Emera leaned over the well and hauled up the bucket of water, hand over hand. Her belly pressed against the cool stone and she tugged her shirt down, resting the bucket on the edge of the well. Her nail snagged on the thin fabric, leaving a small hole.
“Shit,” she swore, examining her shirt. It was almost threadbare anyway, but it would be awhile before she was likely to get a new one. Runs to the East only happened in the spring, and she had at least five long months to go until then. She’d have to try to trade for a sweatshirt in the meantime. Houser was a good mark, easily swayed by her figure, she’d try him first.
She lifted the bucket of water into the Radio Flyer wagon along with the two others, hefted a fourth onto her shoulder, and headed back down the poorly lit passage towards the Hive. They were still working to smooth out the uneven floor, and Emera had to navigate carefully to avoid spilling the water. The pits and dips were hard to see in the dull light. The gas lamps were dimmer than the electric bulbs that they had wanted to install, but they couldn’t risk having a generator near the Hive until they figured out how to mask its heat. That was not her project though.
Emera had managed to get the phosphorescent paint for the walkway though, so at least there was always light along the ground. She had also painted a few of the lower hanging stalactites so that people weren’t constantly bumping their heads, although Houser complained that he still did. Privately, Emera thought it was probably because he wasn’t smart enough to look where he was going. He was at least an inch shorter than her.
Emera was exactly 6’0 tall with a giant mane of wiry golden brown hair that made her appear even taller. She was an imposing woman, although she tried not to use her size for intimidation unless it was necessary. Unfortunately, she had found it necessary all too often in the past few years. She had two stilettos, one hidden in each of her boots, and carried a KA-BAR combat knife in a sheath attached to her belt.
Emera was the informal second in command at the Hive. The community had tried to keep a pure democracy at first; but it had become too difficult to maintain through the first hard months, as everyone pursued their own interests and the group began to crumble. A few bad fights had broken out, and then Skinly, a hot-headed twenty something ex-blogger had threatened to go back East, they realized something needed to be done quickly. They chose to elect a leader.
Eventually, it became clear that everyone most valued the opinion of Donelle Keynes, a 50 year old one-eyed ex-marine with a wicked sense of humor who’d also managed to raise five children as a single mother. Once that was clear, the community made Donelle’s role formal, dubbing her the CEO, as a bit of a joke. Donelle relied heavily on Emera to work on immediate operations while Donelle worked on sustainability. Donelle had suggested planting crops in the woods behind the Hive, and Emera had figured out how to grow them in a complex series of numbered plots, so they appeared to be nothing more than particularly dense patches of wild plants to the naked eye.
The well had also been her idea. Having to trek to the river each day had been dangerous and Donelle wanted to find another way to up their water supply. After mapping the path of the river, Emera guessed that they might be able to dig a well just inside the entrance to the Hive. As usual, she had been right. She and the others each had a water shift where they would grab buckets for communal drinking; three times in the morning, twice near noon, and three times again at night. It was still less water than Donelle thought they should get, but it was enough to keep everyone hydrated.
Emera rounded the corner into the central cavern of the Hive, where three of the little ones were playing double dutch with some of her climbing rope. She almost admonished them, but held herself back; they had so little to entertain them. Revolution was always hardest on the children. She began to set out the buckets of water in the middle of the space, when the unmistakable drone of a heat seeker suddenly came into hearing.
One of the little girls screamed and dropped her end of the rope, running to cower in the corner. The other girl ran straight to Emera and gripped onto her leg. The third was left tangled up in the rope and she fell flat on her stomach pressing herself to the ground. Emera stood stock still. So far, they had heard a number of the heat seekers pass by their cave, but the distance that they were underground had shielded them. Emera’s only worry was that someone might have been in the Vitamin D room, the only place in the caverns where the sun reached.
The little girl who had fallen to the ground slowly crawled over to Emera and reached out to clutch her friend’s hand. The third child whimpered in the corner, hugging herself. They are too young to know this kind of fear, Emera thought. We’ve done this to them.
Five minutes later, the sound passed. Emera could feel the breath escape the lips of the girls who were huddled close to her and she gave them a reassuring smile. A few moments later, Donelle came running into the main cavern, followed by Houser, Skinly, Margeurite and Zander.
“Was anyone outside?” Donelle demanded breathlessly, without a greeting. She was beginning to look old;the years underground had not been kind to her.
“No one was scheduled to be,” Emera said, calmly. The girls looked back and forth between the two of them.
Donelle let out a sigh of relief and sat hard on one of the stumps they had set up in the middle of the room. She dipped a cup into one of the water buckets and brought it to her lips, spilling a little bit down the corner of the mouth. Skinly sat down cross-legged next to her and helped herself as well. Houser, the father of the child who had run to the corner, walked over to check on his daughter, who threw herself into his arms.
“I’m too old for this crap,” Donelle said. Houser chuckled and Emera fixed him with a hard glance. One of the girls clambered into Donelle’s lap and reached for the water cup. While Donelle was thus occupied, Emera pulled Zander and Marguerite aside.
“Was anyone outside?” Emera whispered.
Marguerite shook her head. “I ran a check as soon as it started,” she said. Zander nodded in agreement. “Everyone’s accounted for.”
Emera nodded gravely. “Thank god for small favors.”
“Do you think they could have been following someone here?” asked Marguerite.
Emera felt an uncomfortable weight settle in her stomach. “We haven’t done outreach since our last Run. I doubt anyone could have found us without a guide.” She paused, reflecting. “It wouldn’t be so bad though, to get some fresh blood down here. Our skills are probably getting rusty.” Marguerite and Zander exchanged glances.
Marguerite spoke first, glancing over at Donelle. “Has the CEO mentioned doing an early run this year?”
Zander jumped in. “If we want any shot of taking down the government’s communications this time, I think we have to.” He continued, “We haven’t done an attack in almost a year. We have no idea how they’re reacting out there. They may have built up all kinds of defensive systems since we were last out. We could use more skill.”
Emera nodded. “I’ll talk to Donelle.” She looked down at herself ruefully. “Besides, I’m in the market for a new shirt.”