The underground is dark, dank and chaotic. It has a distinctive smell of stone and moss which is hard to ignore; a dirty, earthy smell that makes me miss being above ground. I miss running barefoot and lying down in the sunlight, climbing trees and swimming in the river. This particular room smells of damp, but that’s no surprise, the underground is always damp. But at least its home and at least we’re safe here.
This room has water trickling down the rock face, splashing into a rock pool below. It’s a kind of therapeutic sound, a sound that used to keep me up at night. Today it keeps my mind off the fact that it’s freezing in here and my arms are more goosebumps than skin. It’s colder in here than most rooms, but it’s private and it’s far enough away from the others that we won’t wake them.
It’s almost six o’clock in the morning and possibly the first time in weeks I’ve been able to hear myself think in this place. Although I’m not alone and Mark and the Layne brothers sit by my side, we are all enjoying the silence and are reluctant to break it. Not that there appears to be many lulls in action in the underground, but the last few weeks have been especially hectic. We’ve been in and out of the city, involving ourselves in twice as many raids and extractions than precaution and the council advises us. The underground has echoed day and night with footfall, men gearing up, the injured screaming and back-to-back council meetings. It’s the first time in two months, that there hasn’t been a guard on duty at night and we’ve made sure to take full advantage of it. As far as I’m aware, we’re the only ones awake and although this feeling of freedom is an illusion, I am more than happy to indulge in it. I am itching to get above ground. We all are.
It doesn’t take much to convince us to help out on missions these days. Maintenance in the woods or volunteering for raids, if it gets us above ground we’re up for it. Mark and I are always first in line. There are four of us currently planning our venture into the city tonight, each essential to completing our mission without being caught. There’s Mark of course, he’s almost twenty-four I think, we lose track of birthdays down here when some days roll into one and when you spend more than 48 hours awake, days seem to lose their appeal. Mark is the brains behind our operation today. He’s not book smart like our youngest brother Jacob but he’s combat smart. He’s been into the city with Stephen and the elders almost every time since he turned seventeen. They need him; he knows the underground passages better than the Authority knows themselves, he knows the zones manned by guards and the ones free between shifts and most importantly he has a map of the safe houses. You always need a plan B when entering the city and most plan B’s start with regrouping and finding your closest safe house. Some safe houses are manned by sympathisers/ rebels living undetected within the city, however most rebels have the common sense to get as far away from detection as possible. Most safe houses are disused warehouses and storage units or old buildings on the outskirts of the city. But sometimes desperation causes us to get creative and we’ll have to find new hiding spots within the city. These hardly ever are successful. That is why its essential Mark knows the fastest routes out of the city and why he’s in charge of plotting our path.
Then there are the Layne brothers, Andrew, twenty-one and his younger brother Jamie. Andrew is the muscle, a true warrior. Andrew and his brother escaped the New Order when they were twelve and eight, after watching their mother and father be killed for sympathising. They escaped into the woods where they had to live rough and learn to survive. They came close to failing a few times, but they never stopped fighting. A scar down Andrew’s face and neck show one of many attempts at trying to kill him. Not just the Authority but the wildlife, the wild animals. If you live outside the New Order, almost everything is trying to eat you or kill you. Jamie is the youngest of our team. Seventeen, he is slim and fast and can climb and camouflage himself in almost any situation. He’s a nifty little bugger, full of energy and eager to get above ground just like the rest of us. And then there’s me. I’m strong, I can fight as good as the rest and I know the city well, but that’s not what makes me an asset. I have the rare ability in the rebellion to keep a level head under pressure. Something my father taught me when he was still alive. He taught me to understand the people of the New Order, the way they think and the way they hold themselves and act. To mimic the NO’s is the only way to survive in the New Order; it’s the only way to get by undetected.
So here we sit, four scruffy lads talking in what we hope is a hushed manner, planning a raid that we have assigned ourselves and will more than likely end us in deep shit with the council. Regardless, the trip is a necessity. I don’t care what Stephen says. We begin packing our rucksacks full of miscellaneous clothing changes and bits of outdated technology to aid us on our journey. Supplies are low but then that’s one of the reasons we need to go so badly. We’re running dangerously low on food and medicine and if we get hit with another round of the pox we’re all be screwed. The idea of losing an item of closing is not well welcomed, so I whip my hoody and t-shirt off as quickly as possible pulling on a pharmacist’s uniform before quickly zipping up a bomber jacket over the top. I try to shiver off the cold. Mark pops a pistol into the top of one of my bag.
We all tense as footsteps can be heard coming down the hallway towards us. Andrew turns on me.
“No, we checked. There’s no-one on tonight.” I look at my brother for reassurance and he nods in agreement. We all quickly hide our bags and try to look as conspicuous as four lads congregating in secret in the middle of the night can. A flashlight begins to dart around the entrance and then falls on us, the young lad arrives panting slightly out of breath. I raise my arm to shield my eyes, I can’t see jack with the light blinding me. The boys zip up the bags as I try to subtly zip up my jacket. The lad lowers his torch and Mark lets out a sigh of relief.
“Don’t worry, it’s just Jake.” Jacob makes his way over towards us. He flashes the light up to see who we are. I snatch the torch from him.
“Alright enough with that.”
“Hey guys.” Jake is grinning excitedly. It looks like he’s caught his breath back.
“Get out of here Jake.” I warn him, but he ignores this.
“What you up to?” I push the rucksacks further out of sight as he peers over to look at them.
“We’re just hanging out Jake.” Jake looks at me disappointed, then smugly.
“Cool, so you don’t mind if I join then?” I can feel the guys rolling their eyes. I take a deep breath before Mark steps in and walks over, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Look Jake, any other time I’d say yes but we’re… we’re kind of having a private discussion-”
Andrew laughs. “Yeah there’s a censorship level kid.” Andrew and Jamie snigger. Jacob looks back to Mark.
“You’re up to something aren’t you?”
“Then why are you guys up at like five in the morning? And why is Michael wearing a doctor’s outfit?” Jake pauses and looks at my terrible attempts at concealing my costume; the corners of my tunic sticking out from underneath my coat.
“I won’t tell honest.”
Mark looks over to me for help but all I can do is sigh. Brother or not, Jacob can’t keep a secret to save his life. I drop my head forward.
Jacob grins ear to ear and I can’t help but be amused. I remember how eager I was to start being involved in missions. I used to always plead for Mark to take me with him but Stephen would always say no. A few times I’m sure Mark would’ve let me go if it weren’t for the rules. No combat, not until you are seventeen. Apparently seventeen is an acceptable age to go into battle and die. Jacob’s only fifteen so I have no hesitation in insisting he isn’t involved. He’s allowed to help out with planning the missions, in fact he’s fantastic at all the technical stuff but he doesn’t leave the underground, that’s final.
“Fine. But this doesn’t leave the room and neither do you. Okay?” I wait for a response and Jacob nods eagerly. “We’re going to do a quick run into the city for supplies that’s all.”
Jacob looks a little disappointed. “Cool. But if that’s all, why-”
I look to Mark and he fills Jake in. “But Stephen hasn’t authorized it so you can’t say anything.”
He looks taken aback. “Oh. I wouldn’t-”
The lads look at each other to suggest otherwise. They all know what he’s like.
“Whatever. Right sit down and give us a hand then.”
“Can I not come with? Just this time?” Jake is looking to Mark not me, ‘cause he knows Mark’s the most likely to give in.
“Not a chance. Sit.” I say as we continue prepping the bags.