by  —  August 24, 2008
Alice cover by doug mesner

Alice cover by doug mesner

The following short story was written by Carole A. Travis-Henikoff, an independent scholar specializing in paleoanthropology.  

Travis-Henikoff  began her literary career as a culinary writer

Her current research explores death, dying, grieving, dreams and anomalous occurrences. 

Travis-Henikoff’s recent book Dinner With a Cannibal has earned widespread critical acclaim.  Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a star, stating that the book is  “a meticulously researched, compulsively readable history of mankind’s greatest taboo.”
With Alice, Travis-Henikoff enters a whole new literary genre with a story just as enjoyable, exploring a topic no less taboo.  

Alice appears on The Process for the first time…

Carole A. Travis Henikoff

February 18, 2008

Conceived during the middle hours of many nights, October 2007,

aboard the barge, La Tortue, on the Canal du Midi, France.


As Alice Landsbury exited the jet-way, her mind went blank. The skin of her body began to prickle with fear. This was not La Guardia. Frantically her eyes swept the space in which she stood. There was a floor, a beautiful floor, but where were the walls? Then she saw a woman waving and smiling twenty feet in front of her.  In her hand was a sign that read “Alice Landsbury.”

The woman with the sign walked toward her. Mystified, Alice accepted the woman’s extended hand. Her handshake was somehow settling. “Alice! So glad you made it – wonderful to see you! I know this is all a bit confusing but everything is in order. Somehow you got shuttled onto another flight. We will get you back to New York on a 6:30 flight. Not to worry, my dear, not to worry. I have been sent to take you under my wing. My name is Martha Telling.”

Martha’s countenance was soothing, but Alice’s brain was still whirling in an effort to understand where she was. What was with this building, or whatever the hell it was?

Taking two cup-size bottles of water from her bag, Martha handed one to Alice, then opened the other and began to drink. Lowering the bottle from her lips she said, “I know you are thirsty from your travels. Our water here is the very best. Cheers!” Instantly, a tremendous thirst hit Alice’s senses and she quickly opened her bottle and downed its contents. By the time she lowered the empty bottle from her lips, every emotion and chemical response connected with fear had vanished. Alice still didn’t know where she was, but as Martha had said, “Everything was in order.” Actually, everything was wonderful and exciting.

“Oh, Martha! May I call you Martha? Wonderful! I want to know everything. Where am I? What is this building? Is it a building?”

“Now, now, now, my dear. Let’s take things at a decent pace. I have much to tell you. Come, we’ll go to my place where we can have a bit to eat and relax while I fill you in.”

Taking Alice’s arm, Martha walked her purposefully towards a road that appeared to run from the edge of the floor and stretch into the horizon. Suddenly they were outside. Martha steadied Alice lest she fall. Roads and buildings unlike anything Alice had ever seen filled her visual cortex, which strived to correlate the incoming stimulus to something in its memory bank. The building across a broad green road looked somewhat like a morel mushroom, while the one next to it resembled a Venus flytrap with strangely shaped windows where natural patterning would exist. Odd kidney bean-shaped conveyances of various sizes whizzed back and forth along the green road. Staring at them Alice realized they possessed neither wheels nor drivers.

Martha guided Alice onto a ramp. What Alice took to be a train pulled up and they walked into it through what appeared to be an ancient arch complete with lion heads.

The two women settled into small but incredibly comfortable seats that molded themselves to their bodies. Alice felt as though she was having a soft-touch massage, though there was no actual sensation of being touched.

There were others on the train. Like Martha, they were extremely good looking, in perfect condition, and dressed in an array of outfits. As if reading Alice’s mind, Martha explained that “everyone here has a profession and every profession is identified by attire. It makes things wonderfully easy and increases contact and the exchange of knowledge between the professions. One must never stop learning, but no one can know everything. In talking with a person from another profession, one can increase their knowledge base, thus enhancing their life. Everyone here is a teacher within his or her field of expertise.”

“Where is ‘here’? Where am I?”

“Nextime. You have been selected for a visit. I am a relater.  I was born with an eidetic memory coupled with a love of learning and history in combination with a passion for imparting knowledge to others. I was chosen to be your guide. In school I studied human history starting with the first up-right ape of some seven million years ago. For this assignment I went into an extreme-virtual-reality-study-mode concerning the  timeframe you are from. Is my English and dialect understandable to you?”

“Of course. Isn’t English your first language?”

“Oh no, my dear. We all speak several languages but find telepathy to be the most accurate form of information transmission. I’m using a great deal of telepathy on you at the moment, though your brain doesn’t recognize it as your visual cortex is watching the movements of my mouth.”

“During my learning period I visited your world from your yesterday back to three hundred years prior to your birth. I know and understand the world in which you currently exist. Oh, here we are.” Taking Alice’s arm, Martha guided Alice off the train through what looked like a tree-lined French country road. As the two women got up to disembark, Alice noticed that everyone on the train looked at her with wonderful eyes of kindness and acceptance.

“Nextime? What is this? Am I dreaming?”

“No, but you may very well tuck this journey into the safety of a dream should your mind be incapable of accepting the experience, which is a real probability. Then again, you may not remember any of this. It’s a common response.”

Alice stared out at a beautiful wooded settlement of low sprawling homes and occasional spires that she took to be condos. From the train they walked a ribbon of walkway across gently sloping ground.

“Is this where you live?”

“Yes, in the that spire over there. Third floor, lovely view.”

Coming upon a large plum tree dripping with deep purple fruit, Martha stopped and scanned the tree.

“Oh, marvelous! We have our dessert,” she said as she climbed a brown, bark-looking ladder to reach four perfectly ripened plums. Handing them to Alice she climbed down, took a small woven sack out of her bag and opened it for Alice, who gently placed the fruit within after sniffing their incredible perfume.

“Is this your tree?”

“No, it belongs to everyone. All of the trees you see produce some kind of fruit or nut. In certain weather areas hardwoods or wood pines are grown for human pleasure, but also for culling when the time is right. Everyone picks and gathers their own fruits and vegetables. Any excess is harvested and made into foodstuffs for the winter or sent to other climes. I have been watching that cluster of plums for some time now. It’s nice they reached their perfection in time for you to enjoy them.”

“It’s very beautiful here. Is this the outskirts of the city I landed in?”

“Oh no, my dear. We’re a thousand miles from there.”

“But we were only on the train for a few moments!”

“Yes, yes. But, you must understand that our technologies are far advanced from the technologies of your world. We have learned to use the power of various electromagnetic wavelengths, particularly that of visible light. Rembrandt was prescient when he said that light was everything. Your scientists are just beginning to understand the possible uses of our sun. Aside from getting our power base from manipulated photons, we heal all sorts of psychological and physical problems common to your era by focusing various wavelengths of light through the lens of the eye. Optical therapies work by genetically engineering brain cells so as to change or modify behavior. We have pretty much eradicated depression, addictions, epilepsy, convulsive disorders and extreme aggressive disorder. Of course there are many other therapies, from vibration centering to sound therapy, but such procedures are seldom needed today as the vast majority of people are mentally fit and well adjusted. It’s rare to come upon someone who has suffered from such ailments.”

Staring at Martha, Alice asked, “Are you a robot?”

“Ha, ha, ha! Marvelous! Smart question. Tells me why you were chosen. You are a thinker. The answer is no. I’m a human, everyone you see here is a human, though we do use robots and ultra-smart computers in multiple ways. Robots clean all our roads, walkways and outside areas. Every abode is self-cleaning. You might enjoy the fact that our cleaning robots sense when people are not around and immediately set to their task. If a person should exit a building or enter their abode while a cleaner is at work, the robot will beg their pardon and excuse themselves. They are programmed with all of the world’s languages and have extremely sensitive odor sniffers, mainly for ferreting out molecules of disease and so forth, but also to recognize people’s sex, age and often their profession. Some of their wild remarks can really make your day.”

By now the two women were walking up a pathway of muted colors that changed with each step.

“Here we are.” said Martha as they approached an amazing wooden door carved with a relief of a fabulous chestnut tree whose top branches appeared to have wormed their way into the wall. Holding up her wristband the door swung open. A non-existent butler said, “Good Afternoon, Madam.”

“Good Afternoon, Charles. Any calls?”

“Three Madam. I’ve posted them on your screen.”

“Thank you.”

Transfixed, Alice entered into a seventeenth century paneled room with coffered ceiling. Rembrandt’s self-portrait, the one done during his last years where he is heavily gowned and capped against the chill of an un-heated house, stared out at her from its gold-crusted frame. “Is that the real thing?”

“Oh, no. We can replicate anything with total exactness. Everyone chooses whatever kind of art and trappings from whatever era, or eras, they like in order to decorate their abode to their liking. If I awoke tomorrow and wished for a total makeover, I’d tell Charles my desires and he’d order a re-do to my specifications. It takes two to three days. I usually go on holiday.”

“Who is Charles?”

“Charles is my ATC. My all-sensory, total-knowledge, computer-servant… and a real friend, I might add. Charming fellow; a mega computer to your way of thinking.”

“Are you married?”

“No. Approximately 60% of us never marry. There’s no reason to. Marrieds are usually those who have signed up to win the right to have a child or people who have found everything they want in one person. I have never encountered one person that filled all of my needs, but I have four marvelous mates.”

“Would you care to fill me in on ‘mates’?”

“In your timeframe you would call them lovers, but here in Nextime they are more than lovers. They are mind-mates, food and drink mates, sports mates, strictly sexual mates, or a combination. Our ATC’s keep all of us apprised of availability and confirm meetings at our request. Oh, and I also have a wonderful sleep-companion, Don. I just love him. He’s such a special friend. You see, we seldom stay the night with our mates unless on holiday together, yet many of us love to cuddle or curl up with someone when we go to bed. Don often comes over for the night. In the morning we go our separate ways. Our lives are very full. Between work, play, continued learning, the arts, sports and agriculture, we’re a busy lot.”

“If everyone has multiple lovers aren’t you afraid of STDs?”

“I can’t remember what it stands for.”

“Sexually Transmitted Diseases.”

“Oh, my dear, those were wiped out a long time ago along with most of the diseases that plague your timeframe. The scientists of your era are just beginning to climb the stairs of knowledge.”

“What about people who want children?”

“Well, in the first place couples can’t just do it on their own. Those who are found to be eligible sign up for the raffle after they prove their qualifications for parenting and have their chemical make-up thoroughly examined for health and heredity concerns. Most importantly, they must show that they are truly in love and truly wish to marry and bear a child. After all, parenting is a big job; in our society it demands a great deal of work and dedication.”

“How would you know if someone truly loves another?”

“Our bodies are electro-chemical organisms with limited mass. It would be impossible to lie to testing computers. Only perfectly attuned people are allowed to be breeders. If chosen they are allowed two children so long as their genetic group’s population is low enough to accommodate a second child. The object is to keep the global population at the current optimum population of 2.65 billion people.”

“But – oh, I have so many questions – I mean, how do you keep people from having children? Where did all the people go? There are close to seven billion people living today – in my time, I mean.”

“That’s the problem, my dear, you are loving yourselves to death. Huge populations of people are having children for all the wrong reasons. From responses to age-old, to reptilian brain chemical stimulus, to religious and political beliefs that work against progress and a better life. You are running out of potable water, tearing down your forests, depleting your oceans, running out of food, killing one another, and the list goes on and on. And you know, I couldn’t find anything or anyone within the last decades of your existence that addressed the obvious! As I studied your timeframe I found it astonishing – and disheartening – to see that once again, humankind had chosen to blind itself to the obvious: over breeding breeds war, genocide, and can even wipe out a group or an entire species. It’s like a bloom in a Petri dish. Place a few bacteria on the bottom of a gel-glazed Petri dish, cover it and allow them to split, divide and multiply. All goes well until the bacteria cover the entirety of the dish, then there is a gigantic, frantic division of cells, which is called a bloom. Then, poof – every last bacterium dies en masse. The old Harvard rat experiments proved the same with mammals; and, as I’m sure you know, we are mammals with the same old reptilian brain that runs the hearts, lungs and emotions of all mammals. You, my beautiful friend, are living in the midst of a bloom.

While visiting your timeframe, I watched girls who had no bio-chemicals marking them for motherhood doing anything and everything to get pregnant. I saw children living in conditions that we wouldn’t allow any life form to live in and parents with unwanted children blaming others for their plight, as if others had forced them to conceive. Worst of all, everyone in your generation seems to think that everything that happens to them is someone else’s fault. More amazingly, is that many willingly take the blame for things they didn’t do. Only a child that is wanted by parents capable of caring for and educating it is allowed to enter Nextime.”

“So, let me get this straight, everyone’s life is controlled and some Big Brother is running the show, right? Are you communists? Or do you live under a robotic dictator?”

“Oh my dear, I have wounded your senses. I will have to do three hours of re-training for allowing my emotions to flail around like a half blown balloon. Communism only works within groups of a hundred or less, and only if like-minded, and dictatorships went by the boards ages ago. You must understand. Humanity, along with a majority of earth’s life forms, came close to total collapse… you know, extinction.”

“What happened? Did we blow ourselves to Kingdom Come? Did some disease get us?”

“I’m not allowed to tell you the near future, Alice. Suffice it to say, that many great minds came to recognize that over-population was the root cause of 90% of the world’s problems, from polluting the atmosphere, which adds to natural warming, to insufficiencies of essentials,to genocide. At that time, when humanity was on the crux of self-annihilation, various world leaders, from countries large and small, held secret meetings where they had the courage to formulate and execute measures that would ensure the continuation of the human species. Some of the measures were drastic, but they kept us from total extinction. Funny how people of that time period, appeared to be incapable of accepting the fact that our species could go extinct. Many of our scientists continue to debate on the psychological mindset of the times.”

“So, what did we do? Kill off sixty-five percent of the Earth’s population?”

“Have another bottle of water or there isn’t a chance of you remembering any of this. You are getting too emotional and it’s my fault. I was the first to get emotional – terribly unprofessional of me. Please forgive me. Like most people who love history, we often wish we could go back and save the world, even though we understand what you refer to as the ‘butterfly effect.’ You know, if you get in a time machine and go back millions and millions of years, then foolishly get out of the machine and step on a butterfly, you and the world you know wink out of existence because that butterfly was an evolutionary link to a mutation, etc. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s not on the mark, but it’s a good metaphor. The past cannot be messed with, but you can work towards a better future, and that’s what eventually happened and is still happening. Everyone’s goal in Nextime is towards a better future, including tomorrow and next week.”

“But how did we get to your Nextime?”

I can only give you a view of the treetops, that’s all I’m allowed. Besides, it would take months of lessons and the learning of new sciences for you to comprehend it all. What I can tell you is that people, great masses of people, were contained in learning centers where they were told the truth about their bodies, their minds, and how a child’s brain can be configured through his environment to believe whatever his teachers teach him. During the first week of learning everyone received a thorough mental and physical check-up and were non-invasively sterilized, but for a few who showed fine breeding potential. Those suffering from chemical dependences, aggressive disorders, and the like, were light-treated. Those who did not respond to treatment were incarcerated. Many eventually healed, though some had to be put to sleep.”

“People were sterilized and killed without consent or recourse?”

“Well my dear, the ‘people’ had chosen to believe that they could and should have children whenever they wanted and as many as they wanted. They never thought about the effect their fecundity was having on planet Earth. They cared not a wit about her. The earth’s biomass was dying. Daring people came to the rescue. For many it was horrible, so steeped were they in their beliefs. Some took their lives, being incapable of understanding the paths that, in time, would save their species and life on Earth …to say nothing of their descendents.”

“Nextime sounds dictatorial and atheistic to me!”

“No, no, no. A vast majority of us are religious though the word ‘spiritual’ would best describe us. Of course there are atheists, but they constitute a small minority. Most of the religions of your timeframe had a solid foot in the reality of what is, but sly and manipulative men and women took the essence of reality and molded demanding and commanding belief systems around the truth that is felt by all living things. In other words, they took a great and basic force and used it to their benefit. Innately sensing the truth-effect, populations followed religious leaders, even into battle where they stood by or helped to annihilate ‘non-believers’ in tortuous ways for not believing as they believed. There is only one truth – not multiples – and it existed long before planet earth came into existence. It resides in all things throughout the universe and cannot be separated or explained… even now. Our most amazing brains have tried to get a handle on what we feel but cannot see, sense, or explain. Most of us accept the wonder of the unknown and understand that we are the stewards of our planet and its inhabitants as are life forms on other planets scattered throughout the Universe. I’m sure it’s the same in the multiple universes that exist.”

“You have proven the existence of other universes?”

“Oh yes, quite some time ago. But getting back to The Transition and the point I was making, during those first times of reversal we tallied the people in each and every genetic group. Sterilization was performed in accordance with population tallies so that after a period of 76 years there were like numbers of people left within each of the major genetically distinct groups. Some peoples, living in small groups in deep forests, were left alone. Only those who chose to enter the populous world were subjected to the rules of child-bearing and sterilization.”

“It sounds brutally cold.”

“On the contrary! I have adopted four children whose electro-chemical signatures match with mine. I often take them on holiday or attend school with them so that after class we can communicate child to adult about their lessons. The children are all of a mental neighborhood, and the birthing parents are close friends of mine. They often have a get together and call for a time of feasting. Then all of the children’s adoptive parents, uncles and aunts – a child might have a dozen or more adoptives – bring books and games or pieces of art, along with favored foods. It’s very much like Christmas in your era; a big family gathering brought together through the love and caring of children. In Nextime, every child is encouraged to grow to their fullest potential.”

“Didn’t you ever want to have children?”

“Not really. My genetic group’s quota was full, and there were so many babies whose lives I could tap into. Besides, I was having so much fun working towards my life-degrees that I never gave it great deal of thought. When the parenting chemicals of the old reptilian brain are held in check and you learn how much it costs the planet to raise and maintain every individual that’s born, you simply want to do the right thing. Actually, when a person isn’t expected to produce offspring by their society, religion, or community, the brain is free to expand and add to the progression of knowledge.”

Slightly embarrassed, Alice asked, “Do they cut out your sex-drive through one of their ‘therapies’?”

“Oh, no! Humans are hugely sensual. We are totally sexually liberated. I have never had to worry about getting pregnant and am allowed full expression of my natural needs so long as I express myself in private so as not to offend others. And, unlike your timeframe, rape simply doesn’t happen in Nextime. If it was ever attempted, the victim’s wristband would sense the fear and panic and send out an alarm. The rapist’s wristband would take note of his brain chemicals and administer a sedative. Whenever stressful situations occur, our wristbands work to protect us and record the incident. Besides, there is no way a rapist could deny or get away with such a brutal act. In Nextime everyone knows that attraction and sex are normal, healthy, and wonderful parts of life. I might add, without all the hype that is so rampant within your timeframe, it isn’t a, what do you say? … a big deal? it’s simply a fulfilling, enjoyable part of life.”

“Mmmmm. I noticed that everyone on the train was beautiful, healthy and happy. Don’t you have bad or sad people? Or people less fortunate, you know, on the down and outs.”

“Heavens, no! Within an hour of my birth my chemical signature was registered. By the age of six I was found to be stable and my signature indeed marked me for being a relater. In Nextime every infant is screened and put onto an educational track that will allow them the most fulfillment in life. During The Transition, sociopathic personalities were eliminated. Even today, large business heads, politicians, philosophers, scientists, and the like are thoroughly screened against adverse personality traits. If a child is born with genes that code for lying and aggressive leadership, he or she is put through robotized therapy starting at the age of four. We came to understand the fallibility of human minds… so many of us have a natural desire to control the minds of others. But, computers can be programmed against partiality or false persuasion of any kind. Computer-psychiatrists converse with a person through a three-dimensional life-size optical screen, its questions and replies projected through the likes of a man or woman geared to the patient’s personality. This is done as even in Nextime we possess a need to feel connected with others of our own kind.”

“So you put little kids on a shrink’s couch?… ah, so to speak?”

“In Nextime, we never think of anyone or ourselves as patients; that is a very old term. We all recognize that it is normal to have attributes that may work against us, thus limiting our potential. There is a real desire within us all to be as healthy in body and mind as possible. Therapy is a blessing that allows for a rebalancing of ones emotions. Basically, we work against the human capacity for hurting others of their own species by helping everyone to be in tune with positive action. For instance, naturally born power seekers and builders of industry are encouraged to climb traditional business ladders, but their benefits are restricted; there are no billionaires. Those who attain high status through contributions to business, science, and the like are rewarded through recognition for their talents. Many achieve fame and award, but excessive greed is not allowed. In your timeframe you would say that such traits were against the law. Nevertheless, great minds are revered for their contributions. They live and travel well, but computers account for all profits and the distribution of funds. We don’t have terms for what you call ‘graft’ and ‘fraud.’ Big business and political positions are held for terms of four years. Top brains rotate positions within their individual fields of brilliance. This allows them to work with a great many people from various parts of the globe to whom they can pass on their knowledge, their unique ideas, and ways of solving problems. Since your timeframe, knowledge within the sciences has increased exponentially to the benefit and delight of the world at large.

During The Transition, chemical and light therapy, along with mental training, were used to retrain warlords, corrupt individuals, and anyone who was using power to harm others. Today, warmongers and wily business personalities are a rarity but are easily singled out and dealt with. During the roughest times of The Transition, some of these personalities proved to be beyond help, being incapable of change. Many went mad – what do you say? ‘Flipped off the deep end?’ ”

“Flipped out.”

“Oh, I do love your idioms. At any rate, many flipped out when they realized they could no longer control the lives of others in harmful ways.”

“What happened to them?”

“Some fell into depressions so deep we couldn’t help them. Many committed suicide, while others agreed to mind therapy and changed their lives around …I guess that would be ‘minds’ rather than ‘lives.’ After all, we are what we eat and think, and what you think is usually what you have been taught. That’s why every child in Nextime is taught various ways of thinking, how to question intelligently, and look at all things from many sides.”


“Our world works towards the benefit of all living things, though to varying degrees. What I mean is that humans are similar to one another and yet each individual is unique unto him or herself. All peoples are regarded with respect as to the lifestyle they are most comfortable with, so long as they produce within their field of work and do no harm to others. There are many who love to live quiet lives in the mountains, in deserts, or on lonely islands, while others gravitate towards business and the immense job of running the planet. Gifted people enter the sciences or fabulous artist, music, or writers’ colonies. And, of course, there are those who carry the risk gene, who climb our highest peaks, explore neighboring planets, test dangerous space craft, and go to the bottom of ocean trenches to gather minerals and specimens for the making of medicines. No one earns the same number of credits – money in your world – as we all produce at different levels, but we all lead comfortable, and more importantly, fulfilling lives. What is demanded of each person are passing grades in higher education, continued learning (which I find the most fascinating), and respect for others. Every individual must prove him or herself self-sufficient through education and execution. By the time human over-population was decreased through natural attrition, children from every corner of the world were learning various languages by the ages of three to five and doing higher math by the age of twelve. In our early school years, we learn to memorize poems or parts of plays starting at the age of three. It was found that memorization teaches the young maturing brain how to lay down memory tracks, which benefit future learning processes, which leads to minds that can look at a situation and figure out a solution.

Following The Transition average intelligence soared. There hasn’t been a war for hundreds of years, and the last person to starve to death lived at least 200 years ago. We all know our history, and through knowing our past we are able to embrace life and enhance the future for up-coming generations. We are blessed to be living in our timeframe…”

Martha had ushered Alice into a sunlit room that had areas Alice equated with a living, dining room, and kitchen space, though none of the usual kitchen apparatus was apparent other than a counter and handsome cabinets. To her left was a six-foot wide, floor to ceiling window in front of which stood a rack. Each shelf held a beautiful six-foot planter with all sorts of herbs, lettuces, radishes and tiny peppers growing in profusion. On the far end the planters were attached to a floor to ceiling, six-inch wide housing that was delightfully painted with various foodstuffs. Martha explained how the planters were automatically watered in response to moisture sensors housed within the end panel. Martha chatted on as she picked, plucked, and cut various items for a salad that soon accompanied a delicious filet of aquamarine-colored fish served with a side of aioli.

“We make sure we get a full compliment of Omega3 oil. The gathering and processing of fresh foods is essential to our lives.”

As she fussed over lunch Martha explained that every building, be it a factory, house, barn, or condominium, was built over a cistern equal in size to its footprint.

“I know the word, but I’m not sure what it is. It’s not a septic tank is it?”

“Heavens, no!” said Martha. “Septic tanks are for sewage. They are still employed in certain situations. A cistern is a rainwater collection receptacle, somewhat like an underground, capped swimming pool. The water is used in multiple ways; our in-home herb gardens, as well as the flushing of toilets and the watering of plant life that surround the building.”

“You still use toilets?” Alice asked with a grin.

Laughing back, Martha replied, “Yes, but they use very little water. We still use something you would recognize. Our bodies haven’t changed in any basic way. All sewage is treated and processed into fertilizers; nothing is wasted in Nextime. I think your era coined the adage ‘waste not, want not’?”

Alice sighed, “Guess we have forgotten how to do that. You should see the trash we create.”

“I know. I watched a film of what happened when the sanitation workers went on strike in New York, Naples and other places. I couldn’t believe it. Amazing. What an incredible waste of resources!”

“What about bathing?”

“All condos and communities have bathing spas, much as the Japanese of your timeframe who bathe prior to entering their communal baths. We ‘bathe’ by walking through various scanners and ionic wave machines that destroy all harmful and odor producing microbes and molecules from our bodies prior to entering the baths. Each domicile has the same kind of machines – smaller of course. They are wonderful. They keep us clean and healthy and you can clean and refresh your clothes and linens without water, soap, or ironing in nothing flat. Our health monitors are quite thorough, down to the detection of a hangnail. Our homes use lasers to eradicate dust, mildew and dirt; it’s all automatic and done in our absence.”

Martha smiled as she set beautiful plates of food on the table and asked Alice to be seated. Alice was hungry. Very hungry. Funny, she couldn’t remember ever feeling hunger or ingesting food in a dream – at least not like this. Looking up, somewhat perplexed, Alice realized that Martha Telling was still telling. She was boasting that everyone worked at least three hours a week in a community garden or near-by forest, and that children were taught beginning gardening starting at the age of four, with a stair-step program that continued throughout their school years. It taught everything from grafting techniques to tree pruning. Those born with genetics geared for agriculture ran the large community gardens and large-scale agribusinesses. Hunger was unheard of and no one was overweight. The psychological underpinnings of obesity, and so-called edibles, that worked against the body rather than for it were well understood and counteracted, often through consensual banning. All foods grown, harvested, or produced worked towards perfect health. The phrase “junk food” had become slang for anything that might harm you, be it a comestible or a proposed gadget that didn’t make it through inspection. Changing subjects, Martha said that whenever a person’s wristband indicated they had a problem, be it medical or psychological, they immediately went to their local clinic for evaluation and repair – a word Martha said had no adverse meaning. Being “repaired” was equivalent to the intelligent act of putting a band aid on a cut. Excluding those who died in accidents, natural disasters, or war-games, the average age at death was 110. Martha said her grandmother lived to be a 126. Suicidal people were treated for depression. Should repeat treatments fail to work and a person persisted in wanting to move on, they were surrounded by loved ones and allowed to go their way. They were given full honor and funeral rights. There were no drug addicts or alcoholics. People partied, loved theatre, music, dance, fine food, wine, and all things enjoyable. Should a person consume a mind-changing chemical substance, their wristband monitored their intake. If one surpassed their intake capacity, their wristband set off a low frequency alarm. If the person persisted to imbibe, a second, louder alarm would sound and their wristband would administer a sedative.

“We live lives that seldom cause embarrassment, but hearing your wrist band alarm go off in a social setting would be embarrassing. Besides, should you be born with the genes that code of any kind of substance abuse or addictive behavior, the dangerous genes are deactivated. So it really isn’t a problem. But you know, even a perfectly normal person can get into a situation where they accept that extra glass of wine. We all love our wristbands.”

“Sorry. But your wristbands sound like Big Brother to me.”

“No, Alice. It’s very different. There are no humans monitoring us. Our wristbands are like having a wise teacher, the best of doctors, and a loving parent with you at all times, to say nothing of wearing a computer on your wrist twenty times more powerful than the biggest and most up-to-date computer of your time. Our wristbands are incredible, life-saving tools that help us lead wonderful lives. If I’m falling in love with someone I just met and act stupid enough to cause my alarm to go off three times within a period of a year, I would have to submit to rehab. Obviously, I’m not going to do that to myself. Besides, by the age of fifteen I had a complete understanding of the chemicals released by the brain when love is blossoming and knew the best ways in which to enjoy the experience and get the most out of it. Why would anyone take away his own innate ability to ‘fall in love’? There’s no reasonable excuse to prompt an alarm other than emotional trauma, so if a person repeatedly causes his alarm to go off, he obviously has an underlying problem he needs to have rehabbed.”

“Sounds great, but I still feel like I’m sitting in The Brave New World”.

“Heavens, no! However, the book is on the Classics list that everyone must read. It is an excellent example of how primitive we were in your era, while at the same time, being prescient to future possibilities. When the book was written, science had yet to understand the genetics and electrochemical realities of animals and plants, particularly humans. Good book. I remember loving the read.”

“So, I still want to know how we moved into Nextime. What happened? Was it all out war?”

“Classified. But large die-offs had begun in reaction to various occurrences, most of which were perpetrated or caused by humanity. At the same time, several positive things occurred. Science learned more about the chemical makeup of the human brain, physicists discovered how to harness the immense power emanating from our sun and surrounding universe, and great thinkers began to disseminate the truth, bringing vast populations up out of the darkness of misguided religious and political thought. The Transition, as horrendous as some aspects of it were, acted as a re-birth for the earth and its inhabitants.

“But how…?”

“Try to listen. I’ll tell you what I can.”

“Through light beam technology an entire population could be calmed and educated to the wonders of reality. Reality had been stifled, history had been re-written – a devilish, arrogant deed if ever there was one – and people had clung to ancient, fearful belief systems as over-population crowded them into huddled, confused balls of fear.”

” So, again, you sterilized people without their permission?”

“My dear, it was that or the demise of the human race. You know, when you cut a five-inch high dandelion in the spring with your lawnmower, the plant will produce another batch of flowers with four-inch stalks. Cut it down again, it will lay its stems down into the grass. By the end of the summer it will produce at least one bloom with almost no stalk so that its flower can flourish below the level of your lawnmower’s blade. Bottom line? Life will persist at all cost. Prior to the 1900’s, fifty percent of all human first births resulted in the death of the child, mother, or both. If a woman had several children, few made it to adulthood. As for disease and accidents, until the advent of what you call ‘modern’ medicine, few people could be cured. In your Civil War, countless soldiers died of festering wounds that could have easily been handled in your day and age. But, as you improved your health and increased longevity, you failed to recognize that the very discoveries that were saving you and your babies would create a bloom. As more and more people crowded your cities and streets, the chemicals emanating from your old reptilian brain produced an underlying sense of fear brought on by the crowding of your senses. For millions of years, humans lived in small to moderately sized groups. Even here in Nextime, our central nervous systems haven’t learned to gear themselves for crowded situations. Of course, the outer, newer layers of our brains, being the most powerful on earth, learned to cope as survival mechanisms came into play and the strategist within figured out how to live under the constant threat produced by over-crowding. Your New York City is just one prime example of the incredible ability humans possess for adaptation. But, as crucial necessities of life became scarce and large-scale, over-population filled one country after another, several things happened: war, genocide, greed, and starvation, even cannibalism, circled the globe. And still, you didn’t notice. There wasn’t a problem on earth, from disease and war, to famine and the inability to the cut produce enough food for all peoples, that couldn’t have been diminished or eradicated completely with fewer people on the planet. Not only didn’t you notice, but billions believed that every child came from their chosen ‘god’, as opposed to an act of fornication. In many societies, men believed that only by making a woman pregnant could they prove to be a man, never realizing that any cow, lizard, or rodent could do the same. You, forgive me for saying so, are living in mental caves set in what you call ‘modern’ societies.

Prior to the fall, a global, subconscious fear arose within the human family. Knowing that potable water was becoming scarce, that all-out war was a real threat, and that you were killing the biota of the planet on which you lived, the old reptilian brain did what dandelions still do; it chemically signaled for more births. It was a Death Knell. Sterilization was the only chance humans had for survival. But we didn’t simply sterilize people, we opened their minds to the truth. The truth about their bodies and how brain chemicals could send a person down the wrong path, the psychological and emotional consequences of over-crowding, and also the fact that it was more humane to sterilize people and allow them to live out their lives than eradicate masses of people in order to cut numbers more quickly. A not-too-surprising outcome was that men started working together, rather than against one another. Women became better, more loving parents whether they were a birthing parent or an adoptive. People started to relax as multiple stresses were lifted from their lives. And of course, sterilization allowed millions of women to achieve numerous goals that raising a family would have precluded. Meanwhile, children were loved and cared for, each receiving the education best suited to their natural talents. The sick and elderly were treated with respect and caring, usually surrounded by comforting pets, children, and teenagers who did things for them in return for stories of the past.

Still, it must be admitted that the beginning years of The Transition were difficult. Over-population was such that the first two birthing cycles had to be spaced ten years apart. That decision produced a heartrending side. Women who had subconsciously responded dramatically to multiple fears and experienced overt chemical signals to bear children couldn’t handle not being picked for bearing. Many took their lives before programs were set in place to deal with their psychological and chemical problems. It was terribly sad. To me, they were the most poignant victims of over-population. Some were so distraught over losing the draw they tried to kill the chosen. Quick action had to be taken. Bearing couples were sequestered and protected while those who had become enraged and dangerous were taken in for treatment. Unfortunately, some had to be let go for the safety of humanity. Most understood the drastic state of things, and after listening to the facts, what was being implemented, and the reasons for measures taken, they took positive stands. There were many problems, especially in societies where men had ruled over women to the point of having the right to kill them should they displease them. The effect of having total domination rights stripped from them was simply too much for many of them. Once again, many withered away, while others took their own lives. Change is always difficult. Climbing out of our caves, taking the next step, has always been hard for us.”

“Didn’t the people rise up and try to fight against what was happening?”

“There were loud voices and many threats, but things were so horrific that anything that promised a future was seen as positive. Of course, without light treatment I don’t know if The Transition could have been implemented. Fortunately, the new technologies allowed millions, and then billions, to accept the realization that the only way to have every individual count and provided with a safe and full life was through the lowering of our numbers and the imparting of knowledge. As more and more of the general populous came to understand the situation, they joined ranks and helped with the process. There were many who dedicated their lives to helping those who had a hard time coping with the changes necessary for our survival as a species. With tight controls on population and each child being loved and well schooled a truly golden age began to emerge. When a child is loved and taught to think, when it is schooled in many subjects that mesh to present the whole, the child will grow to make intelligent, salient decisions. We Nextimers understand and appreciate the multiple freedoms and mandatory limitations that work in combination to produce an abundance of pay-offs that allow for global harmony. Would you like a nice cup of tea?”

“That would be very nice. Thank you. So, I think I understand the sterilization bit, though it boggles my mind. Anyway, I want to know something else. In Nextime everyone is happy, healthy, extremely smart, nobody makes war, and everyone loves everyone else? Right?”

“Not quite. This isn’t Pollyanna Ville. Some ethnic groups showed a dislike for people they considered to be ‘different,’ so antagonistic groups were kept apart. Once childbearing and genetic group size were precisely regulated, no one could build up a population large enough to overwhelm another. Actually, within a hundred years of The Transition, the separation of genetic groups became rather fuzzy, then disappeared all together. As new generations were taught the mistakes of the past, along side the wonders of new sciences, they realized how fulfilling life could be, so long as we continued to work against the natural aggression that continues to surface within us from brain chemicals that have governed our behavior since the beginning and continue to do so, even in this day and age. I mean, even in Nextime we can’t help but follow the Four F template: Flee, Fight, Feed and Fornicate. All living creatures maintain their species via the Four F’s, even plants – in ways of their own – follow these mandatory laws of nature. In your timeframe, and more so in mine, humans are capable of annihilating the lot of us. Such capabilities demand the restraint of the second F.”

“How do you do that?”

“First of all we have combative sports that test the strongest among us. No drugs of any kind are allowed and anyone who wants to be part of the games is tested. The testing is done by machine, so if a person fails to pass no one will know, as only the winning scores are recorded. We also allow young aggressives to fight in contained wars, using ancient weapons in land arenas that are surrounded by high walls upon which spectators can watch. Opposing sides can never be composed of a single genetic group, and regulations and admittance to war games are vigorous; few warrior applicants make the grade. Those who pass have their wristbands put on stand-still prior to competing in a war, then re-started afterwards.”

Alice sat staring at Martha. “Do they kill each other in these ‘games’?”

“Of course. It’s real war – small in scale, but very real. Sometimes the casualties are great, but the games seem to fill a human need we have yet to grow out of. The games confine the bloodshed and, how do you say it, blow the steam off?, the general population.”

“Amazing. You have banned war, worked towards peace and then let young men go out and kill each other in game-wars.”

“Alice, the human species is the most complicated mental-benderon the planet…I love that term, don’t you? Over the course of millions of years we became ever more intelligent and cunning, to the point where we actually thought of ourselves as being outside of the Animal Kingdom. Of course, physiology proves us to be animals. It’s just that we are way smarter than all others and possess self-awareness – the thing you call a conscience. Did you know that sociopaths lack a conscience? But never mind the sociopaths, we took care of them; still, the majority of humans born in Nextime carry many of our old weaknesses.’

“If you are so good at gene manipulation, why don’t you just excise all of the bad genes?”

“Because, it was found that if you over modulate the genes of any species it will lose its evolved potential and abilities to the point of extinction. In every species, including our own, it’s the same. We can do many things to enhance and correct the health, mind, and personality of an individual, but there are limitations and our scientists have learned them well. We have had to accept our strengths and our weaknesses. War is an expression of an old, beneficial survival mechanism that became a weakness when weapons of mass destruction were invented. Our war games cause as little harm as possible with willing subjects. You should understand that through the millions of years of our gradual evolution life was extremely difficult with everything from huge hyenas and lions to enemy neighbors threatening our lives on a daily basis. Life was extremely hard; more difficult then you or I can possibly imagine. That’s why we are so smart. If we hadn’t learned how to kill those that threatened us we would have gone extinct. We have yet to evolve out of the flee and fight defense mechanisms honed over the millennia.”

“But why don’t you just play brutal sports that are rough but don’t kill?”

“Oh, we do, and the attending crowds are huge, but it was found that, as with the bull fight of the Spaniards, Death must be given its due. There are great treatises on the subject and a great portion of the population shuns not only the war games but all sports that pit men against one another. Those who are drawn to the games are not looked down upon, nor are those who shun them. You see, we are individuals and we respect the likes and dislikes of others. Most of all we are taught to be individuals who show consideration for others. We live by what you call the ‘Golden Rule’.”

Alice went silent; her eyes focusing on the bottom of her cup as her neurons kept cadence with the whirl of her spoon. Martha quieted as she picked up on Alice’s mentalizations. Then, in tones used for quieting a troubled child, she said, “Alice. We cannot remove our wristbands, they are a part of us.” Raising open palms towards Alice’s contorted face she continued, “You are wrong. For the last time, our wristbands do not constitute a Big Brother. Every act, be it mental or physical, elicits brain chemicals that code differently for all known responses within the human form. Our wristbands only interact with us to give warning when we are in danger, sick or in the midst of a crisis. They are set so as to erase every moment but for the last 50 hours when we are young, 100 hours as we age in order to monitor possible warning signs of stroke, heart attack or a failing organ – they allow us to live safe and amazing lives. The first components are installed at two weeks of age. As we grow more modules are added. By the time of completed brain maturity at the age of 24, our wristbands are complete.”

Still staring into her cup, Alice said “But, you said that if you screwed up three times you had to go into treatment.”

“You have a good memory Alice. Anything that causes an alarm is permanently recorded in our wristbands in a file you would label ‘medical history’. Whenever we need to go to a healing center, for whatever reason, our medical history is downloaded so that we can be treated appropriately.” Alice looked up to find Martha’s eyes brimming with tears. She reached out and placed her right hand over Martha’s left. Martha asked, “Can you understand?” Alice nodded, as tears of her own filled her eyes. Every emotion seemed to wash through her, from rage and disbelief, to envy and awe seemed to swirl round and round in Alice’s mind leaving her in a haze of bewilderment.

“Allow me to tell you a story. We have world-class mountain climbers who challenge the most impossible peaks, often alone. They are favored sports heroes. A few years back Jeffrey Hightower was climbing K2. He was 14 feet from the top when he fell more than a 1000 feet to his death. He was a magnificent climber; it didn’t seem right. But thanks to Jeffrey’s wristband, which naturally signed off with condolences when all body and brain functions had ceased, we know that it was an accident, that all fear chemicals were released as the fall began, and that they were replaced within seconds with a calm euphoria overlaid with chemicals we equate with enlightenment. You know, the wonder of an anomalous occurrence, or something akin to the eureka effect. Don’t you see? We not only know that it was an accident, but that he died in peace. There was no fear prior to his ultimate death. All of his mountain climbing friends understood completely and said that they live with the knowledge that such a fate is always a possibility. The majority of the world attended his funeral via their screens, many gathering in homes for the occasion. Without his wristband we could have never known the details of his death.”

Observing Alice’s emotional response, Martha continued. “We view death as a transition. Matter can be turned into energy and energy can produce matter; neither can be annihilated. All things change. All things, at all times are in a state of transition. Nothing comes from nothing, and nothing can be completely nullified.

Sorry, this must be quite confusing to you. How about another cup of tea? I have some wonderful cookies. One of my neighbors loves to bake and we swap. I pick fruits and vegetables for her – she’s a tree-pruner – and she gives me cans of her wonderful cookies made with honey, eggs, raw oats, ground nuts and dried fruit meats. I’m sure you’ll love them.”

Alice looked out at the clear blue sky as a flock of birds flew passed what Martha had called a “lookout”. She had explained to Alice that what she took to be a window was a one-way lookout; one could look out, but no one could look in. Alice pinched her leg. This couldn’t be real.

Still reading Alice’s mind, Martha took to an easier topic. “You haven’t asked, but I suppose it’s obvio us that we had to fix the numbers of animals other than ourselves.”

“What did you do, gather in the squirrels and sterilize them?”

“I like your humor. Actually, we did. Sounds funny, but humans had annihilated most predators – but for himself – and gone to adoring ‘cute’ species that over-populated and often destroyed habitats. It took longer to work out the animals than it did the humans, but in time we cloned some of the extinct predators back into existence while cutting the populations of many prey species. Our biologists are still hard at work trying to get the earth’s biota back in balance. All and all, it’s much better than it was and the now-clean oceans and waterways are doing beautifully. Amazingly, as the planet became less stressed and a semblance of balance was achieved, some species, or species similar to extinct species, reappeared to the great and happy surprise of all.

Oh, oh. I’m afraid we must catch what you think is a train.”

As they exited Martha’s abode Charles said, “Have a nice day, Madam. Nice meeting you, Alice.”

“Thank you, Charles.”

“Uh, oh …thank you, Charles.”

As the two women walked down the rainbow walk, Alice asked, “Do you think I will remember any of this?”

“I don’t know Alice, but I have a strong hunch you will dream.”

Plum Tree by Alethea Jones

Plum Tree by Alethea Jones

Marked as: ScienceSocietal PoliciesTechnologyTranshumanism  —  2 comments   (RSS)

2 Comments so far
  1. Emma August 25, 2008 11:55 pm

    This disturbed me and gave me a sense of euphoria at the same time. Alice through the Looking Glass, The Handmaids Tale. Both sprang to mind. The Handmaids Tale being the opposite of this tale. A terrible frightening world of plummetting birth rates and state controlled breeding. This is on the other hand, a vision of utopia – of controlled utopia at a price. Who would be the women deemed unfit to bear children? Try to reflect on it. The human need to reproduce, its as basic as needing to eat if one really admits to oneself how it feels to muse on creating another life. At a primal level, its frightening, bloody and wonderful.

    Of course this is a vision of a world without the control of religion. Which seeks primarily to control sexuality and reproduction. Lets all bear children in the name of God because children are a gift – from God – translation lets make as many Catholics/Muslims, insert faith here, as possible in order to swell our ranks, gain more power and take over the minds of all peoples. Why not be free of all that mind control, the petty tyrrany of ancient tribal law foisted upon unwitting subjects. Misery, death, judgement. Lets leave that behind. Lets educate. Shine a light on reality. We long for that day when everyone thinks like us dont we? Egalitarian, beautiful, just, perfection. Yes thats the sense of euphoria I had.

    The transition of course will be painful. But as long as its not me that is told I cant bear a child. Hey, if its you, well I dont mind so much. You see, my genes are so perfect, my brain so finely tuned it would be a crime not to allow me to reproduce. Its you that needs to stop it. Clever Carole, yes you are, to allow me to understand that humans are selfish and will ever be thus. Utopia at a price. But I wont pay it.

    But back to reality with a bump. Forced sterilisation. Mmmm I dont think it will catch on. It actually filled me with disgust. In my day to day work trying to apply English law to women who have fled from China because of the one child policy, seeing and meeting women who have been forcibly sterilised, young women of 24 who have been taken off the street and questioned and operated upon. Parts of their body taken away without consent. One womans child was forcibly aborted at 8 months. Because she already had a child. Thats the reality of state controlled reproduction. The politics of greed and corruption take over. These women are pawns in the game whereby officials distort the law in order to make a quick buck – they get paid more for sterilising more women. This law at its most basic level is arbitrary, doled out by unthinking unfeeling dispassionate state agents.

    But I digress. I could go on, I just dont have time. I need to reproduce, man ! And fast. But I think you get the gist. Alice may be looking through the Looking Glass but is the dream she dreams really a nightmare?

    By the way, where can I get one of those wristbands?

  2. jpcallan May 12, 2012 6:47 pm

    This is incredible. Intensely positive outlook, but not without a sense of the sacrifices that will come with such a big fundamental change…

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