Despite the comfy quarters and ideal entertainment last night, I’m glad to have the interview behind me—especially one where my inexperience is the main attraction. The anxious feeling continues to follow me around.
One thing about pod-transportation, it’s damn fast. Barely 9 a.m., and already back from the Boston Canopy, I walk in and greet the beasts. It looks at though Jamie, the dog sitter, just left. She’s been my sitter for something like 50 years, and this is my sixth set of boxers. I should just recycle the names—Felix Trinidad and Oscar de la Hoya (famous boxers of the time) being the first—but I actually prompt Sindah to provide me new names as new puppies arrive. Cashius and Ali practically knock me down as I try to propel my skidded bag past them before their bulk bars the way. I give up and join them on the floor for an extended petting and snuggle session, even though what I know they really want is a cookie. I break away and struggle to my feet to make my way to the cookie stash. I’m sure Jamie gave them a treat after their breakfast, so I break it in two and give each half. We might have the upper hand in human obesity, but my dogs show that food is still used for comfort in this household. Apparently two walks a day is not enough—at least for them. I have the benefit of Sindah.
Normally I prefer my own cup, but since I started the morning at the Boston Canopy, that wasn’t an option. I wave it container past a sensor and the plastic or fabric container—whichever—is sucked down 18 floors or so into the recycling center situated below the commercial tunnels. Down there it will be reconfigured into something useful, perhaps another latté container. If it were made from non-recyclable material, which is rare, it would be carted off underground past the edge of the canopy and pushed to the surface by a robotic system. I don’t actually know how far out there they send the trash, but I wish they wouldn’t. It will be a terrible shame to figure out how to exist outside the canopies only to find it’s nothing but a landfill for as far as the eye can see.
Probably looking a lot like our oceans.
Gawd, don’t get me started…
I walk to the lavatory area, stripping as I go. The newer, green houses, use completely recycled water for washing. It feels to me like I’m being sprayed by cleaning compounds—but with our habitable space has gone our oceans and our reservoirs, which were for the most part outside the protection of the canopies. We have what we have and every drop is filtered, recycled, and redistributed fresh, filtered rain is used primarily for drinking.
I walk back to the kitchen surface, fill a huge, old-fashioned coffee mug with recycled water, select latté, and press my selection on the microwave’s console. Sindah intervenes and does the math based upon my projected needs for the day. She transmits the information to the microwave and I watch as the ideal number of latté-flavored calories are added to the mug and warmed.
There are those mornings when I just need a piece of cake to start the day, and Sindah will oblige by adjusting the selection of the manufactured, powdered foodstuff. If it weren’t for Sindah, I might outweigh the pooches, but thankfully she’s tapped in—to my lens, my patch, my pod, and even my body’s biometrics through the band on my wrist. Yep, if it weren’t for Sindah, I’d weigh 400 pounds.
I stare at the mug in my hand.
Can’t give up my bike and can’t give up my coffee mug. I’m hopelessly stuck somewhere near the beginning of this century.
I can hear the chime outside signaling the end of a park shift in the square about six blocks from here. I’m glad to be home and my travel angst beginning to dispel.
I live at the top of a big stack of what looks like moving boxes dug down six stories deep and erected twelve stories high. My flat—or box—is one-quarter of the top floor. It’s not a penthouse, it’s just another floor that happens to be positioned at the top. That could easily change at any moment. Some city reclamation specialist might come along and decide it should be 37 floors instead of 12, and I will have no say in the matter. Just as the people on the sixth floor had no say when the city chose to double the building to twelve floors.
I dress, and join Sindah in my office area. From here I can see a small section of our main park. The next shift of visitors is still trying to marshal off the languishing prior shift. Already, some people are rowing around the very small lake in kayaks similar to small boats from 50—no a thousand—years ago. Some are running, kids are throwing Frisbees and other, newer flying objects, dogs are chasing balls, people are chasing dogs, and protestors are standing in small groups chanting. Our livable space about to burst at critical seams, and yet there’s still so much we cling to.
The kayak and bicycle styles haven’t changed much throughout my lifetime. Protected by the canopy, we still enjoy the sunshine, even though it’s filtered, and the smell of the plants that have learned to thrive again after we tried our best to wipe them out. It’s sad the only remaining areas where we can enjoy the outdoors continue to dwindle under reclamation for additional housing.
We need more murders.
Not everything is the same, of course; we have plenty of innovation. Most notably from this distance, the pods whipping people around the streets and pod-transportation lines overhead.
I cannot see the edge of the canopy from here—or anywhere—but I know it’s out there. It must be, we’re still breathing. I don’t pretend to understand all of the issues that make up global warming and that make the projected canopies necessary, but the primary benefits are evident: keep us from frying under the sun and remove trapped UV radiation so we don’t all die of exposure. So far, so good: the canopies have been doing both over major cities since 2035 and less-densely populated areas soon after.
When the dogs and I are out in the early mornings, and the whole city is quiet, I can hear the hum of the emission stations spaced along the outside border of the animal sanctuaries beyond the city’s edge. I think there are thousands of them that make up the Atmospheric Improvement Ring or AIR.
Aptly named. Unfortunately.
The emissions stations overlap, just in case it’s lights out for one or a whole bunch of them at any given time, but when running, they project air and filtering particles in a horizontal air curtain. If you could actually see the canopy, it would look something like a gigantic down comforter hovering above our skyscrapers, gently billowing in the wake of full-docked transportation lines whooshing their human cargo by at amazing speeds just below. The air curtain suspends different particles, each playing a role in the protection of life. It’s not dense though. It filters rain and snow, allowing both to fall the same as they have for a millennia—before global warming was validated and before we became a threatened species of our own doing.
I walked to the outside edge of Denver Canopy’s animal sanctuary boundary once to see if I could see the edge, but I still couldn’t. When I looked down though, it was harshly clear. It was shocking: a hot iron had been dropped from the sky to scorch the earth as far as I could see. Ash formed a brown smoke smelling of roasting flesh. It might have been my flesh; I could feel the radiating heat. I’ve heard the unfiltered sun will cook a person to death in less than a minute—I was convinced by the decimation I saw.
There was no sign of life, but life does exist out there. Doomers under homemade canopies—whom we city dwellers consider doomed to die—protect themselves in more rudimentary fashions. Some simply live below ground with jury-rigged filtration systems providing cleaned oxygen. Others have constructed material canopies to protect themselves and their livestock and crops. I’m sure it’s like the Berlin wall of my parents’ generation: canopies have separated entire families—probably forever.
Still captivated by the distant scene outside my window, I don’t need to be able to read the signs from here to find the trystrooms—protestor groups act as map markers. They are the only ones standing still; everyone else on the sidewalk is rushing and bumping, and probably cursing. The protestors remain calm along the paths and in front of the business district’s trystrooms. They counsel those who enter; try to save those who leave.
Though the protestors and I fundamentally disagree on the topic, I try to be patient with them. Usually religious, I feel they have a right to express their opinion, as long as they do not restrict my right to ignore or avoid them. I don’t see trystrooms as the downfall of our morality, rather as an environment to foster the expression of individualism, attraction, and appreciation for others. Like it or not, homo sapiens are a member of the animal kingdom and though we spent thousands of years trying to convince ourselves otherwise, sex is a healthy expression of things beyond simple procreation. Protestors seem to think if they eliminate trystrooms, they will be able to attain a zero-population growth, but that’s nonsense.
George Stolnitz started telling the world about stationary population in the mid-60s and that was a hundred years ago. He thought we should match the replacement fertility rate to hold the population constant, and I agree with that much. With far less livable space, overpopulation is of great concern, but chanting is not the answer. I think the protestors chant because they don’t know what else to do.
There is not just one answer.
The first trystroom I remember seeing was around ’16 or ’17, sometime near the passing of the Genderless Act, which was the first step to creating as close to a sexless workforce as possible.
There’s a dichotomy for you: a sexless workforce who thinks so freely about the act of sex.
As it neutered our workspaces, it ushered in an age of sexual freedom and perspectives never before seen as people looked outside the workplace to express natural attractions and sexuality. In trystrooms, sexual expression of every—and any—type is accepted and nurtured by people of all ages. In some ways, I think it took my generation less time to embrace the idea of trystrooms. After the Youth virus, there weren’t a lot of new things for us to experience that we had not already. Trystrooms were new and different. Most of us had one or more marriages in our past, so we were well beyond the idea of saving ourselves for our soul mate—whatever that is.
Regardless of age, though, trystrooms are now the norm and have supplanted dark, lowly regarded strip clubs and—for the most part—bars too. Adults of all ages socialize in a liberated environment—a place where we can enjoy the company of the same or opposite sex and, if we so choose, have a tryst without judgment, without regret, and without worry—STDs a distant, distasteful memory.
I’m sure there were many, many things contributing to the acceptance of trystrooms—a perfect storm—but the biggest impact was undeniably lens filters; specifically the Eden app. Instead of blurring vision or adding a colored tint in the way some lens filters do, Eden reduces fabric warmed by body temperature into semi-transparent, ghost-like apparitions layered around the wearer’s body—like auras maybe, if you could see someone’s aura.
If auras are real.
With the Eden app, potentially everyone around you is naked. Personally, I don’t want people to appear naked all the time, there’s a time and a place for it—but I probably feel that way because in the end, I am old. I still believe a person’s choice in clothing speaks to their style; it tells me something about how they view themselves. I think back to the park at the Boston Canopy and recall scenes of people who were obviously enjoying the filter.
Conversely, not everyone wants to be seen naked. Those people—I—use figLeaf, the blocking app manufactured by the same company, iSpeye. Filters have caused or forced many changes—not the least of which is the righteous modifying their definition of modesty as a component of morality, a monumental shift—or rift—in many churches.
The Eden app was much more readily accepted—perhaps, eagerly is the right word—by the younger people. I don’t envy the young; I don’t care whether or not I look like a 20 something—with or without clothing. I’m perfectly happy being a 100 something. A young body and perky breasts can earn a girl free drinks, but a body with age tells of experience. Youth is coveted, but I think wisdom is respected—which is, of course, why a 45-year old would be irritated with me for treating him or her like a 23-year-old kid.
Enough daydreaming. I answer the waiting comms and change into biking gear. My park shift is starting soon, so I lower the bike, take the lift down, and pedal slowly toward the business district. Biking through the neighborhood is easy; almost no pods and those that are here are slow enough I’m not as likely to become a casualty.
As I pedal—what was just ten days ago, but perhaps not today—the three miles around the outer edge, I think of the other parks close by: Foothills, South Meadows, Northfield, Southfield, Boulder Green (renamed after it became the first 100% green city in America), and others, but to be included in a shift, you must be a resident of that area, each with its own shift schedule. It’s the same even in most other countries, though oddly, third-world countries are less restrictive. I haven’t been to many of those; only Peru—where I go every year… a pilgrimage of sort; my annual escape from reality.
The one place where I can get a decent, fucking, chemical-free shower.
Five laps around going at a snail’s pace due to the number of cyclists, I step off my bike in front of one of the eight Starbucks I can see from here and walk in to a room packed with more 20 somethings in very friendly pairs or groups. Out of nothing more than voyeuristic curiosity, I switch my lens filter to the Eden app and scan the room; only I and two others probably about my age have enabled the figLeaf app.
I wait for the drone to find me with my drink and let my eyes wander. A confirmed introvert, I avoid eye contact that might be perceived as an invitation to make small talk, which I find painful and pointless. I stare at my hands instead, draped across the back of a barstool.
I read a book about palmistry when I was a kid—maybe 12 or so. My mother had her palm read and it sparked an interest in the occult. I could identify various, naturally occurring lines in the hand and palm as the heart line, the money line, children, marriages, and, of course, the life line. What was odd to me then and is still, my life line runs all the way around the base of my palm and peters out somewhere in the top of the thumb area. I wondered about that. I don’t wonder anymore.
Another scan around the room: Most of us who were over 30 when we were infected can hold our own with youngsters, but primarily due to the wonderful effects of firming. I’m not particularly vain, but I was happy to lose my deepest laugh lines and see a tightening of my skin from the top down—especially given the view provided by the Eden app. No, it will never again be the skin of a 20 year old—I have been wearing it for a hundred years now—but I’ve become rather attached to it.
The wait drone finds me; my name spelled wrong, as always, on the flexible container. I take the latté and make my way out the front door, wrestling with and hanging onto what amounts to a liquor flask, but lacking the solid structure. It might be spill-proof, but it’s also worthless at times like this. I attempt to keep a grasp firm enough to keep hold, but not enough to force the contents out the opening—all while walking the bike on the crowded sidewalk. I bump elbows and other body parts with people of all sorts—mostly those who chose to be infected, but a few who did not—their bodies naturally worn by time. Without infection, if they were much older, they are likely gone by now.
Beautifully tinted, toned, healthy people bump, thump, and bang into me from all sides intent on having me squeeze my coffee out and down my front—and without so much as an excuse me. We’ve all sort of gotten used to it, I suppose—living right on top of one another like we do—but it is also part of the entitlementism attitude. This is MY area of the sidewalk, cross my path and I’ll run right over you. Honestly, that type of attitude makes me want to strangle people, but I see it a lot these days.
Newsstreams and accompanying social commentary play everywhere, any shiny surface will do. Damn hard for me to keep my head in the sand if they intend to blare the news and display every social poster’s comment along with it. Text crawls across the screen: pod-death toll is at 17 so far today—just another day in paradise. Despite Youth, people still die, but even some of that I see as a result of entitlementism. There are lots of transportation-pod accidents—as the headlines just made abundantly clear—because people race around without concern for how their reckless driving affects others. Their agenda is far more important than mine so I should get the hell out of their way.
Maybe pod designs are so poor and unimproved over the years because someone has figured out the pod deaths at least partially offset the continually rising birthrate. That might not be as farfetched as it sounds given the lack of stiff penalties for pod accidents, even when a death is involved. Initially they were safer: somewhere, someone found if you make drivers stand rather than allow them to sit, they are more attentive and able to react more quickly to potential accidents—it helped for awhile, but even that small gain is now gone. It seems to me we are long overdue for transportation improvements—from the sky down—and I’m quite surprised they haven’t come. Even the research I’ve done over the last couple of weeks doesn’t speak to new innovations in the area.
It’s not just traffic accidents that kill people though: there are the Here, Hold My Beer accidents, new cancers, new diseases, and murders. People die for all sorts of reasons. As I pass a large group of protestors and listen to their end-is-near chant, I’m reminded how unfortunate it is that not enough people are dying of anything these days. Suicide isn’t rampant, but there are plenty of people who are just worn out by the whole mess and choose to die intentionally. We have that option, as readily accepted as trystroom—when you’re done with it all, just check out. If some new designer disease doesn’t get me first, that’s the way it will be for me. I’ll finally become curious enough about what’s after this and take the plunge—probably literally. Step right past the edge of the canopy and relish in the feel of myself crisping up like bacon. Death by pod is a good option, too. Readily available anywhere you go.
I have never been afraid of dying. I’ve been an atheist since 1981, but that isn’t why I am not afraid. Though the Christian story may well be correct, I think there’s a fair chance we are all reincarnated; but that might be wrong too. Whatever it is, there’s no avoiding it. At some point, it’s going to happen and there’s simply no point in being afraid or worrying. So I don’t—but only about that.
I’d have to walk a long way to find the edge—out past the city and past the animal sanctuary. Thankfully someone thought about them before the planet went to hell.
Rather, became hell.
What was that woman’s name? Stander, I think… no, maybe Stamper. A woman on a mission.
She may have single handedly created the animal sanctuaries that ring most cities—resolute that life without the animals was not life. I always wondered if they put the animals on the outer edge so there would be a two-mile-wide border between people and the end of the canopy. Can’t have people randomly walking past the edge and frying on the spot.
We better figure out a long-term solution sometime soon, or death will be upon us all, with or without Youth. Check out time will no longer be an option—just one grand finale.
If getting plowed by one of those damn speeding pods wouldn’t prematurely rush along my plans for my demise, I’d ride the bike in the street. The surface streets are meant for human-powered vehicles that do not exceed a 1:1.2 footprint, which includes my bicycle, but pods travel at crazy speeds, and I’m simply not that agile—or brave.
Fortunately, pods are the biggest threat on our streets; old subways and tunnels below ground are for commercial vehicles. Delivery vans, trucks, and trains—powered by steam, electricity, or magnetic propulsion—like our overhead lines—are out of sight and for most, out of mind. The tunnels do connect to other cities, so we could all live underground like the Doomers, I suppose, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who would find that less than ideal. The canopies are restricting, but at least there is daylight, nighttime, weather, and seasons.
We truly are idiots. I can’t believe someone left mankind as custodians of this planet.
I leave the business district and cross the street back into my neighborhood—it’s typical of most under this canopy, and really, around the world. Homes are stacked tall, dug deep, and look a lot like someone came along, packed up and stacked up the city into moving boxes with the movers to be along any time now. I can’t say I blame the Doomers for not wanting anything at all to do with our congested canopies.
If I were religious, I’d have a hard time reconciling all this with faith—looking at what we’ve done and who we’ve become. The people in the park, at Starbuck’s, a couple walking ahead of me; a constant reminder of what I the religious consider an utter lack of moral value.
The couple is about one article of clothing from a sexual encounter, which I find interesting. I’m a people watcher in the true sense, so I enjoy eavesdropping on interludes—which are commonplace everywhere outside of the workplace. Sometimes people have sex right out in the open—like a few couples I saw in the park today and yesterday—but not usually. It’s more in line with what you would have seen on a nude beach years ago. Just because people are naked, doesn’t mean they necessarily have sex all day. People still appreciate privacy.
The protestors congregate in the parks and stand vigilant at the trystroom doors because what they see in those places confirms for them the end is near. Trystrooms, for them, are the vehicle of sexual freedom and promiscuity and the root of our unchecked birthrate. I’m sure they’re right, if not wholly then at least partially, but I see a difference too. People believe they have the right—are entitled—to have children, or to not; to sexual freedom; to have possessions, even if those possessions take up precious habitable space; to a job, regardless of gender; and the right to express themselves in any way they choose. In some areas I agree and support changes to our government over the last 50 years enabling—perhaps cultivating—this way of thinking, but also to align it with other viewpoints.