Days seemed to blend in here unless we looked at a calendar we didn’t know whether it was Tuesday or a Sunday, but I marked the days since entering the Mountain and today was day thirty-nine. I had declared a lazy day today, so the younger ones were all playing games or watching a movie in the front room as the rest of us were enjoying hot drinks looking over the mountainside, which had a cloud of mist around it. I moved over to Noah, who was once again sitting on the sidelines and watching the conversation.
“Hey, I’ve got a job to do, and I need help,”
“I’m with you,” he nodded his head and followed me, I saw Mac see me leave, but she merely nodded. We went into the stairwell, starting our way down to the lower levels. As we walked down the stairs, I discreetly checked him out. Noah was wearing his usual attire, a pair of dark jeans and a black leather biker jackets. He also wore a pair of heavy biker boots. I had noticed on occasion he wore a spiked dog collar.
“How are you doing?” I asked, looking sideways at him.
“I’m really not sure,” he answered honestly, “I barely knew anyone before we came down here and I still feel a bit of an outsider,”
“You’re part of the team! You’ll also be one of the original team when the new people start,” I told him, “When we get more people I want you lead a recon team,”
“Wow, yeah that’ll be awesome,” his eyes lit up while his whole face seemed to come alive.
“You should smile more often, you really are handsome,” I commented, making him blush, but he held the smile.
“So what’s your relationship with Mac?” he asked curiously.
“What do you mean?”
“Are you dating or what?” I laughed out loud, startling the boy.
“God no, she’s like a sister to me, that would be like incest,” I screwed my eyes up pretending to vomit hearing my first genuine laugh from Noah.
“Why not?” he seemed mighty curious, but this is the most I think I had ever heard him speak.
“She’s pretty, but she’s not my type at all,” I suggested, skirting around the truth.
“Oh I see,” he replied, understanding flashing across his face, “I did think she liked that big fellow,”
“Which one?” now it was my turn to be startled as I stared at him. He flushed even brighter.
“The big black one, I’ve noticed in the last week or two the pair seemed to be hanging around each other a lot,”
“Interesting,” I contemplated what he told me. It’s not surprising Mac would want a male friend, but I learnt more about Noah. He seemed to get valuable information and blend into the background when no one realised he was there. He also seemed quite observant. We reached the lower levels, so I grabbed up the clipboard while Noah looked around the storeroom.
“So what are we doing down here?” he asked.
“We’re going to give everyone a good Christmas, but first I want to give you something,” I told him pulling out a wrapped present from my shorts, “Happy birthday,”
“I don’t know what to say; I didn’t think anyone knew,” he took the present from my hands turning it over and over in his hands.
“Well congratulations on turning fifteen,” he slowly and carefully began unwrapping the fit until he pulled out a penknife, “I know it’s not a lot, but I can’t go out gift shopping,”
“No, it’s fantastic,” he replied. His usual stoic persona dropped when he rushed over and enfolded me in his arms. I was a bit shocked at first then hugged him back. He stepped back, giving me an embarrassed smile.
“Let’s find these decorations,” I told him brusquely. We both looked over the list and spent the next five minutes trying to decipher the location on what Mac had told me. I grabbed a ladder, moving it into the place before scaling it. I started shifting the first box off the shelf but nearly fell off with the weight. Noah had to come halfway up the stairs so we could haul the box down between us. We repeated the process until we had all the boxes onto the floor.
“Now how are we going to get these all upstairs?” Noah asked, looking at the boxes.
“I’m pretty sure there is a loader around here,”
“I’ll go search for it,” Noah went off in search of something to haul all the decorations up the stairs. I made my way into the armoury and pulled out two of the waterproof bags. I put some knives in each one, a first aid kit and some MRE’s (Meal’s ready to eat) I found in a cupboard. I locked up the armoury loading the two bags with clothes then put them in an obscure corner until we needed to use them.
I contemplated the decorations when I began to feel a presence like something or someone was watching me. I’m sure it wasn’t Noah as I could hear him muttering in the other room through the open door. I did a slow walk around to not let the person know I was on to them. As I pretended to exam the Christmas baubles I could see the doorway’s reflection, there was definitely someone just on the edge. Due to the distortion, I could not tell who was there, but someone watched me regardless.
“I found it,” Noah shouted, causing the mysterious person to retreat. I quickly moved to the door, but whoever was there had already gone. The radio crackled into life.
“Alex, this is Kelly. Mac said you had left and was down on level one, I’ve just come to see if you need some help,”
“Sure, you can help Noah and me,” I told her as Noah hauled the loader through the door. It looked like it was semi-automated so that the long bed could be used to carry heavy items across the base. Kelly entered the room less than a few minutes behind him. I looked at her, trying to calculate if she was the one who had been down here a few minutes ago but dismissed it quickly. Between Kelly, Noah and I, we had the loader ready with three boxes of decorations, and two large boxes marked tree.
“Do you think it’s going to fit in the elevator?” Kelly asked.
“I should think so, we may have to take the trees off and put them in the corner,” I noticed the little emerald studs Kelly had in her ear matched the nose stud, “So are you enjoying looking after the kids?”
“Yeah, they are amusing to be around,” she gushed and moved closer to me, brushing up against my side, “But I do like the evenings when I can be a normal teen again,”
“As normal as we can get,” I replied, noticing Noah had taken a few steps back as he followed us to the elevator. I watched his reflection in the doors noticing his eyes were narrowed to the point he was glaring at Kelly. Luckily she did not seem to notice. The door dinged open, allowing us to push the loader inside, as I thought the trees needed to be placed on the wall for the doors to close.
“Mac, can you gather everyone up in the common area,” I radioed my second, slotting my VIP access card into the elevator. I pressed the top floor, and the car began moving up rapidly.
“Sure thing,” she answered. Then after a quick ride up the doors opened and we offloaded. Noah pulled the loader, but once again, Kelly brushed against me with her hand wrapped around mine as we rounded the corner. I saw Tobi’s reaction instantly, his face dropped and his fists clenched. Mac looked at me with a confused expression as she took in the pair of us holding hands. I managed to extricate myself from her grip, just!
“So what’s going on?” Larry was the first one to ask.
“Well we have a week until Christmas, so I thought we should make this place feel a little more homely,” I told them getting a cheer from the younger ones. Tobi now had his arms crossed over his chest in an angry and defensive posture. I knew he liked me, but there was nothing I could really do about that. Noah manoeuvred the loader into position so we could offload the boxes.
“Tom, Larry, can you help with this?” the three of us moved the two large tree boxes and began unboxing them as the rest started to open the other Christmas decorations. I left Mac in charge of that side as Larry, Tom and I began to build up the tree, which it turns out was quite large. When we had finally got it together, it stood about fifteen feet tall, reaching nearly halfway to the ceiling. Another cheer drew my attention away from the tree to the kitchen, where Simon and Luca had emerged with some trays. Simon had a couple of steaming drinks trays, while Luca had a couple of trays of chocolate-covered gingerbread men.
“What are these?” Kelly asked.
“Alex told us what he was doing yesterday, so we made up these gingerbread men in the main kitchen downstairs,”
“I hope you didn’t make a mess,” I told him jokingly.
“No, your majesty, we cleaned up,” he came over offering me a mug. I could smell the chocolatey goodness with the cream piled on top. I sniffed catching the smell of something else. I looked at the boy quizzically, but he just shook his head grinning at me so blowing it for a few minutes I took a sip and instantly the sweetness erupted on my tongue as I realised the second ingredient was mint learning it worked so well.
“This is like a piece of heaven,” I murmured hearing that echoed around the room.
“Will Santa be able to find us?” I heard Ali, the seven-year-old friends of the twins ask innocently. She was sat with the twins, Kelly and Tommy, and George Knight sorting through the baubles and the tinsel not to mention other little decorations.
“Sure sweetie, Santa can usually find everyone,” Sarah reassured the girl, helping them choose the right colours. I watched them for a bit longer when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning around, I found Mac, also with a gingerbread man and mug in hand, observing me.
“I’ve got a tearful boy in his bedroom refusing to come out,” I looked around noticing Tobi was no longer around.
“Sometimes I forget he’s only twelve,” I sighed.
“I think we all do, to be honest, sometimes I’m sure he’s more machine than human,” she agreed. I squeezed her shoulder, making my way into their apartment to his bedroom. The door was firmly closed, so I knocked.
“Go away, Mac don’t want to talk right now,”
“Come on Tobi, open the door,”
“No, you’re worse than Mac,” he shouted back.
“Come on, buddy, stop sitting in your room and sulking,” I pleaded with him, I’m pretty sure the doors did not have locks, but I’m not one to barge in.
“No, go snog your girlfriend,” he snapped back.
“Tobias Stephen Adam Callaghan, you open this door this instant or so help me god, I’ll whoop your behind when I get in there,” I put on my best adult voice and realised I sounded like his father, the same thing has come out of his mouth many times when dealing with Tobi. There were a few minutes of silence then reluctantly I heard the door creak open, Tobi looked up at me with a tear-stained face. He was fiddling with his gold medallion around his neck, a clear sign he knew he was in the wrong. I pushed through, making him step back, taking a seat on the bed.
“Are you ready to talk?” I asked, taking in the room around me. It had a single bed, desk, drawer and cupboard similar to how my brothers’ room was laid out. He had a couple of posters up on the wall, the gold medal cyclist Chris Russell, the cyclist from the 2028 summer Olympics in Los Angeles. He also had a poster of scientist Bev Summerton, the woman who had cured Covid-19. On his desk, neatly aligned were three books while his pens also were neatly lined up. I’m sure my brother was rubbing off on him. Tobi refused to look up at me.
“What’s going on?” I asked him sitting down next to him, I heard him mumble something, “You’re going to have to speak up if you want me to hear you,”
“You were holding hands with Kelly, she was all over you,” I could hear the jealousy in his voice.
“Is that what this is all about?” I couldn’t help myself laughing out loud. He looked up at me with a glare and a growl, then I found myself on my back with him leaning over me.
“You think this is funny? I just felt this flash of hatred when I looked at her and thought you might go off with her,” he all but shouted.
“Welcome to the big leagues, kid,” I quoted with a chuckle, “You’re jealous, remember you will still be my friend,”
“Really?” he seemed to deflate instantly. I shifted my weight easily flipping Tobi on his back as I immediately began to tickle him.
“As my best friend, you don’t have to worry about me leaving you behind if I like someone else I will always come talk to you first,” I promised.
“But, you do like someone?” he asked gulping in mouthfuls of air.
“I’ll admit, one of the guys is really fit. I would not mind a chance with him,” I confessed.
“Who?” His eyes lit up, maybe he was getting over the fact I wouldn’t date him.
“We had better get back, or we will be missed,” I told him, ignoring his question, and hauled myself off the bed offering my hand to him. I pulled him up, but let him spin away the last moment, making him go turning into the doorway. He glared at me for a few minutes before his face broke out into a massive grin.
“I better pop into the bathroom,” he told me, so I followed him into the bathroom, where he washed his face.
“Are we all good now then?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry for acting like a jealous twit,” he replied, a bit shamefaced.
“Welcome to puberty, it’s just going to get worse from here, but I’ll always have your back unless you turn into a pizza faced monster,” I taunted him. He laughed at me, then charged. I dodged out of his way running from the apartment into the common area where the younger kids were all enjoying making up the tree.
All the older teens were standing watch, but I noticed Nate helping by giving out baubles and tinsel. They were decorating in silver and green.
“Whose idea was the colours?” I asked, leaning back against a chair.
“That was mine; they are the colours of Slytherin!” Luca replied from his position on the floor.
“Slithering?” I looked at Mac, perplexed now.
“Don’t you know anything, you idiot,” my brother took a pop at me.
“Obviously not,” I answered snippily.
“Slytherin was one of the houses in Harry Potter,” Mac explained.
“Never read them,”
“Really?” Larry gave me a surprised looked.
“A book about a boy-wizard does not appeal to me,” I returned.
“I thought it would be right up your alley, your geeky enough to love that sort of thing,”
“Actually I prefer Sci-Fi or science fiction books grounded in reality, my favourite books are Ender’s Game, what about you, farm boy?”
“I’m not that big a reader, I’m usually out on the fields or helping da with the animals when I get home from school,” he responded.
“Well, I love Harry Potter,” Tobi spoke up.
“Yeah, but you’re a geek to a massive degree, you out-geek my geekiness.” I gently teased him.
“Do you want me to beat you up as I did in the apartment,” he growled cutely and held his fist up, making us all laugh. Kelly opened her mouth; I think to say ‘Awww’ but got an evil look from the boy.
“Please, I‘m bigger and stronger than you,” I told him seeing a glint in his eyes, but he decided not to push the envelope at that time.
We spent until lunch decorating, then a few more hours until dinner. Tea had finished half an hour ago as I made my way down the storage area. I quickly grabbed up the two bags that I had left there earlier and was soon entering the Biodome. At night, lights came on to illuminate the Biodome. A couple of spotlights either side of the lagoon and a few around the fields of food. I also noticed them in the water, making it shimmer, but it did appear magical. I loved the smells of the various plants they had put in here, and Ben seemed to be maintaining them well. I found a bush hiding the bags, before stripping down to my swimming shorts and diving in. The water was pleasantly warm as I began to do a few lengths, just to get a bit of exercise in.
“You need to keep up with the exercises, or you’ll be getting fat,” Tobi shouted, walking down the beach area. Noah and Mac were with him. I was treading water and trying to give Tobi the evils.
“I noticed you were tucking away a few chocolate bars last night,” Mac added as the rest of our little crew joined us. I was distracted as some music began to play, some kind of pop princess.
“You stole my radio!” Sarah screamed. Amanda was stood by a radio, which had an MP3 connected to it. How she got the MP3 into the Mountain, I don’t know, but we weren’t supposed to have electrical equipment.
“Did you disable the location on that?” Tobi asked quietly as I emerged from the water. The wild-haired girl shrugged but did not seem to be too bothered.
“What do you mean?” I asked the boy.
“Most MP3 nowadays has GPS tracking and are automatically connected to the internet,” Tobi explained, “I don’t know how much the Faraday cage will stop those signals, but we could be found,”
“Hand the MP3 over,” I told her, everyone was watching, but no one was interfering. Even Tom and Larry just stood and watched the exchange. She pulled out the MP3 giving it to me.
“I just thought we needed a bit of music down here,” she answered with a whine in her voice.
“By stealing my radio,” Sarah once again accused.
“Hush,” I snapped, handing over the MP3 device to Tobi to look at as I looked between the girls, “Sarah, how do you play music?”
“I have an MP3 device too,” she answered.
“Can we take a look?”
“Sure,” she answered, rummaging through the small bag that she had with.
“Kelly, can you take the kids into the water please,” I suggested. Nearly all the ones under thirteen got changed and went down to the water. I indicated for Nate to follow them as well. Only Amanda, Sarah, Tobi, Mac and I stood in a huddle. I did notice Noah on the edge watching, but the other two older boys had left us to it, which showed how much they had come on since we arrived in the Mountain.
“Here,” she handed it over, so I gave it to Tobi, who had Talia by his side, watching over his shoulder.
“OK, so the GPS and external connection were enabled. I’ve now disabled everything and set a password so that no one can connect to anything external without me entering that password,”
“Good, can you do the same to Sarah’s?” I asked. He nodded, going to work straight away.
“What are we going to do about Amanda stealing my radio?” Sarah seemed to be observing me. Out the corner of my eye, I noticed Kelly watching as she swam around with Ali.
“Sarah, at the moment there is little I can do. I can’t ground her, nor can I chuck her out,” I answered patiently.
“She could stay in the detention centre,” she suggested brightly.
“I’m sorry, I cannot put an eleven-year-old in a cell,” She let out a huff of air storming off into the water. I waved away Mac and the others then looked at Amanda, trying to be as relaxed as possible.
“I borrowed the radio and would have put it back,” she spoke before I could say anything; she had an edge to her voice that seemed to grate on my nerves. I would have to watch her carefully; she was already on the suspect list and could have given our location away.
“You cannot just be borrowing things and not telling the owners, next time ask please,”
“Yes, Dad,” she responded sarcastically as I handed the MP3 back. She stalked off, then the music once again began to play. I turned to watch everyone enjoying the water; Matty, Luca, and Ben played their own little game of Tag while little Georgie was playing with Tommy building a sandcastle. Where did they find the bucket that looked suspiciously like a castle? I headed back into the water diving under, aiming for Tobi chatting to Mac and Nate. I come up under his legs pulling him under then emerged myself.
“There’s a giant squid,” he screamed at the top of his lungs spluttering and splashing the water around. Mac and Nate were in hysterics as I heard laughter from elsewhere too.
“Calm down will you, it’s just me,” I told him as he grabbed hold of me to steady himself, “That’ll teach you to call me fat,”
“You bastard, you are absolutely evil,” he clung to me like a wet monkey.
“Watch your language, Sparkplug,” Mac admonished as he finally released me treading water.
“He scared me,” he whined like a two-year-old to his sister.
“Grow up, you are twelve now not a little child,” she answered sternly, then cracked up laughing. We began an epic game of Tag, everyone got involved, even the smallest kids. The older ones would hoist them onto their backs while we’d swim away from whoever was ‘it’. Most of the time I had little Tommy on my back but occasionally little Kelly would beg to go on my back, what one twin wanted, the other twin wanted.
I was thoroughly enjoying myself when my alarm went off, reminding me of the time, so I sighed and called out.
“Right then everyone, time for showers and bedtime,” I got lots of groans and calls for a further five minutes, “No, it’s now time for bed,”
“Yes, Sir,” Larry replied sarcastically but smiled as he said it. The others all grabbed their towels, starting to dry off before making their way out of the Biodome. Everyone was chattering excitedly as I found Mac touching her arm, holding her back. She looked at me quizzically but nodded taking a seat, slightly out of view as the others left.
“So what was so important that you had to keep me back? Love advice?” she joked as she brushed the sand off her.
“Advice from you?” I laughed, “Not when you are crushing on Tom,”
“What-I-no,” she spluttered, denying it.
“Really, from all accounts I’ve heard you seem to be crushing bad,” I teased, then eased off, “Does he know you like him?”
“I’m not sure, I’ve hung out a few times in the mechanics bay. We seemed to get on really well,” she admitted.
“That’s great, you should try to see if he likes you the same,” I advised her then grinned, “However, I did not keep you back to discuss your love life,”
“My love life is not exactly the most important thing right now,”
“Look, Noah and I discovered a secret entrance out of here,” I revealed to her, lowering my voice in case any of the others had lingered.
“Wow, that’s erm incredible,” She stared at me as though trying to figure something out, “Why haven’t we left yet if we’ve been able to get out?”
“Because it’s a lot safer in here, I’ve told you about the infection, but we still have the aliens to deal with. I’d rather keep everyone safe in the Mountain than risking everyone’s life out there,”
“All right, so why are you telling me now?”
“Because eventually if something happens, I want you to know there is an escape route,” I told her rummaging around, grabbing the bags. I pulled them out, putting a towel in each. I threw one at Mac, who caught it deftly and just stared at me with a questioning look. However, she didn’t argue as I stepped back into the water, the bag over my shoulder. Though it was watertight, it was also buoyant, so I had to keep it snug to stop making me rise to the surface.
I dived in, quickly swimming the length of the lagoon, angling deeper underneath the waterfall, then came up gasping for air. Minutes later, Mac surfaced, carrying the bag close to her body like me.
“Wow,” she looked around as she trod water. I did not give her too much time to think as I swam to the ladder climbing to the top. I began towelling myself off when Mac’s head came over the top, but she stared at the door, “Is it secure?”
“You mean, can anyone else get in?”
“Yeah, I’m worried especially after Amanda today that someone might be able to get in,” she admitted, then a thought seemed to occur to her making her look at me, “You don’t think the saboteur got in this way do you?”
“No, the door was locked and secured when Noah and I came up here,” I explained, pulling on a plain white t-shirt. Mac had also towelled off and was getting changed, “In the next week or two, I’m going to bring some permanent clothes and equipment up here in case something happens,”
“It’s a good idea,” she agreed as I pulled a regular backpack out of the waterproof one. I had loaded it with some MRE’s, a torch and some other stuff. I placed it close to the door as Mac laced up a pair of boots.
“Where does it lead?” She asked.
“Well, I’m about to show you that,” I grabbed the bar on the door pulling it back, making the wheel turn and the thick door unlocked. I got the torch out of my pocket switching on as I looked through the now open door, illuminating the tunnel. She indicated for me to go first, so I took the first steps into the tunnel, once again following it up rapidly.
Once we reached the top, Mac starred out onto the starlit night. The lake below shimmered dancing with the moon and a cold breeze bit into our faces. Unlike last time I started to follow the path down a bit. Mac followed close behind, but we made no sound shielding the light so we could see where we were walking. I did not want to go too far, but we found the trail led down and met up with a popular walking trail before the walkways around Mountain was banned.
“We had better get back,” I told her quietly, just as I heard a noise. I switched the light off scrambling into a ditch to hide in. Above us an aircraft of alien origin appeared, if it wasn’t for the bright full moon, we would not see it as the ship was illuminated. It moved quietly and slowly, but not appear to be searching for anyone or anything. The ship just looked like it was lazily making its way across the sky. We gave it another five minutes before we rapidly made it back up the trail and into the Mountain.
“Wow, that was really lucky,” I locked the door back in place as I spoke then we both broke out into uncontrollable laughter.
“That was very close; do you think they were searching for someone?” Mac asked, now looking worried.
“No, I think they were just passing overhead,” I returned, taking off my boots. Both of us changed quickly, with a lot on our minds.
“We better head back before they notice we are missing,” Mac suggested looking at her watch. I quickly descended the ladder, making my way back down to the water. Mac followed me down into the water, but we were soon on the beach, towelling ourselves off. I led the way back up to the Fifth level to have a shower.
After the shower and getting changed, I headed back down to Level Two and the Operations Room. I picked up a headset and batteries putting it on, before taking a seat at the UK computer. It was already booted up, so I set it to scan frequencies.
“Is there anyone out there?” a voice said, “My husband was taken two nights ago, and I have three children, I am in Newcastle,”
“This is Staff Sergeant Dennison, I am holed up in a supermarket with six other people, one of them is pregnant,” the frequency changed after the first woman, I hated that I could not respond or aid them in any way at the moment.
“I have just come out of a town, there is a boy who has become a warlord,” someone, an older woman, warned, “Do not go near Davis town,”
“Are you listening to the dislodged again?” Maria Strange’s voice came over the intercom. In the nearly two weeks we had started speaking to Kelvedon I had become good friends with Maria, who had been assigned to us.
“How did you guess?” I asked, surprised.
“Same thing I’ve been doing every night, I listen to survivors, but there is little we can do especially so far north,”
“I just wish I could help them,” I sighed.
“I know, don’t we all but you’ll soon be out of there, and then we can rescue some people,”
“Thank you, Ma’am,”
“You make me sound so old,” she chuckled, “I’m only twenty-six,”
“I’m sorry, M-Maria,”
“Don’t worry about it, Kid, now stop getting yourself depressed and get to bed,”