The streets were dingy and grimy, the air was thick with poorly ventilated smoke. People were often sick, tired, and angry. There was nothing to be aside from wipe the soot from their faces with their still-dirty hands and trudge on through their coughing fits.
Babies cried for their busy mothers and children played with trash as though the discarded items were their most prized possessions. Fathers toiled until their hands blistered and bled to bring back only enough to keep going for one more day. These were your average citizens.
Some lived slightly better lives but for a much higher cost. For the mediocre price of your body and sanity, you could bring home enough food to have a second helping. Sometimes, these individuals were gifted a blanket or such item with minimal damage. Generally, they were gifted stimulants and antibiotics to continue with the work they had been forced into. Their lives were hardly any better than the starving masses living one level below them but most were unaware, having been born into their societal class.
Many found it hard to believe the stories of those who had been brought up to this level. How could it be nearly the same down there? This place, Level Two, had to be better than the third. That was what they had always been told. Often, the elders dismissed the claims of similarity by explaining it always as a desire to not be seen as less. The younger generation, taught by the older, did not see the point in the lies. They believed that everyone on Level Two was their equal. They believed that those on Level Three deserved better than they were probably getting.
It was true that the air and food on Level Two were of slightly better quality, but not by much. The punishments were just as harsh, but crimes were committed less. Often, what was considered extra was thrown away, going one level down to its final destination, because the second level’s population was either too ill or too high too need it for themselves. They did not know it went to those below them, though they assumed. They rarely had enough interaction with people from Level Three to ask.
Level One, the floor closest to the crust, was where the President and his family resided. Everything farmed and manufactured on the first floor came here immediately. Picked through by politicians, servants, chefs, and President Damien Kilpatrick himself, nothing worth not much worth noting was sent down. What made it down to Level Two was next to nothing and the individuals living on Level One did not bother themselves with anything they threw away. The majority of Level One, with the exception of Amaya, Xander, and a girl named Rhianna, cared not what happened below them.
“You need not concern yourself with such trivial matters, darling,” Amaya’s mother, Mary, would tell her. “They get what they deserve. Nothing more, nothing less.”
On the rare occasion Amaya would fight her mother on the subject, her father would sternly interject, effectively ending the conversation as quickly as it had started.
Though Amaya would drop the topic at her father’s baritone insistence, she held on to it at heart. She knew there was much more going on down below her level. She was determined that, as the first surface president in over two hundred years, things would be more fair. They would be better for those she was supposed to lead and protect. She vowed from an early age not to hide behind the shield of her title, but would instead use it as a weapon to make headway on a better and brighter future for her people.
Amaya was perpetually angry that she was being forced into a marriage with a well-to-do young man named Jack. He was handsome, she supposed, if you were into guys who always looked nice. He would have probably even been her type if he weren’t so self-important and male.
“Pompous,” Amaya said to no one in particular.
“What, darling?” Mary Kilpatrick asked her daughter as she pulled much harder on Amaya’s hair than was strictly necessary.
“Nothing, mother,” Amaya answered. “Can you just get this over with so I can go?”
“Excited are we? That’s a first,” her mother responded. There was a hint of a smile gracing her otherwise cold face.
“Excited to get this over with so I can go to bed if that’s what you mean,” Amaya muttered.
“You will act like a lady tonight, do you understand me?” Mary now pulled her daughter’s head back sharply by the long braid in her hand. “You will not make a mockery of this family and your future husband or I’ll see to it that you never see your little friend Rihanna again. Do we have an understanding?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Amaya chocked out through gritted teeth. She knew her mother was on to her. What she did not understand was what the homosexuality law could not just be reversed. Her father was the president, after all. And they would be going to the surface soon anyway. She supposed it did not matter, though, as she had her own plans to allow homosexuality, divorce, and cross-racial relationships during her own presidency.
What Amaya did not know was that her own grandmother, on her father’s side, had enacted those laws after being left at the alter. It was revenge on her ex-lover and a way to ensure her future husband could not leave her unless she changed the laws to allow it. It worked well with the man who had eventually become her husband. But, to keep him happy, she was forced to legalize all forms of prostitution. Prostitution led to drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, and unwanted pregnancies. It was a downward spiral which was partly responsible for where they were now.
Amaya broke free of her mother and dodged an incoming slap to the face.
“I can’t have narks on me in public, mother,” Amaya pleaded mockingly. “Someone will begin to question your parenting,” She was quite sly for seventeen but with a mouth that perfectly matched her age.
Mary left in a huff, angry as always, to drink her night away. It was her ritual.
Amaya begrudgingly dressed and left for the dinner she was forced into attending while Xander, her younger brother by two years, snuck down to the bitter darkness of Level Three. He would be meeting the rebels with priceless intel tonight and his sister’s so-called date was just the cover he needed. With all eyes on her and all the help tending to his sloshed mother, no one would be paying any attention to Xander. It was perfect. He would have to set up a meeting for his sister and her girlfriend, Rihanna Damron, as a thank you.
Amaya, Xander, and Rihanna were going to change things one of these days, but they had to start somewhere and deal with some unpleasant things along the way. They would put themselves in danger to do it, but they believed in their hearts that they were doing the right thing and they would not stop until it was done and differences were made. This was no life for anyone. Not even they were able to escape some of the laws that their parents had made and, while Xander would have fit in perfectly with his society, he used his position to make things better for his older sister and her girlfriend in any way that he could manage. He knew he would be the one to step up as president after his sister and he took that very seriously.
Xander made it down to Level Three to be greeted with more poor news than he was ready to hear: there were three more people who had gone missing. The group of rebels was large but shrinking. They had yet to find out why but they were looking. It only seemed to be the Outer-limits Search Team that ended up with individuals going missing.
This group was the most dangerous for a few reasons. They were the ones who kept disappearing, for one, and also because they were the ones who went to look for ways out of the bunker. For years, they had been looking to open the doors. Everyone knew where they were but they also knew they were not to go near then. Something about residual radiation and the change of accidently opening a door and killing everyone who lived inside.
It was so close to being safe to go outside, though, that the group could not figure out why their scouts were still going missing before coming back with information. Only one person had ever made it back from a mission and that was Xander. He was not known to be part of the group by the vast majority of the people in it. It was what kept them safe and with as much information as they had. As it was, he did not care who knew he was part of the group. He was not looking for the glamour of doing something good. He just wanted to be part of the changes he needed so desperately to see in this world he was stuck living in.
Xander had once gone on a patrol with the Level One guards as part of an ‘educational outing,’ as he had called it. When his father protested, he simply assured him that it was merely for the purpose of knowing for sure where everything was so he could stand with the guards when the time came to let people out of the bunker. He had convinced his father that seeing the face of the President’s son would help people to stay calm and remember that they were being watched and would need to behave as they made their exit into the outside world.
What Xander had seen was far from what he had expected. He knew he would see the doors and that he would see the radiation counter on the wall next to it. What he thought he would see was that it was close to safe to go out there. What he had actually seen was that it was completely safe and had been for over a decade. He could not for the life of him understand why his father would keep people in when they could have been outside the entire time. And he could not fathom why they would keep a record of the safety lying just outside their reach when they did not want people to know they could have been outside long before. It baffled him to this day and he was here to tell the rebels that now was the time to make their moves. That things would be able to move much more quickly than they had been.
The only standing in their way was the desire to find out where their people were going and why they were disappearing before they could bring back the information he already had. He would have passed on this knowledge much earlier and saved the disappearance, and likely deaths, of those scouts, had his family not been so strict on his sister and how their family appeared to others. Sometimes, it make him wish they were not the Presidential Family, but that would have made it much more difficult to do what they were doing now.
“We should look for them,” Emilio told Xander. “We need to know where they are!”
“We know exactly where they are,” Samuel answered darkly.
“No, we don’t know anything for sure,” Xander said. “We only know for sure that we can get out those doors without burning ourselves and everyone else alive. That’s the plan. Once we’re out, we find our missing people and they can tell everyone else what happened. It’ll help us more than you know.”
Amaya had come back from her “date” in a more depressed mood than usual. She had finally been given the ring which had been passed down in Jack’s family for years. She knew that meant they were closer to the marriage than ever before, but she was stunned to find out that it was planned for her eighteenth birthday. That was just three weeks away. She had no intention of marrying Jack and would do anything in her power to stop it from happening.
She met secretly with her girlfriend, Rihanna, as soon as she could. It was not soon enough for her liking, though. It took almost a day before Xander was able to help them sneak away into a quiet room while their mother was drunk and their father was down on Level Two with a couple of his favorite gals.
“Wait, Xander, before you leave,” Amaya started. “I need to tell you something.”
“What’s going on, A?” Xander asked.
“They’re making me marry him as soon as I’m legally an adult,” Amaya looked down at her feet. Rihanna took her hands. Tears streaked down both girls’ faces. They were not prepared for this to happen too soon. They had so many plans of escaping before something like this could take place.
“Then we need to move quickly,” Xander said matter-of-factly. “We have to get out of here in the next two weeks and six days.”
“How are we supposed to get out there safely when it’s still going to be a couple of months before it's safe? Won’t people get sick?” Rihanna asked. She was usually a quiet person, but these things mattered to her more than anything else. She was training to be a doctor. She would not be the first black doctor, but she would be the first outwardly gay one. She planned to make her statement now, though, by protecting her people from the radiation before they even knew it was a danger.
“It’s been safe out there for a long time,” Xander said. It was his turn to look at the floor. He knew he should have told his sister sooner, but she had been so distraught after the dinner that he did not want to trouble her with anything else at that time.
Especially not when it was something he could handle himself.
“Then we leave as soon as we can,” Amaya stated, looking up at her brother. He thought he would see anger or rage in her eyes. He thought she would be mad for not telling her the night before. All she had on her face was hope and a twinkle in her eyes he had never seen before.
“And we take everyone in this godforsaken bunker with us,” Rihanna said. “Even your parents.”
“No,” Amaya said firmly.
“Yes, even them,” Xander corrected. “They don’t deserve it but they have to get out of here, too. They have to see what they’ve been keeping everyone from for so long. It’ll be the worst punishment we can give them for their crimes.”
“Well, that and losing the governmental controls,” Amaya smiled slyly. She knew that as soon as the doors were opened by this small group and the rebels that her parents would lose all control and standing with the people they had kept trapped inside like animals. It made her heart sing to know that justice would be served, they would all finally be free, and it would be happening so soon.
“I’m going to go talk to our father and the delegates now if you two would rather come with me than stay here on your own,” Xander told the girls.
“You bet your ass we’re coming with you,” Rihanna said. “Right, A?”
“You don’t have to ask my permission for a damn thing. You want to go, then we’re going. That’s how this works, my love,” Amaya said proudly. She had rarely see Rihanna speak out of turn, let alone stand up for herself and she wanted her future wife to know that there was never a question that she was allowed to make her own decisions whether she was going to marry the president or not. That was not how things were going to work around here anymore.
The group made it down the hall in record time, running so they would make it to the meeting room before everyone cleared out. They were just in time.
“Would you care to explain this uninvited interruption,” President Kilpatrick barked from his desk at the end of the room. All eyes were turned on the teens.
“Yes, I would,” Amaya cleared her throat as she said it. “But, first, I would like for you to explain to the delegation why it has been safe to go outside for years and yet we are all still trapped in here.”
The faces now turned to the President for clarification. He laughed it off saying, “the meters are wrong. They have been since before your children were even thought of. Pay them no mind, they are just hormonal teenagers.”
“Then why are there documents explaining that it is safe and the doors have been opened every year until last year?” It was Xander’s turn to say something.
“Get. Out.” President Kilpatrick bellowed. The delegation was in an uproar now. Others had obviously seen the meters and had been told them same things the President had just told his children, but they had had no idea that the doors had been opened before. That was proof that it was safe to leave and here they were, trapped in this room and having just had a conversation about how it would be decades more until it was actually safe to leave. The President explained this as an old mathematical error he found recently while going over plans to evacuate the bunker.
The President had been caught in his lies and the first part of the plan was complete. Now, the teenagers needed to make their way down to Level Three and explain what had happened to the others. But first, they needed to find out where their father kept the code to at least one outside door. Now would be the perfect time. He was trapped in a room with angry delegates who wanted out almost as badly as the people living below them.
The teens looked around the office belonging to their father and all the previous presidents of the bunker. They knew the code or codes could possibly have been hidden somewhere else, or passed down by word of mouth, but this was as good a place as any to start their search.
They looked through every scrap of paper they could as quickly as they could but seemed to be coming up with nothing. It was all random notes, mostly with handwritten excuses as to why the people would not be able to leave the bunker. They still had no idea why their father was so set on keeping the people inside when it was safe to be outside. There was something they were missing and they were keeping an eye for any clues on that while they made their seemingly fruitless search.
It had been over an hour of tearing apart the office when Amaya became so angry she overturned her father’s rickety desk in anger.
“What the hell is all of this?” She uttered, looking at a panel on the floor. “And how do we open it?”
“Looks like a genetic code,” Rihanna said.
“A genetic code?” Xander asked.
“Yes. We have them in medical. Your blood is taken in a small sample and it will unlock the door. We use them to keep certain chemicals and manufactured medications safe from being broken into,” Rihanna clarified. “You guys should be able to open it if it's based on familial genetics.”
“Let’s hope it is,” Amaya answered as she suddenly placed her hand on the outline of the scanner.
There was a small clicking sound and a slight intake of breath from Amaya as her palm was pricked and the door seemed to be thinking.
“What if it has to be programmed or something?” Xander asked.
“If it needed to have the sample first, like to set it as the key, it would have denied her by now,” Rihanna answered helpfully. “It's comparing her genetic makeup to that of the previous owners.”
“Access granted. Welcome, President,” a mechanical female voice answered as the door on the floor opened.
Inside, a communications system blinked and sputtered words at them. Most of it was difficult to make out.
“Xander, go lock the door!” Amaya yelled. They were on to something amazing and closer than they had ever been before. Xander said noting as he rushed to deadbolt the door and pull a bookcase in front of it. He hoped it would keep at least his father out for the time being. They just needed him to stay out long enough to make sure they had found something worth finding.
Voices and static buzzed over the communications system built into the floor in front of Amaya.
“Here goes nothing,” she said as she began to turn a dial in hopes of getting a more clear signal. It took time, more time than the teens would have liked it to, but eventually they found something clear. Amaya picked up the microphone and looked at it for a second.
“There’s no going back from here,” Rihanna said quietly.
“I don’t want to go back,” Xander answered. “We’ve come too far.”
“And we’ve got a lot further to go,” Amaya stated, pressing the button to being speaking to the outside world for the first time.
“My name is Amaya Kilpatrick and I want out of this bunker,” Amaya said.
All the lines, all the voices, went quiet. The only thing that remained was the static, which was soon interrupted.
“President Kilpatrick, you are speaking with the Disunited States of America. Come out of your bunker,” a voice from the speaker told them.
“I am not the president, but I will be soon. President Kilpatrick is my father and he is trying to keep us down here. We want out. All of us,” Amaya stated through a wavering voice. Her tears were once again on the brink of her eyes.
“What was your name again?” The mysterious voice sounded almost as confused as the teenagers felt.
“Amaya. Amaya Kilpatrick. I am here with my brother, Xander, and my girlfriend Rihanna. Help us get our people out of this bunker,” she told them, now sure of herself.
After a lengthy discussion and some banging on a door that would not open, the teens had found out that not only were there people waiting outside for them, but that they had been there for over ten years. They had tried to open the doors from the outside, but the locks were made with the same genetic code program that the communications system had been. They now knew they could open the doors. The only problem was turning in their parents when the door opened.
“They’ll kill them,” Rihanna said.
“They deserve it for what they’ve done. For what they’ve been hiding from us,” Amaya said.
“From everyone in this bunker,” Xander corrected his sister once again.
“Stop doing that,” Amaya said.
“Accuracy matter, Madam President,” Xander elbowed his sister and they looked at the now quiet room. The communications system had been closed with a promise to the Outsiders that the door would be opened as soon as possible and the President and his wife would be dealt with accordingly. Amaya and Zander had no issue turning their parents over after a lifetime of brutal abuse and alcoholism. Rihanna, unaware of all they had been through, was letting her better angels shine and asked for leniency.
“You don’t get to ask to keep them alive when they don’t care if you live or die because we’re both females who love each other across their made-up boundaries. They deserve to burn for all of hell in eternity,” Amaya told Rihanna.
“But you have to understand that they were just trying to keep you safe,” Rihanna fought still harder. “You had no idea that your great grandparents were the ones who dropped the first bombs. Or that they intentionally dropped them on their own people to start a war they couldn’t win.”
“I do now, and I’m willing to risk walking out there right now,” Amaya said.
“And do what? Hostilely take over the presidency of the bunker?” Rihanna asked. This was their first big fight, but it was a good one to have.
“It won’t be hostile. He’ll give in. Father will know he’s been caught by now and he will know that I can open the doors. He will know it’s all over and he will not live to see the world outside,” Amaya turned to Rihanna, but there was no anger on her face. Only the realization that they were now in charge and without her parents to help her as she had always thought they would be.
“No,” Xander pondered out loud. “Let them see the outside. Let them see what they have been missing. But before we leave this room, we need to make sure everyone in this bunker knows that we are leaving. Today. Now.”
Amaya picked up the microphone which was regularly used by their father for the morning bunker announcements. She began to speak but her voice caught in her throat and she turned the microphone off before turning it back on to try again.
“This is your president speaking. President Amaya Kilpatrick. Today, we go outside. It is safe. Others are waiting for us. Let the president and his wife live to see what they have been keeping from us. They will be dealt with according to the laws of the Outsiders for their war crimes,” Amaya stated. She let go of the button to let out a breath she had been holding.
“Tell them about the bombs,” Xander said.
“No, that will make things worse,” Rihanna gasped.
“Didn’t you once tell me that things have to get worse before they get better?” Amaya asked her future wife.
“You’re…” Rihanna started. “You’re right. I suppose. Yes, you should tell them. But repeat the part about letting them live or it might not happen and then you’ll be in trouble with the Outsiders.”
Amaya picked the microphone back up, already able to hear the ruckus on the levels below them.
“The bombs were dropped by my great grandparents on the United States of America.
They blamed Russia and hid in this bunker to protect themselves. My father didn’t want us to leave because he is being help responsible for everything that has happened down here since then. He is a war criminal but we must allow him and my mother to live to make it outside,” Amaya’s breath shook but this time she left the microphone on. “We have to let them have a fair trial because only good can overcome evil. We will meet at the main door. I will open it.”
All three teenagers stood together now as spoke as Amaya said the final words the internal communication system would transmit: “We are free.”
It was torture getting through the crowd at first until they realized the who was trying to get to the doors. At once, a hush seemed to fall on the masses and an almost clear path to the door opened up. Amaya took Rihanna’s hand, the first time it had even been done in public by the two and the first two people of the same gender had held hands publicly in many years.
Making their way to the door, the girls led the way with Xander following close behind them. Their parents were being held by the guards who had now turned on them but were keeping them safe.
“Madam President, please open this door for your people,” Doctor Damron said, smiling. He was much like his daughter in the sense that he was usually quiet and it almost startled Amaya to hear him speaking in front of so many people.
“Yes, sir. But first,” Amaya turned. “We will be free. We are free, actually. And by that I mean we are a free people. We are allowed to love who we love, have the children we want to have, marry who we want to marry regardless of their skin color or gender, and we will never, NEVER, be forced to hide our true selves again. This is our day.
This is the day we go outside, the day we meet the Outsiders who have been fighting for our freedom since they found out we were still trapped in here, and the day that justice for the sins of my ancestors is served.”
“I would like to say something,” Rihanna told Amaya quietly.
“Speak up and say what you need to. You don’t have to be quiet anymore. Never again,” Amaya told Rihanna, gripping her hand a little tighter.
“This is my girlfriend and I would like to say that I am proud of her. But I am also proud that you have all shown mercy for the people that never gave you any. You have allowed them to live to see what they have been missing and for a justice system to take place. Today you have all shown that our better sides can win and that things can be different from here on out,” Rihanna said. She looked to Amaya and then to Xander and her father with a smile so large it nearly took over her whole face. The smile was infectious.
Amaya, without further ado, pressed her hand to the door and allowed it to take a small sample of her blood to confirm her identity. It took just as long as the communications box in the president’s office, though it felt as though it took much longer. When it did finally speak, it confirmed her position to the people from the bunker and the door’s seal cracked and opened for the first time in over two hundred years.
A beautiful fall light and the fresh air filled the lungs of the people in front as the teens and the guards pushed it open further. The Outsiders pulled from their end and stood back and the people from inside made their way out for the first time in their lives.
The air had a chill to it but it was welcome after so many years of being trapped in a stuffy, hot bunker.
Amaya was enjoying the feeling on a breeze on her skin and the sunshine on her face for the first time when she was interrupted politely from somewhere off to the side. She was confused at first and looked around to find the voice. It was her father.
“You don’t know what you’ve done you stupid girl! You’ve killed us all!”
“No, you’ve killed yourself,” a voice belonging to an Outsider answered. You kept up the lies when you could have set your people free years ago. Your children have broken the cycle and have made things right. They, and your people, will be welcome out here with us. You and your wife will not.”
A shot rang out. Then a second.
Amaya knew she would never get the sound or the sight of her parents’ deaths out of her head. She knew it would haunt her for the rest of her life. But, she also knew what they had done was wrong and this was the price of freedom. The freedom and all the people now coming outside had deserved so many years ago. It was the price of truth which had been kept a secret for too many years. Only the guilt paid and only the innocent survived. It was a day of reckoning.