Sunday, June 22, 2014

Tales of an Exiled Citizen #7: Buried Treasure

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I was sad, of course, to see my saplings had been cut down that first night, but it was no surprise whatsoever once I knew that they had discovered the Shelter.  I was actually also relieved.  My worst fear had been that they had dug them up, or at least completely obliterated them.  But there was a tiny stump left revealing where they had been -- not enough to grow back from, mind you, but enough for what I needed them for that next day.

Someone watching me set to work might have thought I had actually expected and prepared for being exiled.  They would soon learn how unprepared I really was, but it would be quite a bit later before I let them know just how much it had caught me by surprise.  In my youthful arrogance, I believed I would never be caught.  But I was arrogant, not naive.  I was well aware of the danger of being found out, I just thought I would always be able to outsmart them.

One problem criminals have had since time immemorial is what to do with their ill-gotten gains.  In the Crazy Age they would actually wash their money to hide its origin.  In the City it wasn't so easy.  My Beans provided a method for other criminals to accumulate wealth in an easy to hide manner.  For me though it made little sense; I could pretty much always get more.  You can only spend so many Beans on "personal services" when you only have 7 Free Hours a week.  While I had figured out how to free up more time for myself, no one else could join me during the times I was supposed to be be working.  With the periodic but random health and cleanliness inspection of everyone's personal living space, it was difficult for anyone to accumulate any kind of luxury goods. So, for the most part I ended up getting practical stuff with my Beans, stuff that wouldn't draw any attention if someone happened to get an extra one.

I didn't just want some form of wealth other than Beans, however.  I couldn't afford to draw any attention to myself by getting the equipment necessary to process the Beans myself.  I had to start with basic tools and raw materials and build everything I needed myself.  It was really rough at first, when my tools were simple and my end product was crude.  It took a long time to get everything set up to run smoothly, with a lot of careful trading.  Like I said, I was not naive; I was aware of the possibility of getting caught, and I did not want to have to start from scratch again.

So, using the Bean tree seedlings as markers, I followed the example of the pirates and buried my treasure.

Part 8: A Hard Day's Work

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tales of an Exiled Citizen #6: In Morning

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That first night Outside I dreamt I was back in the City, living the life of crime I had had before I got caught.  So when I finally did wake up, for a little bit it seemed like being Exiled was the dream.  Then as the reality sunk in, there was nothing I wanted more than to go back to that dream world.  And believe me, I tried.  But my body was having none of it.  The pile of twigs and branches may have been softer and warmer than the ground, but they were nowhere near the bed I had been accustomed to sleeping in.  What warmth that had been gathered from the previous day had dissipated, and my clothes would only have been adequate if I had 2 or 3 layers of them.

The discomfort of the cold on my body finally won out over the depression over my situation, and I moved to the other corner of the Shelter where the sun's rays were starting to warm things up.  Sitting there I took stock of the situation.  Thankfully, the Citizens had been very logical and methodical; they only took what they could use, and they only destroyed what they saw as a threat.  Of course, the roaster I had made, falling into both categories, was completely missing -- no surprise there.  Most importantly, the cistern and biofilter appeared untouched.  Of course, there no longer was any roof to feed water into the cistern, and who knew how long the biofilter would last with the shelter no longer fully intact to protect it.  For the time being, though, I didn't have to worry about fresh water.  Which was good, because I suddenly realized how thirsty I actually was, having not had anything since before my sentencing.

The Shelter was designed primarily for growing plants, not for people to live in, so there were none of the amenities like sinks I was used to having in the City.  The output of the biofilter drained into a small covered reservoir, as much as the plants in the Shelter would use in a couple days, which was plenty for my purposes.  I carefully brushed off an access panel so no debris would fall in.  Then I opened it up, took a little water to wash off my hands as best I could, and wiped them on a clean spot on my clothes.  Finally I cupped my hand and drunk my fill of the water.  It definitely tasted strange to compared to City water, which really had very little taste.

The cistern was massive, taking up the entire north wall, as it needed to be to store the winter rains through the summer heat.  It also helped moderate the temperature to prevent occasional frosts from killing plants inside the Shelter.  With the glazing gone, both those functions would soon cease.  Still, checking the hatch, the level was pretty close to full, so it would be all I needed well into summer.

When the water system had been fully intact, it was quite a testament to the Founder's genius.  The angle of the collection grate encourage debris to wash down while the water ran in.  The first few minutes worth of rain was shunted off so the roof was relatively clean by the time the water started filling the cistern.  Everything worked by gravity or capillary action, no moving parts were involved.  In addition to supplying the needs of the plants, the water worked with the passive ventilation system to keep the temperatures moderate during the summer.  I wonder how long the Founders had to work with that to get that balance just right.

With my thirst slaked and the chill of the night burning off, I decided it was time to stop admiring the handiwork of the Founders and start the work of the day.

Part 7: Buried Treasure

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tales of an Exiled Citizen #5: A Life of Crime

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They had a saying in the Crazy Age: "Crime doesn't pay."  I realize most of you will just have to take my word for it.  Not many people know a lot about the Crazy Age, other than what has been passed down in whispers.  The main reason I do is because while most kids in the City would spend their Free Hour playing lazer tag or exploring the latest VR world, I would head to the Library.  That's what I truly miss about the City.  Thousands of books, lined up on shelves, filling an entire room.  I know, it probably boggles your mind.  And some of these books had hundreds of pages yet could still fit in your pocket.  Many of the old ones were locked up because the pages threatened to crumble at one touch.  I doubt I could have read them all in an entire lifetime.

Anyway, it was kind of ironic that they said that crime doesn't pay in the Crazy Age, because back then, it frequently did.  Indeed, towards the end, making money and committing crimes became almost synonymous.  They even were afraid to prosecute some of the biggest criminals for fear of collapsing the economy.

In the City, though, it is a completely different story.  They monitor everything you buy or sell, or even throw away -- and you are supposed to report every gift you give or receive.  If you throw something away that you are recorded as having bought and haven't reported as receiving as a gift, you are automatically suspected of a crime.  Similarly, if you bought an unusually large amount of something and didn't give it away, that was considered suspicious, too.

This seriously limited what kind of profit could be made from a criminal enterprise.  Anything durable would show up when it was put into the disposal units for recycling.  Anything too large would be hard to hide from the monitoring.  Anything that required a lot of raw materials to make would show up in the buying records.  About the only thing that was left was stuff like food and "personal services", neither of which could you really accumulate much of.

Until I found the Bean tree, that is.

Ultimately, the Beans were consumable, so they didn't show up in the disposal units.  However, their potency lasted for years, so they didn't spoil like food.  They were small enough and valuable enough that you could have a fortune in your pocket.  And since I got them from Outside, they didn't show up on any buying records.

In the end, that is what got me Exiled.  Being a drug dealer was bad, but for a brief while, I actually made crime profitable in the City.  That was my crime for which I got the ultimate punishment.

Part 6: In Morning

Tales of an Exiled Citizen #4: The Shelter

Beginning of story

Even in the last rays of sunshine, the first glimpse of the shelter brought on a new emotion: shame.  My pride had failed me once again.  It took 3 weeks of exploring before I found the shelter, even though it was only a 20 minute walk away from the City.  But all the trips I had made to it left a clear trail which they had obviously followed.  It wasn't enough to make sure that no one could use the passage I had found, they had to destroy the supply, too.

The shelter had been a marvel when I originally discovered it.  It was obviously the work of the Founders.  It must have been a prototype for the systems the City was based on.  The glazing appeared to be the same material as the Dome is made out of.  Now, since I am not a researcher, I can't say that for certain, but as a maintenance man it certainly seemed to be identical to what I worked with.  That's why they took it all, and how I knew at first glance that they had been there.  The framing for the glazing was missing, too, so it would not have even been possible to replace it with a lesser material.

The tears finally burst forth.  For decades, the shelter had stood, unattended, collecting the rainwater, absorbing the heat of the sun, keeping the plants inside healthy from the extremes of the climate outside.  Now, because of my folly, that system was destroyed forever.

Knowing that they had already been there, the shelter was as I expected when I got there.  My big beautiful Bean tree was gone, with just a burned out stump to show where it had been.  All the seedlings I had planted had been cut off at ground level.

Even though my day had not been very strenuous physically, I still felt exhausted.  If I had only been smart enough to take different paths to the shelter so as not to leave a trail, I might have been able to live a somewhat comfortable life there.  Still, it was getting dark, and I had no place better to go for the night, so I walked down in.  Even without the glazing above, the northeast corner of the shelter still had soaked up the warmth of the evening sun and would keep me from getting too cold.  I gathered up all the little branches I could to make a rough mattress.  It was by far the least comfortable thing I had ever slept on up to that point.  Were I not so exhausted I doubt I ever would have gotten to sleep.  I was glad I did; tomorrow was going to be a long day.

Part 5: A Life of Crime

Monday, June 9, 2014

Tales of an Exiled Citizen #3: Outside

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Walking through the exit door closest to the Hall of Justice was surreal.  It was the only exit door that was ever used, and then only by the Exiled.  Even though I had been Outside hundreds of times before, it was different, having all those people watching, instead of doing it in secret, and knowing that I would never be coming back in.  At least that first time I went Outside, I was able to do it with a sense of wonderment.  I can't imagine the sense of terror and bewilderment other Exiles felt when confronting the Outside for the first time.

I was feeling something else, though, too, as the Exile door shut behind me.  Despite their love of spectacle, no Citizen would want to follow an Exile Outside, and there was just too much area to be monitored.  So, I was truly free.  Finally I no longer had to worry about who was watching me.  Okay, technically that was not true, but I didn't know it at the time.  But as far as my fellow Citizens were concerned, I was already dead.  My friends and family were mourning and my enemies rejoicing.

Suddenly I did feel a sense of bewilderment come over me.  I finally had my freedom to do anything I wanted -- but I had to decide exactly what I wanted to do.  From now on, every decision was mine to make.  It was no longer a question of what I could get away with or what I had time to fit in.  My schedule for the rest of my life was one giant blank.

Finally a bit of panic set in.  While I was far better prepared than most for Exile, it still was a death sentence, so I walked out that door with nothing but the clothes I was wearing.  It was better than nothing -- I suppose they could have gone for the humiliation of Exiling people naked -- but thankfully they had that much decency.  Still, while my clothes were perfectly adequate for the controlled climate of the City, they were not up to keeping me comfortable Outside.  My luck was with me though, for my exile began in early spring; the unbearably cool nights of winter were over, and the blistering heat of summer was still several months away.

Logically, I knew my next move was futile, but in my state of mild panic, I had to try.  I made my way over to the secret entrance.  I'm not exactly sure what I was hoping to do, had they caught me sneaking back in I almost certainly would have been executed.  I guess I thought maybe I could sneak through the ventilation system and gather up some supplies to help me with my Exile.  When the air vent finally came into view, all my hopes were dashed.  The tree had been cut down, and there was a pile of ash and char where the base of the trunk had been.  Not that that mattered much, I barely could have gotten my arm through the freshly welded grate over the vent.  No one would ever be using that as an entrance again.  I truly was never going to see the inside of the City again.

I sat there on the burned out stump for about an hour in a stupor.  My mind wandered back over my life.  My family had had such high hopes for me, and here after two short decades, when I still should have had a little more than half my life ahead of me, I was looking Death in the face.

The amber glow of the setting sun roused me from my reverie.  There was one logical place for me to go for the night, the source of my criminal activity: the shelter.

Part 4: The Shelter

Tales of an Exiled Citizen #2: The Discovery

Part 1: Exile

Finding an exit from the City was easy.  Safety was the primary concern of the Founders.  After all, they had lived through the Breakdown.  Unlike builders in the Crazy Age, they assumed that their City would fail catastrophically at some point, and people would need to leave in a hurry, so anywhere along the wall, you are no more than 5 minutes from the nearest exit.

Finding an entrance was a different story.  Clearly, there must have been one when the City was founded, although perhaps it was just where the wall wasn't finished yet.  It was not clear whether it was part of the Founders' original design that you shouldn't be able to come back in the exits.  Personally I suspect that was changed later.  Still, that was long enough ago that no one remembers anyone entering the City ever.

Part of the reason is that all the exits are monitored all the time.  That isn't to stop people from going out.  Anyone is free to leave the City anytime they want to.  Once you leave, however, you are never supposed to return.  So, no one ever does go out -- unless, of course, they are Exiled.

It was a fluke that I should have found the secret entrance.  After safety, reliability was next most important to the Founders.  What they built, they built to last for as long as possible.  So it was sheer dumb luck that the annual test of the emergency ventilation system should fail on my watch.  Ironically, it was their lack of regular use which caused the servo-mechanisms to fail.  I couldn't believe my luck when they decided to replace all of them, and to make the job my responsibility.  Of course, while I was making the replacements in the fab lab, I was being monitored, and I worked at my deliberate, careful pace.  I did the same with the first mechanism I replaced -- after all, this was a job that had never been done before, so they had no idea how long it was supposed to take.

Suddenly, I had months of freedom on my hands.  A day of working in the fab lab, a day of installing mechanisms, and I had finished my allotment for the week.  Of course, I couldn't leave the unmonitored ventilation system for an area that was monitored, but it connected up with the entire City, and it was large enough for me to crawl through surprisingly easily.

It was the middle of the third week when I found the exit.  It was large enough for me to walk through.  A large fan stood in the middle of the passageway, but it was only switched on for the annual tests -- or in case of an emergency, if we ever had one.  Normally a door hinged at the top kept the pasage closed, but it swung open when the fan was on.  Propping it open was not a problem.

That's when I encountered my second bit of luck.  The opening to the outside was 20 feet above the ground.  There was screening to keep insects out, but I guess they felt that height was a sufficient deterrent.  However, in the meantime a large tree had grown up next to it.  It was a simple matter to remove the screen and climb down.  Finally, I could explore the world outside the City.

Part 3: Outside

Tales of an Exiled Citizen #1: The Sentence


No word is more frightening to a Citizen.

It is more than a death sentence.  For someone who has never been outside the safety of the Dome, it is the cruelest form of death possible.  In reality, only the worst offenders actually have the sentence carried out.  Most convicted Citizens, upon hearing that sentence, completely break down and beg for a quick, merciful death, and as long as the crime was not too heinous, it is usually granted.  Indeed, I think jurists tend to give the sentence of Exile quite a bit more often than they mean to, just because they enjoy seeing the spectacle.

I like to think my crimes were minor enough that had I given them that, they would commuted my sentence, too.  But maybe that is just my pride.  I certainly have struggled with that all my life.  Maybe had I been less arrogant, I would never have been caught.  No, even that's too boastful - I guess what I mean is they wouldn't have felt the need to make an example of me.  No, even as my blood ran cold upon hearing the word "Exile", I steeled myself and refused to give them the satisfaction of breaking down and begging for mercy.

Of course, that was not the only factor.  Unlike the vast majority of Citizens whose every breath from their first to their last was taken inside the City walls, I had experienced the outside.  I had found a secret way in and out.  Then again, I wouldn't have been able to commit my crimes had I stayed inside the city.  Not that it really matters, I probably would have run into trouble eventually -- after all in school I was voted "too smart for his own good".

That's why everyone was surprised when I chose maintenance as a career path.  Everyone expected I would go into research.  I finally convinced them that I enjoyed tinkering with things, and naturally my competence scores were near perfect, so they were happy to have me.  Very few people actually choose maintenance as a career; usually it is the only one they have passable competency.

Of course, they were right to be suspicious, because while I do enjoy working with my hands, that wasn't my primary motivation.  Maintenance represented freedom.  Most people are only authorized to go between their home and their work and the few public venues.  Maintenance workers have access to every part of the City -- even those places that aren't monitored.  Of course, you need to have a reason to be where you are, but as a maintenance worker, you get to see the entire City.  That is how I stumbled upon the way out.

All maintenance workers enjoyed that same freedom of place, though I'm not sure all of them appreciated it.  For me, though, there was an additional freedom: time.  Since maintenance workers were all over the place, including areas that were unmonitored because no one else went there, security didn't even bother trying to keep track of us in real time.  We just had to clock in and out, and long as we did the job we were supposed to in a reasonable amount of time, nobody bothered us.  Of course, we did have supervisors who inspected our work after it was completed to make sure it was satisfactory.  But as I said, maintenance generally didn't attract the best and the brightest, so I could get the jobs done in half what was considered a reasonable time, if not faster.  Of course, when I was in an area that was monitored, I took my time.  When no one was looking, I had time to explore.

Part 2: The Discovery