Herb stared into his little fire. A part of his brain wished the crackling would drown out the sound of dripping water in the distance. But alas, it was there. It was always there. In the distance, echoing off the crumbling tiled walls of the old subway tunnel. He followed the thin grey smoke that rose from his small source of heat. It pooled along the curved ceiling, before snaking off into a vent not too far away. For the moment, the smell of burning wood helped conceal the smell of damp.
His attention returned to the fire as he reflected on his existence. His whole life he lived in this subterranean world. Hiding from the satellites, and in recent years, the over flights from that behemoth on the other side of the river. Never daring to venture out into the open, without the cover of darkness. That same cover hid his little wisp of smoke as it rose in the night air, allowing him a respite from the cold and damp. Survival depended on following simple rules, like those he followed when building his fire.
The vent his silent slither of smoke disappeared into was at least thirty meters from its heat source. This ensured that the smoke cooled before escaping into the world above. If it’s too hot, then it sets off infrared alarms. Earth First Expeditionary troops quickly followed those alarms. Luner’s as the locals called them, didn’t offer any warnings. Death was usually quick and merciless. Mother Earth and the Luner’s do not take prisoners.
Herb humphed, to himself as he reflected on the daytime prison that surrounded him. They are not rules passed down by some council, or chief. They were the rules one develops as you watch your fellow tunnel dwellers disappear, or see them murdered at the hands of Luner’s.
Herb looked up from the fire, and glanced around. He was alone in this section of the old subway tunnel. Only the sound of his little fire and the ever-present drip…drip…drip, echoed off the tiled walls. He peered into the darkness in both directions, listening carefully for any hint of other human beings. Most congregated at the population centers this time of night. Trading, visiting, and saying goodnight, hoping to face another bleak day of sunless existence.
Not Herb, he liked being alone. It afforded him a buffer zone. Both for his soul, and his existence. There was a time when he allowed himself to get close to others. However, they are all dead now. Disease, accidents, and the relentless pursuit of the High Priestess wiped them from his life. No one under this old city believed the High Priestesses claims that Mother will one day smite them all from her surface. Herb himself was twelfth generation Earth born since the Exodus, and he had every intention of living to be an old man.
“Maybe I will see Earth once again in the hands of the human race.” He muttered aloud.
Methodically he reached down to his side, grabbed a thin twig, and stuck one end in the fire. After a moment, he swung the burning tip over to an old hurricane lamp and carefully guided it under the lip of the globe. The wick caught easily and brightened his little section of tunnel. Herb puffed the flame off the tip of the twig and stuck it, still showing the glow of embers, into the damp soil.
With a groan, Herb rose to his fee, and stretched his back, relishing in the rapid succession of pops that ran up his spine. With a swiftness that defied his normal pace of movements, Herb kicked moist sand over the remnants of his fire. Extinguishing it as quickly as possible to avoid too much smoke. He watched the pile for several seconds after the last thin wisp of smoke escaped it to make sure it was out.