The light broke through the surface.
Twenty feet tall and armed with bits the size of a man, the drill engines had been running continuously. Andru read the depth sensors and knew that the end was nearly in sight. Already his crew had broken two more drill bits as they clawed their way upward, covered in dirt and ash and dust and clay. The last two engines carried on, alternating running times to stave off overheating. Even this close, closer than any had been in the thousand years since the world went dark, the heat pooled and sweltered. Andru oversaw the engines’ running when his team needed rest. He found that he had no need for sleep. It had been five days since he last laid his head down, and it remained that way no more than an hour. He’d been woken by a breeze, fresh air traveling through an unseen vent. The first taste of fresh air in his life. He’d lived beneath the Earth for too long. He would wait no longer.
His crew were loyalists, committed men who’d left their families to give them better lives. None of them had ever met anyone who’d survived the Great Catastrophe, and they were no longer sure just how long they were supposed to live beneath the crust, without questioning the world that could be reclaimed above. Generations and generations had carved out communities beneath the Earth and grown pale and weak-sighted. Generations upon generations had inherited the conditions wrought by the Great Catastrophe and the evils it had created. Humanity had been left behind, and there was
no longer hope. Even the tales of former Earth lost their wonder. Andru was not like the rest.
Once he’d salvaged and repaired the engines for his expedition, Andru petitioned the council to arm and feed his men. They gave him enough to gamble on the dream he sold, but not nearly enough to truly believe in it. Even his brother had tried warning him off his journey, but Andru couldn’t quit his stubbornness. And that is why he also left his wife and son and daughter behind, promising to come back when he finally had sky overhead. He wrapped them in his arms and kissed them all good-bye, then left to assemble his men. Most thought his pursuit of the overworld mortally foolish, but Andru thought the same of their willingness to war with each other, splintered factions fighting over dwindling supplies and inhabitable caverns. They would continue killing each other down below until none were left.
The drill engine pounded at the stone, and Andru persisted through its unrelenting assault. The light overhead was no more than the size of a fist and yet it was glorious, though it hurt his eyes. He pulled his goggles on and watched to his satisfaction as it grew larger.
Many of his men had died along the way. From cave-ins and blasting explosions. From toxic exposure to unknown elements and collapsing lungs and vicious attacks from what had once been their own people. Andru was not without blood on his hands.
Each man had agreed to his part, knowing that their pilgrimage to the world beyond afforded a better life than what below could ever give. Sacrifice themselves and reclaim the ruined land for a new future.
He heard the rock fracture and crack and his men yell as it fell upon the drill engine. Its operator was killed instantly. The light grew brighter. He couldn’t allow his men’s faith in him to falter.
He stepped up and manned the last remaining engine himself. If more were to die, then he would be next.
He had taken but a mere moment’s rest, still seated in the running engine. He wiped the sleep from his eyes, touching the beard that had grown so wildly that his own wife wouldn’t recognize him. Thoughts of her and his children kept him sane. Had it been a year since he last saw them? No. Not that much. It couldn’t have been. . . .
He drank enough to wet his mouth and wash the grit from it when one of the spotters came running.
For him to have deserted his post . . . something was terribly wrong.
As the spotter came closer, Andru could see blood streaming from his face, and even worse, an eye missing. His shouts were un- intelligible and panicked.
Andru hopped down, the engine still firing into the world above. He waved one of his men in to replace him, even as wild calls rose from the darkness beyond the camp.
“Gear up!” Andru shouted. They’d escaped being attacked since the surface had been broken, and he’d hoped . . .
His hope was foolish. He could show them only through action that testing his might was immensely foolish.
There were almost two dozen of his crew remaining, minus the spotter with the savaged eye. In their hands they held metal bars and pikes. Andru hefted his sledge in two hands. It was still stained with the blood of the last pack who’d thought his men would be easily broken.
Did they not know that his men had broken Earth itself?
And yet, they weren’t prepared for the force of men who flooded their camp, perhaps three, even four times the size of his crew. It just meant more for his sledge, which he swung now with unmatched resolve and felt a man’s skull give way.
Yet these men who attacked were not savages, or mutants, marred by pollution and interbreeding.
He saw the man who he once called brother knife a grunt of no more than sixteen cycles. More of his men died around him, as Andru continued to swing his sledge, breaking bone whenever it landed. His arms cried through the strain. The drill engine hammered away.
By the time Atros and his men took the camp, they’d left only three men alive, but wounded. All three would surely die. None could remain to remember the truth of the attack. Andru was forced to kneel at Atros’s feet. The drill engine was now silent, its operator killed in his chair.
“Why?” Andru asked, his mind reeling, betrayed by his own peo- ple. His own brother.
“The world will not be yours,” Atros said. “It will be greater than that. Know that your journey was not in vain. Your plans will con- tinue, but you will not see them through.”
And then, looking into his brother’s eyes, Andru was killed, a knife passed across his throat, and he slumped over as the life left his body and soaked into the Earth. He cast his eyes upward with the last of his energy at the broken ground, a gust passing through it to cool his face, and nally he saw the sky and the hard-won heavens above.
REBELS: CITY OF INDRA by Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner, and Elizabeth Killmond-Roman with Maya Sloan, Karen Hunter Publishing 2014