If one was to compare the City’s appearance to a movie, as much as specific titles would be of little use, there is a genre and quality-level that fits it perfectly: ‘romance’ and ‘excruciating’. The artificial onslaught of rose-tinted lighting allows it to double as a film editor’s worst nightmare.
Beams of hologrammatic blossom radiate from plastic pillars. The sun sets on a stale salmon sky, cloudless for the first time in a year. The remainders of the red smoke can be watched from a distance as it makes its flight upwards past what might once have been classified as an ‘atmosphere’. It’s almost safe to go outside again.
But when the time comes, few would want to. They’re well aware that leaving their majestic City would spell death for them. It’s nothing to do with external threats. Rather, it’s the return to internal life they need worrying about. More and more people are preparing to leave in complete secret, for fear their departure puts the higher authorities at anything but ease. And for authorities as powerful and insane as the City’s, ‘unease’ could be synonymous with ‘pointless executions carried out by people sharing about the same level of empathy as half a psychopath’.
A freshly built octagonal fountain streams. A small crowd clutters round so they may drink the purest water they’ll ever taste, while they can’t help but stare bleakly into their scarred reflections. It’s a reminder of their gruesome squalor, the drawback to a luxury with benefits that’ll soon be forgotten. The downside is almost enough to outweigh the pleasure… not to mention it’s always reassuring to know the Government would rather use the few remaining supplies of drinkable water to service the likes of fucking decorations.
It’s an act of rebellion partaken in by hundreds across the City, on any given day. They feel like they have a voice. That’s why so many people take the risk. But let’s face it; nobody’s going to listen to a protest started by someone too fearful to admit it.
Let’s put that statement into practice, shall we?
Two females roll by, making less than smooth movements despite balancing finely on their skates. They’re flawlessly identical to each other and, for that matter, identically flawless, with exception to the steel talons where their hands should be. Their artificial skin is crudely ripped off at the wrist; stringy and thin like the bubble-gum they inflate as they pass the fountain. The usual cacophony of splashes, whispers and sobbing has been shushed. The first girl glares at the inhabitants. They do not return the negativity, instead vacantly waiting for the two to leave. As the guard’s partner takes herself elsewhere, she remains to scrutinize the crowd; steel hands on hips, hoping one of them will make an ill-advised move.
The temperature is rising. We move into the exterior of a bar, signposted by neon proclamations of an outlined, unclothed female. A woman burnt from the neck down exits in a hurry, yelled after by a suited stick-figure. A six-piece throng of drunks slump on a step, only sitting up to holler misogynistic clichés at whoever’s passing by – including the males; they’re too shattered to tell the difference. One continues long after their latest target’s left, throwing his empty beer canister in the vague direction of the second skater. Her head jolts in their direction. She edges over; he tries to stop her before she makes a clean slit across the throat with a robotic claw. He falls dead; his friends continue to drink, humbled. As much as they won’t say a single word to each other all night, and as much as the girl’s satisfaction-chip judders into service while she continues on her composed way, nothing happened here.
A clown follows a trembling gentleman home. The man’s dropped a small notebook, that’s all. It’s an act of courtesy, that’s all. As if that would change the outcome. The man turns around, takes the cane he’s been hobbling on and clubs the colourful figure to death. A young couple appear from a partially taped-up doorway just as this occurs.
They leave the house with warm smiles, only for those to fade at the violence across the street; they feel the pleading stares from the clown. They wonder what provoked the man in the first place. The boy wraps his arm around the girl. Her eyes rise to the sky as she attempts to get the plight out of her line of sight, though she’s only half-successful. Blood begins to spread down the pavement and across the road.
He tells her he has something important planned. He can’t call it romantic, or sweet. It’s just a way of saying that he doesn’t care about what’s in the past. He wants to affirm it. Assure her this relationship is anything but false (unlike her smiling). They walk past the fountain. Three members of the crowd are face down in the water. He mutters that they’d never get her; not even if there were specific orders. That would be a sacrifice too great to deal with. But she wonders at the diction. ‘Sacrifice’?
They pass by the bar next; bearing ear to the abnormal silence that has passed over the drunks. She asks if he’s alright to receive no response, until, finally, several steps after, he says something about commercialism. She’s unimpressed by his false-enigmatic tone. It only reminds her of the cold facts, such as the one explicitly illustrating why there’s nothing special about him. He’s trying to compensate for the lack of appeal in any semblance of a personality he might have, by showering his other half with compliments. Not once has he ever laughed with her, or seemed deeply enamoured in the things she has to say. All he has to offer is ambiguous: say, why he likes her fringe, or her make-up, or her jacket. His shaggy brown hair and idler attire no longer interests her. She can’t help but sigh a little. As much as it’s a cynical cliché, turned into everything but cynical by the readiness in which it’s used… he just wants her body; it’s obvious. He also knows the game is up. There is nothing that could help this relationship, this utterly failing relationship.
It’s dead before you can say ‘dead parents’.
They reach an unusually unassuming wire fence. He has taken her to the pile of ash in which the remains of her family are situated. (It’s been kept there for no particular reason. When the City was first created, the builders ran short of material so the Government decided to shoehorn the ash into the shape of a ‘memorial’.) But what he thinks is symbolic wasn’t called for.
She begins to cry, provoked only by the remains. She never asked for this. It’s like receiving praline chocolates when you’ve explicitly stated you’re allergic to nuts, but the personal touch makes it just a bit more concerning than anaphylactic shock could ever be. Being immune to just about any sensitivity, it’s not like she’d know.
If she had known him better – if he really cared – if she could trust him with the information she’d drunkenly confessed one night… he’d know when to do something like this. It’s just further proof they’re not meant to be.
Regardless, he leads her to his home.
The interior design is a pokerfaced affair of blue and black. She sits for a few minutes and then tells him she’s breaking up with him, so he picks up a kitchen knife and stabs her. Over and over and over, incidentally, the same phrase that might be used if one was asked to describe their relationship in three words.
When it’s over, he doesn’t know what made him so violent. He thinks it’s the City.
Another roller-blader knocks at his door. They’ve come to congratulate him on his clever rights-usage, offering afterwards to give his memory back in a disjointed tone.
As much as the City’s appearance resembles that of a tawdry love story, the events within seem more like the opening credits to a nightmare. But one must admit it’s a pleasant day for the post-Apocalypse.