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Malcolm awoke early to beat the rush. His wife Tina, warm and heaving softly beside him, would have just crawled into bed two hours before. She worked late nights and Malcolm worked the regular day shift.

They lived in a building that had been popular with financial services managers, traders, executives. The kinds of folks who left in the first big wave. Tina had a cousin who worked at one of the big firms and she kept an eye on the lists for coming vacancies. They had been lucky in this respect. Connections were difficult to come by now, and most of the folks flooding into the remains of the cities had to find places that were much smaller and – worse – closer to ground level, where things could be unsafe at night.

From the 80th Floor, the view of destroyed Midtown in the morning no longer filled Malcolm with a sense of wonder and excitement, or even horror and anxiety. He filled a kettle with water from their bucket, and cracked a tablet to get a burner going on the old hydrogen fuel stove. He waited for the water to boil, looking down at the cracked ruins of the buildings. And yawned a little.

Every morning had become roughly the same. Malcolm made coffee when the water had boiled. Then he did his pushups. Splashed his face with water from the bucket and got dressed as the sun started to burn its way through the first layers of haze and dust.

Oscar, the elevator operator greeted him when the doors opened and they went slowly down the shaft. “Dusty today,” Oscar would say. Or in a particularly cheerful manner, “Nothing but clear blues to the horizon!” The doors would open and Oscar would flicker and disappear into the wall.

Rather than wait for subways that wouldn’t come, Malcolm walked the twenty blocks to Tower Four, which was guarded heavily by military from the Gilt Brigade. They stood in lazy circles around the edges of the fenced off perimeters. He showed his badge and submitted to the eye scan at each gate, greeting them. The Gilt Brigade officers rarely responded. It wasn’t protocol to engage – part of their contract to keep silent and not get too friendly with the folks keeping their bosses in good working order.

Malcolm’s pod had fifty folks in it and he oversaw a staff of five maintenance staff to ensure that vitals were monitored properly. The plugs varied in age from 85 down to an eleven-year-old. The minimum these days was now five, but kids presented problems for the programs. They got anxious for reasons that the folks in engineering still couldn’t figure out. Malcolm’s pod members lived in different programs. Some of them in Island Beach, others – the ones who still had to generate value, even on the inside – in Beta Los Angeles. They looked peaceful as Malcolm watched them. He ate his lunch and made sure their heart rate was stable, that they were taking in food the right way. He monitored the protocols and didn’t think about the whole thing too much.

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