Clo sat at the end of the table nearest the window and looked out. It was her dinner break and she had fifteen minutes to look at the outside world for the last time. By breakfast the window would be gone. She could see the maintenance robots outside, working along the perimeter of the window.
The window framed a view of a black, mucky inlet of the Pacific Ocean. Jagged walls poked up through the muck, the remains of a city called Santa Barbara which had been abandoned long before Clo was born. She had seen pics of the city before it was drowned in Pacific sludge. It had been, she thought, a very pretty city.
Now they had decided to cover the window - the last window for hundreds of miles. She would have to go to the far east side of Home to find another window, and who had time for that? You could only go so far on a fifteen-minute break. And for all she knew they were closing up all the remaining windows everywhere.
She looked down and poked at the contents of her dinner bowl with the spork.
“What’s wrong?” asked Rik, one of her cubemates. Rik was sitting on the bench next to her at the table, hurriedly shoveling the contents of his bowl into his mouth. Clo didn’t want to have to explain. She didn’t want to get Rik started. She scooped up a sporkful of dinner and replied, “Nothing.”
“It’s the window, isn’t it. You’re upset because they’re closing it up.”
“I’m not upset.”
“You always sit here next to the window and spend your break looking out. Waste of time. Complete waste of time. You only get three breaks a day. You should use that time for something useful. Watch a vid or something.”
Clo pulled out her vidopad and waved it at Rik. “I always watch vids on break.”
“You know what I mean. Something educational. Something that will make you more productive. Not that nostalgia stuff. You’re always looking at old pics of the wild. Looking out this window or watching old vids of the wild. What’s the point? Nothing useful in thinking about it. Complete waste of time.”
“I just enjoy thinking about it sometimes. It must have been nice when people could live in the wild. Don’t you ever wonder what it was like to breathe wild air?”
“What’s wrong with the air here at Home?”
“Nothing. I just think it would be great to breath… you know…wild air. Back when it was breathable, of course.”
“Wild air wasn’t filtered and sterilized. You never knew what might be in it. You never knew what you were going to smell. Have you ever smelled something that smelled really bad? I bet people had to smell things like that all the time before they left the wild and came Home. The air at Home is clean and pure. It never smells bad.”
“I know. I just wonder what it was like to be free in the wild. To be able to walk around anywhere in any direction, with nothing above you but a pretty blue sky. To walk around and look at all the different buildings and the trees and people going in and out of the buildings… If they didn’t want to smell bad things, they could go inside, but they could also go outside and look at all kinds of pretty things. Look at this, Rik.” Clo pushed a button on her vidopad and held it up for her cubemate to see.
Rik glanced at the image on the pad and said around a mouthful of food, “Trees.”
“But look how pretty they are! And how big they are! Look how small those people are next to them! These are redwood trees. Have you ever seen anything like them?”
“Of course. We have trees at Home. In the parkrooms.”
“Yes, but not trees like these! These trees are so big they would go right through the ceiling if you tried to grow them here at Home!” Clo set the pad down on the table. “Have you ever actually been in a parkroom, Rik?”
“No. Of course not. Waste of time.”
“I’ve been to the one down at the end of Milpas Corridor. Sometimes I used to grab my lunch bowl and run down there and have a picnic among the trees. But all the trees there are really small and not very pretty. I don’t even think they’re real trees. Trees had roots that would stick down into the ground, but these trees were on plastic stands and you could move them around on the floor of the parkroom. I finally decided that I preferred to eat here next to the window rather than in the parkroom with a bunch of fake trees.”
“Why would someone want to eat with trees, anyway?”
“Because the trees were so pretty! Look at these people,” Clo tapped the pad, “I’ll bet when they got finished looking up at those pretty trees they sat down right there and had a picnic!” Clo sighed happily at the thought and gazed back out the window.
Rik stared at her for a long moment, his spork suspended in mid-air, halfway to his mouth. Then he dropped the spork in his bowl and threw one leg over the back of the bench so that he was straddling it and facing Clo. He crossed his arms over his chest.
“You know what the problem is with people like you?”
Clo turned away from the window and looked down at her dinner, “What’s the problem with people like me?”
“You romanticize the past.”
“Yeah. You think that living in the wild was just standing around looking at all the pretty trees. Well, let me tell you, life was hard in those days. Those people lived without the benefits of modern society. People like you don’t appreciate what that means because you take for granted all the advantages of modern life. ”
Clo stared down at her bowl, “I know life was harder back then than it is now. I just think it was probably worth it because everything was so… pretty.”
“Pretty? Well, let me tell you, I don’t think anybody back then had any time to stand around thinking about how pretty it was. Those people lived in the wild. I know a thing or two about the wild myself, you know. Just because I don’t waste a bunch of time on it like you do and talk about it all the time like you doesn’t mean I don’t know a thing or two. Have you ever seen a pic of a rhinoceros?”
“Big sucker. Big sucker with big teeth and big claws.”
“And a big horn.”
“And a big horn! How would you like to be walking around in the wild looking at all the pretty trees and run into one of those suckers?”
“That would be bad.”
“Yes, it would. Because that rhinoceros is going to eat you. That’s why he had the big horn, so he could stab you with it and kill you and then rip you up with his claws and eat you. Because that’s what wild animals did, they ate people. Living in the wild, you had to be on the lookout for wild animals, and if you saw a wild animal you had to run to get away from it or shoot it with a gun and kill it before it ate everybody. It was no picnic.”
“Know what a grabhopper is?”
“An insect. Know what an insect is?”
“Insects flying around all over the place. And some of those insects had teeth and would bite you, or they had stingers with poison on them and they would sting you and you would die.”
“Some of them were very pretty. Have you seen pics of butterflies?”
“Oh yeah, butterflies were real pretty. They evolved that way so that you would stand there like an idiot looking at how pretty they were while they flew in close enough to sting you to death. And this grabhopper I was talking about: It would grab you with these big, green scissor-claws and have sex with you and deposit its eggs inside you and then, as soon as it was done, it would bite off your head and eat you.”
“Hm…Was it a big insect?”
“The grabhopper? Yes, it was one of the larger insects. People usually think of insects as small but, in fact, some of them could be quite large.”
“And what about rain? And snow?”
“Snow was pretty!”
“Snow was pretty? Snow was cold! Ice cold! And if you were covered in snow you would freeze to death. And you never knew when you would be covered with snow because it would just fall out of the sky. Rain too. Think about rain. You would be walking along and suddenly water would just start falling out of the sky! Water just pouring out of the sky on top of you! And you never knew when it was going to stop. Sometimes it didn’t stop and people would drown. Think about that!”
Clo tried to look like she was thinking about that.
“And remember, this was before they cured sleep. So people could go unconscious at any time. With all those dangers all around them! They would be walking down a street and suddenly they would just fall down unconscious. Then they’d wake up two hours later and they would be soaking wet and some rhinoceros would be chewing on their leg and some grabhopper would be trying to have sex with them!”
“And everybody was poor because everybody had sleep. Having sleep meant you couldn’t work more than 18 or 19 hours a day, because you would fall down unconscious every day for a few hours. So nobody could work enough to support themselves. Everybody was hungry and the animals were hungry too. It was no picnic.”
Rik turned and scowled at the window, “No, let me tell you, it was no picnic. No standing around looking at pretty trees, no sir.”
The buzzer sounded to alert them that they had one minute to return to work. Dinner was over. Rik grabbed his bowl and stood up. He took one last look at Clo to make sure his talk had done some good and then turned and headed back to their cube, stopping on his way to toss his bowl and spork into the outchute. Clo picked up her unfinished bowl, took one last look at the wild, and turned to follow Rik.