As you would expect from such an unintelligent species, they had divided. There were the Rich, and there were the Poor. This nomenclature was based on valuable tree pulp. Of course, this coloured paper no longer had any significance, in this time of desolation, but the meaning was sentimental.
The Rich were housed in a shelter cut away from a mountain.
The Poor were imprisoned in a shelter cut away from a mountain.
The Rich had good protection, good food, good hygiene. The Poor quite simply did not. They just hadn't possessed enough portraits of the Queen (who didn't have any lasting significance either, being dead and all).
The Rich spent all their time wasting their minds away with useless games. Passing the time inventing new ways to entertain for the eternity.
The Poor spent all their time trying to survive. To stop dying. They had to ignore the thick smell in the air. They had to burn the sick. They had to eat the dead.
The Rich had ample supplies, efficient medicines and discreet hygiene. They had more than they needed.
And then there was the Radiation. The air that hurt. Of course, the Rich would have none of it. Their shelter was built with safety in mind. The Poor weren't allowed that. They would have to put up with the odd bit of pain, with the subtle mutations over time.
And all that separated them was a thick pane of solid air. A window. Mere glass. The Poor could see the Rich watch them like a television. The Rich could see the Poor decay, for their amusement. They enjoyed rubbing it in, by knocking. As if the Poor could just open up and let them in.
This lasted for many, many seasons. It lasted through several Ice Ages. While planets were created and destroyed. It lasted while stars were born and died.
The Poor people didn't notice. Life was a struggle to create the next generation. The Rich were busying themselves pretending not to be bored.
But the Rich began to change. Soon the infinite supplies started getting fewer. Their self-sufficiency was being challenged. They did not know what to do. They had seen what the Poor had had to go through and they refused to believe that was their future. Forever is a long time to be unhappy.
Their thoughts turned to something that had never before been given a passing glance. It was rooted deep into their psyche that this was to be ignored. But now it offered a new hope.
It was almost a religion. They had to have some rules to avoid insanity. One of those few precious rules was never to consider the Exit. Those who were aware of what it meant were often sneaking a peek at it now. Trying not to be noticed as they studied the easy-to-open hatch.
The Poor soon noticed the change. The glass partition had long since been obscured by dirty habits, but when that taunting knocking ceased, the Poor were interested.
The leader of the Poor, the Wise One, rubbed away a small circle from the thick layer of grime that kept the Rich further away. They saw something unusual.
The Rich were huddled around a circular bulge in the wall. Only the Wise One had the Knowledge passed down to him. Only he knew of the Exit. He smiled. Only he knew how to smile.
The Rich made a decision within their group, and a bold one stepped forth. He did something unexpected. He approached the Poor. The Poor stepped back. The bold one peered into the round transparent hole in the dirt. He creased his expression in disgust, then, inexplicably, sighed with sorrow.
The bold one of the Rich started making gestures. The Wise One of the Poor walked up to him. With a sweeping movement that caused everyone to jump, the Wise One wiped a layer of brown off the glass partition.
Both groups were shocked. They had missed a few centuries of degeneration. The difference on either side of the partition was enough to make even the Rich wince.
They were hardly human.
After a long pause, to soak this in, the bold one of the Rich cleared his head and started wildly signing. The Wise One pretended to try and understand. Actually, he knew all along, but he didn't want to believe the pure horror behind the suggestion.
The Rich wanted the Poor to Exit first, to see what was out there. They wanted to make sure it was safe. They wanted to use the Poor as a Guinea-pig. The final insult.
The Wise One turned to look at their Exit. It was hidden behind piles of ash and waste. There was only a small clean bit beside it, where the oxygen came in. The Wise One thought. Outside. A world where there was oxygen all around, all the time.
A world where there was space to breathe.
It was too good to wait for. He told the rest of the Poor what was going to happen. He told them of the paradise Outside. He hoped it was true.
It took a long time to open the Exit. At first it seemed hopeless. They tried to get to it through the oxygen hole, but it made conditions worse. The Rich gave up on the idea and kept on playing their stupid games.
The Poor obscured the partition again. They didn't like being watched. They didn't give up, though. They had a purpose now. They had a goal, an aim in life other than to survive. Now they could do something productive with the life that they had kept going for so long. They really could make a better world for the next generations.
Pure determination got them through. After many full moons they felt the Exit give way. When they realised they had done it, they went straight to the Wise One. Now they had broken another rule. First they were trying to open the Exit, now they had interrupted a Lesson from the Wise One. But no-one was angry. If they could get out, the rules didn't matter anymore.
The Rich remained blissfully unaware. They had taken to knocking on the glass partition a lot more regularly now that they were getting nervous. They wouldn't accept that they had to face the same fate as the Poor.
A sea of cockroaches was flowing down the side of the mountain, as they had done every day for the last thousand years. But this time something happened that had never happened before. A big hole appeared in their blanket of brown. Something on the mountain had moved, but not in the same way as the roaches. There was a jerk. The rock began to move. The cockroaches just went on minding their own business, taking a wide detour around this anomaly.
The Wise One held up the hatch door as best he could with his atrophied muscles. He peered across the infinite landscape in awe. Fresh air, life, trees, oceans...
They had made it. The Poor had been rewarded for their suffering. And now the Rich would have to suffer for them.
He smiled the biggest smile he'd ever managed in his life.
The story could end there, and you would be right to think it should have done, but then you would be misled. You think the Rich went on to run out of supplies, and they had to learn how to live a life of suffering. You think they became less and less happy, full of regret and sorrow. Always knocking on the window, thinking they were not alone.
The Wise One was a better person than any of the Rich could ever hope to be. He wanted to free them too. To share the ecstasy of liberty.
With a small group of others, selected from the ever-growing population of the Poor for their strength, he prised open the Rich Exit from the outside.
He freed them.
But they did not deserve to be freed.
God had to punish them.
You see, after centuries in such bad conditions, the Poor had adapted. The Radiation was still ever-present, but the Poor had got used to it. They had evolved.
The Rich, however had been protected. They were a different species now.
They couldn't handle it.
The Wise One almost felt sorry for them.