Chapter 1: Fae

Fae was tired, the kind of tired that only comes after a night of running through childhood nightmares, reliving her adolescent flight to Container Town. The night the Tullys died. The night she grew up.

The vidscreen on her wall played a dark and cloudy live feed of the inner walls of the WELL. The remains of rain trickled down the glass over the cameras broadcasting a view of the outside world.

Fae stretched, stifled a yawn, and got out of bed. The single light in the ceiling of the rectangular apartment automatically turned on, soaking the room in a light pre-dawn orange. Fae’s bed descended into the floor as she walked to the kitchen a few paces away.

“Good morning, Fairweather. It is 3:12AM. This is uncharacteristically early. Would you like to hear this morning’s news?”

Rifling through the refrigerator embedded in one of the rectangle’s long walls, Fae silently assented.

“Sigma Dynamics closed on the foreign markets up three percent after their announcement of a new line of household Projected Intelligences. The PIs are expected to be more efficient and pair better with user Slates.”

Fae had pulled out last night’s cold Chinese and was munching on it. She twirled a hand in the air, signaling for her home’s PI to skip to the next story.

“For the fourth year in a row, the French ASILE Project has won the Global Carbon Zero Prize from the International Science Foundation for their environmental friendly policies and construction projects. Sigma Dynamics CEO Jorvik Vikars offered his-“

Fae circled her hand again. “Weather please.”

“It is currently 66 degrees and quite humid, especially near the WELL’s edge.” On the vidscreen a translucent cylinder with a slight taper at the bottom covered the view outside.

“Today’s UV Index is 29, down from yesterday’s 44, mostly due to the increased cloud cover and humidity. As always, if you’re traveling to the upper levels, be sure to limit your exposure to sun.”

The cylinder on screen was sliced horizontally into five separate pieces. The top-most piece, labeled “Lip,” pulsed yellow. A secondary label read “Caution: UV Warning.” Fae couldn’t remember a time without a UV warning in Lip. Living that close to the surface was harsh. It was a deadly place plagued by hunger, disease, and violence. Those that made it through that ended up afflicted with a devastating form of skin cancer.

The PI continued talking, highlighting the level beneath Lip called “Apex.” 

“Today would be a fine day to visit many of Apex’s shopping centers or printers, Fae. I noticed the bottoms of your shoes were beginning to look worn and that you have a free half hour midway through your day.”

“Sure. Put in an order for my usual selection.”

With an unceremonious ding of acknowledgement, the PI continued, moving to the third cylinder down. It was marked “Mids.” A small blinking white dot showed Fae’s home on one of the top-most levels of Mids.

“It is currently humid, but chilly in Mids. The geothermal vents will open around 5AM when the humidity scrubbers manage to collect much of the lingering, surplus moisture from the storm.”

Bored and restless, Fae finished off her leftovers and got dressed. She removed a pair of slim-fitting pants, a short-sleeved shirt and an athletic hoodie from a recessed closet. After they were on, she grabbed her Slate, a flexible screen about the size of her hand, and plugged it into the hard points on her sweatshirt’s left forearm.

Fae used the Slate’s touchscreen to load the outfit profile “Raven” and watched as the smart fibers in her clothing turned an oiled midnight blue. She put on a pair of low-profile running shoes, heels slightly worn, and walked out the door. Her PI would take care of the rest.

 The long hallways outside Fae’s apartment were barren. The lights were dim and still had a few hours before the UV lamps—the same lamps used in Industrial’s vertical farms below—would turn on. Even in Mids, sunlight was scarce.

Fae walked quickly to the nearest transit terminal, seeing a few people out on their early morning jogs or headed to their jobs. She couldn’t shake the dream from her mind. She hadn’t been able to for years. It always felt so real: the terror, the violence, the sinking feeling in her gut when she saw the Tullys.

She scanned her Slate for the next train to Maersk.

The transit terminal was claustrophobic. The hexagonal depressions in the ceiling arched from one side to the other keeping the whiz of the high-speed, electric trains to a minimum, but Fae could never shake the feeling that they were sagging down towards her. Even with only a few vendors and early morning commuters, the terminal felt small. The smell of ozone and breakfast sandwiches mingled together as the commuters kept their noses in their briefcase-sized Slates. 

Fae eyed the commuters. Several men were wearing modern business suits with stiff high collars. One of them, the youngest it seemed, had a top-dollar Mercurio clothes skin on. He probably ran some low-level industrial plant that supplied something to Sigma. Everyone supplied something to Sigma. Fae’s Slate softly vibrated: the next train was currently approaching.

The train hummed smoothly into the station, gliding on its magnetic tracks. Doors opened and a few people clambered off, most with the grizzled face of someone who stayed at the office all night.

A voice buzzed in Fae’s ear implant. “Apex Express. Service to Industrial and Container Town. Boarding now.”

Fae climbed aboard and sat next to the window, looking out at the haggard workers shambling back home for a few, quick hours of shut eye. She blinked and a memory overtook her: banners burned on the ground and inactive Police drones lay powered down in the mud. Somewhere a fire crackled. She blinked again and it was gone, replaced with sandwich merchants and Sigma corporate drones.

The train PI appeared on the vidscreens. “Time to Industrial connection: 7 minutes. Time to Container Town Junction: 16 minutes. Time to Hydro and Processing: 37 minutes. Please remain seated for the duration.”

Fae pulled the Slate off her sweatshirt and fiddled with it, pulling up a map of the WELL. She already knew where she was going - she had been making this trip for ten years. The map was a distraction.

Fae had been born in the WELL, but for all of her 25 years, she was still captivated by the ingenuity of it all. It was nothing more than a high-tech cylinder drilled nearly five miles straight down with a two mile diameter. The WELL held nearly a billion people, supplying food, water, electricity, clothing, and more for every citizen. It wasn’t perfect, but it was an engineering feat that baffled her whenever she thought about it for too long.

Container Town was one of the most interesting parts of the WELL to Fae. Lip, Apex and Mids were all glass, steel and concrete like the skyscrapers from the old cities, but Container Town was a tiny sliver of something else. It was the single level that wrapped around the WELL’s gigantic two mile wide reservoir at the bottom. Each home in Container Town was an old rectangular shipping container from when the WELL was originally being built. Most of the containers were laid out side-by-side, but in a few of the wealthier districts, homes had been built from stacking three or four containers. Towers of containers rose to the level’s ceiling in the larger urban areas, wrapping around massive concrete support columns.

Going to Container Town was like going home for Fae. While her parents had been busy working for a manufacturing company selling supplies to Sigma at a loss, Fae was enjoying her childhood in Container Town playing with the kids who didn’t mind the mud. She knew the people down here - they were a stark contrast to those in the Mids trudging to get by, or the uppity rich in Apex. Container Town took care of their own.

Fae gazed out the window as the train slipped out of the Industrial station. She caught glimpses of miners headed to the depths and workers headed to the factories. After the labor strikes ten years earlier, most of the manufacturing and production jobs had been automated. Few people worked in production anymore and those who did only fixed the robots that had replaced them. The worst off we’re the miners who risked their lives everyday in the subterranean; the programming had proven too difficult for robots to be feasible.

The train accelerated as it left the station, Industrial becoming a blur in the window. Fae looked back to her Slate, checking messages from work. The Slate vibrated three times, a news notification. Fae accepted it. The audio buzzed in her ears as she continued to check her work messages.

“Earlier this morning, Police drones were dispatched to a noise complaint in Mids near the commercial district. An altercation broke out, but the suspects, a man and a woman, were promptly subdued and were taken into custody for questioning. Upon further inspection of the home, the officers discovered several thousand propaganda pamphlets slandering Sigma Dynamics along with nearly every industrial corporation in the WELL. This story is being constantly updated as the investigation progresses. Could these two be behind the pamphlet drop in Apex earlier this week? We’ll keep you notified.” 

Fae dismissed the report as the first glimpse of Container Town's multicolored containers and bright street lamps came into view. As the train neared the terminal the wall-to-wall containers began to dissipate, giving way to containers stacked less like high-rises and more like homes. Each house was different, some stacked like bricks, others with containers skewed to one side or the other. Most were only two or three containers high—significantly shorter than the high-rises—but towards the terminal more were nearing four or five in height. Somewhere in that blur of two-container houses was the Tully's home. 

Fae was the only one to get off the train when it pulled into the terminal. The station had that same smell of ozone from the train, but it was hidden under a thick smell of dirt and grease. The platform was empty.

Walking down the side of the tracks to the exit, Fae wondered what she was doing, why she had come. Container Town wasn’t the fun, friendly place it used to be. It was dangerous, run by a gang called the Locals. They were all that was left of the labor unions that built the WELL: steelworkers, construction workers, plumbers, electricians, all of them. People who worked with their hands. Container Town protected their own and Fae was barely one of them.

She put her hood up and turned off her Slate’s screen. Dodging from streetlamp to streetlamp, she moved towards the Tully’s home. They were the closest thing she had to family. Her parents had always been too busy for her, always abandoning her at their small, stark apartment in Apex. 

A young Fae hopped the train and play with the kids down here. They built robots and creatures with old pipefittings and splashed in the mud. Fae learned to play and work with her hands from tradesmen and women who worked in the factories. She helped like all the other kids too: there weren’t any PIs around to do the work, so everyone did their part. Fae had loved it in Container Town and the Tullys loved her.

Outside the Tully’s home, the windows were dark, the lawn unkempt. Scorch marks marred the door like they had that day ten years ago. Fae knew they were gone. Meredith, Trygve, and little Scottie—all dead.

A tear welled in her eye and slipped down her cheek. She let it follow the line of her jaw, welling on her chin. Fae stared at Scottie’s empty window and remembered her time playing there. The times Mrs. Tully would bring them snacks from the kitchen while they played on their ancient Slate, Fae sometimes letting Scottie win.

“You just gonna stare at it?”

Fae started and spun around to find Josef Bader towering next to her. His voice was deep, echoing inside his large frame. He wore a pair of old overalls made of more patches than denim. Greasy gray hair was matted on his sparse head, a scraggly gray beard hung from his chin. He pulled a stained black handkerchief from his back pocket, smeared his grime-covered hands on it, then ran a hand through his hair.

He looked down at Fae meeting his dark eyes with hers. He mumbled a few words before Fae’s right ear hearing implant matched Jo’s volume. “I thought it was you, Fae. Not many people come round to the Tully’s no more. Damned shame really.”

Fae quickly wiped the tear from her cheeks. “Jo, it’s been a while. A long while. What are you, err-“

“Doing here at this hour? ‘Spose I could ask you the same, but me and some of the boys were working late at the shop. A couple of the autos needed fixin’ before the morning and it looks like we got it done just in time.” Josef paused for a moment, then sighed. “Why don’t you come down here, Fae? There’s nothing for you up there.” He stuck a hand out, indicating the Tully’s house, “this is your home.”

“Jo… I can’t. It just wouldn’t… It just wouldn’t feel right.”

“Well it’s here if you want it—it’s all yours. We were all pretty shook up when it happened, but it weren’t your fault—you know that. This stuff. It happens. But we’ve got to move on.”

Fae shifted on her heels and looked down at he shoes, arms bunched up in her sweatshirt.

“It’s just how it is. I hope someday you’ll realize that, Fae. We miss the starry-eyed girl who come down here all the time. We could use someone like you.”

It had always been hard for Fae to recognize when Jo was being compassionate or when he was gathering tools for the next job. Jo was handy with a wrench, but his true calling was commanding people. He had been a foreman before the strikes and a major proponent of starting the strikes themselves. Now he’s the leader of the Locals, leading by example. Like almost everyone Fae had met in Container Town, Jo was family. But he was a business man too. He took care of his own, whether it was keeping them close, or keeping them well-skilled for any eventuality.

“Listen, Jo, I’ve got to, uh, go. I’ve got to be at the office soon and I don’t want to be late.”

Jo exhaled through his nose and rocked on his heels. “Well. I’ll let you go then. You’re always welcome here, you know that. New guys are wandering, but it’s plenty safe around here.”

Fae turned to leave, taking a long last look at the silent home in front of her. She had been chasing the nightmare for ten years. For ten years, she had been standing in the street in front of this house, remembering a lost family’s love. Remembering her part in it all, never being able to open the door and claim what was hers.

Jo had left the house to her after the Tullys had died because he thought it was only the right thing to do. She couldn’t enter it though. She was the embodiment of everything the Tullys and the Locals fought against. She worked for Sigma trying to find new ways to replace old people with automation. It felt wrong. She felt wrong. And so the dreams would continue. 

Before she walked too far down the street, Jo cleared his throat and said, “You can’t beat your demons, Fae. They are you. Just don’t let them be all you.”

Fae left the empty house behind her, ghosts of her past following her all the way to the train terminal.