Following in Underground Footsteps

Submitted into Contest #111 in response to: Write about a child who carries on their parent’s work or legacy in some form.... view prompt


Speculative Science Fiction Suspense

Following in Underground Footsteps    by Elizabeth Fenley


Both of my mothers know I am a criminal. An Enemy of The Capitol. If caught, I will be executed.

One of my sisters knows, but the youngest has embraced The Capitol Doctrine. She and her husband raise their children to accept propaganda as the truth.


We agreed not to talk about it, my mothers and I. Too dangerous. I walk with one foot on each side of the divide between The Capitol and The Enemies. They know about my brother—and they know that a year after disappearing from The Capitol, he returned to recruit me.

I work from inside The Capitol. I appear to be the standard genetic and biological engineer. We work to perfect techniques for altering mitochondrial DNA. The manipulations cure flaws at the sub-cellular level. We have advanced the science to correct defects in the embryonic stage.

This is science bastardized.

I object.


All three of us knew Felicia would follow our mothers’ career paths.

Like Penelope, Felicia is a medical doctor. Like Daphne, Felicia has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology and genetics. Combined, they have three medical degrees and five Ph.Ds. It makes Phoebe and me look like pathetic underachievers.

Phoebe has a Ph.D. in biological genetics, which she teaches at The Capitol University; her husband has a Ph.D. in bio-mechanical engineering. They met while teaching at The University. They have designer twin daughters—mitochondrial DNA manipulated in utero to make them into perfect little Capitol Citizens. Phoebe and her husband are the conformists the government creates.

It didn’t work on the rest of us.

Felicia works for Them in the Scientific Quadrant, but she also works as a conductor, like me, on the Underground Railroad. We smuggle people out of The Capitol if they don’t want their DNA manipulated. With power and politics, science became the means to create a Utopia of the New Master Race.

Dissidents and critics were jailed at first. Then publicly executed. Now people disappear. Everyone became anxious about failing to meet governmental expectations or being denounced by a colleague, a neighbor, an anonymous source.

Utopia became Hell—The Fifth Reich with Hitler’s insanity and megalomania, the threat of the Gestapo, the paranoia of McCarthyism and the Salem Witch Trials, plus a century of scientific and medical advancements.

So I left.

And I fight back.


Orion appeared in my lab after everyone else had gone home for the night. He scared the shit out of me by sneaking up behind me. It had been a year since his disappearance. My mothers always had strange expressions on their faces when Orion was mentioned—knowing, proud, wary, and reserved all melded into mirror images of each other’s. They knew but wouldn’t discuss it, which left me with assumptions.

Orion works as a conductor of The Underground Railroad at “Haven,” the second to last stop for our “cargo.” The final destination is what the rest of the conductors know only as “The Land of Canaan.”

The creators of this Underground Railroad replicated its highly successful abolitionist predecessor. My contact outside The Capitol walls is “Moses,” Harriet Tubman’s code name. We meet at “Midnight” for communication and “cargo” hand offs. Other than “Moses” and “Prodigal,” I do not know anyone else involved—for all our sakes.


It was a calculated risk returning to recruit Felicia—one I knew was worth taking.

I was not surprised she was fighting from within. She had been subtly sabotaging and slowing the work of her team for years before I left.

Now we have an asset working from the inside who also ventures under the walls. I’m sure Penelope and Daphne know—about both of us and about both the ways Felicia is working against the misuse of science, which had always the central focus in our family.

Somehow, that part of the family legacy passed me over. Perhaps it was a rogue remnant that stealthily made its way into the Y chromosome constructed in the lab—their own creation turned against them.

I have always had a deep appreciation of irony.


There is always a chance things will go wrong. Experienced conductors know what might happen and how to protect the “cargo.”  

“Moses” and Orion trained me. I have had relatively good luck in the last eight years. They warned me every conductor has at least one outcome that haunts them. Neither shared theirs.

Mine was “Hive,” a pregnant woman, whose name I never knew and who only knew me as “Athena.” She sought out the Railroad after her husband died during forced genetic manipulation. Fearing for her unborn baby and her young children, she took the risk.

It went badly from the beginning. The schedule for the security review of the Capitol Walls changed; I could not extract “Hive” as arranged. We were late for our rendezvous with “Moses,” triggering a chain reaction of disasters.

Due to careful compartmentalization, I only got a limited amount of information. “Hive” and two conductors were caught and executed at “Haven.” Orion tried to save “Hive.” And he killed The Capitol Police Officers.


Things have gone badly before—there are risks you accept. “Rosenburg” and “Desdemona” were prepared and unafraid. “Hive” was neither. The slaughter of a pregnant mother and her young children was different entirely.

I knew The Capitol Police were heartless, jackbooted, goose-stepping storm troopers, this was….

It cannot go unanswered.

I cannot let it go.


Hand-written communication on paper has not been used in decades—before I was born. Penelope and Daphne taught Orion and me, but not Phoebe, as children.

The Railroad does not use old fashioned paper—too obvious, too risky. Each conductor has preferences and knows the value of varying their methods.

Today, the communication came on a drying auburn leaf, small script on the underside between spider web veins.

Just two words.

Two words.

“Prodigal Returning”

I held the leaf in my shaking hand, reading and rereading it.

I crushed the withering leaf and stuffed it in the pocket of my lab coat; I would dispose of it in the Bio-Hazard system in the lab.

Orion was coming back, seven years after he recruited me.

He was coming back because of “Hive.” His unshakeable haunting.

I thought “Hive” was my disaster outcome also.

But it hadn’t happened yet.

“Prodigal Returning” is my nightmare scenario.

September 17, 2021 13:18

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John Hanna
01:20 Sep 19, 2021

Really creepy! I sure hope I never see it so bad. Great Job!


Show 0 replies
Elizabeth Fenley
22:39 Sep 21, 2021

Thank you. "The Capitol: The Cumulonimbus Experience" is the same setting and characters.


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