The shuttle shook in the fierce surface wind from the north east but the pilot corrected the gyros and settled it smoothly on the hard surface of the crater. He meticulously followed the shut down check list for a Mars landing. All the systems lights remained green so he switched off the main thrusters and went to standby. He massaged his aching hands and took a deep breath and shook his head in annoyance as the warning buzzer on his bed room clock went off. He had five minutes before he needed to take the lev down to the main patio of his building.
Hyrum Lambourne Johnston a senior licensed pilot flew four days a week. He flew traffic drones for the Cal Traffic Division of United Terra Territories Directorate-North America. One of the two hobbies that kept him sane was inter planetary pilot simulations. After today he would be qualified for the moon, asteroids and Mars runs if an opening ever occurred.
In his heart he knew he had a better chance at growing a 100 meter tall dawn redwood in one of his balcony garbage can gardens. But he could always dream. Now he had to get down and spend the required hour in the sun.
He was required to spend four hours a week in the sun to meet his vitamin D quota for his individual UTTD physical fitness maintenance plan. He would use the hour seeing what he could trade for his fresh rosemary cuttings. He hoped old Annie the egg lady would be there, her eggs were so fresh and made wonderful souffles.
As a senior pilot he rated a two bedroom apartment above the 25th floor of the 50 floor residence tower. Four resident towers surrounded a two hectare patio and each resident was assigned four to five hours a week to be in the sun. This was all part of the Universal Productive Life Law which had been passed 50 years ago by the United Terra America Congress. Most citizens of the UTTD followed their individualized Good Life Plans. If you didn’t you eventually ended up in a Reeducation Center. After two stays in a Center you were considered beyond educational help and sent to the Denver Personality Modification Center. He had known a pilot who had ended up in Denver. He would never fly again but he didn’t care as he was now happy all the time.
He tucked four packages of fresh rosemary into his inner jacket pocket and caught the main lev to the ground floor. He walked through the commons past the 30 or so vid junkies immersed in a camel racing game on the the wall sized holo screen.
Players had individualized roles and spent most of their off school or work time living the simulated life of their character. If their game was interrupted you ran to the lev to escape the upset players and the neuro stun beams that the riot automatically triggered. He had once seen a stat that stated 21 percent of UTTD citizens were gamers who didn’t recognize their real name when someone spoke to them when they were role playing.
The crowd in the patio was shifting as the new assignees walked into the pale early spring sun. Those leaving formed lines headed back to their high rise apartments. Hy stuck out his left hand to pass it under code reading goose. The small window in the top of the reader confirmed his ID. He could still faintly remember getting the micro chip tattoo on the top of his left hand on his fourth birthday.
The ID chip and the under the arm medical chip established his rights and record keeping as an individual in the data files of the UTTD. He was 12 when it dawned on him that was also how the UTTD agencies kept track of his every movement and heart beat.
He began a brisk walk on the red lane and breathed deeply. He passed those walking the other direction in the blue lane and nodded slightly to those he recognized. About half way around he spotted Annie and held up four fingers indicating the rosemary packets. She held up three fingers and he began dreaming of what he could create with three eggs.
He continued walking for another 20 minutes and then headed for the east benches. He found Annie and they quickly traded three rosemary packets for three eggs. Then Annie passed him a book sized squishy package that he quickly hid in one of his inner jacket pockets. He gave her the other rosemary packet.
Annie had taught him how to put half of a plastic juice carton in the organic waste recycler after a week’s waste had been added. The cycler would reject the plastic and would tell him to remove everything and take out the plastic. When removed he could keep the organic waste and compost it to make soil in one of his garbage cans. The cycler had already recorded the load so he didn’t have to reload it. He could only use the strategy every five or six weeks to keep the monitoring computer from detecting a pattern. But over a five year period he had created enough soil for five garbage can garden containers. Annie’s chicken droppings provided additional valuable nutrients.
Subverting the rigid UTTD system in small ways was as close to rebellion that most citizens dared to try as the blue suited personality modified street sweepers testified to the efficiency of UTTD data gathering.
A small girl in a gray jump suit ran up to Annie and handed her a small foam box. Annie looked inside and smiled. She gave the girl a rosemary packet who smelled it with a smile of pleasure.
“Momma said I could sleep with it under my pillow if you had one. Its my favorite smell in the whole world.” She inhaled again and closed her eyes.
“Peggi, meet Hy. He grows rosemary, spearmint, oregano and the little yellow tomatoes you love so much.”
The little girl turned and looked up at Hy and smiled shyly. Hy has never seen so many freckles or such green eyes.
“Miss Peggi, I’ll save the best tomatoes just for you when they ripen next month.”
She bowed and then ran down the blue path. Hy watched her join a tall woman standing behind the low fence that separated those waiting for their patio time.
“Her momma works in a viral grow lab. She supplies me with surplus fertilized eggs to replace my layers when they get too old. Takes me four to five months to hatch a chick and grow it to be a layer.”
Hy had been to Annie’s apartment once when she had roasted one of her replaced layers. Each of her four guests had been requested to bring a week’s collection of organic waste. They had watched Annie mix it with sprouted grain and spread it on trays and then put it in the sun to dry. It was part of her system to keep three hens producing eggs year round.
He wondered if Annie had once lived on a farm like his grandparents but she, like everyone else, had revealed little about her past. It was safer to be as unknown as possible as the UTTD collected every scrap of information for their computer models. You were safe if you stayed in the center of a data model curve. If you drifted to either end of the curve the UTTD computers automatically increased surveillance and data gathering on your activities. If your behavior was deemed to be antisocial or disruptive, a behavior modification program would be added to your Personal Health Maintenance Program.
Hy had seen the mixed effects of these programs on people during his 31 years. The modification programs reminded him of invisible marionette strings that controlled every part of your life. UTTD data gathers had even installed a dream monitor in one of his colleague’s bedroom. Thus sports and weather were among the few topics freely discussed. He never wore his duty cap or flight wings outside of his work building. He doubted Annie knew his last name or that he was a pilot. She never asked any questions about his profession just about his plants. He knew the names of Annie’s chickens but little else about her.
He finished his hour in the sun and headed back to his high rise. He passed Peggi and her mom and nodded to them. Peggi smiled but her mom just looked straight ahead.
He thought, “We adults quickly smother our natural socializing instincts in fear of the UTTD I wonder how long before Peggi will act like her mom?”
As he rode the lev to his floor he realized he was passing through 25 floors of unknown humanity and how fear and petty deviations of the rules were the driving forces for most of them. He corrected that to us.
He cleaned up and soft boiled one of the eggs and smashed it on a plate and chopped some fresh rosemary and oregano to season it. On his small balcony he slowly ate the egg and drank a mug of fresh spearmint tea. He had the night shift so he could enjoy the afternoon sun. He put his feet up feeling relaxed and content.
Except for the lack of a female companion he had a good life. Flying traffic drones was not exciting but rarely boring and it required mental concentration and quick reflexes. He was always in the top fourth of the pilot reports and had kept his private behavior profile in the center of the curve. His hobbies were acceptable and he didn’t have to take any psych drugs. He had no genotype restrictions and was eligible to apply to have a child. He had a nice apartment and this fall could take a two week vacation, as he hadn’t taken one for three years.
So why was he restless? Maybe he needed to make an appointment with a robo shrink. They would listen and never judge you as you could program their responses. Or maybe he should sign up for one of those random dating clubs that paired you up during your vacation and you didn’t even have to use your name. He laughed, what he really wanted was a human friend with whom he could talk, a friend he could trust with his inner thoughts.
His timer chimed, it was time to get ready for his work shift. He only needed ten minutes to reach the UTTD West Cal Traffic building as it was just two blocks east of his apartment tower.