AN EXCERPT FROM
A Story of the Future:
They waited in line for the auto. It slid silently to a stop and the door opened. Tilan slid in first, folding his long legs. Rand went next as Onedra sat across from them. It was roomier on the inside, but the windows were small.
“Full view.” Tilan smirked a bit as he glanced at Rand.
Rand jumped as the walls and floors of the auto disappeared, becoming invisible to show the whole of the city around and below them. The auto began to move, and the frantic passing of the scenery made Rand’s stomach turn.
“Visitor mode, please.” Onedra said after a moment, taking pity on his grimace.
The auto slowed, allowing them to see the landscape more clearly as they moved along.
Rand jumped when a dull voice came through speakers he could no longer see.
“Outer rim, fifth district.” Tilan rolled his eyes as the speakers beeped in answer.
THAT AREA IS RESTRICTED.
“Passcode Alpha-Beta-Delta-Nine-Seven-Six.” He swiveled to catch Rand’s eye. “Most people don’t have the clearance from the city leaders to go this far, but we’re lucky that Farris likes our work. He’s influential enough to make sure we can go where we need to go.”
“What do you do for him, anyway?” Rand asked, his eyes skimming over building after building and street after street, each one identical and all of them covered in the nickel silver coating.
“We procure things for him. Items he needs for experiments, or tech that appears from the Tempus. The occasional eggiser if we get there first.”
“You’re scavengers, then?”
Onedra stiffened. “We don’t steal, and we certainly don’t skin our victims alive.”
“I wasn’t suggesting you do.” Rand crossed his arms. “You’re telling me the scavengers are dangerous, then? That anyone who survived the Tempus Motus might have been skinned alive?”
“Probably not.” Tilan raised a shoulder at Rand’s glare. “I’m just being honest, Dr. Hazen. Scavengers have no use for the city or those that come from it. They’re as likely to kill a wanderer as cook him for dinner. But the travelers from the Tempus are important commodities.”
“There are types of technology we no longer know how to produce, despite what may appear to be our advancements. Things from ancient times that scientists in this time would make a lot of money by re-creating.” Onedra’s hand was firm on Rand’s knee. “People like you, Dr. Hazen, who have knowledge of science and tech from the past, are very valuable.”
“So the scavengers might sell them to the highest bidder, then?” Rand’s mouth was dry as the complex dangers of this new world were slowly revealed to him. “Aren’t there laws? Police?”
“The gendarme have authority inside the city, but in the outer rim there is no law. Scavenger tribes do as they please and are only hunted down if they encroach on city property.”
“Is that why you’re trying to convince me that Farris is the lesser of the evils in this place?” Rand looked to the city as the buildings began to space farther apart, some crumbling and the protective coating peeling away. The rust below was visible in some, and the streets below were layered with the nickel-silver dust, gone dull as it fell. Some of it floated about in the air, glinting like silver snowflakes in the desert sun.
“Auto, show map of the world, please. Indicate cities with red dots. Scavenger tribes in blue.” Tilan pointed to a hologram that appeared between them, suspended in mid air. A three dimensional map of the Earth was formed, and then spread flat as a myriad of red and blue dots appeared.
“There are so few cities.” Rand saw perhaps a thousand, spread far and wide over the world. The blue dots, indicating the scavenger tribes, were far more prolific. “What happened here?” A large area in what had once been Asia was empty of any dots at all.
“3015, China began geo-thermal fracking in an effort to survive the energy crisis. In 3240 an earthquake measuring 8.8 decimated the area. The destruction was so great that the fissures in the crust leaked lava. The continent is still mostly uninhabitable.” Onedra pointed to another, smaller, empty area on the map. “In the area once known as Mexico a deadly outbreak of a virus decimated the population in 3330, requiring quarantine of most of the country. The virus was contained, but the source was never determined. To reduce the possibility of a world-wide threat several chemical weapons were deployed over the contaminated area. The area is still off limits.”
“What is the total population now, then?” Rand asked. He thought back to 2018, when their own energy crisis was just beginning, and the population was peaking at 8.1 billion people.
“Three point seven billion.”
“So few. Are there procreation laws?” Rand had been present when several such laws had been discussed in his own time.
“As I told you when we picked you up, there are no longer live births from the womb. Instead, fetuses are carried in synthetic wombs, and delivered to the appropriate family system.”
“Surely the scavenger tribes don’t adhere.” Rand could not imagine the lawless tribes abiding by this type of procreation.
“Women of this time no longer have reproductive systems, Dr. Hazen.”
Rand coughed, sputtering as Tilan slapped him on the back. “You mean you actually can’t conceive children?” he asked when he could speak. “How?”
“Long ago, I assure you. A genetic manipulation of an entire generation that has become the dominant trait today.”
Rand did not miss the slight narrowing of Onedra’s eyes as if it caused her some kind of pain. Women had biological drives to parent, he knew this as well as he knew his own name. To be denied such joy as it could bring to birth a child… he wasn’t sure he could understand it as a man, but he knew it must hurt deeply.
“How do the scavenger tribes proliferate, then?”
Tilan answered, “They steal children, from time to time. Sometimes they come into the city and take the orphans and the street rats, like the ones we saw today. No one is turned away from procreation, no matter their suitability for parenthood. There are the inevitable orphans, and the scavengers adopt them as their own, so that the tribe doesn’t dwindle out.”
Rand sat in silence as the auto continued on, the city thinning as the desert began to eat it up. He gathered his thoughts, compartmentalizing and logging everything he’d learned, filing it away in his memory. He looked to Tilan as the outer edge of the city began to show on the horizon. “What kinds of ancient tech are the scientists after?”
“Whatever they can sell. I assume it was much the same in your time.”
“Yeah.” Rand remembered the money race. The first to discover, the race to be the first to get the grants and the recognition and the first to change the world. No matter the cost in the end.
“Auto, slow.” Tilan leaned over Rand as the auto slowed, the Drogher beginning to loop here back toward the city. This part of the beltway was empty, theirs the only auto to be seen. He pointed below them to the span of empty desert that butted up against what Rand could only describe as a tenement. The buildings were one or two stories at most, made of baked adobe and some metal, rusted and corroded from the elements. They leaned and some even touched at the roof. Rand could see laundry hanging, and animals like dogs lying below in the sandy pseudo-streets. Still, among the dull brown sand he saw boxes of bright flowers on windowsills here and there. Finally, the color he’d been longing to see.
“What is this?” he asked, staring down at what could have been a scene from any major city in 2018. It seemed the fortunate and the less fortunate would forever be separated, even three thousand years in the future.
“They choose to live out here, between the scavengers and the city dwellers.” Onedra moved to sit next to Rand so she could see the area, too.
“Why?” he asked.
“When you are born to this world you have two choices, Dr. Hazen. You can accept the life you have been born to, as most of the city dwellers do. Grow, take a job, take a mate, procreate, and die, all while abiding by the rules and expectations of the city in which you were born. Scavengers, too, must choose to remain in their tribes and live by the rules of their people. Or you can turn your back on all of it and choose to live life by your own rules, as these people do. They are without the comforts of the city or the harsh realities of the scavengers, but they are free.”
“Are the people in the cities slaves, then?”
She grinned. “Slaves to entitlement and expectation. Slaves to comfort and blind faith, perhaps.”
“So there’s a revolution on, then?” Rand hated politics. He had always let Lane handle the politics and he worried about the science. How had he ended up in a future version of 17th century France, he wondered.
“A revolution?” Tilan laughed so long and so hard that he had to take a moment to catch his breath.
“I said something humorous?”
“Only naïve, Dr.” Onedra’s smile was a bit apologetic. “To have need of a revolution the city dwellers would have to care, and that is the issue. Apathy. A great big bowl of not caring. They wake, they eat, they work, they sleep. They return to it all again the next day. Alive but automatons, never really aware of the world around them.”
“It’s called society.” Rand shook his head in exasperation. “It’s been this way since the dawn of time. A few radicals want to shake things up and take the world from a flock of sheep to productive humans. It couldn’t be done in my time and I doubt it can be done in yours.”
“You didn’t have the Tempus Motus.” Tilan pointed to the mountains that separated them from the wormhole. “It’s the key to changing everything.”
“And you think Dr. Farris is the one who can change it all? I thought you said you’re only loyal to his money.”
Onedra laughed. “We may have exaggerated.”
“What’s so wrong with this world that you’d need to rip a hole in space and time to fix it?”
“At last!” Tilan threw his hands into the air, “You’ve asked the important question.”
“Well, answer it, then.”
“The answer, Dr. Hazen, is that this world is dying. Unless something changes, and soon, Earth will be gone in less than one hundred years.”
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