Matt Wilcox

Creative Writing

Practice Aug 18th 2013

The Skyscraper

A short practice piece aiming to establish character and setting quickly.

The world dimmed, screamed metallically, and jerked to halt; knocking Xian to the floor as though hit by a weight from above. Lights and their reflections flickered out revealing buildings and trees far below. After a moment of dazed confusion she realised the power was out. Fuck.

Being trapped in a transparent elevator on the outside of an old 'scraper – somewhere near the top, even worse – was a problem. She did not like the way the cabin began to move about now the stabilisers had lost power and, presumably, the ancient manual safeties were engaged. Better not to think about the age of the safety systems, if it had any. Or about how small the trees far below seemed; she quickly raised her gaze. Noticing things like that was not helping to keep a sense of panic at bay. Taking a slow ragged breath Xian paused to calm herself. Of course it had safety systems – the people that built it were primitive not stupid. Besides, she wasn't floating and flailing in a rapidly descending cabin right now; so their had to be safety systems working. She checked herself over, got shakily to her feet, and tried bringing her attention back to the problem at hand. Well – problems, now – chief among which was that the building had lost power, which meant it had died. The building was not supposed to die. The point of retreating into this relic was to avoid the fate of the mega-towers. They weren't supposed to have died either, but Xian had hoped the 'scraper and it's old AI would hold up where the mega's hadn't.

The elevator juddered sharply in a gust of wind, and a fresh hit of adrenaline took hold. Maybe being stuck in a box very far above the ground was more immediately important. Slowly, so as not to disturb the cabin any more than she had to, she slid herself over to the control panel and pressed one of the buttons. Nothing happened, except the mechanical clunk of an honest-to-god real physical button hitting an equally real and no less honest or physical back-panel. Fuck. She was amazed people had managed to do anything at all with such primitive technology. Looking around, there didn't appear to be any access hatches, and even if there were she wasn't sure she could make herself go through one. The place rattled again. Fuck. At least she wasn't claustrophobic.

The trouble was, without the building AI, she was pretty much screwed. With the power gone the chances of any friendly drones being alive and able to help were slim to none. And there wasn't another soul around for miles. Even if there were they'd have no idea about her. Which she supposed – a wry smile flickering into place – was no different than any other time. The smile faded as she wiped sweaty hands on worn jeans and sat down, pressed against the wall closest to the building. As though being nearer 'solid ground' would help. There didn't seem to be anything to do about being trapped here.

A gull of some sort landed on the roof, squawking loudly into the sunset as it did so. She'd always disliked birds like that, they'd been one of the few things moving for a few weeks after The Fall began. Feasting on the trash and detritus, then on what was left of the people. Then on each other. Flying scavengers whose population collapsed not long after civilisation did. She disliked this one even more, as it waddled back to the edge, unsatisfied with something, and nonchalantly threw itself off the roof to glide lazily out of sight.

The sun vanished below the horizon – it was going to get cold soon. No power meant no heaters. It was deep winter, it was windy, and she was high up. From what she could imagine there were three possibilities: she would freeze to death; she would starve to death; or she would be atomised along with the lift and/or building itself when the safeties failed and they all hit the ground at speed. Morbid thoughts. But calmer ones. She wasn't sure if that was progress or not.

At least she wasn't forced to live with those possibilities. There were others. Less fatal but also less likely. Being an augment, she could hibernate – always risky on your own, which was why it was a last-ditch option. No guarantee of waking up, and if the systems weren't configured properly the biological bits had a tendency to corrupt rather sooner than the manufactured ones. What woke up after that didn't stay awake long, fortunately. But it was a strategy that conserved power, which would extend the chance of being found. Hopefully by someone who could shepherd the revival process along and make sure she wasn't half zombie when it was complete. The question was, hibernate now or later? It was as scary as the idea of being atomised by a high speed impact with the ground. Which was only a little scarier than being stuck where she was right now. The advantage was she could last near indefinitely by hibernating. She set the revival time as long as it could feasibly be pushed. At that time scale, either someone would find her before her systems tried to self revive, or the building would collapse before-hand. She'd be unlikely to consciously meet either grizzly end. She felt calm.

Xian waited for a little while, and watched the first stars appear in a deepening inky sky. She wrapped her thin coat around her, and went to sleep.

About this practice piece

If you're interested, you can go behind-the-scenes and read about this practice piece in the related Process post:Why Creative Writing