Excerpt from Terra-Aqua, a novel by Mario Salazar

The Reply

Jon A. Frisco woke up unaware that his living pod colony had been submerged during the night to protect against gusty winds and high waves. He did notice that some of the barely noticeable grime on his clear top was gone, but didn’t think twice. Not that being aware would have made any difference. Aqua colonies were superbly automated and many mechanical actions were not noticed or in fact consciously affected residents.

His normal routine of exercise and grooming had been impacted by the Reply that he had been summoned at precisely 10:00 AM. He took special care with his grooming, more to give himself more assurance than to impress his Listeners that had scheduled the Reply.

After a short period of checking his communicator and Self-Chip, in which he found out about the immersion, he had his normal breakfast of Herring flavored protein, eggs, bread and multi-juice he went to the Reunion space in his pod to get ready for the transmission of the Reply.

At the stroke of 10 three holograms zoomed into the Reunion space. Two females and one male. As it was typical for the last couple of decades, the three appeared very like each other. The only difference was the hairdo that tried to point to each one’s ethnicity. The old prediction made by José de Vasconcelos that we would all become one race, the cosmic race, was more evident each decade.

Without any preamble, the spokesperson identified herself – “I am Chloe T. and these are Chamorro A.T. and Sue A.”. As required, all geographic sectors were represented.

“We recommend that you keep your Self-Chip active during the Reply. If you don’t be aware that we three will keep ours active.”

Jon A. informed them – “I will keep it on”

Chloe T. continued – “To summarize, we are here to consider your request for a Reply for you to travel to the Center, for an indefinite time but no more than two years. We will make a statement, may ask you questions, will answer yours and will use this whole meeting to determine the merits of your request.” There was some irony in this statement as neither Jon A. nor the other two persons represented by the holograms new where the others were. Laws demanded anonymity when addressing the type of Reply being considered.

Jon A. gave a brief reply indicating agreement and understanding.

Chloe T. then engaged in a long admonishment of what the granting of the request would mean and how it would impact Jon A.

“Requests of this type are usually made by people that have transitioned to land. We consider that this gradual set of events bode well for the success of the trip into the Center. Your request is a little out of the ordinary and the Council only considered your request because you have demonstrated an unusual degree of commitment to community. We think that your maturity will be a safeguard to protect you in the Center and to retain you. The outcome will depend greatly on the answers to our questions. Do you understand?”

“I do, I would not have made the request if I had not been sure of my goals and my intentions to return to Aqua upon the completion of my sabbatical.”

Jon A. continued – “I have obtained assurances from Leonides A. that he will undertake all my academic responsibilities. I will pay him back by taking his classes when he goes on sabbatical in two years.”

Chloe T. appeared annoyed when she confirmed – “Yes, Jon A. we are fully aware of that”

She continued – “While we are sure that as a past-vision academic you know much about the Center, its origin, people and governments, we are required by law to remind you of some salient points.”

“The Center was agreed upon after extremely hard negotiations. We came to the realization that the majority’s idea of the ideal way of life was not for all. A segment of the population chose to live in a more open and hazardous way, even if it meant that they would not have all the technological advances that we enjoy. While we have strived for more globalization, people from the Center want to remain “unique” as they describe it. This means that many of the rules that we live by are not applicable there and that they have some rules that to us don’t make sense. While you are visiting, you must abide by their rules. To complicate things, the Center that you intend to visit, as you know, is comprised of seven different governments and a number of Native American Lands that also have their own authorities and rules.”

Chloe T. paused and took a drink. Jon A. thought to himself that she wasn’t a robot or a computer-generated image as some had suggested.

She continued – “Religion is very much a presence there. While our religious organizations have almost disappeared after they became subject to the same ethical, financial and political laws as all other organizations, many of the same laws that applied in the 21st Century are in effect there, mainly they are not taxed. Please stay away from polemic about religion.”

“Fire arms, fortunately as modified to minimize human death, are openly carried in most of the jurisdictions. Your Self-Chip will be modified to provide you with a degree of protection when confronted with deadly force. Upon your activation or as increased analysis of your Self-Chip data that clearly suggest danger, you may be extracted and your visit will end, to great expense in the part of your government, I may add.”

“You will be provided with a breathing enhancer until you can assimilate the atmospheric conditions. Fossil fuel is widely used there and some of our visitors have problem assimilating. For this reason and not to make you an obvious target, you will be given time to get used to it in the transition zone. We suggest that you discontinue the use of the enhancer before you enter the Center proper.”

“You will be able to terminate your visit prematurely at any time. It may take several days to provide you with safe transportation out. My only question is a general one the you already answered, why do you want to spend so much time in the Center?”

Jon A. figured that they wanted to gauge his commitment to his already given answer – “I am really interested in the way the Center operates as a window into the past. I also want to write a book about it.”

Jon A.’s answer appeared to satisfy the three and Chloe T. asked – “Do you have any question from me or one of the others?”

Jon A. thought for a few seconds and inquired – “How do I pay for services and objects while there? I understand that I am not allowed to carry what they call legal tender.”

Chamorro A.T. chose to answer the question – “Your credits chip can be used in 95% of venues. You will also be provided with a complementary sum of script that can be used in most of the other venues. We will replenish the amount as it becomes necessary. We will give you a data base with the places where you can use your credits chip, where script is necessary and where you can replenish script. Before you incur any expense, please make sure to check the data base. The data base will also provide details if your become ill and need health services.”

After a few minutes of silence, Sue A. provided closing by an appeal to his emotions and sense of civility. – “Our government has spent a lot of effort and resources to provide you with a life that is both satisfactory to you and that contributes to the planet’s improvement. You are also near the front of a long cue to be considered for transfer to Terra Firma”, she used the archaic term with gusto to emphasize the importance of her words.

Sue A. closed the encounter by suggesting a two-week target for a final answer. As her words echoed in the pod the hologram disappeared.