UNITED STATES—Zorba, the ousted detective taken to the land “up there,” stared at the tired turtle in the bed and looked for breathing movement. A greenish cast imbued the wrinkled head, covered by a film of dust. Long charcoal gray hair curled over a soiled pillowcase. No breathing movement was detected. Conclusion: Here they stood before a mummified body.

Detective Zorba looked over at the plaid-shirted brothers standing by the bed. One was reading from a black book, lips moving in silent prayer.

“Don’t raise your voice, our Father/Mother is napping.”

The garishness of the dead figure’s robes stayed with Zorba.

Zorba was troubled. He still hadn’t any kind of answer why he had been brought, “up here” to the surface of the scarred, but healed Earth. Out the window spanned acres of wheat, the sky was crystal blue, dotted by puffs of cloud. You could breathe the air without coughing. The countryside was everything but what his teachers had said it couldn’t be: toxic and uninhabitable. This realization rearranged the other components of his life, a kid escaping to the Underground Cities with his grandma; the years as “security ambassador”—the heavy hours, the tedium—before becoming a homicide detective.

I am dreaming, he thought. He bucked himself up with “I am dreaming” from the root of his being, the deepest embrace with unpleasant reality first as a refugee, later as a routinely corrupt cop: clouded by emotions—anger and the conviction that there is something wrong with this picture until the flow of events carried him, as it inevitably would, to a more hopeful future.

Suddenly, the papal figure on the bed wheezed. Zorba gave a start inside: That wheeze was truly a shock. Zorba had believed that bloated heap of bones and heaving breast on the bed was dead as Stalin. Zorba alone, among those assembled in the sparse room, with majestic views of the plains, was surprised.

“He’s alive!” Zorba spat out.

“Yes, but not by much…” said a mousy voice that belonged to the sister with the brown briefcase.

“Tell us everything you know about this person,” sternly spoke the brother with the bad teeth Zorba couldn’t keep his eyes off.

“They dress like Liberace or the Pontiff,” Zorba wisecracked while registering that the one sibling of the plaid gang had spoken a full sentence of standard Underground City English.

If he continued to do so, Zorba was teased to draw the conclusion that one of his captors, at least, was highly educated. He was part of the “up there” elite which the official news depots had always denied.

“Is that all?”

“That is all—other than that this person seems to suffer some form of fashion dysphoria…”

“Why did you request their DNA code?”

“DNA code?” Zorba was confused. Maybe it was all that beef brisket and greasy sausage digesting from the welcome feast. In the Underground Cities, the water supply provided the enzymes and amino acids the animal flesh provided. “What DNA code?”

In the moment of making that careless utterance Zorba was flabbergasted by all he grasped. At once the bliss of seeing the pieces of the cold case fit together in a seamless snap, met with the elevator-shaft plunge into daunting knowledge. He was in extreme danger. All of the abduction and journey through the silo was leading him to certain doom. They were elites, alright, and since his arrival, despite their bursts of gregariousness and knowledge it appeared that he could be being groomed for the next feast as the main dish.

To be continued… 

Graydon Miller, the Wizard of Fiction, is the author of the acclaimed story collection “The Havana Brotherhood,” https://amzn.to/29ak9Nr.