“There, In Arvankvos…”

There, In Arvankvos...

Kaia Outzen, Contributor

Kaia Outzen won a Gold Key for this Science Fiction/Fantasy piece.

In the land of Arvankvos there are two cities, Ostavos and Napravos. From a distance, they appear similar, their buildings towering over the horizon, monuments to mankind’s knowledge and progress. During the day, men and women alike work for themselves and their families, both cities having access to the day’s greatest inventions and technology. However, if you enter each city, or even get close enough to see beyond their masks of shining glass and metal, you will see they are immensely different, each having their own separate ways of life. With each of those ways of life comes equally separate problems. Ostavos may have all-encompassing equality and a society that places value on arts and culture, but there is a blandness, a conformity to the city that no amount of creative genius can overcome. While from afar Napravos is a city of light and glittering gems, behind the balls and parties of the city’s elite are slums—as the majority of the city’s population simply works to satisfy the whims of the powerful aristocracy.

From even quite far away, you can see the buildings of Ostavos forming the city’s honeycomb-like structure. Identical skyscrapers, each with one hundred stories, and bustling factories form the city’s skyline. Every morning at the sound of a bell that echoes through the city, all people of working age happily scurry off to their jobs, dropping their children off at the schools along the way to their places of employment. During commuting hours, the silver streets are full of all types of public transportation — trains, trams, trolleys and subways — imaginable, but during the work day, all is quiet as every citizen is either at work or at school.

Work, however, is not toil in the city, as every man and woman has a job that they either enjoy or can at least thoroughly tolerate, from working on a factory assembly line to dancing as a member of the city’s excellent ballet. All citizens have access to the most modern of technology, from three-dimensional video games to floating light sources and beyond. Such technology has become commonplace in Ostavos, the city of pristine glass and metal.

The first things you would see entering the city are its organized rows of factories, apartments, shops and government buildings. The people travel the streets, each talking to each other in calm, respectful tones of voice and making sure that no litter detracts from the overall appearance of their city.

Even so, if you were to examine Ostavos closer, you would see there is much more to it than is presented to the outside world. You would see that even this city — which could by some be subjectively called perfect — has its problems. Though the city has no dirty, impoverished slums, there is neither real luxury. Every citizen lives in an assigned apartment of the same size and basic design. Even if you were to fill this standard apartment with the nicest furnishings and art available, it would still feel bland and conformist.

This shows the city’s greatest flaw. Ostavos may have no poor, no slums and a society that places value on technology, arts and culture, but there is a sameness and uniformity to the city that cannot be ignored. Even the city’s smartest and most successful citizens have the same small rooms, eat the same meals and have the same privileges as everyone else.

Within the city, education is guaranteed and free to all, as are healthcare and childcare. The schools accept everyone, providing classes on gated campuses that give all citizens the education they need to succeed. For all students, school is a job, and they treat it as such—arriving and leaving the large lecture halls on time. The hospitals—the only buildings in Ostavos allowed by the government to use a white and red color scheme—are always open, with nurses in uniform and doctors ready at all hours of the day. All citizens are welcome to use the medical services free of charge.

To provide these educational and medical services equally and fairly to all citizens, the government takes all profits from companies and factories within its boundaries. All people effectively work for the government. There is no individual employment and thus no individual accumulation of wealth. The government is more than willing to support any citizen with entrepreneurial ambitions, but only on its terms. On rare occasions, a citizen will break the law and hide money from the government, but the government always prevails.

The government of Ostavos places its value on organization, knowledge and duty—taking great pride in the city’s having perfect financial equality. Each citizen—man, woman or child—has the same opportunities and are free to do what they want with their lives, but only as long as it fits in with the government’s ideals. Due to this overpowering equality, although Ostavos is a city with no poor, there are no rich either. As a result, the citizens of Ostavos who seek financial freedom, wealth, and power look to the horizon and seek Napravos.

On the other side of the great valley that forms Ostavos’s western border, there is Naprovos, the city of freedom, wealth and power. Its glittering spires tower over the buildings surrounding them, monuments seemingly proclaiming to the world the city’s power. The city is known for its luxurious way of life, with its expensive clothes, jewelry and food famous throughout all of Arvankvos. Each day Napravos’s workers get up before dawn to work, only returning to their homes long after dark. The factory workers have barely slept by the time they are called to work again. As a result, the morning commute appears as if the dead have risen, men women and children alike working many hours just for food to eat.

In a stark contrast, the city’s upper class has all they could even want and more, traveling through the city in beautiful private vehicles, able to order millions of people around with a single word. The majority of this aristocracy does not even have to work, their livelihood instead relying on the toil of many others. These people stride around clothed in colorful silks and furs, living a life that most people could scarcely dream of. This upper echelon of society controls everything—the government, the industry, and even the entertainment. They live solely in the most luxurious of residences, perhaps the top of a skyscraper or a mansion with an interior waterfall, all contained in the city’s center district.

This district and its extravagance would be the first place shown to you if you toured the city but if you travel even a short distance from the city’s center, you see what could only be described as a giant industrial slum. The majority of Napravos resides here. The outer district’s old ramshackle buildings are completely different from the steel towers and mansions of the city’s center—or even the unsafe factories of the industrial district. The denizens of outer Napravos live lives of work and labor, but even the people worst off in the city have hope.

As all citizens are taught from a young age—as it is the city’s greatest pride, that in Naprovos, no social status is set in stone—that a person’s ingenuity and drive can give them great wealth and power starting even from nothing. The children of Napravos are taught of men from the outer districts who created companies, became film stars, or were inventors. These people, though few and far between, are of the highest status among the city’s poor and the dream of all its citizens.

Even so, this dream is not as accessible as they are led to believe. The majority of the population are either of a middle or lower class, greatly limiting their ability to gain status. Although any person can gain recognition through their actions and knowledge, the city provides no real public education for its citizens, leaving middle class parents to work all their lives with the hope they will someday afford schooling for their children. Without education, all people are stuck in their place, no matter their intellectual or artistic gifts.

Napravos’s center district has wealth beyond measure—wealth often secured for generations to come. This wealth allows children born to the aristocracy to be guaranteed education, allowing these children to succeed. Herein lies the city’s greatest problem—only rarely does anyone move up or down the city’s social ladder. The upper class—the aristocracy—will always have the advantage; no matter how much the lower class tries to gain the dream of wealth and power, it always remains just out of reach, their lack of money condemning them to always stay the way they are.

Although this problem is in no doubt Napravos’s most serious, the facts of life in the city are most apparent to its citizens. Napravos’s poorest simply wish for a life out of the dirty slums, with food, medicine and education guaranteed. They have no aid programs to give them food, causing many impoverished children to die of starvation; have no affordable healthcare, with hospital care an expensive luxury only for the city’s elite; and, as aforementioned, have no access to good education, with the spartan state-provided care ending in only the first grade. Napravos’s middle class is only slightly better off, their homes being closer to the city center. They, somewhat greedily, wish for the lifestyle of the wealthy and powerful upper class—desiring most of all an assured future for themselves and their families. As a result of these desires and wishes, some of Napravos’s citizens, those citizens that seek better lives for either themselves or their children, look to the horizon and seek Napravos.

That is the way it is in the country of Arvankvos. Many people are not satisfied with where they are and the lives that they live, wishing for a change in their mundane lives. But what do they do? What can these people—who wish for something that is seemingly impossible where they live and in their circumstances—do? They leave.

Every year, with dreams in their eyes, hundreds, and—depending on the current financial situation and news passing between the cities—sometimes thousands, of people leave their lives behind and seek the other city in the small, meager hope that life will be better there. They walk through the valley, examining the farms and small towns that provide both cities with their food supply. Some stop in the towns and decide to work on one of the farms or settle down in a town free of both of the cities rule, but most—able to see their goal, their dream, on the horizon—push forward. These tired and weary travelers, arriving at the gates in the tall metal walls surrounding their destinations, walk in, expecting the beginning of a new, liberating chapter of their lives. This is not what they receive.

Immigrants to Ostavos are horrified at the lack of financial freedom and the conformity of the city’s population. They find everything they were expecting, but not in the perfect picturesque way they expected. The education, while free, doesn’t compete with that the elite receive in their own city. The living conditions, though equal, are nothing like what they expected, having seen the plush penthouses and suites of Napravos’s aristocrats.

In the same fashion, the immigrants to Napravos quickly realize that not everyone has the power and wealth they thought of as the city’s main attraction. They see the conditions of the poor workers in comparison with the city’s elite and wonder why all is not equal. They look at the expenses paid for a simple education and see that only a few can afford it, permanently shutting of opportunities to much of the population. This lack of opportunities, they notice, shows them—to their surprise—that both cities are different, but the same in the most important of ways. Neither will advance forward, they are both held back by their own nature. The oppressive equality of Ostavos keeps new ideas from developing due to a complete and utter lack of competition and individuality. On the other hand, they realize, the inequality of life in Napravos keeps progress from occurring by simply liming the ability of the population to make it happen.

All of these adventurous idealists, after a time, wonder why is it that they came, why is it that they left behind everything and everyone they ever knew in search of a dream that would never become reality. These people stop pondering this eventually, but the question remains unanswered. Why did they?