My name is Alaki Bea Miller—or known in the ground above, Alaki Bea X.
That is what us, the inferior, are referred to: X.
After the third war, the governments collapsed. The land occupied by millions of human beings were destroyed and left unseen diseases that forbid us from ever stepping onto another land apart from the only one saved, the only one not destroyed: Serenity.
The five million humans left were divided into five Rings, each human falling into a division that matched their physical appearance. The pureblood are the superior and the forbidden children, conceived of two of different races, were seen as inferior.
Diallo, Santos, Talos, Wen, and Mustafin: the five Rings.
Beneath them, hidden in the tunnels within the mountains and underground, we live in hiding. We are ordered to be captured on sight and taken to stand before the Ringleaders who decide our fate.
Above ground we are the abomination. Above ground we are X.
I am no leader and I am no special kind of half-blood—as the superiors call us. I am but a mere human being...just like the rest of us.
The heel of my combat boots click against the ground of the echoey tunnels, ricocheting off of the walls as I continue my movements deeper into the tunnels.
The path ahead of me is illuminated by the dim bulbs flaming above, individually covering the ceiling with a space of two yards in between. Beside me, the walls are concealed with weeds that grow in favor of the darkness.
My eyes fixated ahead, my friends, Antonio and Miya, approach me. There’s an uneasiness written on their faces, and I come to an abrupt halt, asking, “What's going on?’
My gaze glosses over Miya's soft features and at the sound of my voice, she shifts her dark brown eyes to meet my blue ones. “Someone tried to get in…” her voice trails off.
“What do you mean?” I ask, moving closer to her.
“We just got back from above,” Antonio responds in his awfully deep voice. “There are sightings of digging on the other side.”
“We don't know if it was another one of us,” Miya adds desperately, her gaze shifting to meet my own as she finishes, “...or another member of the Rings trying to find a way in.”
“Well, whoever it was,” a husky voice echoes from behind me, and I turn my head to the side, looking over my shoulder as the familiar dark-skinned man moves toward us. “They're gone now.”
“Did you bring what I asked for, Miya?”
Miya nods, assuring him, “Yes, Jeremy.”
I watch Miya draw a pack of needles from the black purse hanging just beneath her hip, and she places them in Jeremy’s hand with a half-hearted smile on her face. “Is Briannah going to be okay..?” She asks sincerely.
“Don’t you worry about that, now,” Jeremy tries to comfort her. His hand moves to lightly pat her shoulder, shooting an all-too familiar look at Antonio.
In the next moment, Antonio lets out a heavy sigh and moves to Miya where he throws his arm around her and says, “Alrighty! Let's get going.”
I give both, Miya and Antonio, a small smile before they take off and leave me standing alone with the weed covered walls and a well composed Jeremy. I have to give him credit for his ability to remain calm and hopeful through what he’s going through.
Briannah, one of my dearest friends, has been sick for a while, and although they hardly care to admit it to themselves, especially to those around them, it is clear that Jeremy’s feelings for her run deeper than that of mere friendly ones.
“I have assembled a meeting for later today,” Jeremy abruptly states.
“Oh?” I muse.
I’m not sure why he is bringing this up with me—I’m not part of the leading group.
He sighs with an irritable look on his face as he crosses his arms just beneath his chest. “I would like for you to attend,” he tells me.
“I told you,” I breathe out in exasperation, “I’m not interested in becoming a leading member.”
His hazel-green eyes look at me once-over, briefly catching my blue ones before following my long curly hair that hangs just above my waist. He eyes my navy blue t-shirt, briefly glancing at my khaki pants before reverting his gaze to meet my own.
“You already behave like one,” he insists. “Why are you so keen on being just like everybody else?”
The truth of the matter is that I don’t want to be responsible for anyone. Yes, I do—from time to time—go out of my way to do more than I have to, but that is because I want to. Agreeing to take on the responsibility of another means being held accountable when things go south.
“I’m just not interested, Jeremy,” I finally say. With that, I refrain from giving him any more of my time, and I avert my eyes to the dead end of the tunnel to study it a while longer.
I am more interested in whoever Antonio and Miya claim attempted to find their way in, and Jeremy having more than likely understood that, I hear his footsteps echo away seconds later. I linger on the spot a while longer, just briefly turning my head to a side to eye the ten-foot-high and five-foot-wide hole that Antonio and Miya used to return into the tunnels.
I suppose it really works...
After Jeremy’s footsteps fade away completely, I turn to the direction he headed in, and I follow silently. My hands slide into my pockets and my eyes wander the safe havened walls as I lose myself in my thoughts.
It’s not easy finding your way in here, but once you do, it’s hard to forget.
These tunnels run twenty-miles-long and connect to each of the divided sectors above ground. The five doors are hidden on the walls and grounds of what appear to be dead end caves. It had been made this way after the founders, who are decades gone, built this refuge.
As I come to a stop at the center market, I eye the happy men, women, and children coming and going.
It is a happy place, I would say. Here, we live off of favors. The stands are run by families and friends who have their own skills to offer, and they serve to give away when another is in need. We happily provide for others as they would for us.
I continue my way and walk into the fifth corridor, leading me out of one of the market centers and into another until I reach the waterfall cascade that falls into the river that serves as the entire village’s water supply.
I watch the children run around and play, every-so-often kneeling at the edge of the running water and dipping their small cupped hands for water as if without a care in the world. It makes me smile to see them laugh away in innocence as they continue their game of ‘Tag’.
A soft sigh parts my lips as I continue, turning to the first corridor to my left that leads me to Briannah’s cob built house.
The gray walls quickly come into view and I draw my hands from my pockets as I come to a stop at the doorless entrance. I rap my knuckles against the hard clay, peaking my head in before I hear the familiar voice of Doctor Caleb echo, “Come in.”
Doctor Caleb is a sweet man in his mid-forties with the brain of a genius. He is one of the rare few that were born and raised in the ground above and were later sentenced to death for the unforgivable crime that he committed: he mated with a woman of a different Ring.
With cautious steps, I silently enter the well-kept home. I briefly gaze at the hard mud ground, shifting my sight to the cob walls as I proceed forward until I meet Briannah’s bedroom.
My arms are crossed just beneath my chest as I lean my back against the wall and catch the gaze of the red-haired man who glances back at me. While he reverts his sight to the chocolate-brown eyed woman lying on the bed, I notice Jeremy out of the corner of my eye. He stands on the far left side of the room with a blank look on his face.
Though he likes to pretend as if he isn’t worried in the slightest, I know better than anyone that this is killing him inside.
When Briannah emits a hard cough, I snap my eyes to her, watching as Caleb gently sits her up and holds a white towel against her mouth. The blood stain doesn’t go unnoticed by Jeremy nor I as we’re quick to step forward in apprehension.
“It’s all right,” Caleb says softly as he hands her a cup of water and holds it up for her to drink. “Get some rest,” he tells her as he sets the cup down and carefully positions her head back on the pillow. With this, he quickly gathers his tools and nods for the exit as he gazes between Jeremy and myself.
I hear Jeremy’s light footsteps mix with my own as I follow closely behind Caleb, out of the house and a few steps away.
“What’s wrong with her, Caleb?” Jeremy asks with an irritation in his voice.
Caleb exhales a heavy breath and he turns to the both of us with a thoughtful look on his hard features. “The good news is that she is going to be okay,” he reassures and almost instantly, Jeremy’s and my own demeanor change in relief.
“However,” he emphasizes as he hands Jeremy a written piece of paper, “she is going to need medicine. What has been causing her headaches, fever, and the coughing of blood is a sinus infection.”
At the mere mention of medicine, Jeremy and I turn to look at each other, knowing that the responsibility is going to fall on one of us.
“One of you will have to make the trip,” Caleb adds. He shoots Jeremy and I one last look before he walks away and leaves me with him to decide between us two.
Although it’s true that, from time to time, some of us take the risk of leaving these walls to get a breath of fresh air and food other than the vegetables and fruit that grow in the large greenhouse back in old Phil's place, it’s dangerous.
I have only been out of the tunnels a few times in my life and I have never gone out with the intention to go into town, much less for a purchase at a crowded store. Jobs like that are typically left to the others who live here and hardly look like half-bloods or aren’t half-bloods at all.
Unfortunately, a job like this calls for someone who is willing to put their life on the line, and for Briannah, it’s Jeremy or me.
“I’ll go,” Jeremy decides without giving me a choice.
I scoff, arguing, “No. You’re not.”
His eyebrows furrow at me as I snatch the paper from his hand.
“You have a meeting to attend,” I mutter before he can protest, and as I turn away from him, he grips my upper-arm, pulling me back.
I’m almost sure that I’m going to have to fight him for it, and I’m surprised when he doesn’t. Instead his voice trails off as he says, “Alaki, don’t go alone. If you get caught…”
“I know, Jeremy,” I breathe out, a sigh passing my own lips as I pull out of his grip. “I know...”
In the next moment, I move away from him and head for my next stop.
I know his reasons for backing down. He has far more to lose than I, and truly, if anyone was in a situation where they were caught by anyone above, I would be the perfect subject: I know exactly what and what not to do.
“Morris?” I call as I make my way across the farthest center market and meet the tall and secure stand of the Jade keeper.
My eyes scan the nearly empty grounds, families retiring for the evening.
“Alaki!” Morris greets, coming to stand from the large rock he had been sitting on to move closer to the wooden counter. His large blue eyes meet my own and he kindly asks, “How may I help you today?”
I smile at the sight of the wholehearted old man. I have known him all of my life and it almost seems as if he never changes—inside and out. The same old gray hair covers his chin and jawline, and not a single bald spot serves to ruin that perfectly whole-haired head of his.
“Well,” I arch an eyebrow, nudging him, “first you can start off by telling me how you’re doing.”
He chuckles joyfully, bringing his hand up to the top of his head and running it through his hair. “Always looking out for the old man, eh?”
A smirk plays on my lips and I playfully say, “If I don’t, who will?”
“Not I, that’s for sure,” he scoffs. “I’m doing well. How about yourself?”
I nod and offer him a warm smile, cutting to the chase, “Good. Listen, I need to go buy medicine for Briannah.”
“How is she?” he asks.
If there is anyone who knows everyone, it’s Morris. He runs the diamond mine and sells it across Serenity. He’s known for being the largest miner of gems across all Sectors. He’s another of the few who were born and raised above ground, like Doctor Caleb.
The only difference is that Morris isn’t wanted for a crime. He’s just a lot like a Mafia boss, minus the violence.
“She’s going to be okay,” I say softly. “Caleb says she has a sinus infection?”
“Ah, yes…” Morris’ voice trails off as he nods away. “Those can get pretty nasty.”
He reaches for a small, crossbody, burlap bag and draws his hand into the large box that is stationed beneath the counter. He draws a couple of Jade bills and slips them into the bag, offering me a smile as he hands it to me.
“Here you are. Threw in a little extra in case you get hungry.”
Yeah…that’s not gonna happen.
I thank him kindly and take the bag into my hand. With the strap secured across my torso, I adjust the bag to hover over the side of my hip.
“It is always my pleasure, sweetie.”
We exchange soft smiles once more before I turn and begin my way out of the market. Unfortunately, before I’m too far gone, I hear Morris call, “Eh! You got anyone to go with you?”
I immediately stop on my tracks and my breath catches in my lungs. When I turn around, I find him standing next to a dark-skinned, teenage boy. His head clean-shaven, he could easily pass as a valid Ring member, if it wasn't for the color of his hazel-green eyes.
“This is Marcus,” Morris introduces him. “He’s a good kid and hasn’t been out in years. He should help you blend right in.”
It must have been a cue for the teenage boy because the second those words left Morris’ mouth, the boy slipped on a pair of shades to prove Morris’ claim. I study him, his composure, and his clothing.
The old man was right. From the combat boots on Marcus’ feet to the black cargo pants and the white t-shirt that he wears, the shades make it the perfect costume.
“Alright. Let's go."