He emerged from the dirty stairwell of an underground station; quickly at first, taking two steps at a time, and then with marked hesitation as he noticed the silence that hung in the air. The sun was high in the sky. It was a weekday. And this was central London. Silence under such conditions was highly inconsistent, and his instincts were telling him not to trust it.
No longer used to direct sunlight, he raised an elbow to shield his eyes while they adjusted, and contemplated momentarily whether he could have lost his hearing. The tunnels had boomed and hummed with a resonance you could feel: it was comforting to the residents and helped them find their way around, but made it a wholly disorientating experience to come out into an air that held no sound. His heart pounded, preparing him for danger, and his breath became irregular.
Once his senses acclimatised though, he was pleased to confirm he hadn’t in fact lost the ability to see or hear. It was just that there were no cars on the road; no angry horns, no market traders, no hustle and bustle at all. You might be inclined to think that this was a city devoid of humanity, but there were people. Hundreds of them, thousands perhaps. Every race you could imagine, every style of clothing, every age, every gender; each sat with their legs crossed, their eyes closed and their spines straight. They all occupied their own space perhaps a metre apart from the next on all sides. Every one of them faced the same direction – he considered the positioning of the station he had emerged from – South.
Deciding that these people posed him no threat, at least not in their current state, he felt his shoulders relax and his breathing return to normal. Things had changed a lot since he’d declared himself a madman and gone to live underground. He had fancied it would be a war zone up here by now, a society spiralling towards its own destruction, but here were the greys – the overground folk who lacked colourful minds – collectively meditating at noon.
He suddenly became self-conscious; full of concern that he was disturbing something beautiful, and sat down right there on the spot to join in. No sooner had he closed his eyes than he felt someone nudging his right arm.
“Here, you’ll need these,” a voice whispered. He turned to see a henna-covered hand holding out two tiny green dots of what appeared to be thin plastic or paper. He picked them up carefully and found them to be more rigid than he had first imagined. They had specks of gold embedded in them with connecting lines, like tiny computer chips. The person who had bestowed them demonstrated silently that he was to place them between the tip of each index finger and thumb, which he did without question, and closed his eyes once more.
Now, instead of seeing the inside of his eyelids or total blackout, he saw a green grid. He became overwhelmingly aware of the sun’s rays beating down on his head, like raw power entering his body. The sensation came in waves, and with each crest, the image of the green grid glowed a little stronger. It was mesmerising, and he soon lost himself to the rhythm of it, finding a place of no mind.
No mind was a madman term for an inner place of quietude. Underground residents were encouraged to seek it out as a place of refuge to recharge in between bouts of unbridled madness. It would appear that a similar system had evolved above ground in the meantime. Perhaps the greys were finding their colour at long last…
The session ended with a tinkling of bells that seemed to be everywhere at once, and he was involuntarily snapped out of his green grid trance and back to the streets of central London. People were stirring all around him, groaning groggily, stretching their limbs and universally sporting smiles.
“Your first time?” The voice of the one who gave him the dots came from behind him once more.
“Uh… yeah. What exactly…?”
“You’re not from around here are you?”
“No, I… I just came up. From underground I mean.”
His new companion gave him a knowing smile. “Then things must be looking rather different to you.” He nodded in agreement. “At dawn, noon, sunset and midnight we join as one to collect our energy from the sun. We store it in these cells.” they held up one of the green dots, and put it behind their ear where it stuck. They gestured that he should do the same with his own.
“Energy for what?”
“Energy for life. You go where the people go, and you collectively power up the transportation, the lighting, the speakers, the heating, just by being there. You go dwell alone and you can use it as you please. Some people save it up, build a private plane and go flying or something. You just have to commune with others to connect the grid, that’s all.”
He put one of his green dots behind each ear, and instantly felt clear, calm and collected. He also felt an unwieldy amount of energy surging through his body, making his extremities tingle. “But how…” he started, only to find his companion was walking off across the square and disappearing into a newly forming crowd heading for the shops.
This looked more like what he had expected; the city had come to life again. There was banter and the sound of motors, there was music and neon lights. Feeling overwhelmed, and not knowing what else to do, he headed back down the stairwell from whence he came. He was of course the only one taking this route, leading to the realm of the madmen. As he descended, the long dormant light bulbs woke up just long enough to show him his way.