Author: Rohan O’Duill

Dylan strained as he twisted the rusty locking mechanism. Ever so slowly, the door groaned open, and the golden glow of the setting sun crept in through the widening crack like a shaft of light into an ancient burial chamber.
The young man stood silent and still, transfixed within his protective yellow suit. I waited a moment, allowing him to drink-in his first image of the Up Above.
I tapped his shoulder, motioning for him to get moving. He nodded and struggled his arms through the straps of the haversack before walking hesitantly out through the breach.
I didn’t miss carrying all that gear. Heedless to my objections, the council had insisted I bring Dylan along. It sounded like kindness, but I knew they were just scared the old man wouldn’t return.
Dylan had spent hours studying the map, but still, I had to keep him from veering off the pathway in this world, so alien to his eyes. The council didn’t understand that there is no substitute for experience, of which I had plenty. The annual journey to the station had been my responsibility for over thirty years now.
We left the stony track and squelched carefully across the toxic mire in the fading light, the muck sucking at our boots, thick as honey. We navigated the safe route with some difficulty and paused a moment before starting the ascent to the station.
Soon I could smell the delicate perfume of aged rubber and body odour accosting my nostrils as the rubber suit became a sauna, every breath steaming up the plastic visor.
I struggled to keep up with the younger man, but I was determined not to let him see my frailty as we converged on the summit together. Dylan dropped the pack and crouched down, catching his breath before standing up to survey the world. It didn’t take him long to spot the lights and smoke in the distance. He pointed excitedly. I nodded enthusiastically — like I hadn’t seen them the past eleven years.
Unpacking the equipment, I started servicing the battered monitoring station. It hadn’t functioned for at least fifteen years, but I had to make a show of it for my companion. After fifteen minutes, I stowed the gear and noted down the seized readout.
Dylan looked over the readings and raised his hands questioningly, pointing towards the far-off lights. I shrugged my shoulders and pointed down the hill. He reluctantly complied, marching back the way we came.
I drew up close behind him as he entered the mire, I tapped his shoulder, and as he turned, I drove my razor-sharp blade deep into his stomach again and again. I thought it would be tougher, but his soft and doughy belly accepted the knife readily. Bewildered eyes stared out through his visor.
‘Sacrifices have to be made to keep us safe. It’s for the better.’
I let him fall face-first into the mud and removed the pack before the swamp swallowed him whole.
‘RIP, my friend.’
They better not send anyone with me next time— those born below never survive the trip to the Up Above.