The professional in her, the intellectual, wanted to call Victor out on his bold assertion. But forcing an argument on a man she was hoping to get closer to was not exactly going to be a winning strategy.
Instead, she thought about the Los Alamos photograph. The event it captured in all its faded glory signified the end of the war against the clones and also put an end to the debilitating nonsense that were the Faction Wars. It was Year Zero and from then onwards, humanity began to heal itself. Slowly at first but, under the gentle urging of the Grand Mother and her followers, change became a fervent driving force throught the whole of the Grand Canyon province.
Something else that had returned and grew apace with the revitalising mood for change was the fear of death. Made all the more vivid by the Grand Mother’s promise of immortality, and this fear ensured a degree cooperation between people that had not been needed before.
Of course, immortality through eternal youth brought its own problems. Chief amongst these in the early days was a result of every individual’s fervent desire to avoid accidental death. People looked out for each other, risks were weighed much more carefully and everything was done to improve personal safety. Accidents became rare and so the population exploded.
Ninety three years on and the last death from old age was written into The History. It was about that time, too, it also became apparent that the Grand Canyon Province was not going to be able to feed this rapidly growing population for much longer. And so The Simmet Committee was formed, headed by Joseph Simmet who was the Province’s chief archivist at the time. The committee’s role was simple. Firstly. Find a way out of the province, either through or around the radiation. Secondly. Find a new land, as free from radiation and mutations as was possible, that could support the growing population far into the future. Ten years, and much research later, the first expeditions set out.
Bodil’s thoughts were interrupted as they left the sunlit road and entered a tunnel. Everything became bathed in yellow artificial light. The sudden change must have caused her to make some small noise because Victor glanced at her.
“Are you ok Professor?”
“What? Yes. I was miles away. The tunnel took me by surprise.”
“I’m sorry about that.” Victor sounded sweetly contrite.
“Don’t be silly, it was hardly your fault. I wasn’t paying attention is all.”
There was an awkward few seconds of silence before Victor opened his mouth again.
“These tunnels date back to before the fall. Many of them survived pretty much intact.”
Bodil couldn’t help but be interested. She looked outside and took in the curved, enclosing walls as Victor continued.
“Some of them became shelters, whole communities even grew up inside them. Some, usually the ones further into the mountains, were completely sealed by landslides and were only opened up in the last hundred years or so.”
The stained and cracked concrete walls showed great age and many, many repairs. She could even see ghostly outlines of where structures maybe once stood against them. The ceiling of the tunnel, even in the sickly yellow light, was black with what was most likely soot. She pictured in her mind’s eye a possible community that had called this tunnel home during those terrible days after the fall. Had it survived? Did it grow? What happened to it?
But she didn’t ask. She liked the calm, reassuring sound of Victor’s voice as he narrated the history of these ancient roadways. It was like being snuggled up in bed with a warm milky drink and listening to your favourite book. Bodil enjoyed it while it lasted.
Soon, they emerged back into the sunlight and the sudden warmth of the sun through the windows revealed how cold inside the tunnel had been. Or was it the breath of history that had left its chill. Whatever, it was good to be back in the sunshine and up ahead the road began to enter the first embrace of the mountains.
Victor seemed to stretch, flexing his back and arms and then his fingers on the steering wheel.
“We’ll be at Niederurnen soon.”
Bodil had never heard the name before.
“When we get there let me do the talking, ok?”
It was said with a smile but that didn’t hide the slightly ominous weight of the words themselves.
It was a couple of seconds before Bodil acknowledged.