Jamie was sitting on a bench in the gardens. He had just finished morning meditation and was enjoying the smells and the feeling of being in fresh air. He could hear bees near at hand, and birds were chattering. Yes, it was peaceful. But Jamie had work to do. He stood up, stretched, and began the long walk to the food service building. Five days a week, Jamie spent the morning working the line. Afternoons were reserved for sessions, sports and games. Evenings were for social or private time and occasional special events.
The line team unloaded whatever farm produce came in that morning: vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, nuts and grains in season, milk, eggs, and even seasonings and cheese from the pantry house. The team processed it all, inspecting, measuring, testing, washing and prepping the day’s deliveries. Some of it went into storage, some got packaged for export, and some of it went right into the day’s menu. The discards also got sorted, some for compost and some for animal feed. Nothing was ever wasted.
Jamie had worked on the farm for a time. It had been great to be outdoors, but the work was hard, and he never quite got the feel of it. He also could not get over his fear of the animals, which made him pretty useless in the husbandry and zoonotic units. Some of the others had grown up on farms. They seemed to know what needed to be done and were happy doing it. They sang a lot.
Jamie liked the line. He could see the process from start to finish in a few hours, and then join in eating the results. Some of the meals were eaten communally in one of the dining halls. Many were packaged and delivered to various locations around the campus. The whole process was coordinated by the Mother – that’s what they called the system of bots and programs that planned and coordinated campus logistics. It you ever had a question, the Mother would answer. And if you made a mistake, she would let you know.
The festival ground was, as usual, crowded at lunch time. Tables were scattered around under the trees or in the sun. Jamie was walking with his tray and spotted Caleb and Ara at a quiet table near the pond, under the willows. Caleb was older, and dark-skinned. He had been on campus for years, and he was always willing to share what he had learned (whether you wanted to hear it or not.) Ara was new. She was slight, very shy, and quite pretty. When she had arrived, she had been reclusive. Caleb had taken her under his wing, and in the three weeks Ara had been on campus, she had become much more relaxed. But Jamie had never seen her smile. Jamie asked if he could join them, and they welcomed him to their table.
Caleb was explaining to Ara, “It’s not as if you have to join a group, but from experience I can tell you it can be very helpful. I learned so much in my first group and became best of friends with several of my partners. It’s amazing to be able to share with people you can trust. And, you know, the matching protocols have just gotten better and better – the Teachers can almost read your mind.”
Ara blanched, and Caleb quickly added with a laugh, “Oh no – I was just joking. Nobody is reading your mind – no probes, no electrodes – your own mind is private. The Teachers only work with your vitals, your behaviors and whatever you want to tell them. And they are very, very nice.”
Caleb worked in the mech shops, and he would know. They take care of all the machinery. That includes maintaining the Mother and programming the Teachers.
Jamie interjected: “Did you hear there’s a live show tonight at the amphitheater? The repertory is doing a production and then they are going to have music and dancing. The weather should be nice. Anyone interested?”
“Hey that’s great,” said Caleb, “but tonight’s my book club. We’ve been taking a look at some of the old science fiction books. Now that is some scary stuff, I can tell you. Good thing most of them were totally wrong! Hah!,” He cackled.
Ara replied, “I’m attending a training for the aquarium. I’ve been told that working at the aquarium might be a good fit for me. I’ve always loved reading about life in the ocean. My parents took me to the beach once. The waves scared me, but we saw a seal. I still remember it. I do need to find work myself – or else I will just get assigned.”
The three were quiet for a moment, and then Ara asked, “Do you see your families?”
Jamie fingered his campus bracelet. He let Caleb respond.
“Well that depends, honey. You see, you are self-selected. So, for you, the Doctors and the Teachers recommend what is most helpful. From what I understand, they want you to see your family as soon as you can – but only when you are ready. Me, I am here on ministry. I really didn’t have family or any home. My life was always messed up. I needed the campus, and now this is my family! If I ever did want to leave, the Teachers would guide me through a dissociation, and then I could leave. But I don’t want to. Now, for Jamie here, that’s up to him to say.”
Jamie hesitated and then faced Ara, and said, “I am here on penance. Of the freedoms taken away, forfeiting outside relationships is one of the most difficult, but can also be most helpful. I have learned a lot about myself because of the separation. My plan is to ask for a visit with my Mom soon – I’m hopeful the Teachers will allow it.”
After lunch, Jamie saw that he had gotten a message on his bracelet. His vitals had spiked, indicating an elevated level of stress. Mother was inviting him to a Meet, or to visit the Bubble. The Bubble was a private, virtual reality studio with unlimited programs for relieving stress or just plain having fun. Jamie didn’t feel like having fun. He chose the Meet. The room was quiet, with soft light, and a screen along the wall. Jamie sat down and the screen opened to show a Teacher, sitting in a library. She was female and old enough to show some gray hairs and wrinkles, but not old enough to be his grandmother.
“Hi, Jamie. What’s up?”
The Teachers always opened a conversation that way.
Jamie paused, and then said. “I was scared to tell Ara the truth. I thought she would be afraid of me. That she might not like me. ”
“I can understand why you felt that way. It is common for people to feel ashamed of saying they are on penance. It’s a big step. Well done. What else is going on for you?”
“I’m also feeling proud that I told her – and maybe her knowing will help her navigate on campus better,” said Jamie.
“Yeah, that’s right Jamie. Good for you. What else?”
Jamie paused. “I got angry. I wanted to hit her. And Caleb.”
“Why is that, Jamie?,” asked the Teacher softly.
“She has freedom. She self-selected into the campus. She could go home at any time. And Caleb is even worse – he’s a minister and he wants to be here. He’s crazy. But I’m stuck. I’m in prison and I can’t get out.”
“Yes, that’s all true. Any why are you, as you say, “in prison?”
After a minute, the Teacher asked, “Jamie, do you remember what life was like for you when you first arrived on campus?
“I was angry. And always afraid of…. of being laughed at. Better if people were afraid of me.”
“How was that working?”, she asked.
“I hurt people. They didn’t laugh at me then. But they kept away. Even my Mom.”
“You were pretty much alone, right?”
“Yeah. I had my buds, but they were like me. We were always drinking – getting in fights – it kind of felt good. But then, you know, it happened.”
The Teacher responded, “Yes, I do know the story. But you have to be able to tell it.”
After a pause, Jamie continued. “There was this old guy Charlie – he would walk by when we were hanging out and tell us we should go to school, or go to work, or do something useful. That day I was drunk. I lost it. I hit him. He went down. I hit him again. And kicked him. Like he was all the bad stuff that ever happened to me. The cops pulled me off and took me to jail. I got a lot of time to think.”
“How do you feel now?”
“I’m OK. I get sad a lot. I get angry sometimes. I feel good sometimes. I have friends. And I’m not hurting people. I guess that’s good.”
After a pause, the Teacher said. “Jamie, you took a big risk today. It’s a hard thing to do. But you are moving along a path that will help you lead a better life.”
“Teacher, when can I visit my Mom?”
“Good question. You demonstrated self-reflection and self-control today. You told the truth, both to Ara and to me. These are the tools you need to master if you are going to build healthy relationships beyond the campus. Let’s talk about this at the next review. You are scheduled in two weeks.”
“OK. And… thank you.”
The aquarium was a huge building. Ara walked in, along with two others, and they were directed by the Monitor to the second floor meeting room. There were a dozen people of various ages standing around the room. Some of them were talking in whispers. Then an older man came in. He greeted each person warmly and asked them all to be seated.
“I’m so glad you are all here. My name is Dr. Bill, and this is where I work. If you are new to the campus, then you may not know much about what we do here at the aquarium. And I know you may be nervous about what it means to work with the animals. Let me first be clear about what we do NOT do. This is not a zoo. We do not put animals on display or make them perform. This is not a science lab. We do not experiment on animals. This is not a restaurant. We do not eat them. This is also not a jail. We do not imprison them. What we do at the aquarium is this: We treat sick animals that biologists and volunteers bring to us. We also try to learn as much as possible from them while they are here. Then we return them to nature as quickly as we can.
Now, there are also some animals here that can no longer survive in nature. These are our friends. We take care of them, we play with them and we try to learn as much about them as we can. We have learned a lot over the years. You will find that, in many ways, they are just like us. They can be sad. They can be happy. And they all miss the world that they knew.”
“Initially, newcomers are assigned to the home pools – where our animal friends live. You will have two teachers – a human one to help you learn how to engage with our friends, as well as an Expert Teacher who can provide you with all of the information and guidance you need to care for them. Mother will take care of assignments, schedules and supplies. I’d like to turn this over now to our Expert who will give you a more detailed briefing and answer any questions you might have. After she is done, I welcome you to join me next door for a snack.”
After the briefing, Ara stayed for a long time talking to Dr. Bill. He was so kind. He told Ara that he wanted to introduce her to Bella. She was a harbor seal, like the one Ara saw at the beach that day. But Bella had been hurt and would never be able to return home. She just needed friends. That’s the way Ara felt. She was hurt, but in a different way. While the drugs could keep her calm, they could not cure her. She didn’t know if she could ever go home. She just needed friends.
It was Sunday. Everyone on campus was invited to attend one of the remembrance and reflection services. Generally, everyone did. Jamie, Caleb and Ara chose to attend the main service and go for a walk afterwards. They entered the main hall. The three greeted some friends, and quickly found seats in the middle. As usual, the front row was empty.
The lights dimmed, and the room hushed. A flute played, and the beautiful high tones filled the hall. When it ended, there was total silence. The Speaker rose to the podium, and she recited a poem extolling the beauty of nature, and the interconnectedness of all things. She continued with a selection of readings from native cultures about the magic and mystery of creation and the meaningfulness of life. Then she began the sermon:
“Radah… radah… radah…. An ancient word, from which we must take guidance. We have much to learn about this word. Some of us, through the ages, thought that radah – dominion – was our privilege, and it meant that we should conquer and subdue others including the world of nature. And we did. Some of us thought it meant that we should control and bend the world and other people to our will. And we did. Some of us thought that it was all for us to consume – to enslave – to poison – and to serve for our amusement. And that we did.
“But hear me now – that which we have done to the world and to others we have done to ourselves. We all have the scars to prove it. Bitter are the spoils to the victor, when all that is left is desolation heaped upon our heads. Bitter is the fruit of our conceit and our greed when the pain of others is upon our hearts. Dominion has wrought destruction and suffering – the just rewards of our selfish and loveless behavior.
“But the true meaning of radah is the invitation to come down, brothers and sisters. Come down and be with nature, and be with the people. You have been given the power of human intelligence and the power of science and technology. You have the privilege of being able to choose how to wield that power. Choose radah. Come down, my brothers and sisters, and be with nature. Come down, my brothers and sisters, and be with the people. Give your wisdom, your love and your strength. Be as the good shepherd – guiding, holding, feeding and saving the lambs over which you have been given the power and the privilege of being their shepherd.
“There is one world and one people. We are physically, mentally and spiritually healthy, or we are not. Humans, animals, the creatures great and small that live in this world, the ecosystems and the biosphere that sustains it – all are healthy, or we are not. All must be cared for. One world, one people. Amen.”
Jamie, Caleb and Ara sat for a few minutes in the hall as the crowd filed out, each in their own quiet reflection. Jamie was thinking about his Mom, and how it might feel to give her comfort instead of pain. He was warmed by the nearness of his friends. Ara was remembering the sense of peace she felt at the home pools – homes for all the animals that had lost their homes, just like the three of them. Caleb felt the blessing of loving and cherishing Jamie and Ara and all the others that had come and gone. Tears rolled down his cheeks. His world. His people.
They rose together and walked out the hall. Outside they paused for a minute, enjoying the sunshine. Caleb took each of them by the arm and the three walked down the path towards the gardens.
Ah, a well-written Gaia/Orwellian dystopia or should I say utopia? As good as it gets is the reality of this potential future — counterfactual to our ideal imagined futurity. The unification of various individual ‘formes’ of identity; “Teachers” mixed with religious reformers and wholistic Doctors with the oversight of the matriarchal Mother and the odd Monitor thrown in for good measure.
The snippet for the story says, “Imagine a future where criminal justice, homelessness and mental illness receive a more hopeful and compassionate response than the one our society offers today.” Now that the picture is painted we should be asking ourselves, ‘what’s wrong with this picture, what’s right and what do we do about it?’
Thank you for this interesting post. Keep up the good work and the creativity.