It has finally my turn to take the stage. I Mark Moran twenty- seven years old and nearly beyond his prime, has finally been given the task of surveyor and has been given the duty to explore the uncharted wasteland after five hundred years of humanity being shut away from the dangers of radioactive debris. As I pass through the blast doors, even as professionalism would need me to be collective, I am unable to control the fusillade of emotions flashing past me. First there were feelings of fear, then a sense of being disowned and then of shock. However the sense of freedom converted my emotions to sensations of awe, wonder, and excitement. All of these feelings were coinciding and conflicting at the same time.
The second pair of blast doors sealed behind me, each bracket connecting in dovetail brown cobalt mandibles. The tinny clang as it closed pulled me out of my trance, and duty took over. I detached myself from my life behind me as procedure dictates. The comfort of life in the bunker becomes a faint memory like a past redundant routine learned in infancy. My UV protection goggles while effective, still feel like its holding lens of vellum paper as I felt the heat, like my retinas are seething with iodine. Even while contained in this cave, the light at the end of the ovular tunnel was on the tip of vision, and was the first thing to attract the eye. Finally able to debouch from that cramped steel tomb and see the remaining artefacts of our civilisation as a physical entity, and not just an approximation on screen.
Proceeding forward was the hardest role of any surveyor, even with the outlining map as an estimate to where I was going. Some of these maps were cherry picked from records nearly a hundred years old. And yet the shock of being in a natural atmosphere has yet to sink in. to be honest the first thing that sprung to mind was how I would navigate out of here should the tunnels a complex array, like a warren; but luckily it’s just one straight tunnel lead by light. All of this reminding me of the Greek mythology I read recently on the databanks. I am thankful I don’t have to be Theseus.
And that’s what it continued to feel like for a while, like this was all mythology, folklore a fable, a myth or a fictional story. I could picture myself weaving all these elements to create my own illusory fantasy, from all the Databank terminals of five centuries ago, all of it playing like a projector behind the lids, until a slumbering blearily delusion is met with the bareness of a steel ceiling.
I’ve never even seen such clear sediments of rock up-close, not even while underground. It’s a nice change of scenery even if the enclosure is fundamentally ugly; I suppose there is no time to rubberneck. This kind of spatial field has this weird effect on me, I still don’t feel I belong, like I am an infection working its way through a
contracting artery. Not exactly claustrophobia, but this feeling that once I leave this cavern, this structure is going to close off behind me. As I took my first steps through the cave, the momentum of my steps began to thrust me forward, like I was attempting to run through the light as if it was some obstructing wall; but as I reached the end of the tunnel, my ideas of reality began to betray me and was holding me back.
It’s like I have stumbled on some surrealist landscape. A paved sea of sand being the only thing there to greet me, it went on for miles and miles and beyond. The sky an aquamarine blue that looked like it was ready to fall on top of me. My senses overload. Although the sensation is not tactile on my boots, my feet can feel the unevenness of the ground. The faulty shards of stone are a direct contrast to the flat substrates of steel. Theses all novelties now, but maybe when I am stuck out here for the month I am drafted, their hindrance will begin to annoy me.
What took me by surprise also, were the readings of my built in Geiger counter in my hazard suit, which indicated the atmosphere was perfectly habitable. Yet I still wouldn’t dare take the suit off.
I suppose this was my only way out, all that spiel about us being the last bastion of a perfect model society with the perfect genetic integrity of our species, were just the pilings of sugar for the medicine on the spoon. The meals, leisure activities and sense of camaraderie where packed and rationed in Tupperware. Heck with the radiation I will probably be too exposed to return anyway, even with the reinforced hazmat suit. I can feel the extra ducts and tubes from the suit, palpating like extra veins, wrapped around like organic gauze, a second layer of skin.
It’s unlikely I am going to be welcomed back with open arms, but I knew the risks, still to me this was a blessing in disguise, an area of civilisation, the offer of a lifetime. The task was to survey a rural town away from any major city or industrial complex, and also report if the wasteland is habitable to humans with evidence of any forms of life.
I didn’t really care about the last part, I was just excited that this place wasn’t ground zero in any explosion and was left alone as its destruction wouldn’t have been of any tactical advantage. A nice little town, one so quaint it stayed off the radar. Now one of the few possible remnants of civilisation (hopefully, if my deductions are accurate) nestled on the north-west edge of the continent. It’s Rural, and around forty kilometres away from any major city or areas with a high industrial influence. Shame it isn’t near any port or by the sea, although if it was, it would probably be considered a key location for transporting provisions and what not.
Strangely visions of a post-apocalyptic wasteland never met my foresight into what to expect, not a priority to the imagination at least. I just followed my eyes to the movement of my purified water from back home, making eddies swirl with the motion of my hand. To me this was like my small aquarium for a compacted ocean, a token for things to come.
Thoughts of the Bunker kept creeping back though, even though I was only in the bunker several minutes ago, and to be honest nothing, not even an arid expanse of nothing, could be worse. The administrator tried to keep things as orderly as possible, with promises of progress and Tanoy sessions of his motivational mantras. He tend to misquote things a lot, things such as “a busy worker is a happy worker” and “a problem shared is a problem not worth having”, sometimes they made little sense but everyone knew that the point he was trying to make was to not doubt his authority. Though even the most devout followers of his rule, such as Martian Abbott or Elise Delacroix couldn’t help but mutter “maybe he should peruse the databanks more thoroughly” under their breathe.
Negative (realistic) opinions were not tolerated down in the Bunker, in case it stirred up seditious thoughts of trying to leave its safety. So we all had to do what we could to be positive. You could keep a smile attached to your face everywhere you go or perhaps loll your head back and forth to a catchy tune from one of the 20th century soundboards. Though to be honest I would rather be miserable than hear Mike Fletcher’s high pitched vocals try to match Louis Armstrong’s low vocal register ever again.
I can’t explain the repressed and odious misery felt by every man, woman and child down that pit with just words. Sometimes it just lingered in the background, dormant and piled up like unfettered bubbles of air pushed downwards. It couldn’t be well expressed, but was well represented. I think of it as that low yet pronounced tinny buzzing noise of a cylindrical halogen light fixture, near diminished by the frustration of being deprived of argon. No, everything and everyone was deprived and meaningless. It was just the strain had been passed down to the machines surviving on the lowest of functions.
We were told just to make due and that it could be a lot worse. A lot worse?, what’s worse than watching your home slowly become your grave?. It wasn’t the possible cave in or tectonic disruption five hundred feet above ground that I had my thoughts on. I could just take a stroll through the living quarters, the recreation hall or even the hydroponics bay, and just list-tick things that kept falling apart. The leaks from the generator coolants is what continued to worry me, its short life on the screen of a nearby window pane, escaping as dribbling sacs of water marsupials eventually dispersing into nothing. And something as dangerously bad as this could take more than a week to repair. Not to mention the exposed conduit power lines with barely any insulation. Of course this was all covered over by the quick fix of gaffer tape (which we will run out of). And don’t get me started on the distribution of central air.
Of course the engineering staff would respond to my observations with grandiose optimism. I mean how many times can Roger Gaff feel comfortable with saving “Chin up, its last this long, so it can probably last longer”. Sometimes I wondered if the Administrator just replaced everyone in the Bunker with robots like that old 20th century film Westworld, because really when I was down there no one seemed to have a speck of humanity about them.
I am not an idiot, I know once I left that place I wouldn’t be coming back. Even if whatever mutation evolved in this wasteland doesn’t get me, the radiation in the air will, as the administrator would say, “taint the seeds of my future”. What am I a fucking plant?. I couldn’t stand all that metaphorical cheerleading he kept spouting out. He was like one of those Gnostic shamans in some Native American tribe which you could read about in one of the virtual databanks. He’d like us to believe that all these words of wisdom came from his own musings. There is a thing on the databank interface called “The User History File”, stored on the public domain, that have even his use of the search engine stored on it. Storing it on public domain was something he even suggested for security reasons. He believed we were all soft in the head.
I assume once I collected all the data they need concerning the condition of the surface, I will probably be exiled. I bet that’s what happened to the other surveyors that went topside, and when they stopped banging on the front door, the administrator could make up any story he liked on their disappearance.
I volunteered to do this job as it the only legit way of leaving the bunker, short of starving yourself to death. I figure, even if in reality leaving the bunker is nothing short of a death sentence, at least I have a chance to make something of myself and live my own life. Either that or be assigned a dumb job as a grease-monkey doing my part for the well being of the bunker. To be honest, all I wanted to was to work on the restoration and documentation of past centuries before the bombs fell, being that our past is the only thing that interesting anymore. But the Administrator has that old crony Mr Brindley keep all the files in check, who just so happens to be as idyllic as he is.
I am probably the second of my family line to go topside, my father being the first. I was never acquainted with my old man; he was drafted as a surveyor within a month of my conception into the world. I don’t know the whole story revolving his departure, as my mother insured all the details were taken to the grave with her, as if it would change my outlook of the bunker. I have a vague idea though of what it involved, especially seeing how my mother never saw the administrator eye to eye. Perhaps that’s where I got my cynicism. The way she addressed and responded to him, pedantic and straight, you knew there was bad blood behind their words, something she kept telling me never to emulate. I think she really didn’t want me to adopt her abrasive attitude towards the administrator.
I hope I am not painting a bad picture though, she was a very good mother, but I also loved her because she was a very strong woman. She prioritised her contribution as a doctor before her personal feelings on how the Bunker was run. She was one of the best, until she was latter replaced by Dr Barrett. (All of which was ad-hominem because Dr Barrett never asked questions). Even though everyone knew her contribution to the field even trumped his, no one could contend, unless they wanted to go missing. It was because Dr Barrett was just good enough to do the job and being cut from the same cloth as the administrator had that as better quality on his resume’. That and he didn’t have foreknowledge in radiology and half-lives like my mother did, so no one could ask when, why, and why not, when asking about going topside. My mother truly was an amazing woman and while no one directly approached her about this, in every conversation where her name was included, every other word carried the nuance of respect.
While growing up she taught me to always keep open-minded to the perspective of others (something I never quite did get the hang off), as there is always another way to view a situation, as sometimes even a person’s naiveté can breed a different sense of clarity. She also always empathised that when down in the bunker, it never hurts to swallow your pride, as sometimes it insures that others won’t get hurt in the process also.
This was the sort of mentality she wanted to nail into me, a mentality of keeping my head down and getting through the most arduous aspects of the bunker, without provoking the suspicion of the administrator. But I think in the back of her mind she knew I would always speak my mind, probably because it ran in the family. The Moran sense of realism, if there was ever an intangible hereditary element of our genetic makeup she could never explain, it would be that, the only thing even science eluded.
Growing up I could always tell that she tried to correct my overly honest acuity, but deep down she was proud. Even when she had to correct me for show, there were always soft touches to her corrections, even poorly-masked smiles. That told me how she really felt, and that was enough to go by. You could never be too challenging in the bunker, otherwise you would “go missing”. The tannoy announcement would be the last memento of your memory, before everything attached to your being, would be cleaned out of the bunker for good.
Unfortunately this happened to my mother as well. It happened so fast, in the space of twenty minutes she was there then she was gone. She said it was an appointment for someone who requested a sudden check-up, and that was all she said. And the only way people could pay their respect was to pretend she never existed. This was when I realised I had to get out by any means necessary. People don’t just go missing, especially in a tightly secured and tiny community like the Bunker.
To be honest I never felt attached to the people of the bunker. We all kept our distance, only being allies to the family you grew up with. I think this was because your family were the only people who wouldn’t be eager to sell you out in order to keep brownie points with the Administrator; we all had to look out for ourselves down there. After a while though it all starts to feel unreal, even if death was imminent, I don’t think I would have lived a fulfilled life down there to feel any sense of fear.
I suppose I need to put all this behind me, It not like I was attached to anyone down there anyway, which in a way is good because I don’t have to feel any inch of concern for the people who can only watch their lives waste away in that empty place. The only people I ever felt close to are dead now, and I am not going to allow their efforts in rearing me into what I am now go to waste. I don’t know what’s in store for me now I am free, but even if it’s dangerous I can rest easy knowing I went out with a bang. The possibilities are endless and it is this strange sense of adventure and living for a cause that gives me a sense of joy in my little life. I will probably never live beyond the first sunset, but it doesn’t matter because I can die knowing I was able to live on the planes above than die because of the whimsy of a senile old man.