Sunday, August 7, 2011

Land Leave

A short story:

“It just makes me uneasy is all,” Bill shifted in his seat; it was apparent that he didn't understand the redundancies.

“It's fine, think of it like being on the side of a mountain, it's just like being at the top,” James had lived in the mega-structure all his life. As the son of a senator he had known the hustle and bustle of city life as well as the finer elements of high class society. Joining the navy was part of his political trajectory.

Bill looked out the window, growing up in Colorado made him used to being at altitude, but this was drastically different. It wasn't the height, but the magnitude of what he was looking at. The two were rapidly descending along the pillars of the mega-structure. It was a skyscraper that had skyscrapers on it. 14,322 feet. And it wasn't even the largest. The Chinese were building one that topped out at over 22,000 feet. Humanity was chasing Everest. Sure the air was pumped in and there were still huge economic risk factors, but in terms of engineering these were real beauties. Cities that held cities. Self-contained public transportation, self-sustaining ecosystems, emission free consumption.

Coming into port felt the same as being in the ship to Bill. Except for this new and foreign culture. He didn't understand James' ability to find high class call girls, his heavy drinking, or even why he hit that Turkish lady in the bazaar. None of it made sense. But Bill knew a good friend when he saw one, and he followed him; his tour guide for the weekend.

They reached their destination, the highest plateau yet built, it was filled with a reproduction of Boston. The mega-structure system was full of excerpts from other cities—the one they were in had a perfect reproduction of the Boston peninsula as it appeared a century previous. The upper classes loved it. The quaint restoration of a time forgotten but for the vid feeds was how they liked to live. It was an odd sort of future to be living in, Bill mused, one stuck in the past.

“I know they're safe, the pillars are triple reinforced and the shields can withstand a 40 megaton nuclear blast, I just want to be on earth.” Bill almost whined. Sensory overload had exhausted him and he wanted James to give up on going out and turn in for the night.

“Come to the edge with me. We always loved coming out as kids, and I guarantee you'll see the place in a different way.” James had a surprise for Bill. He knew that the mega-structure was overwhelming, especially for someone that had grown up on a ski resort. He also felt bad about his behavior over the last two days—hitting the Turkish woman and his drunken outbursts had strained their friendship and he knew it. James wanted to make it up to Bill.

James led Bill through alleys and secret doors. Wending their way through the rim, they found themselves at the arm of the structure. This one held the 'a' track, the high speed transportation system that also carried essential personnel to the highest levels of the structure. James tapped a code into the screen by a maintenance door. It opened and a service elevator appeared. “Get in.”

Bill obliged and they shot upward. The elevator was large and utilitarian. The steel walls were scratched and worn; cosmetic damage. It was clear that lots of electrical equipment passed through. About 13 seconds later, the elevator arrived at its destination. It jolted at its destination, and Bill had the feeling of sloping downward toward the door. “Watch your step when we get out,” James cautioned him.

They hadn't arrived at a floor so much as in between floors. It was a crawl space used for access to fuses and compression screws for the magna-rails. “Follow me,” James crawled around the elevator shaft and opened a large plastic door. It, like the entire backside of the crawlspace, was slanted; to Bill it was clear that they were probably along the underside of the magna-rail.

James turned to Bill, “stay close to the wall when you get in the room and don't freak out.” Bill gave James a perplexed look and tentatively stepped through the door. As he did so an odd sensation pulsed through his body. His hair stood on end and he was floating. Literally floating. At first he grabbed at the walls, trying to stabilize himself and not fall, but then he looked over at James who was grinning widely.

“We're in between the inner and outer sleeves of the magna-rail, the magnetic fields will hold you in place. Watch this.” And with that James shot upward effortlessly. Bill tried to follow, he lurched up, but mostly in a circle, he spiraled around in the space between the sleeves, upward in a dizzying manner. The ceiling was made of a clear plastic that gave travelers a view of the landscape. As Bill spun past that space, he felt gravity start to drag him as the field subsided. Each time he spun past it, he slowed considerably until he was at a dead stop, about fifty feet below James. “Come on up, we're here.”

Bill carefully made his way to where James was, making sure to hold in the cheap Turkish food crawling up his throat. James was at the ceiling, but there was a missing panel. When Bill got there to inspect the missing panel, James pulled himself through, “whoa, watch it! I never get used to that.”

Bill pulled himself through the hole and felt his full weight return to him, the food made its way back to his stomach, which made its way back to his abdomen. Bill made sure of his footing on the large sloped tube that ran the length of the structure. Then he looked out on the landscape and his stomach jumped back into his throat. He could see everything from this point.

“Nice huh?” James stepped forward, leaning until his body weight almost threw him tumbling. The wind pushed back, tugging at his jacket. “I used to come up here as a kid. This place is confining. Who would think that such a huge place could make me feel stuck?” He paused for a long time; a shadow crossed his face. The deep twilight outlined the distant mountains; the adjacent mega-structures were starting to light up. “I rarely was allowed out y'know. Maybe that's why I felt trapped,” he continued, “but when I got out here, I felt real. I hated it in there. On the edge, that's where I can live.”

Bill was in awe, he had stood on the tops of mountains before but the feel of human ingenuity under him was totally different. It felt like he had flown to the top. He heard the hiss of the magna-rail under him. The tube shook lit the clear ceiling briefly and passed below him. He watched it stop about 100 stories down.

James barely noticed the magna-rail. “I don't have to apologize anymore. Life is big, and my father—this place—is small. I didn't join the navy to shamelessly promote myself through the ranks for my political career. I joined the navy because I want to see more. My dad's world is so small. That Turkish woman was a bitch, just a small minded bitch. And she's everything I hate. I will see the stars. We'll see a world Bill, we'll see it. And we'll do it on a battleship the size of that fat Turkish woman's ass.”

Bill didn't know about that; James was locked into fate. Bill looked out on the magna-rail tubes. He could see they went on forever. But they went out on a set course. He saw it, but he wasn't sure James would.

The mega-structure lit up, night descended, and the two of them went back to the bustle of the ersatz Boston.