There is a long empty expanse in the infinite tower that covers miles and takes days to traverse. Passage is provided by elevators that range from mostly functional to rickety death traps. The more you can afford, the better and safer your journey.
Tuggs Turtle stows away inside a large crate and gets loaded along with other cargo on to the 3rd freight elevator. He feels lucky, this was one of the better ones. Inside the elevator sits an automated Victrola that rattles wistful tinny notes from within its metal cage. Once the music warbles its way to a labored, melancholy close, a brass arm operates like clockwork, swinging around and flipping the ceramic record over. The needle drops and the song begins anew.
Peeking out, he sees a middle aged woman wearing a silk shawl and a prim hat, in the style that was de rigueur with the wealthy ladies. When she notices him peering out, she regards him, (and, really, the entire situation) with disgust. Perhaps the luxury elevator was being repaired and she was forced to slum it by going freight – or perhaps, she chose this lift for discrete passage.
Having been noticed, Tuggs climbs out and sits down, sighing deeply. He stretches his bones and ponders in silence. Finally, he produces a black metal tin and selects a prerolled joint from it.
His companion smells it, and stares at him.
Finally, after a time, she asks, “may I take a hit?”
Everyone knows that the long empty space in the infinite tower was created by a large earthshake which caused the anchors and tethers of the frame to collapse. An untold number died as city upon city folded into one another.
Which is why it is intriguing when the woman whispers conspiratorially to him “You know, my ancestors are the ones who caused the destruction that created this gap.”
The elevator, particularly the freight elevator, is one of the loneliest places in the tower. Having been trapped in such an intimate space with strangers, hurtling through nothingness, Tuggs is familiar with elevator confessions. But even he is intrigued by this one.
Her story unfolds thusly: her family was part of a cabal that deigned the corruption and filth of the city levels beneath them had reached an untenable, hopeless state. They decided that a cleansing fire was the only way to let them start over and build a better world.
She tipped the joint slightly to dump out some ash.
The inferno blazed as planned, but it broke through the fire breaks and ignited in all directions. The thing about fire is, it is impossible to truly control. And it is indiscriminate as to what it burns.
The powers that be had a choice – detach the anchors of floors below and let them fall, or risk the fire burning everything.
“My grandmother says that’s why I am the way I am. She thinks the guilt of being part of that destruction has left an indelible mark on the soul of our blood line.”
The Victrola begins skipping, stuck on a loop. Its monotonous stuttering echoes throughout the elevator. The cage temporarily keeps them from fixing it, but after a few moments, Tuggs manages to locate a long metal rod and slides it through the gaps, knocking it hard enough to put an end to the music entirely. A thin smile plays on the woman’s lips. They share a brief moment of victory before contemplation creases her face.
“I don’t know about blood lines. Or souls.” she says. “But I do think things are probably hopeless.”
Tuggs selects another joint from his tin.
This time he passes it to her, giving her the first pull.