Humanity Has Moved On
Okay, so...Home. Like I said before, I've kinda been talking about it like you already know what I'm talking about, when that's basically impossible. So now I'm going to take this opportunity (because it started raining pretty hard outside right as I was about to get breakfast going on the fire, so no driving for me today!) to tell you about Home to the best of my ability! Well, at least the stuff an outsider like you might find interesting--I know that I, personally, was tickled to discover that the Mammoth Cave system is even larger, like orders of magnitude larger, than the completed bunker that we refer to as Home, but that's not really all that important if we all fit comfortably and living space isn't a huge concern. "We totally could've gone further in!" doesn't seem like such an important thing to fixate on...but here I am. Fixating on it. My point still stands! I'm going to try and only cover the important stuff!
So most of you out there should already be aware that the war that brought about the Fall occurred--or at least, ended in its disastrous fashion--on August 8th, 2043. Now that I think about it, the war must have been going on and going fierce for a few years, because I've heard from the Elders that many bunkers like Home were being constructed around the world starting around 2038 or so, and that a few eccentrics and powerful people had built their own bunkers years and even decades before that.
As for why the war began at all, I don't know if anyone alive can remember the real single, concrete reason. The story the Elders tell us is that the country of China had attempted to wrest control of the country of South Africa, but South Africa refused to be colonized like they had been in the long-distant past. Back then, China had been seizing control of just about every nation on the continent of Africa, and it was inevitable that they'd meet resistance with one of its two most powerful nations--South Africa and Egypt. They chose South Africa, and apparently chose poorly, as the United States and a conglomeration of nations called the European Union had formed an alliance with South Africa in case of just such an event. It seems the world at large had been building tensions towards China and its allies (namely Russia, Turkey, Poland, and the former North Korean military that had been ousted from the Korean Peninsula in 2029), and this attempt at seizing South Africa was the straw that broke everyone's backs. Many were calling this conflict World War III, which I suppose would be fairly apt given that it involved many countries around the world, but I don't know. World Wars I and II were largely centered around European nations, so it feels strange to call this last war a continuation of that naming scheme when many of its major players were Asian countries. Well, I'm not going to call it World War III, but I can't exactly stop others from doing so. We'll see what pans out in the future. But anyway, war was beginning, it looked like it was gonna go nuclear, and so bunkers were being built.
Home began construction in the spring of 2039 inside of the massive Mammoth Cave National Park, and it was originally called the "Kentucky State Fortified Civilian Shelter," made with the intent of allowing the average person to have a place to retreat to if the war turned nasty. Which, obviously, it did. Over the following years, during its construction, the Shelter was stocked and supplied with...I don't remember the exact figures, but a LOT of non-perishable foods and part of its finished construction included important self-sustaining facilities like a water treatment center, solar lights for indoor agriculture (which ended up not lasting very long, before the Mushroom Samba came to the rescue and turned that whole chamber into a mushroom farming facility), deradiation facilities (a must in a radioactive environment), and even a top-of-the-line laboratory for cultivating cellular meat from any animals the Expedition Team provided and were promptly deradiated. "How in the world does deradiation work," you might ask? Don't ask me--I tried reading up on it and I couldn't understand it at all. Something about increasing the rate of radiation in a vacuum using a miniature particle accelerator by quantum...infraction...something something. Look. If you see Katya Sidorov out in the world someday, ask her instead. She would probably know. Because of course she would. Also, while you've got her ear, ask her what it's like to be so superior to us mortal humans. No, I'm not still bitter about the survivalist cooking competition. That's ridiculous. You're ridiculous.
I had mentioned the miners, tunnelers, and Tunnel-Watchers earlier, so I guess I should elaborate on them, as well. Home is largely self-sufficient, but the builders knew that there were some local resources that we'd have to resupply with as the years went on, which is why our bunker was equipped with Expedition tech and Tunneling tech in the first place. I've already said enough about the Expedition Team already, so you've probably got a good idea of what their job is and how they helped us out, but I didn't say much about the Tunnel Team. Many of our operations, especially in the Science Team's purview, rely on rare-earth materials that can be excavated from the mineral-rich rock of the original cave structure. So, there exist many access doors that lead out into the original cave for our dig teams to go harvesting. I've never worked out there, so I've only seen the actual cave interior a few times, though I can be pretty damn skippy that the rough-hewn hollows and blast zones weren't there before we came along. We also have a cave-access shaft for all the waste-water from our plumbing system that gets dumped into a positively enormous pit. It feels bad that we're polluting the lower levels of the cave with our..."leavings," let's call them, but hey man, the Fall didn't exactly give us a lot of choice in where we pop our squats. I'm sure something down there appreciates all the free moisture and minerals, at least.
As far as residential housing goes, Home has many, many resident halls branching off of the main pathway. Have you ever seen one of those Chinese-style dragons in a piece of artwork? Well, imagine one of those with its neck craning upwards (for the entrance/exit, of course), and then our Home's main avenue serves as its body twisting and snaking along. Now imagine that this Chinese dragon has about 90 legs instead of just 4, sticking out at every angle possible. Roughly 70 of those legs would be our residential halls, 4 are smaller tunnels for activity chambers that don't require so much space, and 16 belong to the various facilities I've mentioned earlier, like the labs and the water treatment plant. But back to the resident halls, each hall has anywhere between 4 and 16 residences that can each support a family of just about any size. From what I've read about homes that were commonplace before the Fall, the residences are actually quite similar in that each member of the family will generally have their own bedrooms and each residence has 2 bathrooms, but I suppose the largest differences are that the foyer, kitchen, dining room, and family room areas from past houses are all just one large chamber, and that your home is attached to a hallway rather than being a stand-alone building.
So, keeping that many-legged dragon pictured in your mind, now imagine that it has many great lumps along its body, kinda like it swallowed about two dozen giant eggs, though some of those eggs are long and the one nearest to its head is triangular for some reason. These larger, taller areas are almost all places dedicated to community-based activities, and each are separated by decently spacious hallways that can be anywhere from 50 feet long to damn near 1,000 feet long.
The aforementioned triangular chamber is the Commons, a sort of common room where much of the population likes to hang out--exchanging stories, talking about and unwinding after their day, greeting the Expedition Team as they return home, performing music and singing...all kinds of things. No matter the hour, there are guaranteed to be at least 30 people milling about the common room. I often found myself there, too, just to find a place to read without the din of the classroom distracting me.
The next major hub is the mess hall, where those who don't want to eat at home can enjoy a meal prepared by the kitchen staff, and I'll tell you what, those folks serve up much better food than the Chem Team provided us emissaries for our journeys. Yeah, I know there's a stark difference between prepared food and non-perishable rations, but it's still true! This place was chosen to be the community kitchen area because it was the nearest large chamber to the major centers for residents of all ages that also happened to have an adjoining tunnel for food storage and preparation. Very convenient location!
After the mess hall and its hallway (the shortest hallway in Home, the 50-footer I mentioned earlier), there's the Education Center, with the classroom on one side and the library on the other side. It's one of the few chambers, aside from the Commons and our residences, where carpeting and softening walls are present, to try to reduce echo and noise pollution from ringing all around. It works...somewhat. Often it's still too noisy for me, but the library is often almost as busy as the Commons, so I guess it's not loud enough to bother most. The library half is also another place lucky enough to have an adjoining tunnel, which is where upwards of 377,000 books of all genres and purposes are stored. So, uhhh...remember a few chapters ago how I said I'd read nearly everything in there except for "War & Peace"? I was exaggerating, okay? I just don't like romance novels very much, and it almost feels like half the books in there are romance novels, and I wasn't about to give them the time of day. Point being, most people were never going to run out of material to read, and the library (and Commons) were great places to do so.
The classroom area is, of course, where children from 5 to 18 go to learn about stuff. For everyone, the schedule runs Monday to Friday, from 8 AM to 4 PM. The whole education system might be a little complicated for the purposes of this visitors' guide to Home, but I'll give you an example of how it breaks down: There are 5 different age groups that "go to school" together--the groups are ages 5 to 7, 8 to 10, 11 to 13, 14 to 16, and 17 to 18--and they do everything together at around the same level. To give you the simplest example schedule, the 5-7 year olds would be in the classroom from 8 AM to 10 AM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and 2 PM to 4 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They'd be in the library from 10 AM to 12 PM on Monday Wednesday Friday, and from 1 PM to 2 PM on Tuesday Thursday. The 5-7 age group gets their lunch at the simplest time (12 PM to 1 PM), and the remaining 4-hour block consists of physical activity education and exercise and play in the fitness hall. And then the other age groups are all sorta mish-mashed into the other locations to accommodate the wee little kids. It all just kinda devolves into chaos the older you get, but by the time you reach the 17-18 age bracket, things suddenly become very simple once again, because you spend most of your education time learning how to do 3 different trades in preparation for choosing a job.
Once you've reached 17 (or 14, if you're an unfeeling, all-knowing machine like Katya), you're given a form on which you write your 3 preferred job paths and you're asked to write a paragraph as to why. Or, as of late, you can take this form orally, since as I've said, not many kids opt to learn how to read or write these days. Well, mostly write. You naturally pick up on reading, so even though most kids don't officially learn reading, they pick it up over the years anyway. For my three trades, I went hard into the Education department: Instructor, Curriculum Planner, and Education Examiner. I was also tempted to add a 4th section and write in "Research and Development" for the Science Team, but I was told 3 was the limit. Sad times. You fill out this form multiple times throughout both years, as you then spend your education time serving as an intern for the jobs you've chosen. It turns out I was a little too impatient with children to be a good Instructor, and I was also too lenient to be an Examiner, but I was showing promise as a Curriculum Planner! I had all sorts of lessons that I wanted our kids to learn that weren't covered by the basic curriculum...but then, y'know, the outside world became safe(r) to traverse. Another exciting career opportunity reared its head, and wouldn't you know it, I was inclined to take it.
Apparently, at maximum capacity, the Kentucky State Fortified Civilian Shelter could hold up to 450,000 residents, but for whatever reason, our initial population was only something like 14,000 people. Now, I mentioned much earlier that our current population was something like 2,550, and that should tell you right away that the first few years of Home life were rough. Especially if I also told you our last generation created a huge boom in our population. So it turns out that our living situation isn't natural, I guess? Most of the deaths occurred in the very first year after the Fall. The Elders say that it took nearly 6 years for the first couples to finally be in the spirit of survival enough for Home to bear witness to the first child born in its walls. Our population was down to 673 individuals at that time. Things were bleak, as they would be when the world comes to an end like it did, but we've recovered.
As population, resources, and morale improved, we began to ask ourselves a pretty important question: If the Shelter could've held 450,000 people, why did we shut our doors at only, like, 3% capacity? Had locals found safety in another bunker--perhaps the Fort Knox bunker that I'll be heading to if this damn rain calms down tomorrow!--or had they simply been...left to their fate? What did the Expedition Team see outside our door when they left Home for the first time? I remember hearing that no one was allowed near the main entrance during their departures in the early days. Did they have to dispose of hundreds, or maybe thousands of dead bodies on our doorstep? Did we have to seal ourselves up in a big hurry and without time to wait for civilians? None of the Elders remember anywhere in Kentucky being one of the main bombing locations, so why? I suppose anyone who knows why would have been among the first to throw themselves into the drainage pit back in those grim early days. What would I have done, if I were living back in those uncertain, horrific days...?
That's just depressing to think about. You know something much less depressing? That first child born in the confines of Home? That was my father. Yup. I am Taren Morris, son of Zachary Morris, age 44, the first child to be born in our Home. When he was a young man, he became attached to and married to a girl who had one-upped him in his studies despite being 3 years younger--my mother, Maria Morris (or, back then, Maria Cameron), age 41. They like to remind me that Katya is 3 years younger than me and has repeatedly one-upped me in my studies, but I like to think that my mother is a warm, loving human being and not a cold, omnicidal robot. I'm telling you, keep your eye on that girl.
Dad works as a Tunnel-Watcher, which you'd think would mean that I'd have free roam of the place with no restrictions, but the opposite was, in fact, true: Dad was especially opposed to me being out-of-bounds. I mean, this didn't bother me much, as I was content to spend my free time in the Commons reading books, anyway, but still, the option of being a delinquent would've been nice to have. Mom, on the other hand, works for the Science Team as part of the Research and Development division. Which was part of the reason why I wanted to slide that department into my 4th career choice, since I've learned a lot about how research is done in a scientific context thanks to her, and I was fairly interested in pursuing that path myself. Not gonna lie, they both seemed a little sad that I decided to be an emissary rather than becoming a researcher or working in education. That's probably natural, though, since everything about the outside world is largely an unknown now that 50 years have gone by.
Oh yeah, I mentioned Home's blue overhead lights in the very first part. I should've clarified that the overhead lights are only blue in the residential halls (and in the Commons during nighttime hours), probably to instill a sense of calming peace and relaxation. At least, that's what they make me feel. Most other facilities operate under white overhead lights, and the fitness hall has a special yellow overhead light system that's supposed to mimic the light of the sun (the Commons also has this same yellow light during daytime hours). As far as sunlight goes, the real thing's a little bit brighter, I gotta say. This part isn't really important, I just didn't want you to imagine that we all lived in a murky blue environment every hour of every day.
And so, that's all I can think of at the moment. I'm sure I could've explained more about the labs and the treatment centers and the infirmary (which I've neglected to mention up until now--it falls under the purview of the Science Team), but I've never spent a lot of time in those places, so I don't have much to tell. The rain's still coming down pretty heavily, so that means going exploring today is a bit of a bust. Hopefully it clears up tomorrow so I can go investigate the possible Fort Knox shelter or, if that's a bust as well, see if Louisville's got a shelter I can find. Until then, that's where I leave you. Let's hope there are some survivors for me to meet tomorrow!