Macx licked his lips nervously, pressing the access button on the scratched panel. He hated having to do this, but he had no other choice. Standing in the shade, he paced nervously until the speaker crackled to life with harsh high tones.
“What do you want?”
“I’m the 5 pm appointment.”
The panel light dimmed, and a long echoing rumble came from the bottom of the elevator shaft, faintly issuing from the small vertical crack in the armored elevator door.
So its come to this.
After all the saving and scrimping, moving the family away from the labor camps at the dwindling icecap mines. It was their chance for freedom, maybe make a break for the defended enclaves in South America or India, places where the rain still fell.
That was the whole problem, the world with billions of thirsty mouths, but only few places where pure water made an appearance. Some of the ultra-rich could afford their own aquifer drill rigs – going deep to the very boundary between water-trapping rock and the sediments above, but even that wasn’t a guarantee.
Many had done so and dropped the aquifer levels to mere feet in most places, causing massive erosion and sinkholes when the parched earth gave way. There were entire stretches of land that looked like a moonscape, dotted with wrecked mansions and empty storage tanks.
While the planetary percentage of pure water stayed constant, where it fell made the difference between agonizing death and modest abundance. The Latin Cartel was the first to reach an accord, and build the massive defense barriers around the Amazon rainforest.
Millions stood at the edges in makeshift camps, hoping a stray storm would allow them to fill containers placed at the walls edge. They knew better than to attempt to climb. Automated sentries and patrol drones would make short work of any effort in that direction.
Macx closed his eyes, trying to imagine the last time he had showered in clean water. It was so long ago, a faint memory of being little and looking up – seeing the droplets of pure crystal water fall down towards him, splashing down the drain. What a waste, all of those liters! If he only could open up a portal to that time and scoop up some of that, his family would live like royalty.
The elevator door began to open, massive bolts shuddering aside before revealing a dimly lit car, just barely able to fit two people.
“Inside, quickly”, a speaker from the far wall of the car crackled and went silent.
Macx hurried inside, the elevator doors closing behind him in a swift interlocking motion.
A sudden acceleration downward made Macx gulp involuntarily, like he was being swallowed whole by some mechanical gullet. Going to one of these exchanges was risky, but he had to do it. It was the only way to have enough water to kickstart their home filtration loop, to give them time to plan their escape to the hydrated zones. There was nothing here except desperate miners trying to dig holes to the aquifer, which was receding from their reach day by day. It was madness to think they’d succeed.
The doors opened smoothly, letting cool air wash over him. What luxury, such sweet coolness! Macx stepped nervously into the small room. At one end was a large airlock device to swap items, and a circular grill that let the broker speak through the dense ballistic-proof panels framing the wall.
“Step to the center, in the light.”
Macx shuffled forward, hands at his sides, showing his palms. Sudden moves were not recommended.
Two automated turrets in the corners of the room triangulated his skull with computer-guided precision.
“Submit payment to the slot.”
Macx counted out the last of his savings, and shoved it through the horizontal cut in the panel.
“Stand By – verifying”
A large man in a fitted suit stepped forward from the other side, rapidly counting the bills and shoving them into another slot in the desk.
“Take the two empty jars from the lock and place them in front of the dispenser. You’re in luck, your timing is perfect.”
Two jars were produced, and Macx shifted them in front of two angled pipes sticking out of the wall.
The man turned, and unzipped – golden liquid began to flow into the jars. Some would be stored product mingled with fresher supply. It would be enough after filtering to get the family filtration system going again. Macx tried every trick he could to maximize its efficiency, but after many cycles of drinking and urinating – some still got lost to the dry air.
Once the two jars were topped up, Macx spun on the metal lids and wrapped some flexible tape around the rims. At four pounds or so combined, it was all he could risk carrying in case he had to run. Being ambushed after leaving the upper doors wasn’t uncommon.
“Thanks for your business. Come back again.”
Macx carefully placed the warm jars in his concealed carrying pockets.
So this is what it felt like to be rich.