The Descent, Chapter One | Verso.ink

The Descent, Chapter One

The Cavern Series, A Novella Prequel

By Apryl K.B. Lopez

3
~ 12
162
Chapter One

The truce had lasted almost a month. By Sera’s recollection, it was the longest one since the Genetics War officially began three years earlier. This last month of productive discussions between the Gen-Ens—the genetically enhanced—and the natural-borns had given Sera such hope that it felt like a betrayal when their would-be ambassador, Adim, reported talks were failing.

She sat in her office at Gen-En Headquarters, staring at a bright computer screen, absently running her fingers through her chin-length brown hair. It had been an hour since the report had reached the leadership team, and she still hadn’t replied. Try harder, she wanted to type in bold letters. But that wouldn’t be helpful, and no one would listen anyway. She sighed into her empty office, feeling the weight of her ineffectiveness.

Her gaze drifted to the paperwork on her desk, spotting the most recent radar scans and communications showing locations of traveling Gen-En refugees. She’d need to organize some rescue teams soon, especially now that the truce was in jeopardy. She was also responsible for settling incoming refugees in the large military base where Headquarters was located.

A ping came through the computer speakers and a new communication popped up with the Gen-En’s logo—a stylized V with a yellow circle hovering over it. Sera leaned forward, hoping someone had come up with a better solution. But it was from Mikah, her brother and the Gen-Ens’ leader. She tried to resist the swell of disappointment she knew was coming, but his words brought it in full force.

Adim,

We knew this truce was hopeless. The Nats will never forget or forgive their “mistakes.” Get back to the base asap so we can discuss the next phase.

Mikah


Sera leaned back into her chair with a now-frustrated sigh. The truce definitely wouldn’t hold now and probably never would in the future. She could easily imagine the sneer on Mikah’s face as he typed the derogatory term for the Naturals. Why couldn’t he ever let go of his prejudices?

She looked down at the tattoo on her right wrist. It was a more ornate version of the logo Mikah had adopted for their revolution. It was also the logo of Creator Technologies, the research company that made Sera and the other genetically engineered humans. The number 7 had been added to the yellow sun-like circle, signifying her batching order in one of Creator’s first experiments. The original Gen-Ens had the tattoos as a definitive means to separate them from the Natural controls in the study. It was one of many ways that kept them isolated from their natural-born counterparts, and Mikah saw those differences more than anyone.

The door to her office opened, and she looked at her best friend James’s grim face as he entered the room. “You saw the communiques, I take it,” she said, indicating for him to sit across from her. They had both been part of the negotiating team, in the beginning, so Mikah kept them on the contact list. But they were rarely asked for input anymore. When Mikah’s strong revolutionary spirit overwhelmed Sera’s passionate, yet stay-the-course peaceful attitude, she had been relegated further and further into the Headquarters’ busywork that kept her from influencing the war effort. James, as her best friend and one of the only Naturals in Gen-En headquarters, had been dismissed along with her.

James sat down and put his elbows on her desk as he scrubbed his hands through his black hair, making prominent spikes across his scalp. “Of course, I saw it. I’ve been going through old treaty attempts, trying to figure out a good response to salvage this meeting,” he said before giving her a withering look. “Your brother beat me to the punch, however.”

Though she and Mikah were blood siblings, James—who was one of the Naturals in her genetic study group—had been the sweet, protective brother she’d always wanted. While Mikah was protective in his own way, he’d never gotten along with James. Although, it didn’t help that they were opposites in almost every way possible, even down to their appearances. They had been since they were children growing up in the experiment.

“He’s only doing what he thinks is right,” she said, though she didn’t believe her own words. “This has been going on since we were teenagers. First, the Stalemate, then the Plague Years, and now this war for the last three years. Nothing has changed; maybe Mikah is right to go to the next phase.” Her voice lowered toward the end, bracing for the argument she knew James would deliver.

He scoffed, letting his hands fall to the desk. His wide chocolate-colored eyes were dark mirrors reflecting her own disbelief and worry. “Do you even know what the ‘next phase’ is, Sera?” James demanded. “He’s never really told anyone the specifics, other than we’ll want to stay in the bunker afterward for an undetermined amount of time. You know what that means, don’t you?” He stared hard at her, forcing her, demanding she give a voice to the fears they both had about how far her brother was willing to go.

“Nuclear,” she said quietly, letting the word sit between them, mingling with the air like oil and water.

She thought back to her childhood. She and the other children in the genetic experiment, both Naturals and Gen-Ens, were taught a variety of subjects from math and writing to advanced sciences and complex battle strategies. She remembered Mikah’s fascination with nuclear energy. As disagreements between the Gen-Ens and Naturals became heated—and Mikah assumed a role of leadership—Sera wondered if his childhood obsession would turn deadly.

Mikah was always careful to never reveal if he had access to nuclear weapons. But why else would he commission the building of a bunker deep underground if not because the earth had become unlivable?

“Yes, nuclear,” James said, matching his tone to hers. “So, what are we going to do?”

Sera’s stomach felt like stone, hard and unmovable, as she tried to think of what to say. It wasn’t that she couldn’t confront her brother, but she didn’t know if she could bring him back from the point of no return. She hadn’t had much luck in the past, with Mikah or others she felt responsible for.

Unbidden, the memory of her foster mother’s painful death from the Naturals’ Plague filled her mind. Poor Helena...She closed her eyes at the image, trying to forget the decisions she regretted the most.

James must have sensed her hesitancy. He leaned across the desk and grabbed her hand, squeezing it and sending a calming wave across her body. He stared at her, his dark brown eyes hard, yet understanding. He knew her better than anyone and recognized the self-doubt that plagued her decisions.

“We need to stop this,” he said.

◆◆◆

Sera and James walked the halls toward Mikah’s War Room. They ignored the sidelong glances, and sometimes glares, James received from the majority of Gen-Ens they passed. No one questioned his presence—at least not in front of Sera—but she knew most of the base’s inhabitants were uncomfortable with a Natural walking around. Especially one who was positioned so close to the leadership team. If they only knew how little power either of us have, Sera thought before turning down the hall.

They approached the War Room, and her stomach felt like a shriveled bag as she anticipated the upcoming conversation. Her brother used to take her council—they once agreed on many issues—but that changed in years past. Somewhere along the way, their shared ideals of equality and independence diverged, and all they had left was blood and history. But it was a connection she wasn’t willing to let go of yet, and maybe he could still listen to reason.

The two guards standing on either side of the door straightened when they saw her. She nodded to each of them, knocked on the door, and walked in without invitation. James followed behind.

Mikah sat at a large, mahogany desk, staring at an over-sized paper with building plans drawn on it. He stroked his square chin with tapered fingers. There was a slight shadow of auburn whiskers that matched his crew cut. He looked up at their entrance, and Sera saw his expression turn stony when he noticed James. Maybe it was a mistake to bring him with her, but there was nothing to be done about it now. She took a deep breath. Be strong.

“Mikah.” She kept her tone even and firm. “We need to talk about this ‘next phase.’ Why can’t we continue peace talks? If you would just let me and James go back, I know we can reach an agreement with the Naturals.” By the end, Sera couldn’t keep the desperation out of her voice.

Mikah shook his head and rolled his dark blue eyes before standing up from the desk. "Sera, I’m not having this discussion again. The Nats have made their decision. It’s time we make ours.”

She felt James stiffen next to her, and she mentally berated herself. She should’ve met Mikah alone.

“Please Mikah,” she said, cutting off any retort James might have made. “We’re all humans in the end; it shouldn’t matter that some were born out of a womb and others out of a test tube. And some of those humans you hate so much were the ones who raised us and loved us and grew up with us.” She rushed her last words before Mikah drew away with a loud huff and turned his back to her and James.

“You always say this,” he said over his shoulder. “But you refuse to recognize that we were just an experiment to them. A successful one.” He turned around with an abruptness so sharp, she fought the urge to step back. “If there was any affection, it was for the money we brought them.”

He glanced at James standing next to her, and she had a feeling Mikah wanted to say more but held his tongue. Instead, he said, "The Nats proved how they felt about us during the Plague Years. When we lived, and they died, they conveniently forgot who it was that created us to resist disease and heal unnaturally fast. Suddenly, we were an abomination instead of the smarter and stronger beings they meant to create. They attacked us, Sera. Never forget that."

She shrunk under his fierce gaze and hated herself for it. She had been a constant champion for the Naturals, but she had never been able to argue effectively against Mikah. Especially when he brought up the Naturals’ attack on a Gen-En commune, killing dozens, ending the Stalemate, and officially starting the Genetics War. The Naturals blamed them for the disease—either believing they caused it or had a cure and wouldn’t help—so some took it upon themselves to retaliate.

But Sera truly believed that Naturals, as a whole, were simply misinformed, and that ignorance created fear and mistrust, which led to violent actions. Most of them were like James and Helena, caring and understanding. She inhaled a shuddering breath and spoke softly into the tense air. “I haven’t forgotten anything.” Out of the corner of her eye, Sera saw James cross his arms and clench his jaw. She felt like she betrayed him by not disputing her brother’s statements, but she continued. “But just because someone starts a fight doesn’t mean you have to finish it. We can still find a peaceful resolution.”

Mikah stared at her, and she saw the change in his eyes. Their stormy quality seemed to lighten a fraction, and a small rushing feeling rose within her. Had she finally gotten through to him? What had she said that helped him understand her side?

The corner of his lip lifted and he laughed, but there was no humor there. Sera’s short-lived hope crashed down within her, and she felt sick to her stomach. He turned back to the desk and grabbed a tablet, pushed the power button, and faced the screen to her.

“Oh sister.” Mikah’s voice seemed to fade as she stared at the radar map of the base and surrounding forest. There was a haze of red covering the northern edge. “The Nats are already coming to finish what they started.”

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About Apryl K.B. Lopez

Apryl K.B. Lopez wrote her first "book" when she was twelve years old. It was only twenty pages long, but it still swirls around her imagination waiting to be expanded upon and published for everyone else to enjoy. Until that time, she writes YA dystopian and dabbles in other fantasy/sci-fi genres.
Apryl received her B.A. in Creative Writing from the U of A and has written numerous personal interest articles for a variety of Southern Arizona magazines. She also has a background in SEO blog writing.
Apryl's debut novel, The Cavern, was a quarterfinalist in ScreenCraft's 2019 Cinematic Book Contest. She lives with her husband and two dopey demon dogs, named Squirrel and Chip, in Southern Arizona.

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