Short story by Jack Bragen
[dropcap]E[/dropcap]arth was on the verge of being uninhabitable, and there would soon be an enormous die-off of most living creatures. William Johnson wasn’t too concerned about it because he had a space reserved in the underground country that had been built. The space had cost a hundred million dollars.
The only ones who could go there were 1) high-up government officials; 2) those who were essential for the upkeep and maintenance of the shelter; and 3) those who were massively rich and could pay for a spot.
Johnson donned an oxygen mask because he needed to step outside to his Mercedes aircar. “To the office,” he said. The aircar gave him an acknowledgement and ascended to the assigned flight path.
His day was busy because he needed to put his affairs in order before disappearing. The underground country was a secret, and those destined to relocate to this hidden society had to sneak out for fear of tipping off the masses.
William sat facing his longtime receptionist. “I have something for you,” he told her. He reached into a file drawer and pulled out a giant wad of cash. “I advise you to have a good time with this.”
He paused. He saw the distress on Brenda’s face. “Don’t you think I know?” cried Brenda. “In another few months, everybody’s going to start dying. You’re going to die and so will I. No more life. Of course I’m going to have a good time with this. Thank you for your kindness.”
Brenda sobbed. “Can I take the rest of the day off?”
William returned home after a long day of business transactions that were mostly pointless. He was dealing with people who, in a few more months, would be dead and gone.
The next day, a limousine aircar showed up at the Johnson mansion. It took William to a secret location. Soon William was in an elevator, flanked by employees of the underground country.
And then, there he was. He had a seemingly luxurious suite that could have been mistaken for a penthouse apartment, except it had no windows. He wanted to light a cigar, but realized that he couldn’t find any in an apartment that should have been well-appointed.
He buzzed the service line. “Can you bring me some cigars, and also, for dinner, I’ll be having lamb chops.”
The automated service line responded by saying that there was no smoking allowed on the premises, and food was provided in the refrigerator in his kitchenette.
William opened the refrigerator and saw that it was full of square plastic containers. He popped one open, and it had a substance that resembled tofu. The plastic containers had labels that said, “100% of essential nutrients.”
Johnson cursed. He went to the television set and switched it on. “Millions of television programs are available in our storage. Would you like to browse?” It was a soft, pleasant, automated voice.
“No thanks. Just put on the news channel.”
“News is not available,” replied the television.
William fumed. He went back to the communications unit and again summoned the service line. “I need a six pack of beer ASAP!”
“Beverages are available in your refrigerator only. There are no alcoholic beverages available.”
Johnson was now in utter despair and went to the shower. The automated voice of the shower stated: “Showering is a maximum of ten minutes per week. Would you like to use your allotment now?”
“Never mind,” he replied.
William hoped he could find someone else at the complex with whom to commiserate. He fitfully put his clothes back on and went to his unit’s entrance. He pressed a large red button adjacent to the door.
“You are not permitted to leave your unit,” the voice stated with a grim finality.
Johnson realized that the air was quite stale, and he was quite a bit warmer than he wanted to be — in a room that he wasn’t allowed to leave. He didn’t even bother trying to find an air conditioner. No doubt it was not permitted.