Pop at the Top

Written by Nicholas Comrie

Glass_Building .jpeg

The heatwave had been protracted; part of a cycle of climate events long predicted by science, but effectively discredited by the powers that be. Public safety apparently only extended to civil unrest, not to 'uncorrelated developments' whose increasing frequency barely caused a ripple on the Feed, out there for eyeballs and The Next Big Thing.

Deaths of the old and infirm just didn’t cut it anymore. Not since Sycamore Heights had inoculated the public against catastrophic air conditioning failure. Now it had to be a celebrity – preferably someone caught up in a controversy, or with a star on the Songjiang Road (a red one, naturally) – to ‘fail to sufficiently hydrate’ before any interest was shown.

The situation had led to old-fashioned drinking falling out of favour. And being old. Or infirm. In gentler times it might have led to a public health crisis. Plans drawn up. Compassion and culpability expressed; if never truly felt. The trouble was public attention and that of the corpocracy had been ground to a nub. A singularity. The unrelenting buzz of the Feed having invaded every corner of our lives.

Soapies and beheadings, flash sales and cyber warfare. The inescapable videos, virals, serials and subscriptions had relegated climate events – common as they were - to obscurity. Instead attention was endlessly drawn to The Next Big Thing – and the punchline that would launch advertising revenues into the stratosphere – the Feed’s inhabitants unimpressed by the slow, inexorable delivery of Nature’s latest cruel joke.

In the end, it was man’s hubris that provided Nature with its rebuttal, a newly-built prayer to Capital its unwitting leading man. Dubbed The Crows’ Nest by someone in marketing, despite being miles from the nearest body of water – a dying reservoir more silt than liquid that the city had bled dry – it rounded off a cluster of cloud-cutters, memorable more for their height than any innovation in design. That was perhaps part of the problem.

Its opening coincided with a fresh spike in temperatures; rolling outages and melted asphalt suggesting a tall, glass box in the clouds would struggle. For those buried in the Feed the ribbon-cutting hardly registered. For the Nests’ corporate drones, there was a realisation that something wasn’t right the day they moved in.

Blinds came first. Then tinted glass. Internals about keeping a bottle of water handy. A saline drip, wags joked, as management tried desperately to suggest it was business as usual. Some tenants moved out, forfeiting sizable deposits. Most soldiered on, as those on the top floors moved in retreating circles towards the core and away from the glass.

Blame was levelled at neighbouring structures. Answers sought in the angles of reflective surfaces and prismic refraction. It was sexier than a climate event, even if the scientists delivering the explanations had last experienced coitus – their word – in the latter part of the last century.

The end - or its beginning – was ultimately captured by a Feed drone tethered to a neighbouring cloud-cutter. Replayed endlessly over the coming weeks, the footage showed the brilliant fragments of light that seemed to strike The Crow’s Nest from all sides, followed by an audible pop. The sound heralded an inexorable shockwave of heat and light that stripped the building’s upper floor of its windows and much of its metalwork, and left those inside sashimied by flying glass.

News of the tragedy surged through the Feed, propelled by drone camera footage that captured every micro-pixel. The pretty senior exec sunning herself at a 65th floor window, her designer shades reflecting the overload of light. An intern’s miraculous escape from a toilet cubicle, to a floor suddenly flayed and exposed. Shocked realisation on the lower levels that old neighbours had become the meat in the sandwich of The Next Big Thing. Moments later, the barely concealed exhilaration of a near-miss. The Feed watching itself, as they tuned back in. All so very Post-Modern. The tragedy had something for everyone - and if you were the manufacturer of ‘those’ sunglasses, a little more.

‘Pop at the Top’ was the Feed’s initial shot at sympathy. The headline morphed beyond all recognition in the coming weeks, under pressure from commercial opportunity, law suits and lobbyists, but the line – and its accompanying audio – would leave its mark on the collective conscious. A noise like an expelled champagne cork, that would herald the beginning of our complete environmental collapse.

But that was for later. Now. Right now; the Feed had its star. Its Next Big Thing. An unfolding drama punctuated by tragedies and heroism, back-story and conspiracy theories, its every angle pored over by an army of social workers and structural engineers, environmentalists and gun nuts. The event spawned series overnight, a tasteless ‘pop’ track from a music industry long cast adrift from any sense of decency within a week. The Feed’s devotees were transfixed by the minutiae of a disaster of light, glass and flesh; as the event's every detail was pored over for weeks.

Later, after investigators had cleaned the body parts from the scorched pavement and the early human stories had been tidied away, it was decided that the lay-out of neighbouring buildings had concentrated an intolerable level of light at the building’s apex. Its inhabitants had merely been caught in the cross-fire. Sight-line surveys and city planning studies were commissioned and scrutinised. Public confidence shored up. The corpocracy rounding on architectural failings, to counter a protracted rear-guard by environmental radicals. Official studies spoke of a ‘one in a million event’, even as cloud-cutters in three other cities smouldered. Without the pop, they were quickly lost to the noise. And the inconvenience of the truth.

The visual scars were nevertheless unnerving, played back endlessly as they were by the Feed. Fears were expressed in neighbouring hives. Then in other cities boasting similar monoliths of glass. Workers began arriving ever-earlier to claim desks on the lower levels each day. Planned holidays during the summer months were extended. Questions asked about the viability of the glass high rises that dominated global corporate real estate. A finger was needed in the dyke.

The corpocracy’s response was predictably clumsy, choppers swooping in under cover of darkness to drape The Crows' Nest in a giant black shroud. The move seemed motivated by a desire to hide the incident, protect what remained of the building’s integrity and serve as a memorial to the fallen. A lack of clarity meant it was instead compared to the sheathing of a giant phallus; an unlikely alliance of feminists, porn slingers and sexual health professionals seizing upon the event to make their point. Smash the masculine oppression of the corpocracy! Buy more smut time! Or - If you have to buy it, at least keep it clean.

Waning interest in ‘the pop’ spiked. Hard again, was how the smut peddlers put it, as the Feed tapped into a fresh seam of views, cliques and trolls. Attention turned to new avenues of debate, fanned by corporate interest – and finance – in a welcome diversion from the event’s implications. It had been difficult enough burying news of c-suite desertions from upper floors - old desks filled overnight by janitors and security, or those on short-term visas. Sex and gender politics were a heady deflection. It might have lasted. But then another building went up.

‘Like a Roman candle’, was how one city councilwoman described it, in a comment that would ultimately cost her job. The Feed re-ignited, it’s Next Big Thing – now just The Big Thing – was back in business. A second shroud was helicoptered into place, as building and body parts were bagged and itemised across a two-mile area, but it was apparent that the move had come too late. People began deserting their glass aeries in droves, as one-in-a-million became ‘the potential for systemic architectural failings’, in a rare admission of anything from the corpocracy. It did little to allay fears. Instead, the Feed looped endless footage of wide-eyed office drones escaping their simmering hives, to strike a path across fields of melted tarmac.   

The mercury rose again, as the heatwave deepened. Buildings closed and ambitions of height shortened, as freshly-stitched shrouds were lowered into place in cities across the world. Downtowns began to resemble mausoleums; memories of a manifest destiny burnt away by the pain of recognition. In response, people buried themselves deeper into the Feed, as random acts of violence were carried out against city architects and structural engineers. Tarring and feathering made a comeback, its ingredients the cities’ melting asphalt and dying birdlife, bodies left hanging from bleached streetlights at once-busy intersections. In the countryside, the latest round of drought-resistant crops failed, sparking food riots. The fabric began to tear. Civilisation moved to the precipice, as Nature assumed its inexorable ascendency, and we slowly moved below ground and looked with hope to the stars.      

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