His life was in ruins, his career gone; his reputation destroyed by self-righteous men. And worst of all, the love of his life was lost to him forever – she who had made everything glow with the light shining from her very soul.
The wreck of my memories.
Dr. Jacob Wells wanted to die, but could not kill himself; the very fiber of his being would not allow that, even now.
He walked through the city streets carrying an old battered suitcase, with no thought of where he was going or where he had been.
He looked up at the world around him. It was night. It had been midmorning when he had received Margaret’s letter. Had he been walking all day? He noticed that the traffic sounds were now faint and the streets barely lit. He felt a sudden chill and realized it had begun to snow, and he was in a part of the city that was less than savory. But he didn’t care about the cold or who might lurk in the shadows.
He was tired, but he kept walking until he found himself on the docks, where the sounds of laughter and singing came from a bar nearby. He entered into the noise and light, unconsciously drawn by the need to be with people. He ordered a scotch, and when he tasted it he knew that it was less than good quality, but he ordered another.
He’d never been one for heavy drinking, but he emptied one glass after another. He spoke to no one, and no one spoke to him. Then he was being told by a gruff, tired voice that the bar was closing, and to pay his tab.
He fumbled for his wallet and sifted through the many notes to pay the exorbitant prices. Then placing his hat on his head, he made his way slowly to the door, not noticing the man loitering in the shadows outside the entrance.
He turned to the left because his body was leaning in that direction, and made his way aimlessly along the dark street.
Suddenly something was pressed into his kidneys, and a deep voice said, “Gimme yer wallet, or you’re dead.”
“I am already dead, young man. Nothing you could do to me could make me feel any worse.”
“You maken fun o me pal?”
“No, not at all. Do your worst.”
The pressure at his back increased. “Hand over yer wallet and I might let you live.”
“It really doesn’t matter to me one way or the other, but if you do, do a proper job, please.” As he took out his wallet and turned toward the man, suddenly the gun went off.
When he saw what he’d done, his attacker grabbed at the wallet, and ran off.
Jacob fell to the ground, his right leg unable to support him. In a detached manner, he examined what had happened. He’d felt a thud in his right side and knew that the bullet must have hit bone. He was stunned, but strangely he felt no pain, only surprise. So this is how it feels to be shot, he thought. He could smell burned cloth and gunpowder, and when he put his hand to his side he felt the tear in his jacket just above the pocket where the bullet had penetrated, and the stickiness of his own blood. The gun must have been pointing down and hit him in the hip, he thought absently.
He began to laugh, adrenaline and the scotch making him lightheaded. Then a burning pain began to sear through his hip and down his right leg. He realized that it was not a mortal wound, but he could still die of shock or blood loss, and that was a comforting thought. As the pain increased, he began to lose consciousness.
He felt a warm hand on his face and opened his eyes.
A woman was bent over him, her dark brown hair falling out of a scarf wrapped around her head. She had a care-worn expression and sad, but kind brown eyes.
“Can you stand?”
What a funny thing for her to ask. Why should he try to stand or even to move? He was feeling quite comfortable where he was, and although the pain was increasing, he really just wanted to sleep.
She started pulling at his grey suit coat. ”You have to get to someplace warm. You can’t stay here. You’ll freeze or bleed to death.” And she began to tug on his jacket harder.
He laughed at such an absurd suggestion. “My dear young woman, I am quite comfortable right here, thank you.”
“Do you want to die?”
His became very serious. “Yes!”
The single word set her back on her heels. Then her jaw set and she said, “Well, I’m not going to let you!” She got to her feet and ran into the alley.
Jacob watched, detached, as the woman stopped at a manhole at the end of the alley. Then he saw a beam of light come from the opening, and he thought he was hallucinating when she called out to someone down below.
“Piper! Piper, help me!”
A head popped up through the hole, and Jacob had visions of The Wind in the Willows for this man looked for all the world like Mole, and Jacob began to laugh again, weakly. This whole situation was becoming too much.
“Who’s he?” Mole asked the woman.
“He’s been shot. Help me get him Below, before he freezes to death.”
“Why not just let him die, Gracie? We don’t need another mouth to feed!”
“Just help me, Piper, or I’ll get someone else, and you can get your own food!”
“Oh okay, okay!” The head grew into the small compact body of a man with large wild eyes.
Jacob was lifted, and with an arm over each of their shoulders, dragged toward the hole. But before he got there the pain became so intense that he passed out.
When he regained consciousness the pain in his hip was excruciating, and he groaned.
“Lie still. John took a bullet out of you last night. Now rest.” It was the voice of the woman from the alley.
Then he lost consciousness again.
When he opened his eyes and looked around, he was in a darkened room with bare rock walls, a candle burning in the corner, and beside the candle was the woman who had saved him.
He tried to move, and the pain in his right hip was less, but still a constant. He was lying on a thick mattress, under a clean but faded quilt.
At his movement the woman came over to him and lifted a cup to his lips. “Here, drink.
It was the sweetest water he had ever tasted.
“Where am I?”
He pushed himself up against the wall behind him. It felt rough and cold against his over-warm skin.
“You did not answer my question. Where... am I?”
She sat back and said, “You’re underground.”
“Yes. A few of us live here. It’s warm and no one can hurt us here.” She spoke as though she had some experience with being hurt, physically as well as emotionally.
Then he remembered his manners. “I’m sorry. I’ve been remiss. You’ve saved my life, and I don’t even know your name. I am Jacob.”
“Grace,” she said with a smile.
“Thank you, Grace. I know I must have been very ungrateful earlier but ...”
“You have every reason to feel badly, Jacob.” She lifted a crumpled piece of newspaper from beside her and showed him. It had his picture on the front page with the headline ‘Chittenden Research Doctor Blacklisted.’
He turned away from the cold words that spelled out his life’s destruction – the wreck of my memories.
“I’m sorry, Jacob.” She handed him a warm sweater. “Here, put this on. It’s always chilly down here.” She indicated his battered suitcase on the floor beside him. “There’s your suitcase. Piper found your wallet on the street. It was empty.”
He looked down at the suitcase that held all that remained of his life, and his heart ached. Then he turned his attention to her words and away from the pain.
“He’s one of us. He helped me bring you down.”
There was a steel girder against one wall, half buried into the floor. She turned to it, and using a piece of pipe, tapped on it. A metallic echo sounded further away.
“What is that?”
“Oh. That’s Piper. He’s down the tunnel sending a message to John. John’ll be here soon. He’s the one who took the bullet out. He’s a doctor too, and he’s been looking forward to meeting you.”
Shortly afterward a tall man entered. Behind him came the other man Jacob had seen before.
“This is John. John, this is ...”
“Dr. Jacob Wells.” A deep voice finished. “I have been reading about you.”
A woman came in behind both men, pushing past John. “Oh, Dr. Wells. How are you feeling?”
“This is my wife, Anna. She tended your wound after I removed the bullet,” John said. “You will always have a limp, I’m afraid, but now that the fever has abated you should recover. Although I doubt anyone could help you with the deeper injuries you carry.”
“John, please!” Anna pleaded, turning to her husband.
Then she turned to Jacob and said, “I’m sorry, Dr. Wells. My husband has a caustic humor, but he means well. We’re all family here, and have left our old lives behind, some of us even our old names.”
“And acquired others,” John said, still standing by the doorway.
“Well, thank you all. I am sure I would be dead now had it not been for your intervention.”
“Don’t worry. As a doctor, you will have a chance to show your gratitude” John said.
“I would be glad to do anything I can to help.” Jacob said.
It was not mentioned. It was not spoken about. But everyone in the room knew that Doctor Jacob Wells would be staying Below indefinitely.
Two years later, Jacob Wells had found a new purpose in his life. He had helped carve new chambers and find new tunnels. His skills as an administrator had aided John Pater to turn the small group of outcasts and misfits into an organized family and in the process had become good friends. And he had delivered five babies, all girls and tended many injuries. Although his expertise was in research, he had had basic medical training. However, Jacob sometimes questioned some of John’s motives, and it troubled him.
Anna had proved to be a very competent midwife, even though she could not seem to sustain a pregnancy herself.
He came into his chamber wiping dirt and sweat from his forehead, his limp hardly noticeable. The injury didn’t stop him from joining the other men in heavy tasks. He paused at the entrance to find Grace standing on a chair putting the finishing touches to her latest project – a golden, fan shaped, stained-glass window that she had salvaged from the demolition site of an old church.
“Grace, what on Earth are you doing?” he demanded as he hurried into the room.
“It’s almost finished. Isn’t it beautiful, Jacob?” She said, as she turned to face him, the last piece of colored glass in her hand. “See how the lights from the torches outside shine through it?”
He lifted her into his arms. “Yes, it is beautiful. But you should not be standing up there. You could fall, and you’re not strong to begin with.”
When he placed her on her feet, she lifted her arms around his neck and kissed him, then placed his hand on her swollen stomach. “He’s fine. Feel how strong he is?”
He looked down and couldn’t help but grin. “Yes, he’s strong, but you are not. You’re supposed to be resting.”
She moved out of his arms, annoyed at this old argument. “Oh, Jacob, I’m fine, and everything will be, too. You worry too much.”
He did worry and had from early on in her pregnancy. “Grace, please be serious for once in your life.” He’d been thrilled when, after they had moved into this chamber together, she’d told him she was carrying his child. But his joy soon turned into fear when he’d first examined her to find that she should never have a child. She had high blood pressure, anemia, and a slight frame, and although they were eating well enough now, she had obviously spent many years malnourished, and this had left its mark as well. He worried, not only for the baby, but for Grace, also.
Walking away from him, she looked over her shoulder, a wicked twinkle in her eyes.
He could never stay angry with her, and she knew it, and used it against him every chance she got. With a shake of his head he took her in his arms. “You are a wicked woman.”
She put her arms around him and said, “I know.” She kissed him, and then moved away. “And you smell. Go wash, and I’ll meet you in the dining chamber.”
He watched her leave the room realizing how happy she had made him. Then the shadow of old memories passed over his mind and his happiness faded. He quickly found clean clothes and went to wash.
He held his son in his arms as he looked down at Grace’s still form. She had not been strong enough. He had not been skilled enough. The labor had been much too long. So many things had gone wrong. Nevertheless he should have been able to save her.
Her last words had been, “Oh, Devin, you’re beautiful...” Now her face was turning from its pink flush of life to the grey of death, and his heart ached as her child cried in his arms.
“Oh God, Grace, I am so sorry!” he said, tears flooding his eyes.
Anna, standing at his side, took the child and carried him out of the room, his strong wails echoing behind him.
Jacob looked at the face of the woman who had been his companion and friend for over a year. A kind woman, a loving woman, a generous woman, but not the woman he still missed desperately. Grace had eased the ache of losing Margaret. She had given him love and the will to live – and a son – but he had never been able to give her fully of himself, and she knew it and didn’t care.
Two years passed, and yet his guilt at losing Grace never waned, and although he loved his son, he was unable to give him the single-minded attention that he felt a father should give to his own child.
“It’s dead.” the doctor said without emotion.
“Another failure?” his assistant asked.
The assistant lifted the tiny body of the infant from the table. “It’s a pity. It’s perfectly formed. Not like the others. And it was so strong in vitro.”
“Yes, Gould, but it’s dead. No pulse. No respiration.”
“Perhaps we should check brain activity. It’s – not normal after all – how do we know what’s normal for it? All of its organs and life support functions are human. It’s only its DNA that’s not. It was designed for strength and endurance. I don’t understand. It was alive at birth. It took its first breath, and then with no warning, it just died.”
Angrily pulling his blood-covered gloves from his hands, the doctor turned to his assistant. “It’s another failure, Gould. It doesn’t matter how or why it died. It died. It’s our last chance. We’ll lose our funding now. Twenty failures with not one viable or living specimen. My career is over, and you’ll have to find other employment. Now take that out and throw it in the incinerator, like the others. There must be no evidence left behind.”
“But what about an autopsy? Don’t you want to know why it died?”
“No. The other autopsies were inconclusive. I’m not wasting my time on another. Now just do as you’re told. I have to go and tell the Director that it’s a failure. They’ll have to find another way to grow replacement organs.” He turned and left the room.
Gould looked down at the tiny, perfectly formed creature in his hands. It was a shame. He could have been paid five times his usual salary if this last experiment had worked. He looked at his watch. He had a date in fifteen minutes. It would take at least thirty to get to the incinerator and destroy the evidence.
He made a quick decision, and grabbing up the blood soaked sheet from the table, put the pale, still form upon it, and wrapped it up like a parcel. If no one knew that it wasn’t just a discarded sheet, it would be collected with the garbage in the morning and then gone for good, and Gould would make his date.
Five minutes later Gould dropped the parcel into the bin behind St Vincent’s Hospital and then hurried down the alley...
It was snowing, and Anna was hurrying on her way to the tunnel entrance near the hospital. Shivering, she stopped at a sound from the garbage nearby. It sounded like a muffled kitten’s meow, weak and pleading. A week ago she had lost another baby, and she thought that perhaps a kitten might help her heart heal. Jacob had said that she would never be able to conceive again.
She heard the tiny sound again, and went toward the garbage. After searching she could not see any little furry body. Then as she was looking behind the trash can, a cloth covered bundle moved.
Oh God, someone has tried to smother the poor little thing. She lifted the tightly wrapped bundle. She heard the sound again and felt a feeble movement in her hands. She heard the sound of the garbage truck coming, so she ran into the alley, carrying the tiny parcel with her.
When she was safely in the tunnels she unwrapped the sheet, and when she got down to the tiny body she couldn’t believe what she found.
Her heart melted. “You poor little thing!” she whispered, as she gently touched the tiny baby boy in her arms. He was something out of a fairy tale, beautiful and unimagined. She smoothed his tiny cheek with a finger, and his eyes opened, and she was lost in their depths. She touched his tiny muzzle, and he opened his mouth and made a piteous sound again. His tiny furry body was covered in blood, his thick hair damp, and she lifted him closer and snuggled him against her. “You won’t die. I won’t let you,” she said, and the usually gentle and accommodating Anna Pater became a fierce lioness protecting her cub.
She wrapped him back up, leaving his beautiful face exposed so he could breathe. Then she slipped him into her old coat to share some of her warmth.
Jacob was in his chamber reading an old copy of Byron he’d found in a box of new arrivals from Above.
“Jacob!” Anna called from the tunnel outside his chamber.
“Anna? Come in. What is it? Is something wrong with John?”
Anna rushed in, holding a dirty blood-stained bundle close to her breast.
“What has happened? Are you all right?” Jacob asked, thinking it was her blood.
“Yes, Jacob. I’m fine. John is down below searching out new chambers.” Jacob knew that John could disappear for days at a time, and he relaxed slightly. Then Anna held out the sheet. “But he needs your help, Jacob. He’s dying. You have to help him!”
Jacob took the bundle she forced into his hands, unwrapped it, and gasped, “Oh my God!” as he saw what he held in his hands.
It was very small, only about three pounds in weight, and at first he thought it was dead. But then it moved feebly, and its cleft mouth opened, its muzzle screwed up in a grimace. Then a deep mewling sound escaped its lips.
“Jacob, can you help him?”
“Yes, Jacob. It’s a little boy. Isn’t he beautiful? Look at him. He opened his eyes a moment ago, and they are a beautiful deep blue. Can you help him, Jacob?”
Jacob was stunned. How could something like this exist? Then the deep mewling came again, and the child opened his eyes, and Jacob was struck with a powerful emotion that he couldn’t name, except that he knew he must do everything he could to save this unusual and precious child.
He turned, placing the child on his bed beneath Grace’s fan shaped window, and began to unwrap it from the bloody sheet. He took some warm water that he had used earlier to make tea and began to wipe the blood from the tiny chilled body as it feebly waved thin arms and legs, complaining of the discomfort – proving there might be enough life left in him to fight to survive. He went to the old chest that held some of Devin’s old clothes, and finding what he needed, put it on the baby.
As he did this he spoke to Anna, asking her where she found the child. By the time he had cleansed him. Anna had finished her story.
“St. Vincent’s Hospital?” he asked.
“Yes, I thought we could call him Vincent. It’s a good strong name. He’ll need a strong name,” Anna said hopefully.
“Anna, you must realize that he might not survive. I have never seen anything like him before. A good strong name will not be all he will need.”
“But he’s trying so hard, Jacob; I can feel it in him, can’t you? A strength and drive to fight for every breath. He must live, Jacob. He must!”
Jacob turned to the woman who had wanted so desperately to have a child of her own, and who had been a surrogate mother to Devin for the last two years. He saw the pleading in her eyes and looked down at the babe in his arms. And as he did, those eyes opened again and in their depths he saw – trust – and when the baby made that deep sound again, it was almost as though he, too, was pleading for his life.
Jacob felt a tightening in his chest, at the thought of this miracle perishing. Yes, he could feel the strength in the babe, but even so he would need every bit of help. This child must survive. For Anna’s sake at least.
“Very well. I’ll do what I can. But first we have to get him warm, and he must be hungry. I’ll see to that. You hold him and try to warm him up. Put him against your skin.”
“But he needs clothes!”
“No, Anna. He has a diaper that will do for now. What he needs most right now is warmth and human contact. Warm skin against his skin will do that faster than anything else, and once he’s been fed he’ll be able to fight harder to survive.”
Jacob left the room while Anna sat on his bed under the fan shaped window. Opening her dress she slipped the babe beneath it, against her skin. His chilled, slightly furred body tickled her, and then a tiny hand reached up to come in contact with her skin, and tiny claws kneaded her flesh, but not enough to draw blood. It wasn’t painful. Besides she would give her very life for this amazing and beautiful miracle child.
For three days the child hovered on the brink of death, and all that time he cried, weakly at first, and then once he had been fed and warmed he would not settle. Every woman in the community took turns holding him and feeding him and rocking him, and all of them were profoundly touched by him, unable to identify exactly what it was.
Some of the men, however, felt he was a freak that should not be allowed to live, and may someday cause their world to be discovered. But Jacob and Anna and Mary and the few men like Nathan Coyle and Piper, who had been touched by the babe’s valiant fight, stood against them, and all the children thought he was wonderful.
On the fourth day, however, Jacob was concerned as he listened to the child’s heartbeat. It was faint and he was still so very weak. He would hardly eat, merely fretted constantly, and now he had a fever, and his strength was failing. Jacob was worried. Something must be done, or the child would die, and for the first time in four years he made the decision to go Above.
“Above?” Anna asked when he told her. “You have never gone Above since you came here.”
“I know, Anna. But he needs medical treatment that I cannot provide, and I need some information. I have a friend. A doctor in a hospital Above. I must go to him.
“Be careful, Jacob,” Anna said as she clutched the babe, now dressed in warm knitted garments, close to her, as though someone from Above might take him from her.
Jacob walked through the corridors of the hospital, feeling exposed and vulnerable. He stopped at the nurse’s station and asked, “Excuse me, is Dr Peter Alcott still here?”
“Yes, sir. He’s in delivery.”
“Could you tell him when he is free that an old friend wishes to see him, please?”
“What name, sir?”
“Wells, Dr. Wells.”
“Can I get him to call you later, Dr. Wells?”
“No, I’ll wait.”
“It could be some time, sir.”
“That’s all right, I must see him tonight. It’s urgent.”
“Very well, sir. The best place would be in the waiting room. He’ll be going there, first.”
Jacob knew where the waiting room was, and when he walked in, there was a very nervous man pacing the room.
This was most likely the husband of the woman Peter was attending, the father to be.
The man stopped for a moment, a hopeful expression on his face as Jacob walked in, then his expression changed to disappointment, and he continued his pacing.
Jacob sat on the uncomfortable couch and waited while the man paced.
“She will be all right, you know. Peter is very good,” he said, trying to calm the man.
The other man sat down beside Jacob.
“She’s not strong, you see. We didn’t think we would be able to have any children, and now Peter says she won’t be able to have any more. If anything should happen to either of them I don’t know what I’d do.”
“My name’s Jacob” Jacob said, lifting his hand for the other man to shake. He wanted to take the man’s mind off of what was happening in the room down the hall.
“Chandler. Charles Chandler” the other man said, shaking hands with Jacob.
“How do you do, Mr. Chandler?”
“Everything will be fine, Charles. Peter has attended many deliveries. If anything should happen, he is the best.”
“You seem to know a great deal about Peter,” Charles said, and Jacob was pleased. His diversion was working. The man seemed to be a little calmer.
“We were in medical school together.”
“Oh, so you’re a doctor?”
“Yes, but I went into research.”
Just then Peter, dressed in hospital whites, came into the room, a broad smile on his face.
Charles Chandler rose to meet him, his face a mixture of fear and uncertainty. “How is she?”
“Your wife or your daughter?” Peter asked with a broad grin.
“I have a daughter?”
“Yes, Charles, and both mother and daughter are doing well. You can go in and see them in a few moments.”
After handshakes and exuberant backslapping, the new father left the room. Peter was about to follow when Jacob called his name.
Peter turned, and after a few moments, recognition dawned and he said “Jacob? Oh my God, Jacob! When the nurse said a Dr. Wells was waiting, I never dreamed it could be you. We thought you were dead!” In two strides Peter was embracing his old friend. “What happened to you? Where have you been?”
“It’s a long story, Peter, one that I will tell you later, but at the moment I need your help. It’s a matter of life and death.”
“All right, I’ll be with you in a few moments. Let me clean up, and I’ll meet you downstairs.”
An hour later Peter was examining the tiny babe. “From what I can see he has a fever, but I have no idea what is normal for him. He is such an enigma. Low heart rate and respiration, and he’s undersized for any newborn. Where did he come from?”
“He was found” Jacob said, very conscious of keeping as much hidden from his friend concerning the world below as possible.
“How long ago?”
“He was most likely born about five to ten days ago, by the look of the umbilicus. But was his mother human?” Peter asked, his hands gently touching the babe’s unusual face.
“It doesn’t matter who his parents were, Peter. He’s a miracle and he’s alive. He must survive!”
“I’ll do all I can, but without a frame of reference, I’m working blind. I have no idea what is normal for him.”
“Do all you can, Peter. Please. Your best guess is better than most doctors’ expert opinions.”
Peter slapped Jacob on the shoulder and said, “All right, old friend. I’ll do everything I can. Now let’s get to work.”
By the next morning the baby was out of danger, and Peter was a Helper.
John Pater returned from his extended search of the lower chambers with news of a huge cavern he had found that he intended to use as his and Anna’s new home. Anna was cradling a wrapped bundle in her arms and humming to it. At first he thought she had lost her mind, cradling a doll or an imaginary child in her arms, and then it moved, and he realized that it was a real baby.
“Anna, what have you got there?”
“I found him behind St. Vincent’s Hospital. He had been left in the trash to die. Isn’t he adorable?”Anna said, lifting the baby up to show her husband.
“My God, Anna!” John said with a sneer. “It’s disgusting. Get rid of it. It’s an abomination!”
“No! I love him, John. He needs me. He’s been fighting to live for days, and I will not let any harm come to him” Anna said, with a determined look at her husband, cradling the thing protectively against her. John was shocked. It was the first time his wife had ever stood against him on any subject.
Then he decided there was a more profitable way to get rid of the little monster.
“You know you might be right. He could be our ticket out of here, Anna! We could take him to the government or a research facility, and they will pay us a fortune. Why he’ll make us rich!”
“He’s not a thing to be sold, and he doesn’t belong to us, John. He is a part of the community. I’ve only been looking after him, just like everyone else.”
John stood over her, and the babe began to fret. “You found him, Anna. He’s yours to do with as you wish.”
“No, John! He’s a helpless baby, not a commodity that you can exploit.” She stood up and began to back away from him, and the infant became calmer.
John began to speak in a cajoling tone of voice. “Yes, Anna. Listen to me. He’s an amazing creature. We...”
“No!” Anna said clutching the now wailing child close. “He can feel what you want to do to him. You will not harm him!”
“Anna!” John yelled, and grabbed the baby out of Anna’s arms, pushing her, and she fell heavily to the ground.
Carrying the now wailing child in his arms, John left the chamber.
Anna, sobbing and bruised, ran into Jacob’s chamber.
“Jacob, John has taken Vincent!”
Jacob looked up in alarm. “Taken Vincent? Where? Why?”
“John wants to sell him for experiments” Anna sobbed, sitting heavily on the bed.
“Please, Jacob. Help him!”
Jacob went to the girder in his chamber and tapped out a message to Piper, asking for any sign of John.
The seconds passed in agony, and then came the answer.
‘John seen – in upper level – spiral staircase – signed Piper.’
Jacob ran from the room, down the twisting and turning tunnels, adrenalin masking any pain from his hip as he went. He took a different route. He knew where John was going, and he would come out ahead of him.
Gasping for air, Jacob stopped, waiting at the top of the iron staircase to the surface tunnels, listening for the sound of John’s approach.
The first thing he heard was a baby’s angry wails, and Jacob was again amazed at this tiny, unique child. Vincent wasn’t afraid. He was angry, and Jacob was certain, given what he’d learned of the baby’s way of sensing people’s intent, that it was because he’d been taken from loving arms, to be carried into the cold darkness by someone with evil intent.
By the sound of Vincent’s cries, Jacob knew how close John was, and he kept still and quiet, waiting until John was almost on top of him, and then he stepped in front of him.
“Give me the child, John.”
“Paracelsus, if you don’t mind. I am above such ordinary names now, and this child will be the means through which I will build my empire.”
Jacob realized that John, a highly-strung man, had finally lost his hold on reality. “Your empire? John, you can’t do this. That child is special, very special. Don’t turn him into an experiment. I’ve seen what they do. Please let him have a normal life.”
John looked down at the now quiet child, unaffected by the deep blue gaze centered on him. He lifted the wrapped bundle up to display him to his friend. “This, have a normal life? Are you mad, Jacob? How can this... creature have a normal life?”
“Whatever he is, John, he deserves as normal a life as we can provide.”
“You are deluding yourself, Jacob. This... thing... will never have a normal life. Let me take him away from here, get money for him, to aid this new world we have created. Join me, Jacob. We could be kings.”
“No, John. How could our world survive at such a cost? Just give him to me.” He held out his hands.
John lifted the baby higher and leaned over the rail.
“John, please. What can I say to make you give him to me?”
“Nothing. If I can’t do what I wish with him, then no one will have him.” He began to let go of the bundle and the babe’s screams echoed off the walls of the staircase.
Jacob leapt toward John and grabbed the baby before he went over the edge. John overbalanced and fell backwards, letting go of Vincent in his attempt to save himself.
Jacob caught the baby, and pulled him tightly against his body, but was unable to stop John’s headlong fall down the stairs.
Jacob looked over the rail, wondering if John would survive such a fall, and he made his way slowly down the winding staircase.
When he reached the bottom, John was nowhere to be seen.
The next morning, Anna Pater was found dead.
There was no doubt in the minds of many of the community that John was responsible, even though no one had seen him.
Two weeks passed, and rumors began to circulate that John had begun to gain followers from the less savory dwellers of the lower levels of the community. Although there had never been a leader of the community per se, it was evident that John was determined to become that leader.
The community was having its darkest hour, and was split into two factions.
Jacob placed sentries at the outer boundaries of the largest and most populated chambers and tunnels. But he knew this situation could not go on. It had to be resolved, or their entire world was in jeopardy.
Against all advice from Piper and Nathan Coyle, his closest advisers, Jacob formulated a plan that required him to go to the lower tunnels, where they knew John or Paracelsus as he was now known was holed up.
Feeling that this sanctuary world was about to die, Jacob was ready to do anything that might save it, now more than ever. It was the only place where Vincent could live in peace. For that reason alone, he was willing to risk even his own life.
He made his way down the ancient windy steps of what had become known as the Chamber of the Winds, until he came to signs of habitation.
“John?” he called into the huge entrance of a cavernous chamber. His voice echoed back to him.
There was a scuffle and a mumbling and a distant tapping.
After some time – almost an hour by Jacob’s reasoning without a watch – John appeared at the entrance.
“Have you come to surrender, Jacob?”
“John, be reasonable. This cannot go on.”
“Then give me what I want. That creature, so I can leave, or the leadership of the community.”
“I cannot do either, John. And you know it.”
“Then it will be war, and our world will be destroyed.”
“Come back to us, John. You will have to be punished for Anna’s murder, but once you have paid the price you can return.”
“And live under your rule, Father? I think not. This was my world before you came. I should have let you die instead of saving your life.”
Paracelsus lowered his head, and Jacob saw the merest hint of sadness in his friend’s face.
“I cannot do as you ask, Jacob. It’s too late.”
“Why Anna, John?”
For the first time in four years of knowing John Pater, Jacob saw regret in his friend’s face.
“I was badly bruised from the fall, and when I went to our chamber she nursed me. The soft-hearted creature that she was, she thought I had learned my lesson, and would just accept the way things were. Well, I was not willing to do that. I had some of the poison I’d been making to curtail the rat problem in my chambers, and when she was getting bandages for my cuts, I put some in a glass of wine. We always had a glass before bed each evening.” Amazingly there were tears in his eyes as he said, “Whatever you may think of me, Jacob, I did love Anna. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do.”
Jacob was appalled. “Oh, John” he murmured sadly
The moment of weakness fading, John Pater stood straight and said, “She disobeyed me. No one, particularly my own wife, disobeys me! I asked her to go and get the child, but she refused. She refused!”
Then suddenly there was a sound of fighting in the cavern behind John, and he turned to Jacob.
“I’m sorry, John. We had no choice. You were only small in number, and Nathan and some of the other men had found another way into the cavern. He has led a group in behind your people as we talked, and now has them under protective custody.”
Paracelsus’ face became red with rage and he declared angrily “You will regret this, Jacob.”
“I regret it already, John.” Jacob said, as the large form of Nathan Coyle came out of the cavern and took Paracelsus by the arm and led him away.
A meeting was held, and by unanimous decision of the entire tunnel community, John was found guilty of murder and was forcibly taken, with those who wished to go with him, to the outer boundaries.
The entrances were sealed to that part of the tunnels, and sentries placed there from that day on to guard against any further incursions. Anyone who was found there was turned back, and for many years the tunnel community was constantly vigilant as to Paracelsus’ whereabouts – yet not always privy to his activities.
The child in Jacob’s care swiftly began to gain strength. One month later he was officially welcomed into the community with a Naming Ceremony.
Everyone in the community was gathered in a large bare chamber that was not far from where Jacob slept with his son and now baby Vincent – a chamber that was intended to be a communal meeting place, where Jacob intended to place all the books he’d been collecting.
Now officially known as ‘Father,’ Jacob stood at the top of a small flight of carved stone steps, the entire community below him. In his arms was his adopted son, wrapped in a white shawl made by Anna Pater, wearing clothes worn by other newborns from the community before him. His golden head was turned to his father, his blue eyes intense. At Father’s feet Devin stood, looking up with a serious expression in his dark brown eyes.
“Together we have weathered a storm, our first as a community, and have overcome great sorrow. After much sorrow and loss, the time of darkness is ended, bringing us to this day. And now is a time of peace and rejoicing.
“A child is the meaning of life. The proof of that has never been more apparent to me than on this day as we celebrate this new and unique life that has come into our world. What better way for us to celebrate such a rebirth than to name our newest member, the child who has given us all hope and a renewed purpose. From now on this place will be a sanctuary for this child and for anyone from the world Above who needs it.
“We welcome the child with love, that he may be able to love. We welcome the child with gifts, that he may learn generosity. And finally we welcome the child with a name...”
He paused, looking down at the baby in his arms, remembering the moment he had first seen this unique life and what had been said then.
“Anna found him, and she named him, so just as ‘Vincent’ will be protected and sheltered by this world, so will anyone who needs it, and an annual festival will be prepared to help us remember why we are here and what this place means to us and to thank our Helpers in the world Above. A winter’s festival. ‘Winterfest’...”
In stark contrast to the ceremony Below, another was taking place in a cathedral in Manhattan. The proud parents of a baby girl stood at the font beside the white robed priest. The church was filled with well-wishers from New York society, and the baby wore an elaborate and beautifully decorated christening gown, one that had been handed down from one generation to the next. The baby’s delicate face had a cherub-like quality as she lay in her mother’s arms, quiet and calm.
“And what is the child’s name?” the priest asked.
“Catherine,” The parents said in chorus...
... THE BEGINNING ...