I'd never quite known just how deep under I lived until I started climbing the stairs--tall, rickety things that creaked with every step I took. There is no light apart from the weak flare of an old flashlight I'd found stowed away in my backpack. I adjust it on my shoulder, wincing as it chafes my skin.
Left foot, right foot.
I keep climbing. The stairs are becoming more crooked now, and I grasp the railing tightly to avoid falling. When I pull my hand off, it comes off powdery. A metallic tang fills the air. Rust. I'd read somewhere that rust meant the metal was degrading and weakening, so I nervously wipe my hand on my leg and try to step lighter.
My legs are starting to hurt. I'd never been one for physical activity. In fact, when the Takedown--the time when all artists were banished from the surface--happened, it was my father who had carried my nine-year-old self down these very stairs. He would later leave with my mother to go Above, to the surface world, because money was better there. Personally, I think that the corrupted government from Above bribed them; they both really were smart and such talent could be of use. After a few years, I lost touch with them, and they stopped sending me money. I was fine, though. My art was enough.
Of course, I don't do it for free. Anyone who wants my work has to pay. My general guideline for pricing has been ten lunae for an 816 by 1056 pixel drawing, and increases from there according to size, resolution, and level of detail. Digital paintings start at fifteen lunae for the same size, and these prices also increase. My income has been pretty stable over the last six years, mostly because many people like art-- they just don't admit it.
I am tempted to stop right there; my shoulder aches where the backpack strap presses down, and my legs hurt from climbing so much. But then I look down. There is darkness below me, and when I move my gaze upwards, there is darkness still. I grip the railing harder, and, shivering slightly, I continue.
It must have been a few hours since I started--or was it a day? I can't tell time anymore; the dark is too overpowering. I look at my flashlight, grateful for its meager light. Just then, it flickers and goes out. The darkness presses against me on all sides, threatening to swallow me whole. You spoke too soon.
Each step feels like my body is made of lead. I feel like I may pass out right there, with no one to pass on my memory, nothing left of me besides a few pictures that I made. I grip the railing harder, refusing to succumb to these thoughts. I still need to find that hacker. I still need to find my work.
Just then, the world around me brightens. I blink my eyes rapidly, trying to get used to the light. I squint upwards.
There is an opening there, and the world beyond is drenched in light.
I don't think I've ever felt so hopeful.