The Regular Irregular
Every parent dreads the day their children start asking them questions that they
don’t want to answer. I thought I had a few more years left in me before Chiron
became too curious about the world around him, but I was sadly mistaken. The
whole situation completely caught me off guard since we were taking our usual
Sunday walk through town, and none of the Runners should have been out. But one had returned just as my family was passing the Tunnel.
“Mommy, where did that man come from?”
That was his question, and it was innocent enough. My wife gave a soft smile before telling our son that the man came from above. She continued to walk as if her
answer would satisfy his curiosity and we could continue with our day. It looked as if
she was about to suggest we go into one of the stores up ahead when my son began to speak again.
“Daddy, what is above?”
I was stopped in my tracks, just as any parent would be. It’s not easy to tell your child that there is a whole world above us, filled with plants and animals that he will only
ever see in picture books. It’s difficult to explain that there are oceans and
mountains and all sorts of landscapes that he can only dream about exploring. And as challenging as that all is, nothing is as painful as telling a child that there are
people just like us who live in the world above, but we cannot join them in enjoying
everything that the surface has to offer.
The reason we are unable to live on the surface stems so far back in our planet’s
history that even my smart boy Chiron would be overwhelmed trying to understand
it. Even explaining the difference between us and the surface-dwellers is a challenge
to explain to a child, but that’s just because we really aren’t all that different.
Those who live above us are known as regulars, and they are exactly that: just
average human beings living average lives. Life below the surface is just as
average, but the people are a bit more complicated. Those of us condemned
to the underground are known as irregulars because of the various odd traits
we’ve developed. Traits that make us capable of things that regulars can
Aufteilen became a world where layers of soil divided its people only about a
century ago, but that’s not to say it wasn’t split before that. The regulars had
always shunned the irregulars, the first-generation having traits that just made
them seem like freaks. With each generation, the traits became more complex
and powerful, which made the regulars want to avoid the irregulars more. The
irregulars had eventually decided to live in isolation on a rather large island in
the hopes of building a community that could last for generations to come.
For some time, that dream was a reality. The irregulars lived their lives in peace,
being led by a man who lived for 121 years before passing. He was known as the
Elder and he was loved among the people. His leadership role was not one he forced
himself into or even one that he was elected into, but it was just a natural result of
his charisma. He was the first to volunteer anytime their community needed to
interact with the regulars, and he even became quite friendly with their leaders.
Things were good for the irregulars for a while. They had a beautiful, spacious
island to themselves, and they built their own lives with their own families. But the
surface of Aufteilen is not endless, and a baby boom left the regular population
feeling cramped. The Elder had spent years working with leaders to ensure the
protection of the irregular’s land, but high-profile regulars were putting pressure
on their government to take it back.
The leaders refused their rich and powerful citizens for quite some time before
the Elder passed away. But once he died, the leaders slowly forgot their reasons
for protecting the land that belonged to the irregulars. They eventually decided
that reclaiming the land was necessary for the regulars to survive, which led the
irregulars into a crisis.
The role of the Elder passed to his closest friend just as naturally as it originated.
Much like his predecessor, the new Elder desperately wanted to protect the land
that the irregulars built their lives on. He begged the leaders to remember their
promise to his predecessor, but it proved futile. He then offered to share the land,
believing the regulars would be grateful for their generosity. He was disappointed
to learn that the regulars feared his people and that they could never coexist
Some high-profile regulars became impatient and chose to get aggressive,
threatening to take the land by force. The irregulars knew that this would lead to
war, and the first Elder had warned them for years that if the two groups clashed,
it wouldn’t end without one of them being eliminated. The regulars greatly
outnumbered the irregulars, but they were not nearly as strong. Despite this, the
irregulars still did not want to see the outcome of such a battle.
Since the Elder had gained so much respect in his lifetime, his successor had no
problem convincing the irregulars that they would have to abandon their land to
preserve the peace. He pleaded with the regular leaders, asking for their help
building a society elsewhere so they could surrender the land without fear of
having nowhere else to go. The leaders accepted, and after nearly a month of
discussion, they decided that the irregulars would move underground.
It was an alternative to life on the surface that only the irregulars could choose.
Genetically speaking, the irregulars were evolving at an astronomical pace. Their
bodies were much more resilient and capable than the regulars, despite visibly
seeming the same. Some were opposed to the idea of moving underground, but
there was no better solution they could to that didn’t end in violence.
I couldn’t tell my son that the Aufteilen he knows is only a small, dark part
of the world. I couldn’t tell my son about all the things he wouldn’t get to
experience because of the fear and selfishness of the regulars. And I certainly
couldn’t tell my son not to believe we’ll be able to coexist with the people on the
surface in the future. For years, that is what my father taught me to believe. I still
wanted to give Chiron an honest answer, so I looked him straight
in the eyes as I spoke.
“I don’t know what’s above, but I hope one day we can experience it.”