Slab City – Chapter 3
A grid of cement slabs sparkled in the crisp sunlight along a roaring ocean of dead water. Men and woman laid on their individual concrete resting places and their children who mainly wore old ripped t-shirts and shorts could be seen crouching next to their mothers.
The concrete living spaces were rectangular and rested longwise against the ocean. Each slab was the same length and width regardless of the size of the person allotted to it and all who were granted a slab were allowed to lie in the hot sun until their last days.
This settlement of poor was often visited by council charity workers who would walk around attending to those in desperate need of food. Some were visited by ordinary people, who wanted to help, but their good will was often not enough as most were not expected to survive longer than a few years.
The once sandy paradise, now a cement shore, was often met with poisonous dead fish from the polluted water which surrounded it. This was the new, and perhaps the last, welfare scheme introduced for the disadvantaged.
Unlike the days of bath towels and umbrellas, today the concrete slabs were home to thousands of unfortunates who could barely gather the strength to stand. These were known as the ‘slabbers’ who occupied ‘slab city’, a new name, given to an old beach.
‘Do you know what day it is?’ A tall gangly looking fellow asked a slabber lying on a slab of concrete. Gary was 6ft tall and wore a plain green shirt and black jeans. His nose was long and pointed and he always seemed to hold a constant grin. This was no doubt helped along by his thin wide lips and high cheek bones
Borgus accompanied him. He was of a stocky build and stood at 5ft and 8 inches. He had a short black beard and moustache and his eyes were blue. Borgus was wearing his typical government attire, which was a grey button up shirt and black tie, grey trousers and black shoes. Unlike Gary, ‘Borgus’ tried to maintain a professional look wherever he went.
The two walked through the grid of cement, stepping around people, being mindful not to disturb those who were sleeping.
Borgus looked down at a frail man sitting with his head between his knees on a sunbathed concrete slab. The man’s hair was long and grey and had a moustache which was brown and curly and poked from the sides. His skin was wrinkled, and his eyes were closed.
‘Borgus,’ Gary said with a strained voice. ‘They refuse to communicate with us.’
‘Of course, you idiot’ Borgus said calmly. ‘Wouldn’t you find it hard to talk if you were starving and in their condition?’
‘I suppose I would,’ Gary replied soberly.
Borgus put his hand into one pocket and returned with what looked like a dispenser of some sort. He pressed the top of it and from it he retrieved a large grey pill.
‘Here,’ Borgus said to the man crouched in front of him. He bent down and lifted the man’s head up by his grey hair and pulled his head back.
‘Open your mouth,’ Borgus ordered. The man’s eyes rolled to the back of his head, and his jaw fell open. Borgus threw the pill down his throat and rubbed the man’s throat like an animal forced to take medicine.
‘Now, what?’ Gary snickered.
He let go of the man’s hair and the man dropped to the ground.
‘Just wait,’ Borgus said looking down at the man who by now was beginning to tremble. Within moments, the frail man rose up, and although he was swaying from side to side, he stood tall and alert.
‘Now all he needs is a good meal and a wash and he’ll be ready to go,’ Borgus said grinning.
‘What’s your name?’ Gary asked abruptly.
The man stretched his arms high above his head and took in a deep breath showing the outline of his ribs as he did so.
‘My name’s Dave I think,’ the man was staring up high above him almost falling backwards.
Gary shook his head. ‘So, these are our technicians?’
‘Listen Gary. The Plex has to be up and running by late December this year and in the middle of a scorching summer. If we are to accomplish such a task, we’d better utilise every resource possible.’
‘I suppose council has always given us a surplus of labour.’ Gary sighed and scratched his brow.
‘And we do want our beaches back I suppose. We can’t leave them here forever. They never seem to die quick enough.’
Gary paused for a moment and then sighed. ‘We’ll never have this to ourselves.’ He looked across the slab laden beach and within moments a large smirk crept upon his wide lips. ‘However, what a better way to clean up these beaches than to get them working on the Plex.’
Borgus looked at the now alert man who was staggering to and fro. ‘The Plex is for all Gary. Even these lying on sweltering hot graves.’
‘Well….,’ Gary began. ‘Now’s not the time for philosophy. If this is your solution, then it’s your job on the line. I’m just along for the ride because I was told to do that.’
Borgus shook his head. ‘Come. We’ll inform the collectors.’
The two walked away from the concrete grid as silky grey water splashed from behind them off in the distance. For those living near to the shore of the beach, life was only temporary and was usually reserved for the old and extremely weak.
Surrounding the grid, a high black wall separated the ‘slabbers’ from the rest of the world. Its length encircled the entire beach front with netting dug deep into the ocean floor to prevent any unauthorised entry or exit from either side.
To vacate the slab vicinity, one had to make their way to a simple door marked only by an ordinary handle. The two men approached the door and Gary grabbed the handle turning it ever so slightly before stepping back.
The pair waited and within moments, the door swung open and a man outfitted in armour and holding a large futuristic rifle ushered them through to the other side.
The once flourishing city of apartments and retail outlets was now an industrial zone made up of tall towers covering the skyline shooting out orange and yellow gases from their tops.
Borgus reached into a pocket and pulled out a small black device. He lifted it above his head and pressed a hidden button on the front of the device and then placed the device back into his pocket.
A few moments later a strong breeze brushed past and the pair looked up. Above, an oval-shaped black disk could be seen hovering.
‘Get ready,’ Borgus said. The two closed their eyes and braced themselves.
The breeze became stronger and seconds later a light shone down in the form of beam and covered Borgus and Gary in a stream of bright yellow light. The pair then began to levitate slowly and then paused a metre above the ground: their bodies bobbing up and down and side to side gently.
A loud vibrating noise could be heard from above and the two began levitating upwards again, this time at a slightly faster pace. Within a few minutes, the pair had been drawn into the shimmering black disk and without a pause, the disk rose higher above and skirted off to the north.
Inside the disk, the pair was taken to a small room with a single arched door. Seconds went by and the door slid up uncovering a large room with a long table and business-like armchairs, one on each side and a chair with its back facing them to the centre behind it.
Borgus entered first, then Gary shuffled behind him.
‘Why do you follow directly behind like an officer of the law following his superior?’ a voice came from behind the chair.
Gary swallowed hard and made his way to Borgus’ right side.
After moments of silence, Borgus cleared his throat. ‘You need an update of some kind I’m guessing.’
‘Yes. The voices hear good things and bad things.’
‘Yes,’ Borgus replied calmly.
‘Can you guess what those good things are?’
‘Yes, I can.’
‘Well…?’ The voice’s tone was deep and authoritative and yet calm.
‘You are in good hands. The project will go as planned,’ Borgus uttered with his hands behind his back.
Gary had been fidgeting and feeling uncomfortable.
‘And Gary, can you guess what the bad might be?’
Again, Gary swallowed hard. He looked down and then back up. ‘The time.’ His lips were dry, and his voice was hoarse.
‘Yes. The time taken to build the structure is being tested. But I’m sure it will be completed according to schedule and…’
‘Of course, it will,’ Borgus interrupted.
‘Gary is worried my strategy won’t work because it involves utilising every possible lower-class human resource.’
‘The coastal dwellers?’
‘Yes. We couldn’t possibly hope to mobilise the higher classes, instead cleaning up our forgotten beaches will be simpler and less noticeable.’
‘I like it.’ The voice chuckled in a grim manner. ‘The good we’ve been hearing has been confirmed. ‘It’s you Borgus, the voice recommended you, and he was right.’
Gary pursed his lips and was clearly agitated by the praise Borgus was receiving.
‘This isn’t the time for childish jealously. Why did you bring him along?’
‘He’s good company. His less than perfect nature keeps me human.’
‘Excellent! Now go and keep up the good work!’ The chair turned and appeared empty. The room became darker and Borgus and Gary knew it was time to leave.
They walked back and entered the small room they had come from. The floor beneath them began to shimmer and a bright light came from below. Again, they closed their eyes and braced themselves, this time for extraction from the disk.
Moments passed, and they began to levitate downwards to a grassland area below surrounded by a high wall covered in green vines. To the right of them, there was a single-story white building with a footpath leading to the entrance. The two were gently led to the ground directly in front of the path, and then the disk skirted upwards and out of sight.
Borgus looked up stared at the endless blue sky. It was warm without a cloud in sight. He took a deep breath and then let out a deep sigh.
‘Back to work ay?’ Borgus commented.
‘I hope this plan of yours works for both our sake.’
‘It will Gary. Go back to your privacy checking. Sit in your office and leave the real work to me.’
‘You…!’ Gary’s eyes were ablaze with hatred, and his browed was slightly distorted. ‘Oh, I can’t be bothered,’ he spattered and the two began to pace slowly towards a white door with silver handles which was the entry point to their offices.
Slab City: Works in Progress
Only hours had passed before recruitment had begun. Black vans pulled up behind the coastal walls that kept the poor locked up behind the industrial complex. A number of doors opened, and armed men strolled in.
The process began.
The energy elixir that Borgus had used to bring a weary slabber to his feet hours before, was being administered to the thousands of concrete beach dwellers.
Crowds of hungry people, once docile and bathing on their concrete homes, were now up and alert and ready for induction.
Droves of slab dwellers were taken into vans outside the walls and taken to a facility where they were processed: cleaned and given nutrition.
Following phase 1 began the next stage: training. Since the slabbers were uneducated and not trained in processing data most were taught to mimic the actions of trainers who would demonstrate the operation of work stations.
Information seminars were broadcast on large screens in cinema like rooms. Although the work required was simple and repetitive, workers were encouraged to talk as a way of stimulating cognition.
Within a small dark office inside one of the various training halls, a man named Reece Warder sat at his desk typing up reports for higher-ups in governments. Most of his reports ended up in the hands of Borgus whose job was to oversee the entirety of the operation.
Reece was a simple man whose obedience was outstanding; however, he knew very little about what went on around him. On many occasions, Borgus, who sensed his lack of awareness, would scream at him over the phone in frustration.
The phone rang.
Borgus: ‘How far along are we now?’
Reece: ‘Well it ah…’
Borgus: ‘How many numbers do we have on the project? Are there infrastructures being built as we speak? It’s been four hours and no formal reports on actual progress. I want to see physical changes in the Plex appearing on my screen. What do you do all day?’
Reece: ‘Yes, we have progress. However, I’m told little. People here, those people from the beaches, they don’t catch on well. It’s hard to coordinate them. They cause trouble.’
Borgus: ‘Stop blabbering. I’ll have to go down there myself and do a formal report.’
Reece: ‘I’ll check the system for any reports that may have come through.’
Borgus: ‘YOU NEED to go outside your office and query your operation managers. Not WAIT around for them to inform you.’
Reece: ‘Umm, yes.’ His voice began to tremble. ‘I’m still waiting on more information…and my data pad hasn’t arrived yet…I’m sorry.’
Borgus: ‘Stop.’ Borgus cut him off and went silent.
There was another pause as Borgus breathed heavily over the phone.
Borgus: ‘WHAT ARE YOU doing down there?! If you don’t get me some progress reports of any worth to me by 7 YOU will join the slab dwellers!’
Borgus hung up.
Clearly, Borgus was beginning to feel the pressure of the deadline building up and felt the weight of the world on his shoulders.
‘I’ll have to go down there,’ he whispered to himself.
Borgus was in his office in front of his screen. There was a knock at the door. Without waiting for a reply Gary let himself and sat down.
‘So Borgus. What now. Your operation is failing.’
Borgus grinned but didn’t respond.
‘Seems your staff aren’t performing well.’
‘Including yourself?’ Borgus asked.
‘It wasn’t my idea.’
‘And what was your idea?’
At that moment, there was another knock at the door.
A woman in a suit and tie with long black hair entered. She was slim and firm.
‘Sir, we have a request for you to visit the training centre. Apparently, a man by the name of Andrews has requested a visit from you concerning the project.’
‘Andrews huh? Yes, we appointed him head trainer in bio circuitry. Why doesn’t he just file a report?’
‘He received a complaint from head of operations and insisted he give you a visual report.’
Borgus nodded and then turned to Gary.
‘Coming?’ Gary nodded.
The training centre was a black dome situated in the heart of the city’s industrial complex.
After being escorted into the main entrance room of the facility they were met by a tall slender man with short blond hair. He wore a black uniform with a badge on the left of his chest.
‘Sir,’ He shook Borgus’ hand.
‘Sir,’ Gary nodded.
‘Andrews. How are you?’ Borgus asked.
‘Reece is a twit!’ Andrews spat. ‘He knows nothing. We don’t have time for reporting. He needs to come down here and evaluate.’
Borgus was shaking his head and then laughed. ‘I basically told him the same thing. So, do we still need him?’
Andrews shook his head slightly, and Gary pulled out a small notebook from his pocket and made a note of firing Reece.
‘What are you writing that down?’ Gary asked.
‘Come. Let’s visit the bio circuitry lab. The reason I asked you down here was to assure you that at least my section is going well and to suggest that you find someone better than that Reece’
Borgus and Gary both nodded and the three of them followed Andrews to a nearby elevator.
‘This is the bio circuitry manufacturing plant.’
The three were standing in a large dark room. Across from them, there was an incomplete wall made up of black bricks with blue wires embedded on the exterior. In the centre of the room, at the front, there was a long table that resembled a conveyer belt.
Here both men and woman stood to one side assembling bricks identical to that of the wall. On the other side of the belt stood a massive television screen showing a man dressed in a black cloak giving instructions.
‘So, what’s going on here?’ Borgus asked looking at the screen and then back at the workers.
‘Why are they building that wall?’ Gary asked.
Andrews chuckled, ‘Let me explain.’
‘These dwellers are assembling bricks that will line the inside of walls of the mega-Plex. The wires are sensors. These sensors will record all kinds of information about what happens within the structure.’
‘What kinds of information?’ Gary asked scratching his left cheek.
‘Gary is in charge of privacy. This is right up his ally.’
‘I see.’ Andrews was a reliable worker, the only problem, however, was that he was specialised in one field. Ideally, Borgus would have him as a right-hand man except for this fact. Today, a new operations manager would have to be chosen.
‘Who would recommend taking Reese’s command?’
Andrews straightened up and scratched at his chin. It wasn’t often that a higher-up asked him such a question.
‘I’d have to run through the list of personnel here, but I think I know someone who might be up for the job.’
‘Yes? And who might that be?’ Gary asked.
‘There’s a young man by the name of Ryan. He is new but motivated. Went well in communication technology and is currently in SNTS College.
SNTS stands for social networking technology systems.
‘Well if you think he is cut out for such a project as this get him here and ready for work. Now, this spy brick business you have going here. Tell me more.’ Borgus was clearly in high spirits feeling more confident about the project.
‘Ah, yes.’ Andrews pointed in the direction of the workers. ‘There they are working on sensor systems that are embedded into the walls. They can sense temperature, conversations and even smell.’
‘Like flies on a wall.’
‘Except even smarter.’
‘Yes?’ Borgus raised up him tip toes momentarily and raised an eyebrow.
‘These are just the physical components. They will be installed but will not be fully functional for at least two months to come. There’s a whole range of reasons…’
‘Never mind explaining,’ Borgus cut him off. ‘I trust your judgement. Now, all we need to do now is get that young chap in here, so we can have better efficiency.’
‘I agree,’ Gary added. ‘But bricks? The structure will be the largest in the world’s history. Will bricks be the main material used to line the inner walls?’
‘No of course not, Steel, concrete, and whatever we can get our hands on.’
The three of them talked together and then entered another room where men woman and children were sitting at tables.
‘This is where the workers come to rest and engage in talk.’
‘Why?’ Gary asked.
‘Because they are human Gary,’ Borgus gave him a serious stare.
‘Yes, these people are not well socialised. Making them slaves instantly won’t work. We need to help them feel at home.’
‘I see.’ Grey responded morosely
‘Come to my office,’ Andrews said pointing to a window in the far-right corner situated one level above a lift.
‘Your office is here in the lunch room?’ Gary asked looking around disgusted.
‘It’s good for morale. Come I will pour you a Pro-Vite. I’m sure you need a pick-up.’
Borgus pulled at his collar and sucked in his stomach and then let out a deep breath. ‘Yes, I’ve been running around all day. Let’s go.’
The three went into the lift and into Andrew’s office. Inside, there were five brown leather armchairs that surrounded a large workstation.
‘So, this is yours? Comfy.’ Gary was jealous.
‘I like my simple chair and computer desk. I don’t like to be annoyed by others,’ Borgus said glancing at Gary.
Andrews chuckled. ‘This is convenient, considering the work we are doing here. Often I’ll have heads of other departments join me for a conference.’
Andrews picked up a phone sitting behind him on a long counter that could be seen from downstairs.
‘Mary, could you please come here and introduce yourself? One minute? Fine. Oh, and bring me an update sheet.’ There was a slight pause.
‘So, have you submitted them?’ A pained look came across his face.
‘I see.’ Andrews paused and then sighed deeply.
‘Well do what you can. Don’t bother coming in. Deliver the reports manually.’
Borgus and Gary noticed the muffled sound coming from the other end had become noticeably louder.
‘No choice Mary. I can’t argue about this or maybe you will find yourself walking into the unguarded.’
Gary smirked, ‘Ruthless, I like it’.
There was a long silence before Andrews abruptly ended the call. ‘Something wrong?’ Borgus asked.
With some agitation, Andrews scratched at his forehead while nodding. He then sat down and pressed a large round silver device next to his screen. This was the computers control button as well as the directional device. All three screens turned on and displayed the words ‘World-Plex’ in large round black font.
‘I think it’s time to accelerate the firing of Reece Warder. This machine that we have created has come to a slow because we don’t have efficient information sharing.’
Andrews was tapping on the embedded keyboard in front of him as he said this.
‘Gary, do me a favour, will you?’ Borgus asked with a stern expression that could almost be mistaken for a sly grin.
‘Yes?’ Gary’s eyebrows were raised.
‘Bring me, Reece, immediately. He has to be informed about the unguarded’.