"Davie Henderson paints a dismal picture of a dying globe in this interesting science fiction police procedural. . . . A fine start [to] what looks like a solid twenty-second cop series." Harriet Klausner, Gotta Write Network
Tomorrow's Worldby Davie Henderson
In a world on the verge of environmental catastrophe, supercomputers have determined that the only way to sustain life is to run communities logically by rationing every resource and monitoring every action to make sure it is in accordance with the Common Good. Amidst a division between Names (naturally born people) and Numbers (those created through… See more details below
In a world on the verge of environmental catastrophe, supercomputers have determined that the only way to sustain life is to run communities logically by rationing every resource and monitoring every action to make sure it is in accordance with the Common Good. Amidst a division between Names (naturally born people) and Numbers (those created through genetical engineering), detective Ben Travis and his Number partner Paula are on the case of a murdered plant prospector. They end up discovering a fatal corruption that leads Ben to uncover a random emotional error in his partner: a belief in love. On the run in the ruins of a world that has been abandoned for 60 years, Ben and Paula encounter other survivors and rediscover the reverence for nature, life, and love.
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By Davie Henderson
Medallion Press, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Davie Henderson
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Chapter OneFootprints in the Sand, Lost World in the Mountains
Most citizens take time travel for granted, the way people a hundred years ago were blasé about splitting the atom, breaking the sound barrier and sending men to the Moon. For me those trips through time aren't simply a novel form of entertainment, though-they're a way of escaping from a world that has lost its heart and soul.
When I stand on the threshold of a timesphere I know life is about to come alive in a way it doesn't in the soulless apartment blocks and windswept concrete canyons of the community. I feel like Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus or Neil Armstrong, except that my excitement is an order of magnitude higher than theirs because I can travel through time as well as space.
Of course, there's a trade-off. You can go wherever you want, but when you get there all you can do is look. The spherical capsule that's my Santa Maria, my Rocinante and Apollo, that gives me the freedom to go where and when I want, becomes my prison cell once I'm there. That's because the sphere doesn't really hurtle through time and space. Rather, it simulates a destination so vividly you think you're there. Images are projected in every direction and sounds fill the air. As you take your first steps the sphere spins in synchronicity with your movements, and the scenery changes as if you were walking wherever it is you want to be. It's easy to believe you're actually there-until you reach out and try to touch something, because your hand keeps on going. But that doesn't stop me reaching out, or being disappointed when there's nothing to feel with my fingertips.
Hollowed out by a sleepless night remembering a woman I'm trying to forget, I was standing on the threshold of a timesphere raking in the hip pocket of my dark blue coveralls for the ID card that's payment, passport and ticket for the trip. It's only a little piece of plastic but you can't even get into your apartment, let alone a timesphere, without one. It contains every piece of information about a person that can be expressed in words and numbers: from height to fingerprint pattern, academic qualifications to criminal record. And it tells how you earn your pleasure points, where you spend them and how many you have left.
I held my breath as I fed my card into the slot at the side of the timesphere chamber, hoping I had enough credit. The spheres use a lot of computing power, which has to be paid for with hard-earned points. My weakness for such virtual trips means I go through points almost as fast as I earn them, so I was half expecting the infuriatingly neutral Voice of Reason to tell me: "You have insufficient credit for this amenity. Have a nice day."
However it said, "Welcome, Citizen Travis. State your desired time and place. Alternatively, select Random and the Ecosystem will choose for you. Or select Favorite to program your most frequently visited destination."
I suppose I should try the Random option, but there's a place I love so much I keep wanting to go back there. So I said what I usually say: "Favorite."
"You have sufficient credit for 15 minutes at your requested time and place," The Voice of Reason told me.
Each timesphere is housed in a chamber. The doors to those chambers are the same neutral gray as everything else in the community. Like every other door, they slide open if your ID has sufficient credit and security clearance. The door that opened in front of me now revealed a blackness so complete I hesitated before entering. I always do, because it feels like you're stepping into space. I suppose in a way you are; to all intents and purposes you're entering another universe, or at least a little world.
Then, heart pounding and pulse racing, I stepped over the threshold.
The electromagnetic sphere, which is a little under three meters in diameter, is generated by particle projectors in the chamber walls. Information drawn from the Ecosystem's databank colors the charged particles to simulate your desired destination. When you're inside the timesphere you're not aware of the technology, though. At least, I'm not. All I'm aware of are the sights and sounds.
The trips begin with a crackle and buzz from the surrounding blackness, dying away to a barely audible hum that's felt as much as heard. There's a slight increase in temperature, a faint smell of burning, and the air itself is transformed into a shimmering, spherical envelope not quite as dark as the blackness preceding it.
After a pause when nothing seems to happen, the sphere lifts far enough off the chamber floor to rotate freely. The shimmering increases, and suddenly you're in the midst of a kaleidoscope of colors so bright you have to blink. Then one of the times when you open your eyes after blinking, the colors are no longer a confused blur. You're wherever it is you want to be.
Where and when would you choose, if you could take a trip to any place on Earth, at any time? I say 'on Earth' because simulating space travel makes such high demands on the Ecosystem. Our lack of knowledge about what's out there in the vastness of the cosmos means the Ecosystem has to do so much interpolation that the cost is prohibitive, as it was for the real space program back in the Old Days. Anyway, back to my question: where and when would you choose? Not easy, is it? I suppose it's a classic case of being spoilt for choice. It's easier for me to decide than it is for most people, though, because of that place I love above all others.
When I opened my eyes, I was there.
To my right was a curving beach, to my left the breaking waves of an ocean. Up ahead, the sun was sinking behind a couple of fantastically shaped mountains-one a sugar loaf, the other flat-topped and looking like the stage for a movie about a lost world. I don't know the name of the mountains, but I know the ocean is the Atlantic and the beach is called Ipanema. I'd learned about this place from a travel article written in the Old Days. That's the sort of thing I love reading in my spare time: accounts of explorers, discoverers and travel writers. The article was called Footsteps in the Sand, Lost World in the Mountains. It was written more than sixty years ago, when it was safe to go Outside; when people could visit places for real and didn't have to rely on second-hand accounts and virtual trips. The article described Rio de Janeiro, and even before reading it I fell in love with the city because of the photo that went with the words. It was taken from where I was standing, and showed a couple walking hand-in-hand along the water's edge toward a sun setting behind those fabulously shaped mountains.
When I first saw the photo I wished with all my heart that I was the man silhouetted against the breaking waves, holding the woman's hand, and the woman was Jen, and that she hadn't ... The sadness in the pit of my stomach-the awful sense of loss and longing that's become a part of me-had been so overwhelming I'd had to look away from the photo. I'd started reading the words that went with it:
Other cities have buildings more beautiful than those of Rio de Janeiro, streets more pleasant, and a richer past. But it doesn't matter. Rio has no need of beautiful buildings and boulevards in order to take your breath away-it does it with curving beaches like crescent moons fallen to earth, and magnificent ocean waves breaking with a beauty which eclipses the beaches; it does it with enchanting mountains in the distance, and fantastic views from those close at hand. It doesn't need the romance of ruins, remainders and reminders of some glorious past. Rio lives for the present, and is full of people who want to make the most of each moment through music and dance.
I turned to my right and looked at the beachside hotels lining Avenida Atlantica, thinking about how the travel writer, Calum Tait, had described the scene:
Walking down the avenue one afternoon I heard music from beneath a cluster of parasols and saw half a dozen middle-aged men and women sitting around a table. They had cold drinks in front of them and tambourines, guitars and tom-toms in their hands. A small crowd had gathered to listen, but the friends weren't playing for an audience. They were playing for each other and the joy of making music. They were communicating with sound and song rather than token spoken words punctuated by awkward silences. As I watched, another friend joined the circle. She didn't simply walk up to the table, she danced all around it before sitting down. I don't think I've ever seen a happier group of people or a more perfect picture of friendship, and I don't think I ever will.
I longed to join one of the groups sitting under the parasols that lined Avenida Atlantica, but there was no point approaching them because they were pixels rather than people. I couldn't talk to them, make music with them or partner them in a dance. Still, I drew comfort from the sound of their laughter on the summer evening breeze. Watching them, I wondered what they'd be talking about if they were really there. Maybe they'd be discussing the latest Chaplin movie, Modern Times, little realizing the future would be far more frightening than the most nightmarish predictions in any film or book.
The time I'd picked for my virtual trip was 1936, almost 70 years before Calum Tait visited the city. In my imagination it was a golden age. The war to end all wars had been fought and won, and the next one hadn't yet begun. The worst of the Great Depression was over, and the Lost Generation was finding itself. It was the age of grand ocean liners and propeller-driven aeroplanes; art deco and film noir; jazz and cocktail parties. Technology had shrunk the world, making it safer and more comfortable, but hadn't yet taken all the mystery and adventure out of it. The planet hadn't been homogenized, polluted and finally poisoned to the extent plants and animals and people could barely survive Outside. It was a time when people could do for real what I can only do in a timesphere, in dreams or my imagination-gaze at a far horizon made of a romantic meeting of sky with land or sea rather than the desolation of ruined buildings shrouded in a choking haze.
I don't know how long I gazed at the make-believe horizon, but it was long enough to wonder what lands lay beyond it, what people walked its distant shores.
It was long enough to wonder what ships floated upon the ocean, where they'd come from and where they were going; and what lay beneath the surface-ancient wrecks and sunken treasure chests; coral reefs of amazing colors, and bottomless chasms that swallowed light and harbored mystery.
I thought about whales that sang haunting songs of love and loneliness, dolphins leaping from the water with joy unconfined, and seahorses drifting on the tide with their tails entwined like lovers.
Then I walked down to the ocean, and the movements of the little world around me were so synchronous with my own I felt I really was on the beach.
But, when I reached the water's edge and looked back, there weren't any footprints in the sand. I could only imagine what the warmth and give of the beach would be like beneath my feet, and what it would feel like to let the cool water wash over my toes.
All I could do was stand there looking and listening. But even that was better by far than anything I could do for real in the community. Gazing out at the far horizon I found myself thinking again about what Calum Tait wrote all those years ago. I'd read the article so many times I knew it word for word:
Ipanema and Copacabana are beaches as long as a day. You can spend a morning walking along them, and an afternoon just standing there with nothing in front of you but waves that have traveled a third of the way around the globe to break at your feet. The height and sound of the surf leaves you in no doubt you're at the edge of not a sea but an ocean. You feel small as you stand there, but not diminished; quite the opposite. For all the restless, roaring power there's something seductive about the sight and soothing about the sound, so that soon your heartbeat slows, your breathing deepens and your thoughts drift with the tide, carried away as vague notions and brought back as something more by the ocean. It's as if you've had the chance to talk with Mother Nature, listen to Father Time, and they've answered questions you weren't aware you'd asked.
Listen hard enough and you hear not only the roar but a whisper that seems to be telling the secrets of time and tide: where the wind and waves come from, where they're going and why they want to get there. You hear a wealth of knowledge, the wisdom of ages, and for a little while you feel you understand.
But only for a little while. For about as long as your footprints last in the sand.
Somehow not all the wealth is lost with the knowledge, though. You remember the roar if not the whisper, the feeling if not the thoughts. Like the tide that carried it, the richness you gain from leaving your footprints in the sand is never wholly spent.
I was in the middle of a wistful sigh, thinking about far horizons, lost worlds in the mountains and footprints in the sand when I got the call that changed my life forever.
And everyone else's.
Excerpted from Tomorrow's World by Davie Henderson Copyright © 2008 by Davie Henderson. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Davie Henderson is a journalist, writer, and the author of Waterfall Glen.
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