It was cold here, in this vertical steel cavern, as he gripped the rung of the ladder. Motion sensor lights lit his way, massive panels all around him lighting brightly as he passed, as if some phantom controlled them. He only thought about it in this way when he was in this cold, archaic tunnel, climbing the ladder to the surface.
It only occurred to him, in this place, that there were many phantoms in his life; the floating rainbow orbs; the glittering swarm clouds that washed over surfaces and buildings; and other stranger things, with jobs and purposes that he could not even discern. This struck him as odd, in this tall tunnel, only here, as he went up towards the surface. Even though he had lived in that glittering world all of his long long life, it was in this cold tunnel, approaching a surface world of cold and ice, that he suddenly felt alone.
There was another name for these phantoms - algorithms. Those ever-changing algorithms. They made his underground world possible; fixing the world beneath so people could live in their cities like honeycomb, glittering in the darkness. It was the algorithms that made sure the giant fusion generators kept ticking over. Swarming clouds of glitter washed over broken things or things in need of some sort of renewal, by some mysterious criteria, understood by some mysterious algorithmic mind, if you could call it such a thing.
He was one of the few who went through this archaic process, of climbing the ladder to the surface, to find Food. It used to be a ritual, for people to go to the surface in search of Food. It was given up centuries ago when the phantoms came up with a substitute. Or maybe there was already a possibility of Food substitutes. Maybe this was the time when people truly gave up on the distant memory, a faded dream, of life on the surface. He was one of the few that went up on top nowadays, to see the outside.
He felt sometimes that he had some kind of misplaced sentimentality for a world he never knew. His world was so full of virtual wonder to get lost in, or numerous places of pleasure, such as the hazy cloud bars where people would go to unwind or indulge themselves in elaborate binges. There were places where you could create whole worlds, teeming with life, tweaking the rules and laws of your world in an unending battle with fate itself and a strange asymmetry that always crept into these utterly complex games.
You could love, have a family, become respectable through public service, or even reject all that, mess with the system, paint tags on viro surfaces, enter someone's home and destabilize their rainbow orbs - minor things like that. The phantom algorithms interfered occasionally in ways which were almost always inexplicable and random. Laws beyond understanding, law beyond our laws. There were two sets of laws in his world - the law of the people, itself loose and negotiable except for in the most extreme circumstances, and the meta-law of the algorithms.
Why did he like the surface so much? Maybe it was the harshness of the landscape, its unrelenting seas of ice, jagged mountains and freezing temperatures that called to him from above, beyond the cave city that he came from. A third law beyond algorithmic law, a law of the wild, if you could call it such a thing. A law to destabilise all others. But, mostly, he came to the surface for the Food. And he was starving.
There wasn't much difference from The Food he could get below and The Food that he could get on the surface, he knew that. Still, of the people he met that joined him in his fascination (some called it a morbid fascination) with the surface, all enjoyed the experience of the wild cuisine from the frozen wastes. It had some sort of indefinable flavour uniquely its own.
He conceded that it was very possible that they were deluding themselves, that the richness and variety of The Food down below could far outdo anything they could get on the surface. But, then, so what if they were deluding themselves? It was the whole experience, the fact that they were in the wild wastes of the surface, collecting their food. That was the attraction, and it made it taste so much better. Food was more than just about sustenance. But, by Sol, he was hungry. He wouldn't have to feed again for a couple of years, at least.
He reached the hatch, and climbed out. The sun stood on the horizon, lighting up the ice sheet in beautiful shades of yellow and orange. He began to strip off, oblivious to the temperature. It could not kill him, no chance of that. He stood naked on the ice sheet, arms outstretched, his skin turning from a deathly porcelain to a golden glowing hue.