The Lift

VR-MLN-1 was, from the outside, a giant charcoal-grey cube with a clear glass roof. From a distance, it had an ominous, out of place look. The surrounding landscape was a cold scrubland with little water. A few hardy plants, reddish clay-heavy soil, and many rock formations and small chasms. Some would say it had a rugged beauty; it was notable as one of the remaining undeveloped areas on the planet. And so the almost nondescript, neo-brutalist cube was out of place. Part of what made it feel ominous was its sheer size. It looked to be a single building, dark and almost perfectly cubic against the red, irregular earth.

The outer walls were all glass, but showed only an inner wall, as a slightly smaller, darker cube within. In terms of floor space, it contained almost 80 square miles.

The only thing disturbing its outward simplicity and symmetry was a large half-pipe connected to the top floor, which ran east as far as the eye could see, toward where, on the clearest of days, one could see the shapes of distant skyscrapers.

VR-MLN-1 was intended to be the center of a large, ever expanding suburb of New Alexandria. New Alexandria wasn’t the capital, nor was it the largest city, but it was quite large and prosperous, and a center especially of technological innovation. Officials and city planners decided that, rather than allow New Alexandria to continue to expand via random sprawl, it would be best to plan its suburbs entirely.

Though it is not the capital city or the largest, it is considered to be one of mankind’s most important cities for at least two primary reasons.

New Alexandria houses the world’s largest server hub, containing humanity’s collective knowledge. These servers are housed in a magnificent cultural center called The Athenaeum.

Lastly, New Alexandria holds the corporate headquarters of Valhalla, Inc., the fastest-growing robotics company in the world, which employs much of the city’s population, and is responsible for the creation of many of the non-sentient robots seen around town.

From the higher towers, on the clearer days, the people of New Alexandria could see that dark cube in the distance, even when all was a colorless sun-washed silhouette at that distance, it could be distinguished from the formations by its harsh, perfect geometry. There was nothing of that description anywhere in New Alexandria. It was a heavily populated city with great feats of architecture, but most buildings had the general theme of being glass spires with white accents, so that in the golden hours of sunrise and sunset, the whole city shone gold.

From New Alexandria, the site of VR-MLN-1 gave people strange feelings. For some, it was simple curiosity. It was a place of historical import. Maybe, one day, they would visit it on one of the tours.

For others, it was sadness. A place of such promise, now essentially lost. A grand, failed experiment.

For less optimistic types, the sight of that dark cube in the distance was foreboding. For the paranoid, it gave a sense of slow, impending doom. Though its shape was still, and no light came from it, people imagined its internal machinations and, if they focused on it hard enough, were filled with an inescapable creeping dread. It was like standing under a wasp nest. Nothing may come of it, but the danger was certain.

There were some who called for the train tunnel connecting New Alexandria to the cube to be blocked off, if not demolished. “That place should be quarantined,” said one pundit. “If not just nuked.”

Others were content to let the train continue to operate, so long as there were strict travel regulations.

The cube was properly called VR-MLN-1. In the center of the building was a large elevator hub, a lobby with a dozen very large elevators, and some old chairs for waiting when no elevators were available. Despite the fact that half the elevators were broken, there was never anyone waiting. It might have something to do with the fact that 80% of its former human population was killed.

The elevators themselves were quite ornate. The were large, with wide doors, so that any of the elevators could accommodate freight transport.

They had round, tactile buttons with elaborate lettering and an audible click.

The doors had elaborate laser-engraved designs, almost egyptian in style, with a reddish-gold, shiny finish. Together with the size of the doors, they suggested something grand, almost ancient and mysterious, within. The doors were tarnished, though. They still retained their regal air, but a time-worn patina gave variance to the finish.

The call button was a flat, square button which glowed faint red when pressed. It was recessed into a plate on the wall which read “Lift” in ornate letters. When it arrived, the speaker above the door let out a low, hollow-sounding chime. The chime was clear but soft, and slightly discordant. Whether the slightly off sound of the chord was by design, or due to the neglect of some old mechanism, no one remembered.

The elevator made a constant, low buzzing noise when moving up or down, due to the hydraulic mechanism that powered it. It was not overbearing, but loud enough that, in the quietest hours of the night it stood out.

The controls had a simple, but strange design. The numbers 1 to 12 were arranged in a circle, like a clock, with a hand in the middle pointing to the current floor. Each number was a round, tactile button with an audible click, and a ring of light around it when the button was pressed.

Of the twelve buttons, some were more worn than others. The lower the number, the more pristine the button, except that on each elevator, the “1” button had an X over it in white electrical tape. Well, they all did at one point.

The button still worked, and those bold enough to press it were met with a government-branded barricade over the exit door. Many random messages were written here, including couples names with hearts around them, crude drawings of dicks (of course), and political messages. The barricades were large enough to provide an ample canvas for juvenile messages.

Although there was a stairwell, it was intended for emergency purposes. Though it also could be used for extreme cardio workout purposes. Each level was 150 feet tall, making it a very long climb from one floor to another.

Some of the lights in the stairwell had burned out. In some sections, quite a few in a row were missing, forcing one to make the trek through a hundred or more stairs in the dark. To make matters worse, the stairs were steep. The stairwell also was full of graffiti and messages, sometimes lengthy exchanges between two correspondents.