Sci-fi Shorts: Highrise

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Ryan had been here before.

The place was palatable enough, if a bit lightweight: bed, shower, toilet cubicle, microwave oven. The east-facing wall was a viewscreen, which he could switch to transparent if he wanted to see what was going on outside, or to any of the dozens of full-definition channel feeds. There was, however, no way for him to talk to the outside: no terminals, no data sockets. Even his cellphone didn't work in here: it didn't seem to be picking up a signal.

He was on the ground floor of an apartment block, in room 106. The block was eight stories high, and there were eight apartments on each floor. This was Borneo Block 1, based in the equatorial country of the same name, and was the ideal spot to put such a place as this.

Some of the apartments were occupied by families, some by lone residents such as himself; none were empty. And none could be opened from the inside; once they were sealed from the outside, only an extraordinary emergency could open the doors. That was hardly likely to happen here, with no other buildings within five miles of the block.

It was a prison. A comfortable prison, with a short stay, but a prison none the less.

Every resident of the block would be here for four days, after which time a new list of tenants would be drawn up and moved in. Ryan had just moved in, so he settled down on the bed, identical to the one in 303 where he'd been placed last time, and flipped the viewscreen to Pacific News.

Four days later, it was time to leave. As Ryan stepped out of the shower, the apartment door unsealed and opened by itself. He dressed quickly, and made to leave. As he stepped out of the apartment, the door sealed itself shut again. He was met by Paul, manager of the summer shift at Borneo Block.

"Welcome back, Ryan. How's Earth?"

"Still there," he replied.

The apartment block began to draw away from them both; as it retreated, Ryan could see a blue border encroach on the edges of the block. The border got larger as the block dwindled, and intrusions of white and brown appeared in spots and wisps.

Ryan kept one eye on the apartment block as it fell back towards Earth, his temporary home for what the space elevator engineers called Lift Time; four days was the quickest comfortable journey up to orbit, but the block would fall much more quickly with no residents to cater for.

"We've got some retensioning to do on Four, if you want to jump straight in," Paul stated. Ryan was a maintenance engineer for the Borneo elevator, and cable tension was a part of his job.

"Let's get started, then."