The top floor of the building was like nothing else in the world. You waited in the elevator for minutes unending until the doors opened into a rainforest deep in the heart of the city. The humidity hit you like a punch in the chest. The air was so thick that you could chew it. Even after years of daily trips to the floor the young man in the elevator was still caught off guard by it.
He was also surprised by the quality of the air in the building. It was fresher than anywhere else in the city. The highly cultivated gardens that city hall was so proud of establishing didn’t smell as good nor look half as beautiful as what was in the building. It is only after these visits to this floor that the young man realized how dirty everywhere else is. Even in the rest of the building he had started to think of the re-circulated air as poison. Everyone’s sickness breathed out into the system and shared with everyone else. Unable to open windows the only time new air was introduced into the building was when someone arrived for work on the ground floor.
More impressive was the fact about the room was that it was not just a garden, it was the old man’s office. Over the years the young man in the elevator came to realize that the old man became a titan of industry solely to build this, his dream. Everything else was immaterial.
The old man could have made billions more had he shared this gift with the rest of the world. There were plants that were endangered or extinct out in the real world which thrived in this artificial room. The young man looked up and through the canopy of leaves there was sunlight and blue sky. Except not real sunlight, nor the real sky. He had come straight up from the outside world, bringing his little bit of fresh air, where it was gray and overcast.
An artificial world. That was what the company provided. Better technology and artificial environments. It made the old man rich, then richer. He was pleased to discover that the technology he wanted to build for his garden was an interest to those in power who wished to control their own environments.
But nothing was meant to last. Nothing could last, not without change. After all these years that is what the old man does not want. When his dream garden was completed that was when progress stalled. The company went from being a leader to a follower. Even with all the brilliant innovators the company hired over the years none could match the brilliance of the old man. Their ideas were good, but never good enough to sustain the greatness the company had achieved.
The old man had his garden. That was good enough for him.
Except soon he would lose that. The young man did not come with good news. In his briefcase were forms and documents which were the start of the dismantling of the company. It wasn’t just the inventions which kept the company going, it was the old man’s keen eye for business. He had forged so many deals with such complexity it seemed as though no one else but him could untangle them to make sense of the details.
The young man had tried to. With the old man in seclusion the helm of the company turned to him. He had been the old man’s protégé. As much as he learned, as keen as he was for business, he just wasn’t the master of business the old man was. It was a shame he lived with every day, like a weight pressing down on him. Over the last few months of trying to right the ship and the refusal of the old man to help it felt like the world was closing in over the young man. He caught himself multiple times a day trying to catch his breath even though he hadn’t been doing anything but sitting at his desk staring at a screen. Ever since the old man retreated into his dream garden the young man had been living with a vice around his heart.
He never wanted to let anyone down, most of all the old man. So much trust was placed in his hands and it trickled through them like grains of sand. Now the business was being sold off bit by bit. Everyone who dealt with them over the years was coming in with their knives ready looking for their pound of flesh.
It was too soon that the building was sold. All this beauty in the top floor would be seen by more than the few people who knew of it over the years. More than seen, cannibalized like the rest of the company. Dozens of botanists and labs over the country were champing at the bit to get in and plunder what they could.
The young man had to stop and reconsider that line of thinking. True, they were coming to take apart the garden, the shining beacon in the dead city, but they were doing it for good, rather than malice. He knew of the rarity of the plants. Some could be brought back from the brink, a number of them, as was explained by a buyer, would be cultivated further and used in the creation of life-saving medicine.
Still, the young man could not get over that within a month this would all be gone. It would just be an empty room at the top of a building waiting for the next titan of industry to put a large desk by the window and gaze over his kingdom.
The young man was nearly in tears as he approached the bench where the old man liked to sit and admire his flowers. Failure was a terrible fate. The old man knew this was coming. Not a day went by that the young man didn’t bring almost hourly status reports. Even when the old man stepped up to try and correct everything it was too far gone. In those moments they locked eyes and each knew their faults, but neither of them admitted them to each other.
The young man stopped when he saw the old man sitting on the bench. There was something off about him. He appeared to be asleep, something the old man rarely did. His chin rested against his chest. Something about the old man’s color was off. It was too pale.
The young man’s briefcase grew too heavy for him to hold and it thudded to the ground at his feet. He walked over and felt the old man’s neck for a pulse even though he knew him to be dead. His skin wasn’t cold like he expected. Instead the old man had been warmed by the artificial sun.
The young man saw a light smile on the old man’s lips. That lessened the blow of losing his mentor and his friend. He was relieved that he didn’t have to see the sadness in the old man’s eyes as he signed the papers which would tear his dream down around him.
The young man grabbed the old man’s arms, intending to put them in his lap to give him a more graceful look when the undertaker arrived to take him to the morgue. It was then that he saw the cut on the old man’s palm. The young man saw a small stem covered in thorns resting underneath the bench.
After so many years of visiting the garden the young man knew what it was. It belonged to a particularly poisonous flower. He was familiar with it since it had nearly cost him his life the first time he visited. The bloom was particularly beautiful, a dark shade of purple that attracted his attention. The old man had stayed his hand when it was within centimeters of getting pricked.
The young man would have to warn people about that when they were moving the body.
He rationalized that it was for the best. The end was inevitable and there was no reason for the old man to wait it out. This way he could die with his garden intact. The poison was deadly, yet gentle. The young man knew that the old man suffered no pain in his dying. It was as if he simply went to sleep in his garden of dreams.