Navigating herself from one pod station to the next, Chantel rode the tubes home as she had done countless times before. It was an isolating, meditative experience. Chantel still felt ill at ease with the transportation process, no matter how many times she had endured the ride before. Regardless, she was now accustomed to being confined in a pod and travelling over a vast distance through an intricate network of tubes criss-crossed throughout the city. She knew that there was no dedicated route that would take her from A to B and each day it was a different journey. At any given time she was not to know if she was below ground or a hundred stories above ground, if she was passing through a building or going over a bridge. Her journey could be recalibrated at any second depending on the volume of traffic, energy efficiencies or an unforeseen obstruction. Each day after she finished work, Chantel would step into a pod, shut the door, close her eyes and pray for the best.
When she opened her eyes, she was greeted with the familiar sight of the pod station closest to her home. The neon billboard for Utopia, another global corporation also represented in parliament, greeted her with irony. Although a Pangaea devotee and employee, Chantel felt a twinge of betrayal at starting and ending each work day basking in the glow of Utopia’s translucent advertisement. There was no reason she should feel so guilty, Chantel convinced herself. All corporations were much of a muchness in this world.
Chantel started walking back to her apartment in the residential zone of the city. She would have to stop by a vending machine on the way to pick up some food packs for dinner, but this wouldn’t be an issue, there being one every few metres along the short corridor to her apartment. She paused at a machine about two thirds of the way along the 100 metre corridor to her high rise apartment.
‘The closer to home I get dinner the less distance I’ll have to carry it,’ thought Chantel.
Glancing over the range of cuisines in the glass window that were available, Chantel wondered what sort of food would go with a comedic, time travel movie. All foods were a type of fusion nowadays, commensurate with the general population. Egg noodles with creamy bacon sauce in a white wine reduction, Bolognese sauce over fried rice, vindaloo curry and chips – these were the general meals on offer for those working professionals who didn’t have time to make use of their own kitchen. The selection would be rotated intermittently with different combinations as food producers tried to keep the menu interesting. Chantel chose an appetising concoction of couscous and chicken pizza for her meal to be warmed up later.
As the vending machine retrieved the pre-packaged meal from its bowels Chantel presented her arm to be scanned for payment. $199 was the standard fare for take home meals nowadays and Chantel was convinced she should have at least that amount in her woefully meagre account. Waving her arm in front of the vending machine scanner, the machine registered payment with a series of beeps and a steely sounding ‘Payment complete’ voice activation. The remaining balance in her cash account flashed on the screen for a brief moment, which caused Chantel to groan. Chantel collected her takeaway pizza and proceeded down the corridor to her apartment.
A total of three electronic implants were inserted into the average human being, as well as a clear Perspex retinal implant coating over the eyeball. The main implant was the hard drive in the brain which was made to operate with the Perspex retinal implant. There were also implants for the payment account in the arm and the communicator in the ear. The communicator was usually inserted as soon as a person could communicate intelligently, at the age of three or four. The hard drive was inserted into a person’s brain when their skull stopped growing, usually around the age of 11 or later. Similarly, the payment implant was inserted when the body stopped growing, roughly around the age of 13. Retinal implants were usually inserted later when a person’s vision stopped developing and stabilised, approximately at the age of 21. Special eyeglasses were available for viewing material off the hard disk before the insertion of the retinal implants.
All implants were generally inserted for a person’s lifetime and each implant was wired to operate only with the other implants. The sound for playback of material from the hard drive was channelled through the communicator. The hard drive was used to visually access the details on the payment account. The retinal implant made the content from the hard disk viewable. Consequently, all implants acted like a circuit of information that relied upon the operative functions of each of the other devices. The electronic implants, being the hard drive, communicator and the payment account, were connected to the Pangaea mainframe, meaning any time Chantel was in a wirelessly enabled Pangaea area, she could access any information from the mainframe through any of her electronic implants. The electronic implants were powered by the energy emanating from the human body. Each device was designed to self-charge, providing that it had enough heat, movement and kilojoules. Of course, all devices had to be aligned to the same global company to work together.
Chantel had just arrived home to her apartment to see the sun disappearing over the edge of the arrays of skyscrapers stretching to the ends of metropolis zone and breathed a sigh of relief. Even with the air-conditioning on full power in her climate controlled building, the heat of the sun was still immense. She struggled enough as it was to fulfil her recommended 30 minutes of physical activity per day and if the sun’s rays were beating down upon her windows, she found this feat almost impossible. Regardless, she still adhered strictly to her exercise regimen, as opposed to most of the other people living sedentary lives.
Chantel activated the news on the holographic device built into her hard drive chip. Because her apartment had already been set up to receive wireless transmission through Pangaea she could receive direct streaming of Pangaea’s 24 hour entertainment service as a projection to her visual sensory receptors. These contained a special substance to link the projection to her hard drive so the image was viewable only by the user. No matter which way she turned, rolled or jumped as she scrambled her way through her physical exercises, she had unimpeded vision of the live news service projected directly in front of her retinas and a dedicated feed of the soundtrack into the communicator lodged in her ear.
The news for today contained nothing unusual. There was the regular cycle of cyclones hammering the -50+27 agricultural zone. Severe storms were a common occurrence these days and Chantel worried about how her parents were faring in the nearby location -54+29. She refrained from fretting too much about it, knowing that they had an underground bunker equipped especially for such situations. They could survive for another 100 years on the stock they had stashed in the bunker if they absolutely had to. She was concerned about the havoc the cyclones were causing on the crop production in the area though. The frequency of these cyclones and the problems they created for farmers was the very reason why her parents favoured produce that grew underneath the ground. They would still be damaged in the event of severe flooding, but at least they could not be blown away, so they thought.
After finishing her physical exercise, catching up on other current events in the media and winding down with a quick shower, Chantel continued her usual daily ritual of heating up her vending machine takeaway pack and settling down to watch the movie she had purchased that day. She activated the holographic download for Soul and proceeded to tune out for what she was expecting to be a completely brainless plot.
‘Pft, time travel movies,’ she muttered to herself. ‘As if we haven’t seen it all before.’
It was true. Time travel stories were the most recycled, regurgitated plot lines of any creative work. Writers loved to fascinate about what living in the past might have been like. There was little remaining evidence of how life once was for the humble population of Earth. All records of history had been stored on a gigantic server in what used to be known as Silicon Valley. Just under a hundred years ago a massive earthquake had struck that area destroying all records and data stored on the servers. Attempts were made at recovery of the data but most of the information had been irretrievably deleted from the face of the earth. It was after the ‘Great Mainframe Disaster of 2160’, as it became known, that all data centres were moved to Shanghai, being the city from which the global regime governed. History had but all been wiped out.
After the disaster data formats proliferated into those used currently by the global five. Any interoperability between programs, documents, intellectual property or anything stored in digital form, became impossible as, with the slate wiped clean, each of the global companies could start releasing information in their own distinct formats. All Chantel’s files on her hard drive were ‘.pga’ files for Pangaea and consequently, could not be transferred to another device. The question of interoperability soon became irrelevant in any case. With hard drives becoming devices that were mounted onto the head and hard wired into the brain, it was only possible for the registered user to access those files and any sort of file sharing was not only breaching the licence conditions, but also the law. Eventually, everyone became complacent with such a life and like the situation of the global regime and holding of government by the global five, people soon began to forget the time when it was ever any different.
As every file download was programmed to be operated only by the receiver, each person’s movie cinema, television and dance floor existed only in their own head. Gradually these institutions died out and the concept of watching a movie together was replaced by the reality of each person being isolated in their own entertainment. Families would sit together in the same space, each member connected to his or her own device, and spend hours enrapt in their own little world of personalised entertainment. There were no fights over the remote control for televisions nowadays, but consequently there was genuinely no need for interaction with any other human being as each person could remain enthralled in their own little world, courtesy of their own private chip and communicator.
Although Chantel had a handful of friends, she often found it hard to conjure the excuses to see them. Movie dates were obsolete. Concerts were no longer the norm. Eating out was an extravagant luxury that she could only afford every so often. With such an astronomical difference in price between fresh food and the pre-packaged take away boxes she could obtain from vending machines, she often found it hard to economically justify splurging money on food. So, like the several million other people that called Sydney Metropolis home, Chantel slipped into a routine of singularity and self-entertainment, which she believed was and always had been the norm.
There was definitely no shortage of movies available. Movies and other visual or virtual forms of entertainment were still being created en masse. Chantel skimmed through the previews programmed into the Soul viewing and settled down for what she assumed would be a totally uninspiring and unoriginal movie. She had long since ceased having high expectations for entertainment when she had pretty much seen it all before. ‘Nonetheless,’ she thought, ‘this should kill the few hours of the night left until it was time to retire to bed.’ She activated the soundtrack on her communicator and sat back.
Just at the time when the opening credits should have started appearing before her eyes, Chantel was alarmed by an almighty crackling sound blasting into her earpiece. The hologram of the viewing became warped into a jumbled display of numbers and letters flashing at random. Scrambled images started to appear. Chantel sat up alert. Never before had she received a corrupted Pangaea download. This certainly didn’t look like the movie Soul. She squinted her eyes as she tried to make out the content of the file glitch.
Through the fuzzy images coming through on the hologram, Chantel could just barely discern the dark shapes of rows of bodies pushing something; whatever this ‘something’ was it seemed to be astronomically large and unfathomable. It looked to Chantel like a massive spiral or coil, like nothing she had ever seen in her life. But it was the people doing the pushing that caught her attention. As glimpses of the images phased in and out of view, Chantel could perceive, for the briefest of moments, the individual bodies of human beings straining with the exertion of the intense manual labour they seemed to be doing. While the different images flickered in and out of focus, it seemed that there were tens if not hundreds of these people, all pushing something together.
Chantel widened her eyes. Given the poor quality of the hologram, it was difficult for her to make out if the people that seemed to be rotating in a giant circle were working in the dark or if, yes – they were actually dark. The skin of each and every person was the colour of the sea at night when there was no moon. The gritted teeth and eyes of each person shone like white foam tips cresting on the waves just before they broke to shore. The mass of all bodies pulsated like a giant tidal force, rising and falling as one. Chantel was captivated by the colour of their skin. All these people, the hundreds pushing around in a circle, the skin of all of them was pitch black.
“Purebloods,” Chantel mused. ‘Could it really be possible?”
She looked at the mottled colour of her own skin, a deep beige. She, like everyone else she knew, had a mixed genetic heritage. It would be impossible to categorise her ethnicity or indeed anyone’s ethnicity in this day and age. Like countries, ethnicity had become irrelevant. Purebloods, being any race that retained a consistent genetic heritage, had not been seen in modern day society for so long that people thought that they had ceased to exist.
Chantel had heard rumours of purebloods existing in faraway lands, hidden deep in the desert or on the wilderness of the South Pole. Having never left the south western quadrant’s main island though, Chantel’s knowledge of such things, as always, depended on hearsay. Certainly during her time in the metropolis and even when she was growing up in the agricultural zone, she never saw anyone with skin darker than a deep tan. She could not imagine how her community would react if it did encounter a dark skinned person. Would they be taken away for testing? Would they be shunned and ridiculed? Or would they be idolised and revered for retaining such a pure genetic heritage? Chantel found it hard to believe that people could be so different.
Chantel tried to look closer at the vision before her. These people, even with the colour of their skin being so completely foreign to her, they also had something else different about them. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but it was like they were not all there in spirit either. Chantel was reminded of comparable images she had seen of people working in the manufacturing zones. They also displayed a similar level of automation in their movements. However, there was a difference. The boredom displayed by people in the manufacturing zones was due to the monotony of the production lines. These people, on the other hand, were just drones. Chantel could see no spark of life in their faces. Each expression was as vacuous as the next. Their eyes all conveyed a fatigable weariness which seemed to suggest that the person behind them could not care less whether they were dead or alive. But each one of the human beings shown in the glitch was very much alive. Every person was slickened by the moisture of their own sweat, proving that they were not robots. Regardless, almost as a single organism, these people were mindlessly, tediously enduring this massive task, like they were zombies with no mind of their own.
Then, just as suddenly as the interruption in the movie had started, the images stopped. The hologram started showing the movie and the file contained no further traces of corruption. Chantel was puzzled. What did the images of the purebloods all mean? Why were so many of them labouring together? Why did they all look so lifeless? What on earth was that giant contraption? Chantel tried to take it all in. The existence of purebloods was a notion entirely unfathomable to her. Even if the footage on the glitch was genuine, where on earth could they be? Surely so many purebloods would not go unnoticed.
Chantel went to bed confused and excited. After all she had seen a pureblood. Not just one but hundreds of them. She wondered how she could go about verifying the content of the glitch. Who had taken such footage and how had it managed to corrupt her Soul download? For some reason she was not sceptical about the veracity of the footage. The only explanation for something so strange and peculiar had to be the truth. The content certainly did not look fabricated, although the thought did cross Chantel’s mind that the footage could have come off the set of a movie. However, movies involving such a sheer scale of people rarely required a large number of actors these days as such images could be computer generated. The people in the glitch did not look like computer animation. Chantel was not convinced this was a plausible explanation. Her innate intuition told her that there was a much more sinister story behind the glitch and her intuition also told her that the images were real. Whether it was in the present or past, Chantel knew she had to verify that purebloods were not just a myth.