The Workers’ Tower

İlkay kept watch long after the workers had retreated to their bed pods for the night. At fifteen, she could afford to stay up all night without it affecting her domestic work in the tower. The men and women needed their strength to survive their work assignments.

She sat on the threadbare cushion her mama had made years ago, the yellow fabric faded to a dingy brown; it didn’t lessen the ache in her spine, but it brought her some comfort to have it with her. Her papa’s quilt protected her body from the icy wind, but keeping her hands out to hold the gun made her fingertips numb.

Her papa had set the gun in her lap and whispered, “There are no bullets, little bird, but don’t let anyone know that.”

* * *

The moon was bright and high that night, and the wind blew brutal, whistling a high tune through the rafters. The netting that the workers had placed over the metal bones of their tower had blown away less than hour after İlkay’s watch began.

The moonlight highlighted the man’s figure against the rafters, his clothing dark and his face obscured by a hood. He fiddled at the joints of the metal, pulling items from a sack slung over one shoulder.

Practicing the movements like her papa taught her, İlkay shifted up onto one knee and braced the butt of the rifle against her shoulder. The blanket fell open around her as she pointed it at the man, the wind cutting through her clothes. “Stop.”

He startled and dropped a few feet, hanging by a propelling rope she hadn’t noticed until that moment. His eyes seemed oddly bright in the moonlight, framed by his dark skin and darker hood. First he spoke in the language of the corporations, familiar to her ear but with no meaning to its babble. Then he called out in the language of the people, “Go to bed, little girl.”

“I will not.” She kept the barrel of the gun trained on him, licking her chapped lips and regretting it. The wind chilled her right down to her heart, and her stomach quivered in terror. “You will leave.”

The man looked around, then quickly rappelled to the solid rooftop of the workers’ tower. He unhooked the rope from a belt under his cloak, then turned and held out his gloved hands where she could see them. His close-fit sleeves slid up his arms, revealing faded tattoos of wings on his wrists.

“You don’t look like a corporate leader.”

“I am not a corporate leader. You look like a skinny little girl who can’t handle a gun.”

“My papa trained me.” She tried to keep the gun steady, but the cold made her shiver. Involuntarily, her teeth chattered.

The man sighed, dropped his hands, and swore as he stepped closer. “Get back under your blanket before you freeze. There’s nothing you can do. Why would your parents leave you here?”

İlkay didn’t move. She bit as hard as she could bear on her tongue to keep her teeth from making noise, determined to seem composed.

The man looked up to the sky and grumbled something she didn’t understand.

When he rushed at her, it was too fast for İlkay to track — she stumbled back in alarm, losing her grip on the gun. It dropped to the cement and clicked ineffectively.

The man held a dagger up against her face, the curved blade fitting perfectly against her cheek. It was so cold that it seemed to burn. “Sit down. Put on your blanket.”

She obeyed, tears in her eyes as she dropped to the ground and away from the sharp edge of the knife. “Are you here to kill us?”


She covered her mouth to hold in the sob, her heart thumping faster and her skin suddenly too warm under the blanket as fear rippled through her. She wrapped the quilt tight around her and stared, unable to speak.

It is a risk, her papa had said to the elderly workers when they started harvesting to scrap to expand the tower. We cannot sit by and let them use and dispose of us like animals.

She asked, “Because of our tower?”

“Smart girl. Yes, because of your tower.” The man looked up at the rafters, the metal bones welded together. It had been weeks of work just to put up that much.

There had been plans to cover it with the irregular bricks deemed waste at the work sites. Eventually, it would be sturdy and safe enough to give more space to the mothers and children crammed into pods designed for single workers.


“Because you built it.” He kicked the rifle over the unguarded edge of the building, then returned to his work, ascending his rope like a spider. He stopped at all of the joints, each time pulling items from his bag.

She raised her voice to be heard over the wind. “We only want what they aren’t using! It doesn’t interrupt their air space, and it doesn’t compromise the integrity of the building. It only uses scrap.” She buried her face in her hands, her gasps and sobs blowing hot air over her numb skin.

“And it is remarkable for that,” the man called down without turning his attention away his work. “Did your elders suppose the leaders would reward you for such cleverness? They must have remembered how the leaders feel about clever workers.”

“So we’re going to die for wanting a better home?”

Apparently finished, the man came down to her level again, sitting cross-legged in front of her. He seemed impervious to the cold, and without much  expression on his stark features. “Tell me your name.”

She sniffed to stifle her tears and considered not answering. But his stare didn’t waver from her face, the look in his eyes an intense mixture of curiosity and command. “İlkay.”

“I’ll teach you the lesson your papa thought you might not have to learn. The leaders gave you everything they have decided that you need. Health pods for sleep, nutritional packets to keep you strong, and complexes to keep you safe. Asking for more makes them angry. Refusing to work in return for all they give you makes them angry. When the leaders are angry, they call men like me to make an example of bad workers.

“This tower will topple tonight. A few workers will survive in their health pods to be retrieved from the rubble, but most will die in them. Some of the community members in nearby homes will die as well. Everyone will be told that in their hubris, these workers weakened the building and caused the collapse.”

İlkay shook her head. “They won’t believe that.”

“It doesn’t matter if they believe it. It only matters that they know the consequences of asking for more.”

“You’re not one of the leaders.” She reached forward to shove the hood away from his face, to see more of him and make some sense of his odd bearing. His face was like her papa’s might have looked when he was younger, strong with heavy dark brows. His head was shaved, and black tattoos covered his neck. He was like her – that much was obvious from the look of him. “What’s your name? What kind of worker are you?”

The man grinned. “They called me Melik when I was born. I am not a worker anymore.”

“Then you joined the community members? You were able to transcend the work.”

“I did not transcend. I simply left.”

She bit her lower lip as she digested the information and pulled the quilt up over her head, mimicking his cloak and covering her frozen ears. After a moment she said, “They never tell you that you can leave — that there is an option between the work and the community. If you left, then anyone can leave.” Then I can leave was left unsaid, but it must have been on her face. It seemed reflected in his.

He leaned closer and peered at her as though he was trying to look inside. “Perhaps you’re not quite as helpless as you look. Are you ready to die today, İlkay?”

She shook her head.

“But can you live, knowing your family has died? It’s an easy burden to bear, and you are not cold at heart.”

Would her parents forgive her? Or would her papa want her to die tonight with her people, for her principles? Principles meant everything to her papa — for him perhaps, this would be a noble death.

She swallowed, unable to contain the waver in her voice, “Will anything change? Papa always says the people are on the verge of becoming great. That if we could be united with the community, that they would welcome us, that we could be like them. Will this bring the workers and the community together?”


She stood, tightening the blanket around her shoulders. “I refuse to die for nothing.”

His smile widened. “Then we’ll find some purpose for you, skinny girl.”

* * *

Wrapped in her papa’s blanket and clutching her mama’s faded cushion, surrounded by switches and wires she didn’t recognize in the back of the man’s van, İlkay felt the rumble of the tower as it fell.

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.

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