Sylvan's complex is quite massive for an underground city. Inside Sylvan's building is an office full of information, schematics, maps, and more, all about the history and logistics of the town, which I learned is called Coober (named after a pre-PTA underground city in Australia, Coober Pedy). Coober is a perfect square, 6.2 miles long and 6.2 miles wide. The production of Coober was begun two years before PTA began its spread, and was sealed off for about five years. Seven years ago, work resumed, slowly, under Sylvan's direction and funding.
The floor of the town is cut at the same curvature as that of the surface of the Earth, so that, unless you're standing within half a mile of the center of the space, you cannot see more than one wall. The walls are made from a mostly reflective, curved surface, so at those distances you can't even tell they're there. The ceiling is one mile below the surface, and one and one half miles above the floor. It's covered with UV lamps, set on a timer to simulate the natural sky. It's also equipped with misters, which every morning before "sunrise", water the vegetation that grows between the buildings.
There are around 700 people living here, give or take. Most of them are refugees, helping the town operate just like any other. They do work like retail, labor, childcare, cleaning, and even some farmwork on the small fields on the outskirts. There is a ring of 64 acres (0.1 mile) on all four sides of town, where all the food is grown and packaged. There are several shops around town that sell the food, there are seamstresses and carpenters and all sorts of different tradesmen throughout town, as well. Most of those shops have apartments on their top floors, and living spaces in their basements as well. Coober is very much like an old village, except with high-tech security, sleek futuristic architecture, and the fact that it's all underground.
Coober is really amazing. It's beautiful and unreal. There's only one thing that really freaks me the hell out: There's only one exit.I took a day-long visit to the Welcome Center, where I learned all about Coober and the people here. Jace, a loud, friendly guy with spikey black hair, led me on a tour of the three rooms dedicated to records, history, and statistics. He explained, very enthusiastically, how all the infrastructure works, how the community functions, and the various rules and laws of Coober. After he'd answered all my questions (and more), he led me to the fourth and final room on the top floor. There was a bank of six computer terminals, with six comfy looking desk chairs. He led me to the first one and gestured for me to sit, as he pulled up a second chair and sat beside me.
"All right, so I need you to take the aptitude test," He wiggled the mouse to wake up the terminal, then pointed to the only icon on the desktop. "Just click here, and you're going to answer a bunch of questions. The first few are just demographics, we like to keep a census of who all's here, just for records purposes. Other than name, age, and gender, any other demographics questions are totally optional.
"After that, you'll answer some questions about your physical health, your experiences, where you're from originally, that sort of thing. That's to narrow down the fields that you're qualified for.
"Finally, you've got some questions about your personality and decision making style. Those questions will help the system make a better suggestion for what field you should be in here. Try to answer them as honestly as possible, there are no wrong answers except for lies.
"After you're done, it'll give you two lists. One is a list of all the different jobs that are available here, whether you're qualified or not. We give you those so that you can choose a career path and training if you have aspirations to work in one of those fields. The second list is full of suggestions for what you will be working on right now. It's listed in order of your highest aptitude to things that you're probably not going to like, but that you're qualified for.
"After the test, you'll have three days to decide what you want to do, and if you don't choose before that, you'll be assigned to your highest match. You can change your choice later on if you want. Every ten weeks, we give everyone the opportunity to take the test again if they want. And, like I said, you can always train for another career that's outside of your aptitude if you want. You have to work on your current job for at least ten weeks before you can begin training, though. That's the only catch. Any questions?"
"That seems pretty fair," I replied, "But I have one question. What happens to people who choose not to work? Not that I intend to be one of those people, I just don't want to end up working with one."
"Good question!" Jace grinned a big goofy smile at me and replied, "If they're sick or unable to work, that's understandable. But if you just wake up one day and decide you don't feel like working anymore, and you spend more than three days out of service, one of two things happens to you. Either you are evicted, meaning you leave Coober and get to fend for yourself against the wild Z's that lurk in the woods up top, you go back to work, or you volunteer to be a test subject for our clinics. Excessive tardiness or absenteeism are treated the same way. Everyone's measured on an individual basis, based on a complex matrix of mental, physical, and emotional health, along with their type of work. Anything else?"
I thought for a moment, "What are the hours like? How many days and for how long are we expected to work?"
"Most jobs are five days a week, eight hours a day, with one meal break in the middle. There are some exceptions, like farming and other heavy labor. Those jobs are in six hour shifts four days a week, with the option to do more for various rewards."
"Okay," I looked at my hands while I made my mental progress through a hypothetical day in this world, "One last thing, does Coober operate on a monetary system? Barter? Communist?"
"Sort of a mix of barter system and a commune. We make sure that everyone has what they need to survive. Food, water, shelter, clothing, healthcare. It doesn't help anyone in the community if someone up and dies on us. But, based on your performance and attendance and your supervisor, you can earn extra incentives, and lots of people trade those. Sometimes it's food, or clothing, or vouchers for service. There is a free market, it's just a sort of... black market."
"All right. Sounds pretty good. And I'm guessing you're so perky about telling me all this because the system works well?"
"There are always people who are dissatisfied with their surroundings. They'd be just as unhappy to be on the surface, fighting off hordes of Z's, as they would be down here, safely running a barbershop. But on the whole, I feel like it's pretty fair. Sylvan designed the whole system himself, and he's a pretty good guy. He's great at empathy, and he tries to make sure everything is as just as possible. We have almost no crime, and everyone is as healthy as possible. So yeah, I think it's working."
"Great," I turned toward the terminal and used the mouse to click the icon. "I guess I'll get started, then."