Read What Lies Below Online

Authors: Glynn James

What Lies Below

Thrown Away

Part 5

What Lies Below

 

Glynn James

 

Trapped

Jack sat, staring at the ground inside the cage, not paying
much attention to any of the movement around him. People of the Junktown came
and went throughout the day, and the cage that he now called home was sitting
smack in the middle one of the larger, more open courtyards in the warren city that
was hidden in the junk. Jack had seen a lot of that city on his way in, though
he had been bound and gagged the whole time.

Endless covered paths wound through the mountains of junk, and
along each of the many paths, there were doors attached to the walls. From the
outside, the streets and alleyways looked like walls of junk until you saw a
home or shop hidden behind it through an open door. The Junkers had made their
homes not only amongst the trash, but out of the trash, carving deep holes into
the very junk mountains above and the depths below. And there were far more
people than Jack could have imagined. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of them.

He was taken along many of these alleyways as his captors
guided him to where he would be held, and saw not only houses, but shops and
large open places where resources were kept. At one point they passed what
appeared to be the side of a massive old stone building, jutting out of the
trash, and it reminded him of the Grand Theatre back in the Outer Zone, except
this was used as a marketplace. There was an area where dozens of large metal
containers had been stacked on top of each other, and Jack could see makeshift
stairs and platforms built to reach the topmost containers. People were living
inside them.

The cage that was to be his home, it would seem, was sheltered
from the rain but not nearly as hidden from the elements as many of the Junker
dwellings. There was only a rough mattress to sleep on and small boxed in hole
in the ground to relieve himself in. At least the cage was dry. There was that.
The cage was maybe twenty feet across both ways and tall enough to stand up in,
and Jack had spent a lot of time pacing around the perimeter with only his
thoughts to entertain himself.

They fed him, if you could call the grey slop, which was
passed to him in a dented metal bowl three times a day, food, but he wasn’t
going to complain. Jack had the impression that most of the inhabitants of the
Junktown ate the grey slop. They had little choice, he thought. And honestly, it
actually tasted good if you ignored the lumps. Where they mushrooms or some
kind of animal? He wasn’t sure. He didn’t really want to know.

He had visitors, though, and those visitors took away the
monotony of his incarceration. And anyway, he’d been there before, hadn’t he?
Well, maybe not exactly there, but he had been in a cage similar to the one he
now called home, and that had been somewhat smaller. But that was many years
ago.

One good thing, though – he wasn’t expected to fight every other
day, and there were no jeering crowds. No blood soaked floor.

Just the solitude of the cage and the quiet of his own
thoughts.

He wasn’t expecting to be let at out all.

The cage had held a lot of slaves a year before, Old Haggerty
had told him. Until FirstMan had arrived, with his troopers, and set them all
free, killing the mob of slavers that had held the Junktown in thrall for years.
But there were no others now. The cage was reserved for criminals to stay in while
their fate was decided. Jack had been the only one in the cage during his stay.

He had three regular visitors. The one they called FirstMan, the
leader of the Junkers, came at least once a day and questioned him endlessly
about his past and his reason for being out in the Junklands. The man didn’t
seem to believe him at first but gradually became less hostile and more
curious. Jack thought he may even like the man, under different circumstances.

“I’ll probably let you out tomorrow,” FirstMan said before
leaving each day, and Jack wondered after the third day if this was something
that would ever happen. He suspected that his imprisonment was to be long term.

His second regular visitor was the old man that lived in the
shack at the edge of the swamp, and his were the least expected of visits. The old
guy checked Jack’s leg every day and muttered to him about mushrooms quite a
lot, or other junk that he had found, as though it may be of interest to Jack.
Then he just left. He only ever stayed maybe ten minutes at most.

Jack liked the old man, apparently named Haggerty, for some
reason, even though it became obvious to him during those visits that few
Junkers did. Jack thought that Haggerty had an honesty about him that was
refreshing. Oh, not a kind of non-lying honesty. Certainly not. Jack suspected
that half of what Haggerty said was a lie, or simply misleading, but when it
was time for him to go, there were none of the formalities that even the
Junkers used. No hello, no goodbye. Not even a nod. The old man simply stood up
and left, often cursing at someone nearby to get out of his way, even if they
were nowhere near him.

And then there was the third visitor. Ryan.

The boy came half a dozen times, during the daylight hours,
and often sat there at night until he was scolded by one of the Junkers and
sent to bed. From Jack’s ‘cell’, which had once been some sort of shipping cage
for animals, he could see the building that was Ryan’s home in the distance,
poking up towards the clouds.

Jack couldn’t believe it was an actual spacecraft of some
kind. They never made real ones, he’d thought, and had believed that his whole
life. Sure, there were the Ark ships that left every year, he remembered that
much from his youth, but they were built in orbit, or something like that, built
next to a space station, a kind of building that hung in the air, high up outside
the atmosphere, in space.

Jump shuttles rocketed up into the sky hourly from the Inner
Zone. He’d even seen them in his earlier years, on the few occasions he’d been
close to The Wall. They burst up into to sky with a roar and then gradually
vanished into the clouds, the roar of the ascent diminishing over a few minutes
until all that was left was a plume of fumes dissipating in the sky.

But no, Ryan insisted that the metal monstrosity leaning
against the rock outcrop was, in fact, once a ship that had flown in space.

They talked about a lot of things, he and Ryan. And when the
boy left to sleep, or eat, or do his chores, Jack felt both relief and joy as
well as guilt. It was as though they had never been apart. The boy chattered
and chattered, bringing him more drawings that he had done, entire books full
of them. They had a lot of scrap paper in the Junklands, as well as card and
other materials scavenged from the mountains of trash, so much so that Ryan had
two dozen or more wads of sewn together paper with his own drawings in. The
paper alone would have brought a fortune in barter in the Outer Zone, but it
was a common material in the Junker town.

But, with all these visits, Jack wondered if he would be stuck
in the cage for weeks, or even months.

They don’t trust you, you see. Not Ryan, he will always trust
you, it seems, even after you let him down so badly. He doesn’t think you did,
and you’re lucky for that. Very lucky. He could have been angry with you and he
wasn’t. No, it’s not his trust you’re missing. The Junkers don’t trust you. And
why should they?

But things were different today. Jack could sense it. He had
the ability to pick up on such things. Jack looked up from the dirt to see
FirstMan strolling towards the cage, with that ever-confident swagger he used,
and Jack’s spirits lifted. Even if FirstMan was trying to conceal it, Jack had noticed
the ring of keys hanging from the tall man’s belt.

Hope.

There was no greeting like there usually was. FirstMan just jumped
straight into the conversation that he wanted, like they had been talking for
half an hour already.

 “I apologise for keeping you in such a fashion but we have no
spare quarters or buildings that were secure enough to keep you in one place,”
FirstMan said. “You seem to be quite good at slipping by people, and getting
out of places undetected, and I couldn’t have that until I was happy to let you
go.”

“That’s okay,” Jack replied. “I understand.”

“You do?” asked FirstMan, surprised. “I thought you’d be
angry. I have the security of all these people to consider, and few resources
to achieve that goal, but now Ryan and Haggerty, and RightHand, have convinced
me that you’re not a spy, I don’t feel I have the right to hold you any longer.”

“It’s fine,” said Jack, thinking that he’d been kept in worse
places. Maybe not much worse. Where was this going, though? He wondered.
Freedom wasn’t coming without a price. He could sense that already.

“I have a proposition for you, Jack,” said FirstMan.

There it was.

Keep it calm and friendly, he thought. Play the game how he
wants to play it. Just be yourself.

Jack frowned.

“I know it seems strange to keep you prisoner and then offer
you a job,” FirstMan said. “But after your little escape trick, back in the
swamp, and after everything that Ryan has told me you are good at…well, I find
you to be quite a talented individual. If you would be interested in working
with us, maybe helping us locate certain things, I think we could make it worth
your time.”

Jack thought in silence for a moment, and could sense that
First Man was about speak again. “Okay,” he replied. They had kept Ryan alive
all this time, and they were probably both his and the boy’s best option for
survival at that moment.

FirstMan grinned. “Oh,” he said. “That was easier than I
expected. I was anticipating having to haggle and persuade.” He stepped
forward, unlocked the cage door and pulled it open, gesturing that Jack could
leave.

Jack stepped out of the cage and stood up straight,
stretching. “You’ve kept my boy safe all this time, and more importantly, he’s
alive.”

FirstMan tilted his head to one side. “Well, not just me. You
can thank the rest of the folks in the towns for that,” he said. “He was brought
in with a large group, a couple of hundred kids and women, quite a while ago.
They became part of the community, so it wasn’t done as a favour to you.”

“I know,” said Jack. “But he’s alive, and that’s all that
matters to me.”

“He’s not actually your son, is he?” asked FirstMan. “He has
always claimed he was, but I sense not.”

“No, he’s not by blood,” said Jack. “But we kind of adopted
each another when he was much younger. He may as well be. Always has been, I
think.”

“Good,” said FirstMan. “A kid needs a father, I always say. I
lost mine when I was young, so I know the hole it leaves.”

They were silent for a few minutes, both considering their own
thoughts and what they had just learnt of each other. Jack thought that maybe
the man wasn’t so bad after all. He could put his faith in worse.

“So you’ll take my offer then?” asked FirstMan.

Jack nodded, his lips pursed. “Sure. What am I looking for?”

FirstMan paced the floor next to the cage and then closed the
door and flipped the lock shut, as though putting that part of history to rest,
locking it away for good.

“I need you to find me some old tech,” he said.

Follow Your Orders

A year before

They moved through the mountains of trash like ants,
scurrying between dirt mounds, navigating the pathways swiftly, even in the
dark. There were no spotlights or torches. These figures moving rapidly towards
the hidden settlement wore grey armour, with full face visors that showed no
view of the people underneath, and gave no indication that built into the
helmets were full spectrum enhancements that meant to them it may as well have
been the middle of a bright, sunny day.

There were guards at the entrance to the Junktown. Three of
them huddled against the inside of a wall made of rusted, stacked up cars, but
they didn’t see the squads of troopers approaching, or hear them until it was
too late. The first fell when he tried to lift his weapon, and the other two
didn’t know what happened before their worlds went dark.

Two hundred yards away a tall, lean man covered with tattoos
awoke to noises outside. He pushed aside the young woman that lay on the bed
nearby and struggled to his feet. Something had woken him, he knew, and it was
something that shouldn’t be there, but now, as he listened, he heard nothing.

The girl opened her mouth to speak but the man raised his
hand, indicating that she should remain silent. She said nothing, not daring to
anger him. She had seen what happened to people who angered the ruler of the
Junkers.

He got up, grabbed the large axe that lay next to the bed, and
stood listening.

There. There it was again. Almost a coughing sound that was
sharply cut off. But then there was no more.

There was movement outside in the town streets, and that
displeased him. The curfew he had ordered meant no one was allowed to leave
their huts after sundown, and if they did they would be cast in with the
slaves. But, sure enough, he heard someone running across the hard dirt in the large
clearing outside.

He trudged towards the entrance and peered outside into the
dark. It was not raining so the sky was clear. It hadn’t rained for weeks, and
the ground outside was beginning to crack. Even the deep well spring was
running slower.

No movement, and he was about to step outside when he saw it.
A flicker of red across the clearing.

He squinted, frowning, wondering if it was only in his mind, a
memory from a day, long ago, when everything had fallen apart. It had started
with those flickering red lights.

He closed his eyes for a moment and re-focused.

No. There it was again – a flash of red across a panel of rusted
metal.

Escape. Leave now. That was all that he could do now. Out here,
so far away from where he had come from, he had thought they would not follow
him. But they were here again, weren’t they? Curse that fat man for backstabbing
him after he had sent him all that good stuff. If he ever had the chance to…

No time for that, he thought.

He turned and ran back into the hovel, grabbed his bag and his
knife and shoved the blade into his belt. The back door was fifty yards away,
down the passage that led deep into the trash, and it came out in an undercut
area near the back wall of the town. He had hollowed the entrance out years
before, knowing that if he needed a quick exit that he would need to be unseen.
It had to be one that no one else knew about. So he had gradually carved his
way from the very back of his hut and through the trash until he made a tunnel
that came out near the wall.

He ran down the passageway now, leaving the confused girl
behind him. She would slow him down, and he was done with her anyway. Another
mouth to feed later on that wasn’t needed.

He slammed into the makeshift door at the end of the passage
and heaved it open. A second later he dropped down into a shallow cave. But he
didn’t stop. He kept moving, jogging in a crouched position. The cavernous
space was large but not high, and he was too tall to stand upright down there
in the dark, and would probably bang his head on the ceiling if he did.

He passed one of the struts that he had put in place to hold
the roof up, and then another, counting four such columns before he reached the
outer wall and the ladder that led both up and down. It only led down if you
knew how to lift the hidden floor panel, and he paused, thinking of the
treasure hidden far below this spot, things he could use to barter if
desperate, but he couldn’t carry them and didn’t have the time. If he wanted to
escape it had to be now.

He heard the shouting begin above him, and the noises of
resistance in the main town square. Some fool was fighting back, he knew. Some
fool that would only end up dead or shocked into submission.

He had been a king once before, when the grey warriors came
and destroyed everything and took him to their prison. He had eventually
escaped even then, but he remembered. Now he would not wait to fight them. He’d
learned.

He pushed the hatch up and hauled himself out onto the ground
outside.

Dark figures moved around the gate a hundred yards away, so he
crouched and headed in the other direction, running low to the ground as he
dashed for the nearest pathway into the junk.

He was ten yards from the freedom of the trash that surrounded
the town when two figures stepped from the darkness and aimed their rifles at
him. He slowed and stopped, and he was about to raise his hands when he saw a
flash of bright blue light as one of the figures waved a scanner in his
direction.

Then there was a moment of silence before the second dark grey
figure raised their rifle higher and Jagan saw the red light as it burned into
his eyes. Then the world was gone to him.

Inside the town, Corporal Ranold stood just to the side of the
main clearing, one hand pointing his assault rifle outwards as he scanned the
clearing, the other touching the panel on the side of his helmet.

“Target Alpha eliminated, over,” came the voice of team one’s commander,
a Squad Leader named Waylan.

“Good,” replied Ranold. “That’s all four primary targets down.
Watch out for more resistance and stand by for further orders, over.”

Ranold changed the channel and immediately heard the laboured
noise of his superior, the Governor, wheezing over the radio. Ranold wasn’t
surprised. The man had been in charge of the facility for more than a decade,
and the air near the factories was polluted to the extreme.

“Governor Jackson,” said Ranold. “This is Corporal Ranold,
over.”

“Ah, corporal,” said Jackson. “You have good news, I hope?”

“We have hit the location specified and all named primary
targets are eliminated, sir, over.”

“They’re all dead?” asked Jackson, sounding surprised. Ranold
found this irritating but he kept his mouth shut.

“Yes, sir,” replied Ranold. “All the targets you specified are
dead, over.”

“That’s excellent news, corporal,” said Jackson. “You may now
proceed to cleanse the rest of them. I want the whole area clear of vermin.”

Ranold coughed, but was thankful the filter on his radio would
cut that out. Had he heard correctly? The trash town had maybe a three or four
hundred people in it, he knew. They had scanned the area using drones before
the assault, and most of the people were held in slave pits or cages. Women,
children, the old and the weak. He’d seen the images.

“Sir, can you repeat? Over,” he said.

“I said proceed to remove the rest of the population there,
corporal,” said Jackson, “I don’t want the problem returning in a few years, so
they all have to go.”

Corporal Ranold paused for a moment. No. He had heard
correctly. The Governor had ordered that he and his men slaughter the
settlement.

“Sir, wouldn’t it be better to order a roundup and bring them
in? Over,” he asked, but he already knew the answer.

“What was that?” asked Jackson. “You’re questioning my
decision? Don’t be silly. Have you any idea of the cost of such an operation?
Better they are put down now, corporal. Follow your orders and then find that cache
of tech. That is all you are to bring back. And don’t bother to come back if
you don’t find it.”

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