How We Survived – Guardians of light (Nano2016, chapter 12)

It was a strange kind of science and magic that held a dome together. From the bunkers and hydro farms underneath, to the electric trams above, to the towering housing blocks, to the glittering brass plated steel and glass that bubbled them all in, each had its part to play. All was dictated by the genius of Buckminster Fuller. His ideas became the math behind survival, the design behind the domes, the beating heart of dome ecosystems. Nothing could exist as a closed system – there needed to be input from somewhere. So there was light. There were influxes of people, and grain, and water. Where there was still water, and people, anything could be created.

If you were to build a dome city from scratch, it would be significantly easier than retrofitting cities that already stood. Blasting could achieve the underground clearance needed in a new city. But if the city was already there, you had to work around its people. First was the core, the stomach of the city, deep below the other functions – the farms and water. By boring into the ground, cities could access groundwater. Some cities dropped a shaft, more than a mile deep into the earth, as simply a first step to ensuring survival. Without water, there was no future for the people. All water that came from the ground was circulated upwards, first to the farms and people, and then everywhere else. On cold days the breath of hundreds of thousands would condense on the glass of the dome, building a mist around the people, and trickling its way down. It didn’t meet soil – it met drains, that brought it through reclamation plants, distillers, and other treatment centers. If the water wasn’t kept clean, it would doom a city.

The next clear line was food. While auxiliary domes, with good access to water, and the space to grow grain, were important for providing meat for the population, no city could sustain itself on imports. The trains were efficient, but no train could beat the wilting of vegetables when travelling from coast to coast. So they built sprawling hydroponic farms underneath the cities. No farm was a source of food without men and women to work it. The toiled each day, hidden always from the harsh sun. Their skin grew pale, and sallow. They shuffled around under UV lighting, tending to masses of plants. There was no room for grain, but there was food. Some domes were prized for their abundant fruit, others for their winter squash, some for wine grapes, and others for cannabis and hemp. That which the dome needed or wanted most was grown. The crops cycled throughout the year, but the hydro farmers were a constant fixture. Pale skinned creatures, with hunched posters roamed between the rows of tubes, and foam, and nutrients, and life giving water. When one couldn’t escape a dome, they would escape to the farms. Newcomers took less than a month to lose their tan, and start turning shades of grey and white.

They slept surrounded by walls of stone or clay, with the water of the earth seeping back at them as they slept. All of this water was redirected to the great sump under the city, where it was brought back to the people. There could sometimes be a dozen layers of these farms. Stacked on top of one another – a veritable magazine of food, stored and grown so that the dome may live on.

Often the generators were buried below a city too. What passed for fresh air was pumped in from outside the domes, and fed to the engines. West facing inlets would give way to east facing exhausts, while at the center the living heart of the city beat on. Diesel engines as large as house hummed always. These eternal timekeepers kept the city in lights, but more importantly, they worked pumps. Water pumps, air pumps, waste pumps, air conditioners to keep the inside of a dome livable. These levels were often full of former trainmen, too sick to ride a train, or too old to travel the country anymore. They watched gauges with blackened eyeballs, as they moved nimbly around a metal heart that could kill them in an instant of carelessness. The engines never stopped, and neither did their engineers. Each soul below the street line of a city kept those above alive and happy. People would die without the filtered air, or the filtered water. This too was necessary. Even if an engine went down for repairs, there were usually three or four to take up the strain. The dome ran because it had to run. These were the last bastions of humanity in the Americas, and they would continue to be so as long as hydro farmers kept the machines running, and the engineers kept the engines running, and the water kept rising from the earth.

Once the city surfaces and became the street touched by the light, the world got a lot faster. Smooth paved streets were only worn down by boots, shoes, and bicycles. The car and the motorcycle were a near memory to most, but were unattainable by many. Dome air was rarefied, and couldn’t be filled with diesel fumes. For most cities the only source of diesel fumes was from the trains that brought them new life from across the country. Even this was controlled, with some cities unloading the trains miles away, and bringing cargo in a tram at a time.

All above ground, the machine that was the dome seemed to become filled with chaos. All over the city, droves moved like schools of fish, darting and changing as they swarmed through the streets. But the patterns were there to see. Those that could read a tide could understand the way fish moved, and those that understood a dome could understand its people fairly soon. The moved in the morning to work, the moved at sunset to drink, they swam slowly home through a haze of gin and beer. Sundays they took to the parks to watch the sun cast rainbows through the dome, they ate from street carts, they played with children on swing sets that would never feel wind part for their chains and seats. To the casual observer, the dome was perfect. To those that lived there, that was known to be far from the truth.

Wherever there are people, there is corruption. A parallel dome was sequestered here under the brilliant glass. Stock traders in the major cities bought and sold people as though they were commodities. The hydro farmers seemed to the city fathers a good trade resource. Everyone needed food, and bright men to work it. Not all food could travel a thousand miles. But a farmer could, relatively easily too. Gangbosses in the farm pits would keep an eye out for a bright farmer. Anyone that could diagnose and eliminate problems was added to a mental checklist. When violence, or shortage, or crop failure would strike a dome, the call would go out for men and women, of all castes. Shortages were always filled quickly when money was in abundant supply.

Higher still the citizens of the middle tiers lived. They were the managers of this world, the NAFTA confederated trade company employees, the ineffectual politicians, those that believed their work was doing some good. It most involved numbers and papers, very far removed from the work of most of this world. They slept in good beds because worlds away, those beneath them toiled. But their columns of numbers showed an increase in water production, or advances of train technology, or unusually high crop yields and congratulations were in order. They drank champagne. And the world carried on with or without their attention.

The highest levels of the city were palaces. The closer one was to the highest point of the dome, the better the life was. The wealthy and the dynastic awoke in the autumn mornings to tesselated rainbows adorning their soft bed sheets. Those that built the domes raised families here, while the engineers and workers that erected these structures lay sleeping in the earth beneath them. When luxury goods arrived on the trains, carefully guarded wooden trunks were destined for them. Rum was available to them.They moved in litters, or surrounded by armed men. Most stayed off the streets during daylight hours. The mayor of New York hadn’t left his apartment in months, taking meetings there, and trying to run the city from there. He was so obsessed with his perch high above the city that he expanded his windows, and added strained glass. A colourful palace sat atop the highest tower in New York, surveying the land below. But the mayor himself saw none of it. So obsessed was he with the light, that it consumed it. He believed himself the city’s protector, it’s founder, it’s saviour.

He died old, a luxury that eluded many. His son was waiting in the wings, ready to claim the throne as his own, and to rule the city like his father before him. His father’s body lay at rest in bed, his weight on his arms, staring into the rising sun. Hues of violet filled the room that night at sunset, bring to a close his legacy. He was the only mayor the city had yet known, and the future was uncertain. But in the high towers they had light, and divinity. They must be bright enough men to rule the people under their protection. It was the way of things.

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