This story started after a binge-listen of Isaac Arthur’s Science & Futurism videos. With Post-Scar City, it’s one of those I-might-continue sorts of things.
The coffee shop was Teri’s favorite part of the arcology, and that was saying something.
It had a prime location, by some ways of looking at things – it overlooked one of the farm quadrants, so it had sunlight for most of the day through its broad windows. Looking that way, you could almost forget you were hundreds of feet above ground. You could almost forget that out the front door was a hallway and a slidewalk that would take you where you wanted to go, instead of a road.
That wasn’t really why Teri liked it, nor that the barista who worked there most weekdays had stunningly blue eyes and a generous smile, nor the adorable foam art that always seemed inspired by something “outside” in the fields.
There was this corner table that looked out over the field but was half-hidden by the cream-and-sugar station, and, sitting there, Teri could decide how much people was a good amount for the day. And, sitting there, tablet and stylus and coffee and scone, Teri could spend hours floating, drawing whatever came to mind, and go back to Residential Ring Three with something done that sparked that amazing feeling of I did something good today.
The bright smile and the way the blue-eyed barista would sometimes wink helped, too.
And that was great.
The problem, currently, wasn’t in the coffee shop. It was in the field outside the windows.
The machines that planted and harvested the interior fields did so, as far as Teri knew, on programs that were based on the carefully-designed “weather” and the growth cycle of the plants there. This cycle, there was wheat growing there, which had just been cut down yesterday and was drying in the artificial and piped-in sunlight.
Except that the machine seemed to have skipped certain sections, so that there were little mohawks of grain sticking up. They seemed like they were making a pattern, but, looking out the window, Teri couldn’t determine what the pattern might possibly be.
The product of an over-active imagination, probably. The barista didn’t seem remotely bothered. Of course, the barista wasn’t the normal blue-eyed one today but someone lanky and laconic with an e-reader stashed behind the counter. It seemed like a strange posting for someone who didn’t want to talk to people, but maybe they were, like Teri, Underequipped and saving up for something or other.
Teri tried to forget about the patterns in the unharvested wheat, sketching out a concept, instead, for a dragon who’d made their lair in one of the proto-arcologies. Those three hadn’t done so well, and as far as Teri knew, at least one of them was standing empty — but they’d been the basis of the place Teri and four thousand-plus other people lived now, so they had been, perhaps, worth it?
(The empty one had been built without enough time spent surveying, an immensely expensive mistake that the parent company was still attempting to recoup in one way or another. The other two had been made insufficiently actually arcology, so they had been giant apartment-buildings-and-shopping-centers with no places for people to work. It ruined the whole zero car-miles sort of concept when you still had to leave to do anything other than service or retail jobs.)
They were lovely, in a way that had slightly been neglected in Teri’s arcology before being picked up again for the later ones. And lovely made for great art, Teri had to admit.
An hour later — and a decaf coffee, because more than one of the great mocha lattes done high-test and Teri’s hands started to shake too much to draw — and a scone, because good food was an important part of life — Teri had put aside the arcology sketch three times to sketch the patterns in the wheat and doodle out some possible options. The one that Teri’s hands kept coming back to, over and over, was a row of animals standing in patterns, which the harvesting machines would obviously work around, dancing in little circles because they had been programmed to harm no animal or person.
But this far up in the arcology, where would the animals come from? They’d have to be small animals – nothing bigger than a rabbit – or very very very skinny people. Mongooses, maybe? Were there even mongooses in the arcology? There were a couple habitat levels, but…
Well, the truth was, there was a lot of the arcology Teri hadn’t explored yet, which was foolish, considering how many drawing subjects there might be around. Teri turned back to the drawing of the dragon, brow furrowed and lips pursed.
“If you don’t like it,” the taciturn barista offered, sliding Teri another small scone, “Maybe you need to look at it from another direction? Turn it upside down for a bit. Or just turn the dragon upside down.”
“Look at it from another direction…” Teri packed up hurriedly. “That’s it! Thank you!” Leaving a generous tip on the table, Teri hurried off.
There were actually forbidden areas on the arcology, places where you needed the right certifications and permissions to enter.
The farmland wasn’t, technically, that sort of area. The doors were out of the way and, when the machines were running, there were large warning lights that told people not to enter without precautions.
But when the machines weren’t running, then the doors were just, well, doors.
Still, Teri moved in cautiously. There was no call to be reckless, and if the wheat was delicate, Teri didn’t want to be the one to throw off the arcology’s food supplies for the season.
There were, Teri could see, actual paths some 250 meters apart, very narrow but wide enough for a person to walk on. Teri took the one that seemed closest to the coffee shop, although, with the false sunlight above, the fish-eye lens windows here and there, and the curve of the arcology, it wasn’t always easy to navigate.
The first path led Teri to the back of what appeared to be a fabric store. Teri backed up before anyone in the store seemed to notice that the wheat field had a denizen.
The second path was the right one. Teri noticed the back of the barista’s head. And, a couple dozen meters from the window to the coffee shop, there was the uncut wheat.
From here, it didn’t really look like anything. Just stalks of wheat sticking up where there perhaps shouldn’t have been. Teri walked up and down along the stalks, trying to see if there was something different about them.
Nothing. Teri, admittedly, didn’t have a lot of experience with farming. There’d been two units in school, of course, but that was enough to let Teri identify that the plant here was probably wheat.
Teri glanced up just in time to see someone in the restaurant next to the cafe staring through the window.
Technically, of course, there was nothing wrong with being here.
Teri decided that, perhaps, it might still be time to leave.