9 months after I promised it, here’s my short story “2099”.
Joyce was not the first person to think of leaving Edenburgh, and surely not the first to leave. There was a whole underground movement of people getting ready to abandon urban life, no matter how convenient and comfortable it was. With leaving all the city infrastructure behind they could get much more — their freedom.
At school they taught us that cities used to be much worse. Polluted, overpopulated concrete-paved deserts. They told us stories about homeless people living on the streets and coal burning stoves heating mouldy apartments. “Food” was provided by convenience stores stocked with plastic wrapped sweets and processed meals which had been made for profit rather than nourishment. According to the teachers, cities were places of chaos and mental suffering, and we were glad we would never have to go back there.
Here in Edenburgh we really led a high quality life. We never had to worry about having enough nutritious food as we could always yield fresh herbs and vegetables from the local GrowRoom. There were raised beds on the campus so I would never forget to pick food for the kitchen, and Joyce did work experience at a vertical farm. Vegetables were abundant, free, and available to everyone.
We would also pick seasonal fruit from the urban orchards. Air quality in the city was good enough to pick free growing plants from anywhere. Moss-studded green walls absorbed any remnants of toxic vehicle fumes. Now we ran on renewables, after Scotland had finally invested big time in offshore wind farms complimented by solar farms in South England thanks to the National Grid. Daylight was harvested to power night lights, and numerous gyms supplied some energy for domestic use. And as the city was tall and compact, little was ever wasted.
Compact and compacted — Edenburgh literally shrank. However, only in terms of land cover — office and residential blocks had rocketed up to the sky to form a real vertical city. The omnipresent glass resembled water and natural materials such as hempcrete and reclaimed lumber made buildings “breathe” and feel vital. Edible plants and ivy climbed up soaring walls. Edenburgh was almost an ecosystem.
I did understand that today’s world cities have gone a long way from Victorian London to 2099 Edenburgh. Yet, having had studied what I studied, I could tell there was one missing piece of the ecosystem: animals other than humans were somehow absent from the city. As a zoology student my biggest dream was to get a job at a remote research station and live away from digital civilisation. But having grown up in a city, it was difficult to ever get out.
Over decades, the countryside had slowly lost its people and few farms remained. It was difficult to communicate with those left behind, as they often lacked an Internet connection. Wheat or grain factories obviously needed technology, and they were perfectly plugged into the communication grid — but they were mainly operated by machines. Farms that were actually being lived on and that housed human communities were the unplugged ones. They offered a life of freedom and disconnection. The life Joyce and me were dreadfully thirsty for.
With all good things come bad things. People paid an awful price for living in this oasis of sustainability: the price was their freedom. We wanted to escape before it was too late. And we had literally a few days before the new law would come into force and we would be dead inside.
We wouldn’t exactly be dead. The government is supposedly too humanitarian to kill humans. But them gaining the ability to control the way we all perceive the world meant we would never really be ourselves any more. The new law enforced a mandatory complant installation which meant that each resident had to go to a digital clinic and have a computer implant inserted in the back of their neck. In theory, complants make lives easier. Since everything is now done online, from payments to ordering your coffee to sharing your memories, you may as well just forget the electronic devices and carry a computer in your body.
From what I have read, the complant alters what you see by adding a multitude of layers to your surroundings. They broadcast advertisements and project information and who knows what else. See, I am not very knowledgeable on technology but I do know when someone is trying to take over my brain.
So Joyce and me are leaving. I know she feels cramped in the city and even the vertical farm does not give her enough contact with nature to satisfy her. All the wildflowers and bushes and theoretically useless plants Joyce will be able to grow will certainly make her happy.
I don’t need a degree from an institution to gain skills that can be applied in a real, truthful life. Joyce and me used a vintage radio of her grandfather to make contact with an off-grid farm nearby Darlington. The first bullet train tomorrow morning will take us to Middlesbrough and then we will get a lift from a farm dweller to our new home. Whether it will be temporary or not, we will see. What we know is that the land is calling us back to Nature, and that a whole new adventure awaits.
Just to pinpoint, this is the original short story I wrote back in April 2018. I’ve not edited it since. Thought I’d leave it like that for now, but if I were to expand it, it’d get completely rewritten.