Inspirational Speculative Science Fiction

In the year 2042, it was thought that Big Brother finally had gotten it right. Once everyone had calmed down after the pandemic was under control, it was noted that the world was too crowded and extremely busy. So scientists and programmers worked together to make a system that would predict people’s behavior and then organize society so only certain people would be out in public at the same time. 

The best part was that the scientists and programmers designed this system so people would believe that all of the choices they made were their own with no help.

“Sienna, why are running around so much,” Julie said as she watched her roommate dart around the apartment.

“I’m running late for work,” Sienna said, “my phone is missing.”

A pleasant ping came from the apartment AI and then said, “Green Line trolley is showing a twenty minute delay.”

“See, I guess you’re not the only one running late,” Julie said.

“Great but that doesn’t help me find my phone,” Sienna was getting annoyed and then her phone made a friendly, “I’m here” flashing courtesy of the apartment AI. 

“On the counter as always,” Julie said.

“I didn’t see it there before,” Sienna said. 

Sienna did not know that her phone, like everyone’s phones that decade, was a marvel of technology because no one shared with her its ability to blend in with its surroundings. It was part of the delicate system that only the programmers who designed it knew about. There was too much congestion in Downtown San Diego at 7 a.m. The best way to alleviate such a problem was to delay the Green Line trolley and delay all of the commuters who were predicted to travel to San Diego by 8 a.m. Sienna thought she had just lost her phone. She did not know there was an orchestrated plan to delay her and everyone else traveling at the same time. 

“What does your day look like today?” Sienna asked.

“I agreed to try the late arrival program at work to help with the Distancing Cause. With our schedules split, you and I will have some alone time when we need it. Hopefully, it will help with the streets, stores, and restaurants not being so crowded all of the time too,” Julie said.

“Well, I hope it doesn’t wear you down,” Sienna said, “sometimes I feel like this fancy scheduling is exhausting.”

“Nah, I could use a little change and if things are less crowded when I’m out, then I’ll be thrilled,” Julie said.

“Yeah. I was thinking of checking out the new Pho restaurant near Balboa Park for lunch today. I hope it’s not too crowded,” Sienna said.

The apartment AI chimed in, “Sienna, your fitness status from this week is thirty minutes lower than last week.”

“Or maybe I’ll go for a walk during my lunch time instead,” Sienna commented.

Sienna sat down on the couch across from Julie and stared at their apartment. She appreciated how organized and updated it was but it seemed so cold to her lately too. All of their appliances were computerized and connected to the world. The television was a sleak, daily planner and news outlet. Even the windows opened and closed with a voice command given to the apartment AI. It was innovative but did she want to be in constant communication with a bunch of gadgets every hour of the day?

Sienna sighed, "Ugh, I don't know Julie, I feel like I'm getting tired. Maybe I need to take some time off.”

The apartment AI sent an advertisement to the living room screen which caught Sienna and Julie's attention. "Ah, your favorite shoe store is having a sale today," Julie pointed out.

"Hmm, I was thinking about getting a pair of hiking boots, but probably not today," Sienna said.

Another advertisement came across the screen showing a sale on binoculars.

"Binoculars? That's random," Julie said.

"Nah, I was looking at outdoor gear last night. I just feel like I want to be close to nature lately," Sienna was daydreaming of the idea of just wandering at a quiet campsite or walking and picnicking at Balboa Park and being immersed in greenery and animals. She sat there, ready to forget about her day and just reset herself.

Sienna's fitness tracker on her arm buzzed with the words "time to get moving" cheerfully scrolling along her wrist. 

She ignored it and sat there looking through the window. She saw a seagull fly by. “I bet you have a great day planned little guy. Enjoying the ocean breeze and feeling the cool sand squish under you.” That would be a nice place to go too and it wouldn't be a long trip. She could spend the day there. She lives so close to the beach. Why is she never there?

The apartment AI chimed in again, "The Green Line trolley is set to arrive at your nearest station in ten minutes."

Sienna kicked her legs up like a toddler about to have a tantrum. Julie chuckled, “Do you ever feel like these AI devices are just computerized moms nagging us to do what they want? Like we never completely get to do what we want?”

Sienna shrugged, “I thought they were designed to help us be the best we could possibly be which I think is a good goal. I feel like it’s gotten noisier lately.”

“Noisier because you don’t want to listen to them anymore?” Julie suggested.

“Maybe,” Sienna tried to snap herself back to be productive, “I just need to kick myself out the door and get my day started.”

"Hmm, you could probably make it and be in time for work," Julie said, "That is if you are not planning on taking a mental health day today."

"I guess I should schedule a mental health day," Sienna said, "I'll get going."

When Sienna stood up, her fitness tracker buzzed again and the words "you're making a difference" scrolled along her wrist. She chuckled as she said, "Yeah right," to the tracker.

During the trolley ride to work, Sienna tried to take in as much of nature as possible through the window to help quell the desire to just take the day off. Seeing blurs of trees and birds did not feel satisfying. The trolley stopped at the 12th Street station and Sienna saw a hawk land on a lamppost. Sienna got excited, "Wow, they get this close to the city," she thought. The trolley completed taking on passengers and took off again. Sienna got angry at it, like it was purposely ruining her moment with the hawk. "This is not making it easier to go to work," she thought.

Her stop was the next one at the Gaslamp Quarter station where she exited and prepared for her trek to work amongst huge sleek buildings, dull, dark concrete sidewalks, and obnoxious loud traffic. As she began this walk, a burst of color caught her eye. A delicate, wisp of orange and black flew directly to her nose and blocked out the city for a moment. It backed away a bit as if to say, “Oh pardon me, my mistake,” and then began to take off into the crowd. Slightly further away, Sienna was able to see clearly that she had a run in with a butterfly.

Work was in one direction and the butterfly was fluttering in the opposite direction. "This is obviously a sign that my need to see nature must be satisfied," Sienna giggled to herself, "I must follow the butterfly. It's divine intervention."

Sienna walked twenty feet in the opposite direction of her job when her fitness tracker buzzed and the time of 7:50 scrolled across her wrist. She ignored it and continued in pursuit of the butterfly. 

She ran twenty more feet after the butterfly and her phone went off with the jingle for an advertisement for the company she worked for, Hansen Medical Supplies. Sienna didn't even check it. She continued with laser precise focus on the butterfly. 

Sienna was headed towards the fountains in front of the Convention Center, turned the corner and froze.

She immediately gasped, stood wide-eyed, and tried to take everything in.

"Wow," she said to no one.

"I know," a man standing near her agreed. He looked like he had been there awhile. His jacket was on the ground and his phone was out. He was taking pictures.

"There's got to be hundreds of them," Sienna spoke in a hushed tone usually reserved for showing respect in a library or in a house of worship.

"It's the migration of the monarch butterfly. It happens in San Diego around this time of year.

"I've lived here my whole life. How come I never noticed?" Sienna asked.

"It's a lovely city but most people are usually too busy to appreciate its beauty. I imagine that's the way it is in most cities," he said.

Sienna’s fitness tracker buzzed. She did not bother to look down. She shook it off. Her phone went off with another jingle from her work. She grunted at it, “Leave me alone.”

“Hansen Medical Supplies?” the man asked.

“Yeah, it feels like my job is bugging me to get to work except my boss didn’t call me. I just keep getting these ads for them this morning.”

"I work for them and I've been getting those ads this morning too. I should have been at work at 7:30 this morning," his phone started to play the jingle, "Ah, there's another one of them now."

"It's not just me," Sienna felt vindicated.

"Nope, and it's not just Hansen Medical Supplies. Watch the crowd carefully," he gestured to the crowd with a nod, "I've been here about an hour and I noticed it just before you got here."

Sienna scanned the crowd. Some people were just walking by but others were like her and her new friend, mesmerized by the monarch migration. Periodically, a person here and there would look down at their phones annoyed. Sienna could hear some of the closer people. An ad for Pet Emporium, a jingle for T-Mart, an announcement for a sale at Global Sporting Goods, and more were going off and irritating the crowd.

"This is crazy," Sienna’s attention jumped from person to person, "What's happening?"

"I think you're right. Our jobs found a new way to call us...control us. Maybe all of our helpful devices were not designed to just be helpful," the man looked at Sienna and shrugged. His gesture showed that he was just contemplating the thought, not trying to alarm her.

"My roommate has similar ideas. I think she is reorganizing her schedule to try and get away from being controlled," Sienna said.

"It's worth a try."

"What do we do now?" Sienna looked at her fitness tracker and phone concerned.

"Well, first you need to take a few pictures. You'll want to remember this day," he said.

Sienna laughed and aimed her phone at the crowd. When she focused on the entire street, she saw a wave of orange and black brushing by people. As she honed in, she saw a toddler stretching, trying to get as close as possible to the butterflies. 

There was a woman smiling. She kicked off her heels and was swaying her arm around as she spun slowly as if she was dancing with the tiny visitors. 

Sienna turned her gaze to the fountain that had attracted plenty of orange and black travelers. Expert flyers, they never got too close to the sprays of water. The photos Sienna captured stopped time and she could see the details of wings in front of clear droplets.

She was happy to see the butterflies, but she had no idea how exquisite the tiny details could be until she paid attention to them.

"Now what?" Sienna asked.

He smiled, held up his phone and began to power it down, "Now we turn off our phones and ignore our fitness trackers. Enough of obsessing about work and making employers happy. Today is for taking in beauty. Today is for waking up."

December 19, 2020 03:05

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