Thallium Part-2

Submitted into Contest #60 in response to: Write a post-apocalyptic thriller.... view prompt

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Adventure Drama Fantasy

This is in continuation with Thallium, my previous story. There might be some discontinuities or plot holes. I'll be more than happy to correct:)


***


Feroz Singhvi aimed her gun at the marked spot on the speckled grey granite overhead and fired. The ceiling of the tunnel rumbled and a few cracks appeared--she stood back and waited. This was her only chance of ever seeing her family again. The sun-feeders had successfully guided Ayush and Tara away from the Himachal Electricity Apparatus for Regulation and Transport--the H.E.A.R.T. so that she could penetrate its field and blow it to smithereens. With every passing second her breathing became more and more laboured--Feroz had always hated constricted spaces. Waiting for her children in this dimly-lit granite and sandstone tunnel, not knowing whether or not anyone will be able to come out of this alive, was sucking the breath out of her. Finally a big, black crevice tore across the ceiling and Feroz sighed in relief. The crack sent a million little dark lines criss-crossing in all directions and the wall between the two worlds collapsed, sending her reeling in an avalanche of rubble. Wasting no time, she picked herself up and climbed up the debris to look up at a shimmering mess of sparking tubes, ripped apart like a spider’s cobweb. Nestled deep within that destroyed grid, was the H.E.A.R.T. It was time to move and that too quickly. 


"Mum!" 


A shrill voice reverberated through the stone tunnel that was buried several feet below the ground. It was music to Feroz's ears. 


"Ayush?" She lit up the piezoelectric yellow flame in her hands and scrambled in the direction of her son's voice. Two figures walked out of the last bend in the tunnel, a similar yellow light drawing out long shadows in front of them. Feroz's blood froze for a second before it flowed like molten fire, setting her sprinting towards her kids.


"Mummum," Ayush rushed into his mother's arms as she wrapped him in a tight embrace. Tara did not follow, standing shell-shocked at a distance. Feroz crawled her way to her daughter, dissolving her in the embrace as well, sobbing violently.


"We need to hurry, the TPF are going to swarm this place." The sun-feeder who had guided the two children to their mother dimmed his lamp and hoisted a gun to his hip, throwing a few glances in all directions.


"Mum, come with us, don't go away this time," Ayush conspiratorially whispered to his mother. He knew nothing of the the calamities to come, yet everything about his mother's face dirt streaked, haggard face. It was enough for the 5 year old to bundle up courage that deserts the oldest of us.


"I am coming with you, this time, no cheating," Feroz promised him, "But I will need to bring Bappu along." She turned to Tara and fastened a bulky, metal belt around her waist. "Remember everything I taught you about how to survive underground?" Tara nodded mutely. "Good, take Ayush with you and follow the sun-feeder," Feroz pushed her children towards one of the identical burrows leading away from the H.E.A.R.T., and turned to extract her husband from the house which had been submerged in darkness by now.


"Mum," Tara turned back as she was being led out by the sun-feeder in front of them, "You taught me never to trust a sun-feeder. That was the first thing you taught about surviving underground."


***

"How could you do this Feroz?" Parth Singhvi asked himself again and again, as he navigated the rubble of his house. He had not yet lost use of his rod retinal cells like the upper-world dwellers. It was a constant reminder that he had born in a world which knew what darkness was and required night vision. One of the first things he had wanted to do was to surgically remove them, so that he could blend into the world of thallium-powered perennial light. But none of the healers had wanted to work with him, a solar parasite, another reminder that he was filth.


He had now reached the far end of Tara's room. There were tell-tale signs of an underground presence, the magnetic field readings that spiked up in his arm-band monitor and a musty, stale smell of moisture and mineral. It was a far cry from the sanitised, pristine nursery that he had been able to build for his first-born. After years of toiling away in ignominy and abhorrence, Parth had finally found peace when he and Feroz welcomed Tara into their world.


'All that sacrifice, all that compromise for nothing, Feroz?' Parth felt a surge of hatred for the women he thought he could never stop loving. Feroz was not perfect by any means--she had very radical ideas and had it not been for her parents at the highest levels of authority, she would have been outcast much sooner. And then an anguished cry from a long forgotten past pierced his heart like a saw-tooth dagger.


Traitor.


The journey to a better world, one in which human being did not have to live like animals, did not have to be at the mercy of the sun's dying orange light, one which resembled the glorious civilizations of the past, did not come without a cost. For Parth, this journey had been made by climbing over the corpses of his fellow refugees and secrets that had helped annihilate several sun-feeder colonies so that Thallium mines could be opened up. He had tried to dull his conscience by covering up the trail of blood with a single word--development.


"Parth."


The wall behind him disintegrated, its mortar dissolving in UV heat. A tall, fully-armoured woman stood in its place, at the mouth of a long, dark downward sloping tunnel. He did not need any light to tell who it was--smoke and dirt bellowing in the cavity could not cloud the sloping shoulders and soft lines he remembered so well.


"Where are the kids?"


"Safe."


"With the sun-feeders?" Parth could not believe Feroz had become so desperate to throw off the yoke she had been wearing since childhood. "You have become a mad-woman."


"Perhaps. Yet I am alive. Like I have never been before. Like you were before you traded all that for this glorified slavery."


"We used to live like animals!! Ripping each other off food, off clothes, off shelter. Blistering and blundering under the torturous sun, dying of diseases and thinking only about where the next mine will open up." The house thundered with a steadily increasing droning noise--the TPF were closing in fast. With the H.E.A.R.T. destroyed, it had taken them some time to locate the exact location of the energy grid disturbance.


"Why? Did you ever ask, why? Because this world was forcing the sun-feeders to live like this. They knew the radioactivity around the thallium mines was lethal for sun-feeders." Feroz dislodged her mask and smashed it to pieces. In the light of an occasional shower of sparks from the thallium power grid wires, her face was worn out yet shivering with energy.


"So Thallium Inc. tried to wipe out anyone who did not fit their narrative of them being pariahs and thallium being the only road to a future existence. There is a middle road between the way you lived and the way I did, there always has been." She unclasped a forearm shield, rolled back the sleeve of her shirt and shone the yellow lamps embedded on her other arm, on an iridescent, shimmering blue patch of skin.


Parth stumbled up to her to touch her bruise and the healing pale skin around it--he would get these blue patches often, as a child.


Freak. Delicate thallium parasite.


A childhood spent in ridicule and alienation.


Now he saw he wasn't the only one. "Adaptive tolerance. You...can survive the sun." But Feroz was not looking at him anymore--a metal ball had tinkered into the room and beeped two times. "Run."


***


After what seemed like months of crawling around on all fours, Tara and Ayush were guided to a better lit circular underground hall, carved from black glistening stone. 'This must be what caverns look like,' Tara wondered. She had seen pictures of the fascinating geography of the sun-feeding world in a presentation at school, titled, "Solar parasites and their lairs." The man in front of them was carrying a hypnotic orange-yellow flame--it was nothing like the cold, electric hues of the lights in her own world.


"I knew there were other children!" Ayush suddenly squealed with joy. Two boys were sitting cross legged at the far end of the hall. Tara jumped in surprise, barely managing to grab his arm as he ran out towards his new friends. The sun-feeder turned back and lowered his menacing mask.


It was a distortion of her father's face, the reason Tara had trusted him when he promised to lead them to their mother. That, and the fact that when a 6 feet tall giant appears out of thin air, saying, 'your mother sent me, she will not wait for long', there is not much a 14 year old can do. Especially, if her house plunges in darkness a few seconds later.


"The two of you sit down and don't make any noise. Your birthers will arrive soon, then we will leave." He saw Ayush peeping around his towering frame at the children on the other side. "No talking to anyone else, they are not like you." Tara instinctively reeled in Ayush beside her.


As the sun-feeder marched towards the entrance, Tara took a last liberty. "What if out parents are trapped in the house?" No answer. Then the ground shook. Once, Tara almost thought she was imagining things, but the second time, she saw the metal cases in her belt jingling and rattling. The shaking stopped and a low, booming rumble filled in the cave, echoing again and again from the walls, till everyone had to kneel down, hands clapped to their ears.


The sound of stone collapsing on stone rolled in waves till with a whistling swoosh of air being sucked away, all noise stopped. When she recovered, Tara found Ayush trembling against her arm and the other children standing besides the sun-feeder, carrying the same lamps and guns as him. All of them were now wearing masks.


"Then we leave without them."


***











September 24, 2020 05:07

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