At 7:30 on Saturday morning, Dave and Karen joined the crowd, on the thickly packed elevator, which filled the entire block, on the west side of 7th Avenue, between West 57th and West 58th Streets, on Level 1378. They both wore their HS L-1378-55 jackets, along with full-length rugged slacks, and sturdy shoes.
They'd boarded a local elevator, which took them up two Levels. Here they headed over to 10th Avenue, where they boarded an express walkway and rode it downtown, to 39th Street. Then they headed over to 40th Street, where they boarded an express elevator. They rode it down, stopping at every 10th Level. When they reached Level 1300, they transferred to a Super Express Elevator, going down and stopping at every 100th Level.
The Super Express stopped to let the crowds on and off, at the Levels which contained major stores; at the Levels with museums and art galleries; entertainment Levels, containing legitimate theaters, along with theaters for opera and ballet; along with movie and TV studios. Crowds stepped on and off at Recreational Activity Levels, and Levels containing Stadiums where professional sports teams fought. The Elevator also stopped at Theme Park Levels, and major Financial and Business Levels.
Dave and Karen reached the last stop on Level 10, at 10th Avenue and 40th Street, around 8:30 AM. There was a cafeteria here, where they'd agreed to meet the others. Jimmy, Alyce, Larry and Sarah were not in the cafeteria. Dave and Karen waited for an hour, and the other four still hadn't shown up.
Karen reached in her handbag, took out her multi-tasker, and switched on her cellphone. She dialed Alyce's number.
Alyce's voice yawned. "Oh I'm sorry Karen. But I've just got so many things to do today; so does Sarah. She and I agreed to go shopping, and Jimmy and Larry are gonna be tagging along."
"Shopping?" Karen said, "You mean you'd rather go shopping, than be the very first people to ever...."
"To ever what? All you've told us about this big secret of yours, is that it's the most important thing that's happened in the last 1,322 years, but you haven't said what it is."
"I'm sorry Alyce but..."
"Listen. If it's that important, it can wait, can't it?"
Alyce hung up. Karen growled in frustration.
"Dave." She asked, "Do you want to wait?"
"We can't wait." He told her, "Next weekend there's a game that I might not survive. Today might be the only chance we'll ever have."
Then they got up, left the cafeteria, headed one block south to 39th street, and then west along 39th street, until they came to the dead end, where a line of fire exit doors stood shut.
Dave said, "So here it is Karen. If the fire stairs continue going down from here, we might have a chance to reach the outside. If they stop here, so be it; but we'll have the rest of the day to go back up to one of those theme parks, if you'd like; or shopping."
Karen spoke emphatically "No shopping today! No theme parks either!"
Dave put his hands on the push bar of a fire door. He pushed it open. Then He and Karen stepped onto a dimly lit landing, in a dark gray stairwell, with flights of steps going up and also going down, into dimly lit grayness.
"Now it starts." Dave said, "I have no idea what we'll be getting into after this. We might be getting ourselves killed."
She said, "And we could be doing that, while spending a day in any theme park. At least where we're headed, they won't be charging admission."
"Okay then." Dave shrugged, "Here we go."
The two of them descended the first flight of steps. They came to the first landing, turned left, and descended another flight; then another flight and another flight.
As they continued their descent, Dave and Karen came to one landing, where they found themselves engulfed by an overpowering stench, coming through that level's fire door.
Karen said, "What the hell is that?"
Dave said, "I think it the human waste treatment plant. That's where we all end up eventually."
Karen made a retching noise.
He asked, "Are you sure you want to go on?"
Karen was trembling. "What do you think, I'm a wussy Dave? Are we gonna be stopped by a bad smell?" She laughed. "Besides, if we get lucky we'll be killed, so we won't have to come back through this."
The two high school students continued their descent.
They finally reached the bottom landing. The sign displayed on the inside of the fire door said "LEVEL 1". They pushed their way out, into a much darker place than the fire stairs. There was no sound, except the echo of their footsteps.
They'd both brought their handheld multi-taskers. They turned on the flashlight feature, and waved the powerful beams around. All they saw were cinderblock walls, on the north and south sides of a long abandoned street. The circle of light from Dave's tasker framed an ancient sign that said,
The two of them then went in the sign's direction.
Their footsteps had echoed for more than a half hour, as they made their way through the long abandoned tunnel, with the lights from their taskers, illuminating the dark brown pavement ahead of them, and the yellowed tiles along the sides. Inside the chilly tunnel the lights also illuminated their steaming breaths.
About 15 minutes earlier, their lights had illuminated a painted sign on the tiles to their left, saying:
"<===NEW YORK NEW JERSEY===>"
They continued on toward New Jersey.
"Were completely alone Dave." Karen's voice trembled. "For the first time in my life, I'm in a place where there's nobody around. I don't know if I can handle this. It's so dark and scary and lonely." Her voice became panicky. "I just want to get out of here!"
"It's okay. I'm here."
"But if you get killed, I'll have to come back through here alone! I don't know if I can stand it!"
"It's okay Karen. I think we're coming to the exit."
The tile wall ahead of them had begun turning to the left, and continued turning to the left, and turning to the left.
Then their flashlight circles came to the end of the roadway, and shown against a flat, monstrously high wall of cinderblocks, blocking the entire exit.
"No!" Karen whimpered with a shaky voice. "No! I don't want to go back through all of this tunnel, and the stench! Dave. Kill me now. Please!"
Dave's flashlight circle framed the lower left corner of the wall, where a pair of overlapping metal doors stood shut. A sign above the door contained the word "AIRLOCK".
"That might not be necessary." He said, "We might have a reason for us to stay alive."
The two of them hurried over to the pair of doors. Two square pads were set in the door frame on the right side. The top pad was green. On it was the word "OPEN". The pad below it was red; it displayed the word "SHUT". Dave touched the green pad.
The doors slid open sideways to the right, and a bright fluorescent light came through the opening doorway, illuminating the tunnel behind them; revealing several skeletons, dressed in men's and women's garments.
Karen said, "Just bones? How is it possible? All of their meat's been collected, but they're still in their clothes, and their bones haven't been pulled apart?"
"Their meat wasn't collected." Dave said, "Nobody knew they were here, so nobody came to collect their bodies. Nobody ate their meat. Their flesh just rotted away."
"Oh!" Karen shuddered. "That's horrible!"
The she said, "That's what's gonna happen to us! They opened the airlock, and were killed by the polluted air! I know what I saw, but everything that's alive out there, has probably adapted to the conditions, but the air would still kill us, and we'll be just like them."
"No we won't." Dave said. "This airlock's no longer airtight."
He stepped into the airlock. Karen stepped into the chamber beside him. He waved his hand along the double doors' edges.
"There's a draft," he said, "coming through from the outside, and it's warm. If the air outside was still polluted, we'd both be dead by now."
He stepped over to the right side of the outer doors, and touched the green control pad.
Karen shouted, "No Dave!"
The doors slid open from left to right, filling the chamber with a glaring white light, dazzling their eyes for a moment. Their nostrils were filled with the aroma of warm soil, and the air around their bodies was comfortably warm.
After a few moments their eyes adjusted to the daylight. They were looking out at a grove of tall trees with thick dark trunks, under a glowing blue sky. The warm air was filled with the chirping of birds, and a soft hissing breeze that blew through the thick, leafy green branches above them.
"It's alive." Dave said, "The world outside the City Building is alive."
They stepped out of the airlock, putting their feet onto solid earth, and deeply inhaling the warm fresh air.
High on a hill above and behind them, they heard the sound of dogs barking.
Dave said, "Carnivorous beasts. They might be 'man-eaters'."
He reached down and picked up a stone, a little larger than his hand.
He said, "I want to make sure we don't get locked out."
He went back to the airlock, and put the stone up against the open door, placing it atop the groove, through which the doors slid back and forth.
Then a loud beeping sound began. He and Karen looked back inside the airlock. A bright red sign was flashing on and off, above the green and red pads, announcing,
"ENVIRONMENTAL PROTOCOL U HAS BEEN VIOLATED!
ENVIRONMENTAL SANCTION U IS NOW ACTIVATED!"
Karen asked, "What's an 'Environmental Sanction'?"
"I'm not sure. I think that means we're supposed to be polluted to death. Like those skeletons back inside."
Karen laughed, "Then the Sanction has ceased to function. That means that you and I can continue to function."
Now they stepped away from the beeping airlock, and entered the grove of trees, which were growing in the ancient Toll Plaza. The trees blocked off their views in all directions. Through the trees to their left, they saw a crumbling wall of orange bricks. Far to the right, was another crumbling, orange brick wall. Through the trees ahead of them, they saw the ruins of a small structure. They made their way through the underbrush to the ruins.
They came to the remains of the line of tollbooths. Their windows were gone, and the metal signs posts were thick with rust and what few signs remained were washed blank, by 13 centuries of weathering.
"Weather." Karen said, "We may be the very first people, to actually be 'out in the weather', since our ancestors were sealed inside."
They again heard the dogs barking far in the distance.
Dave picked up a fallen tree branch, about the length of his arm.
He said, "We may be the first people out here, but we're not the only living creatures who eat meat."
Karen also picked up a fallen branch, to use as a club. She went on ahead of Dave, through the grove of trees, and came to the edge of the grove. She saw the remains of the roadway, rising in a broad, overgrown ramp ahead of her. She stepped out from under the trees, and felt the warmth of the sun upon her body.
Karen looked to her left, and then she screamed.
In front of her, a massive, shimmering wall rose, almost to the center of the sky. It stretched to her right for miles, where it ended abruptly in a sharp, vertical line. The wall stretched even further to her left, where a hill blocked her view of its lower levels. The wall shimmered in the sunlight, and hissing sounds came from all along its side.
Dave came running up beside Karen, with his club raised. He halted, and was also stunned by the sight.
Karen caught her breath. Then she said, "It's horrible!"
"It's the City of Manhattan Building." Dave told her, "It's home."
Karen was again trembling. "I can't stand to look at it.
"Do you want to go back inside?"
"No." Her voice shook again. "I said I'm not a wussy."
"The way you screamed, I thought you were being attacked by one of those man eaters."
They continued on their way, climbing the ramp under the hot sun. They both removed their jackets. Dave wore a long sleeved light blue shirt, and blue jeans. Karen also wore jeans, along with a yellow blouse. They both had sturdy shoes on their feet.
"Don't look directly at the sun." Dave warned her. "I've read that it could permanently blind you."
The ramp turned left, and the roadway continued to rise in an elongated spiral, between two waist high walls. Karen and Dave made the turn, and they saw a broad river flowing between them and the City Building. There were overgrown ruins along the near shoreline.
Facing in the opposite direction, above the opposite side of the grove of trees in the toll plaza, was a hill on which many crumbling ruins stood.
All around them, flocks of birds were in flight, and insects buzzed.
Dave and Karen continued on, with the toll plaza below them to their left. The City Building wall rose high above them, reaching into the clouds, beyond a green hill to their right.
As they made their way through the waist high shrubbery, Karen halted. She moved a few steps to her left and halted again.
"Hold it Dave." She said, "We're not the first people to come out here."
He came over to her. Karen's feet stood beside the grinning skull of a human skeleton sprawled forward on the ground, with its arms spread wide, and plants growing between its ribs. There was also the shaft of an arrow sticking out through its back ribs, just to the left of the spine, at heart level.
She said, "This one's meat rotted away too."
"But whoever this was," Dave said, "wasn't polluted to death."
"Yeah. Some cowardly wussy shot whoever he or she was, in the back."
He reached down and yanked the arrow out.
"This shaft isn't made of plastic." He said, "I think it's wood. It's the same substance that all the hard parts of these plants are made of."
She said, "There's writing on the shaft."
He wiped some dirt off the arrow and read, "'Kaczynski Brigade'? That sounds familiar."
"Of course it does." She told him, "The arrow came from Kasin's Key's to Paradise, the weapons supplier on Level 500. That's where the Combat Team gets all its weapons from."
"No." He told her, "This name's spelled different."
"Well however you spell it, he or she was killed a very long time ago, so whoever killed him or her, went back inside back then."
They continued on their way, up the rising roadway, until it leveled off, hundreds of feet above the grove of trees in the toll plaza, and again turned left. Here the overgrown roadway headed west.
Dave and Karen went to their right, and sat on the waist high barrier, facing south.
He reached in his jacket pocket, took out his multi-tasker, and switched on its phone function.
Karen asked, "Can you make a call from outside the City Building?"
"I'm not sure, but people do call each other from different City Buildings."
He tapped out a number and said, "I'm calling Louise."
"We have to let people know about this; and who else should we tell first?"
He put the tasker-phone to his ear and listened.
He told Karen, "Her phone's off. I've got to make a recording."
Then he spoke into the tasker-phone. "Hi Louise. This is Dave. I'm calling you from outside the City Building. I'm with Karen Bennet, and we're in the land she saw, through that broken window. This is an overgrown, abandoned wilderness. Karen and I are the only people out here--that I know of. There might be a few other people in scattered places, but Karen and I are the only one's I'm sure about."
Karen said, "Can I talk?"
Dave handed her the phone.
She said, "Hi Louise. This is Karen. Let's forget about the fight. This is much more important.
"For the first time in my life, I'm in a place where there aren't crowds of people. We can see for miles from where we are, and we don't see a single human being. All we've seen are ruins, and they all look uninhabitable. We also see the outside of the City of Manhattan Building, and it's monstrous.
"There are flocks of birds flying all around us; and there are some creatures in the distance. We hear them roaring and growling. Dave thinks they might be man-eaters, but they haven't come near us yet."
Now Dave reached for the phone, and Karen handed it back to him.
"Louise." He said, "There's something I'd like you to look up. When we came through the airlock, it set off an alarm. There was a flashing sign that said we had violated something called 'Environmental Protocol U', and that some kind of 'Environmental Sanction' had been activated. Could you..."
Dave hesitated. Karen stood up, facing to the right.
Now Dave said, "I'll have to call back Louise. Some people are approaching. Armed."