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   Chapter 7 ANOTHER LIFE

The Taàr (Dystopia #01) By John A. Bonello Characters: 27962

Updated: 2018-02-08 12:02

A sound so beautiful, so soft. He thought he was hearing the voices of angels speaking. Never had he heard anything of the sort. Such wonder. His heart filled with a joy he had never known.

Music. That's what they told him it was. He had never heard music. Sal told them about it, and always said that it was a nice thing to hear, but Ben could never have imagined it so beautiful. . . . . . then sleep embraced him completely.

He came slowly to his senses, gradually gaining consciousness in a white-walled room that was bright, clean, silent and fresh.

The music played on, but Ben knew that what he was hearing was only a remnant of the tune he heard the day he entered the tower. And that thought made him wonder.

How long had he been in there? Ben could not remember. He felt it had been only a very short time, but couldn't be certain why he felt that way. His mind was kind of fuzzy which made it difficult to form any thoughts. It was like that one time when Sal let them taste a drink they had found during one of their scavenging trips. A dark liquid, sweet and full of flavour. It had muddled his thoughts shortly after drinking a small glass. Sal had warned him he would feel strange for a while, and laughed at him when he started babbling.

Ben closed his eyes. In the darkness he could think better. A strange smell drifted up to him. A strange nice smell. Opening his eyes again he tried to take in his surroundings. A white sheet covered him up to his neck. It rustled softly as he moved. A pillow of the same white cloth as the bed sheets propped up his head. He smelt the linen. It smelled good but it was not the same smell that had engulfed his senses when he closed his eyes. He peeked under the bed sheet and found he was wearing only short clean underpants. The nice smell was wafting off his own skin. He realised someone had washed him.

And suddenly he remembered. They had asked him to take off all of his clothes, then he went into a glass chamber and was doused with large amounts of soapy warm water. The shower had felt so good, and it lasted for a very long time. What a waste, he remembered thinking. He had never washed himself like that. Water was too scarce a resource to waste that way. And more often than not it would be contaminated, making you itch and scratch.

After that shower that took off fourteen years of dirt and grime, Nel led him to a well lit room. On one side, two huge windows faced inwards, towards the hollowed out centre of the tower. A beautiful light came in from these windows and he walked up to them to have a look. He remembered feeling sick when he saw the great depth underneath him. Storey upon storey upon storey, each one with its own triangular terrace that jutted out in a sort of immense spiral staircase so that each one had its own share of light from above.

Those terraces. He had been so amazed at the sight of the lush green plants and trees that grew upon those triangular pieces of heaven. In some of them, he noticed movement and realised that people the size of ants were down there, walking around. He had never thought he would ever see real vegetation in his lifetime. Some of the trees down there must have been gigantic, especially those on the lower terraces. Are those forests, he had asked Nel. But the man had laughed. No, but they are the best next thing, he had replied.

When Ben had raised his eyes upwards he had seen rays of sunlight coming through a huge opaque glass dome. Nel left him alone as he took in all this, returning a while later with a tray that held food and a yellowish drink in a large glass.

He still remembered the explosion of taste as he gave the first bite, and devoured it without ever asking what it was. The drink was sweet, that was all he remembered about it.

Closing his eyes once more, he took deep long breaths. The air felt so clean, so good. And now that he was once again in darkness, he heard sounds he knew he had also heard that first day in the tower. Chirping and calling–the sounds made by birds. He had watched them transfixed as they flew free from tree to tree, from terrace to terrace, flying, gliding, diving through the air.

Had it all been a dream?

Taking out his legs from beneath the sheets he swung them to the floor and pushed himself up. His head spinned and his muscles ached. Maybe he wasn't used to sleeping on something that comfortable he thought, or maybe it was a sign of how long he had been asleep in the same position.

The room was quite large, with two beds facing each other. Next to each bed there was a small shelf affixed to the wall. There was nothing else. Everything was white–the beds, the sheets, the door, the window frame. The door was to his right. It did not have any hinges or knobs and he remembered that doors in the tower opened magically when you approached them, sliding inside the wall.

But what really caught his attention was once again the open window set in the wall to his left. It was nearly as wide as the whole room, and through it came the soft glare from the sun above and the sweet unfamiliar noises made by birds and other creatures. He went over to gaze once again upon that vision from a dream he never dared to dream, at the lush greenery and swooping birds. Ben breathed in the damp pure air, so conscious of the absence of that forsaken wind and clouds of dust that had been a part of his life as much as the clothes he used to wear.

He heard a soft sound from behind him, as if two things rubbed against each other, and turned to look. He saw the door sliding to the left, inside the wall, exactly as he remembered. It revealed a tiny figure: a boy, all smiles upon a face as white as the bed sheets that lay crumpled on his bed. He judged him to be a few years younger than himself, ten, maybe twelve inches shorter, but stocky. His hair seemed made of gold, a colour he had never seen before on other people.

"Good morning!" the boy said with a beaming smile as he walked straight in and went to sit on the other bed. "You must be Ben. I'm Russ. This is my bed you know, cause from today we're sharing the same room. Isn't it amazing?"

He was wearing clothes similar to what Nel and Karl had worn once they were back in the tower, with the addition of a wide belt of brown material around his waist. He was barefoot. For a moment, Russ stopped talking and looked at Ben as if expecting him to say something, but after a few seconds he took a deep breath and started chattering again.

"Would you like me to take you around the tower when you're feeling better? It's huge you know! I've never managed to visit it all even though I'm ten. I can take you to see the school and the library, the games room, the chapels, the swimming pools–we can swim in them if you want. Can you swim? The roof is a must. You have to see the view from up there. It's really breath taking. Will you tell me stories about what's out there, maybe about what it's like to live in the desolation? I can show you lots of movies that show how the world was before the attacks. I'm sure you'd like that."

He stopped, as if suddenly realising something for the first time. Russ inclined his head slightly to the right, like a curious rat.

"You do speak don't you?" he asked. "Do you understand me?"

Ben turned to face the window, and without looking at Russ, pointed towards the terraces and asked him if he could take him there.

Russ got up from the bed and went to look at what Ben was pointing at. He had to get up on his toes to look out the window.

"You want to go near the trees?"

Ben replied by moving his head.

"Come, let's go now. But first you must wear something you know. We're not allowed to go around like that in the tower."

And what should he wear, Ben asked. He didn't have any clothes.

Russ walked up to Ben's bed and facing the shelf fixed to the wall he pressed his hand slightly above it. A large part of wall on the same side of the bed opened up to reveal a walk-in wardrobe. Hanging inside were two identical sets of clothes, exactly like the one Russ was wearing.

Taking the first one, he tried it on. It fitted him almost perfectly. He did not ask for shoes given that Russ wasn't wearing any. He wasn't used to walk around barefoot, but was willing to give it a try.

"Come on, let's go!" Russ urged him, jum

d laughing and concentrated while he took another bite of bread, munching it thoughtfully.

Finally he asked Nel if he was referring to the fact that there were no children younger than Russ. Now that he thought about it, the greater part of the men in the tower were old, and he had never seen any women.

No, he had not seen, nor would he see, any women in the tower. Russ was indeed the youngest. Would he care to know the whole story? To an enthusiastic nod of the boy's head, Nel began his revealing tale of the odd history of the Nimbus tower–one that Russ had never mentioned.

Although Nel was fifty five years old, he was not yet born when the story he would now be telling began. However, he knew every detail, chiefly thanks to the chronicles written by the previous generation–his parents among them.

The written testimony of what those people saw with their own eyes over seventy years in the past was a vivid and moving story that still evoked feelings of desperation and great sadness every time Nel read it. The tale begins on the day the first atomic bomb was launched, on the 7th of August.

In an ancient building, that was now just another heap of rubble in the Desolation, the five great leaders of that era met for what was meant to be a historical event. On their agenda lay a number of important decisions regarding the ever increasing conflicts between north Africa and Europe. An enemy still unknown to that day took the opportunity to get rid of all five leaders in a coordinated attack. No one knows the real intention of the attackers, but some think that the bombardments went out of proportion. Others believe that the real intention was always to wipe away humanity once and for all, and the meeting of the five leaders was only a pretext, or possibly, just a coincidence. No one knows exactly. What is certain is that the attackers must have had access to a vast atomic arsenal.

The attack on their country was only the first of many other known bombings that took place all over the world on the same day. It was genocide, on a global scale.

Nel said the chronicles described that first bomb, the one that devastated the island, as it fell from the sky and exploded one kilometre above ground, six or seven kilometres away from the tower. The end result could still be seen by everyone. On the island alone, more than two million people died instantly, most of them burned to cinders where they stood by the heat of the blast, others buried alive in their homes, public places or while working.

A hundred thousand souls lived the day. Many of them knocked on the doors of the tower. But those doors never opened. Even if the people inside the building wanted to help, they could not do so. The doors were automatically sealed and would not open for at least six months–it was a pre-cautionary measure made by design and there was no way to manually override it.

Ben asked what this meant, and Nel obliged immediately. The building they were in, he explained, was unique. It was built as a collaborative experiment by a group of scientists from around the world to create the first fully autonomous self-sufficient tower city in the world. A building that could withstand natural or manmade disasters, to sustain and preserve life without needing anything from the outside. Similar attempts were made with bio spheres in the twenty first century, but they were unsuccessful, mainly due to the high running costs. The tower project, codenamed Project Nimbus, attempted to overcome these financial issues. Governments from around the world participated in the project, and the resources were easily found. If successful, Project Nimbus would be the master plan for other such towers around the globe. And it was successful. Beyond any expectation.

The doors were automatically sealed off by a mechanism set in motion the instant the nuclear weapon was activated. Nel quoted from a report written by Professor Jordan. In his report, the professor stated that the tower rocked to and fro with the force of the blast for several hours that day. But the building held intact while everything around it was devastated.

The survivors within the tower numbered almost three thousand–at that point the building was nearing completion, but still works-in-progress. Once it was finished, it would have offered residence to a hundred thousand souls.

Out of those three thousand there were several scientists but also builders and workers who were working within the structure at the time. Their families and friends died a horrible death while they were untouched inside the experiment they had been building for future generations. They soon realised they had become part of that same experiment.

After the six months passed, no one went out. The survivors had long since stopped coming knocking on the tower doors and everyone assumed they were all dead. The effects of an atomic weapon were well known. Radioactive poisoning was so high that no creature could possibly live with the exception of some insects known for their resilience to radiation.

So they lived on, in confinement, eating the vegetables they cultivated themselves, drinking purified water, and studying the effects of that disaster. After all, went on Nel, a scientist is always a scientist, and will observe anything given the opportunity.

Aware that he had talked too much, Nel stopped at that point. He suggested they should go and continue their conversation somewhere else, and Ben, fascinated and intrigued by Nel's story, agreed without hesitation.

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