Stranger Than Fiction

Read Chapter 11 “The Battle of Wills”

The journey for Maggie was marred by her anxiety, affecting the clarity of her thoughts. She battled anxiety throughout her childhood and teenage years in the world that above anything else valued money and respected nothing but power. But ever since the formation of Ecotopia, she believed her anxiety was under control. Until now, when anxious thoughts played nicely to her most dreaded fear; that she was never going to be reunited with her kids.

Except for the emotional upheaval, the journey through the Down Below was pretty uneventful. A couple of times flying spotters (sophisticated drones that could detect movement on the ground) hovered above them but each time, just like Maggie said, the Ecotopian torches alerted them of the unfriendly eyes — giving Maggie and Patrick enough time to seek cover, which was tricky in the remains of what was once a mighty forest.

The Old World championed deforestation and used the land for either building factories or for the dumping of toxic chemicals from the Above. The once majestic forest full of beautiful creatures and life looked like a lifeless skeleton of the past long gone.

The closer to the base they were moving the more unsettled Maggie felt, her feet became heavier with every step she took. As an Ecotopian, devoted to practising mindfulness, her sensitivity levels were always on high alert. She could feel in her body that something dark and unfriendly was dominating this dead forest.

However, her need to find out at least some information about her children overshadowed everything else Maggie was feeling in that moment and in that place.

Patrick was in charge of the base for years before it was deemed redundant after the Corporate Government announced a massive victory over the Ecotopians and the rebels. However, Patrick knew there was no victory; the insurgents were just waiting for the right moment to strike back, while the Ecotopians were thriving beyond anything the Old World could have ever imagined.

The years spent in this base and the cruelty he subjected others to weren’t his proudest, and it surely wasn’t a place he wanted to take Maggie to. But they were in a desperate race against time. The base was built to torture prisoners, spy on whoever was left on the ground and imprison anyone, who was disobedient and didn’t follow the rule book the Old World created for its citizens. The eyes in the skies, which controlled the Old World’s population every move, were Maggie’s ad Patrick’s best option of finding the children’s whereabouts.

Ever since the base became redundant, Mother Nature slowly claimed back what was hers. The washdown, brown colour of the base was nearly indistinguishable amongst the brown shadows of the trees.

However, the main door leading to the base wasn’t covered in roots or overgrown plants, which made it easy for Patrick to open it but it also made it look as if the door was in constant use. The stale air that came from inside made Maggie feel sick.

When they walked inside the first thing she noticed, were the walls covered in numbers and names written in blood. She looked at Patrick, but he didn’t seem to be as shocked as she was. In that instant, she knew what base that was; it was where her fellow Ecotopians and Freedom Fighters were tortured and killed. She stopped unable to move any further. This place represented everything she was fighting against. She tried to say something but couldn’t utter any words.

Seeing Maggie’s face, Patrick realized that she knew where they were. This place was wicked run by some unspeakable evil. Countless times he vowed not to be manipulated by its dark energy, but it always led him straight back, pushing him to do unimaginable, cruel, and inhuman things in the name of the Old World’s order.

– “Do you still want to carry on?” – he asked. Maggie looked at her watch and nodded in agreement, even though she could feel in her bones that this very place was cursed she felt trapped.

The door unexpectedly closed behind them, and their torches were the only source of light left in the base. Instantly Maggie felt cold; the deeper they were moving inside the corridor, the colder she felt. Patrick also could feel the temperature dropping rapidly. He didn’t remember that happening before and couldn’t think of why it happened.

He had the impression that they were being watched and he could swear that he saw shadows moving along the corridor in the corner of his eye. He didn’t feel scared at all but he still wanted to be out of this place as much as Maggie did. It felt much stranger than he remembered.

They both picked up their pace.

Halfway through the corridor, the Old World’s architecture was full of long, dimly lit corridors, which sole purpose was to intimidate people, Patrick stopped and opened the door to his left. It was another dark space with a dozen or so screens attached to the walls around.

When they walked in, Patrick swiftly started scrolling through the log. This control room was one of the eyes in the sky operation rooms used to terrorize citizens left in the Down Below. Maggie looked around the room and shivered.

– “Patrick?” – she barely managed to utter.

– “We can find the children this way. There is no time for… let’s just focus on… focus on the kids… please.” – Patrick replied quickly before Maggie could say anything else.

– “No need to explain.” All the hope Maggie had that possibly, just possibly, there was some good in Patrick, was now gone. His cruelty was all over this place. The souls and spirits of the people he killed were still stuck in these cursed walls, in this God-forsaken base.

– “Here! Look here, right there!” – he was pointing to the screen. – “They must have crossed over through the old bridge, one that connected us with the Old Continent. Nobody but the smugglers use that bridge.” – he looked closer and then continued. -“Looks like they were heading towards London. Look at this footage. Look! Look here!” – he kept moving his finger all over, jumping from one screen to to another.

Maggie came closer to the screen. The children were cleverly disguised as the natives of the Old World. Patrick connected his watch to one of the screens to download the footage and maps. However, halfway through, he became distracted by a shadowy movement he saw on one of the monitors connected to the CCTV cameras in the base.

– “What was that?” – Maggie asked.

– “Don’t know. They are armed but don’t look like the Old World’s Troops.” – he moved closer to the screen.

– “Neither like the Time Travellers. How much time do you need?” – Maggie wanted to know.

– “A minute tops.” – Patrick said.

– “Is there another exit from this room?”

– “No. But there is a panic room here.” – Patrick replied and pointed to another door leading.

Maggie looked at him in disbelief. – “You can’t be serious.”

– “Why? Don’t you ever use panic rooms?” – he was genuinely surprised.

– “You people are hopeless.” – Maggie couldn’t believe how obsessed and scared at the same time the Old World authority was.

When the download ended, Patrick disconnected his watch from the monitor, quickly changed eyes in the sky channel, and erased the past five minutes from the search history.

– “Take me as a prisoner.” – Maggie blared out.

– “Are you out of your mind?! I won’t do such a thing.” – Patrick protested.

– “That’s our only chance. You… you… your despicable actions are all over these walls. They will let you pass, regardless of what they are.”

When the door flew open, Patrick was pretending to secure Maggie’s weapons. He was right, these weren’t the Old World’s Troops. But they also weren’t the rebels. He didn’t know, who they were, and didn’t need to know as long as they knew who he was.

Patrick pushed Maggie ahead of him while dragging his droid behind. The corridor was filled with what he could only describe as either ghosts or holograms. They were dressed like the long-gone barbarian native tribes from thousands of years ago, wearing animal skins over their otherwise naked bodies. The arctic cold was coming from their motionless, skinny shapes. None of them moved or spoke. A lot of them had war scars and tattoos all over their see-through, pale faces. Their eyes looked tired and hungry at the same time, which was terrifying. Surprisingly, Maggie’s torches weren’t blinking as they usually do when other people are around. Her logical mind didn’t believe in ghost stories, but she knew that anything and everything was possible in this place.

Patrick and Maggie were only a few steps away from the exit door when someone blocked their way. Patrick looked up at him and thought he reminded him of one of the prisoners. Could they still be alive? But how… – Patrick wondered silently but didn’t dare to say anything.

The longer Patrick was taking part in the staring contest, the more agitated Maggie became. She made a small step backwards, towards Patrick, planing to use one of her weapons. But at that moment the figure in front of them moved aside.

Read Chapter 13 “Brief History of Ecotopia”