The hot desert breeze brushed against the young man’s scarf exposing some of his dark skin. He absently reclaimed the garment as the smell of sand and heat touched his nostrils, and covered himself, adjusting his goggles as he looked out over the hot plains. He surveyed the area with pride, looking at the dozen or so houses in his home village, all streamlined shells, most of the living quarters were underground to escape the extreme climate. But because of the work he and his father had completed, the village would have a secure water supply for a generation.

He turned away from the landscape and went back inside the house he shared with his father. Delving straight down into the underground quarters and sealing the entrance behind him with a suction sound that assured him of moisture and temperature security. Nuban removed his goggles as he walked through the first level, he nodded to the two men in dirty worker’s clothes that sat at a table, they nodded back absently. They were just now resting after a fortnight of hard labour and constituted his father’s company’s entire workforce. They were anxious for what would come next. They knew that there was still work to do in the region, but it was all temporary, and as the planet warmed up, and as the desert reclaimed the surface, life would become harsh.

We need this contract, Nuban thought to himself. Government contracts were lucrative and given his family’s name and reputation, they should have no issue getting enough work to see them through the worst of the Change in relative comfort. Otherwise, it would be odd jobs, subsistence and poverty that awaited them.

During the last Change, Nuban’s great grandfather had done as they were now, and restored the underground reservoirs for the entire region. When the climate had changed from harsh desert to frozen tundra, it had been a major operation to redirect water courses, strengthen the infrastructure to withstand the cold and repair or replace the heating machines that would melt ice and thus allow the necessary water to flow to underground farmers and town water supplies. A lifetimes’ work that maintained water security, and thus kept life in balance. Now it was even heavier work required as the land shifted to harsh desert, the heaters would need to be disabled, waterways repaired and redirected, and reservoirs expanded as water becomes harder and harder to find. They would need to employ hundreds of able bodied people, it would be a major boost to the local economy. His father promised the people of his village first priority to get work. Nuban didn’t care so much, after they were wealthy enough they could move to the city and live more comfortably.

‘Nuban,’ he heard the base of his father’s voice call his name. He turned and saw him, dressed for the outside, protective gear at the ready, although not fully secured. His black face and hands the only part exposed, short hair and strong jaw, and brown eyes looked at him, he was a slightly aged version of Nuban. ‘Are you ready?’

‘Yes father.’

‘Very well, get your things, meet me in the park.’

‘Yes father.’ They made their way separately to their family vehicle, parked in the second level. An aged craft that could barely get off the ground. It was partly streamlined, but slightly box shaped at the front, a sign of poor design. But it nevertheless kept them warm during the Cold and would keep them shielded from the heat during the Dry. Nevertheless, Nuban’s father promised that he would get them a skip after they got the contract, maybe even the latest model, then they could soar over the landscape and park at heights in the city. But for now they had a twelve-hour journey to Corroboree, the capital and possibly only city on the whole planet as far as Nuban knew. It had been Light for less than two hours and they hoped to reach the capital by mid day. They exited their park, floated up the ramp and blinked slightly as their goggles adjusted to the harsh light, the vast expanse of sand and occasional mountains would be their only company for a full half of the long day that awaited them.

Nuban watched as the occasional figure turned to see them go, the village knew who they were of course, and knew why they were leaving, they left with the hopes of hundreds of people on their shoulders, but Nuban thought only of what this meant for him and his father.

We wont miss this, our best opportunity, how could they choose anyone else?

As the long Light continued and the old dark gray craft hovered on, the heat of the plains bounced harmlessly off the surface, Nuban awoke from a short nap. Looking around and checking the time, it was nearly midday, he realised that the landscape had begun to change. Nearing Corroboree, there was a slight change in altitude and there was still a grasp of surface water and small shrubs. The desert would win of course, as the planet hurtled towards the sun, the desert always won, but the harsh landscape took on a beauty that Nuban was already beginning to forget. Looking at a small lake, then some houses that began to spring up he thought of their underground water supplies and the vast levels of farming that were needed during the Cold and the Dry. This whole area was needed to feed the city, even though it didn’t look like much from the surface, it was in fact, vast areas of underground farmland. The city of course had no room, so many people live under the surface, they occupied all the space there was, thus these outer regions kept them alive.

That’s why they need us.

Before long, the settlements became more dense and the outer sectors of the city came into view. The centre was still a way off, but already Nuban was looking around in amazement. He had been here only once before with his father, years ago as a child, but the mass of buildings was in striking contrast to his village. Initially, they could only see houses, similar in scale and design to what was for them, home, but before long, the centre was in sight. The inner sectors were no longer buildings of approximately human height, but two and then three storey, but these were quickly dwarfed by the central sector that had six impressive ten story structures that looked down on the population. These six buildings encircled and were engulfed by the Spire. The Spire, the central government building stood twenty five stories high and made everyone in the city crane their necks to look at it. It was a dark blue building with various symbols running up each side. The structure itself was of course similar to others, the only viable material in such harsh environments was the plastic metal hybrid. The plas metal was strong, durable yet reasonably easy to maintain.

It took them another half an hour to reach the inner sectors and were still some way away from the spire when Nuban’s father turned off the main road towards their motel. The streets were empty of course, people preferred to travel underground to avoid the heat, and walking or taking the chute system was much easier than piloting a vehicle. There was a steady flow of traffic, and as they neared the city, the quality of the craft improved until Nuban was consciously aware of the shabby look of their own. Turning once more, they disappeared down a ramp as their target building swallowed their craft whole. It was a three story structure that seemed tiny compared to the bigger buildings, but dwarfed anything Nuban was used to. The building of course went several levels underground as well, typically a ratio of 1:1 compared to the surface, which made the taller central structures all the more impressive. Why anyone would choose to stay above ground however certainly confused Nuban. Underground was easy to maintain, cooler during the Light, warmer during the Cold. But it was more expensive to stay in the above ground levels, as his father had explained.

‘Why?’ He had asked.

‘Higher costs, more energy needed to cool or warm it.’

‘No I get that, but why would anyone choose to stay there?’

‘Prestige, it is common knowledge that it costs more to stay above ground, so if you do, that must mean you are better than others,’ his father had chuckled in his deep voice.

Nuban understood that, missed his father’s subtle sarcasm showing that he didn’t share that view, but Nuban understood prestige, desired it for himself, but his upbringing still told him that in a world of the minimum, it was a horrible waste of energy.

Three levels down, following a small electronic ball of light that had eminated from seemingly nowhere, they found their parking space. Emerging, the smell of vehicle emissions and grease came across instantly. Both passengers groaned as they stretched their bodies from the long journey. The light moved slowly in front of them as they removed their goggles in the poorly lit underground. This was a poorer place after all, more premium motels would be well lit. Far from the sun’s rays, it was a pleasant temperature if a little stuffy, but carrying one small bag each, the light drew them to a door which they pulled open. Entering the building proper there was a slight feeling of relief, it felt pleasantly cool, they have some climate control. Up one flight of stairs the light disappeared in front of a scuffed door that was once no doubt an impressive red, but now looked worn and tired. Nuban’s father swiped his wrist, his personal computer with temporary authorisation allowed them access. Inside, it was a simple but functional room, two beds with en suite.

‘What now father?’

‘We can rest for a few hours, then we will head to the spire. Our meeting is shortly before dark and we mustn’t forget the gifts.’

‘No father.’

It was just past 1600 hours, shortly after midday, it would still by bright and hot for another few hours before a slow cooling would begin.

After a few hours of rest, a damp towel to wash hands and face, after all, water would soon be very scarce and supplies were heavily regulated, Nuban felt refreshed as he recovered the parcel from their craft. They chose to walk above ground, Nuban’s father said it was good for the soul to get natural air in your lungs, rather than scamper underground. The sun was heading slowly to the horizon and the air was warm, but not uncomfortable, the smell of plas metal and dust was around them as Nuban looked up at the Spire. He saw several high altitude craft soar in and land in the upper pads of the building, wondered if the woman,Zan, their liaison with the government contracts department was on one of them. They had only communicated by distance, a few video calls, had not seen her face to face yet, but she had assured them that they would meet for an early dinner and she would talk them through the process for their meeting. She seemed nice and helped the two men to maintain their confidence. As they walked to the spire, the sheer scale of the structure began to seem daunting.

‘Tell me again father, what will we do when we get the contract.’

‘Make the water flow,’ the older man chuckled, ‘and keep it secure, and many thousands of people will have us to thank for their lives.’

Nuban nodded, but as they reached the bottom of the mega structure, for the first time, his confidence began to fade.

‘What do you mean transferred?’ Zan glared daggers from her sharp blue eyes. Dimi, the slimy little man in a cheap suit and smelled of bath oil merely blinked and gave a frustrating smile. ‘I’ve been working on the contracts for fortnights, I’m about to close the deals!’ Her olive skinned hands darted around for emphasis as her short brown hair flopped back and forth.

‘You will be given a new assignment, this comes from high authorities.’

‘Yes I can see that,’ she said dismissing a screen with an authorisation letter. This has to be a mistake, it takes so much time to understand these things, the people involved, this man has no clue, he’s a mid level bureaucrat who’s barely left the spire. ‘What about these jobs? The future of the city, the entire region is at stake, if we don’t get the work done and soon, there wont be enough food, water, infrastructure. Do you have any idea how complex the works are for modifying the city from the extreme colds to a desert climate?’

‘I’ve read the reports from the last Great Change,’ Dimi raised his right hands as he spoke, as had becomes customary when referring to the most important, influential event on the planet, a total change of climate. It occurred only once every two generations and as such was seen as divine power that changed the balance and cleansed the lands. Dimi didn’t believe in that, the Spire and the government had been standing through many Changes, he would ensure they survived another, at least in some form. He was tired of this exchange and his lips draw to a thin line, revealing his frustration.

‘Reports don’t tell you everything, you need to see some of the work first hand.’

‘That’s enough Agent Zan, you have been given your assignment,’ he turned and left the room, the door clicking shut automatically behind him. The lazy sunset cast a dull orange light over the room, matching Zan’s mood.

What now?

(C) T.W. Norrich ‘The Great Change’ 2017


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