The Story of the Whos as of 3 31 15.pdf
Peter's friend Thale, a senior member who had taken Peter under his wing since he'd joined, had
jokingly said that they had all been exposed to too much radiation. Peter had seriously considered this,
until he realized that there was no way this could be true; the trees had surely been grown before
radiation had been invented – no, probably before his people had even existed.
His eighteenth birthday had been just a few months ago, the threshold of being allowed to
actually leave the valley, not just help analyze artifacts the others brought back. His first “real” mission
had been a few days later; his own personal victory over the wall that had confined him to live the first
seventeen years of his life in an equal number of square kilometers. He had only seen it up close once,
on a class trip. He had gotten nearly close enough to touch it, until he'd been stopped.
“The fence is electrified,” his teacher had told him grimly, “One touch and we'll be prying you
off so we can bury what's left.”
That teacher had been fired a few days later for what he said; it had frightened the students, and
apparently it was supposed to be a secret. But his lesson stuck in Peter's mind. There was no way in to
the valley from the outside; that was good, it kept out the terrible creatures said to live outside. But this
wall also prevented anyone from leaving. What kind of wall, Peter had wondered, was meant not only to
protect, but also to confine? Prisons were unknown in the valley; rehabilitation or execution were the
only punishments. Crime was rare, and thus much more terrible when it did happen.
“Peter!” a sharp voice interrupted his thoughts. It was deadened by the wind, but Peter could still
hear the edge it carried. He took his time turning to look; he already knew who it was. Galwin was a
large, loud member of the Expeditionary Battalion who irritated anyone he didn't find “worthy” of his
acceptance. Peter knew the type well; they were best ignored when possible.
“If you want to daydream, that's fine, but do it somewhere else.”
Peter did not answer, just turned back, looking out as the tree trunks rushed by.
“Not dreaming about Emily, are you?” Galwin continued with a grin, his voice faint as most of it
was torn away by the wind.
Just ignore him, Peter told himself. Galwin was easily the most obnoxious living being in the
world. Except perhaps for mosquitoes. Most likely the giant ones he'd been told lived beyond the wall,
only kept out by the invisible laser fence above the city. Peter grinned as he imagined Galwin as a
mosquito fleeing a flyswatter, before realizing what a stupid image that was.
Perhaps what irritated him most was that Galwin treated the Expeditionary Battalion like a joke
when it was not. Peter knew Galwin thought he was an idiot for taking it seriously, as did many others.
But while it wasn't really a battalion, it did explore. It went beyond the Wall. Why didn't they understand
how important that was?
The ship lurched downward suddenly, interrupting Peter's thoughts once again. It was aimed
directly at a small grouping of rocks near the top of the hill. In all, the descent took barely ten seconds,
then the rocks were suddenly real, rather than simply a diorama viewed from the sky.
Peter covered his ears as two reverse thrust engines, to slow and steer the craft, fired up, slowing
the ship as it coasted over the apex of the hill. They wailed as they rent the air, and Peter's knees nearly
buckled under the deceleration. The ship lurched forward slightly, before settling on the ground, held up
by a series of meter-long metal poles, like insect legs. Peter looked down, which wasn't very far
anymore, at the rocky surface. A few clusters of scraggly trees grew here and there, but they were bare
and dead. A few small pines sprouted in a circle at the top of the hill, dwarfed by their titanic cousins in
the distant background.
“Odd pattern,” Peter said to himself curiously. Trees didn't normally grow in such perfect circles.
The fading echoes of the engines left behind an eerie silence interrupted by the occasional twitter
of a bird. The mouth of the cave looked arranged: two huge parallelogram-shaped rocks forming an
upside-down V. Beyond that, sheer blackness.