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December 22nd, 2019
For a few brief moments Lucilius wondered if he were hallucinating. Beyond the orange sandy dune a monolith of steel, like a low flat building hovered above the desolate land. He thumbed a knob on his goggles adjusting the apertures and zooming in on the structure. Three of the corners were supported by giant metal columns, that looked at though they telescoped down into the ground like giant hydraulic supports. The forth leg was buried in sand as decades of shifting desert had finally piled up high enough to reach the structure.
The hot blue sky was clear, so he removed his goggles to squint at the site with his bare eyes. He studied it a few more minutes and then began to slide down the crumbling dune to climb up the next, and at the top of each he paused just a moment as the giant building grew larger.
The dune piled up high against the forth column crumbled as Lucilius slowly climbed. He paused with each step, allowing the sands to resettle, trying to sense whether the whole of it would fall from beneath him. Finally he touched the hot gleaming metal, feeling the slumped pyramid of soft sand loosen beneath him. His fingers grasped an edge just as the weight beneath his feet lightened and he was left hanging. The sand below him resettled again for a moment until an edge of the hollow created by the shaft’s shadow gave way and the mound of sand that brought him so high began to sift out, draining the height below him until the fall tensed his nerves.
“Ok,” Lucilius muttered to himself, hanging by the slight grip against the hot metal building. He looked up at the next corrugation in the wall. This new world was filled with moments when the future collapsed to a pinch and there was no telling whether it’d restart. Lucilius eyed the distance, and then slowly pulled himself up and then quickly let a hand go and slapped the arm above him, just barely grasping the next edge. He hoisted himself until he was again hanging and slowly brought the smooth soles of his boots to the first edge. He could barely feel the indent through the off-road tire rubber he’d stitched on, but it was enough to feel some relief. After a moment he looked up again to see the next edge, and the next.
“You don’t even know if there’s a way in up there,” he muttered. There was nothing in this wasteland, and the wasteland only grew.
The sun sank as he rose. He watched his hand against the sky disappear above the metal wall and he searched for something to grasp. There was a lip to the structure. His fingers hoarded the strong comfortable shape and then the muscles in his arms bristled as they worked on such little energy, his whole body quivering as he struggled. He slid an elbow over and then reached with his other hand, his feet now dangling from that high edge of the gleaming edifice. He hauled himself up, rolled onto the flat surface and laid there gasping, his hands aching. He looked at his hands, his fingers like clumped up claws. Years before they would have blistered from the heat and the effort, but now they just hurt.
As the buzzing in his hands and arms calmed, he got up, and looked around. The roof was outlined in a thick black band. Lucilius looked closely at it. It was composed of solar panels, and at their inner edge a grate-covered gutter. Beyond it towards the center lay glass panels. Lucilius walked to the edge and then looked down into the monolith.
There he saw green. Endless green. The entire monolith seemed filled with a hydroponic system. He walked onto the glass above the huge well kept garden. Drones buzzed up and down the lattice work of plants, pruning and cutting, collecting tomatoes and grapes, spinach and an endless variety of foods Lucilius had not seen in years.
He frantically looked around. There had to be some sort of service hatch. Anything. Lucilius knew he’d never be able to break glass this thick, so solidly mounted to the steel construction that made up the glass roof. He turned back to the corner where he’d climbed, remembering what he’d first grabbed hold of. The corner panel was raised slightly, creating a gap. He got on his hands and knees searching to understand how it might work, feeling where he could beneath the lip of the panel. His hands raced along and bumped. His fingers fumbled at the shape, gripping, twisting, pulling until there was a click. The thin high sound of pressed air fled from the panel and it lifted.
Lucilius pulled the panel shut as he descended the ladder and within minutes he was gorging on strawberries, bell peppers and stuffing handfuls of wet crisp lettuce into his mouth, tilting the pod to drink deeply of the fresh cold water. He ate until he was nearly sick. He lay slumped against the wall, watching in awe the magnificent heights of green, the drones going about their mindless work, and on the ground level rows of fruit trees and lines of vegetables growing in soil so fresh and dark, Lucilius felt as though it were an alien of his memory.
“The hell is this place?” he wondered aloud biting into another strawberry, the sharp sweet tang making him shudder. It was the first time he could remember feeling full in a long time. It didn’t matter if it was a dream, it was surely better than anywhere he knew he might wake up. But he didn’t wake up, he got up and began to explore more.
He found the drones were systematically depositing the food into a grinder system that liquefied the fruits and vegetables in a corner of the edifice. A huge vat of the liquid food was being filled. Lucilius sat against the wall, munching from a handful of green beans he’d taken from a drone, watching the whole system. It was only moments later when the system lights attached to the vat began to flicker and the drones stopped their toil to grind the food. Then quickly and smoothly, the vat emptied completely. A wash cycle started in order to clean the vat and Lucilius wandered further, exploring.
It was in the forth corner that he found a door with no handle, only a button. He pressed it and it opened onto a small room. Tentatively he stepped inside, looking around.
“Reminds me of an elevator,” he mumbled as the door slid shut and the floor jolted as it clearly descended. He leapt at the door thinking the elevator might lead him back out into that desert wasteland, but remembered the thick column. He was in a corner of the building, he knew. The elevator was descending through the column.
The doors opened onto a giant circular room, dimly lit, save for the light that radiated up through another glass floor in the center. Lucilius walked to it and looked down.
There were rows and rows lining a deep circular hole down into the earth. Rows of pods where Lucilius could see people, motionless, as though frozen in each one. Hundreds of them.
“Jesus Christ..” Lucilius mumbled, wondering how this place could exist, with everything that had happened. The light in the vast chamber seemed to be dimming, and Lucilius figured it was probably in accordance to the setting of the sun, remembering how dark the sky had grown above the hydroponics before he’d discovered the elevator.
He looked around and found what he figured might be the brain of the operation. A large computer screen and a some sort of control station. Lucilius rolled back the chair to sit, but stopped. Embedded in the desk, as though incased in glass was a book. He leaned in closer, disbelieving his eyes. He read the words again. It was the Holy Bible. He sat down and stared at the book.
The strange novelty of it all was still awash in his mind, so fresh that questions could not even yet form, when the giant screen lit up, startling Lucilius.
The huge screen was filled with the hardened face of an old man, his eyes clear, his beard flush with deep grey. It did not speak but merely stared at Lucilius, as though studying him.
Unsure if the face could actually see him, Lucilius looked around.
“Well?,” the face said, the sound booming throughout the cavernous room. “How did you get in?”
“How’d you get on top then? The sands aren’t high enough.”
“They were against one of the columns.”
The face looked away from Lucilius, nodding. “I turned off the security system years ago. Many died trying to get in during those early days, but after decades with no one trying to break in, it seemed a waste of energy. And to be honest after the last satellites went dark, I haven’t paid much attention to this side of things?”
“This side of things?” Lucilius prodded.
The face looked at him. “The real world, as you’d probably think of it.”
“As opposed to what?” Lucilius asked further.
“The one below you, in the mainframes. I created a matrix for these people.”
“Yes, perhaps. One that I create and control. One where the word of God is fact, not some fiction in a book.”
Lucilius slowly let this expand in his mind before asking. “Are you human, or computer based?”
“Oh, I’m human, I am down there with them. You see, I used to be a titan of industry, before things began to fall.” The head shook a little looking off. “I tried to turn things around. We all did, but we were too late, so my last efforts went into this place. For these people – my chosen ones. After the world began to turn into the desert it is now, they were losing hope, so I gave them this place, where their beliefs make sense.”
“Are you their God?”
The head nodded. “I play the role. And I control it. I’ve made my mistakes through the years, but I’m getting the hang of it.”
“I get the sense you probably knew when I got in.”
The head nodded.
“Why didn’t you turn the security system back on then?”
The head breathed deeply and sighed. “Enough people have died. You looked hungry.”
“Do they remember the real world?”
“No no, it wouldn’t work as well if they did. Perhaps not at all.”
“So what now?” Lucilius asked, putting his worry aloud.
“Well, I can’t plug you in. And even if I could, I get the sense that you wouldn’t want to join us. But you can stay if you’d like. There’s more than enough food. I suppose it might have been different if there’d been someone with you, but that’s not the case. And now I have to go.”
“Why do you do it? Live in that other world when you know this one is still here? How can you do it?”
The face smiled, and just before it snapped to black, it said
“They love me.”
donating = loving
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