Roughest draft. Dystopian future. Young man gives up and realizes what he's been missing.
The lights dimmed again for the third time that day making the street darker than it usually was. In this shadow land it was normal though and Edison paused barely a second to let his eyes adjust before carrying on home. He was too tired and too used to the occurrence to care. He was too tired and too used to finding his way in the dark to really even notice. The dank, thick air reflected his humid thoughts seeming to become them as he breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth. The air of the bubble was closing in on his mind, functioning on the lowest possible frequency, his worries nibbling at a benumbed brain. But they were worries that were so constant that they were normal, and they were the worries of all those that lived in the deep sea bubble and they knew of nothing else.
Red LED lights lit the doorway where the door was opened fully into a room darker than the streets outside. An old woman sat at a table in the middle of the room, blindly eating nondescript mush that was standard fare. As he walked in she smiled happily though he couldn't see it. Though there were lights installed in the walls to illuminate the house they didn't normally turn them on. They were so used to the dark they didn't need them and saving money outweighed the need for light. There were more important things to pay for.
Providing energy seemed to suck more energy than he had. Paying to live in the bubble didn't feel like living, not that he really knew what living was. Edison's grandmother remembered a time, just barely, when people were scrambling to get a space in the bubbles. Though her memories were scarce, he felt more alive listening to the stories of her life on land than he had ever felt living in the cold darkness of the deep sea bubble.
As he knelt by the old woman she pet his hair and ate her gruel, the nutrient packed mush that cost him a quarter of his paycheck, the fuel that kept them both going so that they could use the rest of their money to secure their space, pay their dues to the corporation that owned this particular bubble. They paid for their right to occupy space and Edison knew he was paying with something more than just his time and his energy.
"Time to sleep Grim." He whispered.
She slept most of the time, he could only guess how much. She was one of the oldest people in the bubble, just hanging on to life, no longer able to work. Most families had their elderly euthanized, unable to afford them, but Edison worked extra hours to keep old Grim. She was all he had left and her memories were invaluable to him. Her tangled stories of light coming from the sky, of the sky itself, though he couldn't comprehend what they meant, they stirred something inside him, inside his chest, a lightness that made him forget, if only for a second the dreary life of darkness.
The pumps vacillated up and down, up and down, up and down in a comforting motion, loud sounds that took Edison away, pulling his thoughts away from words and into a sweet escape. Here where the energy giving pumps pulled thick oil from the depths of the black rocks there was light. Here lights were given more space, more energy, more thought. The human workers needed a little more to harvest by, a little more to repair machinery by. Robots scurried about while their attendants watched, making sure they were functioning at maximum capacity. They made sure not a drop of precious liquid was spilled, the machines and their biological duos. The robot masters were of a higher class of biologicals than was Edison, he was of those that did the dirty work. Fixing corroding pipes and jammed pumps. Laying new pipes down in the ground, new babies into their clammy beds of dark rock that had been covered in water not too long ago.
A red glow from the nearby lava flow bathed the normally dark ocean outside the bubble a soft color. It hadn't always been there, only recently had it bloomed and strangely Edison seemed to be the only one to notice. Drawn to the thick glass that was the only thing between him and the crushing waters of the ocean he let the machinery's rhythmic sounds sing him a lullaby as he marveled at the gush of energy coming from the ocean floor.
"Edison!" Sharp syllables cut through his reverie. "What the fuck are you doing?! That pipe is leaking fucking oil, get your ass back over there before I dock your pay for the day." The supervisor's eyes pierced through Edison's thoughts and brought him back to reality. He couldn't afford a dock in pay, not even for a minute and there were plenty of replacements ready to take his job, men who would gladly have him gone.
"Grim, tell me a story."
She barely spoke anymore; most of her teeth were gone as was her mind. It made her stories more fantastical, with strange creatures, living things not human and Edison wondered if they had really existed or if she was just making them up. Things she called plants and animals. Some of them were friends of humans, with eyes and ears and tongues, feet and fur, a thing which with much probing he realized was hair that cover the whole bodies. But none of them could speak, except some that could fly. There were plants that didn't move and didn't have any parts like a human and some of them a person could eat. Grim rambled about brambles and how she would get scratches all over her arms and hands while she picked something she called berries. They stained her mouth and fingers red and blue and black and they were so delicious that she ate them till they made her stomach hurt. He didn't understand that word, delicious. He didn't think he'd ever eaten anything delicious in his life. The old woman told him the life they had wasn't living, but at least they were alive and as long as they were alive there was hope. He didn't know what to hope for.
The smell inside the house wasn't right. Edison was usually comforted as soon as he entered the small main room. Though Grim was old her scent was indescribably new. It radiated from her hair and skin cutting through the thick grime that always seemed to line his nostrils. Around her was the only place he seemed to be able to get away from that throbbing stench that seeped up into his brain and made his thoughts so thick it was as if he was slogging through the densest of oils. That smell that made bringing even the most simplest of thoughts together a complex puzzle. Grim's smell made him pure even when he could scratch away at the crust of dark particles permanently imbedded over his skin, a shell that made him into something not quite human.
But this time he wasn't relieved of the oppressive clutter of his olfactory sense. The tiny, invisible pieces flew immediately up his nose, clicked into their receptors and produced wide spread panic in every cell of his body. Sickness smelling so sweet to make him heave. His stomach rejecting what grainy nutrients he had left from lunch. The standard fare of the bubble workers tasted exactly the same coming up as it did going down.
She was not sitting where she always did when he came back from work. She did not smile as he came in. She was curled up in her old caved in bed and he could almost see the stench of decay whirling up from her to assault his senses. He could taste that she was dying, he could smell her leaving and he could almost see her essence stepping out of her body, calmly disentangling itself from the heap of skin and bones that had been his dearest Grim.
"People have souls Edison."
He didn't understand.
"Your body is carrying you through this world, your mind is navigating and your soul is along for the ride, just watching. When your body rots away your soul will leave and find some other ride. A new ride, just like a new car. The machinery breaks down you get a new one."
He didn't understand what a car was.
"A machine that could take you far, far away or very near. Very fast or very slow. It had wheels one inside for steer and four outside made of rubber."
He understood the wheels, but he didn't understand where you would go.
"We never do understand where to go till we get there; just try to enjoy the road while you're on it."
He held her hand while she slowly left and slowly did she leave all the while whispering stories to him of life before the bubble. As she told him of the sun he thought he could almost feel warmth on his back. Words of the wind was a fan blowing onto his neck. Rain was water falling from the sky and stars were little lights shining a million miles away in the dark leading the way. The moon shone when the sun wasn't around and these two entities were spheres that marked the time passing.
No one else in the bubble knew of these things. From the little he spoke to anyone they had never heard these fantastical versions of where they had all come from. Grim had once told him in a moment of rare clarity of how the sun had become much hotter, so hot that it was burning away life and rain rarely came. When the rain came it burned things away too. When it got cold it stayed that way for much longer than it ever had and many people were becoming sick from the sun and the cold and they couldn't grow their food anymore and millions of people and places were swallowed by the sea. It happened so fast that many weren't able to afford a place in the bubbles. There were many bubbles she said, not just this one. The more money you had the better bubble you could live in. Grim's family just scraped barely enough money and their names were among the last picked in the lottery. You would be saved they had been told, but there will always be a price. You must pay for your spot in the bubble or risk being thrown out, back into a world that was quickly disintegrating into chaos. There was no more air to breathe anymore and even if there was the sun would burn you up anyway. Some chose not to come. They gave up on life. They said that they were buying themselves into slavery. And she said it had turned out to be the truth. But people were scared of death and some were just scared of giving up.
"My father, he said that God wouldn't forgive him for giving up. He was afraid that God would send his soul to Hell for giving up on the life the lord gave him. I don't think he realized till he got here that this is Hell. I'm almost grateful you never knew the world Edison. You don't know what we gave up. Even though I was only a little girl during the great migration to the depths of the ocean I can still almost remember what it was like to taste a sweet fruit or to feel the warm dirt under your bare feet or to climb a tree. I dream about it still, even after all this time. Our dog, he would run circles around us madly dashing through the tall grass long tongue hanging out daring us to chase him. The music that carried through the air and we would dance. It lifted us up and we flew through the clouds. Edison, we lost so much that you will never know. With our senses deprived what is the point of living anymore? It's all just darkness now."
One last shaky breath clattered from her lungs and he could feel she was gone. A power outage had left them in pure black hours before so he couldn't see her eyes lose luster, but he could no longer feel her presence and her smell was that of death. It was the same smell that had emanated from his father so long ago, when they had taken his mother and sister away for the then newly instated breeding program. It hadn't taken long after his heart was broken for him to curl up and let his soul drift away. Now Edison was utterly and truly alone.
He thought of how she had told him the body was just a vessel for the soul. Scrambling in the darkness he looked for some other sort of vessel, anything that her soul could be contained in so that he didn't have to lose her entirely. As his hands finally clasped on an empty food capsule he rushed over to her body, not sure how to get her soul inside.
"Grim get in. Grim get in. I will take you with me." He said the words aloud as he held the capsule above her body. He stood there, poised, until he thought he felt a slight increase in weight in the container he held. He closed the lid and sat with the shell of his grandmother in the dark.
He didn't know how long he had sat with Grim as she left and he didn't know how long he sat afterwards, he no longer felt any pressing need to work. The house he had worked so hard to keep as their place in the bubble was just a dirty shack now. With Grim gone there was no longer any reason to keep his place in the dark. He knew they would be coming for him soon, for one that didn't work had no way to pay and one that didn't pay didn't get to stay. No one ever questioned what happened to those that couldn't pay, they just disappeared and another gladly took their place. Another blank face with hostile eyes just waiting for a mistake to be made so that they wouldn't disappear too.
There was no knock on the door, no lights lit, just hands grabbing his arms and yanking him up. Two masked officials, night vision aiding them through the unfamiliar house didn't have to say anything. They all knew what was happening. He couldn't pay therefore he couldn't stay. "We got a dead one here," were the only words spoken when they noticed the body. Edison clutched the capsule in a death grip and the officials didn't seem to notice or if they did they didn't care.
Edison was escorted across the bubble, in the opposite direction of where he worked every day and towards the transport elevators. Here was where the residents of the bubble went to pick up their weekly shipments of food. The last stragglers of the day were having their food capsules filled with the nondescript mush they all lived off of and the transporters were being readied to be sent back up the shafts to the food processing bubble. There was one official in charge of guarding the transporters and Edison was handed off to him.
"The deserter we told you about," were the words dribbled from the escorting official's mouth. A work deserter was sent away from the bubble, he deserted his job and he deserted his place in the bubble. This didn't happen often, for a deserter was sent away from the bubble to the outside, sent back to the place whence their ancestors had come from. Back to the decaying world to have his flesh burnt off by harsh UV rays or to be frozen by ice during the night. No one in the bubble knew what these things meant but they were afraid of what was said to be a painful, lonely death. No one knew the outside world and that was what made it so terrifying.
The mush that was the staple of the bubble dweller's diets was transported in large wheeled vats so that only the transporter guide was needed to bring them out each week and line them up for the people to pour out what they needed, or more fittingly, what they could afford. One member of each household brought the food capsules to fill and sensors tracked how much they could afford by the currency chips embedded between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand. Once everyone was done the guard wheeled the vats back in and went back up to the food processing bubble.
In much the same way were other goods brought in from other bubbles. The bubble Edison belonged to was solely for oil production. That oil was sent to other districts to be made into final products, whether to be made into energy producing fuel or into clothing or everyday things. These products were produced in other bubbles, all in darkness, like that of Edison's bubble. This was all somewhat common knowledge, though no one really gave much thought about where things came from, only that they needed to work to get them.
Edison helped the guard push the vats back into the transporter and stepped in with him. They recognized each other's faces, despite the low lighting that they had always encountered each other in. It was uncomfortable for Edison to be in the transporter, he felt like he was doing something wrong, breaking the rules. The doors slid shut and a whirring noise signaled that departure was near. Edison's breathe quickened, and he grasped at the smooth walls in the small space. The room started moving up and his stomach dropped down. As he fought dizziness and the urge to throw up the guard put a hand on his shoulder. The man had never shown much interest in the people he interacted with on a weekly basis, he'd never spoken a word to anyone it seemed and he had given the impression of not being quite real. But now Edison could feel real human expression strongly through the comforting hand and he felt a little better.
He looked up to see that the walls of the room were glass and in the inky blackness of the ocean were glowing creatures everywhere. Long rope like creatures of electric blue, others that looked like waving sparks of embers and circles spinning drunkenly through the watery space. Flashing lights spectacular to be seen amazed Edison to the point where he didn't feel the movement of the transporter.
"Why don't we ever see this from the bubble?" He wondered aloud, thinking about the darkness he had spent his life in.
"Probably too much light, though you have scarce enough," was the guard's reply. "Even just a little and you can't see them." They both stared in silence as they ascended higher and higher through the water until the luminescent creatures couldn't be seen any more for now the ocean was no longer a deep, encompassing black, but a very dark blue.
As the transporter room arrived at the food preparation bubble Edison noticed other tubes that went down and branched off next to the one he had just traveled in. He thought of the other bubbles that he had always been connected to without knowing, the people in the dark unaware of each other's existence. Even though he knew that products came from other bubbles he had never thought of the people populating those places, working like he worked, trying to keep their place, paying for the privilege of the space long ago created under the sea. Briefly he wondered who they were all paying, but he didn't have time to finish his thought before the doors slid open and he was released into a brand new domain.
The food preparation bubble existed in the depths of the ocean where the light ended. In the dim light all white buildings in every manner of rectangular shape were stacked on a slope of which he was at the bottom of. The white walls shone brightly, capturing what little natural light there was and reflecting it back cheerfully. Every door that could be seen was painted blue, almost the same color as the water outside the bubble. And large, dark shapes floated along the clear walls, floating by and seemingly watching the activities of the people of the bubble.
For a long time Edison stood just outside the door of the transporter, not noticing the group of people dressed all in brilliant white coming towards him. Before they reached the transporter doors the guard again put a steadying hand on his shoulder.
"This is where I leave you, my shift is over, and my replacement should be here....Where is Randell?" He looked much older in the light, his uniform dark blue, not the black that it had seemed down in the dark depths of Edison's old home.
Laughter rippled out from the group as they began wheeling the vats out of the transporter. Hahaaha. It was infectious. Edison had never heard this much laughter before. Grim chuckled quietly and rarely, with a secret, far away smile. His parents had giggled mischievously when together, sharing something no one else seemed to understand. Edison had laughed too before, with his sister as they played together as children, before he had to work, before she was taken away. With his mother as she sang silly songs to him as a little child. With Grim at the absurdities she told him. And he laughed now, with all these strangers dressed in white, laughing at Randell, even though he had no idea why he was laughing. But it felt good. Like he had nothing to worry about, like he hadn't lost his only lifeline, the only home he had known. He forgot that he had been working for just about as long as he could remember, that his family was all gone, that he was being sent out into the terrifying wilderness that was the outside world. He laughed and laughed loudly. He laughed until no one else was laughing and there was silence and he was crying.
The old guard looked at him sadly, an expression he only recognized because it looked how his face felt. As tears streamed down his dirty face, making tracks in the grime the old man for a third time put a hand on his shoulder.
"Randell won't be here till tomorrow to take you up to the next level. Rita!" A sturdy woman came to his side at the old man's call. "This is my daughter Rita, she will take care of you till then." She nodded at her father and smiled sweetly at Edison. She touched the side of his face and wiped the tears with her thumb. He could see how dirty he was by how filthy her hand was from just that one touch. She made a conscious effort not to wipe her hand on her sparkling clean white clothes and not to show Edison that the dirt freaked her out a little bit. "Grab one of those vats and follow us." The old guard had already left and Edison could see him disappearing into the blue door of a small white apartment, right above the transporter port, forever vigilant of his post.
After depositing the vats in a nearby storage room connected to the factory that made the mush, Edison helped the group to clean the grime off from the dirty hand of those he had left below. After a while they had him just stand by and watch for he was leaving dirt behind even as he was trying to clean it off. Once the job was done the group dissipated and Rita had him follow her to her home. "Just don't touch anything till we get you cleaned up," she warned. Edison wouldn't have touched anything even if she hadn't said anything at all. Everything was so perfectly clean, so wonderfully bright, even as the dark blue of the ocean was dimming and the water was turning black again.
Inside was as simple and clean as outside and Rita had him stop right inside so he wouldn't trail anything on the spotless tiled floors. While she figured out how to bring him in logistically so as not to dirty anything unnecessarily, Edison had time to look about and wonder. Though not much bigger than the small house he had shared with Grim, and at one time his whole family, Rita's home was full of brightness, with windows and pictures on the walls. He wasn't even quite sure what they were at first, growing up there was no use for pictures and no light for them either.
There were pictures of people, which was easy enough for Edison to understand and one of a house, though vastly different than any house he had ever seen. Near the door, close enough that he could inspect it closely, was a picture of something strangely shaped and colored, something Edison couldn't begin to guess at the substance of. On a green carpet was anchored a thick, brown pole, that was far from uniform in shape. It split into smaller and smaller stakes and on the ends of these were thousands of green ovals, pointed at the ends. To further complicate the image there were red spheres dotting the green top and the background was a wonderful light blue.
Rita could tell from his perplexed expression that he had never seen anything like it before. "It's a tree," she said, "an apple tree to be specific." She leaned in closely and whispered, "I have real apple sauce, but don't tell anyone. You don't want to know what I had to trade for it. Someday I vow I will eat a real apple too," was her defiant afterthought. She saw the still confused look on his face and chuckled. "We can talk more about this later, but first we need to get you cleaned up."
She had him take off his shoes and put them in a bin and then follow her to the bathroom. His dirty feet left sooty footprints which seemed to soak into the floor. Though water wasn't something they lacked there was almost no point in showering in Edison's mind, for he immediately collected grime as soon as he stepped out. He wasn't sure what his future held, he could be dead in the outside for all he knew, but he was excited to get clean, really clean, and learn more about this new bubble.
Before leaving him alone Rita showed him all the different soaps she had, gave him a fresh washcloth and towel, and started the shower, adjusting it to optimum temperature for a deep clean. As he stepped in and used the fragrant gels he watched the dirt spiraling down the drain never seeming to end. He spent a long, luxurious time breathing the steamy air in deeply until finally the water ran from his body clear and clean. Getting out he felt more clarity than he had ever felt in his life, like he had washed the filth away that clogged up his thoughts. The pressure of paying for his right to live in the bubble was gone and his heart beat with strength in his chest.
Rita dressed Edison in a large, white robe while she had his clothes cleaned in her very own washing machine.
"I was never able to have children of my own," she told him, "so I was able to save money for extra luxuries."
"Is that why you're not in the breeding program?"
"Yes, I have always been infertile, so I was allowed to stay here, a blessing, though when I first found out I didn't feel that way, we can only guess what the lives of the breeders are like."
In the silence it was clear both were thinking of those they had known that had been taken away to harvest the children of bubbles.
As they sat down to dinner Rita brought out multiple dishes, yet another confusing thing to Edison. He was used to having only one type of food, ever. He had never really looked forward to eating, except to get full so he wouldn't have to eat anymore bland mush till he was hungry again. First on the menu was a watery concoction Rita called soup. Being of the food preparer class she knew what he had been subjected to, as it had been her job to prepare it.
"I feel I owe you," she said, "for all that tasteless crap I have made for you all this time." Before he ate she explained how there were many different kinds of soup and that this one was an old recipe.
In the bowl was a tan liquid, clear on top and murky at the bottom, that, when stirred caused the color to solidify and white mists to dance in the ripples. There were a few chunks of white sponge and green rags floating around, which Rita explained were seaweed, a staple of food here because it grew plentiful right outside the bubble, and tofu, something she wasn't quite sure of the origins of. As he spooned the soup into his mouth his eyes widened in disbelief at the sense of taste he was experiencing. It was almost too much at first, he didn't know whether to choke, spit it out or faint from the explosion in his mouth. Rita apologized, she had started with something too flavorful to begin with, but hell, it was too late now to go back. She taught him that this taste was called salty, or briny, and had to get him into the habit of chewing, as he was not used to solid food.
Next up was a pink slab called protein steak. This was standard fare here in this bubble. A paste was squirted out of a tube to make a large block of protein matter and then cut into slices to make the steaks. She had various sauces to dip the bites in, different colors for different flavors. The steak was slightly salty and a whole new experience, for it required a lot more chewing than the bits floating in the now vanquished soup.
During the meal they sipped a grimace inducing liquid with flavors that Rita called sour and bitter and spirited. Alcoholic, she said. She told him that this drink was the reason Randell had not been at the transporter to escort him to the next bubble up, but that she was glad he had been forgotten and he was able to stay with her. As it was, one had to be careful who one was friends with and what they told these friends. Some were greedy for another's job and others were secret tellers, people that would reveal a wrong doing to get special treatment. Her father the guard was supposed to be watching the transporters at all time, even when at home, which was nearby, and he wasn't supposed to have visitors, for security reasons and all. She still visited him often, bringing him meals and she said he often talked about the dismal conditions of the bubble from whence Edison emerged from. She told him he was the only one she had ever seen that had just up and stopped working and was in the process of being sent to the outside. Everyone, even those up here, was terrified of what lay outside the web of bubbles that humanity now occupied.
Rita displayed an intense interest in what the oil producing bubble was like that Edison had lived his whole life in until now. He told her about growing up in the darkness, where the lights went out constantly so that you knew everything about your surroundings from touch, and the dimmest light was enough to read a face by. He spoke of the grueling work laying pipes, fixing them and listening to pumps forever droning in your mind, creating a comforting sound that helped him to forget his troubles. There were the glowing lava flows outside the bubble and the blank faces of all the people that surrounded him. His mother and father, happy together even though so much misery abounded, their presence when they sat together, even when in silence was the most wonderful thing he had ever felt. His sister, not much older than himself, whom he would run around the small house with, playing games and singing songs. Though they were in the dark and they were dirty, they were happy with each other, happy to be alive together. And there was Grim, the strange grandmother that would amaze them with stories that couldn't be true but that she claimed were normal parts of human life before the bubble. He then told her of when his mother and sister had been taken away for the breeding program. How his father had died of sadness. How all he had left afterwards was Grim and her dreamlike stories. They weren't even like his dreams, they were even more unreal than dreams. Then he told her how Grim had died and how he didn't care anymore, there was no reason for him to work to pay for them to live in the bubble anymore. Without his family he had no reason to live.
The last course, something Rita called dessert, was what she had told him of secretly when he had first entered the house and had been entranced by the picture of the apple tree. It was her underground apple sauce, a food in a more familiar form than the other courses. After having taken so long to eat because of his desire to savor ever bite, ever intense burst of sensory information expanding from his mouth, he was extremely full, and wasn't particularly interested in eating something like mush again. But Rita was so enthused by the apple sauce, of which she had very little of, that Edison couldn't refuse her offer.
From the moment the sauce touched his tongue he was glad Rita had shared her secret with him. The apple sauce was like thick water that easily flowed along his tongue and down his throat. Sweet and tart at the same time it was like warmth with a cool breeze. First a taste that made him smile innocently and then that sensation that made him pucker his lips. Like the rest of his meal he ate slowly and with great intent. Rita followed suit and he could see her facial expressions mimicking his own. Once the contents of the small cups were safely in the bellies of the two people they both smiled dreamily and sat in silence for a while thinking about what it meant that there was a thing such as this.
"Rita, what is the next bubble up like?" Edison's question broke the contented quiet. Rita thought about it a few moments.
"I'm not really sure dear, I know it's the raw materials processing bubble, and they send us the food materials which we make food for the lower bubbles with. Another bubble sends us other items, like clothing and the comforts for our homes. Different goods come from different transporters, so they must come from different bubbles."
Edison remembered how a different transporter brought them the dark acrylic clothes and bedding and whatever else that was needed in the living quarters back home, cloth that stretched over the body and was course to the touch. He thought of how the oil that he and countless others had pulled from the earth was sent away in the pipes that they laid and how he really didn't know where they went. Each bubble made one thing and it was sent to other bubbles. The people of each bubble could only know so much, could only really know one thing, what life was like in their bubble. If he had known about food like that Rita had given him what would he have been willing to pay for it? What would he have been willing to do to live in a bubble that wasn't constantly surrounded by darkness, with cheerful bright houses that had pictures in them? What would he have been willing to do to give these things to his family? How could people have given up these pleasures to live such a dreary life so far under the water?
Though Grim's stories still seemed like distant fables Edison began to realize how much she had lost in her emigration from the surface of the earth. How much of it was real and how much was delusion? Edison began to feel determination hardening in his heart to find out what the surface was really like. He now wasn't so sure of the terrible stories that were being told. What if the surface hadn't become such a dangerous place? Perhaps whatever was happening at the time his grandmother was a little girl was over now. He was actually getting excited about his exile and he thought about how fortuitous it was that he had captured Grim's soul in the food capsule so that he may bring her back to where she belonged.
"The food capsule!" He exclaimed as he jumped up.
"Oh that old thing, I was about to wash that for you so that I could pack you something to eat for your journey."
"No! That is the vessel for Grim's soul. I must bring her with me!" Rita gave him a quizzical look and then shrugged.
"Ok, but let me at least wash the outside of all the grime." She got up and Edison followed her to the kitchen, where he saw the origins of the meal they had consumed. Not having a kitchen, this was a strange place. The food he had consumed all his life had been nutritious mush, it didn't need to be refrigerated nor heated, the preservatives kept it safe to eat for who knew how long. Rita showed him the cold box, a refrigerator and the stove and oven, which heated things up. She had cupboards for storing dishes and a large sink to wash them in. When all was neat and tidy she handed him the now clean food capsule that contained the contents so precious to him.
Rita set up a makeshift bed on her sturdy couch and tucked Edison in in a very motherly fashion. She stroked his hair and said "Goodnight my dear," before heading to her own bedroom to rest her head. Edison fell immediately into a deep sleep, exhausted from everything that had so recently happened.
A loud banging on the door woke Edison out of deep sleep. He sat up, confused at where he was after dreaming old dreams of darkness. Rita came rushing out of her bedroom and slid the door open to find a man with an urgent look on his face and sweat forming droplets on his forehead.
"Where is the young man?!" He demanded.
"Oh, now you are here for him? Where were you last night when he arrived, hmmm?" Rita posed her questions with the hint of a smile on her face. When Rita and Edison had drank the alcoholic beverage the night before she had stopped Edison from drinking too much. "We don't want you to get sick, like Randell," she had said, "he is always getting too drunk for his own good." Even though she had stopped him early he had still felt the effects of the drink. He talked louder than he ever had before, laughed more and even stumbled a bit walking. And now in the morning he realized the headache he currently had was from last night's reveling. From the look of Randell he had been reveling too, and he looked worse for the wear. His drawn face, sweaty and pallid, looked like he was feeling much worse than Edison.
"Rita, I'm already late in delivering him, please, just hand him over." Randell begged Rita, who rolled her eyes and told him to wait a moment. She strolled languidly over to where she had Edison's clothes and had him retreat to the bathroom to don the dark, synthetic clothing he had arrived in.
While he had only been out of the clothes a short time, Edison felt strange in the black shirt that stretched tight across his chest. It felt better now that it was clean, but he didn't feel like the position the clothing symbolized reflected him as a person anymore. But it was all he had to wear and so he readied himself for the transition to the next bubble he would be transported through.
Rita handed him the food capsule and with tears in her eyes said a quiet goodbye, knowing that she would never see him again, that he was on his way to his death. She shut the door and Randell led Edison to the transporter on the opposite side of the bubble that led up to the next level. The streets were empty and the ocean surrounding them lightened in color as they walked. Randell took each step slowly, groaning occasionally so that Edison had time to take in the city while being escorted away. He still felt the loss of Grim deeply, but having traveled up to this bubble, where the people had what seemed like so much more, made him feel excitement at seeing the next bubble. Rita had helped him to identify the word for this feeling as they drank the spirits after their intense meal the night before. Edison speculated at the different tastes that he had never before experienced, never before even thought could exist. He wondered how much else existed that he couldn't comprehend with his limited surrounding, with his limited senses. Anticipation tingled inside him at what he was yet to discover while doubts clung like shadows knowing that he was being sent to die.
The next transporter was located uphill. Often Randell stopped to lean against a wall, hanging his head in agony and sometimes retching pathetically. During this time Edison looked out over the ground they had covered and when they finally reached the transporter, there stopping for one final time he could see the entire bubble clearly. There were dozens of transport tubes, just like the one he had been brought up in, descending down into the darkness below. How many bubbles, each its own large city, filled with workers like him and his kin, were there? How many thousands of people were dredging up oil every day while living in such darkness? If this bubble was only to process the tasteless food of the bubbles connected to it, how many bubbles were like this one, with extensions reaching like fingers seeking in the dark?
Edison was stunned at his revelation of how many people there were just like him living with no idea of the simple pleasure of taste or being clean or having light with which to see pictures on the wall. They didn't know what a tree was, they barely knew of the existence of the bubble where their food came from, let alone the identical bubbles, clones of their cities, their lives. And they would probably never know.
The journey up wasn't as nerve racking, this time around he knew what to expect. His escort was still feeling unwell and Edison knew that arriving at the next bubble he wouldn't be so fortuitous as to have his next escort be indisposed. He wanted a chance to be able to see what it would be like what raw materials were produced to be distributed down to food preparation bubbles. The sea surrounding them was still a deep blue, only slightly lightening as they rose up from the depths.
The transporter reached its destination after a long, silent voyage through the blue water. Time stretched infinitely before him as Edison mulled over the events that had so far taken place. He was starting to piece together the puzzle in which his life was but a tiny part and he hoped that somehow he would be able to explore the next bubble so as to understand another piece better. His opportunity would present itself abruptly and it almost seemed as if from the beginning, which started at Grim's death, he was meant to learn all that each level of bubbles entailed.
There were many people crowded at the gates of the spacious transporter, waiting to fill it with goods to send below. As the doors slid open a man yelled for everyone to start moving the cargo in. When he saw Randell he berated him loudly for not bringing the exile up the day before and after thoroughly embarrassing the guard told him that it was actually quite fortunate as just this morning one of the main dock men had died of a heart attack and the crew was short. He looked Edison up and down and nodded that he would do to fill in.
Edison had lived his whole life weighed down by the fact that in this society he lived in one doesn't get something for nothing and he jumped at his chance to get what he wanted from this bubble.
"Sir, what sort of payment shall I receive for the work?" The supervisor was taken aback, there was always workers available and he had never had to hire someone short notice before.
"You should be grateful that you get more precious time alive before being sent to the surface," was his barking reply.
"For a job well done, perhaps I could be shown the work of the good people of this bubble, before I am sent to my demise." The guard that was to escort Edison upwards had arrived and even though he was young, his look was very stern and serious. The supervisor looked over at the guard, cogs spinning visibly in his mind whether this was an acceptable line of action, or if it might mean trouble for him later.
"Would you be willing to escort him around the bubble a little before taking him up?" The young man shrugged slightly and nodded, though his face showed no expression.
It felt good to be working and especially in exchange for seeing this bubble sector. Edison's years doing heavy labor harvesting oil had made him strong and moving the large crates was almost a light exercise for him. It took a few trips to get all of the goods down to the lower bubble and during the breaks Edison had time to view his surroundings and talk to the work crew. Here everyone wore yellow clothes and the men were curious about Edison's black outfit. This brought up conversation about the differences between the bubbles and Edison learned that many raw goods came into this one and were processed into materials that were sent below, where they were further made into the food for the masses that occupied the perpetual night that was the bottom of the civilization under the sea. They didn't realize the extent to which the food was changed and were shocked when Edison described the food he had lived his whole life on. They knew that the lower castes lived off a nutrient rich paste, but it didn't seem real until they heard what it was like from someone that had actually eaten it. They offered their new friend different snacks they had brought with them, wanting to see his reaction to the tastes he had never before experienced. One even had a real apple and wasn't the least bit worried about parting with it. Edison had Randell take it with a promise to give it to Rita. Though they weren't necessarily supposed to have certain food stuffs, it was overlooked that they often took small amounts of raw goods for themselves when processing them. The men told him of how they cooked these foods up in their own ways and invited him to their homes to try their various recipes. Edison wished he only had time to do so.
Once the work was done the young guard stepped up to escort Edison around the city, stating that they couldn't take too long, though he had informed his superiors of the situation, leaving out the part about the tour of the city. As they proceeded to tour the city many of the men tagged along jumping in with explanations and pointing out where they lived or where their friends lived or where they liked to go during their free time. This bubble was colored in warm yellows and browns, which shone cozily against the blue backdrop. A surprising edition were places of business, where the men could exchange money for foods cooked for them or for intoxicating drinks. There were rhythmic, melodic noises that exuded from countless establishments that the men explained was music. It baffled Edison that this noise was produced for people to enjoy. Some of the noises reminded him of the humming of the machines as he worked, the chanting of the voices lulling him into a meditative state. He was conflicted in staying within range of the beautiful sounds to hear this enchanting new thing, like new tastes for his ears, but he wanted to see as much of the city as possible as well and they were so pressed for time.
There were factories too, these bubbles not only processed, but it also produced a lot of different foods. These were foods that didn't require a lot of light, like the mushrooms farms. These strange bodies grew in the moist, darkness of low ceilinged, brown buildings. One of the men whose friend worked in one brought out some of the mysterious mushrooms and they had a nearby restaurant cook them up. They ate them in a salty, warm happy sauce, which Edison couldn't help take his sweet time to complete. Thick beverages were supplied, the workers wanted to spoil Edison and brag about the delicious things that they could buy for him. With such delightful companionship and such amazing food and drink Edison was feeling so fuzzy and alive, like he was living the most wonderful dream ever. Even the young guard was brought into the revelry, though he maintained a stern attitude for the most part, it was apparent he enjoyed the company and the food that was bought for him. Under his official navy uniform and steel face he was a bit pudgy and his tongue began to loosen, despite the fact that he refused the drinks.
There was a protein factory full of the most fantastic creatures the men called insects. They were only about the size of a part of one's finger and had six legs and made strange calls to one another, which made an audible hum in the factory which housed them. It was explained that these were ground up to make a protein powder and that this was made into protein steaks, or was just put into nutritional mush. Here though they liked to serve the bugs up in different ways. Again they had a sample fried up and the insects were deliciously crispy with spices tingling the tongue.
Time passed as the group went from place to place, forgetting the world they knew and existing in an almost different world. In the darkening of the ocean Edison heard the men sing songs and forget the sorrow of living a confined life. He forgot that he must continue on to the surface, to an unknown fate and he experienced an intense happiness that could never have been provided back home. The colors, the sounds and the smells all invaded his body taking over and sending him into a new reality, as if the world had shifted around him. In the past few days since beginning his journey he had come to experience a whole different awareness of his surrounding, that there was more than he knew and that somehow he was bound to open himself up to learn what it meant to be human.