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The setting sun gleams hazy orange along the sides of the skyscraper, making it seem as if the building is ablaze. From inside the steel colossus however the whole city seems grey and desolate, only the cacophonous sounds of construction and city life lend the image any semblance of reality. Mark sits on his bed in the 50th floor penthouse, staring out on the smog filled slums of the city.
“It looks, sad.” He murmurs to himself. After a few minutes he rises from his bed and walks to the kitchen, retrieving food from the fridge. As he sits at the table Jester, his personal A.I.A.U*, appears on a wall screen.
“Morning sir.” He greets in his grating electronic voice. “Anything I can do for you?” Mark swallows a mouthful of poptart.
“What’s the weather look like today?” The smiling face on screen flashes away and is replaced by a chart.
“50% percent chance of rain sir with a high temperature of 48 degrees.” Mike nods.
“Schedule?” The screen transitions to a calendar.
“Well it looks like you have a physics test today, you’ve studied enough I presume?” Mike smirks as Jester’s face reappears on screen.
In ten minutes Mike is out the door and walking down the pristine white hall of tower 7. He finds the elevator bay and hits the button for school floor three. As he accelerates upward Mike peers out the flawlessly clean window to the floating neighborhoods below. In the year 2042 rising flood waters overcame most of the United States; citizens were packed into the taller buildings till overpopulation became more of a concern than the flood waters. Floating slums were constructed around the towers, which were waterproofed and reinforced. In 2060 taxes and new laws forced citizens below a certain income out of the towers, leaving the steel and glass giants to a chosen few families and companies. The city of New San-Diego where Mike lives is the biggest industrial and economic town since the floods. As Mike reaches his school floor he takes one last look out the window, he’s never been outside the tower, and he never wants to. It looks wretched and filthy, the stories he’s heard of what happens in the slums too horrific to imagine. He stepped out of the elevator into the school lobby. He looked at his watch, 7:45, class started in fifteen minutes.
“I’ve got some time.” He says optimistically to himself, trying to push thoughts of the outside world from his mind. He walks down the hall to his locker, passing fellow students all dressed in uniform white, he reaches his locker to find his friend Harry waiting for him.
“Did you hear about last night’s bombing?” Harry whispers conspiratorially.
“Yeah what exactly happened?”
“Slum scum got rowdy again, someone pulled out a detonation pack, a whole customs office blown away.” Mark closes his locker.
“Well maybe if,” he stops, this isn’t the place or time to talk about lower class rights, “maybe if they weren’t so rowdy we wouldn’t oppress them.” Harry shrugs.
“All I know is they’re pissed cause the government is withholding medicine.”
“The cancer stuff again?”
“Yeah, I don’t know why the government won’t give it to them; it’s like the cheapest medicine on the market though. Did you know people used to actually die from cancer?” Mark shrugs and starts to walk off to class. Harry stays by his locker.
“Uuhh see ya then Mark, good talk.” Mark throws a wave over his shoulder and enters the physics classroom. God I wish I would’ve studied he thinks.
Later at the dinner table Mark takes a risk.
“Dad, how much tax money goes to slum improvement projects?” His Dad stops mid-chew and his Mother coughs lightly. His Father finishes chewing and stares at Mark for a moment.
“Mark, when we pay taxes the government delegates where they are sent. Most go to government branches like the military or the senate. There are far more important things in this country than those lower class magg—individuals who can’t even provide food for themselves on their own.”
“They can’t provide for themselves because the government is repressing them!”
“Do not argue with me young man!”
“The system is flawed! If we can’t provide our weakest members with the basic necessities how can we …” His father stands up quickly, causing his chair to fall backwards and crash to the floor.
“Young man I have had enough of this! Go to your room!” Mark shoves his chair back and storms to his room. He sits on his bed, head in his hands, immediately regretting his actions. Why is he standing up for those lower class freaks? But are they really freaks? Is it really as bad as they say? Deep down it all felt wrong, how could the government treat so many people so poorly? He has to know the truth; he has to see the outside world.
An hour later Mark emerges from a sewage pipe at the base of the tower, he would’ve preferred to just walk out the front door. But the tower didn’t have one. He pulls out a small inflatable raft he took from a survival kit in his room. As he slips his small raft into the water around the tower he pauses for a moment, was this really the right thing to do? He didn’t need to see the truth about the slums, his life was perfect, and this could only have a bad ending. Shaking the thought from his mind he climbs into the raft and slowly drifts towards the line of lights bobbing on the waves. His heart pounds loudly as he draws closer to the urban sounds of the village. His raft pulls up behind a small shack, he gingerly steps out onto the small concrete and wooden platform. His mouth drops open as he sees what lies before him, stretching on for miles is a flotsam and jetsam of wooden or duraplast huts piles of garbage break up the landscape every couple hundred yards. Smog floats over the conglomeration of housing like a forlorn cloud of death, a veritable symphony of sounds echo across the water. Mark is bombarded with so many new smells and sounds he’s almost knocked off his feet. Cautiously he steps forward, and out of the corner of his eye he sees his first villager, but they must have seen him first. Mark yells as a shadowy figure leaps out of a small hole in a wall, tackling him to the ground. Mark looks up to see a man, filthy beard and hair, wearing rags, with a crazed look in his eyes sitting atop him, a crude knife brandished in his hand. Mark tries to scramble out from under the man but he pins his shoulder down with a firm grip.
“Tower-born scum!” he screams and raises the knife in the air, “how dare you come here!”
“Please you don’t understand,” Mark stutters trying to reason with the man, “I want to help!”
“That’s what they all say!” he screams as he starts to bring the knife down, suddenly a howl is heard and flash of fur and claws bowls the man over, teeth ripping at his flesh. The man screams in agony as the dog like creature tears at his arms and chest, Mark scrambles to his feet and tries to run, only to trip over a boot, sticking out from a small alley. He lies on the ground moaning, the last time he’d been thrown about this much was…never. He slowly opens one eye to look at a girl standing over him, she looks about 17 or 18, his age, but seems older somehow.
“I could slit your throat so easy right now.” She scowls at him for a moment before helping him to his feet.
“But I’m not crazy like him.” She nods at the bloody pile of rags that had been ‘him’. Mark swallows nervously as the strange doglike creature stalks over and sits at the girl’s feet. Now that his eyes are adjusted to the darkness of everything he can clearly see her face, a thin scar runs from one side of her face to the other passing right under both eyes. The eyes themselves seem hollow, the dark gray irises traps for trespassing strangers. Mark shivers and looks away, she smirks.
“What brings you so far from your polished castle tower-born?” Mark opens his mouth to tell her his reason, hesitating. Will she laugh at me? What can I do to help these people? This is worse than he thought it would be.
“I…I want to help you people.” She scowls, turning away. She looks aver her shoulder at him.
“What makes you think we need your help?” She walks away into the darkness of the alley; the dog takes one last look at Mark, snarling menacingly. Mark stands there overwhelmed. This was not going as he planned. Don’t need his help? Suddenly without knowing why Mark starts to follow her. He dodges and weaves through piles of trash tripping over cans and bottles, he looks ahead to see her smoothly bounding across the terrain, the dog constantly at her side.
“Wait!!” he yells out desperately, her and the dog scale the side of a hut and stop on the roof, standing there impatiently, Mark clumsily makes his way to the side of the hut, climbing a pile of trash in an attempt to reach the roof. He eventually scrambles atop the roof; the girl stands in silence, a tear running down her face. Mark opens his mouth to speak but decides against it.
“What does it look like from up there, in the tower? What does our poor floating settlement look like to you?” Mark hesitates, thinking his answer through so he doesn’t say anything stupid.
“Gray, cold, sad.” She turns to look at him.
“And what inspired this desire to help?” her voice slowly gets louder, “you have a perfect cushioned life, a secure future, you have the promise if sleeping in the same room every night, being able to sleep at all is a blessing down here, you have food whenever you want, water to drink and so much extra you bathe yourself in it.” She pauses, fury in her eyes, “why the hell do you think you can just come down here and expect to help us?” Mark’s brain goes numb, she was right, how could he expect to just come down here and think he could make a difference?
“No human deserves to live in these conditions.” He mumbles under his breath. The girl spins and opens her mouth to say something, but slowly lowers her head in silence. They stand quietly for several minutes until she breaks the silence.
“Could you really help us?”
“I can try my best.” She looks at him, a scared look in her eyes.
“I sure hope your best is enough.”
The next morning Mark wakes to the sound of Jester beeping irritatingly at him.
“Sir if you don’t wake up I will be forced to eject you from the bed.” Mark waves his middle finger at him.
“Very well,” he says showing no emotion from the gesture. “Initiating bed ejection program.” Mark’s bed tips sideways, dumping him on to the floor his sheets in a pile on top of him. They both sit silent for a moment.
“Well that was rather anticlimactic, I expected some sort of spring loaded contraption that would fling you into the air.” He leaves the room in a blur of pixels. Mark slowly climbs to his feet, moaning from sleep deprivation and wow he was sore.