Get your fill of sci-fi, science, and mockery of stupid people
* FAQ    * Search   * Register   * Login 
Want to support this site? Click

Quote of the Week: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." - Will Durant, American historian (1885-1981)


All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]




Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 12 posts ] 
Author Message
 Post subject: The Third Covenant (Original) (updated 10/25/10) PostPosted: 2010-10-03 10:56pm
Offline
Carvin' Marvin
User avatar

Joined: 2002-07-03 11:51pm
Posts: 14432
Location: Land of the Mountain Fascists
Well, after a few years’ break, I’ve decided to start writing again, and since I don’t do fanfics, here is an original setting I’ve created just for this purpose. Comments and constructive criticism always welcome.

Please note that while I don’t intend this for publication and thus don’t care about first rights and such, I’d appreciate it if this work is not posted outside of the Stardestroyer.net, Librium Arcana, and Spacebattles forums without my permission. Linking, of course, is OK.

The author also offers special thanks to Ye Diwen, without whom this work would not have been possible.

So, without any further delays, I present you:


The Third Covenant
By Yefim Galkine

A Novel of the End Times.




Table of Contents:
Maps and Appendices

One
Two
Three (pt.2)

--------------------
Have a very nice day.
-fgalkin



My Fundie Guide The World Has Ended.....Life Goes On
Image
Image


Last edited by fgalkin on 2010-10-25 12:05pm, edited 9 times in total.
Top
 Profile  
 Post subject: Re: Third Covenant PostPosted: 2010-10-03 10:56pm
Offline
Carvin' Marvin
User avatar

Joined: 2002-07-03 11:51pm
Posts: 14432
Location: Land of the Mountain Fascists
Maps and Appendices

Author’s Note:

This is a work of fiction, and while many of the locations mentioned therein are indeed real, the author has taken some liberties with their depictions. Consequently, neither the text of this work, nor the maps below are to be used as an actual guide to urban exploration of underground New York City.

Just in case someone actually decides to try it.


The Tunnels of Columbia University
Image
Map Key
1. Line- Tunnel
2. Yellow Box- Significant Subterranean Location







------------
Have a very nice day.
-fgalkin



My Fundie Guide The World Has Ended.....Life Goes On
Image
Image

Top
 Profile  
 Post subject: Re: Third Covenant PostPosted: 2010-10-03 10:57pm
Offline
Carvin' Marvin
User avatar

Joined: 2002-07-03 11:51pm
Posts: 14432
Location: Land of the Mountain Fascists
I will say of the LORD,
He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
He shall cover thee with his feathers,and under his wings shalt thou trust:his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night;nor for the arrow that flieth by day
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness;nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side,and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.

-Psalm 91





One.

“Nadya, the light!”

She looked down and saw that the flashlight had gone out again. She shook it vigorously, charging the capacitors until it emitted a beam of brilliant white light.

“Come on, pay attention, girl. This isn’t exactly hard to do,” Ashley’s face, smeared with blood and machine oil, appeared over the edge of the pit.

“Sorry,” Nadya muttered.

They were standing in a small clearing in the middle of what was once Riverside Park. A sheer cliff, overgrown with irongrass and the occasional tree bordered it on one side. A thick growth of fire-red trees surrounded it from the other three sides. If she strained her eyes, Nadya could just make out the outline of the Palisades on the Jersey shore through their thorny trunks. The clearing itself, of course, was charred and barren, save for a narrow filled trench for the pipes, and the pit containing the blood pump.

“Nadya here is probably wishing she were somewhere else,” Noah said. “Isn’t that right, Senior Research Assistant?” He was lying on his stomach at the edge of the pump pit. The hole only had room for one, so his role in the repairs was limited to oiling parts and handing them over to his fellow engineer.

Nadya turned and faced him. She had never worked with the man before, so he clearly must have been talking to the wrong people. She sighed inwardly.

“I’m still a member of the work detail. I do as I’m told,” she shrugged. “I’ve no problem working with engineers,” she added after a moment, looking down into the pit. There, a way out for him.

Ashley looked up from the half-assembled pump, then cursed and covered her eyes with a grimy hand. She looked as if she was about to say something.

“You do everything you’re told to?” Nadya heard Noah snicker. “Even if Doctor Lee….”

“That’s enough!” Jim, the fourth and final member of the small group joined the conversation at last. “I think you should apologize to Miss Melnik now.”

“Yeah, Weiss, that was totally uncalled for,” Ashley’s voice echoed from below.

Noah Weiss gave his filthy beard a furious tug and grinned.

“I’m not sayin’ anything that wasn’t said before me,” he shrugged. “You know. You all heard the talk.”

For a moment, it was so quiet Nadya could hear the rustle of leaves and venom-filled thorns above her. She exhaled slowly, then turned to face the man.

“I don’t know what’s your problem with me,” she said slowly, looking Noah straight in the eye. “I will say this only once. Professor Lee is a man of brilliant intellect, and great dignity and honor. The idea of him making a proposal of the sort you’re thinking of is unthinkable. However, even if he did for some reason make that proposal, I would not have accepted it. This matter is closed.”

“That’s not what I heard…” Noah began, when a steel-shod boot materialized next to his face. He followed it upwards with his eyes, taking in the rest of Jim Washington in his 6’3” entirety.

“Apologize. Now.”

“For fuck’s sake, Weiss, stop arguing with the man with the big gun,” Ashley said.

For a moment, Noah looked like he was about to slam the pipe he was holding into the shin of the black man in front of him. Then, he thought better of it.

“Okay, fine, sorry.”

Nadya supposed it would have to do. “Apology accepted,” she sighed.

Jim nodded and disappeared, suddenly appearing three feet away. Nadya knew the man was ex-military, but she still had no idea how a man that big could move like that. He brought up his M-16 and turned on the flashlight strapped to it’s barrel, scanning for potential threats beyond the perimeter of the clearing. Noah gave him a murderous glare, shifted a little to make himself comfortable, handed the pipe to Ashley, then picked up another part from the pile next to him.

Nadya’s flashlight died again. She cursed, and began shaking it furiously.

“I really miss the old battery flashlights,” Ashley said wistfully.

“I remember those,’ Nadya said. “My uncle used to have one. He was never without it. Then, the batteries started getting more and more expensive, and soon, there were none to be had for any price.”

“Alkaline batteries only last about a decade before the reaction falls apart” Ashley sighed. “Damn, I feel old now.” She fell silent for a while.

“What did you do….before?” Nadya asked at last.

“Engineering student. Duh.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

Nadya considered asking her what it was like living before the end of the world, then thought better of it. Early on, she learned that it was not a question to be asked lightly of strangers. She had discovered that everyone had their own unique take on the World Before, but for some, even two decades was not enough to come to terms with what happened.

No one said anything for a long time. Nadya stood there, looking upwards, beyond the canopy of charred tree branches to the blood-red crescent of the moon and the distant stars above. She knew that it took their light years, even centuries to reach Earth. Were they also red now, or were they spared this cruel fate?

She looked at the sky until she was beginning to feel dizzy. She shifted from foot to foot, shook the flashlight again, and looked around, listening to the clang of metal below her feet, the rustling of the trees above her, the endless chittering of night insects, the thumping and screeching of the axes and saws of the woodcutting teams. The air was humid, hot and heavy with the smell of fresh blood. Her stomach growled. She realized she hadn’t eaten anything since the start of the shift in the early evening. Like all members of the team, she wore thick protective clothes and she was sweating heavily
Suddenly, Jim Washington’s radio came to life in a burst of static.

“Current time is 4:20,” Nadya heard Neil Anselmo’s voice. “Shift ends in one hour.”

“Shit!” Nadya gasped. “I promised Doctor Lee a status update on the garden tonight!”

“And of course, we certainly can’t miss that,” she heard Noah mutter.

“Look, I’m really sorry, guys, but I really have to go.”

“What about us? You have duties here. ” Jim’s voice boomed from behind.

“Look, I’m really really sorry, but I absolutely can’t miss this. Please.” She turned around putting her hands together.

“Hey! Watch the light!” Ashley said from below.

“Looks like we’re out of luck, friends.” Noah Weiss smirked. “The princess has found something far more important than the likes of us mere mortals and our pump to occupy her time. I hope none of you are too fond of eating”

“I’m only here to back Jim up, to help you out, and because regulations say a work team must consist of four,” Nadya pleaded.

“That’s great, but I actually need the light to work” Ashley said. “So what the hell do we do now?”

Jim considered this for an instant, then walked over to Noah Weiss.
“You. You didn’t seem to be doing anything terribly important in the last five minutes I’ve been watching you.”

“I suppose that could work,” Ashley mused. “I’m almost done here anyway. Just have to put the damn thing together again, and we can all go enjoy our extra bath. Well, me an Noah can, anyway.”

“I am a full member of the engineers, not some apprentice to hold your light!” Noah sneered.

“I think you may have the wrong idea what it is you engineers actually do,” Jim said. “I’m more concerned about Miss Melnik walking to the campus all by herself.”

“I can do it,” she assured him quickly. “I did it before.” He nodded.

“But…” Noah said.

“No more excuses. Flashlight out now.”

“I concur with Mr. Washington,” Ashley’s voice said from below.

Noah Weiss looked around him in astonishment, as if still refusing to believe himself overruled. Then, his features contorted in a grimace of fury. “I won’t forget this. And I’ll make damn sure none of you will, either.” He got up from the ground with a grunt, wiped his hands on the pant leg of his overalls, pulled out his flashlight, and began shaking it gingerly.

“Thank you,” Nadya said. “Thank you so much, all of you.” She went up to the giant, and wrapped her arms around him. Jim Washington looked down at her for an instant, then stepped away.

“Go,” he motioned with his head in the direction of the campus. “You’re wasting time.”

She nodded and pulled out her pistol. She found the familiar weight of the Glock 19 immensely reassuring. She chambered a round and prepared to head out.

“Hey, Nadya,” she heard Ashley’s voice behind her and turned around. The engineer had climbed halfway out the pit and was staring straight at her, looking like a creature of the netherworld in the pale light of the flashlight, with her blood-splattered clothes and her face stained with blood and machine oil. Nadya found the sight most unsettling.

“Be careful out there,” Ashley said. “And…sorry about Weiss here.” She paid no heed to his glare. “I guess some people are just born assholes.”

“Thanks,” Nadya said, and then she was off.

***

The pipes bringing the fresh blood from the Hudson River ran across the abandoned train tunnels, through old sewers, and finally, shallow trenches ascending the slopes of Morningside heights, emptying into the central reservoir under Barnard College. Nadya had to take a different route, following the old alleys and footpaths of Riverside Park – a narrow strip of asphalt some five feet wide. Dead streetlamps and broken benches lined the path, while far overhead, charred and blackened tree branches hung like talons ready to strike. They were all dead, of course, doused with napalm and set alight during the many clearing expeditions. Nadya took part in several, and knew the sight of trees charging their murderers, trunks aflame, branches and roots flailing wildly, smashing everything beneath them would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Others stood beyond the line of broken streetlights and dead trees. In the jumping, flickering circle of white light, she could see rows of death-maples, even the occasional murder-oak. She was walking slowly, carefully choosing her every step, looking out for trap-vines ready to drag her away to a slow and agonizing death. Once, her path was blocked by a grassy patch. A patch, Nadya remembered that was not there when her team made its way down earlier that night.

Did the mantrap grow overnight, or did it come from elsewhere, she wondered idly as she examined the obstacle. The patch was large, as mantraps went, about seven feet across, covering almost the entirety of the path. The thing’s disguise was almost perfect. She could see the blades of irongrass, even a few blood-red flowers. If it hadn’t been surrounded by asphalt, she would probably be in the process of being slowly digested by now.

Slowly, she turned around, scanning her surroundings, pistol in hand. When she could see no immediate threat, she put the gun back in its holster, put on a pair of thick gloves, and slowly drew her machete. Like all on the outside work detail, she was equipped with the best gear. Her blade was a thing of quality, made before the end of the world (although she could scarcely imagine why one would need such a thing before). Carefully, she stepped around the circumference of the grassy patch, lighting her way with the flashlight, until she found what she was looking for—a snake-like vine, thicker than her leg and covered with thorns and spikes, disappearing somewhere in the darkness. One of the trees had evidently grown tired of its usual palate, and decided to hunt bigger prey. The thing’s audacity enraged her.

“Bastard,” she hissed. “Fucking bastard.” She desperately wished she had some gasoline, imagined the writhing of the thing on fire, but it, like the radio, was in the backpack of Jim Washington.

Slowly, she went down on her hands and knees, then set the flashlight on the ground to provide illumination. Then, she hacked with the machete, digging the blade halfway into the vine. Immediately, she dropped down, laying low as dozens of thorns flew overhead, ricocheting off the nearby tree trunks. The vine pulled away, shifting and twisting, almost wrenching the machete out of her fingers. She yelped and held on to it with both hands. She felt herself pulled off the path and into the charred undergrowth. With a grunt, she pulled the blade free and chopped again, aiming for the same spot. She missed by almost half a foot, and ducked down, cursing, as more thorns whizzed by overhead.

This time blade only penetrated a quarter of the way. Nadya pulled it out easily, and prepared to strike again, when she noticed that the vine was slowly slithering away into the darkness.

“Well, fuck,” she said, and rolled, just as the edge of the mantrap covered the ground she was on a moment ago. She kept rolling and rolling until she felt sharp branches of the dead underbrush poke her in the back. Her flashlight went out again, and for a moment, she felt blind.

Nadya knew she was in real trouble now. She could not get up, for fear of the thing’s thorns, and even if she broke through the bush, the only way to go was beyond the safety of the path and into the trees’ domain, where they had a myriad ways of killing her. She heard the soft rustling of the mantrap getting closer.

She wasn’t going to die like that, not her. She growled and pushed herself up, hearing the sound of tearing fabric. She rose to her knees, turned the tip of the blade downwards, and slammed it down, putting her entire weight into it. She felt the blade pierce the soft flesh of the vine and hard ground, and dropped to the ground, avoiding another burst of deadly needles. When she looked up, she saw the vine twisting and turning, trying to pry the blade pinning it loose. She grabbed the blunt edge with both hands, and grunting, pulled down, slowly, inch by inch, severing the trap from the rest of the tree. She dodged another burst of venomous spikes, and lay there for a few seconds, listening to the pounding of her heart in her ears and watching the vine slither away into the darkness, trailing a thick viscous liquid.

“That’ll show you,” Nadya whispered, addressing no one in particular. She got up and turned to look for her flashlight, then, with a start, realized that it was not there. She felt a stab of panic at the thought of making her way back in the dark. Then, she relaxed as she realized that it simply must have been scooped up by the mantrap and probed its surface with her blade until she found it. She shook it, and, to her relief, it emitted another beam of light.

Nadya examined the scene carefully. In its effort to get her, the tree pulled the mantrap halfway off the path. She wiped the blade of her weapon with a rag before sheathing it, then, grabbed the side of the severed trap, and, with a grunt, pulled it off the path, shoving it on to the same bushes she crawled out of.

She exhaled in relief and wiped the sweat off her brow with the sleeve of her jacket, before realizing that it, along with her face now, was stained black with soot from rolling in the cinders of the fire-clearing. Then, she noticed something else out of the corner of her eye.

“Oh fuck,” she gasped, examining the thick, black thorn stuck in the jacket’s sleeve, mere millimeters from her flesh, having pierced both folds. She pulled it out with trembling fingers and examined it in the light. It was more than three inches long, and wickedly sharp. The tip, she saw with enormous relief, was still intact. Had it been poisoned and the venom entered her bloodstream, she would most likely be dead by now, of course. But there were other, worse kinds of thorns, which some plants used to spread their seeds. Once inside the body, they kept growing, slowly consuming the victim from within. It was exceedingly unlikely they would be used for self defense, Nadya decided. She dropped the thorn, and shuddered. Then, she carefully examined her clothing- the brown leather jacket a size too big and the t-shirt underneath, the thick denim overalls over a pair of jeans, the Yankees baseball cap, even her tall hiking boots, two sizes too big and fastened around her ankles with rope. They were thoroughly stained and she found numerous small rips and tears, but no more deadly surprises.

She pulled out her canteen from the front pocket of her overalls, began to unscrew the cap before remembering that it had been empty for hours. Her throat were dry, her hands were shaking, and her legs felt weak. It was the damned heat and the adrenaline wearing off, she thought, nothing more. She gritted her teeth, pulled out her gun, shook the flashlight with all her strength, and continued moving.

***

Nadya stopped frequently, listening to every sound, turning around, checking the ground, the surrounding bushes, and even the charred canopy for threats. Eventually, the path began to slope steeply upwards, and she emerged onto the intersection of 116th Street and Riverside Drive, facing the two tall ornate buildings which stood there like gatekeepers. A set of searchlights was installed on the fifth-floor balcony of the rounded one, whose name, a sign over its door proclaimed proudly, was “The Colloseum.” Nadya had always wondered what it meant, for the building, while indeed large and impressive, was by no means the most colossal one she had seen.

Nadya grunted and covered her eyes, as she found herself standing in a brightly lit circle.

“Nadya, is that you?” a voice called out. “What the hell happened to you…..and where’s the rest of your team?”

She realized how it looked and cursed under her breath. “They’re fine,” she said. “I have to get to Lehman roof before sunrise, is all.”

“Anselmo isn’t going to like that,” the voice responded. Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t tell who it was, Nadya realized. The thought worried her slightly.

“Yeah, well, there’s plenty of that around. What’s one more thing?” She said and started to run.

116th Street was the main thoroughfare connecting Riverside Park to what was once the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University. It was a wide street that sloped gently as it crested a hill making its way to the University campus. Unlike the surrounding streets that long ago began to succumb to the expansion of the park, its cracked asphalt was completely devoid of vegetation. Stadium lights, installed on the roof of Barnard’s Brooks Hall kept the street brightly lit for the returning work shift, and sniper nests nearby kept watch for trouble. For the first time since leaving the tunnels in the early evening, Nadya felt safe. She could afford to run.

She sped past the campus of Barnard, Columbia’s sister college, throwing a hate-filled look at Adele Lehman Hall as she crossed Claremont Avenue. Then, she was at the Broadway Barricade, a thick brick wall 12 feet tall, topped with barbed wire, which protected the entrance to the Columbia and Barnard campuses, as well as the Subway station. A machinegun nest was set up, protecting the approach. The thick metal gate was slid open welcomingly, and she could see work teams returning from their shift.

“Well, if it ain’t my third most favorite person in the whole wide world,” one of the crew manning the .50 cal looked up at her and grinned.

“Hiya, Rod,” she nodded at the man. He was wearing a tactical vest and an old Army helmet.

“And what, may I inquire, happened to you this fine night?”

“I took a tumble in the bushes,” she winked at him.

“So I see,” he smiled. “I take it I shouldn’t be sounding the alarm about the rest of your team either.”

Nadya sighed. “I had to ditch them. I promised Dr. Lee to run some experiments for him.”

Rod looked up at her. “You know, I don’t get you, Nadya,” he sighed. “You’re a smart girl, you know what’s good for you. You got a spot on the best damn crew there is, you got money, you got respect. And what do you do instead? Babysit engineers and piss off Anselmo? I don’t get it.”

“Hey, Rod,” Nadya said. “See that big red thing coming up behind you?” She pointed towards the Eastern sky, now distinctly tinged with a red glow. “I gotta run all the way to Pupin for my stuff. So, bye”

She ran up the steps onto the campus grounds, then turned left and into the doors of Arts Place, formerly Dodge Hall, a classical brownstone building, true to its name, once the home of the School of the Arts. As always a kitchen crew was using the remains of the café in the lobby to serve supper to the returning work teams. The tables were full of people eating, drinking, and talking. The tone of conversation was different tonight, she noticed, the voices louder and more excited. “Damn Hoodies,” she heard several people curse. A few voices called out to her, but she brushed them off. She was running out of time.

She began to walk away, then sighed and returned to the counter quickly. She accepted the cup of water offered to her with gratitude and drank from it deeply. She asked for another one. She washed the soot of her face with the third. It would have to do for now. A woman was serving the daily blood ration. The sight and smell of pudding made her mouth water. Quickly, she grabbed a cube of congealed blood from the plate and sent it to her mouth, savoring the metallic taste. The woman smiled and began to pour a plate. Nadya shook her head and walked off.

She took the small staircase to the basement. Most of subterranean portions of Dodge Hall was used as a guard post and storage room by the protective detail. The classrooms and offices of the basement level were clean and well lit. Some of the rooms were converted into dormitories, while others stored spare parts and assorted machinery. Bookcases lined the hallway- books were the lifeblood of Columbia, its wealth and its power, and any place capable of storing salvaged books was used as such.

A set of broken glass doors marked the end of the corridor. Just before them was a thick metal blast door. Nadya ran through it, and found herself in the old utility tunnels.

As always, the smell was the worst. The musty air, filled with the stink of stale blood, unwashed bodies, sweat, rotting matter and excrement hit her like a punch in the gut. She stood there, opening and closing her mouth. For a moment, all of the years had disappeared, and she was once more, a girl of twelve, entering the tunnels for the first time, holding her breath and trying not to retch. Then, just as suddenly, she was back. She sighed and ran into the hot cramped darkness of the tunnel, doing her best to breathe through the mouth.

***

She did not go to Pupin after all. It had only taken her a few minutes to reach the basement of Jane’s Lair, known formerly as Lewisohn Hall. The building used to house the school for older students, but now it served a different purpose, with all of the offices on the basement level being converted to dormitories. As Nadya ran down the long corridor, she could hear the sounds of people preparing for sleep. At last, she stopped before her own door and opened it.

The room itself was fairly large, over 120 square feet. Two sets of two-layered bunk beds lined the walls, while the wall opposite the door was given over to a set of lockers, containing the tenants’ personal possessions. The two on the left were hers.

She was in luck—the room was empty. She paused for a moment, then opened the leftmost locker. There, sharing the space with her warm winter coat, sat a large brown backpack containing her science gear. She looked around to see that she was alone, then opened it and pulled out the holiest of holies, a digital video camera in its soft case. She had received it from the hands of Professor Lee that very evening before the start of her shift. She opened the case and examined the Sony Handycam. As always, she felt her mouth go dry and her hands shake a little when she touched it.

The Sony Handycam was a relic of an era long gone, priceless and irreplaceable. The University had four such devices, she knew, but only the Sony Handycam had a functioning battery. As most things, it had to be purchased from Haven, at the cost of three crates of library books.

Nadya looked at the machine, infinitely more complex and sophisticated than the guns and pumps of her world, and for the thousandth time tried to imagine what it was like, living in a world where such devices were commonplace, a world where the streets were full of lights of people, where the sun did not bring a fate worse than death, where the population of Columbia alone numbered more than thirty thousand. Those who remembered the old world spoke of magical devices, a world-wide network of computers connected to each other, machines that could cross the breadth of a continent in mere hours, the ability to transmit images instantaneously…Such things boggled the mind, yet even they could not protect humanity against the fury of Hell and a vengeful God.

“Ah, there she is,” she suddenly heard a familiar voice behind her.

“Hiya, Paresh,” she put a smile on her face and turned around to face the other Senior Research Assistant.

Paresh Singh was two years younger than her, and like most that had grown up after the Apocalypse, he was quite short. Unlike most, he did not look stunted, he looked…miniature. It was as if someone took a taller man and shrunk him down in size. His limbs were long, his movements jerky and awkward. He stooped when he walked. With her 5’10” and outdoors training, Nadya felt like a creature from another world next to him, a far more dangerous and deadly one. She wondered if he ever realized this.

Like her, he was a research assistant, but that is where their similarity ended. While she was out in the field, scavenging for materials, hunting for samples, or taking care of the experimental garden on the roof, he spent his nights in the ruins of the old library, looking for texts, even carrying out some minor research for Professor Lee. He had been taught things. Some of it, he had even passed on to her.

His eyes widened as he saw her torn and dirty clothes.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“Fine,” she beamed at him. “Fell on my face on the way back, that’s all”.

He blinked at that. “You really ought to be more careful,” he said.

“Yeah, I can be so clumsy sometimes,” she sighed. “So, what’s up?”

“I…uh…have been looking for you, Nadya,” he took off his glasses, and began cleaning them with the hem of his blue I heart NY T-Shirt. “But you were always out. You missed your day off. I couldn’t help but wonder if you have been avoiding me.”

Only then did she realize that he was wearing his winter clothes- a heavy windbreaker jacket, thick jeans, work boots. He was wearing a bicycle helmet on his head. She did not know he even had a bicycle helmet. A machete made of scrap metal was hanging from his belt.

“You’re thinking of going outside!” she gasped.

“Well…uh…I could never seem to catch you indoors, so I decided that I should maybe come along, no?” he said. “I seem to recall you have once promised to teach me to use this wondrous device,” he pointed at the Sony Handycam in her hands. “Besides, I could use the experience. It is only to the roof, yes?” he added quickly.

“But you’re not authorized to be outside!” she protested.

“I…uh…did not realize you would pay heed to this fact.” He paused. “You did not, before.”

She glared at him for a few instants, then nodded. “We’ll have to smuggle you past the guards. That might be a problem. Hmmm….” She trailed off. “I know of a way outside, but it’s in John Jay. We’d have to somehow cross the entire campus aboveground, and avoid being seen…”

Paresh smiled. “Or, we can just tell the outside guards that I have authorization. It may appear to be a coincidence to you, but there happens to be a library inside Lehman Hall, abandoned and largely worthless though it may be. I doubt they will trouble Dr. Lee just to check if he did indeed send me out, to, say, fetch a rare book. Especially since I have given them no reason to doubt me in the past.”

“That….could work,” Nadya admitted.

“Then it is settled,” he beamed. “This is quite magnificent, I do believe it has been over a year since my last visit outside…”

“Oh you poor dear. I never realized how good I have it” she grinned, then stopped herself. Without wanting to, she was falling into their familiar routine. “Let’s go then,” she said, perhaps more brusquely than she intended. She carefully put the camera into it’s case, and stuffed it into her backpack, before closing the locker door. “We have to hurry,” she said.

***

Adele Lehman Hall was located right next to the kitchens and what was once Barnard College’s swimming pool and now held Columbia’s supply of fresh blood. Despite this, however, the building was not secure. Its lower levels, Nadya knew, once housed the Barnard Archives and the classrooms and offices of the Economics Department. Old bookshelves still lined the walls, and the floor was strewn with piles of books, but the building had other uses now. Its grille of concrete and glass made it too vulnerable for habitation, and the lower levels connecting to the network of tunnels were sealed off, save for a single access point protected by a massive metal door. Salvaged pipes, spare tools, and scrap iron filled the old classrooms. Water dripped from the ceiling and collected in murky puddles on the floor. The occasional flickering lightbulb provided almost no light, and Nadya had to pull out her flashlight to illuminate their way

The scene of desolation only grew worse upstairs. The building once housed the Wollman Library. When civilization fell, the science and engineering books had been moved out. The rest remained where they were, slowly rotting away in their shelves. The eastern wall, a grille of glass and concrete did not pass the test of time. Heaps of broken glass lined surrounded the wall, and large holes had shown where the wall had been breached numerous times. Winged things nested and lived amongst the bookshelves, hiding from even worse horrors that dwelled outside. From time to time, a hunt was organized, killing some and driving out the rest, only to see them return again. Paresh and Nadya crept along the outer corridors containing classrooms, listening intently, but hearing nothing but the occasional flutter of wings beyond the wall, and the frantic pounding of their own hearts.

Only when they crossed the floor and reached the narrow stairwell leading to the upper floors, did Nadya catch her breath. It was dark, and dank, and filthy, but she had never heard of things being seen inside it. It was as safe as any place aboveground could be.

“Almost there,” she whispered.

“I am suddenly quite happy Doctor Lee did not in fact send me here to fetch the book,” Paresh whispered back. He was shaking slightly. His hand was clenched around the hilt of his machete.
“Relax, this is the easy part.” She led him upwards, to a crude hole in the ceiling, protected by a plank of wood. With some effort, she moved it aside and clambered onto the roof.

Lehman Hall did have one feature that made it useful, despite its flaws. Nadya helped Paresh up, then got up, and scanned the area. Much of the large flat roof had been occupied by seed-beds, rows and rows of tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, as well as foxtails, corncockles, and dozens of others, all left exposed to sunshine and the elements. They stood, snatched out from the surrounding darkness by the beam of Nadya’s flashlight like the stuff of living nightmare. The sky to the east was tinged with red. She heard a distant howling. First one voice, then another, and another, until there were dozens.. Wolves, she thought, or perhaps hellhounds. Within minutes, there were hundreds of voices, screaming out in longing. She shuddered, despite herself.

“We don’t have much time,” she said. “The sun is almost up”.

Paresh nodded. He was looking around furtively, still holding the machete in a deathgrip. “So, this is the world-famous experimental garden,” he tried to smile. “Looks most impressive.”
“Wait till you have to go wheed-whacking.” Nadya muttered. “To prevent contamination from outside species,” she explained, seeing his wide eyes.

“You’re serious….”

“What’s the point of having an experimental garden, when you can’t even keep it pure,” she shrugged. Eliminating foreign infestations was bad, but couldn’t compare with earthing up those that were already there.

Nadya pointed the beam at a wide-leafed, thorned monstrosity about a meter in height, planted some distance away from the others. There were several small sets of bones scattered around it. “That’s our subject for tonight,” she said. “A month ago, it was a perfectly normal potato plant from the greenhouse. Look at it now.”

“I…have heard about this direction in Dr. Lee’s research, but to see the results firsthand….” He was looking at the thing now with unbridled curiosity. He was sweating profusely in his winter clothes, Nadya noted, but did not seem troubled in the least by it.

“Well, since you love it so much, might as well make yourself useful.” She handed him the flashlight, and carefully pulled out the Sony Handycam.

“You press the big red button here, and it is ready to use,” she said. There was a been and the lens cap opened. Nadya pulled the viewscreen out. “This is the screen where you see what is being recorded.” She pointed the camera at the plant.
“I must say, this is really quite something,” Paresh said. “I thought it would be like the screen of a computer, but the quality of the image is quite astounding. And it is so small….”

“It’s tactile, too,” she bragged. “But I’m not allowed to touch it.”

“This is quite remarkable, and quite a lot better than looking through old books. And the fresh air…”

“Until one of the subjects tries to eat you, that is.” She said. “Keep the light steady on the plant, I’m going to make an update for Dr. Lee.”

She held the camera out and carefully crossed the distance between her and the plant, until she was only a few meters away from it, then pressed the “Rec” button.

“Senior Research Assistant Melnik, June 29th, 2032. Day 34 of the experiment. Subject 321, one specimen of Solanum tuberosum, after application of blood of Canis lupus familiaris, Rattus norvegicus, and Sciurus carolinensis, all in advanced state of mutation, as well as the experimental serum given to me, and continued exposure to red sunlight continues to mutate at an accelerated rate, in line with accepted theory. As predicted, the type of blood makes no difference in the rate and type of mutation. The quantity, however, does, thus supporting the theory that tainted organic matter acts as a catalyst for further mutation. Likewise, in line with current theory of mutation, the subject exhibits extreme aggressive tendencies.” She zoomed in on one leaves, studded with vicious-looking thorns, then zoomed back out and poked it with the tip of her machete. Immediately, the plant shifted, pulling the leaf back, and striking out at the blade with dozens of other leaves. She was grateful it still didn’t know how to shoot them yet.

“As you can see, the specimen has appeared to have developed a capability of rapid plant movement, despite the Solanum tuberosum species being utterly incapable of it.” She paused and zoomed the camera on one of the small corpses under it. “Since the last visit, it appears to have killed another specimen of Columba infernis.”

“Like all organisms in an advanced state of mutation, the subject appears to be entirely dependant on solar energy for its metabolism, and is dormant during times of darkness, reacting only when provoked. As such, we might never find out the extent of its diurnal activity. It has shown no indication that it is capable of independent movement, and considering the fact that the subject has failed to react to the researcher’s presence except when in direct physical contact, leads to speculation that it lacks all sensory organs beyond tactile ones.” She tried to suppress a sigh. “The researcher will now attempt to remove samples for further study from the subject.”

Nadya turned the camera off, and carefully put it in its case, then put it in her backpack. “Keep the light on the subject,” she told Paresh. She put on a pair of thick gloves, and pulled out a set of garden shears from the backpack.

Suddenly, through the gloves, she felt his hand on hers

“Listen, Nadya…” Paresh looked acutely uncomfortable. “I’m sorry about this…”

She turned and looked him straight in the eye.

“So this is what it’s all about,” she pulled her hand away. “They haven’t made a decision yet,”
“I know, but…”

“But you think I have no chance of being selected.”

He shrunk back under her glare.

“No offense, Nadya, but, well, there are…” he hesitated for a moment, “…factors working against you” He took another step back, raising his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “I’m sorry, but it’s the truth.”

She said nothing. Paresh wiped the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand and continued. The flashlight was dancing in his shaking hands, revealing bits of the hellscape beyond, then plunging them into darkness once more.

“Look, all I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t have to end like this. I’m not going to forget about you just because I become a full member of the Order. And there will be another opening eventually.”

Nadya heard her heart pounding in her ears. She realizes she was clenching the shears as if her life depended on it, holding the, ready to strike. She exhaled and unclenched her fists slowly, letting them fall to the ground. “Get out,” she said. “Take your pity and shove it.”

He quickly nodded, set the flashlight down, and made a move towards the hatch.

“Wait,” she said. He froze and slowly turned around. In the red glow of the dawn, she could see the sweat glistening on his forehead. He looked around furtively.

“You are far too valuable to be walking around on your own,” she spat. “I will escort you back, once I am finished”

He nodded, wiped his forehead again, and looked at her.

A phone shrieked in a box by the entrance hatch. She walked over and picked up the plastic receiver.

“Anselmo to Melnik,” she heard the shift leader’s voice, “It’s almost sunrise, for fuck’s sake. Don’t tell me you’re still up there?! And what’s this I hear about you going off alone….”

“Coming right down,” she said, doing her best to keep irritation out of her voice and hung up.

Wordlessly, she picked up the flashlight and the shears and walked over to the plant. She lunged deeply, catching a branch between the blades and slicing it clean off. Dozens of thorns struck at her, only to bounce off helplessly off the blade. Then, she did it again.

She carefully slid them to her with the shears, then picked them up, and put them in a plastic bag which she stuck the rear pocket of the backpack. She put the shears and the gloves away, and put backpack on and walked towards the hatch, without so much as looking at her companion to check if she is being followed.

She stared down as she climbed down the ladder. As soon as her feet touched the floor, she took out the flashlight and headed towards the stairwell, without once looking back. She heard cautious footsteps behind her and did her best to ignore them.

Nadya felt her teeth grate. The bastard had been entirely correct. Paresh Singh had been groomed and trained by Professor Lee as his successor since childhood. She was not. She was not even a native of Columbia. She remembered what it took to get out of the kitchens, to be assigned to the work and scavenger crews. Now, she was a senior research assistant in charge of field work, a valued asset. This is as far as she would ever get. She would never make the next step and cross over into the mysteries of the Order.

She thought of the terrible night eight years ago, when she went North, rather than South. Even then, she knew what she wanted. Columbia University was the last remaining bastion of human knowledge in the city, perhaps in the whole world. She needed it to find the answer to the question, the most important question of them all.

Now, it would appear that the question would ever be answered.

She paused her descent for an instant, listening to the footsteps behind her. Her right boot was coming loose, she realized. The damned thing was two sizes too big, secured with rope around her ankle. She stopped, turned around and put her right foot up on the step above. Paresh stopped dead in his tracks, then retreated a few steps upwards. She heard a muttered a curse. She kept her gaze down, avoiding looking at him. Back on the roof, he was afraid she was going to murder him, she realized suddenly. The thought made her grit her teeth once more. The man had all the moral fibre of a wet rag, and yet, he was going to become a scientist, while she…She tightened the rope with one jerky movement and straightened out. That way, dangerous thoughts lay. Paresh looked like he was about to say something. She turned around and continued walking down the stairs.

***

They reached the tunnels together. Silently, Nadya turned north, towards the science center under Pupin Hall. Paresh, after a moment’s consideration turned the other way, and headed for the way they came, through the kitchens. She continued walking without looking back.

She made her way through the endless maze of pipe-filled tunnels towards Columbia’s science center, in the sub-basement of the old Pupin hall. Most of the Order’s laboratories were off-limits, even to her, and so she found her way blocked by a closed metal blast door. Still fuming, she rang the doorbell, and then thrust the sample and the camera at the woman who opened it.

“Doctor Stevensen,” She said, trying to keep her fury from showing. “Please give these materials do Doctor Lee with my best regards.”

Nadya saw the woman’s eyes widen in surprise. She did not care, nor did she have any inclination to wait for her reaction. Quickly, she turned around and began walking away.

She thought about returning to her sleeping quarters, but scrapped that idea almost immediately. Her roommates were good people, but people was the last thing she wanted to see right now. She knew what she had to do.

She quikly made here way to what was once known as Furnald Hall, now used for storage. She had taken the stairs up to the basement. There, she turned left, until she found what she was looking for- a small, out of the way closet, perhaps once used to store supplies. Looking around quickly to see that she is not being observed, she walked in and closed the door behind her. Once inside, she tore off her jacket, took off the overalls and the jeans and threw them on the dirty cinderblock floor. The jacket, she stuffed into her backpack, which she put under her head. Then, she curled up and cried herself to sleep.

--------------
Have a very nice day.
-fgalkin



My Fundie Guide The World Has Ended.....Life Goes On
Image
Image


Last edited by fgalkin on 2010-10-18 11:20pm, edited 3 times in total.
Top
 Profile  
 Post subject: Re: Third Covenant PostPosted: 2010-10-04 12:50am
Offline
Emperor's Hand
User avatar

Joined: 2005-05-16 04:08am
Posts: 8254
Location: The real number domain
I like it. It needs a little more proofing, but you largely avoided falling into the trap of reams of exposition. I was pleased by the fact that it was the clues in the text which made out the sun to be dangerous, as opposed to Nadya's monologue in the experimental garden.



What is Project Zohar?

Here's to a certain mostly harmless nutcase.

Top
 Profile  
 Post subject: Re: Third Covenant PostPosted: 2010-10-04 01:22am
Offline
Padawan Learner
User avatar

Joined: 2010-02-16 10:39pm
Posts: 314
Location: Parachuting with murderers into the Hollywood Hills
I like it, a nice change of pace from the Salvation War aspect of the apocalypse.



Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
- Samuel Clemens

Top
 Profile  
 Post subject: Re: Third Covenant PostPosted: 2010-10-04 02:10am
Offline
FUCKING DICK-STABBER!
User avatar

Joined: 2003-05-11 08:39am
Posts: 19927
Location: Bleeding breasts and stabbing dicks since 2003
I bet the people are VAMPIRES! Not only are there mutant plants, but with them eating blood riverwater, they are also vampires! Yes! Da!

Nice story. Some typos, but it's good. Goddamn, what is it with you Russians and the post-apocalypse? It reminded me of Metro 2033, which I played very little of. Man.



Image Image Image
shroom is a lovely boy and i wont hear a bad word against him - LUSY-CHAN!
Shit! Man, I didn't think of that! It took Shroom to properly interpret the screams of dying people :D - PeZook
Shroom, I read out the stuff you write about us. You are an endless supply of morale down here. :p - an OWS street medic
Pink Sugar Heart Attack!

Top
 Profile  
 Post subject: Re: Third Covenant PostPosted: 2010-10-04 02:18am
Offline
Emperor's Hand

Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm
Posts: 21589
Russians like to write post-apocalypse stories for an obvious and simple reason. It's a basic rule of writing:

Write what you know.

Which, in the case of Russia, boils down to "Somehow, things got worse."

:wink:

Top
 Profile  
 Post subject: Re: Third Covenant PostPosted: 2010-10-04 01:42pm
Offline
Carvin' Marvin
User avatar

Joined: 2002-07-03 11:51pm
Posts: 14432
Location: Land of the Mountain Fascists
Shroom Man 777 wrote:
I bet the people are VAMPIRES! Not only are there mutant plants, but with them eating blood riverwater, they are also vampires! Yes! Da!

Nice story. Some typos, but it's good. Goddamn, what is it with you Russians and the post-apocalypse? It reminded me of Metro 2033, which I played very little of. Man.

Well, good to see someone got the reference (check the date) :D

Simon_Jester wrote:
Russians like to write post-apocalypse stories for an obvious and simple reason. It's a basic rule of writing:

Write what you know.

Which, in the case of Russia, boils down to "Somehow, things got worse."

:wink:

That's a fairly accurate summary of both Russia and this work, yes.

Have a very nice day.
-fgalkin



My Fundie Guide The World Has Ended.....Life Goes On
Image
Image

Top
 Profile  
 Post subject: Re: The Third Covenant PostPosted: 2010-10-18 11:33pm
Offline
Carvin' Marvin
User avatar

Joined: 2002-07-03 11:51pm
Posts: 14432
Location: Land of the Mountain Fascists
I apologize for the delay with the updates, the update I was working on proved to be unmanageably large, and had to be split into two separate chapters. This is part 1, part 2 is still being worked on, and will be posted when ready.

Two.

The midday heat woke Nadya up. She opened here eyes and sat up, gasping for air. Her neck, back, and right arm were aching mercilessly. She could feel her T-shirt soaked through with sweat. She yawned, stretched, and began to grope blindly for her flashlight.

With the aid of the pale beam of light, she pulled on her jeans and boots and stuffed her jacket, baseball cap, and overalls into her backpack. The sight of her torn and dirty clothes served as an uncomfortable reminder of last night’s events. She sighed and replayed the scene in her head. She shouldn’t have snapped at Paresh like that, she realized. Perhaps he had a point after all, and knowing him, he probably meant well. And, in any case, he had been her friend and deserved better than to be treated like that. She grit her teeth and suppressed a desire to hit her head against the wall. She would apologize to him at first opportunity; Nadya resolved. With a swift and decisive motion, she pushed the door open and stepped out.

Furnald Hall had once housed Columbia’s students. Its basements contained student lounges, maintenance storerooms, and even a room with machines which washed and dried the students’ clothes. Now— too far from the heart of the university to be truly secure— it was used for non-essential storage: spare parts, planks of wood, useable scrap metal, scavenged bricks, and, of course, books. Most of the truly important books had been relocated to the inner keep and given to the appropriate department, but others, important enough to preserve, yet not absolutely vital to the survival of the community, were stored in the outer sections. The basement of the collapsed Lerner Hall had been turned into a makeshift library, while bookcases lined the walls of the basements and tunnels of Columbia’s outer sections and filled the occasional free room.

The lights, dim and flickering even in the best of times were shut down entirely, leaving Nadya’s flashlight as the only source of light available to her. That was good, for it had meant that the morning rest period was not over yet. Nadya closed the door to the storeroom and began moving towards the tunnel entrance. She stopped before stepping through the door connecting Furnald with the rest of the university and shut off her flashlight. There was a sentry post just beyond, where the tunnel branched off towards Lerner Hall. She would have to move silently to avoid being spotted and answering questions as to what she was doing in an area that was officially off-limits during daytime. Fortunately, aside from the small light bulb burring over the post itself, the tunnel was just as dark as the basement. Alas, it was also just as hot. Nadya felt sweat trickle down her back and drip down her forehead past her eyebrows, stinging her eyes. She wiped it off, adjusted her backpack, and stepped through the doorway.

Immediately, she heard voices. Contrary to regulations, the two men of the sentry post were distracted, in the middle of a coversation. It was a breach of discipline, but she certainly wasn’t going to remind them of it. She lunged past the spot of light and towards the darkness, only stopping once sure she was out of sight. She caught her breath and spread her arms, touching the pipes running along one wall and the bookcases running along the other. Then, slowly, quietly, she made her way down the tunnel.

After what seemed an eternity in the darkness, she reached the entrance to Lewisohn Hall, now known as Jane’s Hall. She turned on her flashlight, and lighting her way, walked down the corridor until she reached the door to her room. She tried the handle- it was unlocked. Slowly, Nadya opened the door and entered the room.

Keeping the beam of her flashlight firmly pointed at the lockers on the wall opposite the door, Nadya tiptoed across the room as silently as she could. Once there, she paused for a moment, listening to the quiet, rhythmic breathing of her sleeping roommates, and began to fiddle with the lock.

Nadya heard bedsprings squeak somewhere behind her, and turned around. Sally, the owner of the bunk above hers had raised herself on one elbow and was looking straight at her. A large black pistol in her other hand was pointed at the locker next to Nadya’s head.

“It’s me,” Nadya whispered. Sally gave her a look full of reproach, put the gun away, turned around to face the wall, and went back to sleep.

Nadya returned to inputting the correct combination into her lock. It took a few more seconds before it finally came off and she could open the door. Reaching into her backpack, she took the dirty clothes and hat out of it, and carefully put them into the locker, then stuffed the backpack in as well. She made sure her pistol and machete were securely attached to her belt, before taking it off and hanging it up opposite her winter coat. Then, she undid the ropes around her ankles securing her boots, and slid them off. She stripped off her sweat-soaked T-shirt and jeans. From inside the locker, she took out a pair of her indoor shoes— they did not match, but at least they were the right size—and put them on.

Silently, making every effort not to wake anyone, she closed the door to the leftmost locker, and opened the one next to it.

As always, the first thing she saw was the old photograph taped to the inside of the door: a man and a woman, standing on the observation deck of a skyscraper. The sky was clear and blue, with nary a cloud to be seen. They were both smiling, his hand wrapped behind her shoulders. Below them was the magnificent vista of New York City.

Before Nadya realized what she was doing, her hand clasped around the small silver crucifix hanging on a thick string around her neck. It was different from the others she had seen- it had three bars, the lowest of which was slanted. The words “Спаси и Сохрани” were engraved on the back.

Nadya thought about the close call she had last night, and brought the crucifix up to her lips.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

Inside the locker itself, Nadya had secured planks of wood and bits of metal, separating the large open space into several smaller shelves. She quickly ran the beam of her flashlight up and down, checking that all was in its place.

She could see most of her meager possessions- a few sets of clothes, socks, and underwear, a gun cleaning kit, a box full of ammo for her Glock, a few books from the Library, an old notebook. She could not see the boxes containing her money and the really important things, but she knew they were there, hidden under the neatly folded clothing. Nadya took a toothbrush and a bar of soap from the top shelf. It was Haven-made—superior to the local variety, made from blood fat and ashes, and one of the few luxuries she could permit herself.

The flashlight went out again. Quietly, Nadya closed the locker door, fiddled with the lock until she was sure it was secure, and tiptoed across the room to the door.

The basement hallway outside her room was dark, illuminated only by a faint emergency light at one end, and no one saw Nadya streaking past in her underwear.

The bathroom was powered from a different source than the rest of the rooms on the floor, and a lone yellow incandescent lightbulb turned on when Nadya flipped the switch. Nadya used the toilet—a toilet seat cleverly installed over a bucket; and walked over to the sinks.

In the days before the end of the world, all of Columbia had access to clean running water. Those days were long past, and now a barrel—a 55 gallon drum cut in half—and a ladle were the only source of water available. It was for washing, not drinking—neither boiled nor distilled, but as thirsty as she was, Nadya could not resist taking a few deep gulps.

Two of the sinks had washers—buckets with holes in their bottoms—bolted to the wall above. Nadya chose the one with the intact mirror. All the other mirrors were shattered by a crack which ran from floor to ceiling and across the wall for almost its entire length—like all of Columbia’s buildings, every entrance to Jane’s was buried under tons of rubble, and the impact of the first and second floors collapsing took its toll.

With the ladle, Nadya filled the washer with water from the barrel. She pressed the rod protruding slightly from the bottom of the bucket, and water trickled into the sink, down the drain, and, through a rubber hose, into a barrel collecting wastewater. Nadya soaped up the toothbrush and brushed her teeth, doing her best to ignore the awful taste. Then, she washed the sweat and soot and grime off her face and body.

Nadya could not resist examining herself in the mirror as she washed. She knew she was considered beautiful—unlike most of her generation, she was neither stunted nor underdeveloped. Her features were well proportioned and, like the statues in Low Library. Her hair was auburn—same color as that of the woman in the photograph—and was in sharp contrast with her ghostly-pale skin. Nadya sometimes dreamt of letting it grow out to shoulder length, same as her mother, but that, was, of course, impossible for a forager.

Nadya examined the dark circles under her large blue eyes, and sighed. She looked haggard and thin, she decided. Some sleep would do her good. She picked up her soap and toothbrush and headed out of the bathroom.

She was halfway to her door, when the lights came on. An electric bell filled the air with insisting ringing. Reveille.

“Fuck,” Nadya cursed, and sprinted for her room.

“Good morning, Nadya.” When she got to it, her roommate was already up, dressed, and waiting for her. Sally Cho was a few years older than Nadya, a full head shorter, and slightly bowlegged from rickets. Despite this, Nadya could see the cords of muscle in her arms and legs. She was military and aiming for First Squad.

“You weren’t in your bunk tonight,” Sally said, frowning. As a soldier, she was the dormitory’s designated prefect, responsible for enforcing the rules. “You’re supposed to be here every sleep period.”

Nadya sighed and nodded.

“Do you remember why you’re supposed to be here every night?” Sally gave her a hard look.

“Because beyond that door,” Nadya pointed downwards in the general direction of the tunnels leading to the kitchen, “is a potential entry point, and I must always be here to defend the tunnels in case of a breach. I’m sorry,” she said.

Sally took her pistol out from the locker, checked it, then placed it in a holster hanging from her belt. Then, she pulled out her assault rifle, and shut the locker door with a bang. There was a squeal of rusted springs as the woman in the top bunk across the room sat up, waking up, then leaped down and ran to her locker, grabbed her things, then ran out of the room. With a look of disgust on her face Sally stepped aside to let her pass.

“So, you did not forget,” she continued, once the door slammed shut behind the woman. “Yet you were not here. Tell me, what were you doing that was more important than the safety of this community?”

Nadya spent a few seconds considering how to answer that question.

“None of your business,” she said at last.

“Fair enough,” Sally conceded the point, “you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. But you have knowingly abandoned your post. There must be consequences. Report to the personnel office after exercise for punishment detail. I’ll meet you there.”

“Girls, please stop fighting,” Jennifer, Nadya’s fourth and final roommate was awake at last, examining them with bleary eyes. “You shouldn’t be fighting amongst yourselves.”

“We weren’t fighting,” Nadya said. Sally turned away, ignoring the older woman demonstratively.

“Now now, girls, you shouldn’t lie to me,” Jennifer said, getting out of bed. Nadya thought she could smell the faint trace of liquor on her breath. “I am not stupid, you know. I used to be somebody, too,” she pulled out a crumpled and dirty photograph from under her pillow. “I used to work for Hillary Clinton!”

Nadya glanced at much younger woman vaguely recognizable as Jennifer standing next to the Greatest Woman Who Ever Lived, and nodded.

“Yes, Jennifer, you’ve told us many times.”

“Don’t be late for exercise,” she heard Sally’s voice behind her, followed by the sound the door slamming.

“Such a good girl, but always so angry,” Jennifer sighed. “I’m very proud of you two girls, you know,” she continued, “but something has to be done about her temper. Her father’s influence, I’d wager.”

“Don’t say that,” Nadya walked over to her locker, and opened the door. “Her father was a good man and a real hero.”

“There’s no such thing as a ‘good man,’” Jennifer cut off. “Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said all these years?”

Nadya said nothing as she changed into her indoor set of clothes- a tank top and shorts. She had always felt sorry for Jennifer. Before the world ended, she had been a promising student at Barnard, studying something called “political science” (which, according to her explanations, was the art of running a society. Nadya considered the amount of effort it must have involved to run a country of 300 million and was impressed). Then, the world ended, the raiders came, and Jennifer had never truly recovered, eventually becoming a mere shell of her former self.

Nadya sighed and put on her weapons, took the messenger bag containing her mess tin and other necessary things, then closed the locker door.

“You look upset, Nadya,” the woman continued. “Was that horrid ex-boyfriend of yours bothering you again?”

“No. Look, I’m fine, really!” Nadya forced a smile on her face. Jennifer ignored her. She was standing on her bed, peering over the edge of the top bunk.

“Diana! Wake up, sleepyhead,” she prodded the empty bunk with her hand.

“She left already,” Nadya said.

“Insufferable girl! What kind of daughter leaves in the morning, without even a ‘good morning’ to her mother? Even if it is to whore herself,” she spat. “Such ingratitude! I birthed her, I raised her! And this is what I get! Not even a good morning!”

Things were beginning to take a dangerous turn. Nadya headed for the door.

“If only she was like you….why couldn’t you be my daughter…” the woman sat back down on her bunk and was examining Nadya with a dreamy look in her dim bleary eyes.

“I’m sorry, Jennifer, but I really must be going. I’m in enough trouble as it is,” Nadya almost ran for the door.

“Trouble? A nice girl like you? What kind of trouble could you be in? Not like my whore of a daughter…” the woman continued, but Nadya was already nearing the door.

Once out in the hallway, she did not stop until she was safely away. She paused for a moment to catch her breath, and then was off again. Sally was right, the last thing she needed right now was to be late for exercise.

***

An hour later, after endless push-ups, weapons drills, and laps around the perimeter of the inner keep, Nadya was following Sally Cho through Fairchild’s well-lit and immaculately clean corridors’ listening to the rhythmic puffing of the steam powerplant, only a few dozen feet away. Just as the coal-powered powerplant under Uris Hall was Columbia’s beating heart, Fairchild Hall, once the home of the Biology department, was its brain. Beyond the door of the Personnel Office, located at the head of a long corridor, Nadya could see the locked doors of the Armory; the barracks of First Squad, Columbia’s flying squad, the crème de la crème of its military; the Treasury; the Records and Accounting Departments of the University Administration, the quarters of the University President, and, of course, the Council chamber.

Unlike most doors in Fairchild, the door to the Personnel Office was not reinforced with metal, and was left slightly ajar. Sally knocked, waited for a response, and entered.

The office was small, its walls lined with half a dozen massive bookcases filled with thick binders full of typewritten notes. The woman sitting behind an old-fashioned wooden desk was, without a doubt, the oldest creature Nadya had ever seen. Helena Majewski was a withered crone nearly 70 years of age. Her face, framed by rare strands of long white hair, was dark with age, and wrinkled like one of Haven’s prunes, yet, her cold blue eyes were as bright and clear as ever.

“Afternoon, ladies,” she said.

“Good afternoon, Ms. Majewski, ma’am” Sally saluted, then stood at ease.

“Ma’am,” Nadya echoed.

“I would ask what brings you here to this humble office, but I suspect I already know,” the old woman’s voice, barely louder than a whisper, was like rustling of leaves in the wind. Nadya took a step closer, straining to catch every sound.

“Ma’am?” Sally Cho blinked in surprise.

“The sentries at Arts have observed you entering the tunnels,” the crone spoke. “You then took a trip through the kitchens to the experimental garden and back with your friend Paresh. Being a good little lab assistant, you returned your camera to the scientists, before suddenly disappearing. No one seen you leave the tunnels, but,” she glanced at Sally, “you were not in your bunk all morning.”

“Yes, ma’am” Nadya sighed. Somehow, without hardly ever leaving the office, the woman managed to know everything about everyone. She saw the crone’s eyes dig into her, but refused to lower her gaze. She felt as if the woman’s cold eyes were stripping away her defenses, layer after layer, until only the truth remained. She barely suppressed a shudder, but still she looked on, refusing to turn away. At last, it was the woman who looked away with a sigh.

“This is a difficult time for you, Miss Melnik,” she said. “But rules exist for a reason, and must be obeyed regardless.” Her index finger, gnarled and twisted like a murder-oak’s root, slid across the lined page of a thick open notebook. Out of the corner of her eye, Nadya saw Sally give her a questioning look.

“Yes, that will do,” the crone nodded, apparently satisfied, and turned to the ancient mechanical typewriter sitting on the edge of her desk. “Considering your…adventures last night, I imagine Mr. Anselmo will be pleased as well.” She began to tap out a reassignment form to be given to her superior for signature, releasing her from her normal duties; then returned here for safekeeping.

“Yes, this will do quite nicely…” she continued. “Mr. Drumbisil had put in a request a while ago, and with today’s council meeting, he just might get his work team after all.”

Nadya’s heart sank at the mention of Old Drumby.

“Yes, the piggies needing cleaning again. How very inconsiderate of them. And there are those other pesky punishment detail duties,” the crone continued without looking up. “Unfortunately, it’s the only one-day job available before the Feast.”

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you ma’am,” Nadya said.

“Card, please,” the crone stretched out her hand.

Nadya reached into her bag and pulled out her Columbia Card- a small spiral-bound notebook, its pages yellow with age, an old photograph of her crudely glued just inside the cover. She put the notebook on the desk and stepped back. Carefully, the woman leafed through the fragile pages, sometimes nodding, as if in agreement, at the things written there. At last, she found a blank page, scribbled a new line, then handed the notebook back to Nadya.

“You may go now,” the woman said, returning to her typing. “I would not trust this very important document to the likes you two. But if you happen to see Mr. Anselmo, do advise him to stop by my office.”

“Certainly, ma’am. Have a nice day, ma’am” Sally saluted.

Nadya opened the book and examined the addition: “06/29/32 pd: pf/sd” followed by the signature. She sighed. In addition to slaving away at the pig farm, she was also assigned to the sanitary detail.

“Have a nice day, ma’am”, she echoed and both girls beat a hasty retreat.

***

“How in the name of the world-that-was does she do that?” Sally said once they were out of hearing range.

“Magic? A network of informers? Who knows?” Nadya answered.

“Magic sounds about right,” Sally sighed. “Did you know that she remembers every single personnel assignment she ever made? Every. Single. One.”

Nadya looked at her in disbelief.

“I was doing research about my father,” Sally explained. “And I was asking her questions. Which section he was assigned, and such. She remembered not only every single post and patrol he ever took part in, every disciplinary infraction, and every reassignment, but even his old world service record in the Navy. I couldn’t believe my eyes”

“How is that even possible?”

“That’s what I thought, too, so I did some research in my spare time,” Sally said. “Apparently, there is something called an ‘eidetic memory’. That’s when you remember everything, after seeing it just once.”

Nadya imagined being able to remember a book, after reading it once, what it would do for her quest for knowledge.

“Really? That sounds amzing,” she said. “I wish I had something like that.”

“Yeah, and Majewski’s stunning good looks, too,” Sally chortled. “You’d really want to remember everything? Remember, that includes all the bad stuff, and all the boring and useless stuff. Would you really want to wake up in the middle of sleeptime, with a bunch of physics formulas, or, say, the number of hairs on the back of Old Drumby’s pigs in your head?”

“Just as long as it’s not the number of hairs on Old Drumby’s back,” Nadya chuckled.

They were interrupted by the sound of a sharp, loud steam whistle somewhere underfoot. They paused, listening, as it echoed across the tunnels and hallways. For a moment, it was quiet, then dozens of electric bells joined in, filling the air with loud ringing for half a minute.

One whistle. One bell. Change of watch.

“Crap,” Sally cursed. “So much for breakfast.” She gave Nadya a sharp look.

“Sorry,” Nadya said. “I’ll ask Milagros to send you something.”

“Thanks,” Sally said. “See you tonight?”

Nadya nodded.

“Just make sure I do see you tonight,” Sally ran off, leaving Nadya alone in the tunnel with her thoughts.

Nadya considered her situation. It was her standby watch, and she had a meeting with Dr. Lee at 1500, to report on last night’s finding and receive new instructions. New instructions that she won’t be able to carry out, because she would be spending tonight’s work shift cleaning up pig shit and emptying buckets of nightsoil.

She imagined the disappointment in Dr. Lee’s eyes when she told him she was assigned punishment duty.

“Fuck,” Nadya cursed, not a trace of her earlier joviality remaining. “Shit fuck.”

If she had even a trace of a chance before, surely this dereliction of duty would just tip the scales against her. Curse that Paresh and his stupid desire to “help,” and curse her for reacting the way she did!

So engrossed was she in her thoughts, that she did not notice she had emerged from the makeshift tunnel into the Miracles Lounge, as Columbia’s common room in the basement of Schermerhorn Extension was known. Most of the basement’s inner walls had been knocked down, leaving a large open space filled with tables and chairs. Couches filled the center of the room, and the walls were lined with bookcases. A table from the Department of the Libraries stood near them. She glanced at it, hoping to see Paresh, but saw only the familiar giant form of Crozius. In the leftmost corner of the room, there was the door to the General Store; in the right, there was a grand piano, currently unoccupied, an old grandfather clock next to it. The hands showed the time: 2:04 pm.

In the center of the room, near the greatest concentration of tables, there was the kitchen stall serving breakfast: the standard blood ration— cold cubes of congealed blood, boiled last night; as well as more delectable fare, for a price. Nadya’s stomach grumbled, reminding her of how little she had to eat since last evening. She took her mess tin out of her bag, and got in line.

“Magda!” Nadya spotted a short blonde woman wearing a baby sling near the front of the line, and waved to her. Then, she ran up to join her, ignoring the dirty looks from the people ahead of her in line. “How you’re holding up? How’s Samuel?” she looked at the sleeping child in the baby sling.

Magda looked up at her with red eyes.

“I can’t take it anymore,” she said quietly.

“Can’t take what?” Nadya asked.

“This. All of this,” Magda gestured with her hand around her. “The heat. The smell. The lines. The fucking pudding. The fact that this is all there is and all there ever will be. The fact that he’s gone,” she sobbed.

For an instant, Nadya felt a stab of sheer utter terror. Magda had been her friend since the days they worked together in the kitchens. Even after Nadya had become a forager, she continued living in the same room in Jane’s Hall, sleeping in the bunk below Magda’s. Her friend moved out to the family dormitories when she married, and the bunk now belonged to Sally Cho, but they remained in close contact. And never in their 7 years together had she seen the normally cheerful Magda reduced to such a state.

“Oh damn,” she whispered, grabbed Magda’s shoulder and pulled her close. “You’re not thinking of…”

“And why not? Why should anyone be forced to live like this? Why can’t I join him?”

Nadya looked straight into her tear-filled eyes.

“Because, despite what they may claim, no one knows what happens after death, that’s why.” She said. “Have you accepted the Covenant? One church says you’re going to Hell without it. The other, says you’re going to hell with it. I think they’re both full of shit, but are you willing to take that chance? I mean, look at the world we live in. Can you imagine what Hell is like?”

Magda blinked in surprise, and something akin to curiosity appeared in her eyes.

“I was thinking of accepting the Covenant, yes,” she said. “Father O’Keefe always talks about how once you receive it, your soul’s salvation is guaranteed.”

Nadya looked at her with alarm.

“You’ve thought this through! How long have you been considering it? Since Jeremy…?”

Magda nodded.

“I don’t think you should believe everything Father O’Keefe says,” Nadya said quickly. “How can he, or his prophet know?”

“But the miracles….”

“Have you actually seen them? Have you seen James Lowey, or Father O’Keefe, or any other man do the things people talk about?”

“No, but…”

“Let me tell you something,” Nadya said, relieved that she seemed to be having an effect on her friend. “Many years ago, before we were cut off, Dr. Lee was invited to visit New York City.”

“I know.” Magda nodded. “That’s the time when he found Paresh, right?”
“That’s right,” Nadya confirmed. “When he was in Bloombergville, he heard rumors of James Lowey and his ‘miracles’, so he offered him to come to Columbia and participate in some experiments to verify his powers. But guess what? Lowey refused, any you know why? He said he was nothing but a man of God, and thus had no magical or supernatural powers.”

“But all those things people are saying? Surely they can’t all be lying?”

“When people in Washington Heights claimed to have seen an angel, did we believe them? Or did we call them mad and quarantine them? Perhaps, the madness has spread to the South, as well.”

Magda stared at her.

“So, what happens after we die?” she asked.

“Do I look like Father O’Keefe to you?” Nadya smiled. “I have absolutely no idea. But odds are, it’s very very unpleasant.”

For a moment, Magda looked at her, then she started sobbing again.

“That means….Jeremy…” she breathed between sobs.

Nadya mentally kicked herself and hugged her friend closely.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean…”

“Magda? Nadya? What’s wrong?” said a voice next to her. Nadya realized that they had reached the head of the line and the owner of the kitchen stall was looking at them with alarm.

“We’re fine,” Nadya said quickly.

The woman looked at her with reproach.

“You two never lied to old Milagros when you were working for me, so don’t start now.”

“I wanted to kill myself, and my baby and Nadya talked me out of it,” Magda said. The older woman’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“Aha. Now that is something one does not hear very often. Come here,” she pulled them both behind the counter. “Bob, take over for a minute,” she called out to the big man who was her assistant.

“Sit down,” she told the two girls. She took their mess tins, but rather than the ordinary blood pudding, she poured them both her trademark “Miracle Soup” from a pot boiling on a small electric stove.

“Eat. Calm down,” she said. “And tell me what happened.”

Nadya, whose stomach had been grumbling repeatedly for the past few minutes, accepted the bowl gratefully. The soup was her favorite— thickly spiced blood, rat tripe, even the occasional cockroach thrown in for protein. The mere smell of it was making her head spin. She brought the first spoonful to her mouth. For the next few minutes, nothing existed except for the spoon in her hand and the heavenly taste in her mouth. When she opened her eyes, she could see the two women talking.

“I just don’t want my son to live like this,” Magda sighed.

“Who does?” Milagros said. “But what else can we do?” She got up and returned to serving the food at the counter.

“The human race must go on, if only to spite the bastards above,” Nadya echoed.“We can’t even die in peace, so we’ll go on living.”

The baby awoke and his shrill screams pierced the air. Magda looked down, and began to rock the swing, trying to lull her son back to sleep.

“It’s just…I can’t believe there is nothing we can do, to make things better,” she said.

“We can improve Columbia,” Nadya suggested.

“It’s either that or moving to Haven,” Milagros chuckled, without turning around. “The land of milk and honey where they all live aboveground, without fear of the Burning Men.”

“Did anyone actually try, though?” Magda asked suddenly.

“Try what?” Milagros asked. Nadya cursed her under her breath.

“Move to Haven?”

“Many times,” Nadya said.

“Bastards shoot people on sight,” Milagros said, her voice bitter.

“Well, if it’s as good as they say, who can blame them?” Bob joined into the conversation.

“At least they trade with us,” Nadya said. “We wouldn’t have made it without them.”

“I still say they’re a bunch of damned bastards,” Milagros said.

“Not as much as those Hoodies,” Bob said.

“Well, obviously…” Nadya said. “I don’t think there should be any comparison between the two…”

“The audacity of them, coming here,” Bob continued.

Nadya blinked. “Coming here?”

“You mean you haven’t heard?” Milagros turned around.

“Heard what? That there are Hoodies coming here?”

“They captured two of them last night.” Bob said. “There will be an open council meeting later today, in what is it? 20 minutes?”

Nadya got up. “I have to talk to Dr. Lee,” she said. “Are you going to be OK?” she turned to Magda. The woman nodded.

“Best she stays with us for a while,” Milagros said. Nadya nodded. “Thanks.”

Quickly, she made her goodbyes and left the common room in the direction of Pupin Hall.

------------------------------
Have a very nice day.
-fgalkin



My Fundie Guide The World Has Ended.....Life Goes On
Image
Image

Top
 Profile  
 Post subject: Re: The Third Covenant (Original) (updated 10/19/10) PostPosted: 2010-10-25 12:03pm
Offline
Carvin' Marvin
User avatar

Joined: 2002-07-03 11:51pm
Posts: 14432
Location: Land of the Mountain Fascists
And here's the second part of the update.

Three.

Nadya had made it as far as the old powerhouse—a hot cavernous hell three stories tall, where two antique steam engines rotated the dynamos of the power plant and engineers scurried the numerous catwalks—before realizing that she would never make it in time. She had spent too much time in the common room—Dr. Lee would have already left Pupin Hall if he wanted to be at the council meeting in time. She could wait here to intercept him, but she doubted they would have time to talk on the go. She would have to catch him after the meeting. She sighed and turned around.

While most of underground Columbia was small and cramped, a few large open spaces did exist within the tunnels. The old powerhouse was the largest of them, but another underground hall, almost as large existed under the eastern end of Havermeyer Hall. It was, as far as Nadya could tell, once used as a loading dock of sorts, and still had the wide metal gates and loading ramps even as the forklifts which used them ran out of fuel and were cannibalized for parts years ago. Crates and boxes of supplies were stacked along the thick walls of yellow cinderblock. The room was over two stories tall, most of that space wasted in the original design. After the world ended, the survivors tried to remedy it and now scaffolds and catwalks of wood and metal crisscrossed the air overhead. A large wooden podium was constructed at one end of the room. It was there that the open sessions of the Columbia Council were usually held. Nadya could see eight empty chairs and a large brass bell. She was just in time.

The room was already packed with people. Looking at the size of the crowd, Nadya estimated that about half of the community’s total population—almost everyone without immediate duties at this hour—had found a pretense to be here. The noise of some ten dozen people talking at once echoed from the walls and ceiling of the cavernous room and descended back to the floor, creating a thunderous din. With her height, Nadya towered over many in the crowd, giving her a good view of the surroundings. She saw familiar faces, greeted people and was greeted in return. She scanned the crowd looking for Paresh, but he was nowhere to be seen. Instead, looking far to her left, she saw someone else entirely.

As always, “perfect” was the word to describe Kelvin Cosgrave. He was a few inches taller than Nadya, and his gaunt face, brimmed by short brown curls could be seen above the heads of the crowd. He was talking to a fellow engineer, half a head shorter than himself, and Nadya could see his patient smile with only the slightest hint of amusement in his eyes. She knew the expression well—he wore that smile whenever teaching her something new; be it explaining a new equation or recommending a book she missed out on reading. Looking at him now, Nadya felt something twist and break inside. Kelvin Cosgrave had been the best and the worst thing that had ever happened to her. With him, she felt the happiest she could remember, the happiest since she was a little girl living at the Rock with her mother and uncle. For a moment, Nadya desperately wished she had not seen the things she did, and immediately hated herself for it.

Kelvin’s eyes shifted a little, and his smile grew slightly wider as he saw her. He gave her a short, ironic nod of the head. Nadya turned away as if slapped. Around her, people noticed the sudden movement, and she faintly heard murmurs rise over the din of the crowd. She sighed inwardly. He was their hero, the idol of her generation, the brilliant young engineer who kept Columbia’s heart beating, and thus, had a place in their hearts as well. She was the outsider, the girl from the kitchens who rose above her place and stabbed him in the back. She had tried telling them the truth, warning them of the darkness that lurked beneath the mask, but her pleas fell on deaf ears. Even Magda, her closest friend told her what a good man and a prize catch he was, and if only she could work things out with him…At first, she got angry at people for being blind, for refusing to see what was there. That only made things worse. Eventually, she realized that she could do nothing without proof and shut up. But sometimes, even she herself began to doubt what she saw. What if she was wrong? What if people were correct and she just imagined the whole thing…

The ringing of the large brass bell interrupted her thoughts and brought her back to reality. The noise of the crowd began to quiet down. Nadya turned towards the podium, but not before sneaking another glance at Kelvin. He had already turned away, looking at the figures ascending the podium. Next to him, she could see the scruffy head of Noah Weiss. So much for that mystery, at least. She looked away.

Looking at the podium, she could see figures climbing up and taking their seats. She knew them all by sight, of course, and, squinting, scrutinized their faces for any hints of what was to come. She could see dark rings under the eyes of Major Cardona and the hard face of her mentor and knew then that the matter was serious.

The bell rang again, and the last of the murmurs died away, leaving silence broken only by the puffing of the steam engines just beyond. The secretary, a tall, grey man over 50 with a remarkably mousy face stepped away from the bell towards the edge of the podium, brought his cupped hands to his mouth and took a deep breath, puffing his chest.

“It is June 29th, 2032, 2:32 pm,” he began. “This emergency open session of the Columbia Council is convened to rule on the subject of granting an asylum application to the two individuals captured last night.” He stopped and took a deep breath. “The session will begin with the Council debate, after which, the people will be able to voice their concerns.” He took another deep breath and continued.

“In presence are: Dr. Reinquist, Dean of SEAS, President of the Board of Engineers.”

Jason Reinquist was a tall old man, grey-haired and hawk-nosed. Twenty years in the tunnels failed to bend his back, and his eyes, were as clear and sharp as ever. A strict disciplinarian, he alone among the council followed protocol and wore an old-style suit and tie. He was, unarguably, the second most powerful man in Columbia, one who had ensured its survival again and again by keeping the vestiges of old technology in operation.

“Dr. Melissa Udell, Dean of the School of Medicine, Chief of Medicine,”

The only woman on the council was old, well into her sixties. Her stern face was lined with worry lines, and her small, sad eyes examined the crowd below. She was in charge of the only institution in New York, and, perhaps the whole world, capable of producing qualified medical personnel, and her former students worked everywhere from the secret tunnels of Chinatown to the subway stations under Washington Heights.

“Dr. Steven Lee, Dean of the School of Pure Science, Head Researcher.”

Nadya looked at the short Asian man, the most brilliant scientist left alive by the cataclysm, her mentor and the man who held her fate in his hands. She could see that he had waited till the last moment to leave, as he still wore his old stained lab coat. His haggard face and tired eyes, covered by a pair of glasses with thick cracked lenses, made him look older than his 63 years. At the moment, he was talking to his neighbor and made no notice of his name being called.

“Mr. Martin Smith, Head of the Foraging Department, Proprietor of the University Store.”

The richest man in Columbia, and perhaps, the world, smiled at the mention of his name. He was a legendary figure, a hero not only to his community, but to all of New York City. Before their disbandment, Martin’s Marauders, the original Free Roaming Group, had distinguished themselves in everything they did, from diving into the depths of flooded subway tunnels to retrieve parts for Bloombergville’s sump pump to raiding demon-infested ruins of Con Edison powerplants for valves for Columbia’s steam system. He had been the head of the Foraging Department since its creation, and even though he had not set foot outside the tunnels for almost six years, he controlled the outside work teams with a meticulous eye and firm hand. He was dressed in a bloodswimmer hide-and-scale coat, worth more than Nadya could possibly dream to make in her life, and was carrying an ornate cane in his hand.

The Secretary burst into a fit of coughing, spat on the floor of the podium, and continued in a quieter voice.

“Mr. Imran Hussaini, Head of the Maintenance Department,” he said.

At 35, Imran Hussaini was by far the youngest member of the Columbia Council. A carpenter by trade, he was recently elected by Columbia’s tradesmen as their common representative. The son of a taxi driver, as he proudly proclaimed at every opportunity, he claimed to stand for the interests of the “common man” at Columbia against the “oppression by the elites.” Despite this, he looked distinctly uncomfortable sitting openly in front of the large crowd.

“Mr. Tyrone Gibbs, Special Representative of the Mayor of the City of New York.”

Nadya looked at the man occupying the leftmost chair, away from all the others. Unlike the rest of the Council members, he did not represent a segment of Columbia’s society, but rather, made sure that it was governed according to the wishes of Bloombergville. He was sent by Mayor O’Malley three years ago, and made no secret of his dislike of the posting, leaving his quarters only to attend council meetings or to get food, drink, and companionship.

“Presiding is Major Adrian Cardona, USMC, President of Columbia University, Commander, Morningside Heights Task Force,” the Speaker finished speaking and let out a small sigh of relief.

Columbia’s most powerful man had just turned 57. His long drooping moustache was grey, his head was balding. He was dressed in his old military fatigues, and carried the University Mace in his hand. He usually wore a tactical vest as well, as far as Nadya could remember, but she could see no sign of it now. Perhaps, she thought, he could no longer fit in it—he, alone amongst Columbia’s population, was getting thick around the waist.

“This emergency session of the Columbia Council is now open,” the Secretary said, taking his seat, and pulled out his notepad.

Adrian Cardona looked around the hushed crowd with small, porcine eyes, and began speaking.

“I have gathered this meeting because of a matter of some importance, which occurred last night,” he said, stroking the University Mace in his lap. “In brief, two members of a certain community to the East of us have been captured by one of our patrols. They have since informed us that they are refugees from their community, and have asked for sanctuary here in Columbia. As you well know, this sort of situation has never before happened in the history of our University, and I have decided that all should have their say while this precedent is being set.”

He raised the Mace, ending the muttering from the crowd before it had a chance to really begin.

“Martin, your men found them, tell us what happened,” he turned to the head forager.

Martin Smith nodded, cleared his throat and pulled out a yellowed piece of paper, torn from some notebook.

“At 3:15 am, the Eastern patrol came into contact with the individuals in question near the ruins of the 125th Street overpass,” he said, referring to the old El station. “The individuals offered no resistance, surrendered their weapons peacefully, and announced their desire to seek asylum here at Columbia.” He put the paper away. “After debriefing them, I’ll say that their intentions appear genuine. I’m done here,” he said, turning to the Major.

“Thank you, Martin,” Adrian Cardona nodded. “Since this is an open meeting, I think everyone should see them for themselves before making a decision.” He stood up from his seat and swung the Mace. “Bring in the prisoners!” he said.

Immediately, the crowd erupted in shouts and jeers. When the world ended, before the sailors and marines of the USS George H. W. Bush reestablished order in the city, Columbia had been overrun by gangs from Harlem and the South Bronx. They were expelled, eventually, and established their own community, but Columbia did not forget, nor forgive.

With a loud clang and the screeching of badly-oiled hinges, the metal gate slid upwards, revealing two figures being led in by members of the First Squad, two of whom positioned themselves between the prisoners and the crowd. Behind them towered the giant form of Jim Washington.

The prisoners themselves were short, thin, and painfully young, no more 14 or 15. Their features were so similar, they could almost be twins. Nadya’s first impression was of how foreign they looked, not merely in dress—they wore torn and dirty track suits, but even in the way they moved. The boy’s movements were jerky, sudden, full of barely-restrained fury. He was staring defiantly at the jeering crowd, his fists clenched. Nadya could see fresh bruises on the dark skin of his face. The girl who followed him was half an inch shorter and so slight she was almost ephemeral. She was looking around nervously with huge scared eyes, as if expecting a blow at any moment. Nadya could see a sheen of sweat glistening on her forehead. Nadya could see that the smells of Columbia hit them hard—both were trying hard to breathe through their mouths, and the girl looked like she was doing her best not to vomit.

“Everyone stand back!” Jim Washington bellowed and the crowd obeyed. Nadya was forced to take a step back, then began to push her way through to the front of the crowd. On the podium ahead and above her, the Secretary got out of his seat and was ringing the bell incessantly.

Slowly, the crowd calmed down and fell silent.

“The Council will now decide whether to satisfy their request for asylum,” Cardona spoke again.

“Fuck no!” Nadya heard a shout from the crowd.

“Order!” Adrian Cardona got out of his seat and shouted. “There will be order or this session is over!”

He walked over to the edge of the podium, and pointed the Mace in the general direction of the two Hoodies.

“State your names for the record.”

The boy kept staring at the crowd and said nothing. Cardona frowned. “Name?” he repeated.

The girl turned around and looked at the University President timidly.

“Shaniqa, sir,” she said. “And this be my brother, Shawn.”

“Does he have a ‘g-name?’” he asked, pronouncing the last word with evident distaste.

“No sir. He dun have none,” she said. Nadya could see the boy glare at her for a moment, before turning back to the crowd.

“Very well, Shaniqa,” Cardona nodded. “Tell us about what happened. Why did you decide to come here to Columbia?”

“Fuck this shit, man!” the boy exploded, looking straight up at him. “We been done telling you this shit all night, so what the fuck is this shit?!”

The girl stepped up to him, and put a hand on his shoulder, calming him.“Sorry, sir. He just tired, he don’t mean nothing by it.”

And probably expected a better reception as well, Nadya thought.

“Please answer the question,” Dr. Reinquist said from his seat. “Why did you leave?”

“We couldn’t stay there no more,” Shaniqa explained “My brother, he done killed a homeboy.”

“A full gangsta, you mean?” Dr. Udell asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Shaniqa said.

“Go on, tell us, why did he kill him?” Martin asked.

Shaniqa sighed and fell silent for a moment. Slowly, her brother turned his head and looked the scavenger straight in the eye.

“Cuz the motherfucker tried to rape my sister, that’s why,” his voice was trembling with fury. “Any more questions you already know the answer to?” he began, but his sister interrupted him once again. She pulled him close and whispered a few words into his ear. The boy glowered at her, then nodded.

“How did you leave?” Cardona asked.

“We been done….we hid,” Shaniqa said. “Then we bribed the guards. Gave them everything we got.”

“That, I can believe,” Martin chuckled. Imran looked at him in surprise. “Worthless, the lot of them.”

“We got out, crossed a bridge. Hid in a basement during the day.”

“How do you know how to speak proper English so well?” Martin asked, suddenly.

The girl became flustered and looked down. “One of da slaves…he from here. From Columbya. He been done taught us, and he done…told us how to get here.”

There were shouts of outrage from the crowd at the mention of slaves. “ORDER!” Cardona shouted at the top of his lungs, but the crowd ignored him. Nadya could see the panic rise in the black girl’s eyes as she saw the crowd’s reaction. She flattened herself against the podium. Her brother took a step forward, and screamed something defiantly. The two soldiers between them and the front of the crowd took a step back and raised their assault rifles. For a moment, it seemed like all of them would be swept away by the enraged mass of people, but then, Nadya felt something give in the collective spirit of the crowd, as if someone let air out of a balloon. Looking up at the podium, Nadya saw that even the Council members were shaken, only Tyrone Gibbs sitting at his seat with the same bored expression he kept on during the entire meeting. Either he was very brave, or he simply didn’t give a shit, Nadya decided.

Adrian Cardona got up from his chair once more, and examined the crowd with cold eyes. “The open session is a demonstration of faith and goodwill on the part of the Council. If you cannot keep basic order, we will continue this behind closed doors,” he said. “Please continue,” he turned to the girl, who was holding on to her brother. “When was that? When did he teach you?”

“Seven, maybe eight years ago,” she said.

“Are there any Columbia slaves still remaining?” Dr. Lee asked suddenly.

“Not many, sir” Shaniqa shook her head. “It’s mostly their kids now.”

Dr. Lee sat down heavily. Nadya remembered that his wife had been taken by the gangstas when they were forced out.

“Why did want to learn our language, anyway?” Cardona asked. “I thought you Hoodies wanted nothing to do with the Man? That’s what your people believe, is it not?”

“Some, sir,” the girl looked up at him. “The ones in charge always be telling how we be oppressed by the Man before the world ended. But we don’t see no oppression except from them.”

“So you say,” Cardona nodded.

“I say it’s bullshit!” Imran Hussaini said. “They’re spies, that’s what they are! These fucking Hoodies, they fucking sent them here, they tell us this fucking sob story, and they think we’ll just lap it up and ask for seconds! Let them in, and they’ll be out of here in no time, with all our secrets!”

“What secrets would that be?” Dr. Reinquist raised his eyebrow ironically.

“All the entry points, for one. The guard schedules, the water supply, anything, really! The next thing you know, they’ll be raiding our tunnels before you can say ‘oh shit!’”

There were murmurs of agreement from the crowd. This was too much for Nadya. This was an open session, so eventually people would be given an opportunity to speak. She would go up there, and she would end this outrageous nonsense. In her head, she began composing a reply.

The boy glared at Imran. “We ain’t no fucking spies!” he said. Behind him, the girl clenched his arm tighter. She was shaking.

“We ain’t spies…you have to believe us!” she pleaded. “If you send us back to the Hood, they’ll kills us! Look, if you don’t trust us, lock us up somewhere, but please don’t throw us out!”

“We have no other choice,” Imran said. “The risk is too great, we cannot take the chance that you are.”

Again, the crowd agreed. The hostility was almost palpable, as if it gathered under the high ceiling in thick, heavy clouds, ready to erupt in a murderous storm at any minute.

“Mr. Hussaini, you will cease this pointless fearmongering,” Dr. Reinquist said. “Whatever our decision, it should be based on logic, not on this nonsense you’re peddling.”

“Nonsense? Nonsense?!” The carpenter exploded. “Would you still call it nonsense when some gangsta rapes your daughter, then shoots you in the fucking face for your fancy clothes?!”

Dr. Reinquist threw his hands up in disgust. “This is what we have to deal with every session,” he muttered. “My good man,” he turned to Imran. “Assuming, for the moment, that you are correct and that they are indeed spies, have you considered how easy it would be to prevent them from leaving Columbia ever again?”

“What?” Imran said. “What are you talking about?”

“The exits, my man, the exits,” the engineer looked at him. “Every entry point is sealed and guarded. But,” he paused and looked around, “assuming that they do somehow escape…how far do you think they’ll get, alone, unarmed, and without protective clothing or equipment?” There was a collective sigh from the people assembled. Imran Hussaini stared at the chief engineer in surprise. “Because of course, we would have to confiscate their gear for security reasons and since they would no longer be needing it.”

The boy sputtered, but said nothing. His sister turned around, and was looking back at Dr. Reinquist. Nadya couldn’t see her expression, but she figured it had to be a mix of relief and incredulity.

“And even if they do somehow get out, get back to the Hood safely, and reveal our ‘secrets’,” Martin Smith joined in, “how many men can they send against us without compromising their own safety? 30? 40? I think, and I believe Mr. President will agree with me, that we can well defend our tunnels against that many,” he smiled. “After all, in addition to having the advantage of home ground, we would only outnumber them by what, seven-to-one?”

Some people in the crowd laughed. Imran Hussaini shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“The very idea of a raid is preposterous,” the head engineer interjected. “The Hood is violent, but their leaders are not suicidal. The raid would never happen in the first place. Haven would not allow it.” There murmurs of agreement from the crowd. “The Hood is completely dependant on Haven for trade and supply, they wouldn’t last six months if cut off. And we are far more valuable to Haven than they are.”

That seemed to have more effect than anything else. There were nods of agreement, and occasional shouts of “He’s right!” and “Yeah!” and “Haven will protect us!”

“So you want to let them in? Is that it?” Imran Hussaini refused to give up so easily. “These murderous goons? As if we need more mouths to feed!”

“Imran, haven’t you had enough?” Melissa Udell asked. The carpenter glared at her, but said nothing.

“Mr. Hussaini,” the President turned to him. “Just this past session, were you not the one complaining how your department is short of labor, and asking us to lower the apprenticeship age? And now, you’re turning down two pairs of perfectly capable hands?”

“The only thing they’re capable of is murder,” Imran spat.

“That’s not true!” the girl said. “We can work! We used to work. We can do anything!”

“See?” Dr. Udell said. “And we always have need for unskilled labor.” Imran glowered at her, but said nothing.

President Cardona looked at the crowd below, then at his fellow council members on the podium. “Personally, I think this case is clear cut.” Smith, Udell, and Reinquist nodded in agreement. “Any other points we ought to consider?” he looked at Imran Hussaini who opened, then shut his mouth. For a few seconds, there was silence.

“In that case,” Major Cardona said. “I’m opening the discussion to the people.”

The Secretary put his notepad aside, got up from his seat, and shouted. “The session is now open to the public. Raise your hand and wait to be recognized by the chair.”

Immediately, Nadya’s hand shot up. Looking around, she saw that at least a dozen hands were raised.

Adrian Cardona turned his head side to side, examining the assembled crowd.

“Ms. Corelli,” he said at last, pointing out the woman with the University Mace. Nadya cursed under her breath. The woman hated the Hood, perhaps with good reason, but if she were to win the crowd over, there would be no justice for the two prisoners.

“The Council recognizes Ms. Naomi Corelli, Seamstress,” the Secretary said.

The crowd parted to let the woman through. She stepped out, into the open space before the podium, with only the two soldiers separating her from the two Hoodie teens. She gave them a look of utter hatred before turning around to face the crowd. Nadya could see her clearly—she was an older woman in her 40s. Her face, once pretty, was marred by a broken nose. She wore a t-shirt and shorts, which did nothing to conceal the angry red scar across her pale neck.

“Before the world ended, I was a student here at Columbia,” she began. “After the asteroid hit, we hid in the basements, and decided to keep hiding after the Sun turned red and people started going crazy. We had plenty of supplies, so we just barricaded ourselves in, and prayed for the best.” There were nods of agreement from the older people. Most Columbians had survived the end of the world that way.

“For a time, we were safe,” she continued. “Then the raiders found us. We saw what the Sun did to people. But these…creatures, they were different. They were…methodical.” She turned to the Shaniqa and her brother and stared at them with such intensity that even the boy cringed and took a step back.

“Some of the boys tried to resist, so they killed them out of hand,” she went on. “Then, they turned their attention to us.” She paused. “I was gang-raped by 12 men; then they gave me this,” she pointed to the scar on her neck. “There were seven of us. I was the only one who lived. What I want to know, Mr. President,” she turned around and looked straight at Major Cardona, “is why the Council thinks we should show them any mercy, when they have shown us none?”

“Hell yeah! No Mercy!” people called out from the crowd. The girl gasped.

“I want to point out that these two are far too young to have participated in the attacks on Columbia. They had nothing to do with it.” Dr. Udell said her from her seat.

“Who cares? They’re all the same!” someone shouted back.

The woman gave a triumphant smile and left the open space, disappearing back into the crowd. The secretary got up from his seat and rang the bell until order was restored once more.

“Anyone wants to add something else?” Cardona asked. A few people, including Nadya, raised their hands up once more.

“Dr. Wright,” he waved the University Mace in the woman’s general direction. Nadya’s heart sank. What was Cardona doing? she wondered. At first, he seemed fairly sympathetic to the two prisoners, but now he was consistently picking the most hostile speakers. Was he trying to throw them out all along, or did he have a plan?

“The Council recognizes Dr. Elvira Wright, Director of Education,” the Secretary said.

She was an old woman, doing her best to appear prim and proper, the very model of an old world schoolmistress. Before the Apocalypse, she had been a professor at the Teacher’s College, and was now in charge of educating Columbia’s children. The very sight of her made Nadya grit her teeth. There were very few people she had truly hated, and Elvira Wright was definitely one of them.

“Ms. Corelli tells a sad and shocking tale, and I truly sympathize with her,” she began. “Her argument is perfectly valid, and should, indeed, be heeded by this Council if it wishes to be in accord with the desires of the people of Columbia,” she paused, and turned around, looking at the faces of the council members, each in turn, before returning to her speech. “However, should they choose to ignore this argument, and, indeed, decide to permit these individuals to dwell amongst us, there is another point which must be considered.” She took another breath, and continued. “As you all know, Columbia is truly unique and special among all of the communities of the New York region. We alone have a unique mission: to preserve and maintain the collected knowledge of Humanity through these dark times.” She paced from one side of the open space to the other, as if giving a lecture, ignoring the two teens entirely. “As such, every Columbian is thoroughly educated in the letters, arts, and sciences, either by myself, or in the old world, so that he or she may serve as a repository for knowledge,” she paused. “These two individuals,” she looked at them for the first time, “come from outside this culture of learning, and even if they become a part of this community, they will never be able to truly integrate fully. They will forever remain outsiders, unable to fully participate in its life. Would it not be more humane to spare them this life of loneliness and alienation…”

“Oh, cut the fucking bullshit!” came a shout from somewhere at the back of the crowd. People looked around in surprise, looking for its source. Nadya could here the first confused mutters of the people around her. “Let me through, you bunch of fucking pussies!”

A man pushed himself through the crowd, and into the open space before the podium. Elvira Wright’s face contorted in disgust and she backed away from him slowly. He lunged, as if to hug her, and the woman jumped back, slamming into the podium. Then, he turned around, and faced the crowd, grinning. He was a tall, bald man, wearing knee-high rubber boots and excrement-stained overalls. The entire left side of his face was one big mass of scar tissue. He was missing an eye, an ear, and the tip of his nose, but his surviving eye blazed with such a fury that the crowd actually reeled back under its glare.

One of the first squad members made a move to grab him, and throw him back into the crowd. “Let him speak,” came Major Cardona’s voice from above. Nadya glanced at him in surprise, but the major’s face was unreadable.

“The Council recognizes Mr. Drumbicil, Hog Farmer,” the Secretary mumbled obediently. There were gasps of shock from the crowd, and Elvira Wright turned pale.

“Thanks, Boss,” Old Drumby said, looking back the University President. “As for the rest of you,” he turned back to the crowd, “never in my life have I seen such a bunch of self-serving, self-righteous, cowardly, sniveling pussies!”

“How dare you!” Elvira Wright was practically trembling with indignation. She had stepped away from the podium and was now standing next to the two prisoners without realizing it. Nadya could see a smirk on Shawn’s face, while the sister was looking at the scene with concerned eyes.

“How dare you pollute my ears with your insipid bullshit?” Old Drumby bellowed. “It would be more humane to throw these two children out? Really? Like they have anywhere else to go!”

“That is not relevant to this discussion!” the old woman protested.

“It isn’t?!” the pig farmer actually gasped, then turned to her. “You worthless, slimy piece of shit on a stick. NOT RELEVANT?! You’re throwing them out to the demons, rather than pollute your precious culture, and then you try to tell me that it’s more humane that way? My pigs have more humanity than the lot of you.” He spat. “You know what’s more humane? Shooting them right here and now. Sure as hell beats what those things would do to them. Hell, you want them dead so much, you can do it!”

He reached in somewhere inside his overalls, and pulled out a massive Model 29 revolver. The soldiers next to him reeled back instinctively, and raised their own weapons. “Here!” he held the gun by it’s barrel and offered it to the teacher, grip first. “Go on! You can do the honors. Or are you nothing but a walking, talking sack of pig shit?” he grinned.

The woman stared at him in shock. Nadya could see that her hands were trembling.

“Well?” Old Drumby asked. “Are you going to do it, or are you a sack of shit?” The woman reached out for the gun, then pulled her hand away at the last moment, and disappeared into the crowd. “Thought so,” the hog farmer nodded. He put the gun away and pulled out a small metal flask and took a deep swig.

“And you…all of you,” he turned to the crowd, observing him in stunned silence. “You just stood there, agreeing with it all. You fucking pussies,” his voice was practically oozing with contempt. “You’re worse than fucking liberals. If this is the best humanity has to offer, I’m going back to my pigs. You got all that?” he asked the secretary. The man nodded nervously. “Good,” he said and walked back into the crowd. The people stepped aside to let him pass. To Nadya’s surprise, no one spoke or jeered. Many people looked down, avoiding his gaze. It was as if somehow, the old man’s stream of abuse had managed to break their conviction and make them doubt themselves.

At last, Major Cardona cleared his throat. “Anyone else?” he asked.

Nadya’s hand shot up through the air even before he had finished speaking. She looked up at the podium where he was seated, scanning the crowd. For an instant, their eyes met.

“Mr. Cosgrave,” the President said. Nadya cursed under her breath.

“The Council recognizes Mr. Kelvin Cosgrave, Engineer, Powerplant Shift Supervisor,” the secretary said.

Nadya watched as Kelvin stood before the podium and smiled at the crowd. He was wearing a set of soot- and oil-stained coveralls, as if he had just stepped away from the powerplant. Nadya knew that the hoodies had no chance if he had decided to speak against them, that whatever conscience they regained would be lost. She clenched her teeth and prepared to interrupt him at any moment.

“I’m not sure I can match Old Drumby in eloquence,” he smiled, “but I’ll do my best to try. Ms. Corelli had asked us why we should show them any mercy, when none was shown to us? I will say to that, ‘because we are not them,’ because we are better than them, because we are Columbia. We say that we are special, that we carry with us the memory of the world as it once was and the entire moral theories of the human race, and yet we cannot find it in our hearts to forgive, to rise above the common beastliness of the world. There two have come to us, seeking our aid. If we turn them out, then how are we any different from the ones we despise so much?”

Nadya could see the change taking place in the crowd, the quiet nods of agreement as more and more people began to see things his way. She turned and looked at the two prisoners, and, for the first time saw a glimmer of hope in their eyes.

“You, Dr. Wright,” Kelvin turned to look at the old woman, “are absolutely correct. They come from outside, and are not educated by your fine establishment. But will they truly never become one of us? Is there not a person standing here in this very room, who by her very existence proves you wrong?” he smiled and pointed straight to Nadya with his hand. “Did she not arrive here without once setting foot in Dr. Wright’s classroom, yet is now a candidate for membership in the Order?”

All eyes turned to Nadya. She saw hostile stares directed at her, and ignored them. She knew what he was doing, reminding everyone of her existence, and that she too was an outsider, but she could live with it, if it saved the two prisoners from certain death.

“Are we not Columbia, the beacon of knowledge and enlightenment?” Kelvin continued. “Is our mission not to preserve civilization, so that it may not be taught to others? I will tell you something, if we cannot educate these two living in our midst, then we have already failed.” There were shouts of agreement now. Somehow, in the space of a few minutes, the crowd’s opinion had changed completely. “We are Columbia,” he went on. “We say that we are the last bastion of humanity in a world of savagery. I say that if that is true, then let us act like humans, and be guided by compassion, and not our prejudices. Thank you.” He bowed and walked through the crowd, then out of the room.

“Anyone else?” Major Cardona asked. There was silence. Nadya looked around. No hands were raised. “Vote!” she shouted, and soon, another voice took up the call, then another. Soon, dozens of voices were shouting, demanding that the Council vote. Adrian Cardona looked at crowd, and nodded.

“The Council will now vote on satisfying the request for asylum,” the Secretary said, once order was restored. “The votes shall be entered into the record.”

“Mr. Smith?” the secretary asked.

The head scavenger had been playing idly with his cane for most of the meeting, looking up only when his name was called. “Aye,” he nodded.

“Dr. Reinquist?”

“Absolutely,” the chief engineer said.

“Dr. Lee?”

The scientist looked at the prisoners for a few moments, then sighed. “Aye,” he said, at last.

“Major Cardona?”

“Aye,” the President said.

“Dr. Udell?”

“Aye,” she smiled. “Good to know sanity prevailed.”

“Mr. Hussaini?”

The carpenter looked around the room, examining the faces of the crowd. “No,” he smiled. “Let it be known that have been opposed to letting these snakes in our midst.”

“Mr. Gibbs?”

“Abstain,” the black man shrugged.

“The vote is 5 to 1 for, with one abstention,” the Secretary said. “Your asylum request is satisfied. Welcome to Columbia. This meeting is concluded.”

For a few moments, there was silence. Then, the first jeers began. The two teens were led away by the members of the First Squad, and slowly, the crowd began to disperse.

Nadya waited as the members of the Council descended the podium one by one. The conversation she had been dreading was almost upon her, and the proceedings were unlikely to have improved Dr. Lee’s disposition. Still, she had little choice in the matter.

“Dr Lee!” she called out as her mentor descended the stairs. He made an even worse impression from close up. He was short, the top of his head barely reaching Nadya’s chin. His face was creased by worry lines. A crack snaked across the right lens of his glasses.

“Nadya,” she saw his expression soften as she saw her. He glanced at his watch. “Never late for an appointment,” he smiled.

Together, they walked through the tunnels leading past the powerplant and into Pupin hall.

“You look upset,” the scientist said at last. “Has something happened?”

Nadya sighed and lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry, sir. I should have told you right away. I’ve been assigned punishment duties, and so won’t be able to assist you tonight.”

Dr. Lee looked up at her with concern. “I suppose I ought to ask you what you’ve done, but I won’t, as is it is none of my business. I won’t hold it against you, especially since I am to blame.”

“Sir?” Nadya looked up at him in surprise.

“People do all sorts of things when they’re under stress, and I should never have put you in this situation.” He stopped and put a hand on her forearm. “I am sorry, Nadya, I never meant for this to happen,” he sighed. “You and Paresh both mean a lot to me, and never have I thought that I would be forced to choose between you two. Believe me when I say that you have been an invaluable help to me, and that I would do anything in my power to ensure that you both are shown the appreciation you deserve for your efforts.”

Nadya’s heart leaped. For a second, she lost her balance, and had to grab on to a pipe to arrest her fall. She looked up at Dr. Lee wide eyed.

“Sir…I…you…”

“Don’t worry,” Dr. Lee smiled. “Things will work out fine. I promise.”

Nadya swallowed hard, and nodded.

“Now,” he looked at her. “Since you won’t be around tonight, we’ll just have to exploit you when we can. Come along now, for we have a lot of work to do.”

***

Nadya bounced into the room and plopped down on the bed, causing the old springs to creak and whine. It was 20:00, halfway into her 4 hours of free time. Dr. Lee had her stay over long after her watch was over, explaining specific nuances of molecular genetics. She could feel the waves of excitement running up and down her spine. Dr. Lee had all but promised her a place in the Order, and she had no reason not to trust him. He was already teaching her new things. All these years, all her efforts, it wasn’t all for nothing, after all! She touched the silver crucifix hanging around her neck and imagined her mother’s face, smiling. Nadya knew that if she could see her, she would be proud of her.

Nadya stretched out on the bed and laughed with joy. She could do that—the room was empty. The kitchens were already busy preparing the evening meal, and Jennifer was there, helping Milagros. Sally was away, too, guarding something important, or, perhaps training. As for Diana…who knew where she was.

Slowly, her excitement abated. She was not a scientist yet, and there still were things to be done before the start of her punishment detail. Still smiling, Nadya walked over to her locker, and pulled out her torn and dirty clothes. Carefully, she examined the jacket and overalls for poisonous needles, spores, parasite wasps, or any other unpleasant surprises. Finding none, she took out a needle and a spool of thread, and began to patch up the many fresh rips and tears.

***

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t my third most favorite person in the whole world!”

Nadya hung her overalls on the clothesline and secured them with two laundry pins, then turned around. She was in the laundry, an area in the under Uris Hall, between the swimming pool which served as Columbia’s central reservoir, and the steam plant.

“Hello, Rod,” she looked at the smiling scavenger.

Rodrigo Alvarez was about 5 years older than Nadya, and a few inches taller. He was dressed in military fatigues and carried his assault rifle, equipment bag, and, Nadya noticed, no dirty clothes of any kind.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“As it happens,” Rod stroked his immaculately groomed goatee, “I am on a mission.”

“A mission?”

“Why yes. To find you,” he bowed.

“Oh. That mission.”

“I assure you, my dear, that this mission is quite real,” Rod smiled. “I have been sent. By Anselmo.”

“Anselmo wants to see me? What for, I wonder.”

“Indeed he does. He was most insistent about it, too. ‘Find her, Rodrigo,’ he said,” Rod fell to his knees and extender his hands in supplication. “You’re my only hope!”

Nadya sighed. “You almost had me for a moment there.”

“You think that I am being….less than honest?” Rod got up from his knees angrily. “How dare you?!” he asked in mock outrage.

“You’re saying that you are?” Nadya squinted at him.

“All right, all right, you got me! I surrender!” Rod raised his hands. “You got me! About the only hope part, that is. For, as it happens, Anselmo really is looking for you.”

“I thought he’d be satisfied with sending me to the pigs,” Nadya muttered. She walked out of the drying room, and closed and locked the door behind her. She walked up to the laundry supervisor, paid the fee- one Columbia University souvenir keychain, and received the corresponding mark into her Columbia Card.

“They’ve actually given you punishment duty?” Rod whistled. “Wow. Then, I guess, you don’t want to be late.”

***

“Say, Nadya…” They were alone in the Western tunnels, somewhere between the entrances to Mathematics and Nadya’s own dormitory in Jane’s Hall, on their way to the forager headquarters under Journalism Hall.

“Yes?”

“I’ve been thinking…”

“A good habit to have,” Nadya nodded.

“Yes, very,” Rod agreed. “In this case I was thinking about you.”

“And you’ve decided to declare your undying love for me?” Nadya smirked.

“But of course!” Rod went down on one knee, grabbed Nadya’s hand, and kissed it. “My fair lady, I beg thee, join me for a night of wild love, followed by an expedition to untold riches!”

“Hmmm….let me think about it…” Nadya brought her finger to her chin, as if deep in thought. “No and no,” she pulled her hand away.

Rod got up. “All jokes aside, we really do need your help. Ever since Jeremy died…”

“You can’t go out, because you need a fourth,” Nadya finished for him. “So Rajit has you courting me.”

“We’ll get disbanded if we don’t go out soon. You know how it works.”

“So get a fourth,” Nadya shrugged. “Every forager would give an arm and a leg for the opportunity, except you don’t take cripples. This is where the money’s at. So don’t give me this ‘we need you,’ bullshit, you can have anyone you want.”

“You’re right about that,” Rod nodded. “But Rajit wants you and no one else. You know how he can be.”

Nadya looked at him sharply, trying to examine his face for any sign of falsehood, before giving it up as futile. “Why?” she asked, at last.

“He knows and trusts you. He doesn’t trust them.”

“Look,” Nadya said. “I’ve already told Rajit and you. I’m out. I’ve been out for two years.”

“I know,” Rod nodded. “And we’ve respected your wishes for those years, crazy as they may be. But now, we really need your help.”

“Oh? What changed?”

Rodrigo looked from side to side to make sure they were alone, and leaned in closer.

“We have a find,” he whispered. “Jeremy didn’t die for nothing. We found something.”

“And you said nothing!” Nadya exclaimed.

Rod reached out and put a hand over her mouth. “Shhh,” he hissed.

Angrily, Nadya pushed his hand away and slipped out from his grip. “Don’t…” she began.

“We couldn’t say anything because that would mean giving up first rights. You know that.”

“Even if it means the Raiders being disbanded?” Nadya asked.

“That’s why I’m here. You’re our last hope. It’s either you, or going public.”

“Then go public.”

“Please!” Rod pulled her close. “I’ve already begged you on my knees. One job. That’s all we ask. One easy job. If not for me, then for Magda. Have you seen her? Have you seen the state she’s in? If we do this job, Jeremy won’t have died for nothing. And, we can set her up for life.”

“Let go of me before I hurt you,” Nadya said slowly, looking him straight in the eye.

Rodrigo released her and took a step back.

“And cut the emotional blackmail, while you’re at it,” she said.

“It’s the truth!” Rod said. “This is the find of a lifetime.”

“Oh?” Nadya asked, skeptically. “What is it?”

“Not canned food, let me tell you that,” Rod grinned. “As for what it is….”

“You’re not going to tell me, until I agree to the job,” Nadya said.

“It’s only common sense,” Rod shrugged.

“Any rare plants in the vicinity?” Nadya asked suddenly.

“Plants?” Rod blinked in surprise.

Nadya sighed. “One job?” she asked.

“One small, easy job,” he nodded.

Nadya looked at him. The man dwelled and thrived on deceit, but now, she could see barely concealed excitement, mixed with naked avarice in his eyes. She knew then that the job was real. Then, she thought about Dr. Lee and what he said to her. For a minute or so, there was silence.

“Tell Rajit I’ll consider it,” she said at last.

“Unbelievable,” Rod sighed. “Un-fucking believable. Anyone else would kill for an opportunity like this. And she’ll ‘consider it!’ Sometimes, I think you were right to leave, because you’re absolutely fucking bonkers.”

“Would you prefer a no?” Nadya asked.

“No…” he sighed. “Just…don’t think too long, okay? Preferably before the Feast.”

“Then, you will have it soon,” Nadya said.

***

Shift leader Anselmo was waiting for her in his office, a tiny room barely larger than the closet she slept in earlier, bare except for a small stool and a paper-filled desk. Neil Anselmo was almost half a head taller than Nadya, and sinewy from two decades of physical labor. Before the end of the world, he had been a student at the Police Academy, and there was an air of authority about him.

“Melnik,” he began once Rodrigo disappeared behind the door. “What the hell was that, last night?”

“Sorry, sir,” Nadya tried her best to look contrite and apologetic.

“Not even a ‘will never happen again, sir’?” Anselmo raised his eyebrow.

“Sorry, sir,” Nadya sighed. “I can’t make that promise. My duties, they’re…”

“Will get you killed one day, if you continue to ignore the rules,” he cut her off. “They’re there for your own protection? How long do you expect to live if you go off to fight mantraps or razor-rats, or who knows what else on your own?”

“I’ll do my best to follow the rules from now on, and will try not to get killed, sir,” Nadya said.

“She’ll do her best…” Anselmo sighed. “At least’ you’re honest about it. If it were up to me, you’d never leave the tunnels. But, since it’s not up to me, and since your future already consists of shoveling pig shit, I suppose it would have to do. Come with me,” he said.

“Sir?”

“Mr. Smith wants to see you,” Anselmo said. “Lord only knows why.”

***

----------
Continued in the next post- curse you 60k character limit!


Have a very nice day.
-fgalkin



My Fundie Guide The World Has Ended.....Life Goes On
Image
Image

Top
 Profile  
 Post subject: Re: The Third Covenant (Original) (updated 10/19/10) PostPosted: 2010-10-25 12:03pm
Offline
Carvin' Marvin
User avatar

Joined: 2002-07-03 11:51pm
Posts: 14432
Location: Land of the Mountain Fascists
As continued from above

------------------
***
Martin Smith’s office was located in Schermerhorn Hall, near the common room and the general store which he owned. Thus, Nadya found herself repeating the journey she had just taken, this time in silence.

The office itself was large, far larger than the cubicle Anselmo was using. It was Nadya’s first time in her superior’s office, and she was looking around in amazement. Never before in her life had she seen such luxury—thick carpets, floor lamps, even a rotating floor fan to cool the air. A large mechanical clock was standing in one corner, showing the time: 21:20. The walls were lined with abstract paintings showing nothing but geometric shapes and bursts of color, probably taken from some museum, and most likely extremely valuable.

The owner of the office was sitting in a tall leather-backed chair, behind a massive desk of solid oak. Nadya noted that he had exchanged the bloodswimmer coat he wore earlier for a far more comfortable jeans and t-shirt. A pair of matched pistols was hanging from his belt. His ornate cane was leaning against the desk. Nadya could see two framed photographs of the man hanging on the wall behind him—Martin Smith shaking hands with Mayor Bloomberg and Commander McPherson, the two leaders of New York City in the time before Columbia was cut off. Between the two photos was the massive head of a demon he had killed once, stuffed and mounted on the wall. The skull was almost a meter long, and covered by a thick scaly hide. Dozens of tentacles surrounded the mouth, still twitching ever so slightly, even after years on that wall. Nadya could see sheer malice in the small dead yellow eyes.

“The bastard was most reluctant to part with it,” Martin Smith’s voice interrupted her contemplation of the monstrous head. “But few things can stand up to 40 mm grenades and a good chainsaw,” he smiled.

“A most impressive kill, sir,” Nadya congratulated him.

“Thank you, Miss Melnik. Have a seat,” he pointed to one of the ornate chairs in front of his desk. “Would you like something to drink? Coffee? A cognac, perhaps?”

“No, sir,” Nadya shook her head. She considered it for a moment. “Just a water, sir, if that’s possible.” She had noticed that the office had no barrel of drinkable water.

“I am the owner of the store,” the Martin smiled. “It’s my job to make things possible.” He pressed a button on his desk, and, seconds later, the door behind Nadya opened. “Water for Miss Melnik,” he said. Immediately, the door closed, only to re-open less than a minute later. A man entered, carrying a spotlessly clean glass of water on a silver server. Nadya thanked him and took a sip. To her surprise, the water was ice cold. Amazed, she wanted to ask the man how he accomplished that, but he had already left the room.

When she turned back towards the man sitting in front of her, he was pouring himself a glass of deep amber-colored liquid from an odd-looking round bottle. She saw the label on it: “Remy Martin Diamant,” and wondered what it meant.

“So few people today appreciate the value of good liquor,” Martin Smith sighed. “But it’s good to know it took an Apocalypse to turn us all into teetotalers. Cheers,” he drank from his glass and closed his eyes with pleasure.

Nadya took another sip from her glass, savoring the crisp cold taste of her water. Martin was right in one thing—she much preferred it to whatever expensive booze he was drinking.

“I suppose you’re wondering why I summoned you here,” the scavenger said at last.

“The thought had crossed my mind, sir,” Nadya said.

“The thing is, Nadya….may I call you Nadya? I’ve been looking at your record,” he indicated a folder lying on his desk. “Very impressive. Made it through the Blight to reach Columbia when you were just twelve, went from a stoker in the kitchens and a volunteer sentry to a member of Rajit’s Raiders, probably the best of the Free Roamers since I retired. Very impressive indeed. But then, you resigned, citing conflicts of schedule with your work as a Research Assistant for the Order. I must admit, we all used to wonder what were you thinking, but now, you’re being considered for full membership. It seems that you’re a success at whatever you choose to do. Congratulations.”

“Thank you, sir,” Nadya said. This was rapidly turning into one of those Very Important Conversations, and she was desperately trying to figure out where it was going before she made a mistake.

“Hmm….,” Martin reclined back. “You’ll have to forgive me for being slightly curious as to the reasons behind your choice.”

“Sir?”

“Well...” Martin shifted slightly, “No offense to Steven or any of his fellow scientists, but…”

“You’re asking me why I exchanged one of the most coveted jobs in the community for membership in an organization that is widely considered to be a worthless waste of resources.”

The head scavenger’s gaze dug into her for a moment, then slid off.

“I wouldn’t have put it exactly that way, but yes, that is exactly what I am asking.”

Nadya considered how to answer that question. She thought about telling him the truth, that ever since she was a little girl, she had a sense that something was completely and terribly wrong with the world. It was a wrongness which had nothing to do with the rivers of blood and the demons that roamed the land, but with something far deeper, far more fundamental. She had learned to ignore it, but it was always there, gnawing at the back of her mind. Perhaps it was madness, akin to that which made men see angels, but she had to know. It was this need, this drive, which made her family take the dangerous trip through the Blight to the only place where she could find the answer. Of course he wouldn’t understand, she realized, for very few people did. Over the years, she was forced to construct several standard replies of varying degrees of truth, to explain her determination to become a scientist. Now, she considered which of these to choose.

“I think I have a calling, sir,” she said at last. “In the old world, why did people become scientists, or firemen, or soldiers, instead of doctors, or lawyers, or presidents? When I work with Dr. Lee, I feel like I am in the right place, that I am doing something important. That I am doing something right. This feeling is more important to me than money or success.”

“A very good answer,” Martin smiled. “One that deserves another drink,” he took a sip from his glass and sighed in contentment.

“In that case, if you feel so strongly about this, I have some very good news for you,” he looked at Nadya. “You see, Steven spoke to me. He was so impressed with your work for him, he is actually going to ask the Council to consider increasing the size of the Order by one, so that you may join it at the same time as Mr. Singh.”

Nadya felt the room spin around her and grabbed her chair’s armrests in a deathgrip. Dr. Lee was going to the Council to secure her a place in the Order. She was amazed that he thought so much of her. She felt her earlier excitement rise again, then disappear suddenly, like fire extinguished by a gust of cold wind. He was making a terrible mistake, she realized. Dr. Lee was a scientist, not a politician. He did not realize the price that he and the Order would have to pay for such a request. Suddenly, she felt her stomach churn.

“This project is obviously very important to him,” Martin continued. “He is calling in every favor he can, to make sure that the proposal passes. Congratulations, again,” he smiled at Nadya who was in a state of near-panic. “As for myself, not only do I intend to vote for this proposal, I intend to use every bit of influence I have to ensure that other council members do the same. There’s just one thing I need.”

Suddenly, Nadya’s throat felt dry. Nervously, she emptied her glass of water and put it on the edge of the desk.

“A thing, sir?” she asked.

“A small, but necessary favor,” Martin said. “And, I’m afraid it will have to be done by you.”

Here it comes, Nadya thought. Desperately, she wished it was something as prosaic as asking her to sleep with him.

“You see,” Martin said, “Steven was absolutely correct in bringing this matter to the Council. The decision to increase the size of the Order affects not only it, but all of Columbia. Unlike the other departments of the university, the Order is interested in long-term goals, rather than the immediate problems of daily survival. Unfortunately, these problems cannot be neglected. Do you know what I am talking about?” he asked.

Nadya shook her head.

“For the past five years, the Order has been working on something called Project Demeter, an effort to make agriculture possible despite the effects of the Red Sun. Surely, you’ve heard of it?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’m involved in it through my work in the experimental garden.”

“Excellent,” Martin smiled and took another sip of cognac. “But do you know the results of your work?”

“Sir?” Silently, Nadya cursed herself for saying too much.

“Did Steven ever tell you how it’s going, or show you any documents pertaining to it?”

“No sir,” she said.

“He haven’t told anyone,” Martin sighed. “He refuses to discuss it with anyone except the University President. I can understand Steven’s concern—if successful, the project would completely change the balance of power in New York. Everyone, from Bloombergville to Haven would love to get their hands on it. Unfortunately, what that means is that for the past five years, the Council had been allocating resources without any idea what they’re being used for. Do you see the problem here?”

“I do, sir,” Nadya sighed. “But I assure you, Dr. Lee is a man of utmost integrity, and he would never…”

“Never steal resources? I don’t believe he is. But, he is asking us to allow the expansion of the Order, without even telling us why. Surely, you see that this is wrong? So, here is my proposal. The Council will approve Steven’s proposal and give you your well-deserved promotion. You will be a full member of the Order, with access to all its information. If you would only give us an occasional update on Project Demeter….”

“You’re asking me to spy on the Order!” Nadya exclaimed.

“Don’t be so melodramatic,” Martin shrugged. “It’s only a little thing…”

“Little thing?” Nadya was almost shouting now. “Do you seriously take me for an idiot who doesn’t realize what you’re trying to do here?”

With one swift motion, Martin sat back up and slammed his desk with such strength his glass jumped.”

“I suppose that is the price you will have to pay,” he stared at her intently. “Take it or leave it.”

Nadya felt the wind knocked out of her. She recoiled back with such strength she almost tipped the armchair over.

“Think, Nadya,” Martin said, his voice sweet and silky once more. “What are your dreams worth to you?”

Nadya thought. She thought of Angelina Melnik’s grim, determined face as she promised her daughter that they would reach Columbia, no matter what. She thought of the first time Rajit’s Raiders returned with a haul, the admiration and envy in the eyes of everyone they met. She thought about the excitement she felt when the heavy metal door to Pupin Hall opened just for her. Then, she thought of Dr. Lee’s eyes, full of quiet pride at her successes, and his promise by the podium.

“I am sorry, sir, but I cannot accept your offer,” she said in a small, strained voice.

Martin’s eyes widened. He reeled back as if punched.

“Are you sure, Nadya?” he asked. “Think about it some more. All your life had been dedicated to this moment. This is what you came for to Columbia. You’ve worked so hard for it. Don’t throw it all away.”

Nadya clenched the armrests of her chair so hard she could almost hear the wood crack.

‘I am sorry sir. My answer remains no.”

With tremendous effort, she pulled herself out of the chair and stood up.

“Nadya…”

“Goodbye, sir.” She left the room on legs which refused to bend, and closed the door behind her.


----------------------
Have a very nice day.
-fgalkin



My Fundie Guide The World Has Ended.....Life Goes On
Image
Image

Top
 Profile  
 Post subject: Re: The Third Covenant (Original) (updated 10/25/10) PostPosted: 2010-10-25 01:48pm
Offline
FUCKING DICK-STABBER!
User avatar

Joined: 2003-05-11 08:39am
Posts: 19927
Location: Bleeding breasts and stabbing dicks since 2003
Man, oh man. A lot happened in this story. I suppose if chapter 1 was a mere introduction to this world, these last few chapters are the hook, line and sinker to grab the reader. And let me say, it worked. You just showed us a whole cast of very interesting characters and the plot has taken a sudden turn. It is also nice to see how you're doing this weirdo postapocalypse, which isn't about people going "balls" said lieutenant mike shroom before shooting JDAMRAAMLRSLBM9F-117/11s* at people or whatever, where the actual story is behind peoples and characters and the postapocalyptic little society they're in and all the conniving cockamamie little schemes they've got and the whole randome altrarnate realty hippotheticel scenareo they're in. Its a complicated thing, it's an entertaining thing, and yet it's not populist trash that attracts the tools by dazzling them with dumb explosions or whatever. You are making a good story fgalkin.

The only criticism I can level is with some grammer issues in the form of question marks ending sentences that aren't, well, questions. But a quick re-read and edit takes care of that superficial detail.

*GPS guided bomb air-to-air missiles fired by rocket artillery submarine-launched ballistic missile 9mm service pistol stealth fighter convenience stores.

EDIT

**The JDAMRAAMLRSLBM9F-117/11 is the most deadly weapon in the warload of the hypersonic super-bomber known as the XBOX-70 VALKYLIE MINOGUE which can reach subliminal speeds with its turboramscramfanjets and violate any I AM SAM sites known to mankind! If only JIMMY CRATER didn't cancel it that FUCKERRRRRRR!!!!!111



Image Image Image
shroom is a lovely boy and i wont hear a bad word against him - LUSY-CHAN!
Shit! Man, I didn't think of that! It took Shroom to properly interpret the screams of dying people :D - PeZook
Shroom, I read out the stuff you write about us. You are an endless supply of morale down here. :p - an OWS street medic
Pink Sugar Heart Attack!

Top
 Profile  
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 12 posts ] 

All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 8 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group