Barrack exhaled. As expected, the smoke exited his lungs and passed out from his mouth, visible in the early morning light. He watched the smoke, oddly fascinated with the beautiful and shapeless form it took, different as always, a work of art. The moment eventually ended, the smoke dissipating completely.
Sighing, Barrack stared at his pipe. It was made of metal, with a small bowl and a long stem. Inside the chamber he could see the thin strands of tobacco, which he shredded himself. The design was his own, different than most pipes which had larger bowls and were usually carved from wood. It wasn’t pretty, but it was very effective.
Barrack continued to smoke, watching the city wake up from his vantage point. This was his favorite place to come, the only place he ever seemed to get any sunlight. The perch was about a square metre big, it was on the edge of some building, likely an apartment of some sort. It served as a fire escape for the corridors that connected a series of maintenance tunnels that he frequented. The spot was visible from many buildings, but Barrack was sure that nobody else came here, how could they? It was only accessible through the tunnels.
People began to file out of homes, most of them living in the tall and cramped apartments that the Masters gave them. Few were given their own homes, instead forced to share with others. From his spot twenty metres up, Barrack could see people in their homes, the large glass widows that gave no privacy. This was the closest he ever got to other people, watching them from a spot where they could likely see him too if they ever tried, but they could never reach him.
Barrack liked to think that the people saw him as an enigma, an interesting and mysterious young man who watched over the city, both high in station and respect. That seemed like a foolish idea however. It was true that he was both those things, but he severely doubted that anyone else knew that.
From his peripheral vision, Barrack spotted a young woman. Trying to look uninterested, he continued to smoke, yet he kept watching. She was young, perhaps early twenties, her hair was long and dark, left hanging out of her hood. The woman was hanging laundry to dry on clothing lines, the roof of the apartment building was lined with hundreds of such for all the different people who lived in there. All the clothing was separated into the individual pieces that they came in, hood and cloak, shirt, short jacket, pants, and back skirt. She only hung a couple sets, so likely she wasn’t a mother or hadn’t had a husband chosen for her by the Masters. Barrack did think she was pretty, likely one of the most beautiful girls he’d ever seen, not that he had seen many. What was her Stratum? Was she high up enough that she could be his wife? What would it be like to help her hang laundry or to father a child? Would they be sorrowful when the day finally came that their child was to be raised by those who were suited for it?
Embarrassed at his thought process, Barrack forced himself to turn away from her and concentrate on his smoking. An idea occurring to him, he pulled a small piece of clay from his pocket. Hands moving on their own, Barrack’s mind began to drift.
How could Barrack father a child? He hadn’t talked to a girl in years. Was he even attractive to them beyond the fact that he was First Stratum? He was young, but no longer a child at twenty-four years old now, with dark brown hair that he kept short, his jaw was well shaped and the bridge of his nose wide. His eyes were a dark grey colour, like the smoke he now blew from his soft lips. Barrack never wore all his clothing, it was always too hot for that. Instead he preferred to just wear the pants and the shirt, the collar dipping slightly. It revealed his physique quite well, with his upper body that was extraordinarily well muscled, arms thicker than most men’s legs.
Barrack’s hands continued to work gingerly, despite their massive size, his movements were gentle and precise. The piece he was working on was finally beginning to form, yet his mind continued to wander.
The young man wasn’t just strong, he was also incredibly intelligent. Being one or the other would have made him Second or Third Stratum fourteen years ago. Barrack was both however, so he had been assigned to the First Stratum. A position that awarded him the title of “Innovator” by the Masters. As a result, there were high expectations placed upon him to perform his duties, the kinds of things that only the best of humans could.
The system of Stratums was extremely important to maintaining society. There were twelve castes in total that a human could be placed into, the lower the number, the more useful you were to the Masters so the more important to society you were. Stratum wasn’t inherited, nor was it determined by race or gender, instead it was assigned to you by the Masters when a child turned ten. They would spend the next several years learning their trade before they would be left on their own. Eventually they might even be assigned a partner to marry, however if they had a child they would have to give it up. Everyone knew that the Sixth Stratum were well suited to raising children.
Barrack’s hands finally stopped moving, he held up the figure in his right hand. Meanwhile his left hand dumped the contents of his pipe over the edge and placed it in his pocket. Perched on his hand, looking back at him was the figure of a stylized young girl. She wasn’t the girl he had been watching before, but rather someone different, someone new. Her features were simple but doll like, with large eyes, a kind expression and long flowing hair. Her clothing wasn’t that of humans but instead the kind of stories that Barrack remembered as a child. A dress, flowing and beautiful, not restricted by layers or a hood, all one piece. It was pretty good, considering he had made it in just a few minutes and without a tool. Yet Barrack wouldn’t be satisfied until she was truly beautiful, that would take a scalpel for small details however, and he didn’t carry one on his person.
“How are you?” Barrack asked, his voice cracking slightly. It was deep, despite the fact that he rarely used it, sometimes he thought he might forget how to speak someday. “That’s nice.” He added awkwardly, acting as if the clay figure had responded back to his question.
“I’m an idiot.” Barrack grunted, realizing how stupid he must have looked. Yet there was the reality that he was lonely, the fact that he had nobody to talk to. He woke up, smoked, and went to work. Yes his job was rewarding, it was a duty that only he could perform, but that was beside the point. Would the Masters ever want him to marry? To father a child, to hold a woman? Or was he excluded because of his problem? It was so pathetic, he was first Stratum in title, yet it didn’t suit him anymore. It never really had, yet for some reason, they had kept him like this, alive even. Even if there was somebody there for him, would they just end up abandoning him the moment they realized what he really was? The others did, why would this be any different?
Putting the thought out of his mind, Barrack placed the figure in his satchel, hopefully it wouldn’t be crushed.
Barrack continued to climb in silence. He felt at ease in the dark and cramped corridors. Even if his eyes had never adjusted to the darkness, he would be able to find his way around by memory and feel alone. This particular stretch was especially daunting. Not only did it go upwards, but it was also on an angle. Barrack was a naturally climber however, and his body had adapted to the job. He could climb through the tunnels with ease, for hours at a time without taking a break, he did do this every day.
Finding the hand holes, Barrack lifted himself up, his feet dangling uselessly under him, he didn’t need them for this. Eventually the narrow grips ended, this was one of the hardest parts of working for the Masters, and they didn’t understand connivance. None the less, Barrack leaned back, taking his right hand out of the hole. He reached behind himself and upwards, eventually he found the ledge he was looking for and used both arms to support his own weight as well as his equipment. Taking a deep breath, Barrack shifted his left hand over and in one fluid movement was able to begin climbing again. There were no safety ropes, no nets, if he fell, he would tumble down the shaft and likely die.
Climbing like this was what made up the majority of his days, however Barrack could easily find himself crawling or descending depending on where he needed to go on that particular day. For anyone less, it would have probably been gruelling, yet the young man knew he was First Stratum. Barrack was capable of more than other humans.
After another hour of climbing, Barrack finally came to the spot he was looking for. Shifting his weight carefully, the muscular man propped his elbows against the wall, pushing his back the opposite side so that he would remain idle. Barrack carefully lowered his left hand, keeping his elbow pressed into the wall. He lifted his knees up, one at a time, wedging them into place so that he only needed one elbow to keep himself suspended. Next he removed his satchel and placed it on his lap, he took out a small Master made device.
The clear glass bulb was a light creator, he was powered by the same natural energy that the Masters used for all things. Barrack took the cord that hung off the bulb and connected it to a series of conductors protruding from the wall. The bulb light up instantly, powered by the same natural energy that all Master technology harnessed. Barrack’s superior education and need to understand modern sciences had led the Masters to revealing their techniques.
The Revius mineral which the men and women of the Third Stratum mined was a very special rock. It produced its own natural magnetic field, a scientific marvel that matched by nothing else in the world. In its raw form the field was volatile, strong and unpredictable. However it could be refined and carved so that the field could not only be shaped, but completely controlled. Revius was used to build turbines that likely numbered in the millions all over the city, buried deep underground or in service corridors like this so that normal humans couldn’t fiddle with them. Steam power was used to get the turbines to spin initially, however once they started, they completed a circuit, producing enough electricity to power technology and keep themselves spinning. Once in a while Barrack would have to use steam power to kick start a dud turbine.
Holding the bulb of light in his left hand, elbow still pressed against the wall, Barrack was able to fish out his tools and begin to work. He took a panel apart and began to fiddle with the circuits, they had burnt out the night before and needed repairing. The monorail above him had experienced problems the night before, some kind of actual physical damage which had led to many of the turbines needing to be repaired immediately. IT would be a lot of work in the end, the calibrations alone would take another day at least.
One of the most important functions of the Revius mineral was its use for building the monorails. The natural magnetic field could be manipulated into creating a constant field whose strength could be controlled. As such, the trains around the city would generate the same type of field, causing the train to push off the rail like it was floating. In magnetism, there were two types of fields, positive and negative. They were opposites from one another and if the two fields were within a certain distance, they would physically attract each other. Conversely if two fields of the same type would repel one another, it was this principle that both trains and grinding used.
Despite all the climbing and crawling he did, this was truly Barrack’s job, he would repair and maintain the Master’s advanced technology. As a member of the First Stratum, he was entrusted with a secret and difficult education, the ability to understand science which his fellow man could not even conceive.
Satisfied with his work, Barrack replaced the panel and put his satchel back over his shoulder. He moved onto the next panel, climbing through the darkness until he found it with his hands. He was curious would could have caused so much damage, according the report he had received this morning, every panel had to be checked in this area. Once the panels were reconnected and the breakers replaced, they would have to find any turbines that had stopped spinning and manually start them back up using the steam engines. Once all the power was restored, they would have to slowly check every strand of Revius in the monorail to make sure that it hadn’t been damaged before they could pass a train through. The entire process could take a week or more, it was small disasters like this that made Barrack’s job so exhilarating. Of course, any structural damage to the rails would be repaired by the Masters themselves, such a task was out of Barrack’s expertise.
Like always, Barrack tried to work efficiently. Nobody ever seemed to monitor his work but there was a level he needed to live up to. Barrack moved from panel to panel, spending the better part of the morning climbing. Once there, he would check the wiring and the breakers, make sure everything was up to standards and if nothing needed work, he would move on.
Eventually he came to the last stretch before lunch, the most dangerous part by far. The climb down was steep, the walls far apart, it did not allow for good hand holds. The tunnel was carved through a pillar supporting one of the larger monorails in this sector, he would know he was halfway down when he passed a doorway leading to one of the ledges on the outside he was so fond of.
Barrack descended at a quick pace, holding a hand out to each wall, full extending his arms. The handholds at this portion were worn out, too smooth to get a good grip on, he had learned quickly that the seemingly crazy way was the safest. Such feats of strength were incredible, inhuman even, yet his body had adapted his need to climb dozens of metres at a time.
It was all routine to him.
So when Barrack reached the ledge for the door, and there was something there that he did not expect, he almost slipped. He gasped audibly, regaining his handhold and pinning his back against the wall. The corridor narrowed slightly at this point and the maneuver was possible, although uncomfortable.
Still stunned, Barrack reached out into the darkness and felt the ledge again. His finger pressed against something soft, something warm, a feeling that was familiar yet alien to him. It was skin, human skin, somebody else’s, not his own. Barrack placed his palm against the surface, gripping it with his fingers and feeling. It was a hand, a tiny one in fact, dwarfed by his own. Nervous, he began to work his way up, feeling the wrist, then the clothed arm, the shoulder and finally the face.
The person exhaled softly onto his hand, Barrack pulled away immediately, barely able to keep himself from crying out. There was a groan, soft, feminine and wonderful. It was a cry of pain almost, maybe even a whimper. Reaching out, Barrack was able to grip the lever for the door, he turned it and pushed. Light poured into the tunnel, the first natural light Barrack had seen in hours, his eyes stung and he winced.
Slowly he opened them, laying before Barrack was a girl not much younger than him, beautiful red hair that was sprawled out like a wave of pillows below her head, barely held together by a clip that lay nearby, her face was soft yet her eyes sharp. It was incredible, this was the closest he had been to another human in years, the first girl in at least ten, and he could reach out and touch her. Barrack quickly decided against that when her eyes began to open. He could hear his own heart as her green eyes connected with his own, a semblance of cognition returning to them.
“Good… Morning,” Barrack muttered, his voice an awkward mess.
“You’re human,” The girl said quietly. “Thank my luck,” a smile blossomed on her face, she looked genuinely happy to see Barrack, it was lovely.