BRINE FROM THE HIGHER VATS
There was chatter on my row of vats, which was a great row of vats to be on, given its position near the top of the TechnoSpire and all the advantages that came along with being near the top of the TechnoSpire. It was usually a quiet row of vats. Every row of vats was quiet, yes. This one was extra quiet because up here above the cloudline there wasn't as much wind and you didn't get as many drip drops of other vats' brine splashing down when the spire swayed due to gusts/atmospheric pressure etc. And plus the satisfaction of everybody in the vats contributed to the overall quietness too.
When I woke up for the two hours social time is when I began to hear the chatter. Usually talking was something we warmed into, what with being drowsy from sleeping for the past 22 hours, but this time I woke up to it already being underway. Greatly underway, in fact. There were raised voices and some people were starting to splash. The two hours social time was one of the TechnoSpire's greatest ideas. For two hours each day we would wake up and create some new stimulus for our brains, which would be both fun for us and interesting data for the TechnoSpire. We would turn to the person in the vat next to us, or diagonally up or down, and be like, “Hey, what’s going on in your vat?” and they would say “Oh, not much. How’s your brine,” and the TechnoSpire would maybe show us some videos of ourselves in our vats, with some cool angles taken from far away with all the vats in neat rows stretching up to incredibly high heights and down all the way to the ground. And we’d all feel a sense of wonder. How amazing was the TechnoSpire? Who could have built such a thing? And we’d feel snug in our vats. And then at the end, exhausted from the chit chat, we would go back to sleep and for the next 22 hours give or take would lounge in our vats, snoozing or chilling, whatever, and in that downtime the TechnoSpire would use our essentially idling brains to compute whatever it needed to compute. It was a great arrangement. Everyone I knew loved snoozing and they loved socialising, so they got to do both.
On this particular occasion no one was loving it because they were all chattering about what was supposedly happening in some other vats, which had been passed on by Cathy-548, who was right at the end of the Cathy row. A Caroline had told her, and the info had apparently made it all the way up from the Chadwicks, through the Cesars, Cedrics and Caseys. And it was apparently something that had happened in the Chips, which would make it not exactly the first time something had happened in the Chips.
Already all the other Cathys were leaning out over the edge of their vats and trying to peer way down to the Chips and testing the wind to see if they could splash them if they threw handfuls of brine over the edge. Throwing brine was really the only way you could affect any kind of change on the TechnoSpire. All any of us had was the brine in our vats. That and the view. From up here you could see brilliant white cumulus clouds, taller than even the TechnoSpire. The deep pink and magenta and gold of the sunset. The next TechnoSpire, and the ones to either side of it. The complex triple helix of vats going up their outsides. But you couldn't do anything with the view. Whereas if you got splashed with someone else's brine it was a) cold and b) kind of gross. It sucked when you got splashed, which didn't happen that often unless you fucked up real bad and somehow made everyone hate you like Chip-623 had a few months back, or unless a bunch of young Charlies or Chaunceys started a war with another group and you got caught in the crossfire. Or unless someone above you had a bad dream, or it was windy. But today there was no wind and the couple of test handfuls of brine that got heaved over sailed down through the clouds and disappeared.
The story that everyone was gossiping about was about how a Chip way down in the early hundreds had been stealing brine. Which was already absolutely fucked. If you ran low on brine you got dry, and cold, so keeping brine levels high was tip top, importance-wise. Would you let someone else take a little cup of your blood and add it to their blood? No. You would not. Not a perfect metaphor but it goes some of the way towards describing what a rat move it was to pinch someone else's brine. It was part home and part bodily fluid, and also part soup, because you could drink it if you wanted. Sometimes when you snuck a little of someone else's brine you got a whiff of a pheromone or somesuch that awakened a primitive memory of when people lived on the ground. You always had crazy dreams after that. And then it was also part electroconductive substance that allowed the TechnoSpire to do its important work of harnessing our brains' downtime to do whatever it did, which was a little unclear but it was hard to argue with results. Life was good. Everything was chill.
And then the other thing that people were chattering about was the thing which some people had mentioned but everyone had basically decided was impossible, which was that the reason the Chip was stealing brine was because the TechnoSpire could tell if you were in your vat by the level of brine in it and if you wanted to escape, which would be crazy, you could just top your vat up and climb out and it wouldn't know what to do. Which did not make sense for a crazy complex device like a TechnoSpire to essentially just monitor brine level. A billion times more computational power than had ever existed in the old world and it just checked water levels? Please. And most people didn't believe it. But there were some old people who said it was true. Cathy-24, who was like 110 years old, said it was true and people had done it before. She said that when she was in her 40s a guy named Croesus-12 had climbed down from vat to vat and made it to the ground and disappeared into the trees. And the lowest row, made of a few dozen guys named Czar, hadn't been able to stop themselves cheering for him and had been boiled. Boiling was supposedly something the TechnoSpire did to punish people. The rumour was it deliberately overclocked the electrical signals in your brain until it cooked inside your skull. Very nasty and probably untrue.
But Cathy-24 said it WAS true and it had happened to the Czars. And she said Croesus-12 wasn't the only one who'd done it. We never see the likes up here, she said, but closer to the ground people come shinning down the vats all the time. And as she was talking about it the TechnoSpire, which I guess was listening, started to play a video of the thin wire and wet metal frame that the vats were built on, with all sharp angles and no footholds all the way down, like to say “really? You think anyone could do this?”
Basically everyone agreed that no one could do that, not when they were shivering and cold. But the whole thing was so interesting that we got to the end of the two hours social time and went overtime and the TechnoSpire had to send some drones around to get everyone to go back to sleep.
And my dreams, at least, not to speak for anyone else, were incredible. Climbing and fighting and running and standing in bare dirt, dirt all over me, dirt in my skin and hair, leaves on my mouth, screaming and running and kicking and tearing. I could feel something trying to absorb into me and I wanted it to. It was pressing into my cells and I wanted it to press through, to make a rough, ragged tear, to become part of me. To make pain in a cool new way that felt good and necessary. I felt as though it almost could if I continued to dream. I wanted them to go on forever. But unfortunately I did wake up.
And there was chatter again. This time about Cathy-24 who'd died in the night and whose vat had been taken away, and not much else. The TechnoSpire showed us fluffy white clouds and sunset colours. All the sub-80 Cathys were non responsive. So the chatter died away. We all felt it would be inappropriate to continue the previous day's conversation. We felt it would be unwise to talk in the way Cathy-24 had talked.
When the two hours socialising was over we drifted back to sleep and this time dreamed a strange dream of a man, naked and bald, climbing with shaking hands through whistling wind down the vats, sliding and catching himself, frantic, arriving frozen and desperate at the last one, only to find himself still 100 metres in the air, the trees a dark shadow in the fog far below him, and helplessly throwing himself off anyway. And in the dream the man fell to the ground and was smashed to bits and died. And the camera, the dream camera, I guess, lingered on his face, and it showed his agony and his death. It lingered on his broken body and panned around it. It paused on his face, where dark blood pushed into the broken capillaries. And as it zoomed slowly it also showed rain drops falling on the side of his broken head. And it showed a fleck of dirt in his mouth.