Judy leaned against the brick wall in front of the Abolitionist building. A cigarette hung loosely from her fingertips. She turned when she heard footsteps. Solomon stood at the bottom of the stairs, staring towards her with that stoic face of his.
"Solomon," she gestured him over, "Please." He held firm, his nose pinched up. "Aw come on, you've never seen an Abolitionist smoke before?"
"Where did you even get that." He said the words with quiet disgust.
"Solomon, you and I have never seen eye to eye. And I get that." She flung her cigarette to the floor and squashed it with her heel. "But I have news for you. We're on the same side now. It's us versus them. And as far as 'us' goes, we've got approximately twelve hours til the next panel to lose town, before they come down on us with the wrath of God."
Solomon grimaced at the ancient reference. "Judy, let me make this clear. I'm not sure what you intend to do, and I most certainly do not care. As you may recall, there is no 'side' for an Abolitionist."
Judy's mouth dropped in shock. "Are you kidding me? Look, I don't know what you've been smoking the last few hours, but you're no Abolitionist buddy! You've been withdrawn! Solomon, you were in breach of one of the primary --"
"Yes," Solomon interrupted. "And yet I remain." He let the words hang for a moment before cutting them off with a quick stride past. As he turned the corner, Judy noticed his coat draped stiffly over his arm. Solomon never left a room without his coat on.
Kaemi grabbed Aniah in her arms and ran into Dirth's quarters. Sandy sat in the corner, petrified.
"Come on, what you doing?" Kaemi hissed, "We need to go!"
"What's happening?" Sandy shuddered. "What was that? It was so loud..."
Kaemi rushed over and placed a warm hand on her arm. "Snap out of it child. And I mean now. We're moving to another hideout. This means war here in Klammath."
"Yeah that's what that big black guy said, but what do you mean, ‘War?’ War for what?"
Kaemi didn’t stop to take offense. "No one knows for what – maybe the collapse, who knows. Haven't you been reading the news? They been callin war on Klammath every month for the last two years now." She shifted Aniah from one arm to the other. "But this time’s worse, I can feel it. Somethin not right. Now move!"
"Years?” Sandy said, getting to her feet. “They don’t say anything about it in the Herald."
"No, they don't. That's what the Diggers are for," Kaemi replied. Without a hint of accusation, she added, “You girls have come too far from home.”
Girls. Sandy thought of Barb. If it wasn't for Sandy, Barb wouldn't be in this mess. Sandy was the Digger nut; this was all her idea. If it wasn't for Sandy, Barb would still be safely brooding in her room. Sandy straightened. "I can't leave without Barb. I won't."
Kaemi looked deep into her eyes. "Child, I am leaving Dirth, my partner for life. Don't you think I want to stay too? But look around. In ten minutes they'll be here on us and there won’t be any 'here' left to stay. Their life is to destroy. Everything will be gone."
Sandy swallowed. All she could manage to say was, "You're Dirth's wife?"
Kaemi couldn't help but smile. "Partner. Wife is the old way, and we were always of the new, even before the –"
A loud crash sounded from above.
"Move!" Kaemi grabbed Sandy’s hand and pulled her out of the tent into the larger cavern.
Sandy looked around at the handful of people who remained. A few elders sat calmly in the center, seemingly at peace with their fate. The others frantically scurried to pack their things. "Where is everyone?" Sandy called above the fray. One woman knocked roughly into her, held up a hand in apology, and kept running in the other direction.
"They're leaving! Like us!" Kaemi pulled Sandy into a narrow ventricle and it was suddenly dark and cold.
It was like being in a heart. A cold one, at least.
Sandy gripped the sides of her arms to stay warm as she felt herself getting dragged along in Kaemi’s wake down the clammy passageways. It was quiet, and just a few others traveled ahead. Occasionally, dull pounding sounds came from the world above. Between their padding footsteps, she could faintly hear screaming.
She was still in a daze. Visions of the elders, meditating, stayed with her.
"Where are we going?" she found herself murmuring.
"To Portsby," Kaemi replied. "This path should take us there."
Sandy looked up in surprise. "Portsby?"
"No way…” Her feet slowed as she imagined it.
“Come child!’ Kaemi tugged her forward. "No time for reverie."
“But Portsby?” Sandy asked again, as they regained their place behind the others. “Cleanest-Place-in-the-World Portsby? Portsby, Streets-with-Trees Portsby? That Portsby?"
"Yes, that's the one."
"I thought it didn't exist," Sandy cooed. "I mean, I heard stories. I heard how it's got perfect little trees, in perfect little lines, in front of perfect little houses, but… I didn't think it really, actually exists."
"It exists," Kaemi replied confidently. "There may be stories, but the one of it existing is true. I've just never been myself."
"If you haven't been there yourself, then how can you really know?"
Kaemi's fingers clasped hers tightly. "That's what news is, child."
Sandy let the words sink in. "But," she began again, "if it really does exist, then why haven't you been there before? Why hasn’t anyone been there before? Why don't we all… just live there?"
"I don't know," Kaemi answered. By now she was breathing heavily. "For the Diggers, it's been too much of a risk. We don't have tunnels there, just in Klammath and a few in the bad part. So to get there, we would need to travel above ground. It's very dangerous."
Sandy raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Dangerous? Barb and I live ‘above ground’ you know, and we're still kicking. And compared to where we come from, you know, you guys actually have it really nice in Klammath. You actually have nature and shit.”
Kaemi turned suddenly and pulled Sandy’s face close to hers, then said unexpectedly – “You. Are. White.” There was a bitter tang in her words.
Sandy stared back. She felt like she’d been slapped in the face; she could practically feel the burn of a lash across her cheek. It was true that the bad part was mostly white, or at least her school and stuff, but until now, she’d never really noticed. She watched the heads bobbing ahead of them down the tunnel, and even thought back to all the varied faces she'd seen milling around the cave – yes, things were different here. She bit her lip, a habit she’d recently picked up from Barb. “Right. Sorry.”
Kaemi was already turned forward, gesturing Sandy to follow. “No mind. Just keep moving.”