Commerce was booming. The stores were all full, as were the restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms, barbershops, and beauty salons. Foot traffic on each floor’s promenade was heavy, spanning a range from individuals to families, couples holding hands, moving at various states of urgency. If asked, probably few, if any, could have said how many floors there were. It was a number constantly updated, reaching well over three hundred presently.
The hive buzzed with activity, its only empty spaces being the former means of passage between floors. The elevators had been shut down for some time, as had the escalators, now holding no distinction from their nearly forgotten, ancestral stairs. Such antiquated forms of transport were no longer of any use to the population. The quandary over vertical limitations had been solved, its act now as simple, if not simpler, than its horizontal counterpart.
Because he was one of the last to hold out, the procedure was offered to the old man at a stunning, eighty percent discount. With this, and an aged body no longer fit for climbing even the modest number of flights his daily life required, he had agreed to take part, to join the general mass now zooming, as it was called, transporting, in the blink of an eye, to any floor desired. The procedure was a surgical operation on the part of the brain called the cerebellum, with only a slight technological intrusion. It had been explained to the old man in a very thoughtful manner, with diagrams and charts, and while he did not fully understand what was about to happen to him, he felt confident in the procedure’s safety, in the knowledge and ability of those who would be administering it.
The residence that he and his now deceased wife had purchased, some forty-two years prior, when any notion of the marvels that would come to pass were far beyond the wildest imaginations, was on the 22nd floor. The office in which the procedure would take place was on the 238th. The highest floor the old man had ever been to was the 263rd, to view an exhibition on ancient cities, but this had been years ago, when the elevators still ran, and such a distance could be covered, in a relatively short time, by two express elevators, when the gentle hum of escalators still reverberated from floor to floor, only noticeable now in its absence. He hadn’t told any of his family, or what few friends remained, that he had made this decision, specifically because of the trip required. A fuss would have been made, perhaps even some campaign to have him carried the majority, if not the entire distance. But he could imagine nothing more degrading than a man of his age being ferried up flights of stairs like some immobilized king. Besides, the return trip would happen in an instant, and he wanted the total perspective, the contrast in full.
Standing back from the lifeless escalators, considering the journey he was about to engage, considering which side of the escalator to take, as titles of up and down no longer applied, and there was little to no chance he would encounter someone heading in the opposite direction, the old man paused, and a woman, young and attractive, materialized before him, out of thin air, as they used to say, before the air had been thickened by infinitely dispersed bodies, her long legs mid-stride, walking towards the ice cream shop.
From what he could gather, it was apparently considered bad etiquette to zoom horizontally. Floors were to be cheated, but not walls, and he couldn’t say exactly why this was. There were those who still did it, of course, but he was fairly certain that he would not indulge in the practice, as it had been made quite clear that such behavior was frowned upon. He had asked his daughter what the sensation felt like, for this was what gave him the greatest apprehension, the idea of molecular reconfiguration, but she had found it difficult to describe. Even though she could recall what life had been like before, the memory had become too distant for any reasonable comparison.
“It’s like taking a shower,” she had said, “but when you step under the spray, your whole body becomes the water.”
The old man had asked his grandson as well, who could offer no characterization of any value whatsoever, as it was all he had ever known, and no alternative existed with which to weigh the experience against. The young boy could just as easily described what it was like to breathe.
The notion of taking what would have been, if they were still powered and functional, the wrong escalator, the escalator that, for generations, had run downward, initially appealed to the old man. He had done this in the past, but only for the sheer novelty, not as a statement of some ambiguous defiance. Life might not ever present such an opportunity again, to so intentionally buck design, simply because he could, because there would be no one there to tell him not to, and he considered this, arriving at the conclusion that it was a hollow rebellion, a purely reactionary endeavor, something much more childish than profound. To keep with the intended order, however, to climb the stairs as they were meant to be climbed, held a much stronger resonance for him. It was an act of preservation, acknowledging that such guidelines had once not only been necessary, but beneficial in maintaining a healthy society, a society in which the crossing of paths held much more potential for conflict. He would be the last to embody such order, to respect the custom, and there was a unique dignity in this. Stepping to the escalator on the right, the old man began his ascent.