Cold and damp and beautiful, the underworld cavern knows the world above as only a myth...
| Bustling from down below at the base of the cavern, the sound of mundane life filled Melody's world with an ocean of background noise. It reminded her of a shell she used to hold to her ear as a kid. The myths said that's what the ocean sounded like. Melody wouldn't know. She grabbed hold of the thin metal railing and let her elbows hang down, rust coming off on her hands and sprinkling onto her legs as they swung into empty space above the underground void. Nobody climbed all the way up to the original trails, nobody but Melody. Occasionally the teenagers would dare each other up among the second or first trails and see who could climb higher, but once they got to the rusting bits and had a few near misses they'd stumble their way back down to safer heights. It wasn't the solitude she enjoyed, although it was nice to get away from the crowded populace of Unsol. No, it was the view. Up above, Unsol was beautiful. The floral moss hanging on the cavern walls, the crowds gathering around performers, children running and laughing as their parents bartered for supplies- it seemed happy and lively. It wasn't though. It was desperate. The moss outgrew the food. The theater was full of crude and fowl themes with no story or art, just gross entertainment. The parents weren't bartering they were scamming and begging. Their children weren't running and laughing, they were stealing as a game. If they got away with it, there would be extra food- if they didn't they'd get work detail and it was one less mouth for their parents to feed for a few days. Most people didn't think about the world their ancestors had abandoned and been barred from. They forgot that humans may not need the sky to breathe, they'd found substitutes for that, but they did need it to breathe freely. The open space above their head, the rain, the sun, the stars, humans needed that to dream of invovation. They needed to be able to soar from their bodies and into their minds that held the air and light and dark of the sky, but nobody in Unsol would know first hand what that felt like and most didn't think about it. They thought about food to curb their hunger, water to curb their thirst, sex to curb their bodies, and money to curb their desires.
"All tunnelers, I repeat, all tunnelers," Melody's friend Sadie called over the horn, "You are needed at your reporting stations. I repeat..."
Melody sighed and gingerly stood up, careful not to put any weight on the rail. It was hardly staying together in her hands as it was. She balanced herself carefully on the tender metal's equilibrium and began to acrobatically scale down the cavern's sides, heading towards the high trails. As a tunneler she knew how to place herself on even the flimsiest of things and keep herself weighted evenly. Most of the original paths were almost completely eroded and it was more rockclimbing than the usual walk down the trails that lined Unsol's sides, getting more and more hearty and in use the closer to the base they were.
Soon enough, Melody had climbed down the original trail, past the first trail, onto the second and third, and finally out of the top trails, all of which were no longer in use, and found herself among people going about their business on the high trail. Although most of Unsol lived and worked on the base and in the low and mid trails, it was easy enough to find people at work on the high trail which was the farthest trail away from the base that people still used. It was still fully in service, technically at the very least, although becoming less and less useful as excavation died down. That was mainly what it was used for, and becuase of that they weren't kept up with very well. Occasionally nostalgia would pick up and they'd renovate a section or two, but it was mostly forgotten already. The only people on the high trail were those who worked there, even the homeless seemed to favor the cavern base. Still, it wasn't vacant and many of the essential jobs had their bases located on the high trail.
"Hey! It's Melody!"
"Oh, hey Mels- where have you been?"
"Obviously she was doing some of that deep thinking she likes. You know her, all cerebral and stuff."
Melody snorted as some of her old friends pushed past her, punching their arms as they went by. She went to school within a few years of them and like a lot of young men they went into the mines.
"At least I have a brain to be 'all cerebral,' you loafs! I got to go. I'll see you in the mess hopefully," she called as they went along with their team.
Melody walked the high trail and the top trails of the cavern with more familiarity than almost anyone. The people who worked on the high trail knew her, but if she went to the base or the cavern hub few people other than the children would recognize Melody. She didn't like the way the noise, bustle and shadows of the crowd ate up the torch light and avoided it as much as possible. She would usualy give the kids her coins to buy the things she needed from the hub and then give them part of her share. A few would try to run off, but Melody would stop giving them her business if that happened and most of them knew her and she knew them so it wasn't much of a problem since she offered a steady stream of goods in exchange for tasks. Up in these parts, kids were kept strictly out. There were too many things they could get into and damage either their little bodies or the equipment.
She passed one of the mining station and a station for material collectors. Peeking her head into the control office where the echo chamber for the horn was. Melody looked to see if Sadie was still there. Just as she suspected, she was, her knowing, dark eyes waiting with an expectant smirk on her face.
"Melody," she said, gesturing in a mock of formality to a seat across from her wheelchair.
Rolling her eyes, Melody stepped into the small room and took a seat across from her friend. "Whatchya' doin'?" she asked, propping her head up in her hands as her elbows rested on the armrests.
"Working for your bosses," Sadie said, giving Melody a look of disapproval. "Why'd you come here, Mel?" she asked, "They won't wait for you."
"To sulk," Melody said, with a matter of fact glumness, "They're canelling the program aren't they?"
"You know I'm not supposed to tell you," Sadie said, sympathetically. "I'm technically not even supposed to tell you that I know.
"They are though, Sadie, it's been coming for weeks. Can't you just put me out of my misery. I already know you know everything that goes on here and you aren't telling me anything I won't find out anyway," Melody moaned.
"You should go to your station. That's all I'm gonna tell you." Sadie turned away and went back to organizing whatever she organized in the small echo chamber she sat in all day.
"Ugh, you're no help," Melody complained.
"I'm about ninety percent of your rationality," Sadie retorted, her back still facing her friend as Melody got up from the chair that had been set out for her and left Sadie with her business. From her wheelchair, knowing Melody was still in earshot, Sadie called out, "Love ya'."
Popping her head back in, Melody said with a smile on her face, "Love ya' too."
"Yes, we are downsizing, however," their captain was cut off by murmurs breaking out amonst the small crowd of tunnelers, "However!" He shouted over them, "You are all valuable! And our relocation offices will work with each and everyone of you to determine where you go next!"
Melody could hear her coworkers' disatisfaction from the outskirts of the station. Her pace slowed as her fears were realized. Their program was cut. Not only was she out of a job, but they were stuck. Not just her, although her dreams of the sun on her skin vanashed before her eyes, but all of Unsol. Even though it was against regulation, Melody leaned against the wall and slid down to sit on the walkway. She couldn't care enough about the rules. It wasn't like she was a tunneler anymore anyway. They had given up on the sky above their heads. All their descendents would know is the damp air that filled the cavern and the mass of dirt that they were burried beneath. Melody would die inside the ground just like her mother and father and grandmothers and grandfathers. She buried her head in her knees, trying not to let the tears in her eyes escape.
"After all we've worked for? You know, some of us believed in this project. We've been trapped here for centuries and we're closer to getting out than in a hundred years! Why are we giving up now?" Melody heard someone shout.
"You will treat your Govenor with respect!"
Melody lifted her head. The surprise of hearing that the Govenor himself was here at her station temporarily stifled her distress, although it was confusion that smothered it. Melody cleared her throat, taking a deep breath and using the wall of the cavern to stand up. She walked closer to her station's direction center, trying to keep her presence quiet. She wasn't sure why, but she didn't want them to know she was there.
"It's okay, Myron. Stand down," The Govenor said as Melody listened outside of the door, "I understand why you're upset, as am I. The reason we're cutting the program is complicated, but unfortunately it is the only option. I am very sorry for the postition this puts you in."
His words dripped with authority and savy. The Govenor was well liked by almost everyone in the cavern, he generally ruled in popular favor. Cutting the tunneling program to uncover routes to the surface was out of the ordinary for him. It brought Melody back to the times when she was growing up, when the government was much less kind to the wants and needs of the people.