“It’s today, it’s today, it’s today!”
He sighed as he watched her run around in circles, unable to contain her excitement, to the point where she could no longer sit still. Or stand still. She’d been running in circles for so long, he worried she was going to wear through the rug that had been placed in the elevator shaft. Why a rug was there in the first place was something he couldn’t explain, but he felt the “why” wouldn’t matter to the Naiads, if his little sister ruined one of their relics from the Surface World.
Hoden stepped in front of her, causing the young girl to run straight into him. He caught her as she bounced off of him, before she fell backwards onto the floor.
The elevator continued it’s slow climb, the lights that pulsed in a vibrating rhythm showing hardly anything in the dark surroundings of the ocean that enveloped them. Hoden didn’t bother to try and see what lurked amongst the deep depths of the waters. It was nothing he hadn’t seen before.
Now, once they reached their destination, however…
That was a different story.
Yondel looked up at him, pushing her lips out wide into a pout.
“Just…just sit down,” he asked, trying not to let his exasperation show too much through his voice. “Don’t waste your energy. You’ll need it when we reach the Surface.”
Yondel gave him a curious look, questioning the very idea that she could ever run out of energy at all—and at eight years old, could she actually?—but she asqueisted and sat down on the circular floor, in the middle of the rug, armed crossed over her chest in defiance.
Though he hid it, Hoden’s excitement matched his little sisters’, if not exceeded it. This was the opportunity of a lifetime, denied to so many and gifted to so few. He still hadn’t pieced together exactly how he and Yondel earned the right to become Settlers: workers for the Naiads who traveled up to the Surface World and retrieved relics from the Naiads’ ancestors who used to live there, decades ago.
They’d heard stories, of course, about what it was like. Land. The simulations created in the city of Nypheria were just that: simulations, meant to prepare a Settler for what life was like above water. But he didn’t believe it could be anything close to the real thing he was about to experience for himself. They even refused to let either of them take their wetsuits with them onto the elevator, claiming they wouldn’t need to them breathe. Hoden wasn’t sure exactly how that was possible, but the Naiads were experts about everything regarding the Surface World. If they claimed they could breathe, he trusted them to be correct.
“Are we there yet?” Yondel complained, earning a sigh from Hoden.
“What did our lessons tell us, Yondel? We’re how many feet below the Surface World?”
His sister pouted again, mumbling her answer.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak mumble. Try again.”
“30,000 feet,” she muttered, though at least she annunciated this time.
“Correct. And here I thought you didn’t pay attention at all to Nemia’s lessons.”
She stuck her tongue out at him, before turning away, arms still crossed. “I just want to pet the grass and see if it’s soft. Lilla said her grandmother touched it and it was soft.”
Hoden frowned. Yondel was so smart, sometimes he forgot how young she truly was. He forgot what it was like to be a child, never really getting the chance to be one himself. Instead of lingering on memories he had no desire to focus on, he knelt down in front of her. She quickly turned away. Hoden put a hand on her shoulder.
“Hey,” he said gently.
His sister peeked out of the corner of her eye. “What?”
“I know it’s a long ride up to the top. But once we reach it and the doors open, you’ll be the youngest person to ever step foot on the ground of the Surface World.”
“By ten years!” she added excitedly, turning to face him. She was not one to forget that fact—and she hadn’t let him forget, either.
Hoden nodded, with a small smile. “This wait will be the longest you’ve ever done. But it’ll be worth it, Yondel. I promise. Here,” he said, sitting down along the elevator’s walls, the cylinder curvature not creating the most comfortable spot for his back to rest, but he ignored the discomfort. “Come curl up with me and tell me what you’re most excited about seeing. We’ll go find one of the things on your list, first, before we get to work.”
She perked up at that. “Really?”
“Cross my heart.”
Scooting, Yondel made her way over to him and curled up beside him, resting her head and shoulder on his thigh. He wrapped one arm around her as she—very excitedly—began reciting all the things she’d learned, was taught or read about in books regarding the Surface World; about all the things that didn’t exist, back home in Nypheria, so deep underwater: grass, the horizon, clouds, rabbits, trees. She was just describing how she couldn’t wait to ruin her pants with dirt stains when her train of thought suddenly faltered and her voice went quiet, soon replaced by the soft echo of her snores. Hoden continued to pet her hair, careful not to mess up the braid she was so proud of, as he leaned his head back against the glass wall, watching the flashing lights outside the elevator in an unfocused daze. They’d reach the Surface World soon, as Settlers.
Their new home.
Hoden awoke to an elevator’s jolt. He sat up quickly, causing Yondel to moan as his legs shifted from underneath her, though she didn’t wake up, not yet. But she needed to quickly.
“What? I was sleeping, you—”
His sister bolted upright, running to the center of the room without a moment’s hesitation. Pushing himself up, he attempted to stretch out the kinks in his back, before he walked over and stood beside her, waiting as the elevator finally latched into place, the water surrounding them a light blue in color he’d never seen before. Yondel looked up at him, almost as if she was surprised to find him standing there, having forgotten completely about him in her excitement. She reached up and grabbed his hand. He squeezed hers in response, glancing up at the ceiling.
“Ready?” he asked her.
Yondel jumped up and down with so much enthusiasm, he didn’t think he needed to worry about his sore back anymore. He was pretty certain his shoulder was no longer in its socket. “I think the first thing I’m going to do is collect flowers,” she said decidedly. “I want to see if I can find all the colors to match a rainbow.” She gasped, looking up at him with wide eyes. “Do you think we’ll get to see a real rainbow!?”
Hoden grinned. “You know, Yondel, we just might.”
Suddenly, the floor beneath them shook, once, before a red light began flashing overhead, followed by a blaring warning noise. Then, the floor lifted, raising them towards the elevator’s top, the water gathered beneath them pushing them up as the floor climbed. Hoden watched as they finally reached the ceiling, which opened up at the command from someone on the other side. He breathed in deep, still nervous that once they left the confines of the elevator, they wouldn’t be able to breathe at all. But he found he was able to breathe completely normally, though the air didn’t smell as fresh as what he’d read.
In fact, he smelled nothing at all.
As they rose out above the ceiling, Yondel cried, “We’re here!” to announce their arrival, her head swiveling around so rapidly, he would’ve feared it’d snap off if she tried to look around any faster. But his attention was quickly diverted from his little sister to the land around them, their first glimpse into the Surface World.
It was barren.
Hoden blinked in confusion. What was this? Where were the trees, the white fluffy clouds, all the little animals? Where were the butterflies, flowers the color of the rainbow, the rivers? Everyone had described it as a transcendent experience into this beautiful countryside that stretched on for miles in every direction, an untouchable beauty unlike anything the ocean’s bottom could duplicate.
So why was everything dark brown and empty? Why was the sky black, the ground bare, with no color anywhere that didn’t fall between the two shades represented between earth and sky between him and the horizon?
And why was he looking at it all through a window?
Yondel squeezed his hand. “Hoden?” she asked, her voice suddenly soft and timid. “Where are we?”
A door slid open on their left and both of them jumped. A man, Hoden could tell through the clear glass on his mask, stepped up to greet them, holding a pair of suits identical to the one he wore: bright orange suits, made of thick looking material he’d never seen before. The wetsuits they usually wore at home were thin and slick.
“Put these on,” the man said, his voice coming out jarred thanks to his full body suit.
“What are these? Who are you?” Hoden asked, pushing Yondel back him slightly. “We were told we didn’t need our wetsuits out here.”
“Of course you don’t,” the man drawed. “Do you think any liquid could survive out there?”
Hoden blinked. What kind of question was that? “But…the Surface World is a haven. It’s the oasis that the Naiads came from, where they want to return to, one day. We’re meant to help them do that.” Hoden pointed at the view from the window. “That cannot be the Surface World.”
The man in the suit actually laughed. “Oh, to be that naive again. The Surface World, as you call it, used to go by another name, once upon a time: Earth. Ever heard of that?”
Hoden shook his head.
“Well, that’s it. Or what’s left of it, anyway. After we destroyed it.”
“We? But we—”
“Not us personally, kid. Our ancestors. The Naiads took us in, saved our species from extinction. They’ve only recently deemed it safe to reintroduce us back into the home we once destroyed, see if we can find any damage that isn’t irreparable. Considering we’ve been searching for the past 50 years and have only cleared one continent—as completely uninhabitable, mind—I don’t have my hopes up.” The man sighed, fogging up the glass in front of his face. “That’s what you’re really here to do: repair the damage your granddaddies did and left you the bill to pay.”
“But…” Hoden looked down at Yondel, her lips quivering as she struggled not to cry. “I don’t understand.” That didn’t match anything the Naiads had told him. Why would they lie?
“You don’t have to understand,” the man said, shoving both suits into his arm. “You simply have to work, the both of you. Do that and we’ll get along just fine.”
The man left out the same door he’d entered in, just as the elevator shook beneath them, disappearing beneath their feet. Yondel let go of his hand, falling down onto the ground, pounding with her fists as she screamed for the elevator not to go, to take her back home. Hondel knelt on the ground beside her and took his little sister in her arms, letting her pound her fists into his chest as she continued to cry. He whispered promises of adventures out into this place called Earth into her ear, telling her they’d embark upon a quest to find the last rainbow, promising that together, they would find it and then they could return home; that together, they could do anything.
It was the first promise he made to her that he didn’t keep.
It wouldn’t be the last.
About Nicole Evans
Nicole Evans is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. She is currently unpublished and is working fervently to get the “un” removed from that statement. With eight completed drafts in various states of revision under her belt, she has no plans of stopping. And she really can’t wait for you to read these stories.
Considering she has run out of space for putting rejections letters up on her wall, Nicole now uses her spare time doing the typical things that nerds do: blogging, dying repeatedly during video games (which she believes is retribution for the characters’ she’s killed), wishing she was the character she is currently reading about and trying to fight off the real world by living in her own head, with varying degrees of success. Nicole has a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Film and Media Studies, and works as an evening librarian assistant. You can find her personal blog here and her book review blog here. You can read all of her Muses stories here.