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Tomorrow Once More

Dennis Butler

Copyright 2012 by Dennis Butler

Smashwords Edition

 

Copyright © 2012 Dennis Butler

All Rights Reserved

 

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database for retrieval, without the prior written permission of the author. Short passages may be quoted or used in reviews without permission.

 

This book is a work of fiction. The story in this book, all the characters and all the places are either derived from the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real people living or dead or incidents or events is entirely coincidental.


Smashwords Author Page for Dennis J. Butler:

 

https://www.smashwords.com/interview/kwadzana


 

Table of Contents

 

Part I: Brutal Earth

Preface

Chapter 1: The Capsule

Chapter 2: Welcome to the Kobe-Striploin Corporation

Chapter 3: The Farm

Chapter 4: The Hole

Chapter 5: Love Can Blossom Anywhere

Chapter 6: A Decision is Made

Chapter 7: The Stadium

Chapter 8: A New Friend in a New World

Chapter 9: The Good Life at Kobe-Striploin Springs

Chapter 10: A Friend and Messenger

Chapter 11: A Plan Comes Together

Chapter 12: Escape – 09/16/3854

Chapter 13: Voyage to the Unknown

Part II: New Earth

Chapter 14: A Dark Journey

Chapter 15: Our Strange New World

Chapter 16: Attack in the Night

Chapter 17: An Announcement

Chapter 18: Our New Home

Chapter 19: Connie

Chapter 20: A New Zoic Period?

Chapter 21: The Hunted Becomes the Hunter

Chapter 22: From the Desert to the Coast

Chapter 23: Heartache

Chapter 24: Mountains and Giant Trees

Chapter 25: Home

Chapter 26: The Cycle of Life

Epilogue

Author Notes

 

Part I: Brutal Earth

 

The truth is like throwing a handful of change in the air.

 You never know where it will land.

The truth is lighter than lies.

It always floats to the top.




Part I is dedicated to the Occupy Wall Street movement

 

 

 

 

 

Preface

 

The Research Institute at Turtle Lake, North Dakota had spent sixteen years developing the Light Speed Vacuum Capsule (LSVC). The entire project which consisted of three parts, spanned more than 30 years. The concept for time travel was based loosely on the theory that if you traveled near the speed of light with zero gravity and zero nearby mass, the passing of time inside the capsule would slow down dramatically while the world outside the capsule would continue to move forward in time at what is perceived to be the normal pace. Even though the project naming convention was based on traveling at the speed of light, the LSVC wasn’t capable of traveling anywhere near that fast. However, it was capable of traveling at much greater speeds than anyone had hoped for.

Years of testing had been performed and computerized monitoring results had been analyzed and re-analyzed. The next phase after the simulated computerized tests used a variety of insects and plants. The plants and insects all endured the tunnel experience without any adverse side effects. The experiments produced the expected results.

Once the insect and plant tests were completed and the results documented, scientists moved on to larger animals. Testing with rodents proved successful. However, it was impossible to do a real test without a human. A monkey or other animal couldn’t be trained to perform the very limited tasks needed to maintain the capsule interior, but more importantly, a monkey would not be capable of learning how to exit the capsule. Also, the only real test would involve a test subject’s reaction to the world when they exited the capsule after moving forward in time. A rodent or monkey couldn’t tell the scientists that their hair had turned gray during the short time period they were in the capsule. There was only one way to really determine if the project was a success. A human would need to pilot the capsule.

The test to determine if the first attempt at human time travel was successful was so simple it was frightening.  In fact, there really would be no test. Success or failure would be determined by simply opening the capsule. If the project was successful, the pilot would be gone; somewhere in future Earth.

Scientist and test pilot Lane Mason was the first human subject to be selected for the project. The list of volunteers for the project originally consisted of over two hundred applicants. The screening process took two years and Lane was finally chosen for several reasons. First of all, he was in perfect health and in the right age range. Lane was 22 years old, he had no children and he was single, but more importantly, his vital signs were consistently perfect even when subjected to long periods of isolation. When asked how he maintained his calm sanity when in isolation, Lane explained that he had a vivid imagination and could retreat into himself. “Mostly, I just think about women,” Lane usually told everyone. The other scientists knew there was more to it than that. Lane was a perpetual jokester.

Lane wasn’t especially handsome or very tall but women usually liked him. When his friends asked him how he managed to get so many dates, he usually responded, “I just trick them into thinking I’m smart. I memorize a lot of big words. Women like smart men.” Of course there was more to it than that, but Lane never seemed to take himself too seriously.

Lane spent three years training and preparing for the project. Most of the training was of a psychological nature. He would need to be prepared for extreme isolation. It would be similar to being in solitary confinement, only this confinement would last for ten years. Lane entered the capsule on May 1, 2235 and the capsule launched six days later.

There were three main components to the program; the tunnel, the capsule and the light beam. It’s hard to say which of the components were more difficult to develop. The tunnel was itself an engineering masterpiece. It was constructed just over ten thousand feet beneath the Earth’s surface. Construction began in 2203 and was completed in 2234, taking almost 32 years to complete. Funding for the program ebbed and swelled but the project always managed to continue. The tunnel was built in a perfect circle which had a circumference of 475 miles. Physicists had developed a process that could create a vacuum and zero gravity inside the tunnel.

It wasn’t so much the light beam that was engineered to speed through the tunnel that was the real miracle, although that was a scientific wonder in itself. It was the physicist from Japan who was the real genius. Kazuki Nakamura was so far ahead of the main stream of physicists, it seemed he had himself come from the future.  It was Nakamura who figured out how to encase the capsule within the light beam. This was the basis and justification of the entire project.

Communication between the control room and the capsule began to deteriorate after the first two weeks of the launch. Communication at that time was intermittent and it was difficult to understand what the capsule pilot was saying. By the end of the third week, all communication was impossible. This was further proof that the pilot was living in a different time period.

Aside from occasional testing, no one at the Turtle Lake Research Institute had ever heard an extended broadcast of the capsule alarm. At the time of the alarm, the research team still had over two years before they were scheduled to open the capsule to verify that the first attempt at human time travel was successful. The alarm signaled one of two emergencies; either the life support systems were malfunctioning or the capsule speed had been reduced. The first thing the LSVC team did was check the main control console. It would be impossible to change the capsule speed by mistake since there was a multi-step process to make any changes to the capsule navigation.

Dr. Leonard Samuelson entered the LSVC control room to find a silent, stunned group of engineers hovering around the main console screen.

“What is it?” Dr. Samuelson asked.

“It appears that Lane is preparing to exit the capsule,” Chief Engineer Grennell stated. “The capsule just came to a complete stop.”

“If so, he is more than two years early. I can only assume he is or was having a psychological crisis due to the isolation,” Dr. Samuelson said.

“It appears it is time to head down to the capsule,” Dr. Samuelson said. “Please release the tunnel seals so we can breathe down there.”

“The seals have already been released,” Chief Engineer Grennell said. “Lane must have exited the capsule already. He would have released the seals so he could breathe before exiting the capsule.”

“Oh yes, that’s true,” Dr. Samuelson said. “We will now know if the project was a success or a failure, within the next fifteen minutes. I will go down with Dr. Wells and Assistant Engineer Oshiro. I’ll radio back to you here at the console to confirm that the hatch has been opened.”

 Dr. Samuelson, Dr. Wells and Assistant Engineer Oshiro hurried to the elevator. “This is hard to believe,” Dr. Samuelson said. “I woke up this morning, just like any other morning and now the primary purpose for my life; this project, will be proven to be a success or failure within a few minutes. We will all be seen as geniuses or fools. Our own judgment day is upon us.”

As soon as Dr. Samuelson could fit through the opening in the elevator door, he began running toward the capsule, which was about 500 yards down the tunnel. “It’s stopped; there’s no light,” Dr. Samuelson yelled as he ran down the walkway on the near side of the tunnel. There were walkways on both sides of the tunnel and light fixtures about every twenty feet so that the maintenance crew could navigate the tunnel.

Dr. Samuelson reached the capsule a few seconds before the others. “The hatch has been opened.” When Oshiro and Wells reached the capsule, Samuelson was standing just inside the hatch. He looked pale and appeared to be about to faint when Oshiro grabbed his arm and stopped him from falling.

“Lane is gone,” Samuelson yelled. “This proves that the project was a success.”

Samuelson, Oshiro and Wells all seemed to be in a state of shock as they looked around the capsule. Oshiro started to speak but his garbled words made no sense. He cleared his throat and his thoughts and tried again. “Although this is what we expected, I still can’t believe it is true. I can’t seem to get my mind around all the big questions. Where is Lane now? What is he doing? Is he alive in a future world? What is that world like?”

“Although it appears the project was successful, we have nothing really to show for it,” Samuelson said. “People will want to know if Lane is coming back. They will want to know what the future will be like. Of course we here know that Lane is not coming back; backward time travel is still impossible.”

“All we can tell them is that Lane is somewhere in the future. We can easily calculate what year he is living in, or should I say, ‘will be living in,’ but that’s it,” Wells said.

“Perhaps backward time travel is possible in Lane’s new world,” Oshiro said. “Wasn’t that part of the premise and justification of this project?”

“Yes, but you and I both know what the odds of that are,” Samuelson said. “Our version of time travel is a one-way ticket.”

 

 

Chapter 1: The Capsule

 

“I can’t take it anymore! Seven and a half years in here. I’m not spending another two and a half years in this tin can!” I had become completely comfortable talking to myself. I had spent almost eight years in a capsule that was about the same size as the apartment I had in my first year of college; about 600 square feet. It wasn’t so much that I was lonely and beginning to experience claustrophobic hallucinations; it was the question that haunted me whenever I was awake: Was the project a success or did I waste the best years of my life. It was May of 2242 and I was finished. According to the project analysis, if I exited the capsule in 05/15/2242, it would be between 3640 and 3900; a millennium and a half, into the future. It was really the curiosity that was killing me. I guess that’s why I became a scientist.

I decided once and for all that I would begin the exit process the following day. The next day I awoke from another restless night. The sleep medication had lost all its power and I never slept more than a couple of hours at a time. I had been in the capsule for so long that I had to re-read the exit procedures which I had not looked at in years. The process began with the gradual reduction of speed. It took three days to slowly reduce the speed down to what would have been the speed of a small air-transport in the year 2235. The capsule finally came to a full stop on the fifth day. After the capsule came to a full stop, I proceeded with the process that would release the tunnel seals and circulate air back into the tunnel.

I thought to myself as I prepared to exit the capsule, no human should have to experience an anxiety like this. I had no idea what I would find when I finally did exit the capsule. I knew the tunnel had not been damaged because the capsule still sailed along smoothly inside the light beam.

“What do I do if the human race has become extinct?” I mumbled to myself. “Suppose a solar flare or other natural disaster has destroyed the surface above the tunnel?”

As I was trying to control my breathing, I had another horrible thought. “What if the ground-to-surface lift was damaged? How would I make it to the surface?” The life support system in the capsule had worked flawlessly over the years. I told myself that the same geniuses that developed the life support system had also developed the lift. They would have taken every precaution to make sure when I exited the capsule, the lift would be waiting to take me to the surface. According to the navigation system which also worked flawlessly, the capsule had stopped within 200 yards of the lift, so that was another good sign.

I had been thinking for a while that I would try and get some rest before I began my exit but when I laid down on my cot, I was too excited to even close my eyes. I rolled off the cot and dug out the backpack which had been at the bottom of the storage closet and began packing all the essentials. I suddenly got another knot in my stomach. My mind was racing. I was thinking that whatever money I had in my bank account would be meaningless. The bank had probably disappeared years ago. My thumbprint would be useless. I would have no contacts and no money. I would immediately become a homeless person. I wondered if there were still homeless people. I had always hoped that mankind would evolve to a higher standard, but in my heart I doubted it.

I referred to the capsule specifications while going through the process of opening the hatch. I decided I would keep the life support system running and open the hatch. I immediately realized I hadn’t packed the most important thing. I went back to the kitchen area and put three hydro-lights in my pack and held one in my hand. I went back to the exit hatch and shined the light into the tunnel. I could remember the tunnel lighting, just like it was yesterday. There were soft yellow lights about every fifteen feet on both sides of the tunnel. They were gone. The tunnel was pitch-black.  

I stepped from the capsule hatch to the tunnel walkway while shining the hydro-light a few feet in front of me. It was not only pitch-black; it was soundless. I was actually hoping to see or hear a rodent scurrying around. It would at least be a form of contact with another living thing. I was thinking that perhaps I should have brought a house cat along with me on the journey to “who-knows-where.” I could have done it but at the time of the launch, I had no idea how complete isolation would really affect a human. It was a fate worse than death itself. The only thing that kept me from ending it all was the hope of once again connecting with another human. I missed people. I even missed all the assholes I had encountered throughout my life. But most of all, I missed women. I wondered if I would ever again kiss a woman.  

My heart began to sink as I approached the lift area. I remembered that there was blue and red lighting around the lift and small white lights running up the side of the lift tunnel. The lift was set to the side of the tunnel and reminded me of some of the old city subway tunnels. The lift area had reminded me of a subway platform I had seen in history books. I reached the platform and spent a few hours slowly walking every inch of the platform area, looking for the control console. I reached the control room and shined the light inside. It didn’t appear to be damaged. To the best of my recollection, the door was an electronic sliding door that opened upward. It didn’t take long to find the entry switch. I wasn’t surprised to find that it didn’t work. I assumed that since the tunnel and capsule still functioned, there was still power but I would need to find the main switch.

I scoured the outside of the control room and continued along the back wall until I found what I believed was the main power switch. The switch seemed to be frozen. It made sense; it had not been used in over a millennium. I assumed the thing that made the capsule function flawlessly was the fact that it was in constant motion; no time for anything to become mechanically frozen. I decided I would go back to the capsule and pack as much food as I could in my backpack but first I would check the condition of the lift ladder. There was a ladder that ran all the way to the top. I would need to use the ladder if I couldn’t get the lift to work. The ladder seemed to be fine although the sight of the darkness as I shined the hydro-light up the ladder made me cringe. It was the last thing I wanted to do; climb a two-mile ladder in the dark.

I returned to the capsule, packed all the food I could carry and found the lubricating oil I would need to loosen up the power switch back at the lift control room. My assumption was correct. After saturating the switch with the lubricant, I was able to get it to move. The sound of the power kicking on and the lights beginning to buzz gave me a momentary feeling of hope. The hopeful feeling left quickly as soon as I began thinking about the reality of what was on the surface.

The door to the control room opened smoothly. Again I was reminded of how brilliant the engineers were who designed everything. Once inside the control room, I studied the panel until I thought I had an idea of how everything worked. As I sent power to the lift, I could see the lighting inside the lift power up. There was a separate control for the ladder lighting. I flipped it on and after some blinking and buzzing for about thirty seconds, the ladder shaft lit up. Another wave of hope swept over me.

I hoisted my backpack over my back and walked the short distance to the lift. It took about eight minutes ascending in the lift to get to the top, which was actually the subterranean, lower level of the institute. The lower level of the institute was completely dark. I wasn’t too surprised that it seemed abandoned. I was more curious about why it wasn’t dismantled. I dug my hydro-light out of my pack again and found my way to the stairwell. The door on the next floor read, “L-5.” I opened the door for a minute. Floor L-5 was dark and empty.

I continued up the lower floors. Each floor was the same; dark and seemingly unused. I was in complete darkness until I reached the main floor. It was then that the heat hit me like opening an oven door. I was thinking that it must be summer. The main floor had obviously been unused for a long time. Dust and debris were everywhere. It looked like there had been some flooding and all the exterior windows were gone. The glass from the shattered windows was scattered over the floor.

As I walked through the offices and laboratories I picked up any paperwork that was on the floor or on the desks, looking for dates. One document was dated 2281. A few more documents had dates from the late 2270’s but the most recent date I found was 2283. I assumed the project had continued on for another 48 years. I wondered how and why the project was ended. I thought that it would have been ended by the government. They had spent a large fortune on the project and they learned very little from it. “If only they knew, I was here in the future,” I mumbled to myself. As I thought about it some more, I realized they probably did know that I was somewhere in the future but those people who opened the capsule died over a thousand years ago. “It’s too confusing to think about. When they opened the capsule door to find it empty, I was already living in the distant future,” I mumbled. It hurt my head to try and comprehend it all.

It was time to see what kind of world we had created; time to find out what year it was. I exited the institute from the main lobby. The sun seemed to be straight up and it felt like it was at least 90 degrees. There were no signs of life anywhere. The institute had been left to deteriorate naturally. I decided it was too hot to begin walking so I went back inside the institute and found some chair cushions which I put together to form a mattress. I laid down and closed my eyes but as I expected, sleep wouldn’t come.

A few hours later as the sun was beginning to make its slow descent, I stepped outside and headed for the main road that would eventually take me to state road 83. I continued walking as the sun set and finally felt more comfortable. I rested every few hours as I continued through the night. There were still no signs of life. I didn’t hear any aircraft and I was beginning to wonder if the human race had become extinct when I reached highway 83.

My heart began to beat rapidly when I thought I saw a small cloud of dust in the distance. I still couldn’t hear any noise but I was sure it was some sort of vehicle traveling the opposite direction on route 83. I was disappointed that the vehicle was moving the opposite direction but I was relieved to know that the human race still existed.

I still remembered that route 83 would take me to Bismarck so I continued walking south. I figured it must have been around 11:00 AM when I decided to find someplace to rest and get out of the sun. I laid down under a cluster of oak trees and almost felt like I could fall asleep. I was dozing in and out of a light sleep when I thought I was dreaming and heard voices. The voices got louder and when I opened my eyes, there were two men in gray uniforms looking down at me.

“Who are you and what are you doing out here?” one of the men asked.

“Let’s see some ID,” the other man said.

I was groggy and exhausted and a bit dehydrated but I managed an answer. “I lost my wallet and my ID. My name is Lane Mason.”

“Did you escape from Kobe-Striploin Farms?” the taller man asked.

“No. What is Kobe-Striploin Farms?” I asked.

The two men looked at each other briefly and shook their heads to indicate mutual acknowledgement. “Get up. Let’s go,” the taller man stated with authority.

“Where are we going?” I asked as I got to my feet.

The shorter man grabbed my arm and led me back to the vehicle. The doors opened as we approached the vehicle and the shorter man motioned for me to get in the back seat. I stepped in and immediately noticed there was a barrier between the front and back seats and there were no handles on the inside of the back doors. It was beginning to make sense. I was in some sort of law enforcement vehicle.

 The vehicle sped off, rising about 25 feet in the air as it picked up speed. After what seemed like about two hours we were sailing over what looked like a livestock farm. As far as I could see in every direction there were cattle. Beef steers had not changed much in thousands of years. As we sailed along I could see cattle hands in bright orange jump suits tending to the cattle. We continued on for several minutes. The cattle ranch seemed to go on forever. There was a small barrier of grass and trees and on the other side of the trees there were what looked like chicken houses. We sailed over acres and acres of chicken houses. There were long vehicles moving in every direction and people in red jump suits moving among the buildings. It was then that I noticed the guard towers. “Holy shit,” I thought to myself. “This is some kind of prison farm and ranch.”

As we continued on, we eventually came to what looked like a small city. There were miles and miles of multi-story buildings that looked like apartments or condominiums. Sailing past the apartments, we came to what could only be a prison. I was thinking to myself, “a prison within a prison; how nice.” As I had feared, the vehicle began to descend and landed in a large parking area. The officers, or whatever they were, got out and opened the door for me. The larger man asked me to hold still for a minute as he came behind me. He grabbed my two hands and secured them with some sort of restraint. It was not uncomfortable like old fashioned handcuffs but I couldn’t move my hands which were behind my back. “What the hell did I get myself into?” I mumbled to myself.

The shorter guard heard me and just smiled for a moment. “No one escapes from the Kobe-Striploin Corporation,” he said with a little laugh.

 

Chapter 2: Welcome to the Kobe-Striploin Corporation

 

I was led into a processing area where there were numerous other inmates in a variety of different colored jumpsuits. There wasn’t much talking as each inmate was processed. One by one they placed their right hands on what looked like a glass table for a moment. I guessed that the device was used to read the person’s finger and hand prints. After that, the next step must have been an eye recognition device. Each inmate looked into what looked something like an old-fashioned eye exam machine. The person monitoring the controls motioned for each inmate to move along as he entered data into a computer system.

When it was my turn, I placed my hand on the hand print table. I knew this is where there would be a problem, since there would be no record of me anywhere. After what seemed like two or three minutes, the technician looked up at me. “What is your name?” he asked.

“My name is Lane Mason.”

The technician pressed a few buttons and I heard the machine say my name. I was thinking the machine must have recorded me saying my name and highlighted just my name. The technician sat back, put his hands behind his head and waited. After a few minutes he looked up at me again. “Where are you from? Are you from North America? Where did you get those clothes you’re wearing?”

“Yes, I am originally from New York City,” I said without much confidence. I didn’t mention that I was born in Great Britain. I figured that would make them even more curious about my background and what I was doing there in North Dakota. I completely avoided answering his question about my clothes.

“Wait here a minute,” the technician said as he got up and walked into an office at the rear of the large processing station. After a few minutes he returned.

“What kind of work do you do? Are you a cattle hand or a farmer?” the technician asked.

I had to think quickly. I couldn’t tell him I was a scientist from the past. “I’m a farmer.” I figured it would be less grueling work than working with livestock, just in case they wanted to test me or test my knowledge. The technician handed me a card with my basic information and instructed me to go into the small waiting room on the other side of the processing center. He pointed in the direction I should walk and told me the sign on the door would read, “New Admissions – Examinations & Cataloguing.”

“I wonder what the hell that means,” I mumbled to myself. I found the office quickly and sat in the waiting area trying to make sense of everything. I took a look at the card he gave me. It listed my basic description, “Lane Mason, age - 30, height - 5 foot, 9 inches, body type - normal, eye color - brown, hair color - light brown.” There wasn’t anyone else in the waiting room and after a short wait, a woman in a white nurses uniform came out and asked me to follow her. I was brought into a room that reminded me of the medical scanning facilities from back in the 23rd century. One technician operated the equipment and spoke to another technician who entered data into a computer system. It appeared they were mostly interested in my vital organs. I remember the first technician mentioning my blood type and other details about my heart, liver, kidneys and lungs. After the scanning was finished, the nurse came in and led me down the hall to another office. The sign on the office read, “New Admissions – Housing and Workforce.”

As I was walking to the Housing and Workforce office, I was mumbling to myself. It had become a habit. “What a fool I am. I should have stayed in the capsule. Now I may be a prisoner on a work farm. I wonder what crimes these people have committed.” I suddenly had a thought. I would tell them I had committed no crime and they would let me go and I would return to the capsule. I entered the New Admissions office and there were two other men sitting there looking like zombies; expressionless.

“So, what crime have you committed?” I asked the person seated closest to me.

“What are you talking about?” the man answered.

“Aren’t you a prisoner here because you committed a crime? Why are you here?” I asked.

“Farming is not so bad,” the confused looking man answered. “It beats working in the chicken house. I heard that people who live at the Edgewood Fishing Corp over on the east coast have to work 14 hours a day. We only work 12 hours a day at Kobe-Striploin’s, plus my parents trained me in farming from an early age. Also, Kobe-Striploin has superior housing; better than the other five corporations.”

“Are those just the corporations that are in the US?” I asked “What kinds of corporations do they have in Europe and Asia?”

“There are five in the US, Canada and the northern part of Mexico,” the man said. “Listen,” the man said in a whisper as he came closer to me. “Be careful what you say around here. I have a cousin who is mentally handicapped, so I understand, but whatever you do, don’t let the guards know you are handicapped.”

I was desperately trying to make sense of everything. This man actually believed I was mentally handicapped because I apparently had no idea how the world worked. Well that was certainly true. I was thinking, “Could it be possible that the world has become one big corporate controlled prison?” It made sense in a sick sort of way. Corporations were running the governments from behind the scenes back in 2235. After they completely privatized prisons, the rest was probably easy. People were already being imprisoned for minor misdemeanors like jaywalking and cursing in public. Once you were in the prison system, they kept increasing your prison sentence. When they reestablished debtor prisons owned by corporations, I knew it was the beginning of the end. All the big corporations had to do was step forward a few steps to openly take complete control of the government.

“My name is Lane; what’s yours?” I asked.

“My name is Andrew. I’m being re-processed because my wife recently died. I’ll get a single apartment. The larger apartment I live in is not needed by me anymore. It will go to someone who is married and possibly with small children.”

“Can I ask you a really stupid question Andrew?” I asked quietly so no one else could hear me. “What year is it?”

“3853,” Andrew whispered.

I then worked up the courage to ask the question that I really didn’t want an answer to. “Are all people of the world, corporate prisoner slaves?”

“We are not prisoners or slaves. We are productivity specialists.”

“Is it like this in other countries?” I asked, dreading the answer.

“The entire developed world is controlled by one of the two dozen multi-national corporations. There are some primitives who live in the forests of South America, Asia and Africa. That’s about it. Everyone else lives and works for a corporation.” Andrew paused for a moment, leaned into me and whispered, “You are not really handicapped, are you? So then, who are you and where are you from?”

“If I told you Andrew, you would think I was really handicapped,” I said. “Are you paid for your farm work?”

“The company provides three meals a day, plus medical care and housing. We don’t have to worry about anything. All we have to do is keep working.”

“What happens when you can’t work anymore?”

“Most corporations will transfer elderly workers to other, easier jobs,” Andrew said. “If you have a physical problem that prevents you from working, they will provide the medical treatment. Once it is determined that you can’t work anymore, you are officially retired.”

“So you can live out the rest of your life in comfortable retirement?” I asked. “That doesn’t sound too bad.”

“Yes, comfortable retirement for two years anyway,” Andrew said.

“What happens after the two years?” I asked.

“You are kidding aren’t you? You know what happens.”

I didn’t push the issue, but I could pretty well figure it out. After spending a lifetime as a corporate slave, you are executed after a two year retirement. I really wished I could go back to the capsule. I wasn’t looking forward to a lifetime of farming, 12 hours a day.

“Andrew, just a few more questions, if it is okay; I really appreciate you sharing all this with me. I haven’t seen any women. Where are all the women?”

“This processing center is more like a prison.” Andrew continued, “Once we are processed and you get your work and living instructions, you will see plenty of women in the fields. We are lucky to have Sundays off so if you do take a liking to someone, you can see her on Sunday. There is also a row of churches on the north end of the apartment district if you want to go to church. I heard some of the companies in Eastern Europe make their people work seven days a week so we are lucky in some respects. Also, the company throws huge parties for Christmas and Charter Day.”

I was about to ask Andrew about Charter Day when I was called up to one of the admittance desks. The man behind the desk sat back and looked at me for a few moments before he spoke. “It says here that you have farming experience. We have no record of you working here at Kobe-Striploin Farms. We crosscheck our database with Brahman-Charolais Enterprises who do almost all of the farming in the south and your name is not in their database either. Where exactly did you work before?”

I had to think quick and come up with something that couldn’t be verified. “I was actually born in Great Britain. I farmed there with my family.”

“Was that with Legumes Industries based in London?”

I knew my next answer would either save me or expose my deception. “Yes sir,” I said with a fake smile. I was thinking that I probably should remember that name; Legumes Industries.

The man behind the desk paused and stared at me for a moment. He looked over at the waiting area which had become backed up with people waiting to be processed. He must have known something was unusual about me but he seemed to decide that he was just too busy to look deeper into my background. He handed me two documents. One of the documents was a living arrangement confirmation and the other was a work assignment. He then handed me a map showing me how to get to my living quarters. He explained where I could catch one of those long transport vehicles I had seen from the Security Service air transport vehicle when we were about to land.

As I left the New Admissions office I saw Andrew leaving and caught up with him. He smiled and asked to look at my documents. “Your building is right across the street from mine. Come with me. I’m familiar with the stretchports. I walked with Andrew as he led the way out of the processing center. We exited the building on the opposite side from where the police had taken me in. As we stepped out onto the street, the view was surreal. Almost everyone was wearing brightly colored jumpsuits or uniforms. No one wore normal clothing. It was weird but the only thing I was thinking about was that there were women. It was the first time I had seen a woman in almost eight years. I was thinking that many of them looked really good in the colored jumpsuits. I noticed that no one was overweight. Everyone looked to have the perfect weight for their body type and size.

We walked a few blocks and stood on one of several lines until a long vehicle stopped at the front of our line. “This is our ride. Notice it says Buildings 45-60 on the destination screen,” Andrew said. “That’s the stretch you will need to take whenever you are returning home.” The vehicle was about 150 feet long and consisted of several cars connected together; similar to what you may have seen at a theme park back in the twenty third century.

As we rode along on the stretchport, I kept thinking that it was all too much to comprehend. It almost looked like a normal city we were in, although there were no retail stores; just endless, almost identical apartment buildings. I had to keep reminding myself that we were actually in a big prison. “They had finally done it,” I thought. “The same mentality that had produced the slave plantations of the colonial period in the United States had taken control of the entire planet.” I wondered if there was any kind of resistance movement. The people didn’t seem unhappy. I was thinking that it must have been that way for a long, long time. People were born into the slave world and didn’t know anything else. To them, it was normal.

I was lost in thought when Andrew stunned me back to reality. “This is our stop.” As we stepped off the stretchport or “stretch” as they were called by the resident inmates, Andrew pointed across the street. “That’s your building.” Andrew looked at my documents again and told me to go to the 18th floor to find my apartment.

“Do I need a key?” I asked.

Andrew looked at me while shaking his head. “Put your hand up to the screen next to the door handle and it will open up. Good luck,” he said as he waved goodbye.

“Hold on one second Andrew,” I called out and he turned around. “Thanks for everything. May I ask you one more question? Is there food here?”

“Supper is at 8:00. Ask someone where the cafeteria is. You will hear a whistle a few minutes before 8:00.”

“Thanks again,” I said as I turned and crossed the street.

When I reached the lobby of my apartment building I was surprised at how quiet and empty it was. Then I remembered that it was early afternoon and everyone was still out at the farms, working. I managed to figure out how the lift worked and took it up to the 18th floor. “Number 1827,” I said to myself. “This must be it.” I held my hand over the screen as Andrew had instructed me and the door slid open without a sound.

It appeared to have two rooms and a bathroom but my impression was that the square footage was actually less than the capsule I had spent eight years in. There was a living area with a divider. On the other side of the divider there was a tiny kitchen area consisting of a sink, a few cupboards and a small refrigerator that sat on top of the counter. It was clean and the refrigerator was empty except for an empty pitcher. The cupboard was empty except for a few cups. I turned on the faucet and it worked the same as plumbing back in the twenty third century.

The bedroom was just large enough to fit a full size bed, a dresser, nightstand and a metal wardrobe. Connected to the sleeping area was a small bathroom consisting of a shower, toilet and sink.

Walking back to the living area I realized that each room had an electronic clock built into one of the walls. “I guess they don’t want you to be late for work,” I mumbled to myself. The living area had a couch and one chair and a small table with two chairs. The only decoration was a print painting hung on the wall behind the couch. The painting consisted of a rural farm scene at sunset or sunrise.

There was some sort of electronic screen built into the wall, opposite the couch. I fooled around with all the buttons until I heard a buzzing noise and the device powered up. There was what looked like a movie playing. I left it on while I went back to the kitchen area and filled one of the cups with water. I was about to flop down on the couch when I realized I had not opened the drapes. As I pulled the drapes open, I could see there was a sliding door that led out to a small balcony. The balcony wasn’t actually big enough to sit out on. It was only big enough to step out and stand, unless you preferred to jump over the side and leave the miserable world of Kobe-Striploin.

It was an impressive sight from the 18th floor. Although all I could see were other apartment buildings in every direction, it was still an interesting view. It was quiet but I guessed that it would become busy around quitting time. 

I went back inside and figured it was time to look at the work assignment. The document said that I should report to section 32 in W-Farm 6 at 10:00 AM on 5/16/3853. I suddenly realized that I didn’t know what day it was. The document had instructions on how to get to the farm; which stretch to take and what time I should leave, but I wasn’t sure if I had to report there the next day since I didn’t know what day it was. I went back and looked at the clock on the living room wall. There were a few buttons and I pressed the “display” button until the date appeared: May 15, 3853. “I guess I won’t have a vacation,” I said.

I went back in and laid on the couch and blankly stared at the dumb movie that was playing while thinking about what it would be like to work on a farm. I was dozing off when I heard a beeping noise. It wasn’t coming from the movie screen; it was coming from the wall clock. I went to the clock which displayed a message that said to press the message button. I pressed the button and a welcome message was displayed and broadcast in computerized speech:

Hello Farming Specialist Lane Mason. Welcome to Kobe-Striploin Enterprises. We hope you will be happy and productive here. Supper is at 8:00 PM in the cafeteria on the first floor. We wish you well.

“That’s pretty informal for a prison welcome.” I spoke softly wondering if my speech was being monitored.

I sat back down on the couch and began to wonder how Kobe-Striploin Enterprises made a profit. There were no consumers to spend money so how do the people in control stay rich and powerful I wondered. I knew I had a lot to learn before I began figuring out how to solve my most important problem: how to escape Kobe-Striploin Farms and make it back to the capsule.

 

Chapter 3: The Farm

 

The sound of my stomach growling kept waking me up while I lay dozing in and out of a light sleep. I wished they hadn’t confiscated my pack when they found me out on Route 83. I had some candy bars in it which I would have gobbled up if I had them. When I looked at the clock it was only 4:00 PM so I still had four hours to supper. I wondered what that would be like. I assumed it would be like prison food but I was so hungry, prison food would have been okay with me.

Finally I heard what I assumed was the dinner whistle at 7:45 PM. I didn’t waste any time getting to the lift. I was alone on the way down but when I stepped off on the first floor, I could see a small crowd of people all walking in the same direction. I followed the crowd. Most of the people were walking in pairs or small groups, talking about work and other mundane topics. I wondered if people were permitted to socialize after work. I wondered how much freedom they had, aside from the fact that they were prisoners. I knew a corporation would always do whatever would make them the most money. Happy people with active healthy relationships would produce more product and that would make the executives richer. I was deep in thought as I got on the food line. I was thinking that I was indeed a stranger in a strange land. I had so much to learn about the new and pathetic human race.

“If there were no longer consumers, how could the corporations continue to thrive,” I thought to myself. “I will need to make some friends and find some people I could talk openly with,” I said out loud without realizing it.

“I guess you are new here,” I heard a woman’s voice say. I was stunned out of my private world. Aside from my arrest out on Route 83, the interaction I had with Andrew that morning was the first contact I had with another human in eight years. I was still stuck in my private shell and I was caught off guard when someone actually spoke to me.

I turned around to see a dark haired woman smiling at me. She had large brown eyes and looked to be in her mid-thirties. Since everyone there was in good shape and wearing the same jump suits, she appeared to be about as attractive as hundreds of other women that were filing into the cafeteria. “Umm yes, I just got here a few hours ago.”

“How do you like it,” the woman asked as she handed me a tray and started sliding her tray down the food service counter.

“It’s; different,” I said without thinking that I would have to explain how it was different. I followed the woman along the food service counter and tried not to look out of place by doing whatever she did.

“How so?” she asked.

I couldn’t very well tell her I was a time traveler from the past so I told her I had come from New York but I was born in Great Britain. “My name is Lane,” I said.

“I’m Fran,” the woman said. We shook hands and moved along the line. Dinner consisted of beef stew and biscuits. It looked and smelled better than anything I had eaten in the capsule. When Fran got to the end of the line, she took a few steps and turned around and looked at me. I took that as a sign that she wanted to sit with me. I was happy to have someone to sit with. It reminded me of my first day at the Brooklyn Academy back in New York and how lonely I felt.

The dining area was an auditorium with a few hundred long tables. I followed Fran and we sat at the end of one of the tables. I had to keep reminding myself that the prisoners didn’t know anything different. For them, life was as good as life could be. I took a few bites of the stew and was surprised at how good it tasted. It was the first real food I had eaten in eight years so anything would have tasted good.

“It looks like you are enjoying that,” Fran said and laughed a little.

“I’m very hungry, as you may have noticed,” I said and Fran laughed again.

I noticed there were people at another table dressed in white. Some of them had stethoscopes draped over their necks. “Do medical people get any special privileges?” I asked Fran.

“What do you mean?” Fran asked.

“I mean that I see medical people here. They must have worked very hard in school. It takes years to become a doctor. Why would they do that if they don’t get anything for it?”

“Didn’t you take aptitude tests when you were finishing school?” Fran asked.

“Oh yes,” I said, knowing I was lying. “I guess I didn’t score very high.” I had no idea how anything worked there. I wanted to ask as many questions as I could without causing anyone to become suspicious of me. “What if you don’t like your job?” I asked, a little reluctantly.

“You really are new, aren’t you?” Fran remarked. “There are job descriptions and job openings posted at the farm depot. You can submit a request for a different job if there is an opening.”

Fran seemed open minded and with a full stomach I was feeling brave and asked the king question of all questions. “Suppose you want to leave Kobe-Striploin Farms; can you leave?” I asked.

“Leave to do what; go where? There is nothing else, unless you want to live in the wilderness. In any case, you aren’t permitted to leave unless you get transferred to a different corporation; say in the south or the east.”

“What’s to stop someone from leaving?” I asked.

“A twenty foot high, electrified barbed wire fence and sharpshooter guards posted along the fence in guard towers. Why? Are you thinking of leaving already?”

“I’m just curious. Does anyone ever try to escape? What happens to them? Are they killed?” I asked.

“There is a high-security prison farm and barracks. You don’t want to go there. Prisoners there live in barracks with no privacy and they don’t get any freedom to move around. They basically work and sleep. They aren’t permitted even to go to church on Sunday. Men and women are separated. It is really a prison so I suggest you don’t try to escape. Also, most prisoners are people who committed crimes. People who try to escape are usually shot and killed.”

I figured it was time to change the subject and lighten up the conversation. “So, which farm do you work at?”

“I’m in farm 4 in section 32; how about you?” Fran asked.

“I’m also in section 32 but I’m scheduled to report to farm 6. I’m going to be part of the baling crew.”

“That’s not too bad. It could have been worse,” Fran said. “Well, it’s almost time for bed. I’m heading back to my room. You are obviously single if you are here in the singles apartments. Were you ever married?”

“No, I’ve always been single; never seemed to find the right person,” I said as we got up and started walking to the lift. Fran pressed the button for the 12th floor and a few more people got on.

As the door opened up on the 12th floor, Fran turned around and smiled. “I’ll look for you tomorrow night in the cafeteria, okay?”

“Yes, I’d like that,” I said with a smile. As I continued on to the 18th floor and my apartment I felt good that I had at least made a friend. I hadn’t been with a woman in a long time and I wanted to think about what it would be like to be intimate with Fran but all I could think about was the image I had formulated of the twenty foot high electrified fence and the guard towers.

When I got back to my apartment I noticed I had left the entertainment screen on which was broadcasting a report about an award being given to a worker for outstanding workmanship. It appeared they had some sort of incentive program to motivate workers. I wasn’t surprised. Incentives and motivation would increase productivity and profits for the corporation. I wanted to learn more about the people in charge; where did they live, how many of them were there, who were they and how did they become the elite. I had so many questions but I knew I needed to get some sleep so I would feel rested when I arrived at the farm the following morning.

I did manage to sleep although I woke up every hour during the night. I was already up and awake when the wake tone sounded from the multi-function clock at 5:45. As I was getting dressed I heard the dining tone so I assumed that meant it was breakfast time. I hurried down to the cafeteria and got on line, looking around for Fran but I didn’t see her. Breakfast was good and filling, consisting of as much scrambled eggs and toast as you could eat, four strips of bacon, juice and coffee. I was amazed at how the Kobe-Striploin Corporation could provide all this and still make a profit. I hadn’t begun to figure it all out yet.

I arrived at farm 6 just before 10:00 AM. Everyone else was already working. One of the men that appeared to be performing maintenance on one of the farm vehicles looked at me and stopped what he was doing. As I approached him I asked for the farm foreman.

“Are you the new guy?” he asked. I nodded and he told me to walk around to the front of the red barn where I would see an office building. “Go to the office building and tell them you are just starting and they will probably show you a safety film.” I thanked him and headed around to the office building.

As I turned the corner to walk around to the front of the barn, a woman jumped down from a vehicle that I assumed was a baler or bale transporter. At that point I knew next to nothing about farming. The woman stopped and looked intently at me. I felt an immediate arousal as she pushed her hair back and smiled. She had blue eyes and light brown hair that came down to the middle of her back. She had a perfect shape that seemed to be highlighted by the way the jumpsuit tightened around her midsection. I waved and said “hello,” just loud enough for her to hear me. She continued just smiling and looking at me for a moment and then she climbed up and onto the vehicle and sat behind the wheel.

The people in the office seemed friendly and they offered me coffee and led me into a room where I watched a two-hour farm safety film. I was trying to focus on the film but I kept thinking that the whole thing was just too weird. Aside from the 12-hour days, it didn’t seem to be a horrible life. It certainly didn’t feel like I was a slave. I was quite sure that the other people never thought of themselves as slaves. Unfortunately for me, I came from a different time when people were still free. The fact that the farm was surrounded by electric barbed wire fencing would always be not too far from my thoughts.


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