UNTITLED  sample:

Mika emerged into the bright, glaring breezeway, joining the busy bustle of people moving along. The top and part of the sides were exposed to the sun, and the light poured in unrestrained. He was used to it, having grown up with it, but visitors from the lower levels were often disoriented and frightened the first time they travelled the dizzying footbridge. The slight sway and shift from the wind only helped convey the impression of walking a tightrope between the towers.

He paused before moving into the roomier space on the other side and looked down at the structures spreading out all the way to the edge of the craggy plateau. The city of Haven, human beings’ last hope, had been built up instead of out on steep ocean-locked outcrops to encompass the multitude of people the planners had foreseen would have to be housed on the rugged landmasses poking out of the ocean. After the city was completed, the first inhabitants, the last of the young ones, already in their forties, had taken up residence and begun the time-consuming, painstaking process of saving humanity.

And what a job they had done. The population now hovered at one million souls, one million that would not exist if not for the foresight and funding of Dr. Damian Knox and others like him who had spent their lives and their considerable fortunes saving humankind.

Mika and everyone else acknowledged and accepted the necessity of the mandatory Rebirth ceremony. They’d all done the calculations in class. By now if not for the releases, there would be upwards of eleven million people crammed into their city, straining the resources, causing famine and unrest, some of the very things that had led to the end of civilization and very nearly the end of mankind. Better to ensure the continuity of the species by being reborn for another life cycle, hopefully there in Haven, than to face more of what their ancestors had gone through in that last century: inequality, poverty, war, famine, and then the final nail, sterility.

Somehow, amidst all the pollution and genetic tampering, humankind’s cellular code had been altered, culminating in less and less births until it eventually became horrifyingly apparent that every male left on the planet was sterile. Seventy-five years after the last survivors and their reverently gathered caches of uncorrupted sperm and egg had been deposited inside the city walls—the outside world was empty.

At some point during the later generations, the highest sustainable population had been reached, and the Rebirth ceremony had been proposed. Unfortunately, some of the “elder” citizens first slotted for release had not gone down without a fight. The city had been nearly destroyed by the ensuing rebel factions bent on stopping the enforced release at the age of fifty-five. But the close call of nearly losing everything and everyone forever had not been lost on the younger old-world descendants, and the rebel factions had been dealt with in short order. Once they had been taken care of, the rest of the inhabitants had agreed in the interest of peace and the continuing survival of the human race—and having no better choice—to willingly submit to the Rebirth ceremony for the good of all. And thus, a necessary “evil” had begun that over time had grown to become something revered and considered brave and deeply altruistic.

Mika was only eighteen; thankfully he had years before he had to worry about it. Truthfully, when he thought about it too long, the whole thing disturbed him deeply. Not the ceremony and actual process of the ritual itself. That was reported to be a highly pleasant, even euphoric experience—by the living witnesses, that is; the newly dispatched were silent on the subject—and truly they all had to go sometime. The soon-to-be reborn were given two entire weeks of near solitude, something that remained in short supply despite the periodic culling of the population (a concrete reminder of how bad it would be if the total were any higher, further reinforcing the necessity of it all). They were taken to the fabled utopian Lodge which was situated atop a hill and included a natural pool fed by a waterfall, where they were kept in luxury and waited on hand and foot while they ate delicious, decadent food, drank wine, swam in the ocean, or lounged in the sun beside the cascading water (who cared about contaminants or skin cancer when you only had two weeks left). Heaven by any other name.

It’s a good thing the Watchers can’t read your mind, he thought. Words like “Heaven” or “Hell,” along with the basis for those types of antediluvian religious beliefs, were known about, of course. They were even taught briefly, very briefly, in their Archaic Theology course. But to bring it up in polite society was frowned upon, which was putting it mildly to say the least. At best, it was tantamount to social suicide, and at worst, considered a crime. To mention the unmentionable was simply not tolerated. To talk about such things was to possibly incite unrest and insurgence, something no one wanted. And anyone with a rational brain knew they didn’t really go to a heaven or a hell when they “died” (another word rarely allowed) and instead simply moved out of their current life and into another one hopefully right here in these glittering towers above the roaring sea.

No, what bothered him about the release process was something deeper, something he couldn’t really put into words exactly, a sort of feeling of dread of … horror at the thought of not existing anymore. It was irrational, he knew. Everyone from the time they were old enough to understand had been reassured that the release was merely a transition to their next life. But still, the doubts persisted, though he would never voice his unreasonable trepidation to anyone. The last thing he needed was to be labeled an insurgent, which was only a step away from being designated a rebel. And that led to immediate dispatch, with or without a ceremony, no matter what your age. And for those, there would be no glorious two weeks at the legendary Lodge.

Holding back a shudder, he turned and followed a vaguely familiar girl inside, then veered away to move over to the tall arched windows circling the wide, empty space around the staircase leading down to the larger floors underneath. The academy’s many classrooms, lecture halls, auditoriums, cafeterias, and other areas, which had filled less than half of the structure in the initial phases of the city, had now grown, if rumors were to be believed, to fill every room of every level all the way down to nearly the ground floors.

The ground floors were generally considered to be the first two or three levels, and those were reported to house all the support equipment, storage, and workspace—for whom he couldn’t say, he’d never known anyone who labored in the lower realms—and other unfathomable elements that made up this and the other structures in the city and kept them, and everyone else, running efficiently. No one had any real desire to visit, let alone toil till their dying breath (another forbidden thought) down so close to the dirt and possible contaminants and diseases of the world they strove so hard to protect themselves from.

So who did work there? he wondered. When they all graduated, as he was about to do in just a few weeks, they would be given their career designations and sent on their merry way to marry, have children if they were lucky—couples, especially those who were allowed children, were given larger accommodations and other luxuries—and happily live out their remaining days.

He crossed his arms, brow wrinkling, as he pondered it all. They were supposed to be given positions that best utilized their innate talents and predispositions. He himself had expressed vague murmurings when questioned by his adviser of wanting to move into the food production sector. His best friend Kenji, who had requested something in healthcare, thought he was crazy. But what Mika was, was hungry. Hungry for different food. Hungry for new surroundings. Hungry for new adventures, though he never expressed any of this to even Kenji. He merely told him and the other three he usually hung around with that he enjoyed it and had found he was good at it. His advisor hadn’t confirmed that was what he’d get, but she hadn’t outright denied it, either.

The collection of tall buildings, towers, and supporting structures and areas responsible for producing and preparing the majority of their food were clear on the other side of the main plateau and he would be leaving everything and everyone he was familiar with, including his parents, behind. Although it wasn’t expressly forbidden, it was discouraged for the of-agers to return home too often after their designation. But if one managed to be assigned doing something close to home, it was inevitable that you would come in contact with your family more. Unfortunately, there wouldn’t be much chance of that over in the food sector.

Oh, well. It was the way of things. Kids grew up, moved out, and moved on.

But who would choose to labor on the bottom floors, tending electrical systems and environmental heating and cooling units that must be housed somewhere, repairing structural decay, or maintaining the sewer systems? Who got assigned to those? Surely no one would choose to work there. The less intelligent, maybe? The uninspired? He felt a chill at the thought. Would he end up working somewhere similar, away from the light and the cleaner air of the upper levels he’d known all his life? Should he have reached for something bigger, more humanitarian, like Kenji?

He mentally shrugged. Graduation was almost upon them and he had no doubt those in charge had already made their decision. No sense worrying about it. He’d done well on all his finals, except for maybe Public Elocution, which he hated. Surely his intelligence would assure him a more favorable position. He felt another ripple of unease at the thought. They had all been taught that they wouldn’t really cease to exist but would live again, hopefully in this place, this virtual paradise (at least compared to the pre-Haven world and all its misery and death). But who would want to work on the ground, or worse, under the ground in the basements some of the buildings were said to have?

Stop obsessing about it, he told himself. It was better than the alternative: gasping and suffering your way through a slow, painful death. Or being murdered for what little you had by someone who had even less.

The building directly across from him, even more imposing in appearance, rose higher than the one he stood on, thanks to the needle-like spire reaching for the sky from the highest point. Briar, his old girlfriend from his early Academy days, lived there and also attended his school. They hadn’t broken up for any particular reason. They had merely drifted away from each other as they matured and their circles coincided less often. He still saw her every once in a while in the corridors or at some function or another.

The colorful stained glass, set aglow by the afternoon sun, sparkled beneath the pointed arches of the gothic edifice, and he found himself smiling faintly. It and many of the other buildings were certainly striking.

As he gazed at the structures that made up the city’s skyline, a cloud slowly slid in front of the sun and shadow dropped over the high plateau. The soaring stone-and-iron creation across from him with its many sharp pinnacles and spires jutting into the sky suddenly seemed to change, becoming almost skeletal in appearance. The sharp, tapering architecture of it and the other buildings with their lofty towers and flying buttresses, sometimes praised for their intricacy and elegance, now became darker and more forbidding in the dimmer light.

With the walls that surrounded parts of the city, it almost had the look of a fortress ready for battle.

Unable to hold back a shiver this time, he looked out for another moment, then pivoted on his heel to join the last trickle of people from the morning rush heading down.

End of sample

Banner image by Jonas De Ro

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