Snakes and Pills

227 - pit

Surveying over the salvage field, Jerry observed the workers moving their bodies in perfect unison. Perched in the manager's lookout tower, he smiled in satisfaction at the simultaneous clanging of the hammers. Labor being put to efficient use.

Nothing else here could make him smile. Everything was dirty and brown. Even the sun itself, its white light pouring through a permanent haze. Hot and unpleasant, the lookout tower merely provided shade, not the perfect air conditioning to which he was accustomed.

Not that Jerry was unhappy here. This was what he had been conditioned and trained for, after all. But very few citizens experienced the duality of environments as he did, day in and day out.

People were conditioned to live either above the plate or below. The laborers Jerry oversaw had never known anything but this place, and they were happy here, or so he assumed. The managers above only knew their lush, green world on top, and they too were happy.

Such a perfect system necessitated but a few managers from above to venture below the plate, to ensure that everything ran smoothly and as-designed. Jerry thus had a unique view of a world beyond his own.

He preferred life above, of course. Yet he did not feel any sadness for the laborers, because he knew they were blissfully unaware of the world that existed above. They did not momentarily long for the hum of an air conditioner as they wiped the sweat from their brows.

Jerry heard the tri-tone beeping on his watch that informed him of a safety alert. Flicking his wrist up, he noted the time before even loading the message, and already knew the cause of the alert. Around three o'clock every afternoon, it was always the same.

"Masks on! Everyone, masks on!" Jerry called out from the tower. Below, the fifty laborers in his charge dutifully stopped their clanging and pulled out masks from pouches affixed to their belts. In one fluid motion, they slid the breathing apparatuses over their heads.

Jerry did the same, though his mask was bigger and nicer, hanging at the ready on a hook in his tower. It was electrically powered, and he flicked the activation switches by reflex.

The laborers went back to their work and Jerry resumed his overseeing. From above, a dark cloud of soot began to rain down upon them. The daily detritus purging from the machinery running the city above. None took special notice of it, breathing through the masks. The only problem it caused was a slight reduction of vision, slowing down their ability to work.

The debris cloud would settle in a few minutes, at which point another tri-tone on Jerry's watch would let him know that it was safe for everyone to remove their masks.

But Jerry saw something amiss. His laborers were slowing down more than usual as the dust cloud reached its thickest. He noticed several of them slumping over, ripping off their masks. Vomiting. Finally, collapsing to the ground, motionless.

Today's purging contained something lethal that the simple masks were unable to filter. Jerry lamented this, as it meant today's work would be lost and he'd have to wait for a new batch of laborers. This group had been pretty good, too. Alas.

He contemplated the call he would be making as soon as the dust cleared. But he heard a beeping different from any beep that he had heard before. His eyes shifted downwards to his own special mask, the source of the beeping.

All of the electronic indicators on the filter were red. Jerry tried to contemplate what that meant, exactly. The dust made everything exceptionally dark.

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