“Ember,” Catie turns to me with a tablet in hand, the clear glass lit up with the image results of the scan, “We have a problem.”
“Hmmm?” I’m marginally interested because my own reports are coming through, and some of those experiments are critical to understanding what’s happening in our City.
“The Wall’s defenses were activated.”
“What?” Now I’m paying attention, moving around my little work station with its shiny chrome gleam and creamy white gloss of the semi-plastic material that forms the base of it. The small little screen that hooks into the overall Government network blinks at me, waiting for my input to give up the results of the tests. The Wall, however, is what holds my attention as Catie brings up the measurements. The spikes in electromagnetic current. The brief flash of danger in bold, red splashes across charts of endless numbers.
“How? Why?” Touching the cool glass with my finger, I zoom in on some of the readouts, trying to process the information. “We didn’t …”
“I know. We didn’t. There was no external force trying to assault the Wall, Em. Something came at it from the inside.”
Shocked, I feel a brief warmth of emotion when I gasp, “The inside? Is there anything even down there?” My hands pull my own portable tablet from my lab coat pocket and I turn it on and bring up a map of the City. It immediately shows me where I am, in the Government Science Research Facility smack in the middle of the Hill, the district that’s reserved for the Highest Castes to live and work. From there, the Upper City rings the Hill, and the Middle City rings the Upper City, and last, the Lower City — the largest and oldest part of our City — rings the Middle City. It’s still about twenty or thirty miles from the walls that surround the Lower City to the Wall itself. Each City is connected by their Gates, like spokes of a wheel. And all around our City is the structure that protects us from the Outside, the screens that attach to the walls and form the barrier against whatever is left from the Cataclysm. Noxious gasses and a sun that can melt flesh, is what we’re told.
“Who would be out there? The pastures are on the other side, near the cliffs. The livestock are all corralled in the lower quarter of the Lower City.” I zoom in on the map, confused by what it’s showing me, which is a bright red blip that flickers in increasing urgency. “Do we have cameras?”
Catie shakes her head, the faintly reddish brown curls tumbling around her face. She’s pretty — or she would have been pretty if not for the unfortunate accident when she was a child that left her cheek bisected with a scar. Still the soft green eyes and lips that tend to want to smile gives my co-worker a certain charm, even if that charm is currently worried about the possible repercussions of whatever is going on down at the Wall. “The Wall does, but it’s not responding to my instruction.” Lips pursed, she casts a worried look my way.
“What do you mean? The Wall always responds to our instruction.” A note of alarm enters my voice at the thought that we do not control the Wall, which had been, thus far, just an anomaly here and there. Nothing we were too concerned about, because the Wall is — well, it is. It’s the largest part of our City’s defenses against the outside. It encircles us and falls off into the sea. A sea we can’t see except from the highest point of the Hill, and only then, from an extreme distance that glitters when the panels can be safely made transparent to see beyond our sheltered world. Recently, however, the Government has noticed that some things are behaving strangely. Wall defenses going off when there’s nothing there. People’s bands losing all of their emotional currency for no reason other than some strange malfunction. In the grocery store just yesterday, when I was using my credits — my job provides for my basic food and shelter, everything else, I pay with the points on my band — to purchase some fruit for my mother, the lady in front of me started thrashing and screaming. Her arm was turning black when the Enforcers came in and took her away, but it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. She was just standing there and in an instant her life was over.