The Capitol Walls: Breaking In and Out

Submitted into Contest #115 in response to: Set your story in a town disconnected from the rest of the world. ... view prompt

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Speculative Science Fiction Suspense

Felicia’s comm hummed in her lab coat pocket. Annoyed, she stripped off her gloves.

“Hello?”

“Dr. Hughes, is that any way to answer your comm? Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?”

Felicia chuckled. She walked to the break room and closed the door. “Yes, both of them did, Dr. Hughes-Myers.”

“Daphne and I certainly tried. Did I catch you at a bad time in the middle of an experimental progression?”

“No—yes, kind of.”

Her job was to assist The Capitol’s agenda: manipulate the mitochondrial DNA, beginning in utero, to correct or prevent any “undesirable traits.” If anyone else saw the parallels with the Nazi’s Master Race by genocide or “Ethnic Cleansing” atrocities, they were wise enough to keep such thoughts to themselves. People who spoke against The Capitol disappeared.

They were not the only people who “disappeared.” Felecia and her brother Orion were both conductors on the Underground Railroad. Felecia, or “Athena,” was a conductor who helped people escape The Capitol walls to avoid genetic manipulation. She took her “cargo” to “Moses,” and returned to The Capitol. Orion, or “Prodigal,“ who had returned to The Capitol to recruit her, was a conductor at “Haven,” the last stop on the Railroad before “The Land of Canaan.”

“Are things are not going well?”

“Things are not moving in the right direction.”

“I see the cause of your lapse in manners. I forgive you, conditionally.”

“Conditionally, Penelope? Sounds like you have an ulterior motive.”

“Don’t I always? Don’t we all?”

Felicia’s sabotage was multi-pronged, bringing with it the multiple risks. In the lab she slowed her work, teetering on the tightrope of realistic and obvious, outright sabotaged others’ advancements when possible, and smuggled soon-to-be-victims on the path to safety.

“Yes, what would life be without ulterior motives?”

“Lies.”

“Touché.”

“Mine are merely maternal and domestic.”

A frown puckered the sprinkling of freckles across her light brown skin. Penelope was the least maternal, least domestic person she knew. That was Daphne’s area.

“You mean Daphne has plans domestic and maternal.”

“No. All mine.”

“I see.” The security of their comms was compromised.

“Yes, I’ve invited Phoebeeze over for dinner. Just like old times, Felicia.”

No one had ever called Felicia’s sister that.

“Just like old times. Wonderful.” Felicia replied.

“Yes. 27:30.”

“Agreed.”

“Goodbye, Dr. Hughes.”

“Goodbye, Dr. Meyers-Hughes.”

Orion was back inside The Capitol.

Distracted by the news of her brother’s life-threateningly dangerous return to The Capitol, it was easy to “pretend” to destroy the upsettingly positive results of her interrupted experiment. Taking her time to enter the protocols, with small but crucial errors to prevent another scientist from moving forward successfully, Felicia spent the remainder of the day at her work terminal.

When Felicia closed down her lab, she stashed her compromised comm unit in her lab coat pocket. The tracking would indicate that it was left there accidentally.

She walked the pristine streets of the beautifully landscaped and gracefully lit Science Quadrant in the Northeast of the Capitol. Crossing the Northern Main Street, she entered the Medical Quadrant in the Northwest. Scientific and Medical endeavors and Citizens were equal in the highest caste system—entitling them to tranquility and luxury.

The Southwest Technology Quadrant fell next in line. Everything there was basic and functional with no consideration for aesthetics. Offices and residences were spartan and efficient. Food and utilities were basic and adequate.

The Southeastern Agricultural Quadrant provided resilient, well-designed buildings and other structures—for the crops. The housing areas were run down, dirty, poorly lit, and cramped. Living was difficult for the lowest members of The Capitol caste system. Ironically, agricultural citizens were strictly rationed in their food allotment.

Inside the spacious, exquisite home of her mothers Penelope and Daphne, Felicia greeted Sappho, the huge robomastiff she adored. Forced “normal” greetings and chatting continued while Daphne cooked one of her traditional Puerto Rican dishes from her abuela’s recipe. Penelope remarked about Phoebe’s tardiness and picked up what Felicia noticed was a new comm unit.

Daphne raised her eyebrows comically. “Te amo tu hermana, Felis, but Dios mio! Never on time—even before the twins arrived. Always making them her excuses.” Daphne feigned exasperation with her normal zest.

“Yes, darling, where are you?” Penelope said into her comm.

“Darling?” Felicia mouthed at Daphne, who winked.

“I see. Yes, momentarily.” Penelope disconnected the comm and led them onto the back porch, closing the doors to the house. “Computer, lights 22.3%, white noise 54.5%, “Gabriel’s Oboe” cello, looped 45 minutes, 71.6%.”

“It’s worse than we thought,” Daphne announced dramatically. “Your mother doesn’t even know how to add to 100% anymore. I told you, loco.”

They laughed to cover the pause before Orion inched forward from the unlit topiary behind where the women sat.

“Hola, madre. Te amo.”

His voice was lower, more resonant than Felicia remembered.

“Te amo, mejo.”

“Penelope, good to see you again.”

Penelope did not turn toward him. “Good to have you here, even if I can’t see you.”

They laughed, together.

“Hey, Lecia.”

He was the only one who ever called her that. Felicia’s throat tightened unexpectedly. “Hey,” she whispered. Daphne leaned over to put Felica’s blue scrub-clad knee, patting it comfortingly. “What’s going on?”

Felicia followed the notes of the cello in the background as she processed the developments arriving with Orion.

“How soon?”

“As soon as it can be done safely. The longer I’m here…”

They knew how dangerous it was for Orion to be inside The Capitol walls— wanted for acts of treason and sedition, unlawful breech of the city walls, and human smuggling. A mistake would be fatal for all of them.

“You’re sure this isn’t a trap, Penelope?”

“Felicia Singleton Hughes, do you think I am a fool?”

Oh, shit. I’ve pissed off Penelope.

“I have known Warren longer than you’ve been alive. If he has risked coming to me to tell me he wants to leave, then I damn well believe him.”

Orion and Felicia exchanged glances. Penelope was controlled, reserved, poised, but when provoked, she surpassed Daphne’s Latina temper.

Daphne, the peacemaker, spoke up. “I think the concern is he’s not just ‘Warren,’ he’s The Capitol Assistant Director of Education. He lives and works inside Capitol Headquarters. How often do you think he even leaves the Headquarters grounds? And now he wants to leave the walls of The Capitol? When only some of us know what is out there, and only two of us have ever been outside the walls?”

Penelope took a long sip from the wineglass on the patio table beside her. “Of course. That is impeccably logical. Yet you all know the irrationality existing within human behavior. Even cellular engineering can’t weed that out. If he says he wants to defect, to escape, whatever we wish to term it, I believe him. We have an obligation to assist him.”

They sat listening to Morricone’s masterpiece floating off the strings of Yo-Yo-Ma’s heavenly cello.

“I agree with Penelope,” Orion whispered.

“Since when?” Daphne demanded with mock outrage. “Don’t you forget who carried you in her body, made you real food all these years, ingratio!”

“Te amo, madre numero uno,” he replied.

“All right, you two,” Felicia cut in, feeling the mood sufficiently lightened by their joking. “Penelope, of course I believe you. I just want to be cautious, to ensure we are all making this decision rationally, not due to emotional attachment. It’s what you would tell us.”

Penelope swirled her wine around in the glass. “Of course it is. I realize that. I agree that we should proceed with caution.”

“What’s your plan, Penelope? We know you have one in place, or you wouldn’t have asked us to meet here like an old Agatha Christie novel where the detective reveals the identity of the murderer.”

Penelope tutted in disdain at her son. “Unnecessarily dramatic, but you are correct.”

“Well?” Felicia spurred her mother forward.

“Martin schedules a medical procedure with me, meets with Daphne to go the usual pre-procedure transition counselling, during which she is unrecorded and free to tell him the details. He arrives at the procedure sight, things go awry, and I report that his remains necessitated biohazard protocols. Felicia, you meet him at a location of your choosing, where you normally meet your cargo, and you transfer him to the next conductor, where he will be waiting-- outside The Capitol walls where it is safer for him.”

“And no other conductors are involved—until you get to Haven.” Felicia made eye contact with her brother, who nodded. “As safe and compartmentalized as it can be.”

“Except for how you create his death in front of an entire medical team,” Daphne pointed out.

“Obviously, I have allies within my team.”

“Mi querida, of course you do.”

Things never go as planned. It’s the first and most important realization for conductors on the Underground Railroad. The ability to adapt in the moment is crucial.

Daphne appeared in the lab the next morning, startling Felicia; she couldn’t remember the last time Daphne had been here.

“Is everything—Penelope? Phoebe? Are—”

“They’re fine. Penelope and Phoebe and the twins are fine.” Daphne’s smile was tight forced. “Since when can’t a mother visit her favorite child at work?”

“Penelope, yes, you, not so much.”

“You seem jumpy, mija Let’s get a cup of coffee.”

Daphne never drank coffee.

“Sure, let’s get coffee.”

In the breakroom, Daphne pulled Felicia into a close embrace and held her there. “He didn’t show up for the procedure. She’s gone there to look for him. We don’t know anything yet,” she whispered and released her.

Shakily, Felicia poured two cups of coffee, and they sat at the table for appearances. They knew the breakroom was monitored.

“How’s Astin?” Felicia inquired. No one in the family except Phoebe cared for her husband.

“Fine. Just a delay in some of his research. You know professors—publish or perish. He’s trying to be patient, but that’s difficult for him. He takes work seriously, like it’s life or death.”

“Typical Astin. Should we meet tonight to talk? Might help him.”

“We should wait a little longer, let him handle it on his own right now. It might be easier for him than coming to the house. Maybe tomorrow night if Phoebe says he’s still having trouble.”

Felicia nodded. “Sounds good. You’ll let me know?”

“Of course, cara.”

They hugged again. “It will be fine, Felicia. Penelope can handle this. We need to leave him out until we know more.”

“Understood.”

“I should go, mija. I have a session in ten minutes. I’ll be in touch.”

Felicia pretended to return to her work while she worried.

That night, Felicia sat on the couch, required daily viewing holo-vid from the Minister of Propaganda playing in the middle of the living room. Mito was asleep with his head resting on her feet, and Hal was draped across her lap getting a belly rub wile she tried to keep his twitching legs from spilling her glass of red wine.

Her comm sounded. She put down her wine and grabbed the comm, keeping Hal on her lap.

“Penelope, is everything ok?” Not her standard greeting to her mother.

“Of course, Felicia. Such a worrier. “

“I’m glad there is nothing to worry about.”

“There is always something to worry about, Felicia.”

Felicia swallowed hard, struggling to find her voice again. “Chaos and entropy are the way of the universe.”

“And The Capitol.”

The problem was inside Capitol Headquarters. The plan had stalled out.

“Closer to home, it seems the neighbor’s cat has disappeared—Wayne, Willis, or Wagner, some W name. Just vanished. Today. He was there yesterday, but it seems he has run off or hiding, maybe seized by animal control. At least we know robot dogs do not eat robot cats, so we cannot blame Sappho.”

“Unless she accidentally sat on him. She’s huge and Williams, or whatever his name is, would get smushed flatter than a pancake.” Felicia tried to force a chuckle, by it got stuck in her throat.

Penelope’s imitation of a laugh was much better. “True.”

“Are you going to look for the cat?”

“Not tonight. We do not wish to intrude upon our neighbors. He may turn up. If not, we’ll try looking again tomorrow.”

“Logical.”

“I’ll let you know. Good-bye, Dr. Hughes.”

“Good-bye, Dr. Myers-Hughes.”

The next day, Daphne tried to locate the missing Assistant Director of Education under the pretense that he had missed his counselling session regarding his procedure. She was told he was unavailable today, and that he would reschedule his procedure and counselling session at a more convenient time.

Felicia went to her mothers’ house after work. On the back patio again, with the white noise, dark lighting, and “Moonlight Sonata” playing in the background.

She sat tensely as she waited for Penelope to speak or for Orion to pop out of the bushes. Sappho sat quietly next to Daphne.

“He is not here.” Penelope turned her chair so the three women faced each other. “Too dangerous.”

“Of course.”

“In light of current circumstances, it would be wise for him to return to a safer location.”

“Give up on the plan?”

“Without Warren, there is no plan.”

Daphne massaged her temples with her fingertips. “Do we think he had been taken or turned on us? Was that his intention all along—a trap?”

Penelope shook her head. “I wish I knew. Neither is positive for us.”

“But he wouldn’t talk if they detained him. He would protect us—you, Penelope.”

“Felicia, everyone talks. I know we would all like to believe we will not give up our secrets, heroic delusions. It is a question of how long they can hold out, how long they can stall.”

The three fell into silence.

“What do we do?”

Daphne and Penelope exchanged a look filled with subtext.

“Felis, mija, we wait.”

“Wait? For what?’

“Penelope thinks we should give Warren another day to see if her contacts her.”

“If he doesn’t?”

Daphne reached to embrace Sappho, kissing the robodog as if she were real.

“No, wait—”

“Felicia, you must listen.”

She recognized Penelope’s ‘No Point in Debating’ voice. Felicia nodded.

“The good news is—”

“There’s good news?”

“Felicia.”

“Sorry, Penelope.”

“The good news is that Warren does not know about you—or Orion. He only knows about me as the primary, and about Daphne as an accomplice. You are safe. You are a valuable and protected Capitol Citizen. You will be questioned, but your work is crucial. Phoebe will be questioned, but no one will suspect her of complicity. They will not act against either of you.”

“Act against me when what?” Felicia’s throat was dry, dreading what would come next.

“Mija, Penelope and I must leave before they come for us.” Daphne’s deep brown eyes glistened with tears.

“You—”

“Felicia, if they arrest us…. They will ask us about you. We cannot risk your safety.” Penelope brushed away and errant tear. “We will not risk your safety.”

“I’ll come with you.” Felicia stood up. “We should leave tonight. Orion will get us to Haven.”

Penelope shook her head. “You have to stay. Someone has to work inside the system. What you do to prevent the scientific advances is too valuable. You may choose to leave later, for your own reasons, but not because of us. You have the contacts to do so at any time. Once you leave, that decision is irreversible.”

“I—”

“Don’t you dare be melodramatic, Felicia Singleton Hughes. This is a decision to be made rationally, not emotionally.”

“She’s right, mija. We will leave tomorrow at 29:30, during sentinel shift change, if Warren has not contacted Penelope.” Daphne rose to put a comforting arm around Felicia.

“You will attempt to contact both of us through our comms for the next three days-- for the official records. Then you will go to both our offices looking for us. You will come here and report to our absence. That will give us a head start.”

“And take Sappho home with you,” Daphne added softly, face shiny with tears. She hugged her daughter.

“Of course I will.”

October 12, 2021 12:53

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2 comments

Elizabeth Fenley
12:06 Oct 22, 2021

Thank you. I just posted the next installment with the same characters. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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F.O. Morier
09:03 Oct 21, 2021

what an enjoyable read!

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