The Air is Always Greener
by Edward Palmer
"You'll be jealous of your own life!" said the vid-board. I kicked another can as I walked down the cramped street, snorting at the vacuous smiles and cheap promises of the blaring advert. Only the Uppers had anything worth being jealous of--the rest of us were left tending jealousy itself. My job packing boxes had kept my head off the pavement, but the roof that kept the rain off my head couldn't keep the grime out of my lungs.
Beyond the nineteenth floor, past the fog and amongst the Uppers, the air was cleaner. Life was cleaner: the smiles were genuine and the food was real. But packing boxes wouldn't get you past the fourth floor, and the fourth floor might as well have been the pavement. I ignored the lights of the vid-board and focused on something more tangible. You know where you are with an empty can.
Lately, I'd started to mess with the Uppers' boxes at the factory. I'd ignore a sharp edge on a child's toy, or take out the fail-safe on a housewife's blender. Mix apathy and resentment and simmer for twelve years. Would they be jealous of their own lives when they were missing a finger?
It made me sick. That there were people up there, past the fog, who could be bored with their clean air and clean food. People who would actually pay for a course of Reappreciation. People who thought that three weeks among the rest of us could justify their decadent lives in the Upper levels. Three weeks, surrounded by the smog and the violence that we had to call home. If I ever found one of those secret Uppers, I'd make him eat his wife's blender.
It wasn't long before the factory caught me.