Corporeal Passage: Chapter 24: The Centrix
by Jeff RandEthan acknowledged their departure with the scientists, not sure how his informal goodbye was translated into the Teran language. He and his son boarded the hemix with Adam and Danielle. Adam submerged the vehicle and propelled it underwater, presumably to avoid being discovered. When he approached the shore hours later, he drove it up a ramp onto a roadway.
"We wanted to show you some sites in the centrix of the State of Sentinel before we go to my relatives," said Danielle. "They live in a remote area, making them among the most isolated Sentinelese."
The suns (or orbs as Ethan would describe them) had ascended in the sky, fully illuminating the shore. The larger parent orb was approaching its zenith, which soon would be followed by its junior companion. Ethan should be ready for bed soon, but knew it would be many more hours before the orbs would not be visible, thus marking the end of a Teran day. However, the scenery around him provided enough stimulation to keep him alert, as Adam stopped the hemix.
Looking right, there was a beautiful turquoise beach. Except for a few persons frolicking in the distance, the beach was deserted. Although the light from the suns was subdued, Ethan was surprised that no one was laying on the beach. The temperature had changed little since leaving Zero Node and remained remarkably comfortable. "The conditions are ideal for beach lovers," thought Ethan. Leu was less interested in the conditions of the beach, paying most attention to the nude swimmers.
The view to the left contrasted significantly. Though there was a nice beach, this one featured coral pink sand with tall cliffs at the far end. There was a person standing on a pier with a skinsuit, mask, and backpack; presumably about to make a dive. The closest rock face was at least 50 feet tall and had a transparent platform extending out above the sea. Beyond that there was a taller cliff, more than three times as high, with its own platform.
Ethan observed a man dressed in a skinsuit approach the edge of the platform on the higher cliff, 200 feet above the water. The tall man faced the water and jumped into a spectacular dive. During the seconds it took to reach the water, the man completed a half dozen somersaults, before smoothly entering the sea.
Danielle noticed Ethan staring in the direction of the diver, "Are you ready to dive from the high cliff? I am sure you wouldn't want to jump from the lower one. It is for kids."
Leu who had been paying more attention to the naked swimmers, missed the diver, but felt impelled to comment, "I'm ready for a dive."
"I don't think so," said his father.
"I'm afraid you are way too young for the high cliff," added Danielle.
"I'm almost 16."
"Yes. And that will make you just old enough to start preschool here," Danielle explained.
Adam drove the hemix up the slope beyond the beaches to the top of the bluff. Open fields were surrounded by trees at least 100 feet tall. He approached a roadway which curved around several structures. They appeared as giant popsicles comprised of a domed cylinder supported by a shaft. He estimated that the shaft might be nearly as tall as a football field, and it held a cylinder stretching another 1,000 feet into the sky.
"What are those tall structures?" asked Leu.
"They are apartments for the residents working in the centrix. Adam lives on the 37th floor of the first one to your left. There are 64 floors in total, and every apartment has a nice view of the water. As you can see, the first floor sits high above the trees." said Danielle.
The road continued around the buildings where Adam approached a large parking lot circling a dome supported by a single central spire. The dome covered a series of ramps that led to some unknown underground structure. As Adam parked the hemix on a marked circle in the lot, another hemix appeared as it ascended a ramp under the dome. It departed from the dome to find its own parking circle.
Danielle offered further explanation, "This is the transportation hub for the centrix. There are few surface roads leading to the other towns in the region. Most families do not own their own hemix and will take the public segment carriages in the underground tubes to reach another town. The carriages serve as private vehicles by linking together segments according to the size and scope of the party. Also, there are underground tunnels within the centrix itself for walking or using powered tri-carts. Of course, most folks prefer to move above ground in the centrix, but it would be a long walk to another town."
"How is that Adam has his own hemix?" asked Ethan.
"He does not. This hemix belongs to the Church. Adam's father Eli is one of the wealthiest people in Tera and has his own. But he is a physicist, who are among the most highly paid folks."
"Is Adam a preacher?" questioned Leu, not overly concerned about the wealth of a physicist.
"He is actually a youth pastor responsible for supporting outreach programs," said Danielle.
Beyond the cluster of buildings and the transportation hub, there was an immense domed structure more than 1,000 feet in diameter. At least four smaller structures were connected as satellites.
"What is this building?" asked Ethan, pointing at the structure.
"It is the amphitheater and market," said Danielle. "The smaller buildings serve as social and worship centers. That is where Leu would attend preschool if he lived here. We will show you some other things in the centrix, but you must not be identified. Adam will be getting one of the tri-carts that is used to transport babies and young children. You will both get inside, and we will push you around. Adam will tell anyone who asks that he is helping me learn how to handle toddlers, as I hope to become a nursery schoolteacher when I grow up."
Adam gave Leu and Ethan robes and floppy hats to cover themselves once they left the hemix. He departed from the hemix and proceeded to retrieve one of the larger tri-carts from a covered storage corral. When he returned with the cart, he quickly ushered Ethan and Leu into it. He pulled two seats from the back, which were designed to hold small children. It was a tight fit, but he was able to strap his passengers into the seats. Although Ethan and Leu were nearly full grown, they were not much taller than a Teran child.
Danielle made sure the 'toddlers' were well covered with the robes and adjusted the hats to shade their faces. "You are cute babies," she said.
Not missing the opportunity, Leu remarked, "I think my dad needs a pacifier."
Ethan was quick to deflect the remark, "And I thought we had you potty trained. Danielle, I hope you brought extra diapers for Louis. He gets cranky when he soils himself."
Danielle took charge of the tri-cart baby carriage as she entered the market with her charges. Adam walked beside the carriage to deflect any curious onlookers who wanted a closer look. Although Ethan and Leu were well disguised, they were able to observe their surroundings. Occasionally, Danielle would provide descriptions of various items for these curious 'toddlers.' She indicated that the market was the sole source of immediately available goods in the centrix. Most manufactured goods were produced by automated systems elsewhere and transported through the network of tunnels. Since these items were usually produced upon demand, delivery times would vary, though seldom would it take a full Teran day to receive the order. Many things could be ordered directly from one's apartment and delivered to the market from a distant town in the time it took to leave the apartment and walk to the market. The major exception was food.
Because Ethan had experienced life without plastics and packaging during the stay in Zero Node, he was not surprised to find it so in the centrix market. The stores and warehouses filled with all varieties and packages that he experienced in Michigan before leaving years ago, would dwarf this simple market. Although there were some things that looked like they might be convenience foods, there were large clear bins and vats containing single ingredients. Ethan guessed that there were at least 300 different fruits and vegetables, mostly unfamiliar. There were large vats of syrups, grains, and powders. One looked to contain salt pellets, perhaps a couple of tons. Danielle moved to a section containing bins of animal flesh of many species.
A woman with her own tri-cart approached one of the flesh bins. From her cart, she removed a clear tub from a nested group. She placed it on a small shelf at the base of the bin and punched some buttons that had suddenly appeared on the bin. Momentarily, her tub was filled with a coil of meat that looked like the flesh of a rattlesnake. She grabbed a lid from her cart and placed it on the tub, then put the sealed container in her cart. Later Ethan would learn that folks would shop with a collection of various tubs to fill with their selected ingredients. The tub that the woman used for the meat of the reptile was so thermally efficient that it would maintain the temperature of the ingredients for many days. Not since the famed 'No Waste Meal' at Winter Camp 43 had Ethan seen food purchased with no commercial packaging.
The woman became curious of Danielle and her toddler carriage. She approached Danielle and said something, which Danielle did not understand. Adam quickly intervened and moved the woman away from the cart before engaging in conversation. When the woman left to continue her shopping, Adam explained the conversation to Danielle, which took some time given her elementary knowledge of the Teran language.
"What did she want?" asked Ethan when Danielle became available.
"She thought that you and Leu looked big enough to be walking. Adam told her that he worked for the church as a youth outreach pastor, and you were from the Institute for Imbeciles and not fully developed mentally or physically. Soon you would have your lobotomies and have some synthetic brain enhancements. He explained that I had been a patient as well, and recently received my lobotomy. I was still learning language skills, but had mastered the talent of taking care of morons."
"I don't know what to say," barked Ethan in response.
"That is the point - you don't know what to say. Nor did I. Adam's quick wit kept the woman away. He said folks don't want to appear insensitive to the disabled."
Leu just laughed to himself at the exchange.
Adam continued providing the tour of the market. Besides the food items, there were some essentials, but very few pieces of clothing.
"Where do you buy your clothes?" Leu asked Danielle.
"Our clothing is custom made. You recall the process of getting clothing in Zero Node. It is similar here, except the actual manufacturing is offsite. Every home has a scanner booth to determine your measurements. Then you go to your computer interface to make your selections. Shortly afterwards your order will be shipped to the market."
"What if they don't fit or I don't like them?" probed Leu.
"That is seldom a problem. Most folks engage their scanners daily for a health check. That way the system can predict if you are growing and need some extra space in your pants. Of course, if it senses that you are heading towards obesity or have other nutritional problems, your food pricing scale will be adjusted to encourage healthy eating habits."
"It sounds like Big Bro is in charge," said Leu's dad.
"Who is Big Bro?"
"He or she is one who would tell us what to do at camp but would not show his or her face."
"I don't know about that here. Don't you want to be healthy?" asked Danielle.
"Yes. But what about our freedoms?" said Ethan, forming a question in response.
Although Danielle had lived in Tera for a short time, she felt obliged to contradict the charge, "From what I learned of your society, I think you were being fooled. True there was a brief period where freedom was present in your country, but that declined in the 21st century as the growing population put great stress on the earth's resources. Then there was the pandemic."
"I guess that won't be a problem now," said Ethan feeling defeated.
Adam had left the others for a bit, returning with a collection of tubs. Then he proceeded to do his own shopping, while dragging the others along. Leu was more optimistic about the future than his father and became engaged in the shopping exercise. He pointed towards a bin of animal flesh that piqued his interest. Adam understood the gesture and made the purchase.
Before leaving the largely automated market, Adam approached a display of actual pastries with a real person behind the counter. After he made some selections, the counter woman placed the pastries in a sealed tub. Adam touched a panel and left the market with his guests, having no need for any further encounter with a cashier.
Danielle moved to a small step on the back of the tri-cart with her two charges inside. Then she engaged its motor as it left the market. Adam continued to walk and had no trouble maintaining a brisk pace with his large strides. They passed a massive building in the cluster of apartments. It was tall like the others, but its structure extended to ground level. Danielle explained that this was the government service center and housed other offices, including those of the church.
The government center and seven apartment buildings surrounded a large pond with an island platform in front of each building. The largest island by the government building housed an outdoor restaurant. This was the only one in the centrix. Apparently the Terans did not believe in competition. Adam directed Danielle to the path that circled the pond. They travelled counterclockwise, leaving the path for the third apartment building.
Danielle parked the cart, waiting for a couple to depart for the pond before she directed her passengers to the walkway. The tri-cart joined several others parked around the shaft supporting the cylinder-shaped building high above. When the group moved closer, Ethan noted that most of the structure was transparent. Danielle indicated that chromite materials were used in its construction, thus allowing for a full range of designs, including its native transparent nature. They joined Adam with his stack of food tubs inside an entrance alcove.
Once inside, Ethan guessed that the entire pedestal was about 40 feet in diameter. A central shaft was about 10 feet wide and opaque. Later, he would learn that this was the utilidor stretching to the 64 floors of apartments. Surrounding this central shaft were three transparent circular elevators. And forming the outer perimeter of the circular structure were tall transparent steps spiraling upwards. From the alcove they had just entered, there was access to two of the elevators and a single stairway climbing clockwise. Danielle indicated that there were two other entrance alcoves allowing access to different combinations of the three elevators. Also, each provided its own stairway to the top. Adam touched the wall and an opening appeared to one of the elevators. They entered onto a clear floor in a circular elevator nestled in a clear shaft.
The elevator moved up the clear pedestal to reach the first floor some three hundred feet above the ground. At that point the scenery changed to circular hallways with external opaque walls, as the elevator moved quickly to higher floors. It stopped at the 37th floor and a door opened. When they entered the hallway, they found that it circled the entire elevator/stair/utilidor shaft but there were no entrances to any apartments. When they began the second circuit around the big shaft, Adam faced the exterior wall. Then he walked through it, disappearing from sight.