February 6, 2161
The Upper Echelon announced today one of its policies to combat the overpopulation of Earth. This policy, called Family Planning, intends to limit the amount of offspring a family has while also supplying donors for the roll-out of Double I factories. According to sources, every fifteen years, families will be required to produce a child as a donation to The Upper Echelon. This child will then be…
The Earth seemed to come alive in the sun as he reached the footholds of the Cloud City. Not a soul had seen or heard from Isaac in a week. Not unless the insects had souls. The flies that buzzed around his face reminded him of miniature scanners.
Pine needles poked his soft skin as he lay beneath the towering plants. He had never been woken up from the sun in his eyes before and it left him feeling bittersweet. At least in The Byways he knew how to feel. Here, the world seemed tucked away in silence and peace, giving no thought to what transpires in the realms of humanity.
In the day, Isaac’s eyes could not penetrate the reflections of light coming off of the monstrosities. They rose like iron stalks from that great plateau. But at night, the peaks of the buildings seemed to tear the very fabric of the atmosphere. The beacons that sat atop them seemed to do nothing but add to the stars in the sky.
He counted the blinks through the foliage stories above him. Often, the wind would blow blocking his view and thus making him lose count. Isaac didn’t mind though, as it were the most trivial thing he’d lost recently.
He watched the traffic of the skyway skid across the ozone. Maybe heading to another far off Cloud City or another Upper Echelon, he thought. The crafts faded into the stratosphere as they reached the orange horizon and he wondered what sat on the other side. Was it as terrible as this place that stood over him? Were they just as terrible as the people occupying this city? Or was this place a special kind of evil?
Under the aura of the Milky Way many thoughts ran through Isaac’s brain. He wondered what Leech was doing. He wondered where he would go to get his fix now that they had sabotaged the factory he so often frequented. Maybe he was under an overpass somewhere craving a drop right now. None of that mattered now, and he knew it.
The world had gotten significantly bigger for Isaac since his time with Leech. A world full of good and evil. He had witnessed despicable things and also seen first hand the kindness that can come from a person’s heart. A world full of polar opposites had enveloped him at the center.
Now, Isaac slept at the edge of a concentrated vile. An evil multiplying evil. One that he meant to water down with vengeance. An enzyme produced by the very organism of evil itself.
Isaac’s wonders and thoughts turned to dreams as he lay in the bed of dead flora.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
That morning, Isaac awoke to the sound of bird whimpers resonating through the smog. As if he had been teleported to Mars overnight, the sunrise looked alien that day. Its rays dampened by the aura of man.
Days like this were rare around the Cloud City, but every once and awhile the humans that sat in the saddle of that place were reminded of the world outside.
Isaac listened as the sirens rang throughout the plateau above. He took precautions as well, raising the neck of his shirt over his nose and mouth. It would be another days walk before he reached the foot of the pedestal that held that city. Isaac left his bed of pine needles and leaf dust and trekked on.
Critters scattered at the sound of the ground crack beneath his feet. With each step, Isaac was reminded that he was not alone. Every passing moment the plateau wall seemed to reach higher and higher. He was often left wondering if he had made a wrong turn towards the edge of the Earth.
Isaac had seemingly crossed every terrain imaginable. Creeks of acidic water had wet his feet. Course air in the oxygen fields was so thick he could capture it in his palms before it seeped out like sand. That had been the most difficult part of his journey so far. Each breath only seemed to deliver a fraction of air compared to The Byways. This, compounded with his slow, easily tired movement made it the longest part of his journey as well. The binding and unbinding of molecules that took place here tinged his skin.
After the oxygen fields, he made it to the forest below the city. He had seen Sentinel hover cars on the roads here, but had stayed hidden in the flora. Isaac had wondered if they headed to The Byways, to the clinic. He felt guilt for leaving them without an explanation, but his mind had produced an urge like he had never experienced. An urge to stop The Crest. An urge everyone had, but only a naive man would act on. Maybe that was his strength. Maybe it was a weakness. Isaac didn’t see it as naivety at all, but will.
He had reached the foot of the cliff now, the buildings no longer in sight. The plateau was so tall it seemed to be in another time zone. The sun had dipped low enough to bring darkness on the lowlands, though it was still mid-afternoon. Daylight was still abundant for The Upper Echelon and the inhabitants of the Cloud City.
The path up was steep and uneven. The smog covered his sight and his breath made his shirt damp. Isaac’s breath was heavy, but whatever supplements had been injected into him during his time at the factory had strengthened his endurance. He didn’t look like a man that had spent his whole life on a concrete slab. Even still, his hamstrings felt the strain of this long climb.
A pathway that had only been made by the journeys of many that had come before him. A single file line of uprooted grass, he followed it through the blanketing clouds.
The birds and raptor creatures that had circled above him throughout his journey had turned back to lower altitudes now. The only evidence of life in this smog was a little black lizard that had developed gills, filters maybe. What it ate, Isaac wasn’t sure. He wondered if the lizards made a seasonal migration down the slopes for food. Maybe that is what formed the path.
He came upon one that had buried itself in the sand. Only its gills and eyes broke the surface before it scurried away at the giant that was Isaac. It resembled a little ink blot, defying gravity as it rolled up the mountain.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
As Isaac broke the surface of the smog, he saw that he was at the end of the long pathway. A metropolis stood before him, reaching even higher than the cliff of the plateau had. Down at ground level there were no streets like The Byways. The cars flew high overhead there and he wandered beneath them. Down there it was quiet and seemed like a place long abandoned.
Isaac set his sights on the city up above. A car descended down to meet him at an intersection of the substreets. Its engine purred and its magnetic force made the hairs on Isaac’s arms stand up. Isaac and the car were situated towards each other like that of a duel for what seemed like an eternity before the window slid down.
A person with a hood pulled over their head sat in the driver’s seat. Unmoving, a man’s voice came from behind the hood.
Isaac nodded with an uncertainty if he should answer at all.