Thoughtful - Chapter 4

Persephone

Over the next few days the girl drifted between recovery and crashing. It was touch and go. When she eventually opened her eyes on the fourth day, she found herself lying on a slim but firm brass bed, covered in soft, warm blankets. Clothed in white flannelette pyjamas, she looked over to see her clothes folded on a chair nearby. Now clean and dry. Propping herself up on her elbows, she was surprised to find herself alive. It took her a few second to process it all. The bed, the room, the sparse furniture. The last thing she remembered was passing out in the cold black water, a metal arm thing clamped around her waist, and now here she was in this strange room, seemingly OK. The room itself was very small, about 3 metres long by 2 metres wide. Just enough for the bed, a small chest of drawers, a chair, a side table and a bookshelf. Seeing all these books, freely available only two feet away, sent a shiver down her spine. She found it hard to breathe. In her excitement her heart beat like a drum in her chest. She couldn’t believe that someone could have their own private stash, on display so openly. She felt the jealousy rise in her mind, but she also felt anxious. Where was she? Who had such freedom?

Getting out of the bed slowly, she wobbled a little as her feet touched the floor. She walked slowly over to the bookshelf and ran her fingers over the books, reading the titles as she went. The books were a wondrous mix of reality and non-reality, fact and fiction. From Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Wuthering Heights to Wormholes and Tenth Dimensions.  It was a bookshelf filled with possibilities. Picking up one of the books she flipped through the pages slowly, and felt an exhilaration she had never been allowed to experience before. These books would have been banned, and if found instantly burned if she were at home. She was so caught up in the thrill of discovering actual literature that for the moment she forgot she didn’t know where she was. It could very well have been a trap. She could even be in one of those Reprog Centres her parents had spoken about, the ones they threatened her with when she was still a small child, if she didn’t stop thinking for herself. The sudden realisation that this could be a trick, to catch her out, hit her like a slap in the face. Putting the book back carefully on the shelf, she turned around and in two steps was sitting back down on the bed. Folding her hands in her lap she stared quietly at the door. A few moments later there was a knock on the door. It sounded so loud in the small room that it made her jump involuntarily. Well, she thought, at least I’ll find out where I am now.

The girl looked up as the door opened, and cautiously a woman entered the room. Watching the girl carefully, she sat down on the chair next to the bed. The woman looked as though she was in her late twenties. Her long black hair, a wonderful mess of wild curls, was parted in the middle. It framed her face perfectly, highlighting her stunning beauty. Her skin was dark, darker than the girl had ever seen it in her city, and judging by the long limbs the woman had, she was quite tall and fairly muscular. Her eyes were a rich brown, like burnt sienna, and the only flaw the girl could see was what looked like a chemical burn down one side of her face. The woman was wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt over black jeans and heavy boots. The girl could also see several tattoos on the woman’s arms. A dagger, a leopard, and a black bird with white on its wings. The black of the ink barely visible against the woman’s skin. The woman looked at her, and tilted her head to the side, looking her over and then nodding to herself, seemingly satisfied. Finally, she spoke.

‘Well, you’re OK then. Good. How do you feel?’ she asked.

‘Seemingly yes … but who are you and where am I?’ asked the girl.

‘Fair questions, both. I am Lady, and this is my ship, the Anhinga. Though, I say ship, but it’s really a submarine. My crew and I rescued you from the river, you were drowning.’

‘Yes, my parents threw me in… I couldn’t swim.’

‘I know, we watched them, and it was quite a fight to get you on board the Anhinga … I didn’t think you’d make it for a time there, but I guess then here we are,’ said Lady.

‘And where is here… really?’ asked the girl.

‘How old are you? I would guess 16? 17?’ asked Lady, ignoring her question.

‘I’m 17,’ answered the girl, ‘but you …’

‘There’s lots to tell you and I will answer your questions, but first you should eat something, you’ve been asleep for the last four days, let me take you to the galley and perhaps you can meet some of my crew, are you up for that?’

‘I guess so,’ said the girl slowly, getting to her feet.

‘Feel free to dress first, I’ll wait for you outside.’

‘Thanks,’ smiled the girl awkwardly, and as Lady turned away she reached for her clothes. A plain white dress, black stockings and black, slip-on ankle boots.

Once dressed, she followed Lady out of the room, and into a long corridor. Still not sure of where she was. As Lady saw her she smiled openly.

‘We’ve left some other clothes for you in the drawers in your room, you don’t have to dress like that anymore,’ she explained.

‘Oh right,’ was all the girl could manage in reply.

Together they turned left and headed down the dimly lit hallway. All the way along the riveted, metal walls were hung with amazing works of art that the girl had only caught glimpses of in books she had stolen out of the library. Caravaggio, Munch, Goya, Khalo, Van Gogh. She wished she could have bought those books with her. Now her parents would find some of them under her bed and probably burn them, she lamented.  As they continued on, interspersed between the paintings were doors leading to other rooms, some looked like bedrooms, others were slightly larger, one very large room actually looked like a library. Coming to a set of stairs that led both up and down, Lady began to climb, headed upwards. The girl followed. Passing two landings they alighted at a floor marked with a large ‘2’ and took a sharp right. Soon they passed through another steel doorway, taking care to step over the raised threshold. The room looked almost like a prison cafeteria. Steel stables and chairs filled the room. To the left was the food service area. A late lunch was being served, and to the girl who had not eaten in days, the food smelled amazing. As she looked at Lady, she smiled.

'Go ahead, it does smell good. Almost mac and cheese today is my guess,' said Lady, taking the girl over to the counter.

'Almost?'

'Well, no one can get real cheese anymore,' explained Lady, ‘so… it’s almost, but not quite.’

As they got up to the counter, the chef serving them looked up and clocked the unfamiliar face. No stranger to new crew members, the galley being one of the first stops for those fished unceremoniously out of the Thames, he smiled and without waiting to be asked, started serving.

'Your parents throw you in too?' he winked, not meaning to be malicious. He himself had once suffered the same fate, and he was trying to convey a feeling of solidarity as well as trying to lighten the mood.

'Now, Tyler, that is no way to welcome a new crew member, as I have told you several times before,' scolded Lady lightly.

'Yes Lady,' conceded Tyler, bashfully bowing his head and pretending he was in trouble, which he wasn’t, ‘does she have a name then?'

'Not yet,' smiled Lady, ‘but I will come to that shortly, I haven’t even had a chance to go through the induction with her yet, if you please' she added turning to the girl, who had opened her mouth to object, 'come on, lets take a seat and I will explain it all.'

Sitting down at one of the tables, the girl took a bite from the pile of food ladled onto the small white plate, as Lady revealed where she was.

'As Tyler may have given away, you're not the first person I have rescued from that river, and you definitely won't be the last my dear … without knowing anything about you, I can guess you're pretty smart, and that's why you're here, right? You thought too much, and as hard as you tried, you couldn't fit in on the surface?'

The girl nodded sadly. The guilt at having read all those books, taken all those notes, created theories, asked questions … it all hit her like a ton of bricks. Tears welled up instantly in her eyes and she lowered her head in shame.

'Oh hey, don’t do that, don’t ever feel guilty about that OK?' Lady countered quickly, seeing the pain in the girl’s face, 'we're all the same here, we all have some gift of thought, and we’re all on this ship because our parents threw us off a bridge, literally or figuratively. They didn’t want us, and this may sound crazy, but this has been going on longer than you think. We’re not the first here on this sub, and there are many places in the foreign lands where this happens too.’

‘Foreign … lands? Like I’ve read about? They still exist?’

‘Oh yes, of course, they don’t teach you this at school, all information is heavily controlled, but that changes for anyone when they step aboard my ship. We will expand your knowledge and nurture your natural gifts. We’ll find your passion, and help you learn. For some of us it's maths, some it's chemistry, for other it’s physics … and some people are just good at everything. In time we'll find out where your speciality lies, and you'll fit in just fine here, I am sure of it.'

Lady paused for a moment, and looked at the girl, who smiled shyly.

‘How did you find me?’ asked the girl slowly.

‘Well, it was luck really, we were picking up some tech we’d uncovered on the riverbed, and Marksman spotted you on the bridge. We all know the deal when we see two or three people on those brides late at night, it can usually only mean one thing …’

‘And will I now stay with you?’ 

'If you like, I mean there’s not really any other place for you to go, so that’s what usually happens when you get picked up by one of our subs, you automatically become part of their crew. There are several other subs out there, just like this one, and we all pick up Thoughtfuls, like you, when we can … when they’re in danger. These other subs… well we don’t often openly interact with each other, and if I’m honest we’re really more in competition with each other than a collaborating force. Resources and supplies are rare these days, and this creates ... a tension between us ... as you can imagine. There were at least 3 other subs out there when we pegged you, who were trying to get to the tech and possibly you as well, but not every other ship has someone like Marksman on board. He's a genius when it comes to locating anything in the water.

‘Thoughtfuls?’

‘Yes, that’s what we are called, people like you and me, people who like to think and ask questions. Who in essence can’t help but seek out knowledge. We are Thoughtfuls. Your parents though, well we call people like them Vacants, people without free thought. Their minds are mostly empty, and sadly it is usually by choice.’

‘Vacants…,’ murmured the girl, drifting off as she chewed on a forkful of almost mac and cheese.

‘It’s a pretty apt description I’m afraid,’ responded Lady with a touch of bitterness.

'But...' started the girl.

'I know … you have more questions, of course you do, but let me get through the basics first, and then you can ask me whatever you want.

‘Ok,’ sighed the girl in defeat.

‘To begin with, the life you knew is gone … and the person you were, is essentially dead as far as those above us believe, so to represent this symbolically we ask all who join us to take a new name… so think carefully about what you would like to be called from now on. Just as I am Lady now, I was once known by another name, as were both Tyler and Marksman. I like to see it as a way to leave the past behind and start fresh,' smiled Lady, continuing on as the girl nodded slowly and kept eating her lunch, 'we move around quite a lot, we have to avoid detection from above. Aside from the other subs out there, there are people on the land who do know we exist down here, and they would love to wipe us out, so we have to be careful. We head to the surface from time to time, for supplies mainly … or to gather information, otherwise we would not be able to survive down here unfortunately.'

'So you're kind of like pirates then?' asked the girl, smiling.

'Well... yes that would be a fair analogy, underwater pirates,' laughed Lady, 'I guess I never thought of it that way before, but you're right, and I suppose there is a bird skull and crossbones painted on the side of my ship.’

'I won't hold it against you,’ said the girl, with a small smile. Her first in days.

'But we don't just plunder,' continued Lady seriously, 'aside from occasionally picking up Thoughtfuls, we actually do a great deal of work down here, things we could never do in the Overworld - we study, learn, conduct experiments, find cures for diseases, we invent things, write, paint, and do just about anything to increase what we know about ... everything. We do all the things that you have dreamed of but never thought you would be able to do. Would you like to go for a tour of my ship?'

The girl nodded, as they both stood up from the table.

'I'm happy to be part of your crew, and I've thought about my name,' said the girl, 'I'd like to be called Persephone.'

‘Persephone?' asked Lady.

‘Yes, Goddess of the Underworld,' the girl smiled.

‘Oooh I like it – that is clever! very well, Persephone, shall we?' said Lady getting up from the table and walking towards the door, 'let’s start with the engine room and work our way up through the ship.'