The Pod

The world's financial situation has declined rapidly. Entire countries have descended into chaos. And the only thing anyone's thinking about is when their pay check's coming through. Except the adolescent boy and his war-widowed mother living in a shabby London flat. Shade and Coral Ashton know what's coming, more than the wealth-robbed people of the upper class. They're expecting the nuclear events. The screams. The bodies. The unrecognisable ruins of your own home. Because, when it's World War Three and you've never had a penny to think about, thoughts can be both dangerous and useful.

Unfortunately, foresight isn't the perfect assistant in a world polluted to the brim. Soon, life without some disgusting mutation is scarce. Until Shade finds the fabled pod. A reinforced dome that houses a community of survivors. Is it the haven it seems to be? Or will an escape from the outside prove to have its own dangers?

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2. Chapter 1

17th July 2017

Shade ducked his head and jammed one foot in the doorway. The battered trainer creased, letting out a feeble squeak, before he pulled it back. A flake of paint fell away from the wood - he grimaced, leaned against the tunnel and then raised his voice.
"Vic! The door's jammed!" He crossed his arms, waiting for a reply. When all he heard was a faint shuffling, he yelled, "Victoria Anne Maine! Open this door right now or I'll-"
"You'll what, Sooty?" The door swung inwards to reveal his flatmate as she cocked a hip to one side. "It might be stuck in the ground - pros and cons of living underground, I guess."
"For the last time, it's my birthday. I'm not a kid anymore... Stop calling me Sooty." At his glower, Victoria shuffled from one foot to the other. Shade peered over her shoulder, only to be forced back by golden-brown hand on his chest.
 

"Woah..." his companion voiced. Mixed emotions manifested themselves on her features and her shoulders shifted to cover the movement behind her. "Not nice, not coming in."
"I own the place too," he protested.
"Just kidding... Err, we've had builders in and they left the place in a mess." The Indian faltered; a distrustful eyebrow was raised.
What's wrong with her? Shade puzzled, grumbling when his superior height gained nothing. Afterwards, he lowered his gaze to the human obstacle and watched her a flattering shade of pink under his observation.
"Alright." She glanced over her shoulder. "Come in."



The door opened further to welcome Shade inside. And then the ruckus exploded. Streamers and confetti were launched, figures sprung out from their various hiding places while some scrambled to free their arms and wave hello. The focus of their attention blinked and took two shaky steps into the room. Dirt clouds flew up as his heels scuffed the dirt.

"Happy Birthday, Ashton! Hope you like the cake I made." A boy, only a few years younger than him in appearance, jumped up onto one of the two crudely made beds - the structure creaked with every movement. The twenty-one-year-old nodded tentatively and eyed the creation, wondering if it'd be fit to sleep that night. He turned to Victoria, who still stood beside him.


"How did you organise this without me finding out? It looks like everyone in the tunnels is here. I mean, there are barely fifty of us but they're all here."

"Not everyone - certain people were a little busy," she explained, her eyes rolling in tune. But then she laid a hand on his arm with a smile plastered across her face. "Anyway, forget about them, let me show you what everyone got for you."

Shade allowed himself to be dragged along behind her, carrying a feeling of dread. The presents had always been good to say that their little town had limited resources: clothing, handcrafted jewellery and various knick knacks. However, he'd also received some odd things in the few years he'd been there. The worst part was what he did with the unwelcome gifts when everyone had cleared out and it was only him and Victoria.

 

"There's one I've been told to show you first." She brought them to a halt at a small pile of objects - where he swore he saw the best pair of socks he ever would down there - and picked up a patchwork box made of roots. Pushing it into his hands, she told him, "It's from Ethan. You know, that creepy guy - he brought it back from his last 'trip to the surface'."

"Sounds like someone doesn't believe him..." A teasing smile found its way to Shade's lips as he lifted the lid of the present.

"And you do? Seriously, the surface is covered by radiation and has been since we got down here." Victoria eyed him pointedly.

"We don't know that - if the city up there had been bombed, we'd have felt it. So there's nothing to say that it isn't clear up there," he uttered.

 

One thumb lifted the lid of the case and he surveyed the contents. The fingers that slid over it were met with intricate patterns carved into gold. Patches of rust had begun to climb up the sides of the circular object.

"What is that?" Victoria peered at it. "Come on, open it."

Shade did as she said and hooked one hand beneath the edge of the golden plate. It creaked upwards to reveal a glass cover, which was clouded by dirt, and two needles residing just beneath it - one was red and the other silver.

 

"Weird. Why would he give you a compass?"

"Maybe he wants me to use it to find the Pod..." His eyebrows jumped, once then twice, and he fixed the brunette with (what he thought was) a withering stare.

"Which is another myth - there is no way someone could've built something like that at such short notice. There's no way to survive up there without a hazard suit - and no one has one." Seemingly satisfied, Victoria added a hand on her hip to the stone resolve.

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," a new presence vocalized, Australian accent prominent. Both heads whipped round to catch sight of the intruder - Ethan - where he stood, nursing an odd-looking cocktail of liquids. "How else do you think I make those trips to the surface?"

 

A snort sounded from beside Shade and an amused smirk took over the man's face.

"You don't think I've actually been anywhere - don't blame you. Looks like your friend here does."

Shade nodded uncomfortably, closing the box and clutching it tightly. The din of the guests gave the impression of being further away than just a few feet - and what made it more isolated was how the interruption had flooded the atmosphere with an unsettling energy.

"Well, I'll be off. I've got to go stock up at the food bank before my next trip. Happy birthday, Shade."

 

-

 

With one last goodbye issued to the hyperactive underground baker, Shade looked around for his housemate. Her head was pushed between two slanted beams of her bed's base - she held up one hand.

"I'm going out for a walk, see you later," he called from the edge of the 'gift table', watching as the hand morphed into a thumbs up, while he stuffed the compass into his pocket. Out in the corridor, a cool air had seeped out of the earth around him and he knew it was almost night. Feet started of their own accord - they carried him around corners that he didn't often turn, where the ground was less worn by the community's collective footprints.

 

He stopped in front of a door and read the sign:

'Welcome to Ethan's. If this door is closed, please return tomorrow.'

The ink was an odd colour, making Shade wonder whether it was due to its age or what it was made of. Just below the notice, he pushed the door open. It creaked, pushed against kernels of dirt and exposed the room. Shade trod lightly as he entered - every inch of the room felt alien...

 

What's that smell? He sniffed the air. It smelt clean and like...plastic. Two things you don't find down here - the tunnels were only built to live in. It's not like we had enough time to disinfect the place and get supplies down here. Everything's organic.

An old cupboard, with its glass windows smashed through, housed several little trinkets (some in worse shape than others.) The bed was a pile of undisturbed cushions and sheets. Then he glimpsed the pair of spotless white hazard suits, one dubbed 'regular' and the other labelled as 'spare'. One finger reached out and tapped the visor of the spare outfit. A squeak signalled the friction; the finger zipped to the bottom of the screen.

And Vic said nobody brought a hazard suit with them... he mused, grinning a little.

 

Only moments after the coincidence came to mind, another idea pinged into existence. And, as much as his roommate (whose head was most likely still stuck under the bed) would abhor the concept, it lit a fire within him. So, with hurried hands, he tore the spare suit from its place and clambered into it.

The short walk to the barricaded exit tunnel was fuelled by adrenaline and purely on impulse. The smell of the suit's inside screamed its lack of use and the unmoulded material rested oddly on his skin.

 

His hand clutched the handle of the cut-down door, about half the size of the normal doors which they'd stuffed in place throughout the maze. Just as his fingers tightened around it and he heaved with all his might, he heard someone call out for him to stop. Yelping in surprise, he released it and tumbled backwards. The door whipped the wall. A figure loomed over him.

"I can ex-" he began.

"Explain? Save it. You know, I thought you'd dropped this crap," Victoria chastised him as she tapped a foot beside his momentarily still body. An irritation grew in her - he'd obey her as far as keeping their room clean and making his bed, but her attempt at controlling his crucial whims was completely disregarded.

 

"I was...curious." Then he noticed the over-sized black shoe she wore and followed it up to the wide leg attached. "You got the other suit."

"Smart boy." She rolled her eyes and yanked him up by the shoulder. Shade could see her roll her eyes behind the visor.

"Why are you wearing it, then? Aren't we just going back to the..." She was already shaking her head halfway through his second sentence.

 

"Actually, I was thinking - why give up now? You've given me the slip, got to the exit and managed to get your hands on a suit. Which is stolen," she pointed out, staring down her nose at him.

"Yours is too," he added as he returned the favour. Victoria shrugged nonchalantly. At that, he huffed.

Typical Vic. While the thoughts ran through his head, said young woman resumed her foot-tapping.

"Are you just going to stare or are we going to go?" Her eyebrow rose then she pulled open the tunnel door. "You first. But if you fart, pass wind or whatever you want to call it, in my face you're dead."

 

-

 

Shade pushed aside the rocks piled over the opening to the outside world. His hands were clumsy with the protective layer - it delayed each movement and prevented his fingers from burrowing into cracks he'd normally fit into with ease. Once they'd complied with his wishes, he dragged his body out of the almost cylindrical space. His foot smacked the ground in front of him, dislodging a shower of some grimy material that didn't quite match what he was used to, and winced. Behind him, his companion coughed.

 

"I should've known that farting wasn't your only weapon," she groaned, voice hoarse. She scrambled out of the tunnel, rolling onto the hard ground. The air around them was full of unmoving grey smoke. It gave off an odd feeling, the kind you got when no one was around for miles. Like in the middle of the woods or by an isolated lake. But not in the middle of a street next to a hole drilled into the tarmac.

Don't be stupid. Everyone's dead, of course no one's around for miles, Victoria told herself. Hearing footsteps, she propped herself up and watched as Shade approached a building - a shop. While she went to stand, he peered into the window. Everything was preserved. Old, yet perfectly preserved.

 

"Ha, look over there!" Victoria called to him, waving a hand in his direction. "It's a grocery store. I don't know about you but I wouldn't buy those apples." She grinned. Then it faded, when she murmured, "And a toy shop..."

Her face adopted that look. Nostalgia. Her glove rubbed against the glass, as if trying to reach in and grab the little stuffed teddy bear in there. Tears pricked her eyelids.

 

"Vic?" She tried to snap out of it, alarmed that he could've witnessed her moment of weakness. "You can have it. If you want. The soft toy. I doubt the owner will care about us paying now."

"You don't mind?" Victoria quizzed and tilted her head to the side. In reply, he shook his.

"Okay," she sniffed. Then she pushed open the entrance, shuffled in and picked up the object. The bear was only just taller than her hand; perhaps it was intended as a gift for a little child. Too bad that the only little children left would never be able to reach the surface. At least, not until they weren't children anymore. Only upon reflection did it occur to them how melancholy it seemed.

 

"Come on. It's late. Better find some place to stay." Shade took her arm, leading her out of the store.

"Café?" she suggested. His brow creased. "Not to eat. I bet there's a flat up there, look."

She pointed to a building across the street - a tiny place with two tables and a cramped counter. There was no neon sign that featured in a lot of the movie cafés they'd seen. Just a peeling overhead and grime-covered windows, mottled with cracks. Shade bit his lip, before nodding his affirmative.

 

The interior of the café would've once been a bright (though cheap) place to have a hot drink - or a cool one, it was practically summer. To their surprise, the two found a man and a woman slumped over the table and chairs. She had her arms dangling down either side of the chair, and the man weighed down his briefcase. They were dressed in more-than-worn business wear - complete with a pencil skirt and stilettos for the female, and uniform cuff-links and tie for her partner. Despite Shade steering clear of the odd corpses, Victoria strode forward and nudged the man away from his luggage. He 'over-balanced', rolling head first onto the floor. However, she seemed nonplussed so she proceeded to open the case.

"Huh... Looks like someone got lucky," she declared. "It's full of cash."

Meanwhile, Shade had been searching for an entrance to the flat. "Vic, it's through here."

His friend approached the spot he stood at, holding the door wide open, and inspected the carpet. She snorted before marching through.

It'll have to do, he thought, as he followed her. And, considering the fact that no hotel or motel would be 'open', it certainly would.

 

-

 

They'd settled down in the two beds - decidedly better than the ones they were used to. Outside, the sky had turned a foreboding black and the two had resigned to aiming for sleep. Victoria stirred beneath the covers as the suit obstructed her comfort.

Ugh, she thought, I'll never get to sleep.

"Hey!" She turned over to face Shade's bed with the knowledge that he'd be having the same issue. Just as she'd assumed, he turned round fully awake.

"Why are you whispering?" he replied in an equally hushed, almost perturbed, tone.

"I don't know..." Several seconds of silence passed between them until Victoria spoke up again. "How long are we going to stay up here? Wait, better question: what are we going to do next?"

"I'd say we fly to where we grew up but everybody that's a pilot probably died in the bombings. And, I don't know about you, but I can't fly us to London and..." Shade halted, a little shocked by his revelation.

I never asked where she lived, he lamented, glancing towards the end of the bed. We've lived together since halfway through the bombings and I don't even know where she grew up.

 

"Manhattan." He looked up at the sound of her voice. A sincere smile greeted him. "I was born in Mumbai but my parents lost it with each other when I was six. So I moved to Manhattan with my dad."

Shade made a little noise of acknowledgement. Then he seemed to have been of something and opened his mouth.

"Where are we? We're in North America, I know that much. But I just got on a plane, called a taxi and-"

"Asked for the town with the bunker?" Victoria twisted her lips to the side, thinking of the hefty fine she'd paid for her 'final journey'. She saw Shade give a slight nod. "We'll have to find out tomorrow."

"And tomorrow will seem like part of today if we don't get some sleep!" he insisted as he rearranged his limbs on the mattress. Back pressed into the luxury of a cushion, the twenty-one-year-old allowed the tension to ebb from his muscles.  "Night, Vic."

"See you tomorrow, Sooty." After bidding each other goodnight, the budding explorer's closed their eyes and tried desperately to slow their brains' high speed. Unfortunately, that day's taste of the outside world still held them prisoner. God only knew what would happen tomorrow...

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