The Great Hope (Fiction)

The obituary started with the usual commendations and accolades. Anyone reading could not fail to be impressed with the life being recorded in the two inch column on the most important page of the paper. But things weren’t exactly as they sounded.
The Colonel being commemorated wasn’t yet dead.
No one in the obituary pages was. Yet.
We believe that allowing people to sacrifice themselves for the greater good is important for the continuation of our race, along with the perfect birth rate it allowed us to survive in our land. Well, underland, anyway.
Many cycles ago we were forced to retreat deep underground to allow us to continue existing. Our planet had been visited by the great hope. Things were good, for a while.
The great hope allowed longevity, peace, the end of illness and famine. But it also brought with it a great shadow. What we didn’t know then was that there is always balance. Wrong and right, light and darkness, eternal life and… And what?
Thomas Leroy was one of the first to realise the risk we had taken by welcoming the new technology with open arms and no fear. We may never know why our ancestors chose to adopt the science without rigorous tests, but the results split our world, maybe forever.
Those of us that descend from Leroy and his friends ran deep within the land we had once rejoiced in. And now we were lost. Lost to the sun, the wind, the rains. Lost to our fellows and with luck, lost to the great hope.
Now there are only a few hundred of us, existing with old tech, eating fish and insects from the caverns and ice cold streams that run far beneath the feet of those touched by the shadow. Those who had become corrupted, in mind and body, living forever by hunting their own kind.
Our population has to be controlled. These tunnels can’t support much more than we have, and what we can support decreases every year.
We have to expand our lands or face extinction.
Some of the brightest minds on the planet were with Leroy, and our enclave has remained smart through the generations. Others weren’t so lucky.
I put my obituary down with a sigh and checked the display on the scanner. I still had a lot of land to cover before my death. Results were relayed back to the square, distance, temperature, humidity. If any of us broke to the surface, the tunnel would be collapsed behind us. We can’t risk the great hope penetrating our location, we can’t risk the contamination and possible betrayal.
You see, the great hope was misleading. We should have realised that the promise was empty, that the Golden Fleece was in fact just gilded. But we didn’t. Well, they didn’t.
I shook my torch to get more light, planted the repeater and charge and moved on.
The red earth around me absorbs the sound of my footfall, it’s so quiet you can almost hear the blood rushing through your veins. Sometimes that’s enough to end a sacrifice’s journey. Sometimes the lack of sound drives a person insane. Sometimes the brain invents sounds to compensate, and these lead the unaware in the wrong direction without care and attention to footing or path marking.
We aren’t expected to return. But I will. I know I can do this.
It’s been almost twenty ticks since I last saw another being. My rations are gone, and my water is as good as gone. At least I’m not injured. She was wearing blue. I’m not sure why that sticks in my mind so much, maybe it’s because all I have seen since is this red. Red floor, red walls, red ceiling. Well if tunnels have walls and ceilings that is. Even my fatigues are red from the dust I kick up at nearly every step.
My purpose. Yes, my purpose. I am taking tunnels taken by previous sacrifices. At some point soon I will come to a place that hasn’t been investigated yet. We don’t know what made these tunnels, nor how far they go on. We don’t know if they are still inhabited, somewhere by someone or something. We need to find out. Most don’t return.
I’m sure you’re wondering why we don’t explore in groups. We just can’t risk it. More than one person moving around can be detected above ground, and has in the past resulted in the loss of entire enclaves. In the square and homes we are protected by the shield. But too far out of that protection we put everyone we care about at risk. So we send out the sacrifices. We know that sacrifices rarely return. But what little information gets relayed can mean the founding of a new enclave, if the materials are found along the way to build another shield that is.
Ah here. The body of another sacrifice. Before moving past, I need to check for any rations (unlikely but there’s aways a chance), and send back the signal from their scanner to confirm their passing. This does two things, it lets the family know that the sacrifice has died honourably serving our enclave, and notifies my family (well if I had any) and superiors that I am still alive and progressing into new tunnels.
From here on in, I truly am alone.

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