Maven Hartstock outstretched, basking in the warmth of the sun on her ghostly pale skin. Dirt level only received sun a few minutes a day now. Over the last seven hundred centuries the cities of man had reached ever higher, the gaps in the gleaming spires only allowing sunbeams to reach the dirties residing at dirt level in specific spots, and only on specific days.
Today was the seventeenth of July, and as such, the sun hit precisely this patch of sidewalk at precisely 4:32PM until 4:35PM. She had learned this last year by coincidence and had written it down so she wouldn’t forget. It was her secret, a secret she hoped to share one day with someone if she ever met the right person. Someone actually interested, someone who wanted to see the sun. The real sun.
Like all the dirties residing at dirt level, she had a job. It was the only job left on Earth. It was a job most of them rarely awoke from. Humans could no longer compete productivity-wise in any category of existence. Mentally, physically, humans were worthless to the algorithms which ran society, and as such most humans lived in squalor at dirt level, while the automatons built their owners the utopia above.
Their owners, it’s worth noting, were in fact humans, who merely had the fortune of inheriting shares of the billion or so corporations the automatons managed. In total, there were only about three hundred or so of the Owners, as they were known, and they lived lives of wealth and luxury Maven could not possibly imagine, and neither could you, considering that you’re an ancient from the time when humans still banged on keyboards.
Maven’s job was a sort of pittance the machines gave the dirties. Somewhere in that machine’s algorithm it found that to provide the Owners with the ultimate luxury it needed to supply them with every food choice imaginable, and always available, and always as fresh as possible, and having such a menu produced a lot of waste. Food, which was perfectly safe to eat, simply wasn’t flavorful enough to please the Owners the day after it was made.
As such, this food waste could be put to use, along with the unneeded spaces down at dirt level or in abandoned mines. In the early days, the machines had merely dumped it down to the destitute masses below, but the machines found their charity met with acts of terrorism and sabotage.
So, the machines invented a purpose for the subterranean dirties. They would rent out the raw processing power of their brains, and in returned they were left in a sort of euphoric stupor, only emerging to eat. The conscious experience was tailored into immersive games. They would enter a virtual world and then chose whatever fiction they wanted to live, be anywhere, do anything, no consequences or repercussions, and the computer program would take some of the background computing power of the human’s minds, and use it for whatever calculations it needed.
The technique wasn’t cheaper than powering its own computers, but it was cheaper than repairing whatever damage the dirties caused when they were allowed to get bored. Their distant cousins in the penthouses couldn’t stomach the thought of just exterminating their poor distant relations, even if they were of inferior birth and breeding. At least not back when this solution had been developed.
Almost all the dirties did not particularly care about the disparity in real life. They could, after all, simply hop into a simulation of life as an owner, or life as Julius Caesar, for that matter. Truth be told, the Owners spent a fair amount of their lives in simulators too.
Maven, however, was a strange girl. Unique among humans, really. She was unique in that she preferred this world, the oily, dusty, mildew-stained reality of dirt level over the virtual prisons which her peers devoted their lives to. Most dirty’s goal in life was to save up enough to be tubed, a process in which a sort of valve is surgically added to their stomachs so that they never need exit the game for food again. Maven was disgusted by the idea, and so, after she had collected enough pay each day to buy her meal she signed out, and wandered the empty streets at dirt level, searching for the sun, or another weirdo like her, or perhaps just, a staircase upwards.
It wasn’t that she disliked the games, no she found them a pleasant escape, and it wasn’t that she didn’t like other people, she had a lot of friends in the virtual worlds, and really, there were solitary games options for those who were extreme introverts. It wasn’t a flaw in the game's design. They were all so perfectly designed that, from a phenomenological standpoint; the experience was no less real than walking down this dank, musty street. She just wanted to experience something real.
Out of the darkness and into the dim glow which diffused down from the lights’ untold stories above, a rat scurried. There was an entire ecosystem down here, one not unlike that of the deep ocean floor, if truth be told. Waste scraps from the upper city were sent down here, just as carcasses sink from the sunlit regions of the oceans to feed the darkness at the sea floor. Rats and raccoons harvested the scraps, and other larger predators feasted upon them.
In recent decades, the population of deep urban mammalia, as the automatons called them, had increased significantly, due to a drop in food demand from the dirties. Their population had dwindled steadily since the introduction of the games. Most cared only for playing the game. The idea of meeting up with someone from the game in real life and mating to bear offspring was steadily becoming less appealing. The beasts of the darkness were growing larger and more populous.
One of those monsters was creeping up behind Maven at that moment. She heard a faint scrape, a clawed paw slipping on concrete. As maven turned, it pounced. A juvenile Coywolf. The product of the reunification of the canine species in the absence of human forced inbreeding. It’s ancestors, eons ago, were part dogs, coyotes, and wolves. Now it was just a missile of teeth and hunger. The food dumps into the landfills from the surface were sporadic, and as such, prey populations fluctuated wildly. This was one of the periods of scarcity.
Fortunately for Maven, the games she preferred to play were in the survival adventure genre and were highly realistic. Of course, characters were generally in far superior physical condition than her, as a young woman whose only exercise was these periodic strolls through the darkness and whose diet was lacking. However, to her credit, the monsters in those simulations were quite a bit larger than this wolf-dog hybrid. She flailed in the darkness, deflecting the thrust of its jaws, but in deflection she took a bite to her left wrist. She was on her back now, beast flailing its mouth like a pit bull playing tug of war with her wrist.
She cried out as a bone in her arm snapped. The lack of sunlight to produce vitamin D, the general lack of nutrition in their diet, and the long hours of sedentary behavior at work resulted in all dirties, even teenagers, developing osteoporosis. Her right hand reached out in desperation and found a brick, which she began bashing into the ravenous beast’s skull. One particularly well thrown blow above the beast’s eye sent it whimpering back away from her and behind a close by storm drain culvert opening, the grated cover for which had rotted away.
She scrambled to her feet, puffing up to appear bigger as the ravenous monster remembered its stomach pains and hardened its resolve. It circled around the culvert pit, hoping to corral her into a corner in the facade of what, centuries earlier, had been the gap between a purse parlor and a cupcake boutique.
Maven was weighing her options. She knew she couldn’t outrun the bloodthirsty canine. She also considered herself lucky, as coywolves are pack animals. The lone ones are generally young adults who’ve split off the family group to find a mate and establish a new pack. Fighting it off would be a tough move, but it seemed the only choice. Climbing. Climbing, that could work, but to do so she’d have to turn her back… No, she thought. I have to fight it off. Go for the eyes, then try to get behind it and choke. That’s my only option.
The hungry predator was snarling loudly, easing in closer and closer. It was right beside the rotten drainage grate now, barking and lunging in and out, testing her reactions, looking for an opening past the brick, hoping its potential meal would make the fatal mistake of running.
And out of the opening in the grate, another beast exploded, taking the coywolf in its outstretched jaws before tying it in a two-foot-thick noodle of scales. A Burmese python, or at least a distant descendant of the ones careless collectors had released into the wild after they grew too large. Maven froze in horror for a second before sprinting off for home.
At least in the game you get to respawn, she thought to herself, as she splinted and bandaged her mangled wrist and resolved to never step outside the protection of her home again.
Videogames have become an ever present fact of life, and are really just the latest form of happiness enriching distraction, this work to me is really about what happens to us when machines have made us useless. Other people think we'll live happy lives of recreation, A part of me thinks we will be sent to a far darker fate. What are your thoughts on this? Comment below.
If you enjoyed this please, share, subscribe, and check my blog for more content. Also check out my short story collection Remote Viewing Session X719 available FOR FREE on Kobo now. See the books page for more info.
If you would like to view similar content to this post try clicking one of the tags below.