Weeds In The Garden
Mouse woke to her father reading at her side. He seemed calm, peaceful. She looked over at her missing arm and couldn't help but wonder if things would ever be normal again. Days flew by, and the wound was healing well. The problem was how the clinic became her whole world. She sat in silence unless her father or mark were there to keep her company. They made it clear she would be welcome outside, but she was afraid to leave. She didn't want to be seen. "Is there anything I can do?" Her father asked, pulling her away from her thoughts. Mouse shook her head and changed the subject, "You were gone for days. Did something happen?" "The wayfarers retreated from the depths. Many were wounded or killed." Mouse clenched her fist, her jaw locked in place as she spoke, "Why were we even sent? I heard about an energy spike." "Yeah. The outcasts call it The Glass Garden. They're protecting it." "Why?" Mouse asked. "I don't know, honestly. They won't let anyone near it." "How'd you get mixed up with them?" "Mixed up? That's a little harsh. They're good people just trying to survive." He closed the book and set it on a small table beside the bed. "I've been helping them out for a long time. I bring medicine, mostly." "How are you not seen? There are cameras everywhere." He laughed. "Most of those aren't fully functional. Those that are only cover the most critical locations. They can't monitor everyone." He looked over to the window of the clinic and stood up. Mouse reached out instinctively and grabbed his hand. "Don't go yet." "I have to. Someone will notice if I'm gone too long." He let out a sigh and grabbed her hand, gently laying it on the bed. "Rest. Once the wound heals we can start physical therapy."
Mark brought in a young man for surgery. The boy clutched his stomach, moaning in pain as Mark helped him onto the table. Mark turned to Mouse and smiled, "Appendicitis. Simple enough, but if you're squeamish you want to take a walk." Mouse nodded and rolled out of the bed. "No worries." Mark walked to a wash basin and thoroughly scrubbed his hands with soap and water. "Mary's outside if you need some company." Mouse opened the door slowly, preparing herself for being out among others. She didn't want them to see, poorly wrapping herself in a blanket to cover up the missing limb. Mary tried to stifle her laughter at the sight. She stepped around a stack of crates and brushed mouse's hair back. She lightly pulled at the blanket. "What's this about, love?" "I'm cold." Mouse replied. She couldn't look Mary in the eye. Mary nodded. "Aye, it's a bit cooler down here isn't it?" Mouse didn't reply. She watched as Mary adjusted the blanket and caught sight of her hand. She never noticed that Mary was missing a finger. "Better?" Mary asked. Before Mouse could answer, Mary noticed how she stared. "We were messing around some heavy machinery. Didn't know how to shut it off." "I never noticed before. Sorry for staring." Mary scoffed and stepped forward, mouse following alongside her as they walked. "Most people don't notice until it's staring them in the face. I can't imagine how you feel, though." "It's hard. Maybe prosthetics will help." "Prosthetics take time to adjust too but who knows. I hear they have some advanced prosthetics on the surface." "Not advanced enough, sadly." Mouse replied. The loss of her arm weighed on her, but it was more than losing a part of her body. It was the life waiting for her when she returned to the surface, the life she knew was over. "Even with the best prosthetics humans can produce, I'd be a liability to my crew." Mary nodded, though Mouse knew she didn't fully understand. Being a wayfarer was a matter of pride. Mouse dedicated her life to the profession, and that time seemed wasted. Mouse sighed. "I can handle the loss of an arm. It's gonna take a while, but I'll live. Having nothing to go back to is the thing that hurts."
It was raining on the surface. The water fell down to the lower levels of Safeharbor, suddenly forming rivers. They followed paths carved from stone and metal, deliberately made to force the water away from the settlement. Mouse froze the moment she left the clinic, immediately noticing how quiet it was. The streets of New Charlotte were empty. She heard nothing save for distant voices, barely audible above the sounds of rushing water. She cautiously followed the sound, doing her best to navigate the darkness. The torches were out, even the incinerator at the center of town was shut off. She came across a large metal structure just outside of town. Like the clinic, it looked far more deliberate in its construction. There were no walls, only white painted pillars topped with a beautiful, blue dome. The outcasts cultivated plants around the entire building, a field of multicolored flowers. It never occurred to her how far down she was. The building was bathed in sunlight. Mouse couldn't see the opening from above, partially because of how high it was and partially because it was almost blinding. She must have been at least two kilometers below the surface. The voices were louder here. They weren't speaking, they were singing beneath the dome. The voices blended together, loud and in perfect unison. Mouse continued, determined to get closer. As she neared a small path leading to the structure, she paused, suddenly realizing how strange the flowers looked. They didn't move right, despite a breeze blowing through the tunnels. When they did move, they collided with each other, the resulting chime sounding not unlike music. They looked like they were made of glass. She walked down the path, taking in the sight as the light from above scattered through the glade and reflected off of every surface. When she reached the dome, she could finally hear what they were singing, though the translator in her ear failed to place the language. She couldn't recall ever seeing this many people united in song. Some sang with eyes closed, while others read from a book. Those with hats removed them and held them over their chests. Mouse saw Mary and Mark, singing just as loudly with their hands locked together. How could they do that for so long? She didn't want to interrupt, hiding behind a pillar to stay out of sight. Was this the garden of glass? Had she desecrated their place of worship? Mouse panicked as she planned her next move, but didn't get a chance to think for long. She peered around the pillar once more and noticed a cross suspended in the air from the dome above. She looked back at the crowd and saw Mark smiling at her. He didn't stop singing. He turned back to face the front of the structure, nudging Mary with his arm. She turned and noticed Mouse frozen in fear. She smiled and turned back, just as Mark did before. Mouse didn't know what to do, but their reaction helped ease her back into a state of curious fascination. They sang for several minutes, the light above slowly fading. Mouse looked up. She couldn't see it, but she knew the sun drifted across the sky, soon to shroud the glade in darkness. A shadow formed and swept across the cavern over the course of several minutes. When the light was gone, Mouse heard the flowers chime, the sound overlapping and growing in volume as the flowers reacted. The singing stopped as the flowers disappeared. Mark rushed forward, his hand out for Mouse to take and they quickly ran beneath the dome. The glass petals folded up and shot down into their stems, shooting small slivers of silicone pollen across the glade with a deafening crash. Mouse stared at the spectacle with wide eyes. Cheers erupted from the crowd around her. She turned to Mark and tilted her head in confusion, but it was far too loud for him to explain. When the pollen settled, the crowd slowly ventured out along the path and back to New Charlotte. Mouse walked beside Mark and Mary, quickly taking the opportunity to speak, "I'm sorry. I didn't know where anyone was and just followed the voices." "Why would you need to be sorry?" Mark asked with a laugh. "We don't mind." "That's the garden of glass, right?" They stopped and shared a look. Mary was the first to speak, "How do you know about that?" "I don't know about it at all. I only know it by name." Mark nodded as he stroked his graying beard. "It's a church, that's all." "So, The Garden isn't a church." "Rhey," Mary began, holding out her hand in a desperate attempt to stop Mouse from speaking, "I wouldn't push the issue. The Garden is something we keep secret for a reason." "It's what we were sent to find. Do you know how many friends died trying to find it?" Mark sighed. "With respect, Rhey. You almost died trying to find it as well. For everyone's sake, take the hint." Mouse forced her mouse shut, resisting the urge to fight back. When they made it back to New Charlotte, it was like the conversation never happened. "Did you enjoy the show?" Mary asked. "The flowers?" Moise replied. "They were beautiful. What are they?" Mary shrugged. "We have no idea. They were here when we first settled New Charlotte. Lost a few poor souls to the pollen burst before we built the church." "They must be silica based plant life. I didn't know we had that on Safeharbor." "You're right," Mark said with a coy smile. "They aren't native to Safeharbor." Mary's head snapped in Mark's direction. She spoke in a low whisper, glaring at him with wide eyes, "Mark." "They're not?" Mouse asked. "Howd you-" Mark gave her a wink. "I misspoke. Forget I said anything."
Mouse worked in a frenzy, compiling her report on the outcasts. She was eager to change some minds. Her father came and went like clockwork, every day he brought news of the surface. She was happy to learn that Argus and Roadrunner survived, though dreaded the idea of facing them. While the wound healed, she studied their way of life. Every few days she'd venture out of the clinic, determined to learn more. She followed them on caravans, kept them company while they plowed the fields. She learned how to cook their food, which she grew fonder of every passing day. With every adventure came another piece to a puzzle, a realization that she never considered before. These people thrived. They lacked the technology, medicine, and luxury of the surface, but this seemed intentional. They never sought to reclaim what was lost. Earth was a fleeting memory, doomed to be forgotten. The outcasts never cared to look back. On the surface, they've always looked back. Earth was an obsession. They longed to return to the days of old. Maybe they should move on, as well. The door to the clinic opened and Mark entered. Mouse watched. Waiting for Mary to appear behind him. When she failed to show, Mouse jumped to her feet. "Mark?" "Morning. Is everything alright?" Mouse forced herself to look him in the eye. "I need to know what my friends died for. I can't go back empty-handed." "You're asking about the garden again aren't you?" He replied. When she nodded he scoffed. "You know, a month ago the mention of a wayfarer was enough to give us nightmares. We've seen what you can do. You've taught me that wayfarers are people too, that they can be reasoned with." "More than the earthborn. That's a fact. I could say the same with you and the outcasts." Mouse said with a smile. Mark raised an eyebrow. "I'm earthborn too, you know." When Mouse tried to muster an apology he laughed. "I know what you meant. As to your request…" he shook his head, "I can't." "Please, mark. I go back soon. I have to know-" "Why did your friends die?" Mark shouted, "Envy and pride. Those who forced you down here wanted what we had and instead of asking nicely, they sought to brush us aside and take it." "I didn't mean to upset you." "N-no, you didn't," Mark replied. "You're not the one who upset me." He stared off into space for some time. Mouse sat on her bed and waited. After a minute. He finally spoke, "You leave in what, three days?" He continued when Mouse nodded, "I'll take you to see it during our journey to the surface. It'll be just you and me." "Thank you." "Don't thank me. Promise me. I'm the only doctor in New Charlotte. That won't stop them from hanging me if they find out I showed you. If not for my sake, then for the sake of this town, tell no one I showed you."