As an aside, I'm also planning another exclusive, not-available-anywhere-else bit of flash fiction for supporters of the old crowdfunding campaign, so keep your eyes peeled!
They lived down there with him, the producers. There were the engineers, who mostly fixed the transport and delivery systems these days; the weavers, who made the clothes; the typists and the binders and the printers, who made the state-approved books and pamphlets. And then there was Solomon himself, who was in charge of the team that developed and synthesised the fresh fruit and vegetables.
Once, it had been a vast, underground hive of activity, a buzzing, whirring network of constant production, serving three-dozen settlements within a twenty-mile radius. But things had changed lately – had got harder. Information took a long time to filter through to them, but from what Solomon could gather, maybe a third of the settlements were still standing.
Rumours began to surface about the state tightening its grip, stepping up guard presence, keeping people subjugated and servile. It had forced people to stay in the hot, cramped temporary dwellings that were supposed to have been replaced with permanent housing a decade ago, and Solomon had heard tell of widespread poverty and disease. He knew the buyers always took what they wanted from the provisions meant for the wider population and he wondered if they were distributing much at all anymore.
One of the binders told him people had begun to scatter – had taken up their belongings in the middle of the night and fled towards the far hills, before their homes crumbled around them. The stories had it that there was still arable land beyond the hills, still flowing rivers and beautiful green trees. Still hope.
You couldn’t just go, though. Even Solomon knew that. You had to plan. You had to get everything ready, find weaknesses, set up your exit. You had to wait for darkness, wait for the shift change at the perimeter fences, hope you’d bribed the right person and bribed them enough. Then you could try. There was no guarantee you’d make it. But you could try. Even the guards, who lived fatter than anyone, had their limits. Even they could be pushed too far. Solomon hoped his sister and her husband had got out. He hoped they’d made it to the hills. He hoped they were free.
That hope sustained him. It kept him going when the state diktats came down, which they did more and more frequently, telling them to scale back, telling them not all their services were needed anymore. Prices dropped. Buyers dwindled. But the producers remained. The bright and glorious future they’d been promised, as captains of industry, as the saviours and the nurturers of those that remained on the surface, had faded. They’d become emblems of the waste and decay above them, rotting fruit and unsold clothes and engine parts stacked high around them, no matter how much they cut back. But still, they remained.