Walk to the Horizon

Part I: The Life Before

People have lived in cities built under the ground for a long time. The air was the only currency, which had a value for them. Salaries were paid in the air; you could buy anything for air — either sweets or clothing or even a new heart. People moved under the ground when the forests have disappeared from the surface of the Earth; the waters have become contaminated, and the population has exceeded 100 billion. Living on the surface became impossible. Frequent illnesses, lack of food and workers’ protests led to worldwide chaos and destruction of the part of civilization. Moreover, climate change has worsened the atmosphere so that it became possible to breathe fresh air just a few kilometers from the earth’s surface. That’s when the first blue pipes and underground cities began to appear. Since that time we are live underground and breathe through a straw.

Every decade, people have to increase the height of the pipes that capture the air, because the height at which it is available, also increases. We tried to plant the trees all over the earth’s surface, but because of climate change the glaciers began to melt and the large face of the planet, covered by forests, just went under the water. Another problem we faced was the change of atmospheric air that adversely affected the growth of plants and trees. No invention could help, genetic engineering did not cope with the pace of change in the chemical composition of the air and, ultimately; people have lost hope. Some people began to move to the mountains as high as possible. But there they remained, unable to descend into the underground city. Others built giant submarines, but it did not save them. In total, only 10 million people remained of 100 billion. Their descendants are still living in forty-three underground cities, completely isolated from each other. These towns are all of the different sizes and have different infrastructures, but they still have something in common — all of them depend on air which is delivered through the blue pipes.

Adonis City is located on the ancient continent of Eurasia. It has sheltered people from the countries of western and central parts of the continent. About seven hundred thousand people of different nationalities and beliefs live and work in it. The city is divided into quarters of cubic forms which have the incredibly large number of levels and partitions. These stories include separate units, whose purpose is quite diverse — from residential areas to military bases, stadiums and gardens. Everything was designed so perfectly that people do not feel the difference between the life on earth and underground life. It got even before that some units had its football fields and baobab groves.

The blocks were also divided by the contents of clean air in them. Wealthy people were living in neighborhoods that had average earth oxygen saturation. At the same time, the level of fresh air available for the poorer sections of the population was corrected depending on the abundance of communities living in the neighborhoods. Even if you were the only one to have a decent income, but other people in your cubicle (so-called cubic sectors inhabited mainly by employees of laboratories for growing plants and staff of the city) could not afford to have a large concentration of oxygen.So you had to come to terms with this and live like everyone else does. Moving to another cubicle or climbing to higher levels was permitted once in 5 years. Change of residence was discussed with the leadership of the sector and agreed on the board of the cubicle you wanted to move in. The poorest people lived in the areas where the air was unsuitable for life, and for that purpose they had to wear spacesuits even while sleeping. Therefore, everyone kept their place and did not want to move to another, so that, God forbid, not to live wearing a spacesuit for the next few years.

Sectors were numbered, counting was conducted from below and the higher level was, the greater the number was assigned to the level and people who lived there. But the levels also got names, popular among the people, that made them easier to remember. Also, some people united and lived in separate communes. That was the way entire sectoral neighborhoods got their unique names: “Spanish”, “Polish”, “German”, “Croatian”, “Ukrainian” and so on. Never cubicles mixed with other levels of purpose, even shops were built separately from residential sectors. All this was done to motivate people somehow to move so that their muscles could not atrophy and here they didn’t feel the difference of life on the surface. Moving between the different parts of the city on foot was popularized and awarded.

Elevators were the only available transport in the city. They moved both up (to higher levels) and horizontally as conventional cars. I have to tell you, they did not lie, as you might think. Not at all. The diagonal movement was prohibited and, in practical terms, impossible. It is necessary to make a small clarification because it is quite unusual for movement on the surface. For example, in cubicle 6 of 6 levels up and in length, the elevator had to pass twice to get from first to the fourth in height and from the third to the sixth level in length. First up, then to the surface level. Converse (surface and up) move was impossible and forbidden. As for compliance with the rules, their lowest failure was accompanied by a fine or even arrest. There were specially assigned people who watched the procedure, and also the patrols could often be seen on the streets.

As to the streets, they were different — beginning from narrow and dark, trimmed with metal to broad and light. All lighting in the city was artificial because as far as you know, there is no sunshine underground. Because of this, people’s sense of happiness was atrophic. Residents of the city worked to earn their living and lived to gain possible future rescue and restore the Earth. As I said earlier, money and jewelry lost their sense and value. The only fresh air was valuable. But this is not the case. Another thing every inhabitant had and which was common to all optimists was hope. You may not believe, but everyone would lose faith and humanity would cease to exist without this peculiarity.

But it’s enough talking about the city. Let me tell you about what was going on above the city — on the surface. You have already known about the pipes. As far as you know, they were the only chance to save humanity, as the necessary air could be delivered from above only through them. This caused a huge risk, so massive walls surrounded the tubes of hundred meters high, thick as several thousand-oaks which kept them from damages. Besides the walls and towers, almost wiped off the face of the earth, the remains of cities and their infrastructure could be seen on the surface. They served as a refuge for mutated reptiles — the only animals that survived and were able to adjust to the ambient conditions. These creatures were dangerous — predators which could fall into hibernation for several years and wake up at the slightest sign of danger. So now you understand that such massive walls were built to protect the pipes and service facilities. Every year, because of the high temperature and the heavy concentration of substances in the air, the walls cracked, and carnivorous reptiles somehow penetrated into the ventilation shaft, and later into the city where they were destroying everything on their way. During one of those attacks, it became possible to explore the half-dead reptile that could not get out to the surface. After a series of investigations and experiments, the researchers were able to find their weak spot — the creatures were afraid of sound waves of the range higher than could be captured by the human ear. It has made a breakthrough in defense of fortifications. Soon, as well as towers and walls, sound guns of the size of a house began to appear. They were able to scare off the reptiles by shooting ultrasound after the motion detection. This brought peace and tranquillity. But not for long…

As it turned out, the cities could contact each other, exchange information about the world and acquired knowledge. But the representatives of neighboring cities had never met, although they had all opportunities for that. People owned vehicles, weapons, and technologies. Perhaps, together, all humans would be able to solve the problem and overcome the decline of the planet.

Chapter I

Somehow, working at the plant for the production of weapons, Gustavo has never held a loaded blaster kind gun, let alone shooting with it. Although it was forbidden, some people still dare to take guns surreptitiously and break some bottles with the laser in abandoned cubicle. And not once. But as the head of the production department says, “If you want to shoot go to the army.” So I can partly agree with this statement, but how can you restrain a wish to hold in your hands and have the fun of what you are producing for the last ten years? It’s hard not to do that.

The plant was located in the sector, military warehouses and barracks were built in. The whole area was under close protection, and access to production was carried out only with passes. Besides Gustavo, the factory employed several thousand people who did nothing but produced weapons, rode the elevators and existed, after all, from day to day. No pleasure in short. Occasionally workers went on tours to other enterprises and factories that serve the city. Just during one of these tours something, that made all witnesses remain silent and not to open their mouths, something that was the reason why some people have not returned home from work, and the remaining workers present signatories to disclose, had happened. I also have that piece of paper signed. I wanted to tell it someone for all my life, but I was afraid of the consequences. Now, I plucked up the courage, the more I have nothing to lose; my life almost came to an end and if not me, then no one else will tell you what has happened on 17 December. I hope my heart will not stop until I tell you everything… So, listen!

“Attention to all employees! We’ll leave for the tour in 20 minutes. Finish your affairs! Gathering in 10 minutes at the main gate. The attendance is required. The end.” — That sounded from a loudspeaker, and then was repeated for some minutes without stopping, flew into every department, into every head.

“What a nasty voice the woman that speaks in loudspeaker has,” Nils said.

“Don’t even say that?” said Gustavo. “They could not find better. She’s probably sitting somewhere at the highest levels, looking at us. Hey, what are you going to do on New Year’s Eve? Let us gather together and celebrate?”

“Great idea! I’m almost sure that everything will be that way. You won’t be against my wife’s company, will you?”

“Of course not, Nils! I might also take someone with me.”

Nils continued to tighten the nut on the case of the future device, and shortly workers began to gather at the main gate. At the gate, which could carry loads of incredible dimensions, a crush has formed, and someone has got his hand squashed. Though in general everything went without serious damage. No one wanted to find himself in a hospital bed, especially when he had to lie there at his expense.

“When you work at this plant half of your life, you will not want to go home and not even on the excursion. I am so tired of all this staff — monotony eats me from inside. Do you understand me, Nils?” said Mc.Hurvin huskily.

“Yes, Uncle Joe.”

“Have you ever thought about why you had been born in this place, in this time, in this form, with those thoughts that you had had and are having now?”

“I do not even know. Probably not. What for have I to think about it…”

“Just think,” interrupted Mc.Hurvin “that you would be born in a family of officials, who are living at the highest levels… Or in time when the large land was suitable for life, or even in the semblance of a cockroach?”

“It seems that a cockroach would have lived better — you can crawl wherever you want, jump over anyone’s head, the whole city is yours. What a life it is! It’s not the life we live. We don’t live, enjoying life, we just exist.”

“You did not understand the most important thing. No matter what time, no matter what place you are in and despite your semblance — you may be who you want and do whatever you say.”

“Have you read too many philosophical books? Or whether you were given wrong medicine at a hospital? Uncle Joe, you are quite surprising recently.”

“The time will come, and you will understand.”

Meanwhile, the gate has opened, and people gradually began to come into the elevators and rise to another level. To help you understand I have to say that every elevator had rows of seats inside, and outside this steel box was trimmed with refractory material, as during rapid movement of air, friction occurs and it can catch fire. Passengers were required to use seat belts — every seat had an indicator that determines if the passenger was fastened. If even one of them was burning red — that meant an unbuttoned belt — elevator didn’t move. And while the transport was passing the cubicles, the sound of a not existing sea beach of the distant world, knock off a broken with the stone, which no longer exists, coconut came from a loudspeaker. Incidentally, this tune could somehow make a person to break away from reality and to move to his space, where there is no need to work and a routine is not so abominably, for a moment. There was no time to fantasize, and there was also no desire. After a moment the music kept quiet, and passengers have already heard about coming close to the “cubicle number …. Be attentive and careful!” Everyone went out, and the elevator went back for another batch of people.

On that day we had an excursion, not to the plant. This initially surprised us, because our leadership did not say anything about it. As it turned out, we got to the biological center where they were growing food — genetically modified and artificial. I will not pay attention to the details — everyone has seen thousands of laboratory test tubes, measuring glasses, microscopes, 3D printers and lots of people in white robes and caps on their heads. Among all the words spoken by our guide, I managed to remember that all food we have eaten for the past ten years, had been created and grown right here. Someone in the crowd asked whether it is possible to die prematurely from unnatural food. It seemed to me, the death of artificial food is the least to worry about, taking into account that the city lived in these unusual and fleeting circumstances. Meanwhile, I went to investigate the location of the closet. Corridors, walls, stairs — all this confused me, and I got lost. Looking out, I came across an abandoned room that met me with a closed steel door. Of course, my curiosity was unstoppable, and I broke the lock to come inside. I was not surprised with everything I have seen, but my interest has reached such a high level that I forgot about returning to the tour group. Some conveyors stretched from the opposite side of the workshop all around, soulless robotic hands which had three large pointed at the end fingers were hanging from the ceiling. I had to explore their purpose by myself. Green plastic boxes were on the floor. They were everywhere — on conveyor lines, on dressers and even hung on hooks in the air. I was wondering what for the line was used before, so I started to look for the remote control to launch the mechanism. Having found a small table, covered with a thick cloth, in the corner of the room, I clicked all the buttons and pressed all the levers I could find. But nothing happened. It remained just to look around to keep in my memory as much as I could and come back to the group. That was what I would have done if there was no the light that pierced from the slot behind the dressers. Massive two-storeyed shelves with doors stood exactly where the line began. I supposed that the lines were carrying something from one end of the workshop to another. So there must be another way out of the room, and I began to look for it behind the lockers. After poking around for a while, I deflected a thin sheet of rusted metal and squeezed into the hole between the sheet and a wall, which shone so brightly.

I was so impressed by the things I have seen that I stood petrified for about ten seconds. The aroma and variety of smells unclogged my nose, stuffy since childhood, my eyes widened from the light I had never seen before, and breathing became easier than ever, I felt dizzy and almost fainted. Life of plants was seething in the vast expanses around me. The size of this cubicle exceeded the size of skyball field by several times. I was frightened to imagine how much oxygen is produced in this garden. Huge bulbs which were entangled with green vines hung from the ceiling, and the flowers, shrubs, and trees of the strangest shapes and sizes dragged up. I stood there and did not move. I was recovering after seeing such a miracle in some centimeters from my nose. I walked a few meters ahead and almost stepped on tiny pumpkins that lay just on the wet ground. The pumpkins. I had no idea that they could be so small. Why were the pumpkins the first to meet me? Not spiny bushes of roses or thorns, not the Amazonian thicket of shrubs? I walked around and could not recover; I thought it was a dream and I will soon have to say goodbye to this world, to wake up. But no — everything was real, and there was no need to come back from the spaces of my sleeping imagination. An hour passed, and I still was looking around like a kid who has just started to explore the world. There was nothing but plants and me around. No labels, instructions or signs. Breathing was so easy that I wanted to fill a jar with this air to take it with me.

I came back to join the group and told no one about my discovery because I did not want to attract any attention — I have already earned a reprimand from the chief department for the delay. The next day I made up blasters, my hands learned how to do it automatically, so I could calmly think about something private while performing the tedious work. And, of course, the only thing I could think about was a green garden, as I called it. Certainly, I wanted to go back again, but I wanted to know what kind of place it is and what for it was built. And why so many green plants produce clean air while we are forced to breathe this low oxygen, polluted and hot stench? Even though I had some assumptions, I did not know how to find answers to my questions.

Joe Mc.Hurvin — a gray-haired senior man, one of the oldest person among production staff. His diligence is legendary, unlike his wisdom, which he kept somewhere deep within himself, and shared it only with verified members of his entourage. I was one of them.

“Hey, Joe. Can we have a talk after work? I have to ask you something.”

“If it’s not your next question about why people have stopped believing in God, I will be free at 45: 137, is it the suitable time for you?”

“All right. I just need to find a place without extra ears.”

“I know where we should go. Do not worry.”

“I will be waiting for you at the elevator R36 after work, Nils.”

“Sí, gracias.”

As it was planned, after work we went to the place called “Rat’s eye”. We ordered two glasses of the exquisite ugly tipple for 1/10 units of fresh air, found a remote place in the corner of the room and began to talk.

“Joe, I have found something strange in the center of food production, which we had visited the last time we went on tour. I didn’t tell it anyone, and first I want to consult with you. I accidentally wandered into the wrong way and came across a huge cubicle of plants of various kinds. I wandered among the trees and bushes, my eyes have never seen so many colors and I almost crushed the tiny pumpkins! And how much air was there — so clean that I nearly felt dizzy! And no one around, no traces of man. Everything is automated — artificial lights shine from the ceiling, water spraying and maintaining the temperature systems. Joe, just think — how much air…”

“There is no need to continue. Nils, I seem to understand what was going on. When you have not worked in the factory, and our workshop has been engaged in the production of filters for air purification systems instead of manufacturing blasters, we have been taken on a tour to a similar place. We were told that it had been used as a living laboratory for the cultivation of new varieties of food plants that were crossbred to get the best yields. And as you know, green plants produce oxygen, so the experiments on improving its production were also held.”

“So, I have found nothing surprising, and it is just a laboratory.”

“Yes, that’s right. But I am surprised that you got there, and nobody caught you.”

“I want to go there again.”

“If I were you I would not do it because they may catch you and … do you know what happens to the violators and criminals in our city?”

“Yes, I know. But I can’t cope with the wish to come back.”


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