A Glibertarians Exclusive: Breaking Out, Part II
0200, the Maintenance levels, Thunberg-121
Brietta U-626 (she/her) proved to be cautious enough; she had copied the plans for the city’s maintenance levels onto a large piece of paper, which she now took from her coverall pocket, unfolded, and examined. She didn’t explain where she had actually found the paper, and her compatriots didn’t ask. Denver had asked where she found the plans for the Maintenance spaces. “We four,” Brietta had replied, “…aren’t the only ones unhappy with the way things are in the Modern Cities.”
Now, she studied the plans. “This way,” she said after a few moments.
The maintenance shaft – it was too narrow to call it a corridor – was dark, hot, and uncomfortable, especially to four young people dragging bags loaded with food, water, and protective equipment.
Denver G-126 and Helena R-223 walked behind Brietta U-626 and Romano H-988 (he/him). The co-conspirators were making their way through the maintenance spaces underneath the lower level of the Modern City of Thunberg-121, where all four of them had been born and where they had lived all their lives. Now, they were risking everything to get out of that city.
Romano H-988 was still scowling. He had been furious when they had met near an access hatch on Level 2. An hour earlier, he had burst out with the news to the others the moment after they had disabled all their personal electronics: “I got two demerits on my Social Credit Score!”
Romano looked at Denver. “How? I’ll tell you. I was in an Approved Vendor buying some snacks.” He had been augmenting their rations for the undertaking, but he left that part out. “I gave my name and pronouns so the vendor could debit my Social Standing Credits, and three non-binaries and an otherkin started yelling at me, claiming my pronouns were artifacts of the heteropatriarchal past, and that I was ignoring the pain and suffering they suffered from hearing those hateful pronouns used. I told them to leave me alone, I had the right to name my own pronouns, but a Monitor overheard the whole thing. I got two demerits for inadequate remorse for my representation of the racist, sexist, heteropatriarchal past.”
“That’s not right,” Brietta said. “I mean, we’ve all taken heat for our traditional orientations and pronouns, but I never heard of anyone getting demerits for it.”
“Yeah,” Denver agreed. “They’re getting worse.”
“Oh, yeah,” Helena said. “Didn’t you hear? The term ‘traditional’ is now problematic, as it normalizes past injustices. We’re supposed to use ‘archaic’ now.”
“Oh, great,” Romano snapped. “Just great.”
“Come on,” Denver urged. “Let’s get going.”
Brietta had somehow obtained the code for the access hatch. After one last look to make sure no one was watching and that no Eyes were operating nearby, the four young people crawled into the hatch and pulled it closed behind them.
“We’ve got maybe twelve hours before someone notices our quarters have been empty and we haven’t popped up on any facial recognition cams.”
“Hold up,” Brietta whispered. There was a flickering light ahead.
“What is it?”
“Don’t know. There shouldn’t be anyone working down here now. It’s not a Designated Work Week, and it’s the middle of the night.”
“Let’s look. Stay quiet.”
They crept ahead, slowly. A few paces ahead, the maintenance shaft intersected a long room, over twenty meters tall, with a row of odd-looking devices in each one. A blinking indicator on a control panel near the maintenance shaft was the source of the light.
“What are those things?” Romano asked.
“I think they’re transformers,” Brietta said. “They step down electricity from the big transmission lines to a level where we can use it for our electronics, heating, that kind of thing.”
“Why are they all the way down here? Our electricity comes from the solar panels and windmills on the top of the dome. That’s what we were all taught, right?”
“I don’t know. None of this is on the plans I got from Maintenance. Oh, hey – look back here.” Brietta pointed. “Look at those big transmission lines. They aren’t coming from above. They’re coming from the same direction we’re going. Why?”
“We’re already going that way – maybe we’ll find out.” Denver took one last look around the big, puzzling space. “Let’s keep moving. Keep a look out. If this stuff is down here, there may be other things we aren’t expecting.”
“Straight ahead,” Brietta directed. “We should come to a four-way junction. When we do, go straight ahead. About three hundred meters and we’ll hit a T junction; take a right, and it’s about another hundred to the egress hatch.”
“Good,” Romano said. “Let’s get out of this place. We’re never gonna get another chance.”
Ten minutes later they were at the egress hatch. “OK, it’s time,” Denver told the others. “Let’s get our protective gear on. It’s going to be nasty out there.”
“We think it’s going to be nasty out there,” Helena corrected him. “One of the reasons we want out is to find out how much of what the City government tells us is true.”
“Better safe,” Brietta said, “than sorry. Let’s get the gear on.”
The four struggled in the right confines of the maintenance space to put on their protective gear: Heavy, coated coveralls, respirator masks, rubberized gloves and boots.
Finally, it was done. “OK,” Brietta said, her voice muffled by the mask. “This is it.” The egress hatch was not locked; it was presumed no unauthorized people would be down in these levels. Only a simple steel wheel hatch closed the port. Brietta spun the wheel and swung the hatch outwards.
“Shit! Close your eyes!” A bright, white light was streaming in through the port, blocked partly by Brietta as she looked outside.
Denver spoke up. “Is it bad?”
Brietta squinted, stuck her head outside, looked around. Then she looked back over her shoulder. “No. It’s beautiful.”
The vista that greeted them was unbelievable. A gentle breeze waved knee-high grasses, which stretched away from the city down a gentle slope to where a line of trees grew along a small stream. In the distance lay gentle, rolling hills, covered in green. The sun shone brightly in the eastern sky.
“Should the sun be up?” Romano looked at his timepiece. “It’s only 0256.”
“They’ve been lying to us,” Denver said. “They lied about the conditions outside. Why not lie about the time? Do you think there is anything they weren’t lying about?”
Slowly, he unfastened this mask and removed it. He took a deep breath.
“The air,” he marveled. “It smells so good.”
“Look,” Helena pointed. “Over there. Electrical lines.” A line of metal pylons supported several heavy cables, running off into the hills. “They aren’t coming from any solar panels, or windmills, either.”
Denver thought about that. “More lies,” he said. “Forget that for now. We need to get moving. They may be looking for us.”
“At least we can get rid of this gear,” Romano said. He started removing his heavy coverall.
“Wait.” Denver looked back into the hatch, then closed it. There was no way to seal it from outside; to anyone that looked, it would be obvious that someone had left. “We can take it off, but we should take a ways from here before we dump it. Otherwise, they’ll know for sure we came this way.”
The other three nodded. “Makes sense,” Romano agreed.
They removed their protective gear, stuck it back in their carrying bags. Then they struck off into the grass.
Helena walked beside Denver. As they walked away, through the tall grass, through the brilliant sunshine, she reached out and took Denver’s hand.
Denver smiled at Helena. “Hey,” he said. “We haven’t filled out a Social Interactions Permission form.”
“To hell with Social Interactions Permission forms. We’re free now. Free to do as we please – not as the City government approves.”
Denver smiled and squeezed her hand. We have to let people in the City know about this, he thought. We must tell them the truth. We must bring this system down. It has to change – all of it.
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’