Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The cooling towers hum less at night, as the temperature drops in the world above. ‘The World Above’. Oh, how our leaders love that title. They use it everywhere, usually presented in ways that used to be reserved for heaven and similar post-death nirvanas.
“Tea?” Susan nudges my arm.
I look down to see a cup of chestnut-coloured brew. I take it, forcing a smile. Susan has adapted better than I. It would be petty to spoil the moment in a fit of pique.
The world was going to hell with fanatics of every stripe hacking at each other while good people were left to shore up the burgeoning masses with steadily increasing taxes. Even corporations stepped in to help governments cope as the global population exceeded all resources.
In better times, the outbreak between North Korea and America would have been limited. However, when Chinese intervention forces rolled into Pyongyang, little Kim let rip with everything he had at every country he feared. He had a lot more than outside observers predicted.
Things quickly fell apart in the aftermath. My grandfather spoke of ‘infrastructural dependencies’. I never realised that meant if you deprive an urban population of basic needs for six days, it’ll turn feral.
Fortunately, father maintained a place in Silo One, a modest six-bedroom affair in the upper tiers. After settling in, it was good for a year. Rationing was tiresome, but proportionate share based upon your gold reserves had been agreed as a fair method. What father had failed to grasp was that his gold trove was, in real terms, trivial. We should have taken residence in Silo Five – where our reserve would have been roughly on par – but father always insisted that one started as high as one could. After his strategies to secure our station failed, he took to gambling to top up his dwindling reserves. When that tactic failed, we found settling debts down here was a merciless thing: mother simply failed to return home one night, as she belonged to someone else! I railed at father until he tried to beat me down, at which point I decamped to Susan’s parent’s place. I found her alone, nursing her mother, as her father had moved in with a billionairess up on Tier Six.
And so, our descent began. Everyone we asked for help denied us – seeing our plight as where they would be if they frittered their reserves on non-essentials like helping others.
I remember the Tiering meeting so well. Susan and I sat, dressed in our best, and not clutching at each other like some desperate couple from a black-and-white movie; which is how we felt.
Mister Grooms summed up: “Roderick, Susan, it saddens us to see members fall. However, there is still a place for you. Mister Tasker will explain your obligations when you arrive on Tier 209.”
Mister Tasker was forthright: “To remain, you will need to earn a token reserve. I recommend choosing cooling tower duty.”
We took the hint and became cooling tower cleaners. One of us worked while the other cared. A year later, both our charges died within a month of each other, cancer taking her mother and alcoholism ending my father. We wept tears of grieving, guilty joy, realising we could change our shifts so we would have time together.
Those below Tier 100 have never seen the upper tiers. They regard Susan and I as curiosities to be avoided. At least we have each other, and, up on these tower ledges, we can pretend for a while.