lying in his bed at night, Lux listened to the sound he had heard all his life – the deep, intermittent rumbling, far off in the distance. as a child, he did not think much of the sound – it was second nature to him, and most of the time he didn’t even notice it. but as he got older, he started questioning the sound – what was it? his friends, his family, never had noticed the sound – eventually, he decided it was a problem with his own ears. the doctor agreed with him – although, Lux could have sworn he saw a peculiar look of understanding in the doctor’s eyes that day, many years ago. but as he fell asleep between the walls of the cave he called home, he was always grateful for the sound, for it always helped him to drift away into the darkness.
he has grown up in this cave, it is all he has ever known. it is a huge cave; thousands of families live here, all descendants of the families Oriens or Occasus. the Oriens mine the materials; the Occasus refine those materials into usable goods. disputes arise here and there, but for the majority, everyone gets along. there are only a few rules here: do not hurt anybody; do not get near the fires, for they are easily extinguished but wearisome to reignite; and do not talk to
the deceivers, for their lies poison the mind, and if subjugated to for more than a brief moment, one would go into a catatonic nightmare state, a personal hell, for which death is a better option. for this reason, these evil demons are shunned, and without question they are to be instantly attacked and killed by anyone, by any means available, if they break their code of silence. it is said that the deceivers – men who wear black eye paint and masks over their faces – are only able to speak to you if you speak to them first. they are ugly, dangerous men who must be avoided at all costs.
swinging away with his pickaxe the next day, the lunch whistle blows. Lux runs out of the section of tunnel he’s assigned to that day, looking forward to his favorite time of day – mealtime – and hoping, as he always did, that they would be lucky enough to receive a bit of the special meal today. his father Orbis, his mother, brother, sister – the Oriens Orbis – sit beside him at the table which spans as far as the eye can see, running down the center of the huge cave, dividing it by family into two halves. all the other inhabitants of the cave are also in attendance; mealtime is the highlight of the day for most of the others as well. as the elder Oriens rises to say the prayer, everyone joins hands and shuts their eyes. the elder Oriens and the elder Occasus take turns praying for the good fortune of the families at every meal.
but as the elder is finishing up the blessing, a fly lands on Lux’s nose, and instinctively, he opens his eyes. out of the corner of his eye Lux notices someone walking away from the table. at first, he notices because this is not a fellow citizen – this is a deceiver, wearing a dark, hooded cloak, a black mask over its nose and mouth. but then, Lux notices something particularly odd about this person’s figure and air: this is not a man! though she wears a hood and a mask, there can be no doubt about it; in a glimmer of fire light, he sees in her eyes a beauty only found in a woman. when the prayer ends, Lux quickly excuses himself from the table, indicating that he does not feel well and trying to conceal his astonishment. out of curiosity and fascination, he wanders towards the woman as she turns a corner and slithers away. he knows that he cannot talk to this woman, but she has caught his eye. there are times in a man’s life when he must go against everything he knows to be right, and for Lux, this is one.
he trails the woman into the darkness, making sure not to be seen, by her or by anyone else. at the edge of the cave, there is a fire. the woman walks towards the fire; Lux becomes nervous. he knows that no one is to be in proximity of the fire, but this woman seems not to care of any such rule. as she nears the fire, she stops, looking back to make sure nobody is watching. Lux ducks behind the corner for a second, and then peeks out again, just in time to see the woman walk around the fire – into the corner – and disappear. dumbfounded, Lux approaches the fire. when he reaches it, he notices something he had never noticed before – a hole in the floor of the cave – the fire, its sole guardian and protector, betraying one of its duties to nature, its duty to illuminate that which otherwise cannot be seen. after imitating the woman with a quick look back, Lux jumps past the fire and into the hole, throwing caution to the wind. and like a leaf in the wind, he has no control over his next destination, falling down a stone chasm and into the darkness.
Lux awakens outside on his back, gasping in a huge breath of the exotic, oxygen-rich air, his head pounding with pain – putting his hand to his temple, he feels a bloody gash. “The fall must have knocked me unconscious”, he realizes. he tries to open his eyes, but the light is blinding, and his eyes have grown accustomed to decades of the dim fire light. but this… this is no fire. he sits, patiently but bewildered, in a patch of sand below the wall of the cave, surrounded by a field of oats. the minutes seem like hours as he rests there, listening to the cyclical, rumbling sound – louder now, more real. slowly, slowly, he is able to open his eyes. as he starts to focus on his surroundings, he notices a pair of objects coming towards him, animate lifeforms which he has never seen before. the animals, alien creatures to a caveman, frighten Lux more than he has ever been – he runs, in no particular direction except away, his eyes fixed behind him – hoping the creatures, now trotting along behind him, aren’t looking for an easy dinner.
running up the face of a mound of sand, he stumbles and falls. as he tries to scramble to his feet, face full of sand, he hears a voice: “Do not be afraid.” he looks up to see the girl he had followed standing at the top of the hill. “They won’t hurt you. They’re only dogs; they’re my friends. I’m Zandra”, she says. though she speaks comforting words, they only serve to scare him more, as she is a deceiver.
“Shut your mouth!” he screams as he instinctively lunges towards her, intent on doing whatever must be done to silence her poisonous words at once. but predicting his advance, she grabs a dagger from her waistband, holding it to his chest, forcing him to stop in his tracks. “Wait”, she instructs him. “Think about what you’re doing. Take a deep breath and think.” with no other option, Lux stands still, carefully considering his options and the situation. after a few moments, he backs down.
“You… you spoke to me. They said you couldn’t speak to us unless we spoke to you first. How?”, he sputters. “Yes, we were always able to speak to you”, she explains. “But if they saw us talk to you, they’d kill us. You know that.” a million thoughts run through his mind at once.
continuing her elucidation with an understanding empathy, she explains to him. “The food they give you is not good for you. It is deprived of nutrients; it is made to keep both your body and mind under their command. Out here is the good food. It is harder to find, of course, but it is much, much better than the meals you are fed in that cave. Every so often, when we have more than we can eat, we bring some in for you – the ‘special meal’, as you call it. We’ve been trying to give you all a taste of truth, to give you a hunger for reality, hoping that the more open-minded among you would come to enlightenment; anything to break this spell they keep you under. It’s why I was in the cave today.”
“We?” Lux asks. “Yes”, she answers, “there are many of us. My friends took some of our food to the people in the other caves…”
“There are other caves?” he interjects. “Many, many of them”, she replies. “There is a whole world out here that you’ve never been told of. There are hundreds of other civilizations that we know of, and probably thousands more beyond that – all enslaved, as you have been, as I once was.”
“You still haven’t told me ‘who’. Who is ‘they’?” he asks again.
Not sure how to answer, she does her best. “Well… the elders, in a sense. But they too are controlled. You see, there are bad people out here – they call themselves ‘The Summus’ – much less of them, but they are clever, powerful, and have more riches than you or I can even dream of. They use these assets to manipulate people like the elders into doing what they want, promising them great wealth and a luxurious lifestyle if they agree to comply – and great harm to themselves and their family if they do not. THEY are the true ‘Deceivers’. Didn’t you ever find it odd that you’ve never seen the elder Oriens or the elder Occasus until they came to those positions? Or, like the others in that cave, did you never even think twice? They are outsiders, but your people are so repressed, they don’t even notice, or care. While you slave away in there, The Summus out here reap the benefits of your labor, half of everything your people produce. Didn’t you wonder where it all went?”
disregarding her question, he continues his inquisition. “Why the painted eyelids? Why the mask? If what you say is true, why maintain this dark image of yourself and your people on the outside?”
“We don’t do it on purpose”, she replies. “It’s not what it seems. The masks feed us oxygen. From birth, your body has been able to function with low amounts of it, but once you’ve lived out here for a few days, your lungs expand and if you go back into the cave you will suffocate in a matter of minutes. As for our eyelids, they have been painted as a matter of necessity as well. Without doing this, the sunlight will burn through your paper-thin eyelids in a matter of minutes. My mother, sadly, learned this the hard way – she is blind now. In order to save your vision, I did it to you too, before you awoke from your unconsciousness. I had to – I’m sorry. We always wait a few minutes after we leave the cave, in case there are any unseen followers, such as yourself.”
wiping his eyelids in disbelief, Lux confirms what she has said; a dab of the dark ink stains his fingertips. things had been so crazy, he hadn’t even noticed. “Liar! I don’t believe you! I want to go back!”, he shouts in denial, starting to hyperventilate, panicking that the life he had known was gone forever, wishing for a moment that he could return to his life of blissful ignorance, instinctively wanting to believe his life in the cave was all that mattered.
solemnly, Zandra tells him what he wished he didn’t already know. “You can’t go back to your former life. You can’t cast aside what you now know. Once you went down that hole, there was no turning back. I’m sorry. It’s the only way, or you would have gone blind, or worse. If you’d gone back, if you’d spoken to anyone, if you’d been spotted, you would be killed. Don’t you remember the pact?”
Lux hangs his head, unable to reconcile the existence he had known for decades with the revelations which had just been disclosed to him. he lets his head fall backwards into the sand, dizzy from mental and physical overload. he lies there for a while, the thoughts rolling around in his brain. finally, reason trumps emotion; he realizes that the things he has known all his years – ideas ingrained in his mind since birth – are lies, circumventions of reality. there are times in a man’s life when he must go against everything he knows to be right, and for Lux, this is one. all of a sudden, he realizes the sound now roaring in his ears, more lucid than ever before. he sits up.
“Come here”, she says, noticing the change in his aura. like a child listening to his mother, he obeys. as he reaches the top of the mound, he sees it – the blinding, sparkling light forming the horizon behind her – and instantly he understands. understands the source of the sound that had chased him all his life, but also, understands that this whole new world, full of curiosities and vulnerabilities, is not just the story that she is trying to tell – it is reality.
as he ran towards the ocean, watching the waves roll in and crash, he was not afraid. as he dove headlong into the surf, he barely minded its freezing temperature. as it slammed him into the bed of the sea, he was only in awe of its power. Lux thrashed around in the cold water, learning how the waves moved, awed by its vastness, marveling at its infinite movement, until he was drained of every ounce of energy his repressed body possessed. he stumbled out of the ocean, exhausted, and collapsed next to Zandra, who had watched the scene unfold with a smile on her face. she could already tell Lux would like it out here.