Author : George R. Shirer
The cities float, a mile above earth and water, drifting across the surface of the world. Their positions remain constant to each other and so they form a kind of artificial archipelago. They are home to thousands of people, the best and brightest humanity has to offer.
The rest of us live in their shadow. At the last estimate, Earth’s population was almost twenty-three billion. We crossed the tipping point some time around mid-century, straining the environment to the breaking point and then shattering it.
The environment collapsed. Famine led to war, disease, deaths. By then it was too late, the world was too broken to be repaired.
So, the cities were built. Thirteen of them, mounted on enormous antigravity platforms. Self-contained artificial environments. After their construction, the builders went among the world’s choking masses and picked the residents. Their criteria were complex, their recruitment methods sometimes ruthless. They chose the smartest, the ones who had survived the worst the world could throw at them. These people were given the gift of the future. The rest of us were left to rot.
Is it any wonder that we hate the cities? That we scavenge the garbage-continents and shanty towns for weapons that can bring them down? The cities and their privileged residents have done what saints and peacemakers down through the ages have failed to do, they have united humanity under one cause.
Hate, it seems, is a more powerful motivator than peace.
We’ve built our weapons, out nuclear ballistae, in secret. It took years, cost lots of lives, but it has been done. Our marksmen man them, waiting for the signal, for the moment when the cities drift across the horizon. Waiting for the order to fire, to unleash hell and bring the privileged future crashing down to earth.
And afterwards? What will we do once we have crashed the cities? Once our hate is spent?
I don’t know. No one does.
Maybe we’ll just sit down and wait to die. Or maybe we’ll build new cities, cities of our own, grounded in the earth and not drifting among the clouds.
Their cities are drifting above the horizon now. Our people are ready, waiting for the order to fire, to kill their future and claim our own.
The signal comes. We fire. Nuclear arrows stream across the gray sky from a dozen concealed locations, one per city.
They strike true.
The cities blaze and burn but do not fall. We watch as they drift across the sky, thirteen colossal funeral pyres, trailing fire, silent as the grave. They drift overhead, blackened and battered, silent and, I suspect, long abandoned.
I remember that the builders picked the smartest and the toughest. People who would never make themselves targets.
Shaking my head, I marvel at their cleverness. Watching their empty cities drift away, I wonder where they went and what happened to them? I don’t suppose we’ll ever know and that’s probably a good thing.
I admit that begrudgingly, even now, even if it’s only to myself. Because wherever they went, wherever they are, it means that humanity still has a chance.