This story contains occasional offensive language and tackles themes of death/unfair incarceration
WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP! The electronic crow of the early morning alarm peeled each person out of their metal cocoons. As half the single-person cells became empty (while the other half banged on their locked doors like dogs going mad in a cage), the newer inmates rubbed their eyes and yawned. Their time aboard could be measured in their temperament. For some, this was the first Storm Warning they were experiencing.
Meanwhile, the time-worn veterans of the floating government prison, called the Cyclone, had long since forgotten what a good night's sleep felt like. They were like somnambulant zombies, beaten of their will to resist by countless days of hard labor and countless weeks inaugurated with the violent howl of a graceless siren. The call didn’t even have the decency to mimic the seductive sound of a sea nymph. Rather, it was rough, abrasive, an intrusive species ripping through the metal walls of the Cyclone,
Don’t cry too hard for them, however. Everyone in the storm was there for a reason. On one hand, some were victims of the government’s naked attempts to combat overpopulation, their otherwise petty crimes such as theft and drug possession giving cause to send them skyward. Humans’ eyes outgrew their stomach, and instead of sacrificing some small convenience, they found a way to drive society’s access from the supposed excess.
Counted among these almost-innocent victims were 74891. He was no monster among men, but nevertheless was treated the same as the rapists and murderers he walked beside who deserved their fate. Like the personality-fatigued inmates, he was forced to don the dark-gray prison fatigues with no crotch area and a buzzcut. Admittedly, it was a downgrade from the clothes he tried to steal from the Fruit of the Holy Vine (a discount clothing store), but anything was better than getting arrested for running through the streets of Eden Avenue naked.
The irony wasn’t lost on him that his punishment for trying to fit in was making him fit in (just in a less desirable location). Ironically, take away the eventual drop 5,000 feet in the air, and this was an upgrade from where he was beforehand, if anything.
Not to mention, they were all going to the same place. Scum of the earth or borderline-innocent casualty of the world they were born into, half of them shared a fate regardless of how guilty they truly were. 74891 hadn’t been caught in the Cyclone for very long compared to others, but he knew what that alarm meant: it was time for their weekly extermination. There were some weeks where he was bid to stay in his room and some he was commanded to make his way to the Eye (the center of the Cyclone, the command center, the garbage disposal).
74891 had taken part in four disposals disguised as ‘cleansings,’ but the fact he was still alive was proof enough that he had been lucky (or maybe the exact opposite). For four weeks straight, after the Storm Drain was pulled, he found ground beneath his feet, a wordless command beckoning him to do his daily deeds. For four weeks however, he was forced to tolerate a sound more piercing than the screeching alarm: the sound of thousands of prisoners falling to their deaths at once. Scarier yet was the people who had no reaction, who got up and assumed the position like they’d long since accepted they’d either one day join them. In fact, some of them doubtless looked on this day with excitement, sitting open the night before with eyes aglow like a kid on Christmas.
“Tomorrow’s the day!” some whispered. They were beyond the wide-eyed societal divorcees who had never heard the Storm Warning or tricked themselves into thinking it was a one-time thing, a rite-of-passage. However, they weren’t so emotionally detached that they felt nothing anymore, either. Rather, they were a (un)healthy blend of experienced and optimistic that this meeting with the Storm Sergeant would be their last.
Speak of the Devil (and he shall appear). As the prisoners filed into the eye of the Cyclone (a mix of curiosity, anxiety, and apathy becoming the defining mood of the room), the Sergeant’s face popped up on the screen overhanging the center of the Eye, which spiraled downward and eventually opened to show the world accelerating past at a surreal speed.
One by one, prisoners of the moment, called Cumulos, accumulate and tether themselves to a cold sort of black granite slab with a glass covering. The seats acted like the top of a water slide, opened by the pull of a lever. When the prisoners fell, if their fate was not to survive, then they would be dropped into the sky and the ocean below. Their clothes would be stolen from their backs, taken from the seats and given to the next batch of poor bastards that the Street Sweepers feels they could do without.
“400 years ago, humans were a self-destructive species, recklessly over-consuming; over-populated; over-indulgent. You’ve no doubt seen it, every one of you! So you’ve decided to make the ultimate sacrifice, to give your freedom so others can enjoy the things that make life worth living! Some of you seek redemption, some of you seek glory! Rest assured, no matter why you’re here, the obituary published monthly will make sure you get everything you're after! If this is the end of your time, then rest assured: you’ll be remembered in death as the heroes you never were in life!”
The Sergeant ended his prerecorded video with a salute. Despite potentially hitting the reset button on 74891, he was somewhat regretful he didn’t know the Sergeant longer. The latter’s way of speaking almost made death seem desirable, a lullaby into the long goodnight. 74891 wasn’t naive, he knew he wasn’t perfect (though he looked like a saint next to some of the people he shared a room with). He knew there were worse ways to go out, though, so instead of being particularly upset, he actually felt almost relieved, contrasting how people threw things at him in life to how people would throw him celebrations in death. When his eyes closed, his mind traveled to the ground below, the marble arches of Golden Cross. He was part of those celebrations a lifetime ago, and he had a mind to enjoy those celebrations a lifetime from now, when his soul is clean and his life becomes tabula rasa.
Alas, just as his mind drifted to revelry, the floor was literally taken out from under him, and after a couple seconds of falling, after seeing the ship grow farther and farther and farther away, it became increasingly clear that he got what he wanted. Well, as much as someone who ended up falling through the sky to their death possibly could.
74891’s, no, Elias’, body flapped as he made his unceremonious descent to Golden Cross. As he fell, his eyes wandered to the marvelous marble city in the distance, the place he’d no doubt call home if his fortunes were different. Its giant arches, its constructions that penetrate the clouds above, the clean and pristine look that screams ‘futuristic.’ Reaching through the screams of terror, Elias held the entire city in his hands from a distance. If he wasn’t there previously, he wouldn’t know the the look of it, he’d fail to keep its majesty in his mind, let alone his hand, but since it was his home before he was incarcerated, the last few minutes of his life would thankfully be populated with the sights, if not the people that would throw their trash at him.
Deeper and deeper did he fall. The memories of the city he was born couldn’t save him, but they comforted him as he made his descent. The early morning air was cold, but the vision that flashed in his eyes caused a knowing smile to act as his final goodbye.
Maybe, Elias thought to himself, we’ll meet again sometime. In another life, another year. Hopefully, we’ll treat each other better next time we see each other.