Chloe sat cross legged on the floor, watching Oliver as he paced in a tight circle. He clenched his jaw and rubbed the back of his neck. “Even if I did believe you, the amount of trouble you could land in…”
She reached into her pack and pulled out the strange flower. “Look at this.” She held it delicately between her palms. “The mayor is either wrong or lying.”
Oliver may have sneered, but a flash of fear filled his eyes. “He knows what’s good for us. Now, get rid of that thing before someone finds it.”
“Doesn’t it bother you the least bit that the mayor’s experts, who by the way we have never seen, claim the outside is poisonous?”
Oliver sighed, crossing his arms. “What are you going to do?”
“Talk to the mayor. He can’t deny this proof. People need to know…” She was about to bring up the creature when a hurried knock came from the door.
“Chloe! Oliver! Is everything OK?”
Oliver reached the door before her, motioning with his head to get rid of the flower.
“Chloe, open the door,” her Dad’s voice came, muffled.
“We’re fine. Everything’s fine.”
Chloe placed the flower back into her pack and shoved it under her bed. Taking a deep breath, she pushed past Oliver and opened the door. “What’s up, Dad?”
Her dad stood with his arms crossed. “Your mother sent me to check up on you. Oliver, your mother needs you.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Oliver said.
Chloe turned, furrowing her brow. “Why? It’s Dad.”
“Go on, son,” her Dad said.
Grumbling under his breath, Oliver grabbed his cloak and started down the tunnel toward their parents’ room. Her father waited until Oliver was out of sight until closing the door behind him.
His lips pressed into a thin line as he stared at her. Chloe felt the tension clouding her like a puff of smoke. “What we discuss is never to leave this room, understand?”
“As you know, I help monitor the defense shield that protects this colony. This evening, we registered quite the surge down in Section 17. You and Oliver passed there on your way home. Did you see anything?”
“No, not really,” Chloe replied sheepishly.
Her father smiled. “You’re a terrible liar, my dear. Look, you’re not in trouble but I need to know what you saw.”
The image of the creature’s teeth and claws flashed into her mind. She felt sick to her stomach, but her father was right. He needed to know. She reached under her bed and pulled the crumpled flower from her pack. Her father stared at it in silence, analyzing it.
“Did you know?” Chloe asked.
“I had my suspicions but I don’t have the clearance to get a good look. How did you…” her father trailed off.
“There was an opening along one of the tunnels. It must have just formed. I followed it and found a place where it opened to the surface.”
For a few minutes, neither said anything. Chloe grabbed her grandfather’s journal and held it out to her father. “There’s something else.”
“Where did you find this?” Moisture brimmed his eyes.
“A big place where there were airplanes.”
“Did you read it?”
“Yes.” She hesitated, biting her lip. “Dad? What’s a Balor?”
He held his breath, running a hand over the journal’s battered cover. “When I was a child, the world was at war. Every government was trying to genetically engineer the perfect soldier. It was a dream of the future. A few even succeeded. That’s when the dream turned into a nightmare.” His grip on the journal tightened.
“Dad, how old are you?”
His lips twitched into a smile. “An odd question.”
“I found a picture of you when you were young, but it was easily a couple hundred years old.”
“I’ve lost count to be honest. You don’t feel any different at one hundred than two.” Her Dad smiled at her.
“Genetic engineering became quite popular. Even on a modest budget, you could live a few hundred years. If you were rich, you could guarantee that for your children.”
“Am I really twenty?”
He closed his eyes in thought. “More like fifty, but don’t worry you’re still one of the youngest here.”
“Why weren’t we told?”
“I wish I had an answer. The mayor and the foreman are doing what they’ve been instructed. They’re trying to keep this colony safe.”
“By building a rocket that can’t possibly hold all of us? One hundred of us are going to be left behind.”
“Another rocket will be built,” her father stated.
“And what if the defenses fail? How many more of those creatures are out there?” Her voice trembled.
Her father pulled her into a hug. “Now listen to me. You can’t let anyone see you like this. Trust our defenses. They’ve held for longer than you know.”
“Why didn’t you and mom tell Oliver and I? You told me so many stories about planes and flying, but never once did you mention grandma and grandpa were pilots. You never once told us about why we had to come down to these stupid caves.”
“Your mother and I couldn’t risk your curiosity, but it looks like nothing could have stopped it anyway.” Although he was laughing, Chloe could see the torment brewing in his eyes. “I need you to promise me you’ll never go back out there again.”
“I’m not kidding, Chloe.” He turned to grab the journal and placed it in her hands. “Keep this. Study the notes on flying. Show no one. Not even Oliver.”
Chloe raised an eye brow. “But why?”
“Trust me.” He kissed her forehead. “Now, go on and get to bed.”
“Night, Dad.” As soon as the door shut behind her father, Chloe jumped on her cot and dove into the strange journal.
Her mind raced. She felt suddenly alive when the engines roared to life beneath her. She kept her thoughts on the flight plans. Lights, buttons, and switches filled the control panels. From memory she activated the necessary commands, preparing the plane for takeoff. The pilot patted the control panel and inputted a set of coordinates.
Her pilot pushed the final command and she knew she would’ve smiled if she could. She raced down the runway, lifting her head high and catching the wind. The ground faded beneath her to a smooth mix of colors and thin lines. Her wings sliced through the fluffy clouds as she ascended into a crystal blue sky.
“You never cease to amaze me, old girl.” Her pilot smiled for the first time in weeks.
She was about to lay in Captain Moore’s request when all of a sudden she was blinded. Fires sprang up everywhere, consuming her in an inferno followed by a free fall into cold darkness.
Over the next few days, life seemed to settle back into its normal routine. She avoided the foreman unless absolutely necessary.
Although his eagle eyes started keeping a sharp watch on her, he soon grew bored and found other things far more interesting.
Her father kept up his usual oddness but otherwise made no further mention of the airplane base or her grandfather’s journal.
Her grandfather was quite an interesting man. He’d flown to so many places and seen so much that at times it felt like something out of a child’s imagination. His favorite plane, which he affectionately named Alara, had a vertical take-off system and the most “sophisticated” navigation system in its time. Chloe was almost salivating. She would do anything to get her hands on its circuitry.
A few weeks later, Chloe was coming from a long day in the mines. She took a seat next to her mother at dinner and endured the service without rolling her eyes. The crowd fell into silence as the mayor stood and announced another lottery drawing.
Chloe could take no more of the pounding in her head. “Mom, I think I’m going to go to bed.”
“I don’t think so young lady. You’ll be staying here.”
“Mom, I’m twenty years old,” remembering what her Dad had said.
“I don’t care if you’re eighty-seven. If they call your name for the lottery, I want you here to claim it.”
A chorus of deafening cheers erupted around them. Chloe crossed her arms and tapped her fingers on her arm. The whole community went silent as the number was read aloud.
Chloe’s mouth went dry and her eyes widened. Her mother broke into hysterics, threw her arms around her daughter and crushed the air from Chloe’s lungs.
“For God’s sake, Jillian, let her go get the envelope.” Although her father was smiling, his hands were clenched into fists and his eyes burned with anger. Before she could say something, her mother was pushing her towards the front of the cavern.
“Of course! Go on, Chloe, go on.”
Chloe, still lost in shock, let her legs guide her to the mayor’s first wife as she handed Chloe the small red envelope. It was sealed with golden wax pressed into some sort of insignia. It was the same insignia she saw on the door the night she explored the off-limits section of the caves.
“Well, what’s in it?” Oliver’s face was pulled into a forced smile.
Chloe peeled open the envelope and found a letter, map, and a key. Opening the letter, she quickly scanned it before reading it aloud. “Enclosed are a map to your new home and a key to your room. Your roommate will be Marissa Garrison. Please report to your new home within the next twenty-four hours. Tardiness is not acceptable. If you fail to report within twenty-four hours, your spot will be given away.”
The mayor’s voice boomed across the cavern. “The spaceship is almost ready. We only have room for ten more spots with a total of two hundred passengers aboard. I realize this won’t account for everyone here but not to worry, not to worry, plans will be left to build another spaceship. Thank you and good night.”