A quake shakes me awake from my dreamless state. I turn over to see a bright red “3:26” staring back at me, barely illuminating my face in my otherwise pitch black room. In roughly eight hours the next one should hit, so it’s about time to get out of bed before the day is over. Slipping out from under the covers, I trudge to the kitchen to fill and boil the kettle.
It’s been about 12 years since the tremors began. When it was discovered that the planet’s surface would turn uninhabitable by the next generation, the world powers clamored in search for solutions. Colonizing space offered the best solution, but in the given timeframe only a limited amount of high volume spaceships would be made available. Once the first private aerospace companies released their sign-up pages, the waitlists quickly grew for miles with names of hopeful members of our future diaspora. Ultimately, the luxury of space age survival fell onto the wealthy few, so while they constructed their massive vessels the rest of us had to find a different solution. When you can’t go up, you can only go down.
The drilling began almost immediately, burrowing far underneath our homes and constructing veins of tunnels deep in the sea. The constant digging, though, created massive shifts to our lithosphere causing sporadic earthquakes throughout the world.
As the last of the ships departed, floods of people seeped into the earth, bidding farewell to their last vision of daylight and welcoming the loud shakes that would dictate their days.
And this is how I’ve lived for most of my life. It took three weeks for me to finally be able to fall asleep again, six weeks to schedule my routine around them, and three months to be able to anticipate when each would arrive. But in my mind, this piece of my life has been an eternity.
The kettle crescendos, signaling the beginning of my day. Hot water runs through ground beans like an hourglass counting down each second of energy I’ll sustain from this elixir. Each sip is savored knowing coffee is very well the only thing I will spend premium for. Earth never tasted so good. Fresh and fulfilled, I put on a crewneck, joggers, and hooded puffy jacket, slip on my boots and head out into my world.
Brisk, still air greets me as I walk out the door. Generators hum as floodlights blast, uncovering the dull brown and rusted steel that shields my home. To create some semblance of what once was, most people set timers for their home lights to reflect day and night. I am one of the rare few that opted for motion sensors; I knew I would never be able to return to my past life. Because of this, my home is sectioned off in a separate part of town, leaving me secluded with my thoughts most days.
Making my way down the tunnel more lights illuminate my path until I reach the main town square, already lit to accommodate goons like me that can’t afford even a second of worthwhile shut-eye. One advantage, though, of not having days imposed by the sun and moon’s will is that every business is open 24/7. My favorite café Under the Root beckons me with its soft lighting that paints its tan walls and plastic trees with friendliness and comfort. I grab a seat and order my usual hashbrowns, salmon kale salad, and espresso.
Once the square’s clocktower signaled that it was 5:34, I quickly eat my meal, pay my check, and head back out into the underground chill. It’s time to make my living. Just a quick half-mile away I make it in time to Molemann: the world’s leading heavy industrial drill manufacturer. Despite most of the population making it safely underground, nations and private companies continued to burrow through our planet in search of resources and space. I never thought myself handy, but I found maintaining and servicing these behemoths both paid well and fit my perfectly irregular hours. I slip into my coveralls, grab my tools, and head to the service garage where an old GX-3200 sat waiting for me. This unit was in for a scheduled preventative maintenance check. After changes with the hydraulic fluid and belts, as well as drill rotation, this unit was as good as new. As I am about to start it up for a function test, though, I hear some thuds strike metal. There is no way it could’ve come from this drill--I serviced it perfectly. I climb on top of the unit searching for the cause of this fault and then I find it standing at the open garage door. A deer. I freeze as this antlered, hoofed creature glares back at me. In the clamor of the underground exodus, many wild creatures were left behind to try to survive a fate unbeknownst to them. After the initial horror, they quickly became an afterthought when our own survival took priority. Now, a supposed extinct creature stood before me, alive and real. After an eons-long standoff, the deer gallantly trotted out my workshop and back into our world. I jump off ten feet from the top of the drill to pursue the miracle.
As it trots through our narrow underground routes, it constantly turns its head side-to-side. I honestly cannot remember the last time I’ve seen a deer, let alone any four-legged mammal, but it travels with a majesty I have long forgotten life could offer. Before we make it back to the town square, it makes a hard cut right and bolts away from me and I chase after it. As we run farther from the town’s light, I feel myself finally catching up to it until the deer suddenly disappears before my eyes. This cannot be the end. I feel around the darkness until I hit a wall, but something doesn’t feel right about it. It almost feels like wood, and there is a crevasse within the stone where the air is even cooler. I climb through and as my eyes adjust to the black, I find the deer climbing more earth and roots. That’s when I notice it: light. The tiniest sliver of light emerging from the rock above. Did the surface… survive? Were they wrong all along? Was our home there this entire time?
Suddenly, the ground begins to quiver. It must be 11:40 already. With no time to think, I begin to climb. The deer must be 100 feet above me already, but I need to know. With each stone I grab and each ledge I step on, the more my desire grows to find answers. And with each inch I climb, the world around me shakes. Dirt and debris fall and strike my shoulders. I almost slip, but I’m able to grab a lucky root. The deer stops and stares at me, black and beady eyes filled with a world of knowledge surrounded by a world destroying itself. This quake feels like an eternity, but I stay determined. This being gives me something I have never felt since the world as I knew it ended: hope.