Somewhere above Noah a NormCorp AutoDrone buzzed, scanning for anything of value…anything with metal. The streets were deserted at this time of day, as they always were. No one fortunate enough to live in the high rises ever left them. In an hour, the garbage would be evacuated from the buildings and into a containment area by the road, and a NormCorp AutoTruck would pick it up. It was during that time frame that he would make his move.
Food was scarce, and the weather was cold this time of year. The buildings on old Main Street barely resisted gravity’s heavy embrace. This was where the poor scratched out what some might call a living, among the refuse of the rich.
There wasn’t money here – that was all electronic credits. Commodities amounted to things that could be bartered, and what could be bartered was found in the trash. No one lived long eating trash, but your life would be even shorter if you did not. An old man once told him that long ago, when the world had become polluted, the rich quit leaving the high rises, and so as the buildings were upgraded by AutoWorkers, they quit making doors to go in and out. Those were the lucky people.
A brick wall marked the edge of the containment area, Noah rested against it. Using too much energy was a death sentence in this kind of weather. Driving snow, biting wind, and thick smog made visibility poor.
The mechanical whir of the trash shoots awoke him from his contemplative state.
Walking. Step, step. One foot in front of the other, eyes down. A cacophony noises as different kinds of refuse mix together.
A half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich. An old jar of pickles that has miraculously survived the fall. Something silver and square. Shiny. Shiny? Trash was never shiny.
Noah reached down and picked up the small square. It lit up when he touched it. Looking at it, his face stared back through a thin piece of glass, a red light was visible at the top of the device. An electronic. The AutoDrones would be back at any minute, they recycled anything that could be made into electronics and this would be no different. Unless Noah kept it.
He put the three items in his bag, and then slowly trudged back to Old Main, careful not to slip and hurt himself on the ice.
“Fuck! I threw my phone in the trash chute!”
Nox had been throwing away a sandwich with her phone in hand.
The protocol when these things happened was to deactivate it from the computer terminal, so she sat down and opened her device manager. To her surprise, somehow the camera had been activated on the phone
Noah looked at the device, and stared at his reflection. Looking into his eyes he saw pain and confusion. Pain because of hunger and desperation, confusion because he didn’t understand how this could have happened, that people would could let other people slowly die like this.
Suddenly the face in the glass changed. It was a girl, her skin was clean, hair was straight, skin was brown but not dirty. Her cheeks were full, and behind her…a light. It was dark outside, and she was in a lit room. Was he looking at someone in the tower? He must be.
“Hello?” the girl asked.
No one knew people inside of the towers. What could this be worth? What were the consequences? Even if it was worth something now, soon it wouldn’t be. There wasn’t electricity out here, and there wasn’t the knowledge to create it. Even if there were, no one could build those type of industrial facilities. Batteries had long since become extinct. If this was some sort of communication device, it would soon be silent.
The camera on her phone showed a boy her age. Around him dilapidated buildings, above him, no ceiling, around him, only a dim haze.
“Hello?” she asked. Suddenly the screen went black in a flurry of movement. Did he put the phone in his pocket?
It had been three days since Noah had looked at the device. He pulled it out of his bag. As his fingers moved across the glass, the red light turned back on. Matted hair, thin guant face, bones sharp at odd angles, grime. Nothing like the girl. Why couldn’t he be like that?
Suddenly his face transformed again, into the girl’s.
“Hello?” she asked again.
“What do you want?”
“To see your world.”
Over the course of several days, Nox taught Noah how to use the device she called a phone and he showed her what life was outside the high rises. Everywhere he went, the camera showed what he saw. There was one thing he didn’t show, though, the AutoDrone.
Very rarely, there were clear days where the sunrise and sunset could be seen. Today was one of those days. Nox stared through the screen at him as he trudged to the top of a hill, looking out at the sunset.
What she saw on the screen amazed her. Fiery reds and oranges flared across an endless expanse of blue. Not like the white tiles above her. Muted purples and yellows spread through the sky, it was perfect. Noah’s smiling face then filled the screen; just as perfect.
Suddenly an electronic voice rang out through the speakers of her terminal and Noah turned: “Noah Conger, you are in possession of stolen NormCorp property. Suddenly a bright, electrical flash. A scream, the screen went black.
“No! NOOOO!!! No!” Her throat raw, her cheeks stinging from the tears. Soon NormCorp would know what had happened. In front of her, a library of videos from Noah. Quickly she cut and combined some of them. Noah, digging through the trash pile. A half empty box of twinkies – a real prize – Noah smiling and laughing upon finding it. The hovel in which he lived, the blowing snow sweeping through. And…the NormCorp AutoDrone. Noah told her about them, and now she knew what they did. The upload button flashed on her screen, she clicked it.
Then, she opened the garbage chute and climbed in. Movement, the sensation of falling. Crashing as different types of refuse combined into one mass, and she was just a part of the pile. The cold, biting wind.
Under the expanse of the sky she saw an AutoDrone buzzing in the distance. A slender hope. She ran toward it. An hour later she came across a small heap on the ground. She slowly walked to the other side, fearing what she could see.
It was Noah. His skin, cracked and dry. His burned hands partially covered his face and white froth coagulated at the corner of his lips. She gently touched his hands and then gathered his small frame into her arms. His eyes slowly opened, his breathing, ragged gasps. A small smile at the corner of his lips. A wimper, tears in his eyes. She rocked him, holding him tight. All around them cold death.