*This material is the sole intellectual property of Marcia Young. Any use of it in part or in whole without prior written permission is illegal*
Vella found herself back at the New Horizons building outside of town. She wasn’t sure how this was going to work. Was she the only one who had to live here? From what she remembered of the house cum office building, every room had been in use. It was a large house but nowhere near large enough to house all of the medical, clerical and business needs of the company. Housing an unknown amount of pregnant women seemed to make the building shrink to claustrophobic proportions.
Nervously she followed the duo into the building. She unconsciously twisted her fingers around each other and her stomach was a burning sour mess below her heart. The receptionist smiled at her as she entered before looking at Roberts and Brown curiously. Focusing back on Vella she chirped out a welcome.
“Hello, my dear!” Mr. Roberts replied beaming at the woman.
“Mr. Roberts, how are you today? Is there anything I can help you guys with?” her smile grew bigger as she focused on the man.
“Not at all, my dear. We’re just heading downstairs.”
The frown flicked over Vella’s face before she could control it. Downstairs? There shouldn’t be a downstairs. She’d certainly never heard of a basement or lower floor this close to the sea and below sea level. Maybe a crawl space but never a full floor underground. Even nearly two hours outside of Savannah they were still below sea level. Logistically it didn’t make sense. Right?
“Of course, y’all have a good day.”
Brown and Roberts led her to a metal door toward the back of the house that looked like an emergency stairwell. Ms. Brown was walking at a brisk clip as if hurrying to get downstairs. Vella wasn’t sure what the woman’s problem was. She had been hideously uncomfortable at her apartment and in the city. She had chalked it up to the riots but now she wasn’t sure. In contrast Roberts looked as if the whole day was a leisurely Sunday stroll.
Curiosity began to eat away at Vella’s despondent mood. Downstairs was a concept that escaped most people in reference to space below sea level. She knew very well what basements and even lower floors looked like. Time spent following her father from duty station to duty station had showed her many wonders. The thought of any of those spaces here, however, was something she just couldn’t grasp. Savannah was barely forty-nine feet above sea level and yet here they dug below that by an entire floor.
Ms. Brown pushed open the heavy door and stood holding it open, her impatience easy to read. Covering her unease Vella stepped in while quickly glancing around. It really did look like an ordinary stairwell; plain walls, railing, narrow shaft with stairs. Standing to the side she let Roberts pass her. Part of her wished they had stepped into an elevator but figured it wasn’t the first time she’d used the stairs and she probably could use the exercise. Spending, however long, that she had in bed surely didn’t do her any favors in the physical exertion department.
The stairwell went one floor deep. As far as floors in a building went, one down was pretty standard. Vella was still trying to grasp how they were underground. They were in a place that the ground should be so soft it couldn’t hold up walls and had frequent flooding due to the saturation of the area. She didn’t even want to contemplate the water table. There was no way it was low enough for this. Yet, here she was standing a full floor underground, in an area a mere hour outside of Savannah.
Roberts held the door open for her with a flirtatious smile. Stepping around him careful not to brush against him Vella found her eyes flickering from one spot to another in annoying rapidity. Brown was already missing from the corridor and Vella wasn’t sure where the woman had scurried off to. The hall was lit with overhead lights filling the corridor with beams that resembled flittered sunlight. Along the walls broken only by the occasional door or hall was low cement planters. Green shoots and feathered leaves spilled over the containers. Vines climbed along the sides of the potted troughs and skittered up the walls till it looked as if the walls where living. Large brightly colored flowers with broad leaves the width of her hand filled the area with sweet aromas.
“How can this be here? Aren’t we too far below sea level? I mean, I’ve never heard of a basement anywhere near Savannah, much less a whole floor this huge,” Vella asked stunned by what she was seeing.
“We have our verian coworkers to thank for that,” Roberts said smiling that annoyingly flirtatious grin of his.
“Um, I don’t understand,” she was starting to hate feeling so confused. She was exhausted and wanted to sleep, not try and understand how a floor existed where it should be a flooded mess. “What, someone has control over water or something and just willed it away?” Her sarcasm was more than evident. Seriously though, how did they expect her to just accept a massive underground complex an hour’s drive outside of Savannah? By all accounts this should have flooded after digging only a few feet.
“No,” he said with a laugh. “No one can control water like that. I’m not sure what they did but it involves plants and redirecting the water in the soil. You’d have to ask one of the engineers for exact details.”
Vella’s eyebrow twitched in annoyance. She just wanted straight answers and she was too tired to start thinking about engineering marvels. Squinting at the plant covered walls she couldn’t help but think they looked like they were moving.
“They are,” laughed Roberts. Vella hadn’t realized she had mumbled her observation out loud. “I think its lichen, or something close, on the walls. One girl was nearly in a panic when she noticed it, apparently she thought it was mold and she’s allergic to it. It’s part of the system redirecting the water. The plants interspersed in the walls and floors apparently require a lot of water to live and help siphon it off.”
“You mean those plants lining the halls aren’t decorative?” She blinked rapidly in surprise. She had thought they were there to make the verians feel more comfortable.
“Well, they are, but they’re functional too. I’m not sure how it works, like I said. But they’re needed to control the excess water in the soil this far below sea level.”
Their discussion fell away as Roberts stopped outside a doorway. Inside the room were several long wooden tables lined with plain benches. A door across the room had a sign hanging over it reading kitchen in bold red letters. A smaller sign she could just make out on the door read staff only. Vella figured about twenty people could comfortably eat at a time.
“This is the dining hall. Through there is the kitchen but the cooks get pretty peeved if anyone if found in there. It’s better to wait till meal time.” Roberts smiled and led her way to their next stop.
Noting the dining halls location Vella tried her best to remember where it was. She wasn’t so sure she could though since she was so tired. The last few weeks had been draining. Her feet dragged along the concrete halls as she was shown a small shoppette for snacks and essentials. There was a barber slash salon somewhere but she couldn’t quite remember where it was or what it looked like. Eventually everything started to blend together and her steps must have slowed too much.
“I’ll take you to your room next,” Roberts finally said.
“Thank you,” Vella muttered barely concealing a yawn behind her teeth. She sincerely hoped she didn’t have to find her own way around right away tomorrow. The instructions that Roberts left her at the door of her rooms weren’t remembered past hearing them. As soon as she closed the door she found the nearest soft surface to lie down on.
Groggily Vella opened her eyes wanting nothing more than to go back to bed. Trying to blink her blurry eyesight away her brows furrowed as she looked around. She didn’t recognize the room she was in. The walls were painted in an off white while the overstuffed chair she had been sleeping in was a camel color that matched the couch across from it. The room resembled a luxurious hotel suit in size. She could be comfortable in it for weeks or even months. There was surely enough room for an infant; at least temporarily.
Her stomach twisted at the idea of an infant. Needing to sit down she eased into an overstuffed chair while closing her eyes. Taking deep breaths she tried to calm herself. Her stomach was sour and churned dangerously; forcing her to race to the bathroom. Her knees hit the floor painfully as she dry heaved into the toilet. Her long dark hair was a sweaty curtain around her. Her skin was clammy and cold as she clung painfully to the rim of porcelain.
Long minutes later she collapsed onto the cool tiles having only managed to purge bile. Vella took deep shuttering breaths attempting to calm herself. She’d love to claim it was the first time she’d driven herself to such actions but sadly it wasn’t. She comforted herself with the knowledge that at least the instances were few and far between.
An hour later she emerged from her room washed and ready for her day. She could still taste the acrid tang of bile on her tongue no matter how much she had scrubbed her mouth or gargled.
The halls were well lit and overflowing with plant life. She couldn’t seem to stop herself from examining specimens spilling out of the long low cement containers. She was tempted to touch the delicate looking lichen that literally climbed the walls. The only thing that caused her to refrain from pulling off her gloves and running her fingers over the feathery looking leaves was the deep seated fear of someone seeing her hands. As it was her face was nearly touching the water loving fungus.
Every now and then she’d come across a piece of flora that she’d never seen before. She could swear that some moved in a nonexistent breeze, dancing to their own internal song.
Eventually she made it to the dining hall. A long table was set up along the wall with stacks of plates and utensils waiting for use. Vella winced a little though upon realizing how little food was left on the serving platters. She wasn’t sure what time meals were served but the mostly vacant room and little food obviously meant earlier than she’d arrived.
Helping herself to a plate she found a table near a wall and slid onto the bench. She found herself far hungrier than she had assumed. Despite purging herself earlier due to a sour stomach she couldn’t seem to eat enough. Uncomfortably full she noted the meal times before deciding to wonder off and explore the improbable underground complex.
The plants again distracted her as bursts of color would draw her eye. Vibrant oranges shot out of the planters in thin towers while deep purples flowed over the lip of the container in wiggling waves. What arrested her attention the most was a mass of roots lying on top of the soil that appeared almost human-looking. One male and one female in shape, minus a head, lay near each other and seemed to reach toward the other occasionally. In place of the head a thin root tendril led back to the main plant.
“Found the Chinese Fleeceflower have you?” came a cheerful voice just over her shoulder.
Vella jumped, startled. She felt inexplicably guilty at having been watching the fleeceflower. Almost as if she had intruded on a private moment. Hoping she wasn’t flushing she turned to find a tall, broad verian smiling down at her. He looked like he belonged on a farm somewhere doing lots of physical labor. The male was built like a brick shit house as her father would have said; tall and broad with a waist as wide as his hips. A wave of sadness at remembering her father swam over her before she shoved it away.
“Fleeceflower?” She asked hoping he hadn’t noticed her embarrassment. “Mm,” he said looking at them over her shoulder.
“A Chinese plant. The roots have humanoid shape. Right now they only reach for each other. When they’re fully matured they’ll embrace completely then burrow underground to procreate.”
Vella couldn’t help the startled look that passed over her face at this information. How had she never known that such plants existed? She had been good in science when in school and she was positive that she would have remembered something so remarkable, “So, they’re sentient?” she hazarded uncertainty.
“Oh, no,” the male laughed lightly. “They won’t even develop heads, just bodies. It’s thought that the root shape prevents people from harvesting them; a defense like thorns or poison.” He shrugged dismissively, “The resemblance to humans tends to make people too uncomfortable to go around ripping them off the plant and chopping them up for whatever use they would have.”
“Someone had to have harvested them at some point for them to be here,” Vella pointed out.
“Not everyone is off put by them,” he said smiling.
Vella nodded uncomfortably and gave one more quick glance at the bizarre roots before turning away. Smiling stiltedly she excused herself and decided to return to her room for the day.