noticed some sort of a writing on the door of the room I came out of. I couldn’t make sense out of it, but I tried to memorize the pattern in case it would be useful to learn about it later.

[Fine, I guess, but do hurry! So, long story short, the High Council is the government that manages all of the inhabitants. They reside atop those kilometers of metal above your head. If you ask me, it must a huge pain in the backside to take care of a billion constantly complaining human. However most of the folks here in the Undercity share a different view on the matter. They’d prefer it if the Council would disappear along with most of the High Society people living at the top.]

“You lost me at the metal thing. Undercity? High Society?” He was throwing around terms I’ve never heard before.

[Ugh! You really are clueless!]

“Xcell…”

[I know, I know. So we are all sheltered by a giant, multi-layered building that covers half of the planet’s surface and has the height of 7500 meters. It was constructed by the SysLink company shortly after the Cataclysm, so they could secure as much land as possible from the fallout. They protected a part of humanity with that gargantuan shield, but also put us in an almost similarly unmanageable situation. The investors were all housed in the higher levels, where they had their own fertile soil, along with huge amounts of food and water. Hell, it’s said that they even have natural sunlight up there. I presume that you’ve already guessed, that most of us call them High Society for the location of their perfect little world.]

“Yes.” I answered while I was trying to find a way through all the rubble.

Everything looked extremely run down. If it really was and abandoned research center, then something really sudden and grim must’ve happened. Things are left all over the place as if people evacuated in a hurry. The corridors’ walls have collapsed, making it nigh-impossible to find a way through . I was basically digging myself a way forward with every step.

[So they live up there in that paradise, while 99% of the population resides in this rathole, struggling to stay alive day by day.]

“And you said the people living down here want to get rid of the High Society, right?”

[Well, not all of them. Most of us just want to get by and support themselves and their beloved ones, with little to no intention to change the world around them. But there is this revolutionary front that rebels against the High Council. They’re a bunch of hypocritical fanatics if you ask me…]

“It seems to me that they’re the good guys here anyway…”

[If that makes you feel any better… But I don’t see a reason to call them “good” all the while their “revolution” costs the lives of many without any real achievement so far.]

Xcell’s words sounded unexpectedly cold and serious. I felt like he had some negative personal experiences with the rebels that has lead to his animosity towards them.

“Don’t you think that all those sacrifices wouldn’t be in vain if they were to ever succeed? I think there are situations where you can’t choose to keep everyone safe.” I said. I knew that these words would provoke Xcell, but I still couldn’t accept his views as the right ones. There had to be a way to face our weaker selves and struggle, even if it means great losses.

[Then answer me this: if they’re fighting for the People and sacrifice said people to reach their goals, who will be left to enjoy the victory once the dust settles? You can never reach heaven with the mountain of corpses you built as your stepping stone.]

“…” I opted not to answer him. I felt that he was wrong, but I couldn’t justify my opinion without any first-hand knowledge of the situation.

After that, we kept silent for a while. I focused on forcing myself through all the rubble, as it was getting increasingly harder. At some point I realized that I wouldn’t be able to crawl back the way I came from anymore, the way kept collapsing behind me. I started to feel like I wouldn’t be able to get out in the end and I would die here. To drive away these smothering thoughts I decided to ask Xcell about another matter that has been bothering me the whole time.

“So why did you look for me and why are you guiding me even now? What are your motives?” Now that I was vaguely aware of myself and my surroundings the greatest mystery was this person’s reasons for getting me out. It most definitely wasn’t an act of goodwill, that I am sure of.

[I don’t think there’s any point in me telling it. It’s more than enough that our interests align and I have no way to use you against your will.] His secrecy has angered me. I was the one risking its life to follow the orders, and he leaves me in the dark, not knowing if I could even make it out alive.

“It’s not enough for me. At least reveal to the location you’re guiding me towards.”

[That I can tell. There’s a group of rebels in this facility. I want you to join up with them and get out of there. Once you’re free we can work towards our goals.]

“Aren’t you opposed to the rebel’s ways?”

[I’m not asking you to join them. I just want you to exit safely and using them as escort increases your survival chances. But make sure you never mention me to them! They would abandon you instantly. We had a pretty big disagreement last time I met them…]

“I could never have guessed…”

[You know, you could use all that extra energy you have for sarcasm to instead focus on finding them quickly before they leave.]

“Maybe I’d be more serious with you if you’d let me in on your plans and gave me more than a few vague answers to work with.”

[Too bad, ‘cause I won’t do that. Anyway, you’re getting closer to them.]