The rock garden is my favorite chamber. It’s the farthest point from the central chamber, a giant cave where most of our homes are located. Our settlement is pretty social in general. Community is how we’ve survived this long. Loners like me are pretty rare, and I don’t really feel like I’m that much of a loner. Sometimes, I just like the quiet of the rock garden. Kitty would join me, our fingers intertwined as we walk, only letting go as we enter the chamber. But, she hasn’t been around so much these days.
Still, I like the garden. Water drips from the ceiling, attracting moss. Green is most common, but there is blue, red, and orange as well. There is rarely much color variation in the Underground. There are hints of paint on some walls that suggest we used to have a whole spectrum of colors, but they’re faded and chipped. Grays, browns and greens are most common. My mother used to tell me the story of the bargain our ancestors made, when the end was coming, they gave up certain types of light just to live. She said color was a type of light. I don’t know about that. I guess, I’d give up the Rock Garden if I had to. Now that it’s just me, I wonder if I ever wanted to be alone here in the first place.
I hear somebody skid on rocks, and then exclaim, “Shit!”
Kitty enters the chamber from a passage I’d never noticed before. Her knee bleeding. I’ve never seen her bleed before, and maybe that’s what makes me really look at her, instead of at the Kitty shaped shadow I know so well. Her hair seems lighter, her skin darker, but not dirty. Her eyes are doing something weird.
“Hey,” she says, “I slipped. Can you grab me some of the blue moss? My dad says it’s good for wounds.”
I peel some moss off of the central column. It comes off easily. When we were younger, and we played here, we’d grab handfuls of moss. It would always regrow by the next cycle, or be replaced with a different variant. Still, the rock was never bare.
Kitty sat where I had been sitting. I pressed the moss against her knee. It’s been weeks since we’ve been close enough to touch. I sometimes see her in the evenings with her family, but she’s been extra reserved. She hasn’t been singing, even when her parents try to coax her. I worry that she’s found somebody else, but she seems withdrawn from everybody. Her secret is bigger than love.
“How does that feel?” I ask.
“Good. Thank you.”
She touches my hair, runs her fingers through the tangles.
“Will you come with me?” she says.
“With me. I can’t tell you unless you already agree. It’s not fair, but nothing has ever been fair. The deals our ancestors made were unfair in a world that was already as unfair as possible. But I promise, I’ll never tell you that something is fair when it isn’t.”
“I’ll go with you. When?”
She stands. Dropping the moss.
All along the way, she sings, and I understand why she hasn’t been singing at the nightly fires. Her song is just syllables, like so many of our songs, but it feels new. It’s filled with the discovery of an unseen world. Anybody who heard it, would know what she is up to. I’m afraid, but she holds my hand. When we reach the light, it hurts so much, but I’ve made my choice.