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My hip protested from days of inaction as I raised my knee to enter through the gap Airomem had created, carefully sliding between two sheets of metal. The sharp edges gleamed from both of them, revealing the jagged lines left over from the slag of Airomem’s tool that snagged against my shirt when I came too close, leaving stretched ripples that ran down the fabric.
“You’ll regret this, Elliott!” I heard from outside the door just as I slipped my back leg free. “I can hear them trying to escape now, and their screams are about to get louder!”
“Tom, help me,” said Airomem, stepping forward to grip the shelf that extended out of the cutaway portion of the wall. “Pull!”
Outside the door, there was the sound of scraping furniture as the barricade was cleared, accompanied by the screeching sound of folding metal as Tom and Airomem pulled the gap shut once more, leaving only a thin crack where the hole had once been just as the door on the inside opened and Nean’s voice came through clearer.
“You’ll wish you had conceded, you’ll wish –” he shouted, then choked on his own words. There was the sound of crashing furniture, as well as sheets being pulled from the bed and clothes from the closet in a desperate search. Airomem yanked us backwards into the apartment, gesturing back to the closet, where the hole had been concealed behind a layer of folding clothes.
“In you go,” she whispered, sending Hannah through first. “Regroup on the other side. We must act quickly. It will take them some time to find this hidden exit, and we want them to be as confused as long as possible. So long as they think you are still trapped inside the corridor, they won’t dare a pursuit. Though with our numbers, they would be little more than a nuisance.”
Then Nean’s voice sounded once more, this time a shrill scream.
“Search! Find them and guard the exits! They cannot have gone far, and they shall know true punishment when they are discovered!”
Airomem smiled and nodded, then pushed Tom and me through the hole. And on the other side, she leaned the metal she had cut away earlier against it to conceal any light coming from the gardens.
I’d always enjoyed working in the gardens to an extent, but never before had I felt the sheer joy of feeling the earth sink beneath my shoes or the smell of compost wafting upwards. I reached a hand down to the earth, touching it as I looked through the window once more, my eyes meeting the visible edge of the planet.
“We made it,” I whispered and, above me, Airomem spoke.
“Not yet. We must be moving – I don’t know how much time we have left, but it’s dwindling.”
Ahead, Hannah had already sprinted across the farms and was in the arms of Elliott and Ruth just outside the view of the entryway of the corridor. Beside them, hundreds of people were gathered, holding small bags filled with belongings, far more than I had hoped would ever take the leap to depart.
“Remember this day!” shouted Airomem as she walked before them, “as the day we find new life, as the day your ancestors will thank the heavens that you brought them to their home. Remember this day as the one where you made the right decision, where you chose life and adaptation! Now, take one final look behind you, then do not turn back – keep your eyes on the future, and let us depart!”
Together, the crowd started to move, a long line that passed by the corridor entrance on the way to the bridge. Young and old, with smiles of hope and frowns of worry, packs of families that clustered together and floated downstream. Airomem and I took to the front, while Elliott and Tom held the back.
And together, we walked, leaving behind only footprints on the path.
“We still have the food!” howled Nean from within the barricade, his face splattered with mud, his voice loud enough to be heard along the entire column and Vaca watching idly by his side while chewing. “We’ll see who survives!”
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