Work. Rest. Repeat. That is life for those few who found refuge in the Towered cities and so survived The Great Disaster. Sixty years on, only three cities remain. The descendants of those survivors have only one goal; to complete the colony ships so they can leave Earth and try to establish a settlement on Mars. The first of those ships is now nearing completion. All efforts are focused on the launch. If humanity is to survive, nothing can interfere with this last great effort. But the City of Britain is not a dictatorship. An election is due to be held in just over three shifts’ time. The victor will lead the workers in their new colony on Mars.
When two bodies are found, there is no doubt that it is murder. The only motive can be sabotage. It is down to Constable Ely to solve this crime. The election must go ahead. The killer must be caught. Above all, production must come first.
Prologue - An Ordinary Shift
Twenty-six hours before voting begins
Ely ducked. The fist sailed past his face. As he straightened something struck the side of his head. His helmet took the brunt of the impact, but he staggered forwards, knocking two of the brawling workers to the floor.
Half turning, he lashed out and grabbed a fistful of cloth and arm. He didn’t know if it was the person who’d struck him. He didn’t care. He threw the felon to the ground as his other hand scrabbled for the truncheon on his belt. When he pulled it out he found the grip unfamiliar. He’d not used the baton for years, not even in practice. Another blow struck him, this time to the back of his neck. The truncheon fell from his fingers and was forgotten as his helmet was dislodged. His display pixelated as it tried to reset. He was blind.
He roared with anger, tore the helmet off and began swinging it left and right. With his other hand he grabbed and pulled the brawling workers apart.
Someone screamed in pain. He didn’t see whom, but the noise reminded Ely that he was the Constable of Tower-One. He was responsible for maintaining law and order. He was responsible for keeping the workers safe.
“Stop!” he yelled, turning his incoherent roar into a barked command. “Stop! I order you to stop!”
Cowed more by his berserker thrashing than by his words, the fight broke up and the workers moved apart.
“Stop.” This time the word came out more quietly. Ely was breathing hard. He’d finished his fourteen hours on duty and had been halfway through his six hours of Recreation when he’d received the alert.
“No! No one move. Don’t even think about it, unless you want me to charge you with fleeing a crime scene as well.” He addressed this to those edging towards the doors at the back of the crowd. It wouldn’t matter if they did try to creep away. The cameras would have recorded their actions, the chips in their wristboard computers logging their presence in the room at the time of the fight. There was no hiding from guilt, no escaping justice.
The crowd stopped moving and, one by one, turned their collective eyes on the three people lying prostrate on the floor.
Ely cursed as he looked down. One of them seemed... not too serious. The man was rolling from side to side clutching his arm, his eyes tightly shut, his teeth gritted against the pain. A break, Ely guessed. Probably just a fracture. The man was bleeding, but only from a shallow cut on his forehead. No, it was nothing serious, nothing that couldn’t be treated in the infirmary up on Level Seventy-Seven. It was the other two who’d captured the attention of the crowd. Neither was moving.
Ely put his helmet back on. It took a moment for the retinal scan to log him back into the Tower’s surveillance system. He pulled up the camera feeds for the privacy rooms around the lounge’s perimeter to check that no one was lurking within. They were all empty.
A moment after that, two alerts came up on his display, one for each of the two prone men. Their vital signs, monitored by the wristboard computers, were shallow.
As per procedure Ely checked to see if the infirmary had been automatically alerted. It had. The two nurses were already on their way down, yet Ely could tell that the two unconscious felons would require more expert treatment. They would have to be transported to the hospital in Tower-Thirteen.
He cursed again, but feeling that his duty of care had been fulfilled he turned to look at the mob. As he moved his gaze from worker to worker, a tag appeared on his display, giving their names and criminal probability. For each of them, that number was set at one hundred percent.
“Do you know what you’ve done?” he asked the crowd. “Look at them. Do you know what this means?”
No one spoke. Some looked shocked, others ashamed.
“You know that when they recover they won’t be coming back here,” Ely said. “They’ll be re-assigned to one of the other Towers. Where will that leave our production targets?”
The City of Britain consisted of thirteen Towers jutting up out of the rising sea. Each was home to around twelve thousand citizens. Tower-Thirteen contained the hospital, the large retirement home, the prison, the advanced training school, and the administrative hub for the City. Towers Two through Twelve were the Factories where the components for the colony ships were made. Tower-One housed the Assemblies, where each of those components was checked and rechecked before being transported to the launch site. There, the first three colony ships were in the final stages of construction.
Work in the Assemblies of Tower-One was hard, but unlike labouring in the Factory-Towers, it wasn’t dangerous. Not a shift went by without the newsfeeds reporting a serious, or sometimes fatal, injury from one of them. On leaving the hospital workers from Tower-One, and those felons who’d completed their sentence working on one of the penal gangs at the launch site, were always re-allocated to one of the Factories. In terms of Tower-One’s productivity, being sent to the hospital was as good as being dead.
“It’s one year until the first ship will be ready to launch,” Ely growled at the mob. “One year! The ballot will be held next week, and you all jeopardise your chance of winning a place on it by brawling like... like...” He couldn’t think of a word that appropriately expressed his disgust.
A sudden, terrible, thought struck him.
“No one move,” he snapped unnecessarily as he pulled up the footage from the fight onto his display. He quickly cycled through the recordings from the different cameras, switching between the ones affixed to the ceilings and doors, the ones worn on the visors of the individual workers, and the one in his own helmet. He relaxed. All the people he’d hit were still standing.
“Control,” Ely spoke into the ever-open microphone on his collar.
“Constable?” The soft voice of Vauxhall, Tower-One’s Controller, came clearly through his earpiece.
“I need to report an affray. Lounge-Two.” Except it wasn’t called that anymore. “The uh... Sailor’s Rest,” he corrected himself. “It’s under control, but at least two workers will require hospitalisation.” There was a shuffling of feet. He raised his voice. “Inform the council.”
“Of course,” the Controller said. “But if they’re awake they’ll already have received the alert sent to the infirmary.”
That was true enough, and they would all be awake. The election was just over three shifts away. It was a foregone conclusion that Councillor Cornwall would be elected Chancellor by a landslide.
“Do any of you wish to admit your guilt?” Ely asked the crowd. He doubted anyone would. They never did. It didn’t matter. He had the camera footage. Up until the Re-Organisation four years ago there had been the audio-feed as well. Then the right to privacy had been amended to the City of Britain’s Constitution, and Ely’s job got more time consuming, though not more difficult. Other than maintaining a watch against sedition, sabotage and recidivism, the only crimes the Constable usually dealt with were the occasional fights. This one was more serious than any he had dealt with before, but he saw no difficulties in resolving it.
He turned his attention back to the images projected onto the inside of his visor. The system had already finished a preliminary analysis of the footage from the past thirty minutes. It had tagged each occasion when a citizen had hit, collided, pushed or in any other way interacted with another worker.
One of the unconscious men twitched violently. Ely ignored the distraction, as he went through the footage, identifying which of those occasions constituted an offence.
Most of the crowd had launched a kick or thrown a punch, but there were seven people who’d done more. Leaving the two unconscious men and the third man still whimpering in pain aside, he focused his attention on the other four.
Juliana Dundee had thrown the blow that had dented his helmet, but it was clear she’d done it accidentally whilst trying to escape the melee in the centre of the room.
The other two, Ashford and Leeds, had initially acted in self-defence, then kept going when instinct overtook reason. He docked them forty points each. That left the other four.
Edmund Lundy, one of the two men on the floor, had thrown the first punch at Gerald Carlisle. Mr Gerald Carlisle, Ely corrected himself, seeing the annotation indicating the man was married. Carlisle had retaliated but neither quickly nor forcefully enough. Before he had landed two blows, Lundy had managed five. Carlisle went down.
And there, Ely thought, the fight could have ended. It would have ended if the woman, now kneeling next to the unconscious Mr Carlisle, hadn’t picked up a chair and swung it into Lundy’s back.
Ely winced as he replayed footage of that blow. It might be a spinal injury. He hoped not. That would mean months of rehabilitation, possibly even a year before the man was productive once more.
The evidence was incontestable. Once Lundy was down the woman had swung the chair at his head, twice. There was no question that this warranted a custodial sentence. The only possible mitigating factor lay in the reason why she’d gone to the aid of Mr Carlisle in the first place. Sadly, Ely thought he already knew.
“You picked up that chair and hit him. Why?” Ely asked the woman.
She raised her eyes from the man on the floor.
“Because he...” she swallowed, and her tone became loud and defiant. “Because he hit Gerald. My husband.”
Ely nodded. The display recorded her name as Mrs Geraldine Carlisle. The two had been approved for breeding three days ago, registered their marriage during their next free shift, and officially changed their names twenty minutes later.
Marriage wasn’t compulsory, nor was changing one’s name, but both were strongly encouraged since the Re-Organisation. Adopting the names of old places now lost beneath the waves was a way of holding onto the past, of remembering those billions who had died, and carrying their memory onwards to Mars. That was what Councillor Cornwall had said. Ely didn’t disagree with the policy - he’d adopted one of the old names himself - he just didn’t understand the importance of it. Not that it mattered to his job. A citizen could change their name everyday, but that wouldn’t stop the system from tracking their every waking moment.
“Why were you here this evening?” he asked Mrs Carlisle.
“Why shouldn’t I be?” she retorted.
“A good citizen like you, why weren’t you in Recreation?”
“We already did our time there,” she said.
Ely checked the records.
“It says here that you did two hours,” he said.
There was a murmur of disapproval from the crowd.
“So? It’s not like it’s compulsory,” she stated belligerently.
“No, it’s not. And the only reason it’s not is that most workers know to do their duty. All we need is for each worker to spend four of their off-shift hours exercising on one of the machines in the Recreation Room, and we’ll generate enough electricity to keep the Tower working. And the only reason that malingerers like you don’t cause the lights to turn off is that most people do five or more.”
There was a mixture of self-righteous nodding of heads and shame-faced downcasting of eyes from the crowd.
The Tower’s citizens were split into three shifts. Whilst one third worked, one third slept, and another third were free to do what they wanted. Each shift lasted approximately seven hours, with an hour in between for the workers to get from one part of the Tower to another. During that time, the drones cleaned and sanitised the Assemblies, ‘homes’ and lounges, getting them ready for the next shift.
Theoretically, every citizen had seven hours each day to do with as they pleased. And they had, up until fifteen years ago. That was when the rains had begun.
Whether the rising seas had brought the rains, or the deluge had caused the flood, no one knew. That the water had risen up to lap at the walls outside Level Three, and that the constant rain made the solar panels useless, was indisputable.
“You changed your name to that of your husband,” Ely said to Mrs Carlisle. “Indeed, you chose to get married, yet you waste all this energy here when you should be contributing to the greater good. I find that suspiciously inconsistent.”
“They were celebrating,” the man with the broken arm, Roger Grimsby spat out.
“Celebrating what?” Ely asked, but again, he thought already knew.
“That we were going to be able to have a child,” Mrs Carlisle stammered, her defiance beginning to crack under the withering stares of the mob.
“See?” Grimsby said with zealous indignance, “That’s as good as treason. Production must come first, that’s what Councillor Cornwall says, and he’s right. People like them,” he spat again, “they have no thought for the future, no thought about the society as a whole. All they care about is themselves.”
“Quiet!” Ely barked, as he quickly ran through the footage working out Grimsby’s part in it.
Lundy had knocked Mr Carlisle to the ground, but not knocked him out. Ely watched as Grimsby waded into the melee, shoving Mrs Carlisle out of the way. The woman blocked his view. He switched to a different camera. He saw Grimsby kick Mr Carlisle in the head. Ely pulled up the footage from Grimsby’s visor and replayed the scene. He was clearly responsible for knocking the man out. The question was whether that kick was intentional.
“We just wanted to spend time together,” Mrs Carlisle said, this time quietly.
The tutting from the crowd, now collectively relieved that their sins were minor compared to hers, grew.
“What use are children?” Grimsby asked, sensing that he had the support of the mob. “That’s just more unproductive mouths to feed. And what use is that when we’re so close to leaving the Earth? Seventeen years is what it takes to breed someone up until they can be productively useful. That’s a seventeen-year drain on resources. How does that help when the first ship will launch in a year’s time? Can’t you wait?”
“Seventeen years, plus the two weeks maternity leave for her,” Juliana Dundee said, seeking to gain some of the crowd’s favour. “And count the energy lost in running the crèche and the school. We’d be on Mars already if it weren’t for the likes of them.”
Whether to have a moratorium on population increase was a debate that had been raging since the launch date had been announced, and one Ely expected to continue until the last human stepped off the planet for the last time.
“And what,” he asked the crowd loudly, “about the two people we will now have to breed up as replacements for these two who are going to the hospital? You didn’t think about that, did you? No, I’ve seen the footage. You can spout whatever high-minded rhetoric you want, but none of you were acting in the interests of production.”
That shut them up.
He glanced down at Mr Carlisle. The injured man was looking increasingly pale. It was possible, Ely thought, that the nurses wouldn’t arrive in time.
“Dundee, for damaging state property I’m docking you sixty points. Leeds, Ashford, for wilful assault you’re docked forty points each. As for the rest of you, none of you tried to stop the brawl. That makes you equally culpable. I could dock each and every one of you for the loss of labour,” he paused, “but I won’t. I’m inclined to be lenient. I’m docking you twenty points each.”
Ely looked from person to person to see if anyone would argue. No one said a word. Most looked resigned, some indifferent, others dismayed, their reactions determined by how many points they’d had at the start of the shift. He tapped out a command, logging the sentences, and then distributed them to each citizen.
“You have a right to appeal,” he said, formally. “Appeals must be lodged within the next twenty-four hours. Failure to appeal will be taken as an admission of guilt.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “This lounge is now closed until shift-change. It will require hours of labour to repair the damage you’ve caused.” It wouldn’t. The drones would have it cleaned and ready for the next shift in under thirty minutes. “It’s only fitting, therefore, that you go now and queue for your ‘home’, and,” he added as there was a whisper of grumbling from the back of the crowd, “I suggest you go now, before I change my mind about the charges.”
The grumbling grew louder as they headed out the doors. Ely ignored them.
As the last of the mob left the lounge, Tower-One’s two nurses, Bronwin Gower and Geoffrey Bradford entered, each pushing a stretcher before them. Like the other civic servants, their material-efficient jumpsuit was dyed blue, though of a lighter shade than the one Ely wore.
Nurse Bradford moved to the men on the floor, whilst Nurse Gower moved straight to Grimsby, whose moaning, Ely thought, was louder and more theatrical than before.
“It’s fractured, but not badly,” Nurse Gower said. “You’ll need a cast. Can you walk?”
“I don’t know,” Grimsby replied, his voice weak.
“I thought you said you were for Production First,” Ely snapped. “And now you want us to waste more hours pushing you up to the infirmary.”
“Alright, I can walk,” Grimsby said, getting to his feet with an exaggerated show of discomfort. Ely smiled at the nurse in a gesture of knowing solidarity.
“Good,” she said, ignoring the Constable. “Then make your own way over to the elevators. We’ll meet you there shortly.”
“How long will you need to treat him?” Ely asked, loudly.
The nurse made a point of taking her time in answering.
“Transferring the other two will take half an hour,” she said. “Call it two hours. Perhaps three.”
Ely nodded and checked the time. It was two hours until the end of shift. During shift-change the elevators were reserved for the sole use of workers.
“I’ll be up half an hour after shift-change to sentence him,” he said.
Sentencing Grimsby could wait. Sentencing Mrs Carlisle could not.
“Mrs Geraldine Carlisle, for your active part in the hospitalisation of two workers and the loss of production that will cause, I sentence you to death.” The woman didn’t even flinch. She knew what was coming. “However, due to the current labour shortage of which you are now a cause, and if you waive the right to appeal, I am inclined to give you a choice. Death or 100,000 hours service on the penal gangs at the launch site. The choice is yours.”
“Some choice! 100,000 hours? How long is that? Thirty years?”
“It’s still a choice,” Ely said. “For the record, do you accept the sentence or do you wish to appeal?”
“Fine, fine. I’ll accept,” she said despondently. “What does it matter? I won’t be having any children, will I?”
“Not now, no.”
“But, perhaps we will,” she said, her defiance returning once more, “when we get to Mars.”
“Perhaps,” he allowed. “The punishment will be ratified when you reach Tower-Thirteen.”
He turned to Nurse Bradford who was bent over two unconscious men.
“How are they?” the Constable asked.
“There’s nothing we can do for them here,” the male nurse replied. “They need the hospital. Did you remember to call Tower-Thirteen for a transport?”
“I can’t,” Ely said slowly, through gritted teeth, “not until you confirm it’s necessary. That’s procedure.”
“Well, I’m confirming it now,” the nurse retorted.
“Control,” Ely said, turning his back on the nurses and injured felons, “I’m confirming we have two patients who need emergency transport to Tower-Thirteen. One felon is being transported with them, her sentence is to be ratified at the prison.”
“Of course,” Vauxhall said. “What about the man with the injured arm? He doesn’t look too serious.”
“You’re watching?” Ely glanced up at the nearest camera.
“Of course. It’s not like there’s anything else going on in the Tower right now.”
Conscious that everything was being recorded, and knowing that a Constable was far more easily replaced than a Controller, Ely kept his remarks strictly professional.
“That man, Grimsby, can be treated in the infirmary,” he said.
“Fine. Transport for three,” she said with a tone that Ely thought didn’t match the gravity of the situation. He didn’t comment. Nor did he say anything to the two nurses as they loaded the injured felons onto the stretchers and pushed them out through the doors with Mrs Carlisle following close behind.
Another thought struck him. The nurses might be able to treat Grimsby in the infirmary, but that didn’t mean the man would be able to continue working with his arm in a cast. He pulled up footage from the man’s last shift. Ely relaxed again as he watched Grimsby work.
A piece of circuitry came in across the conveyor and stopped. The man bent over it, a thin metal wand in his right hand. He touched it against a piece of wire. A light on the wand turned green, the conveyor belt moved, taking the now-approved component up to the sorting room on Level Seventy-Seven where it would await collection and transportation. Ely didn’t bother to check what the circuitry was being used for. It didn’t matter. Grimsby could perform his duties with one hand.
Ely looked around the now empty lounge. The place was a mess, but no more so than usual. He stepped outside and swiped his hand down the panel on the wall. The door closed. He tapped out a command, and a moment later he heard the sound of the drones coming out of their concealed crevices to clean and sanitise the room.
He tapped out a requisition for a new chair. He doubted it would be approved. Almost as an afterthought, he tapped out another message, placing a requisition for a new helmet. He doubted that would get approved either.
A green light blinked at the bottom of his vision. He had a call coming in. It was from Chancellor Stirling. He answered.
“Why aren’t you on patrol, Constable?”
“There was a disturbance in the—”
“I know that. You think I wouldn’t know?” she interrupted. “You’ve sentenced the suspects. Whilst this might have been the most serious incident in some time, the crime is now over. I can see that. What I can’t see is why you are not on patrol.”
“I’d finished my shift and was on Recreation when I was alerted to the—” but again she didn’t let him finish.
“The police need to be seen,” she said. “I’ve told you this. Or do you think I can be disregarded, eh? The election hasn’t occurred yet, Constable. I am still Chancellor. Useful workers, productive workers, vital citizens...” she put an emphasis on the words to make it clear she did not count Ely as one of them, “... need to know that the energy they expend to ensure your comfort is well spent. Justice needs to be seen to be done, so go and be seen, Constable.”
“Yes ma’a...” But she had already clicked off.
Ely briefly closed his eyes. In just over a day the election would begin. It didn’t matter what she said, Stirling was going to lose and Cornwall would replace her.
Four years ago Cornwall had been a worker in Tower-Four. There was an explosion in one of the Factories and Cornwall had run into the fire to rescue the components from inside. That was a week before the election. During the aftermath, when various citizens approached him looking for a story to post to the newsfeeds, he gave his speech on Re-Organisation. He spoke of remembering the past but focusing on the future, on putting Production First as the only way to ensure humanity reached Mars. The sentiment, and his heroics, struck a chord with the electorate. Though he wasn’t an official candidate, when it came to vote over 80,000 people, nearly eighty percent of the City’s voting age population, wrote his name onto their ballot.
Chancellor Stirling, re-elected by the slimmest of margins, then adopted his policy of Re-Organisation. Everyone saw through this transparent attempt to benefit from Cornwall’s popularity. The Chancellor’s poll numbers had been sinking steadily ever since.
Ely was an avid supporter of Councillor Cornwall and his theories of Production First. It was his aim to one day follow the man into politics and become a Councillor himself. Though he doubted whether anyone would vote for someone as universally reviled as a Constable.
Putting thoughts of sleep on hold, at least for a few more hours, he walked over to the elevator to begin his lonely patrol.