Thursday, 2 July 2015

The King's Tower (Continued)

The tower is the size of a city block, and ascends so high that its summit is lost to view. Over ten thousand people work in the tower, and more than half of them also live inside it; the rest, mostly lowly government clerks and scribes and the servants who feed and assist them, troop in each morning from their homes elsewhere in the city. Security on the main gate is lax, and it's not very difficult for would-be infiltrators to gain access to the lower levels.

Each level includes offices, storerooms, kitchens, guardrooms, and servant's quarters. The higher levels, whose denizens mostly live in the tower as well as working there, also contain extensive living quarters. The rooms get bigger and more luxurious the higher you go. Seniority has its advantages.

The internal contents of the tower is as follows:

Levels 1-8: Government Offices

These rooms house the bureaucrats and administrators who carry out the day-to-day running of the Wicked City. They're not that different from the offices of any other government, except that there are rather more armed guards everywhere and everyone seems weirdly tense and nervous all the time. This sense of tension increases the higher you go; by the time one reaches level eight, it's at fever pitch. Everyone seems to be waiting for something awful to happen, all the time.

Occasionally, a squad of masked, heavily-armed secret policemen burst in, grab someone, and drag them away upstairs kicking and screaming. No-one else dares to comment on this. The next day, a replacement is appointed. The people who are taken never come back.

Levels 9-15: Junior Management

Clerks, scribes, and administrators who distinguish themselves in the service of the city get promoted to junior management. If the atmosphere below is tense, up here it's positively feverish: everyone is convinced that everyone else is just waiting for a chance to sell them out in order to prove their loyalty, and they're usually right. The office politics are a miasmic swamp of intrigue that sometimes turn literally murderous. Nervous breakdowns are frequent, as are rather frantic workplace affairs that usually end badly for everyone involved. You get a nicer desk, though.

Levels 16-19: Middle Management

Anyone who's made it this far up the Tower is probably some kind of paranoid workaholic. Most of them have rooms up here; those that don't mostly sleep at their desks. They alternate between frenzied bursts of productivity and agonised hours spent attempting to second-guess what everyone else might be up to. Alliances break and reform with dizzying rapidity as rival cliques try to outmanoeuvre one another in a constant effort to look good at everyone else's expense. The price of failure is disappearing in the night and never being heard from again.

At this rank, you get a nice salary, a luxurious office, and a personal staff of attractive servants of the gender of your choice. It's not worth it.

Levels 20-22: Senior Management

The senior managers are the people whom the ministers hold ultimately responsible for the fulfilment of the orders from Higher Up. This means that most of them live lives of abject terror. They all hate each other, and try constantly to undermine each other's work. Most of them have barricaded themselves into their suites of rooms, ordering their guards to kill anyone who tries to enter without their explicit permission. When things go wrong, the lucky ones commit suicide by jumping out of the windows. The unlucky ones get grabbed by the secret police before they have the chance.

Levels 23-30: The Lesser Ministries

Each of these floors is given over to one of the Wicked City's eight lower-ranking ministers, each of whom bears ultimate responsibility for one aspect of the city's management. Each of them has their own staff of servants, guards, and administrators. They can make anyone from the lower levels simply vanish, just by passing their names upstairs to their 'friends' in the secret police. As a result, on the rare occasions when they descend to the lower levels, they are treated to sycophantic displays of loyalty and adoration wherever they go.

The Lesser Ministers are quite fantastically corrupt. They live in debauched splendour, abusing their powers in whatever way happens to amuse them most. They regard one another with a kind of cordial loathing, but they at least recognise one another as people of consequence - unlike everyone below them, who are merely toys to be played with and discarded at will. Each of them secretly believes that they deserve promotion to the ranks of the Greater Ministers, and they are willing to ruin any number of lives to help them achieve this end.

Levels 31-45: The Greater Ministries

The five Greater Ministers of the Wicked City rule private fiefdoms of three floors each, attended by small armies of servants, soldiers, and scribes. They think themselves untouchable, virtual gods amongst men; indeed, many of them demand actual worship from their retinues, as living avatars of the Wicked King himself. They are cruel and capricious pantheon, however, constantly demanding outrageous demonstrations of loyalty from their followers and petitioners. Their favourite pastime is finding new ways to humiliate the Lesser Ministers on the floors below.

Most of the orders which the residents of floors 1-22 spend their lives trying to follow originate with the lesser and greater ministers. Most of them. But some come from substantially higher up.

Levels 46-58: The Ministry of Information

This is the stronghold of the secret police: a vast warren of prisons, interrogation rooms, torture chambers, barracks, armouries, and secret tunnels. Everyone here uses code-names. Everyone here wears masks. No-one pays attention to all the screaming that constantly emanates from behind various locked doors. The organisation of the Ministry is completely opaque to everyone outside it: even the Lesser and Greater Ministers have no idea how it actually functions, or who within it answers to whom. At high-level meetings, the Ministry is represented by a masked individual calling themselves Captain Six, who is transparently a different person every time. When asked about the existence and relative seniority of captains one through five, Captain Six will only reply that this is classified information.

The Ministry of Information is not answerable to any of the other ministries. It can make anyone, of any rank, simply disappear: even the Greater Ministers are not exempt. Its position in the tower reflects this.

From time to time, someone inside the Ministry of Information opens a hatch in the outside wall of the tower and throws out a heap of human corpses; they fall into a deep pit outside, the five hundred foot fall ensuring that they are completely unrecognisable once they hit the ground. Of course, given what the Ministry gets up to, most of them were probably unrecognisable already.

Levels 59-70: The 'Specials'

Levels 71-80: The 'Extraordinaries'

Above level 58, any semblance of sane and functional government disappears - but the tower keeps going up. Officially, levels 59-70 are for 'special advisers', and levels 71-80 are for 'advisers in extraordinary'. In practise, they are a bedlam realm of the desperate and the insane.

From time to time, orders come down from on high that certain people are to be promoted to 'Special' or 'Extraordinary' status. Sometimes these orders come from the Specials and Extraordinaries themselves, because they're bored and lonely and want new friends or victims. Sometimes they come from even higher up: useless though they are, something up there seems to have an interest in keeping the population of these floors at a 'healthy' level. This is a one-way trip: the Ministry of Information lets no-one back down again. Once there, the new arrival will be assigned to some kind of interminable (and often seemingly pointless) administrative work detail. Their new colleagues will tell them never to leave their room by night.

By day, these floors are a hive of bizarre activity; but by night, they are the hunting grounds of the Men Without Faces (see below). As the sun falls, the residents of each office barricade all the doors and hide in corners, quivering with terror. Mostly, the Men Without Faces content themselves with picking off those unwise enough to roam the corridors by night. Mostly.

Trapped in this bizarre hunting ground, six hundred feet up in the air, with no hope of escape except by suicide, most of the 'specials' and 'extraordinaries' go more than a little mad. Roll 1d12 to determine what kind of craziness is currently being practised by any given group:

1: Personality cult. One charistmatic lunatic has seized control of this group, and all others worship her like a god. Absolute obedience is demanded at all times, on pain of death.

2: Cannibal crew. This ghoulish band spends their time gleefully writing out requisition orders for more special advisers, citing 'pressing necessities of the state'. New arrivals are killed and eaten.

3: Workaholics. This group labours endlessly to complete some enormous backlog of administrative paperwork, desperately hoping that if they complete it all they will be allowed to leave. New arrivals will be forced to help, by literally chaining them to their desks if necessary. The completed paperwork is hoarded like treasure, in preparation for the day when it will be handed over to semi-mythical figure of 'the auditor', who will reward them for their faithful work. (Needless to say, the auditor is never going to arrive.)

4: Aesthetes. This group are busy painstakingly covering every inch of the walls, floor and ceiling of their section of the tower with elaborate carvings, in line with the artistic vision of their leader, who is convinced that it will be his masterwork. New arrivals are enslaved and set to work on the carvings.

5: Paranoids. This group is convinced that all outsiders are agents of the Men Without Faces, and that any kind of communication from outside is just a trick to try to get them to lower their guard. They have barricaded themselves into a defensible area and will try to kill anyone who comes near them.

6: Savages. This band has regressed to primal savagery, and now roams the hallways hooting and roaring like beasts. Strangers will be hunted down like animals.

7: Conspiracy theorists. This group is obsessed with working out who is really responsible for their miserable fate. They have covered the walls of their offices with an endless scrawling diagram of some fantastical conspiracy, convinced that every new addition gets them closer to the truth. New arrivals who seem less than persuaded of this will be thrown out of the windows as agents of the conspiracy.

8: Petitioners. This group has assembled an enormous list of grievances, and is determined to present it to the Wicked King himself, sure that when he finds out what has been done to them he will punish all responsible. Each day they sneak out of their rooms and head upwards as far as they dare, searching for a safe path through the upper levels, or trying to climb up the tower's outside wall. (Those who try to climb down just get picked off by the secret police.) Their rooms house a treasure trove of maps, but most of them have been deliberately altered to be dangerously misleading, as they are terrified of anyone else finding their way up to the Wicked King first.

9: Hedonists. This band has given up on both life and work, and are now just keen to have as much fun as they can before the Men Without Faces get them. They send endless requisition orders downstairs for more food, drugs, wine, and attractive new colleagues, and pass their time in an interminable party-cum-orgy. Newcomers who refuse to participate will be locked out when night falls.

10: Mystics. This group spends all its time in meditation and bizarre ritual behaviour, convinced that their ceremonies serve to keep the Men Without Faces at bay. They believe that if only they can attain a sufficient level of enlightenment, they will be able to levitate out of the windows and return to their homes. Newcomers are regarded with grave suspicion as potential threats to their ritual purity.

11: Mechanics. This band is trying to build a flying machine with which to escape the tower. They constantly send requisition orders downstairs for tools, parts, and engineers. New arrivals will be pressed into service and forced to work on the machine.

12: Relatively normal people. This band hasn't gone crazy yet; they just try to get each day's work done, stay safe in the night, and try to figure out a way to escape. In a few years time, those of them that aren't dead will probably be as mad as everyone else.

Levels 81-???: The Hunting Grounds

Above level 80 are the homes and hunting grounds of the Wicked King's ultimate enforcers, the Six Men Without Faces. They roam through level after level of abandoned rooms and offices, seeing without eyes and hearing without ears, dragging packs of mutilated human hunting dogs behind them on chains. If they catch you they will bolt a featureless iron mask over your head, and then you won't have a face, either. Don't get caught.

Level ???: Head Office

Something passes messages down to the Specials and the Extraordinaries, carried by little clockwork beetles that go crawling up and down the stairs. It's not the Men Without Faces, so there must be some kind of office above even them. Where it is, and who inhabits it, are topics of rampant speculation.

Level ???: The King's Retinue

When the Wicked King ascended the tower, he didn't go alone; his wives and his concubines and his favourite servants and his cooks and his viziers and his jesters and his most sycophantic yes-men all went with him. Are they, or their descendants, still up there somewhere? Certainly none of them ever came down again...

Level ???: The Hall of the King

When the Tower was completed, the Wicked King climbed to the very top of it and locked himself into his throne room. That was fifty years ago. He hasn't been heard from since. What's in there now is anyone's guess.

1 comment:

  1. Would love to see a Snowpiercer sequel/remake/homage set in this.

    ReplyDelete