The walk couldn’t be too long. They were allowed to reach a big boulder on the top of the hill and then go back almost instantly. There was no way to really enjoy the moment, although no one got out for a walk to enjoy themselves. They did it because it was necessary to walk, to train for longer walks in the future. The funny thing was that the distance had not change in a year so they couldn’t really know if they were able to do more in the suits or not.
Helena arrived at the Boulder and looked up, to the sun. The veil that covered the sky was especially thick that day, blocking most of the sunlight from arriving to the ground. The sun appeared to be cold, as if it didn’t care of what had happened. And he certainly didn’t because everything that had happened had nothing to do with the sun but with the planet and its inhabitants. They had always been a real danger but no one ever thought something might actually happen.
The alarm begun. She had enough oxygen to go back to the Hut and couldn’t waist more time looking at the sun or at the reddish sky. She wanted the oxygen tank to be bigger, she had asked that several times. But they couldn’t do it. They had no materials and also no interest in letting anyone wander to far off. The truth was that the government of the Hut was not interested at all in reconquering the surface, only in surviving for a hundred years or more.
When she stepped into the entrance and the airlock decontaminated the chamber, she felt sad. The world outside was no different than in the books and the images she had on her computer. Yet, there was death and desolation all over the place. As a team of people cleaned her outfit with a variety of chemicals, she wondered if the human race could ever be what it once was.
As she removed the suit in the next room, Frank came to talk to her. He was the person that controlled every walk outside and had some questions, the same questions they always asked people. It was some kind of an obligatory test for every single person that asked to have a walk. There weren’t many who did, not all wanted to go back and see what their house was like now or what the world looked like. Some had actually moved on.
She answered the same as always: there was no plant life, no animal life, the concentration of particles had not changed and the deterioration of the different materials was advancing as scheduled. She was obliged to take pictures but this time she hadn’t taken any. She told the man it was because her earlier walk had only been a week ago and nothing had change out there in such a short time.
Frank wasn’t happy about the pictures. He wasn’t really the boss and he knew someone else would get all over him because of that. But he didn’t insisted. Helena was one of the few people that dared to go outside and walk around, they needed her more that she needed them or at least that was the way he saw it. So he wrote in his report that the camera inside the suit was damaged and that they hadn’t realized before she had stepped out. That way, the questions would be less.
Helena thanked him and, walking slowly, she went directly to the food court. According to her mother, that wasn’t the term they should use but it was the one promoted by the government. They wanted people to feel they were in a safe and fun environment, even if it was below ground. And “food court” was one of those terms that reminisced something good, or so it seemed, from a long time ago. Everyone ate there although they didn’t have many options, only one.
As always, the young woman did the line and the cashier scanned the code on her wrist to check that she hadn’t eaten earlier. She received her tray and some minutes later she had hot food and was looking for a place to sit down. Luckily, her friend Patricia was finishing her meal so she sat down with her. Patricia was alone, as it happened very often. Many people thought she was obsessed with the outside.
During the following twenty minutes, Helena discussed with her friend every single thing she had seen outside. Of course, it was nothing new for the scientific team but it was new to Patricia, who was not allowed to go outside on mental health grounds. She had always wanted to do it but from the first time she asked for permission, it was denied. And after many times trying to apply, they finally told her why they wouldn’t let her out.
She loved to hear every detail about the outside and Helena knew how much her friend like her tales so she tried to make as entertaining as she could. The tale ended when she arrived at the boulder and looked at the sun. Patricia was smiling and her eyes were full of water. She told Helena she was very lucky to have seen that because the world, as she knew, was very beautiful.
Helena did not really know if the world was beautiful. In theory, it was. The millions of pictures available to them seemed to tell the story of a bright world were people were happy and lived very complete lives. Yet, those same people had been the ones to destroy it, her parents for example. So she always had problems processing that. Besides, the world outside was dead and no sign of that beauty remained.
After lunch, both women went through the Market. It was a large and long corridor filled with different stores. Each one of them sold something different, so there was no competition. And the amount of things each store sold was very limited. Yet, most people loved to stroll around to check if they had pulled out something new from their vaults or something. People still had hope that things would change suddenly, even if they hadn’t changed at all for so long.
But that day, the fifth store on the left was filled with people in front of it trying to look for something the vendor had put in display. It was the store that sold paintings and pictures and such things. Most of the things the man there sold were made by him or his family. But the little image in the transparent urn he had put on display was something another walker, the people that go outside, had found in a recent walk.
When they were able to get closer, Helena and Patricia realized the image was very small. It was a black and white photography, probably a very old one. It pictured three baby boys, or so it seemed. One of the babies was crying, while the other two held hands and were apparently playing with some cubes with letters. The most intriguing part of the image was a shadow behind the crying baby. It seemed to be the arms of an adult, or maybe the legs.
They could only see the picture for a while before those who had just arrived pushed them aside to have a look. They talked about the picture all the way to the dormitories, wondering if the shadow behind the babies was really another person or maybe even an animal. It was a very weird picture too: who would take a photo of a crying baby instead of taking a look at what he needed.
Patricia concluded that it might have been a fake. Maybe the vendor had taken the picture and he said they had found it outside. That was very hard to do, thought Helena, but not impossible. They separated in a corridor, as Helena lived further ahead and Patricia lived one floor below. They committed to see each other the next day and then parted ways. Not a minute had passed when Helena fell to the ground.
A very large, very powerful earthquake was shaking every single part of the complex. It had been built for that but that didn’t mean people wouldn’t get scared. It was the first one in a long while. Helena could hear screaming behind the doors, where people lived. When it stopped, she stood up fast and ran towards her home. But she never made it there. A general alarm was issued: the compound had been breached.
No one knew what that meant. Was it toxic gas or something like that? What did they mean with “breach”? Helena wasn’t sure she wanted to find out but, instead of going to check on her mother, she decided to turn around towards the laboratory. She had to know what was going on.