Ivory ran her hand along the wall, trying to avoid looking at the thousands of pictures taped to the other side. They showed the happy lives and joyful faces of those that had been condemned within the city, many had notes attached to them, pleas for information, and declarations of love. Those inside would never touch the outside world again, never be held in a loved one’s embrace. They were the missing, the infected, the living dead.
There was a monument outside of the wall, with a screen to look up the name of a person inside. There they could read the details of their imprisonment, and if known, their current status. Many of the occupants had a single line under this heading, ‘presumed dead’. People on the outside used to visit every day by the hundreds, thousands maybe. They would line the clear visiting wall hoping to see their loved ones inside, hoping that they were still alive, now, no one came. Ivory stopped to peer between a gap in the pictures at the world outside the wall. Fall leaves and debris littered the usually clean concrete expanse, giving it an abandoned air.
Ivory heard a rattle from the trash bins behind her, she spun around drawing her bow, ready for whatever had come after her. She was tackled from the side, her attacker punching and kicking at her in manic fury. Her bow fell as she struggled with her attacker, trying to block the brutal blows. She pushed them away, shoving with all her might. Her attacker screamed in rage, gnashing teeth struggling to take a bite of Ivory. She shoved her knee between them, trying to gain enough space to defend herself. She got her attacker at arms length and swung a punch at their head. They toppled off her, scrambling away and falling back over a pile of rubble, then as quickly as they had appeared, they were gone. She picked herself up off the pavement, brushing off her clothes, she picked up her bow. “Not damaged,' she mused, “I suppose that’s something anyways.'
Ivory knew she would have to move, where there was one crazy there were likely to be more. The creatures were always more dangerous, and brave, in groups. She hurried up South Capitol street, to the long overgrown patch of weeds and grasses that was once the National Mall. Ivory remembered coming here to study when she was in college, couples sitting under trees to picnic, children playing under the eyes of watchful parents. It was a community hub once, an oasis of green in a desert of concrete and steel. This city of the dead had been the capitol of one of the most powerful nations on earth, it’s streets were lined with monuments of past wars, of great men of history. Now they stood witness to the slow death of a corrupt nation, and the miserable existence of those trapped within. Ivory made her way along edge of the Reflecting Pool, it’s surface strewn with the blossoms of the overgrown cherry tree forest around it, to the stalwart edifice of the Lincoln Memorial.
She climbed the steps to the monument, avoiding rubble that resembled the remains of a man, and slipped in a small side door. She entered the undercroft of the building, the air stuffy and moist with a distinct smell of earth, and made her way through the passages to the small room she called home. As she walked she called out greetings to the other occupants of the underground lair, they were a bedraggled, humble mass of humanity, but one of the few isolated pockets of sanity left inside the walls.
When she reached her room, she was rushed at by a brown-haired little girl who wrapped her small arms around Ivory and began talking in a hurried tumble. “Ivry,' she said in a soft lisp, “You’re home! I went to class today, and we had a danger drill, and we all hid in the cubbies in the walls, and it was like hide and seek, only it was kinda scarier, and Miss. Handel said if we ever heard the bells that’s what we should do, only we had to be really sneaky and really quiet so the crazies or any of the gangs couldn’t find us. And then Mr. Todd came in and pretended to be a bad guy trying to find us and whoever he didn’t find gets and extra dessert tonight, and guess what!' “What?' Ivory answered enthusiastically when the girl finally stopped talking to take a breath. “It was ME! I was the only one he couldn’t find! I scrunched up really far inside my cubby, there is a little extra bit in the back and I scooted and scooted till I was in there and I pulled all my stuff over and around me and I breathed really quiet and didn’t make any noise! I’m a really good hider and he didn’t find me!' Ivory smiled, always amused at Lily’s boisterous approach to conversation. No matter how long or depressing her day, Ivory always felt her burdens lighten when Lily was around. “How about I go get cleaned up and then we can go to the cafeteria and get something to eat, and you can tell me more about your day, ok?' Ivory said to the girl, who smiled nodded solemnly in agreement to this plan.
Ivory grabbed a change of clothes and went to the bathroom thinking about the day she’d met the little girl. Lily was very good at hiding, so good that when the police came to evacuate her family, they hadn’t been able to find the little girl. She lived in her little home for weeks alone, scrounging meals from the food that had been left when her parents were taken. She spent her days hiding from the gangs that took over the streets after the wall went up.
Ivory had found her while scavenging the home for medications and supplies. She’d come upon the girl’s hiding spot by accident. While moving some boxes in the pantry, she’d seen a little opening in the wall, probably access to the home’s plumbing or something. Tucked away inside, was a sad scrap of a little girl, no more than six or seven years old, curled up in a tight little ball and barely breathing. Ivory had been terrified that the little girl was dead until she heard the tiniest inhale of breath. She looked like little more than a ball of rags, her hair a tangled mass, her pale skin filthy. Then the girl opened her rich green eyes, which had been scrunched closed in the childish instinct of hoping anything she couldn’t see couldn’t see her either. They peered up at Ivory, catching at her heart with the fear they showed. The girl whimpered, and Ivory spoke to her in a soft soothing voice, then the girl began to cry. Ivory gathered the girl into her arms, and gently lifted her out of her hiding place. She took the girl back with her to the shelter of the monument, and she had lived with Ivory ever since.
Ivory finished washing up and put on a baggy sweatshirt and jeans; like most of the undercroft’s citizens, her clothes were a mismatch of pieces scavenged from houses and stores, they rarely had the luxury of getting something in the right size, and too big was always the better option. She tucked her long light brown hair into a loose ponytail and called to Lily. Their community pooled their food, that way no one would go without unless they all did, and they ate cafeteria style. Ivory and her little charge grabbed their food and sat down at at an empty spot at one of the tables, enjoying each other’s company and sharing news about each other’s day. This was one of the great advantages of taking their meals cafeteria style, it brought people together from the vast sprawling corridors of the undercroft. It tied together their community and helped them to retain their humanity.
After the meal Lily returned to their room to do her homework, while Ivory went to meet with the council. The undercroft council consisted of a group of citizens that was chosen to oversee the welfare and safety of the people within. Most of the council members were middle aged or older, and chosen for their skills and leadership abilities. As a scout, Ivory made her reports directly to the council members, and what she had seen today was particularly important. When the council secretary let her into the council room, she saw that most of the members were within.
“I scouted out at the visitor center at the wall today,' she began, “there was still no one out there. Not on the streets, at the information center, the memorial, not one person out there. It’s been almost three weeks now, there have been no supply drops, no messages, no information or contact with the outside at all. We can’t continue this way.' She told them. The head councilman was a gruff older man with molasses colored skin and broad muscular shoulders from years of working as a fire fighter. “What exactly do you propose Miss. Nilsson? It’s not like we can just leave whenever we want. We’re locked in this damn city and there are crazies all over above ground. If we send a large group of people up there, they’ll be all over them like flies.' He said. “I don’t know how to get beyond the wall yet, but I think that if we move people out in small groups, traveling between the sane communities, we at least stand a chance to get to the exit, once we do figure a way out.' Ivory said this in a voice that conveyed more confidence than she felt at the moment, she wasn’t sure that her plan would work, but even a bad plan was better than doing nothing “Okay Miss. Nilsson, get together with the scouts and come up with a exit plan, we will contact the other sanities and come up with a way to get all of our people to the exit safely.' the councilman said.
Ivory returned to her room, her thoughts heavy with the task ahead of her, she sent Lily with notes to the scouts and guards to meet her in her rooms, it would be a tight squeeze, but she felt it was best to keep their conversation private. She had considered the different options and thought that the best place to start their investigation was probably at the medical centers.
The centers had been set up to provide treatment to the quarantined citizens, but the medical personnel from the outside had long since quit showing up. They had ransacked the facilities for every bit of medication and supplies they could find. While the medication was useless for the disease that had spread through the world like wildfire, it was invaluable for the every day illnesses and injuries that untreated could cause just as much harm. Every center had an entrance from the outside, the interior and exterior zones connected by a locked clean room, where the center personnel would enter in hazmat suits, then be decontaminated before exiting the quarantine zone. If they could figure out a way through the clean room they would be able to leave the city.
The next morning, after seeing Lily off to class, Ivory and two of the other scouts headed to the nearest medical center. They watched carefully for crazies along the way, but luck was with them and they made it there without being attacked. The center door was open, probably left that way after it was ransacked, the once clean and sterile interior was dusty, leaves and bits of detritus lay scattered on the white tile floors. There were clear signs that both humans and animals had been through the place for whatever leavings they could find. Ivory headed for the clean room, the clear wall and door let them see through to the hazmat suits hanging on the other side. She had no idea how they were going to get through the door, and even less clue as to what barriers might be waiting on the other side if they did.
Ivory looked over the door, it was sealed shut with no place to pry it open or handle to pull on. There was a keypad on the other side, she assumed that the medical personnel had used a code to get the door open. The electronic pad was still powered, and she could only assume that the seal on the door was kept shut by the same power source. Most of the city had lost power during the bombings that a half decade before the pandemic swept the globe. It was the quickly spreading disease that had finally brought an end to the hostilities, as the warring nations and terrorist organizations turned their focus inward. Ivory wasn’t sure how they would get through the electronic precautions that kept the door sealed, but she thought that she knew someone who might. Ivory and the scouts headed back to the undercroft. They had hope now that they just might have a way out.
Joshua had been a computer systems analyst and tech genius in his life before the pandemic, his hacking skills were practically legend, and it was said that the code hadn’t been written that he couldn’t crack. Though the disease had left his mind intact, Joshua had been left crippled, his legs weak and barely able to stand. He managed to get around mostly with the use of a scavenged wheelchair, which severely limited his movement with the unfinished and uneven floors of the undercroft. Without computers he felt useless in this new reality, and Ivory though he would likely be excited by the challenge of breaking into the sealed clean room. She had liked Joshua since she met him, he had a kind nature and despite the limitations his legs posed, he always tried to lend a helping hand in the community. Lately he had been teaching math lessons to the children in the undercroft. He liked to say that even the apocalypse wasn’t enough to diminish the importance of his favorite subject.
Ivory headed to the undercroft’s classrooms when she returned, she knew that she would find him there, passing on his knowledge to the younger generations. She opened the door and slipped quietly inside. Joshua sat at the front of the room, he looked at peace, as if he’d found his place, his purpose in this changed world. Ivory waited for his class to finish, then said “Joshua, I have a problem I hope you can solve.' “It’s nice to see you too, Ivory. Yes, I’m doing well, how about you?' He replied with a touch of sarcastic reproach. “I’m doing ok, and I’m glad that you are doing well. I see the students are progressing nicely, Lily enjoys your class quite a bit.' She answered with a chuckle. “Well, she’s a wonderful student, very smart, and you’ve done a great job helping her settle in here.' He told her. “Now, about that problem you mentioned, lay it on me.' He prompted.
Ivory explained her plan to him and the problem of the electromagnetically sealed door and it’s security keypad. “There haven’t been any supply drops in weeks, the medical center staff haven’t shown up in even longer, there is no sign of life outside the walls. The council has been trying to keep it quiet, so people don’t panic, but that won’t last much longer. Something has gone very wrong, Joshua, and if we don’t escape this prison, there is a good chance we’re all going to starve.' She said. “Well, if you can find me someone who can tap into that power supply, I may be able to access the system.' Joshua told her. “Ok, I’ll go talk to the council and see if I can find someone' she sighed. Ivory was not looking forward to another meeting with the council.
When Ivory left Joshua she headed to the council room, she didn’t know who would be there; hopefully they would know who could help access the power supply in the medical center. Ivory was shocked to find that the room was full when she arrived, and the council was in heated discussion. She knocked on the door, “Excuse the interruption council members,' she said, “I’ve made some progress on an escape point, but I need your help locating someone.' “Ivory,' the head councilman addressed her, “Ivory, I’m glad you’re here, we have a problem.'
“We’ve made contact with the other sanities, and while they are receptive to your plan, they reported that their scouts have been seeing increased activity by the bands of crazies. They say that the crazies have been clustering. We need to get this plan moving and quickly, if an evacuee group runs into a mass of crazies, they won’t stand a chance.' The councilman told her. Ivory was shocked at this information, they’d only ever encountered the crazies in small groups. They knew that there were thousands out there, but as long as they kept their scouting to daytime hours they had only been attacked occasionally. “Well sir, that makes my request even more urgent. I need an electrician, or at least someone who knows enough to help Joshua tie his laptop into the electricity at the medical center. If we can do that he thinks he may be able to hack into the access panel to the clean room. It’ll get us one step closer to getting out of here.' Ivory said. “Give me two hours, I think that there is someone at the DuPont circle sanity that might be able to help. I’ll contact the council there and have them meet you at the medical center.' he answered.
Ivory arranged for Lily to stay with the grandmotherly neighbor across the hall who often took care of her when Ivory went on scouting missions. She packed up her overnight gear, her pistol, and her bow, she went by Joshua’s quarters to collect him and then they headed to the medical center. The reports of growing crazie activity made Ivory was extra cautious on their route, especially while traveling the relatively open paths that ran along the reflecting pool. While the open spaces allowed her a clear field of vision, they also allowed any attackers a clear view of her from the cherry tree forests not far away from the formerly well manicured paths. It wasn’t a short walk; the medical center was in a section of the wall near the Navy Yard. The Yard itself was outside of the wall and had served as the quarters for quarantine enforcement and research personnel. They traveled slowly, Joshua walking with the aid of crutches, his ankles braced to prevent him from injuring them further. It wasn’t easy going, but the cracked and overgrown walkways were too rough for his wheelchair to traverse.
Ivory and Joshua, and two of the Undercroft guards walked beside the wall that ran along the Washington channel. They could see the water glistening in the setting sun shining through the clear wall. There were no city lights across the water, and still no signs of human life outside the wall. “What happened out there' Ivory mused solemnly. “I don’t think the quarantines worked. If they failed, the world out there probably isn’t too different from in here, it might even be worse.' Joshua answered her rhetorical question. “Maybe, and if so we can get supplies we need for long term self-sufficiency and withdraw. Lock the door, at least then we’ll have the key, we’ll have the freedom and means to ensure our survival.' Ivory replied. She wasn’t entirely convinced of this though, the recent reports on crazie activity were troubling. They continued walking in silence, their thoughts of the uncertain future weighing heavily on both of their minds.
They finally arrived at the medical center, the electrician and a DuPont Circle scout and guard escort were already there. Ivory introduced herself and Joshua, and their guards Matthews and Smith. “I’m Andrew,' the scout said, “this is Ethan, and the guards over there are Richards and Gonzales, how can we help.' “We need access to the center’s power, I need to be able to connect my laptop to it. Once it’s charged I can hook into the maintenance access port, and I should be able to hack through the firewalls and reprogram the access code to one of our choosing. Then we can control who comes and goes.' Joshua told them. “That’s the ideal result anyway,' Ivory added, “but if necessary, Joshua can shut down the security system altogether, which will release the locks and allow us access to the other side.' “Ok then, let’s get to work.' Ethan spoke up fo the first time since they arrived.
Ethan began digging through a tool bag, when he found what he was looking for he began scanning the walls. Ivory had no idea what he was doing but she hoped he found what he needed. Ivory and Andrew took positions by the entrance, watching for any crazies that might attack. “Do you think this plan will work?' Andrew asked. “I honestly don’t know, but what I do know is that we won’t last long if we don’t find a way to leave these walls. We have no tools, or, seeds to grow our own food. Little to no wildlife is left, even the squirrels and rats are scarce and the birds have learned to avoid these skies. There haven’t been supply drops for weeks, and I have no faith they’ll ever resume.' Ivory answered him. “I haven’t seen a soul on the other side of the wall in weeks, and none of our other scouts have either. Joshua thinks that the quarantine may have failed to contain the pandemic, if so, the there is no help coming. We have to look after ourselves now.' She said.
Ivory noticed movement and drew her bow, she pulled an arrow from her quiver, knocking it on the string she aimed it in the direction of the disturbance. A crazie came out of the cherry trees, skulking along. It was a warped and feral example of human kind, animalistic and filthy, it’s scant rags and skin showed the blood of recent kills. It was heading in their direction, sensing the potential meal awaiting it inside the building. Ivory aimed her arrow at it and shot, it was no use to show mercy to these beasts, they no longer had the capacity to understand it, and the safety of her group was essential to the success of the mission and future of all the sane humans inside these walls.
Suddenly she heard a loud pounding behind her, startling her out of her concentration. “Christ! can’t you do that quietly!' She scolded. “Ma’am, if you know of a quiet way to put a hole in this wall be my guest, otherwise stop complaining and let me do my work.' Ethan replied grumpily. He resumed pounding on the wall with his sledgehammer, slowly breaking a hole in the solid concrete wall. “I located an electrical juncture inside this wall, if I can get to it we can tie into the power easily enough.' He grunted pounding away at the wall. “Matthews and Smith, help him with the wall, Andrew and I will keep watch on the entrance, Richards and Gonzales stand ready in case there is an attack. The quicker we get this done the better.' Ivory said.
The two men worked at the wall, finally breaking through to the space beyond. “There’s the panel!' Ethan said excitedly putting his hand on Andrew’s shoulder stopping his swing. Ethan rummaged around in his bag again, grabbing another device and a handful of cables and wires. Within minutes he had rigged up access to the power. “Alright Joshua,' he said, “plug in and let’s get that computer of your’s charged!' he was clearly excited. This was probably the first time since he was quarantined that he’d had a chance to work on something electric, with the city-wide blackout, and he obviously enjoyed it.
Joshua walked over to the jury-rigged outlet, clearly hesitant to plug his precious computer into the makeshift power receptacle. “Are you sure about this?' he asked Ethan, “This is the only reasonably intact computer I’ve been able to find, if it gets burned out I won’t be able to access the panel.' “It’s safe, I know my business, it’ll work just like an outlet in any home…except it’ll actually provide power' he said with a chuckle, considering the dead state of the power outlets in every building inside the wall. Joshua plugged in his laptop with obvious skepticism, ready to disconnect in a second at any sign of a problem. “It’ll take it awhile to charge up, we may as well all get some rest, I’ll start working on the panel in the morning if everything goes well.' Joshua told them, setting down the device gently and turning toward them. The group moved shelves and beds against the closed door to prevent any crazies the might decide to attack.
Ivory, Andrew and the guards took turns on watch throughout the night, there were a few times they heard a commotion and pounding at the door, but with their short attention spans the crazies gave up before they managed to break through. As the sun peaked over the horizon, that changed though. Crazies rushed out from behind cover towards the medical center. The threw themselves against the windows and doors with near mindless ferocity. Ivory had never seen so many in one place. Dozens of crazies launched themselves at the building in full bodied attacks, coming away dazed and bloodied but always rushing back in a few moments later.
The windows shook with the impacts, they were shatterproof glass, but Ivory wasn’t sure how long they would hold up to the attack. The door to the center was definitely the weak spot, it was never intended to be used to keep out an attacker like this. The frame began giving off a cracking sound as the bodies slammed into it. Then suddenly the door, frame and all, swung away from one side of the wall. The crazies attacking that spot began trying to shove their way in through the gap.
The guards began firing arrows at the assorted limbs trying to keep them from making any progress. “Don’t waste your arrows!' Ivory shouted to them pulling out the machete that all the scouts and guards carried in case of close combat situations. She began hacking at the limbs. “Richards, Smith! Push some of those shelves over here to block the door!' Andrew yelled. The two guards pushed some of the heavy metal storage shelves and slid them into place in front of the door. The crazies continued to pound at the side of the building, for the moment the barricade was holding.
Joshua was already at jacked into the panel, intensely concentrating on hacking the firewalls. Ivory walked over to Andrew, who stood by the barricade, “He was up early, got to work right away, hasn’t taken the slightest break in a couple hours now, even with all the commotion.' He told her. She nodded at him, not inclined to talk.
Suddenly Joshua cried out triumphantly. “I did it! I’m through,' he said, then proceeded to mumble along to himself about files and codes and passwords for the next hour as he reprogrammed the panel to allow them access to the room beyond. “Ok,' he said, unplugging his laptop gently from the panel and shutting it down to preserve the precious battery charge. “Now all you should have to do is enter 1225, Christmas, I miss Christmas.' He told Ivory, clearly feeling a bit nostalgic after the hours spent working at the profession he held for so many years before quarantine.
Ivory stepped to the panel and took a deep breath, she paused with her hand hovering just over the keys. She was afraid of the loss of hope if the code didn’t work, and the challenge of trying to get out of the center, and back to one of the sanities either way. She took another breath and entered 1225. The light switched to green and the door opened with a hiss. Ivory walked into the room beyond, somewhat hesitant at her first step beyond the wall.
Ivory signaled to the rest of the group, they picked up their gear and followed her. As Ivory walked through the clean room to the door on the other side she noticed that the room beyond it was in disarray, as if everyone had dropped whatever they were holding and left. They reached the other door to find it open, clearly the staff had left in a hurry. “Ivory,' Joshua called, “I’m going to lock the door behind us, and wait in this side of the center. The computers on this side still have power and maybe I can find some information about what has been going on. Besides, with my legs I can’t keep up if there is an attack outside. If I need to I can retreat to the clean room and lock myself in until you get back.' He said. The group exited the clean room to find the research lab on the other side, Joshua pulled up at the computers. “Be careful Joshua.' Ivory said. The rest of the group moved quickly, keeping an eye out for trouble, but with curiosity at what lay on the outside. They passed through empty corridors finding the exit by the still illuminated signs.
The small group passed through the doorway into the early morning light. They had expected some resistance, a military presence that could have been alerted by their exit, but the streets beyond were as empty as the lab had been. “What the hell,' Ivory said, “where is everyone?' The streets were cluttered with debris and drifting paper, Ivory grabbed one up. “Quarantine fails, no cure to be found, infection spreads to thousands daily.' She read aloud. So, the world beyond had fallen, no longer so different from the walled city in which they’d been imprisoned. She had hoped to find that the lack of supplies had been some government oversight, that the emptiness of the memorial simply meant that their loved ones had moved on. The world they had left behind was gone though, there would be no outside aid, they were on their own.