Shattered’s twenty-and-five days, out of thirty, went by so quickly he could barely keep up with himself; the last five days moved slowly as he anticipated his return. The lifestyles of the citizens Marin varied, but they were always busy, always connecting with some technology that Shattered didn’t understand. He spent the first few days as a tourist; he visited the massive Central Nexus, a structure that went deep into the Earth, some one and a half kilometers. Transport pods, smaller than the one that took him from Eureka to Marin, moved in every direction through a main shaft and zoomed in and out of transparently sealed corridors. The corridors were sealed with the same gel that Shattered had encountered above ground in Premier Morph Zed’s office. The transpods moved quickly through this immense space. On his seventh day he visited The Arcades.
“Some of our guests have decided to live completely virtually.” Dr Bernhart explained to Shattered as he saw rows of naked bodies in slightly opaque ovoids, sitting side-by-side. As he approached, he noticed two small hair-sized lines going into the temples of each person’s head.
“See, their bodies are tended to by the carrier eggs, and they — only they — decide when they want to hatch. For some it’s a short stay, like a holiday; others, many in the cyberpsychiatry division view it as form of therapy, helping certain people re-integrate into society; and some live nearly their entire lives inside them. They can live out a reality that is peopled, has architecture, is built from almost any time period — many chose to live as Roman Senators or Russian aristocracy, a few though go for the simpler lives of farmers and ranchers; I had a person request something very specific, he wanted to live in 1964, in Boulder, Colorado with a man named… Ah, Allen Ginsberg. He was one of the older citizens.”
“Wait, therapy? Re-integration for what exactly? Everyone here seems very — calm and also busy, happy.” He nearly added an “almost” to his last sentence, but his internal prudence prevailed. Dr Bernhardt looked at him, smiled, then looked down and began moving small dots — red, yellow, purple — around a transparent screen she held in her left hand. She looked up again. Her peering dark, brown eyes met his nervous green eyes. He shuddered and looked down.
“We have our anti-social elements here too; people who refuse to live by the Nexus Directives often develop anxiety disorders, they are very small minority, some two-percent of our current population, but they are a substantial number of our cases. They are often the ones, after we awake them from their mandatory month, that decide to stay in virtual suspension. We are required to inform them that they are in a virtual simulation every six months, yet some people begin to… Well, let’s just say they get very comfortable.”
Dr Bernhardt clearly felt she’d said too much. She brushed her long, dark hair back and walked away from the eggs, toward an opening. “Come.” The wall became transparent, then a section the size of a large barn door opened up. Shattered stood looking at the face of man; he thought the man to be about twenty-and-two or so, but given how Marinian’s age, they could be about the same age. His pale eyes twitched slightly; Shattered jumped back. He quickly walked over to Dr Bernhardt and found himself, by accident, holding her arm.
“So they lose sense of reality?”
“What is reality?”
Dr Bernhardt took Shattered to dinner. As the chief cybernetics and computer programmer for The Technocratic Republic of Marin, and as a trained physicist, her duties during Shattered’s stay included familiarizing him with technologies he’d never used before. Most of the work would be done by the others, but he needed a rudimentary knowledge of the tools for his trip to fifty-three north. That’s what they called it here. Legendary and yet forbidden, for any outside travel had to be within the bounds of Marin, or short-term stays at Park. Only the lucky few with coequal Marin citizenship and Park denizenship, like Autumn Spring, could travel between the two places freely.
Dr Bernhardt finished her salad, her tumeric and green tea, her soy-based protein with stir-fried vegetables: onions, cabbage, garlic, spinach on a bed of brown rice, and turned to Shattered. They’d been silent since they began eating, a Marin custom. Shattered had finished his meal too – everything was vegetarian.
“So, I helped develop the vaccinations that don’t need refrigeration — specifically for Park. It was part of a trade. I believe that in the early days, some of you got mumps?”
“Yes, I did, horrible, when I was two. Fortunately, I had a great caregiver, her name is Mar.”
“Yes, Mar, she’s quite woman.”
“You know her?”
“Yes, of course, she worked here for a year after the calamity. Didn’t you know?”
“No, doing what?”
“She was one of the finest biomedical researchers we had, and then, she left; she went back to Park — a place she’d lived before the Carrington Event. She said she needed to take care of someone. And I realized, just now, that someone is you.”
“Might I, may I, ask how… How old you are?”
“Of course, seventy-eight.”
“You don’t look older than forty-and-ten! Damn, this regenerative medicine could really help my people.”
“I know, but they do not want technology. Perhaps they are right, look at how long they’ve managed organized governance. We’ve searched the globe, and – aside from the less than communicative Federated Cities of China – there are no other organized societies. Also, you’ve the fortune of being geographically located to near us, and we to you. Many of our medicines are derived from plants your people find, as they explored the forests and moved northward and inland. I am surprised at how large Park has grown. The Sacramento Valley farmers, they still have a pre-Carrington mentality, they cannot organize themselves; they are cruel and ruthless, and they still – do you know the concept of race?”
“I’ve read about it.”
“Well, those farmers are what we called, before the C2 Event, white nationalists. They call themselves ridiculous names now, Duke of this, Duchess of that. A lot of them are from the area, a few of them came in the last months, just before C2, from all over North America, to live out some horrid Confederate fantasy. They use machines we trade with them to tend their fields, but long ago they would exploit people from other places to tend their crops, simply because of superficial markers like skin color or language. We trade with them as infrequently as possible, and only at one location. And they are not allowed to ever enter Marin or Park.”
“Use for profit, for gain — they even killed these people when they tried to fight for dignity. And they massacred thousands trying to flee over the mountains into the Valley from the south.”
Shattered put his head in hands and began to cry. He had seen so much. Too much. Eighteen days later, on his twenty-fifth day, he awoke; he felt the warm bed become slightly firmer as his 08:00 alarm neared. Another day with Dr Bernhardt and the team: Dr Knowledge X, temporal physicist; Seymour Zan, theoretical physicist; Judith Spring, atomic physicist, and inventor of the first operable nuclear fusion reactor; and ReJurgen Judd, optical physicist.
His days consisted of working closely with this team of experts to identify the possible reasons why fifty-three north fell outside of all monitoring, including satellite imaging, using the virtual reality simulators to help train them for life insides forests, and learning as much as he could about the technologies they would be using. On the last day, they all boarded a large, shining transpod at a place overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The breeze, some of the first non-filtered surface air Shattered had felt, smelt and breathed since arriving, had a salty harshness about it. Shattered loved the feeling. The sun’s light shimmered off the tranquil ocean, the ovoid raindrop transpod, and the faces of the six explorers. After the last one, Dr Bernhardt, entered, the transpod’s doors closed and the vehicle began moving at an exact 400 kilometers per hour. Gliding above the main coastal transvector line, the transpod interacted with a fixed narrow flat white line emitting graviphotons, these both powered – by absorption into the outer gel – and allowed the vehicle fast, albeit slower than capable (treaty-regulated) speeds; one hour and twenty two minutes of friction-less travel they stepped into the trade zone; the large timber wall, with it’s timber fencing reaching over the coastal plain and up into the day’s misty coastal mountains, greeted them, and so did Autumn Spring. They’d arrived at the fulcrum point between two very different but intertwined worlds.