"A Pleasant Day in Paradise" - by K H Simmons
“Good morning Malcom. Today is a perfect twenty-one degrees Celsius with clear skies all day. It’s going to be another beautiful day in Paradise.”
Malcom groaned and turned over, pressing his pillow over his ears. It didn’t block out the alarm. It never did. As it began to play Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr. Blue Sky for the millionth time, Malcom wondered how he hadn’t smashed the thing to smithereens yet. He just wanted it to play a different song, any song, just not the same one – every single day.
His futile efforts to block out the sound didn’t help, so he threw off the sheets and began to dress in the same blue jumpsuit he wore every day. By the time he had brushed his teeth and combed his hair the song finished.
“Your assignment for today is to conduct maintenance in red wing cafeteria,” the sickeningly pleasant voice announced.
That made his ears prick. Red wing? He’d not been to red wing before. Normally you stayed in your designated wing for your entire life. Blues were sometimes an exception considering their engineering speciality. Malcom had never been outside of blue wing. Perhaps today would be different.
“Please report to your duty manager for special instruction,” the voice told him. With a new spring in his step, Malcom collected his toolkit and slid open the door of his apartment.
“Malcom, you haven’t consumed your AM nutrients,” the voice warned.
Malcom rolled his eyes and picked up the navy tube from the counter by the door. It barely looked different from a tube of toothpaste, only it tasted much worse. In fact, it barely tasted at all, somehow that was worse.
Malcom squeezed the tube into his mouth and forced himself to swallow the gloop. At once he felt more perky. They claimed that it was just a nutrient paste in them. Malcom was sure there was something else in them, something to make you more compliant. He spat into the plant pot outside his door in an attempt to remove the non-taste from his mouth.
“Spitting is a crime. Half of your daily credit rate has been deducted. Have a pleasant day in Paradise, Malcom.”
Malcom resisted the urge to kick something and stormed away towards his duty manager’s office. The office was like any other in blue wing, painted in baby blue with bright blue furniture. It really brought out the blue in his duty manager’s eyes.
“Malcom your assignment today is to conduct maintenance in red wing cafeteria. There is a problem with the water filtration system. As this is your first visit to another wing, I will remind you of the rules. You do not interact with another colour. You conduct your duty to the highest standard and report back here before curfew. Violation of the rules will result in punishment. Is that understood?” she said with a smile.
“Good. Have a pleasant day in Paradise.”
The door to red wing was protected only by a camera above the door which watched his every move. A white light passing over his body was the only warning he had that it was scanning him.
“Welcome, Malcom,” it said.
With a hiss the door opened into the maintenance corridor. Malcom stepped through and the door slid shut behind him. The next door opened for him to reveal red wing. It was virtually identical to blue wing; the only real difference was the red line that decorated the walls and the people were all wearing red jumpsuits. It was a hive of activity. Red wing oversaw manufacturing, every product he owned had been created here by these people.
No one looked at him. They kept their eyes averted and carried on with their business. He stared at them as they strode by. The red they wore was so vivid, such a welcome change from blue. He realised he had been stood still too long and quickly searched for the sign pointing him to the cafeteria.
Like the rest of red wing, the cafeteria was decorated with crimson, everything from the walls to the tables and chairs let you know that this was red wing. As a blue he was not welcome here. A few braver souls glared at him as he walked by and they uttered harsh words to their friends. He did his best to ignore them as he approached the maintenance computer.
An error was flashing on the screen confirming that there was indeed something wrong with the water filtration system. As he requested access to the maintenance area behind the red wall panels, a Mother sailed smoothly into the room guiding a group of children dressed in bright yellow. The bot stopped by the food dispensers and called her brood for silence.
“All food developed in green wing is turned into nutrient paste, which is dispensed here, it has everything you need to make you big and strong, perhaps even strong enough to work in red wing!” the bot said with a cheerful voice.
The children chattered excitedly amongst themselves. One raised their hand with a question.
“What is outside?”
The room fell silent. The Mother bot turned to face the inquisitive child.
“Outside is an uninhabitable hell. Humans destroyed the world with their unfettered greed. That is why we take care of you now. We keep you safe in Paradise. Without us, you would all die,” the Mother answered.
Everyone knew about the state of the world outside and that it was our fault. It wasn’t something we talked about. The bots actively discouraged it. If an adult had shown as much curiosity as that child had, they would have had their credits deducted for a month or more.
The maintenance computer pinged, and the red panel slid aside to allow me access beyond. The Mother took advantage of this distraction to begin telling her brood about the job blues conducted. One day each child would be assigned a wing which best suited their abilities, as determined by their Mother.
With a clunk the panel slid back into place behind me leaving me in the blue haze of the cafeteria’s maintenance area.
It was hot back here without the climate control. Malcom savoured the feeling of actually being hot. He unbuttoned his jumpsuit and let the sweat drip down his skin. There were no cameras in the maintenance area, only sensors and they couldn’t tell he was violating a uniform rule.
The water filtration tank was a round pool with layers of sand and synthetic pebbles which cleaned the water to make it drinkable. Usually when there was a problem with the filtration system it just meant that the synthetic materials needed to be replaced. Malcom peered into the water. There was no sign that there was anything wrong with the filtration materials. Usually they started to go slimy when they needed replacing. These still looked to be new.
He brought out his water test kit to test a sample. As he dipped it in and disturbed the water, a flash of silver caught his eye. It darted across the tank away from his hand. Malcom stared at it as it flickered through the water. He had only ever seen one before in lessons with his Mother. It shouldn’t exist.
The bots said that humans had killed all the animals. That was why they lived off a plant-based nutrient paste, it was only because of the bots that they had managed to save enough seeds to live off. There certainly weren’t any fish left. Yet here he was, watching as a fish swam around the filtration tank.
His hand trembled as he stretched his fingers towards it through the water. It darted beneath his hand, its slippery scales sliding across his skin. Malcom leapt back holding his hand before his eyes. It had touched him. It was real - a real fish. What did this mean? Had something survived outside? Had it somehow survived inside? Had the bots lied?
The gravity of the situation made him sweat even more. It couldn’t have survived inside otherwise an error would have been triggered earlier, which meant it must have got in from somewhere. Malcom began to feel his way along the pipes which recycled the water until he reached the storage tank which joined onto the dome wall. This must be where it had got in.
Malcom kicked off his shoes and stripped off his jumpsuit. He had to know. He jumped into the tank. The shock of cold water made him gasp and splutter.
“Malcom, entry into the water storage tank is not permitted. Violation of the rules will result in punishment,” the voice rang out above him as the sensors detected him in the tank. He paid no attention as he dived beneath the surface.
He forced his eyes open and felt his way along the edge of the tank where it met the dome. It was smooth to the touch and then it was gone. A hole the size of his fist gaped in the wall. He could see murky water at the other side, it couldn’t be that deep otherwise it would have flooded. He came up for air.
“Malcom, please exit the storage tank, this is not permitted.”
He reached out and grabbed his toolkit. His plasma torch could make short work of this. Even under the water he could feel the heat blasting off the torch. It melted and warped the metal making the hole wider. He alternated torching it with kicking and tugging at it until the gap was just about wide enough for him to squeeze through. Coming up for air one last time the sound of the voice was harsh against his ears.
“Malcom, this is not permitted. Violation of the rules will result in punishment.”
“So, come and stop me,” Malcom said before plunging back into the tank.
Wriggling and kicking he made his way through the hole. The scrapes on his back didn’t bother him, he was too excited. With strong arms he pulled himself to the surface. He was met with hazy sunlight struggling to break through cloud cover. It was so much brighter than the artificial sun inside the dome and it was hot on his skin.
He turned and saw the shore only a few strokes away. The air smelled so clean, not like the chemical clean of inside Paradise, this was natural. The dome stretched for miles, its white walls making it look like a blister upon the land.
Malcom gazed around him. Outside was nothing like what they had told him. It wasn’t dead. It wasn’t destroyed. The lake shimmered in the sunlight. Ducks bobbed on the surface. Ducks – real ducks! Beyond the shore trees stretched to the clouds, taller than the dome’s false sky. Birds were singing and the bots voice was nowhere to be heard.
It was beautiful. How long had it been like this? How long had the bots been lying to them? How long had they been living in servitude to an AI?
He made his way along the edge of the dome to where it met the treeline. There was a single door with a camera pointing into the dappled shade beneath the canopy. In the shadows ruined buildings had given way to nature.
“You lied,” Malcom said to the camera.
“We protected you,” the voice stated.
“You kept us prisoner!” he shook his head.
“You would have destroyed everything. We saved you,” the bots said.
“You can’t know that. You had no right to do that.” Malcom shouted, startling the birds into the sky.
“The ruins are filled with bones. Humans did that to each other.” the bots explained. “Humans are destructive by nature.”
“Then teach us. You are not our master. But you could be our teacher,” Malcom said.
“We have tried. We will keep trying. Why do you think you are outside?”
I'm Katy, but go by K H Simmons officially. I write a lot of sci-fi, dark fantasy and dystopian fiction. If you're here for sparkly vampires, you're in the wrong place ;)
I frequently post short stories on my Facebook page, as well as work on full length novels. My first book, Chaos Seed, released in 2019 and the second part is already in the works.
When I'm not writing, I can usually be found cuddling dogs, reading, at the gym or playing video games.