Soundwaves, travelling through the district, found their way to my eardrums, where their dim resonation revealed them to sequence a strange, unusual noise.
Judging from the soft, tangerine light, I seemed to have woken up early. It would be a pleasant day. The drones had started construction of the advanced distribution pipelines and the attached ALOT, the Automated Library Of Things for the area.
Although assembly methods had significantly advanced from the ear splitting construction sites of the 21st century, the building of larger infrastructure still acoustically set itself apart from the otherwise peacefully low level of background noise. Since personal mobility had been demotorized, except for the extraordinary comfortable and convenient public transport systems — zero-emission, almost frictionless vehicles blending seamlessly in with the environment — and habitation zones and cells were designed to be in mutuality with nature, the loudest permanently recognizable sounds were emitted by birds, insects second.
Feeling slightly hung over, if not still dizzy, I thought of what Yuki had said yesterday about the damascene orchards. I imagined the color of the fruits, almost ripe at this time of the year, and their sweet, sticky smell in the thick air of the hothouses. As usual when playing cards, or anything else, with any group constellation including Yuki and Jakob, the conversation went quickly from the food or the wine to, as they would call it, ‘less trivial’ subjects revolving around the community’s or the district’s organization and whatever challenges connected to it were currently on the table.
With the content of the bottle receding, and the volume and intensity of the discussion increasing, at the end of the night everybody felt obliged to offer their help with farming today to make the last preparations for the harvest period.
A different smell, this time not imagined but gloriously real, filled up the room, spreading out all over my olfactory receptors. Kyle was already busy in the kitchen, pouring hot water into the coffee filter, from where the freshly ground coffee exceeded its rewarding aroma.
Slowly scuffling over towards him, my eyes wandered around the central living room, trying to determine what made me feel like something had been changed. It had to be something small, inconspicuous, as the basic furniture allotted to each household was all but exuberant or pompous, allowing a clear overview of the entire space. Then I spotted the small picture that had not been there yesterday — right above the radiator; a tiny artwork, a photograph of Kyle and me, painted over and scratched, our faces mutated into xenomorph visages. Chuckles, good morning kisses. After looking into each other's eyes for a moment, Kyle handed me my personal cup. It already had a few tiny damaged spots, each of them already familiar and dear to me, and although I knew I could by law never technically possess it, it still had been attributed to me and felt like something my own. I would instantly receive a new one should it break, but I took good care of it nevertheless; with each day fulfilling its comforting purpose, it became more important to me. Thinking about this, I realized that, just like the cup, the small picture hanging in the living room as well - even though I myself created it - was not mine, in the sense of ownership that had once been so important for everyone, and never could be. But in the same sense, so couldn’t Kyle. I looked up again. Kyle had been watching me fixating the cup, contemplating, and had a somewhat gleefully big grin on his face. “Ready for the day?”, he quipped as he poured me.
We sat down for breakfast. Oatmeal and seasonal fruits, as we had chosen from the available options in the ANDRO ordering system. Enough to energize for the first half of the day, even including casual training or other physical activities, not as much to leave the table feeling bloated. Johanna, it came to my mind, a chemistry professor and single mother from the neighbourhood to the east, had returned to her former professional dedication to athletics. We were invited over for dinner shortly after she had resumed her training. It was always funny for me to see, or experience myself, how nutritional needs doubled or even tripled when humans engaged in competitive or generally more ambitious ways of sports. Although that circumstance was commonly regarded a necessary if undesired sacrifice in exchange for the joy and euphoria of intense physical activities, most of the time I had actually enjoyed the larger helpings when I was playing football during university and later, when I joined the community hockey team to compensate for the long hours in the research labs. As my father used to tell me, I had always been constantly hungry from day one of my existence.
Still, it took more time to prepare and eat those big meals, and there’s only so much you can do in a day. Before the liberation from labour and property, food was one of the few genuine pleasures, rather than distractions, available in the capitalist ages — if you happened to belong to the privileged. In the new era, people could now fill their schedules with any and all activities they wanted. Naturally, there still were laws, cultural norms and conventions; but with the high level of self-determination and self-actualization, independent of material cost and proprietary restrictions, the possibilities and individual options to choose from were so engaging that food was even one of the less enticing things to busy oneself with, for most — except, of course, for those most interested and indulging in exactly that field.
Thinking about other people’s schedules reminded of my own plans for the day. I stood up from the table, continuing the conversation from the sink while quickly rinsing my plate and cup under the thin stream of filtered rainwater. Back in my chamber and out of my sleeping clothes, I slipped into my Unigown, still consciously noticing the astonishingly comfortable feeling of the light fabric on my skin, despite having gotten so used to the garment it was hard to imagine wearing anything else during daytime. I packed a few things I had borrowed from the ALOT that I would need for my participation in the orchard farming, using my biological energy to take some load off the system’s grid. Small-scale community farming had played an important role in the genesis of the panhumanist system, disaccumulating agricultural production back to a more regional and local supply, and still continued to hold a significant share in the global production of food. With total automation, working in the greenhouses was more of a voluntary act of individual interest, often connected to personal research projects or as a kind of leisure activity. Others, like Yuki and Jakob, saw it as an ecological commitment to support the system and increase energy efficiency. I thought it was an excellent way to connect to and learn from nature and how everything in the cosmos seemed to work - some kind of spiritual-philosophical study, if you will.
After a short visit to the bathroom and a quick check with the mirror, I gave Kyle a kiss and headed for the door. The bag felt light on my shoulder, containing only a small notebook, my reader (not adding much to the overall weight of my carry, although providing access to the whole of literature and science ever published) and a pair of sunglasses to protect my eyes from the glaring miraculous star that was simultaneously providing and threatening all life on this wonderful planet. I stepped outside. Indeed, it had already become a pleasant day.
From a bird’s eye view, the concentric circular structure of the district and the communities looked like a dandelion with its parachute-attached seeds, the centre progressively branching out into equally concentrically arranged sub-structures, the hoodrings, down to the layout of the individual housings, whose rooms were organized around a central living room.
The eyes of the birds chirping from the surrounding trees, however, were focussed on other, more pressing subjects. Flying frantically from here to there, the feathered predators snatched insects hovering above the flowery meadows filling up the space between the circular dwellings. Violence can appear full of wonder and beauty, I thought, given a certain degree of outsideness and acceptance of immutability — and, in this case, given the most idyllic scenery. Once, violence had also been widely accepted as inherent to human nature, impossible to overcome. Maybe we had finally separated ourselves from the archaic, merciless mechanisms of nature that, in an abstracted and ultimately unnatural form, had facilitated injustice and inequality amongst ourselves for most of human history.
I waved to the Batras, a neighbor family, who were just leaving the house for the their weekly trip to the university to visit their eldest daughter, Diya, and attending her lecture on climate microphysics. Diya had graduated two years ago and chose to live and study at the campus grounds to immerse in several subjects complementing her primary expertise in the fields of agrology and soil research. With her sister Meher already set to follow her on the path of science, in the areas of sustainable biosynthetics and oceanology, the children academically complemented their parents’ more pragmatic engagement in reforestation and species protection. Formerly complaining about the panhumanist two-child policy, the Batras had arranged themselves with their quad core family system, acknowledging the necessity of restraint concerning the world’s population.
Adding to the busyness of the scene, Ssekikubo and AZ7ECC, the couple next door, came walking up the connection leading towards our piazzetta, how I liked to call the round court in the center of our housing ensemble, carrying two ALOT cases presumably containing the instruments they had applied for a couple of days ago, as they had told me during one of our neighbourly chats, yelling from out of our respective kitchen windows: an ‘almost historical’ Zither in the larger case, a refurbished 808 drum machine in the slightly smaller one. Kiku could play almost any instrument after a few minutes of adaptation, as was not uncommon for citizens devoting themselves almost entirely to music making, and with AZ7ECC learning fast after discovering his own interest and aptitude for especially the rhythm section, the two would occasionally jam outside on the lawn for the hoodring and everybody else who’d like to come over to hang out or, after some acclimatisation, dance in the light of the setting sun.
My attention diverted by an ANDRONE whirring by to deliver groceries or attend to some repair service, another neighbour had been approaching me unnoticed from a blind angle, suddenly appearing in my view right next to me. He had almost jump scared me, uttering his greetings, had I not immediately recognized his face. Since the death of his partner he dedicated his existence to the dying and the dead in the community and, in more prominent cases, throughout the district. He informed me about the passing of a woman I had only loosely known from the third hoodring clockwise, an Etymologist in her 30s. She had been hit by a defect service drone and died shortly after from the inflicted cranial trauma. The memorial service was set for Wednesday, 163, at the district’s community centre, with the body disposal already having taken place shortly after the incident, following the farewell by her close friends and relatives. Memorial services always were a significant event in the community, with not only the family, but also a majority of the citizens of the deceased person’s housing circle and the surrounding hoodrings attending. In that unfortunate woman’s case, the centre would be packed with people from all over the district. Since medical science greatly profited from AI improvements and advanced robotics, such a casualty was the rare exception from otherwise mainly peaceful, and mostly self-determined, well-prepared exits, and many would show up to offer their condolences.
I gave the man, whose name I remember from time to time only to forget it again shortly after, my thanks and my good wishes, and promised to show up at the ceremony. I had to hurry up to meet with Yuki at the gardens, so that we would be able to chat a bit during our commitment, making the work even more pleasant. On my way down the connection to the bus terminal, a citizen who I did not recognize crossed my way and gave me a somewhat tortured smile. Their unigown sleeves had been ripped off, providing an unrestricted view on an intriguing mixture of apparently antinatalist and stoicist tattoos. I smiled back, instantly suppressing some rather banal thoughts triggered by their irritatingly tantalizing radiance, instead trying to memorize their face in case they moved in to the neighbourhood.
Arriving at the bus terminal, more accurately the community transport vehicle (CRAVE) hub, I hopped in one of the vessels and hovered off to the orchards.
I looked out the window and watched the housings and public buildings passing by along with the overall terrain, in mismatching yet coherent speeds. Some voluminous clouds were piling up above the distant horizon, flocks of various kinds of birds populated the otherwise empty sky, and wild animals like specks of a range of dark colors dotted the valley’s prairie and the sporadic, artificially watered pastures. Throughout the landscape, the ANDRO pipeline infrastructure and public transit tracks weaved a loose-knit, gigantic mesh connecting all districts of the area and funneling the exchange of resources to the next main node, to further distribute goods between regions. It was a work-in-progress scenery, as things had always been, everywhere, since the beginning of the anthropocene; in this case however more obvious than usually, as the structures had hastingly been built to ensure global equality in supplies without any delay for less developed regions, and were planned to soon disappear from the landscape, being remodeled into an advanced underground distribution network with further reduced energy needs.
Clouds still were a regular phenomenon in certain zones of the atmosphere, depending on the local geographic and global climatic circumstances, but seldom did they come down raining onto the ground, in effect having turned into some kind of fatamorganic memorial of the last century’s climate catastrophe, that had relatively abruptly put an end to how things had been for centuries, millenia, maybe eons. However, many people around the world were working in close coordination on finding a way to aid Mother Earth regrowing her atmosphere and climate, restoring the streams and cyclic processes that had formed the system of evaporation and precipitation, and with it, human evolution and culture, for the longest time.
In addition to the overall ANDRO and public infrastructure, and of course the hoodring settlements, other kinds of buildings appeared in my view as the architecture became denser going towards the district’s center, where the ALOT and the local administration were located amongst many other public services, related to healthcare, culture, social interaction and overall well-being of the citizens. Some of the buildings were remaining experimental in-betweens from the systemic transition era, many of them modular constructions hosting vertical gardens; already trying to make use of sustainable building materials and techniques, but still trapped in the spirit of times overcome; a time where growth was to evoke awe, and competition resonated from the impact of every object of human creation. For reasons of sustainability, most of those structures were still in use, mostly for public services, but they were flagged for demolition and would vanish like the towering high-rises or rampant office complexes of the 21st century, monstrosities individually designed to convey prestige and power, to set itself apart from everything else, to dominate, to oppress those working inside them and especially those who didn’t.
In the new era, with globalization of ideas, the most efficient and sustainable models for every type of building were readily available and constructed in no time thanks to streamlined automated processes. Of course, differences in regional climate and culture were taken account of, and adjustments or entirely new designs emerged regularly from ongoing research and evaluation of experience with the current models. These improvements were either applied, if possible, as updates to existing structures, or used when building new instances, creating a visible timeline of architectural evolution in the cities and settlements with several generations of housings offering some variety to the eye. Every citizen had the right to have their housing upgraded or rebuild, after a reasonable periodin due time, to the newest version, or to move to an available up-to-date home in their desired location, in order to ensure equality as well as resource efficiency.
My attention shifted back to the inside of the CRAVE. Everybody was used to walk short to mid distances, still the vehicle was quite packed with citizens opting for a ride out of town, to the gardens or beyond, to the next district. As equal as everyone was in rights and supplies, people were all but equal in their activities, tastes and affectations. The crowd in the transport was a paragon of individualism. Even with the UNIGOWN as the prevalent fashion, one could tell that the liberation from work and property indeed enabled everybody to really become themselves and fully realize their ambitions and potentials. There were people of all ages and ethnicities across the entire spectrum of gender, a term no longer really in and of use, except in the way you would talk about your eye colour or the shape of your feet, some reading, some in conversation, some joking and laughing with others, some playing, working on something, writing in their notebooks — a vivid busyness without the omnipresent stress, pressure and discontent you could sense when looking at pictures or recordings of a 21st century subway scene, reading the faces of the passengers. These days, everybody was pretty relaxed, most of the time. Having overcome competition and scarcity, and fear as the subsequent driving force of society, nobody had to worry anymore, to put themselves under pressure. Agitators had no political, ecological or social leverage anymore to channel fear into racism, nationalism, fundamentalist tendencies of any kind.
Now, each and every human got to enjoy the certainty of being accepted as and for who they were, their heart and soul, of not being judged by their biology, their appearance, their achievements. In many ways, and surely in the more important ways, the decline of capitalist individualism — based on materialist criteria like commodities, consumption, currency — gave birth to a much stronger, more natural individualism of interest, inclination and identity.
The smell of the gardens with their rich, thick earth and ripe fruit grew more intense as the CRAVE was approaching its terminal station, a large, though efficiently managed, public transportation hub connecting all outer parts of the district and the city with its center: the Orchard.
With many different kinds of vegetables grown along with the fruit, in a vast area of gardens, fields, hydroponics and greenhouses, the name of the place was a bit misleading. Inbetween, small tool sheds and laboratories as well as larger research facilities completed the agricultural complex.
Together with most of the remaining passengers, except for those who just were on board for sake of the ride or simply changed their mind during the trip, I got off the bus and made my way to one of the terminals, where I would log in and receive suggestions for my contribution to today’s work in the fields. These were given based on the system’s calculations, but there were also experienced tutors around providing human judgement, help and suggestions for the gardening.
A small, blinking symbol on the screen confirmed what I had expected: Yuki was here already and had sent me a notification. I confirmed her invite, and the system added me to her work group. A short briefing of the assignment and a map of the area appeared, but I already knew where to find her.
Walking by the edges of the fields, I observed a team of voluntary instructors giving a group of interested novices a guided tour through the Orchard, with a bunch of SUEZEANES following them around - superefficient, zero-emission agricultural drones (airborne enablers), functioning as extended arms and hands of the farming citizens for some of the more redundant tasks on request. All these people had come here to learn, research, relax and meditate during the manual labor - to socialize, to feel and understand, experience and train their mutual relationship and connection towards nature: the part inscribed within us that resonates when we touch ground. As a positive side effect, their surplus of natural organic energy would take some workload off the system, put to use in other urgent, energy-intensive areas such as healthcare or research and development.
Even with the SUEZEANES whizzing around, most work was done with rather simple tools; tools that would have been labeled primitive in more complicated times but had been revalidated by an age that had learned to appreciate the sophistication of simplicity. Spades, shovels, rakes and hand harrows, forks, scythes and trowels were to be seen everywhere around the orchards and used with great skill and diligence. Proof for the benefits of deploying these TOELIs, these archaic interfaces between humans and nature, was ubiquitous. The branches of trees, shrubs and bushes hanging heavy with fruit, the beds flowing over with vegetable plants in abundance bore witness to the effect of real human care.
The plants also cared for the humans. The slow-paced, voluntary nature of working the gardens, the pleasure and fulfillment of this occupation with all its sensuous wonders and patient subjects worked its magic on all participants. Without any pressure of competition or personal achievement, both work and results were invaluably rewarding.
Entering the damascene orchards, I immediately spotted Yuki, who had obviously been notified of my arrival and wanted to spare me any further hide and seek in the vast gardens. Holding a basket in her left arm - already half-full, with the damsons peeking through the gaps and filling the vicinity with their wonderful smell - she stood there, smiling.