All events and characters are fictional, any coincidence of names and events with real ones are coincidental and have no relation to real life.
Age restriction 16+
Greetings, my dear reader! My name is Victor Drozdov. On this chilly spring day, I finally finished my novella. It is more like an artistically edited diary or even just a rambling description of the events I experienced. I have gathered all the materials together solely because I have free time, and I intend to publish this diary for a good purpose: I sincerely hope that my ambiguous story will help you to avoid the mistakes that I, and with me, the whole world, have made.
May 29, 2039
I am sitting under a young apple tree in Obukhovo, which for some reason has already decided to bloom, and I breathe in the sweet smell of its flowers. I enjoy the aroma, because all around me there is clean air, which we haven’t had for maybe fifteen years, and the green lawn on which I am sitting was something mythical and unattainable, and a year ago I could not have imagined it. The behavior of the kids around me was amazing: the kids weren’t running around squealing with delight, no, they were walking barefoot on the grass, and the expressions on their faces were as if they were waiting for the green luxury under their feet to disappear into a cloud, and they would have to try to catch that cloud with their hands. It was a fairy tale, and I was sitting right in it.
It’s very funny how ordinary things that we’re used to can one day become real happiness or even a miracle that absolutely everyone will marvel at. After all, if you think a little bit, everything that we have, have been and will be, has some share of this very miracle, but we just do not see this miracle in our hands, and treat it as if it is just an ordinary thing, a thing that is owed to us by right. And as a marketer with more than fifty years of experience, I can safely say that the real value and usefulness of a certain product can only be known one way — by losing it. And I must say that in the same way we almost lost the whole world. For me, as for any old man, the common lawn is not just a delight for the nostalgic soul, it is a living example that everything can be fixed, even the most terrible and profound mistakes. And now, on this very day, I can say that we’ve managed to get it right. Although no, not “we,” but one person with whom I had the good fortune to work side by side long ago.
And the whole paradox of my story is that the man who, incidentally, planted this apple tree with his own hands first took everything from the world: the air, nature, work, and almost life itself. We were too carried away by technical progress, and he was the one who successfully refined this idea and promoted it to the masses, but no one thought of the consequences.
I have known this man for more than twenty years, and even at my advanced age I cannot fully understand him or give even the slightest objective assessment of his actions. I can only hope that I can fully convey to you the true story, which you will not find in textbooks or documentaries. A story where the main hero and the main villain are one and the same person who, in fact, never aspired to these roles.
This phenomenon of the human race is called Boris Voropaev. The story of him is worth beginning with the fact that this guy never gave a damn about his position in society or the opinion of others, he just did what he thought was right. He always worked for his personal comfort and free-wheeling pleasure of the projects he implemented. It is worth saying that he celebrated the completion of any, even global, projects in a very peculiar way — he would recline in his chair, throw his legs over the computer system unit that was on the floor, and lay there for a few minutes, then immediately start a new project. Before I met him, I never would have thought that there was a man who did not know how to express joy at all. But as for Boris, he always tried to show his superiority over others at every opportunity, and I must say, on every occasion he could afford it.
Somehow magically he was able to do absolutely everything he wanted to do, from writing magazine articles to all kinds of business analytics. And if he started drawing something like a logo, his work was always recognized as one of the best in some international contest. Don’t ask me how he did it — I can’t explain. At first I thought that it was just my luck and I was looking forward to his mistake, but after a few years I gave up hope, because his work was perfect, in fact he was so efficient that he pulled the whole company together, which became a real monster of the world market. It would have been a talent if Boris himself had acknowledged the existence of talent-he always said it was just a trained skill, that’s all. But the amazing thing is that he did not work for the money.
Even before I met him, he had already managed to make a fortune! His attitude toward money was also striking. For me money is a direct means of existence, but for him it is just an opportunity. Let me try to explain. Let’s take a sports car… He didn’t need it, but he must have understood that he could buy it at any time if he wanted to. And on top of that he had an excellent education, a brilliant lively mind, and the broadest thinking I’ve seen in more than seventy years of my life. He had plenty of ideas and energy to bring them to life. And his most important characteristic was his incredibly explosive nature. Though not without difficulty, he knew how to manage it. Sometimes it seemed that he was about to explode and something terrible would happen, but Boris always stopped in time, as if he himself was afraid of the consequences of what might happen when he lost his temper. I always thought that Boris was a kind of walking paradox that contained all the possible opposites in the world, but I guess people are telling the truth: “Great men are not of this world, indeed.
However, I must admit: all the good that exists in our world is the merit of people of the same kind as Boris Voropayev. Only such vitality and such genius mental abilities could have given us, mere philistines, all the joys of technological progress that we enjoy. All this is presented to us as something ordinary, although in its essence it is a miracle, a miracle that he or people like him did, not you and me. We simply benefit from other people’s achievements, and only because those people have shared them with us. In other words, your coffee machine in the office is a gift to you from someone who doesn’t even know you exist, it’s not something you rightfully deserve. The sooner you grasp this wisdom, the sooner you can create something like this.
However, it would be wrong not to mention the duality of this world, which means that everything has a downside, and usually it is directly proportional to merit. Everything bad that has ever happened to the world is the fault of those same people. It’s not the fact that they planned it or didn’t know there were risks, it just happened. We can’t change the past, we can only write it down in a history book, hoping it will stick in people’s minds. But the great misfortune of it all is that these textbooks are written by people who cannot always correctly assess all the circumstances. They unwittingly distort the facts with their thoughts and comments, and this distorts history as a science, turning it into a certain set of dates and facts that are simply repeated from age to age, without showing the whole picture and the original essence.
This has happened a thousand times, and nothing has changed. People are still the same selfish people who think that everything is within their power, and even knowing the bitter experience of the past, they repeat old mistakes, with only one difference — each time the consequences are more tragic and large-scale.
I don’t know whether I was lucky enough to experience the apogee of humanity’s tragic experience or whether I was just lucky enough to have the most serious one ahead, but I hope that the true story will make you think about the consequences of the actions of most people in general and yours in particular.
It seems to me that Hollywood screenwriters, in my carefree youth, simply provoked our future with their countless attempts to show a possible version of the apocalypse, although sometimes they were close to it. And yet the future was far worse than they could have imagined: black, dirty, without sunshine or hope that things would ever get better.
The sun had long since been obscured by the thick black smog that emanated from the countless automated factories that only produced industrial robots for a variety of purposes. These factories were everywhere, even school and hospital buildings became manufacturing facilities, where 24 hours a day, nonstop, some robots made others. Most people didn’t even know that there was a sun, that it continued to shine as it did a few hundred years ago. The smog was so thick that it showered people with dust that resembled cooled ash, like snow, which slowly killed every living thing on the planet.
The birds were the first to suffer. This “black snow,” as it was popularly dubbed, clogged the lungs of birds during flight, and they suffocated right in the air. Scientists were never able to say whether the birds died from suffocation or from falling from great heights and crashing to the ground. I might add that a couple of months ago I saw a whole flock of dead pigeons, and the sight clearly showed me my future, which I was definitely not happy about. I admittedly panicked, but there was nothing I could do.
Immediately after the birds, the amphibians began to die when this dust began to clog their skin pores. This species adapts very quickly to the changing environment, but even it could not adapt to such aggressive conditions. And soon all the animals that lived and fed outside began to die. They simply had nothing to eat. There were more and more homeless animals — keeping them was getting harder every day. Back then I could still see green leaves on the trees, they were as rare as emeralds on a mountain trail, but soon those were gone too, and the world was finally plunged into darkness.
The seas and oceans, too, were changing their color to black, and any body of water that had once been inhabited by life now emitted the sickening smell of dead fish. We quickly realized that if we did nothing, we would simply wipe ourselves off the face of the earth. By this point, we had not yet had time to master space, so we had to somehow fix the situation on our planet. So the Green City Rocha Corporation appeared in this world, and it was they who designed the world’s first eco-city that was not subject to industrial catharsis, but could also withstand it. A perfectly integrated city in a certain place and with a complete infrastructure capable of autonomously maintaining the entire life-support system was designed, as if nothing bad had ever happened.
In the beginning we were promised that such cities would appear all over the world and that our species, humanity, would be saved by these projects, but it soon turned out that this salvation would be very selective — based on the availability of money and power. Such a city was initially an expensive project with high operating costs. You bet, because it was an artificial ecosystem that dispersed smog and provided sun, nature, and clean, oxygen-rich air — it simply could not have been cheap! In its own way, it was a kind of life raft for the wealthiest people. A total of 78 cities of this type were built, and together they accommodated only about six million people. It became obvious to everyone that most of our species was left behind the fence and could only wonder how well they lived in such cities.
I was lucky: when they built such a city in St. Petersburg, I was able to buy a house there for myself and my daughters. A few decades earlier I had come to work for AGV Solutions INC, which produced various kinds of industrial vehicles, though that was not the name of the company at the time; I had no idea what it would all lead to! It was in that company that I met Boris, who not only looked up the new AMR product from the Western military, but also figured out how to use it for civilian purposes. This was the starting point for the hopeless future, only we did not know about it at the time — we were too busy counting the profits.
I’ve already talked about the endlessly manufactured robots everywhere. Like anything new, these robots were received with a lot of skepticism at first, but very soon they were able to prove their usefulness and quickly became a necessary part of life. We launched this product in the late fall of 2019 in test mode, but already in the spring we had about 40 different robots that performed various household functions — we started with robotic snow blowers, then robotic sweepers, and so on. The point was that we launched them very timely, just before the snowy winter, when the city seemed to be drowning in snow, our robots helped utilities, and then it was off: government contracts, hundreds of private appeals and thousands of corporate appeals — we hit the jackpot. At the time, everyone was already mentally prepared for this kind of technology, so it was not something out of the ordinary, but rather the opposite — these robots literally became part of life. Everyone had an automatic coffee machine or a robot vacuum cleaner at home, and once our hardware proved its reliability, it immediately became the most desirable purchase for everyone. Boris was right again.
AMR robots were faster, more accurate, and cheaper than any human — no wonder there were queues for them in the automation era, when such a robot cost as much as a mid-level manager’s annual salary!
One thing we didn’t take into account was that with every release of a new robot, dozens of people were losing their jobs, and we were releasing them by the thousands, endlessly celebrating our success. Starting with the simplest functionality, we constantly evolved, and soon we had robots for every profession, including doctors. Completely unknowingly, we destroyed entire social classes on which the world and society rested. People were losing their jobs, their incomes, and just the meaning of their lives — no one needed them at all. This is where the biggest problem of humanity came to light. Because at all times we use other people’s labor and do not think about our dependence on them, so of course we underestimate what other people contribute to our lives. It began a long time ago, and every year this trend gained momentum, and at some point we simply lost the boundaries of decency and morality and drowned completely in the depths of our own selfishness.
I met Boris when he was already a dollar millionaire and did not need a paycheck, but after our acquaintance and further events, he simply became golden. I have already told you about Boris’s completely strange attitude toward money; nevertheless, he always repeated that work should be paid regardless of the circumstances, and he conducted his business on the basis of profit sharing among all whose labor resulted in those profits. I, too, as a rank-and-file employee in his department, was entitled to enormous payments, which I set aside for a rainy day, except that I didn’t think the phrase would ever be taken terribly literally. The days would indeed become rainy days.
By the way, we had no money left by then, only “coins,” which were a kind of digital currency. It wasn’t tied to anything of value, it was just some points that could be issued in any quantity as needed. It was more convenient for the corporations that came to power around the world after the budgets of all countries had become so scarce that states lacked the funds to even declare default, and social policy had gone into oblivion altogether. All those corporations that were the first to enter the robotics race could no longer traditionally compete with each other and still support the entire population, they had only one option — to consolidate resources and costs.
This is how the “Council” came into being, an organization that has been given power over the world, and I’m willing to bet that the people at the “global” table did not intend for this to happen. You can ask any businessman about how government works, and the answer will go something like this: “It’s as much a business enterprise as anyone else, only with huge social obligations.” And frankly, that’s a pretty good definition; stick to it, and everything in this state will be fine.
That’s how it was in the beginning: we had urban farms built where fruits and vegetables were produced and sold at throwaway prices, just like other necessary products. People who didn’t make it to the eden began to receive living allowances and were even able to eat a full meal of freeze-dried food from a tube. Slowly, our life began to resemble that of a developing country of the century before last, but even this was a great cause for joy. There were still many problems — expensive medicine, lack of sunshine — but we were getting proof that someone smart and powerful was taking care of us, and that was the main thing.
But the world had changed, and the most important reason for the people’s unrest was the fact that we could be given any amount of coins, but we received very little of them. The corporations were ruled by finance, and the heads of these companies knew this distribution of wealth and weren’t going to give it up, there was simply no other alternative that everyone could accept.
No one doubted that the list of gold companies had completely sprung up in the new generation of cities, once they had been built. The price of real estate in these cities was exorbitant — the average person had to not eat, not drink, and completely set aside all his income for about four hundred years to buy the cheapest apartment, unless it went up in price during that time. I fortunately had the means to move to a new city, and I saw what happened next with my own eyes. Some people, through talent and experience, can anticipate future events and use them to their advantage. I was not such a person, but I was saved by both chance and a lack of wastefulness.
It turned out that the head of Green City Rocha was talented enough to exploit the current state of affairs for his own self-serving ideals. As soon as the robot began to smoke the earth and the air, Vlad Taleco understood where this would lead, and impatiently awaited the change of power and the fall of the current world order. He knew very well that merchants, unlike politicians, had no such fear of power, and as soon as they were all in the cities under his control, they became his hostages. Some resisted him and were brutally murdered, and some simply agreed to give him power, but somehow, Vlad Taleko in one day subjugated the whole world and called himself Emperor Clement the First. It was from that moment and stopped all attempts to somehow make a life for all those who could not afford to live in the cities, which were named “Eden”. Their lives were reduced to one simple choice: to die here in the dirt and soot or to live under the pure sun, but to give up all the best human qualities.
Vlad Toleko was able to intelligently plan everything and become the sole ruler of the entire planet. No one could get to him, no one could challenge him. If the corporations somehow helped the poor, he did not care about those people who could not afford to pay for life in Eden. He even stopped supporting projects that had been successfully implemented by the previous government. Moreover, he imposed such a financial burden on private corporations that there was no way they could help the people who needed it. Now, they had only one chance to exist normally — to work in the Eden, doing the dirtiest work for which it was a pity to use robots.
Most were less fortunate — they could buy shares in companies for koins, and thereby provide a comfortable life for their grandchildren, if they had children at all. They could provide private services or streaming services in order to get financial support from other users. Some of them were good at it, while the rest had only to indulge in dejection or banditry — the world had become a perverse version of the capitalist’s dream: goods produced and sold themselves, while it was possible to provide any additional services without taxes. The market was living on its own, and in the absence of a regulator, this could not end well. Now several thousand criminal syndicates were organized in this world, which could steal income from the already poor people with impunity, and if the bandits were caught by the security service, which everyone called “guards”, they were simply killed right there, so as not to waste time.
This is how robots reduced absolutely everyone in a few years, from ordinary workers to internationally respected managers. The ironic thing is that ordinary workers were being laid off by efficient managers who had no idea that they too would soon be replaced by robots, and the workers, in turn, tried to warn everyone else that this would happen because they had already had a lot of grief from mass automation. But no one would listen to them, either out of pride or unwillingness to change anything, but it didn’t matter. This led to the most amazing phenomenon: total class equality for the vast majority of people, who were equally dissatisfied with it.
So every few weeks a new revolution broke out somewhere and was mercilessly strangled by the authorities. This was handled by Ido Brims, security advisor to the new government. A former intelligence general who knew neither mercy nor compassion. If he suspected that anyone was even thinking of overthrowing the new emperor, that person disappeared without a trace. Perhaps it was only because of him and his “guards” that none of the uprisings ended well for their participants.
That is how we ended up in a world where black ash fell from the sky every day instead of snow, where there were no birds, caterpillars, or wild animals, not even stray dogs. The rich could only work for the sake of work, and many tried to just survive somehow, and some were just resigned to it. If some realized that they could not survive, there was only one thing left for them: utilitarian oblivion. They just watched black snow fall from the sky, people fighting over oxygen tanks, and waited for who knows what. They often collected postcards that were free and were nostalgic for the days when they could see a living tree or hear birds sing. They would just look out the dirty windows at the smoky city and disappear into the world of their memories.
Most likely, had it not been for a series of fortunate events, I too would have met the fate of the latter, but as fate would have it, I had a chance to try to fix at least something. Too bad I started too late, though, after many years of happy life in Eden.
June 18, 2038
My morning, like any morning in the last ten years, was beautiful. I didn’t have to rush anywhere, the sun was gently warming the ground, and the aroma of my wife’s cinnamon tea spread throughout the house.
For almost 50 years now, she’s been getting up before me, and every morning she makes a new and delicious tea – she just has this hobby of making the magical drink in different flavors. I was always amazed at how many recipes there are for making tea. I do not remember my wife repeating herself, though she had a cherished notebook somewhere, where she recorded the recipes she made and how good the resulting tea was. Marina, was a wonderful wife and a wonderful woman in every way.
To our daughters, Diana and Milana, she instilled a love of home, comfort, beauty — everything that would make them even more beautiful wives than Marina, and I myself envied their future suitors. I must say that they were clever, and like all the young people of Eden, they never worked, and they didn’t need to. When they were young, I couldn’t provide for them, so they had to make do with what they had. But when they were adults, I was able to buy them everything and more. That’s the way it worked for us. And that was the worst horror of my life. If anything happened to me, they would literally be thrown against the world, and the laws were getting stricter by the day, so I had to devote my life to providing for them today and making their future as serene as it is now. I have been lucky enough to have succeeded in many things.
We had everything: a four-bedroom house in St. Petersburg Eden, fully paid social security dues for a hundred years ahead, and a bank account for more than eleven million, which received forty-seven thousand koins in interest each month. At five thousand per person, we were living on our own, and I spent the rest of the money buying new stocks, gradually increasing our passive income. I would like to say that our life was boring, and I enjoyed boring myself for more money.
I lazily got out of bed and went to take a shower. I liked living here, but I realized with dread that I was getting more and more bored with it. That fact alone didn’t scare me, it was the consequences of my actions that scared me. I knew I could move to another Eden-type city, but my family and I had been to all of them, and we didn’t like any of them, and there was nowhere else to live with the same level of comfort-there were no other settlements of this type, and there were not even plans to build them. And living outside of Eden was suicidal-the average life expectancy there had already fallen to less than forty years because of the terrible environment and the level of criminal activity.
I spent all the time in the shower in nostalgic memories of the life that was in the Soviet Union, where everyone knew exactly what he had to do, what he was needed for, and how good it was when everyone in the country had roughly the same ideology. I got out of the automatic shower and wiped myself with an old terry towel, which I kept just out of habit. I had always been a junk man and never threw away junk; it was easier for me to think of new uses for it or leave it until better times than to take it to the trash.
I glanced at my watch and realized that I was finally relaxed-this was the third year in a row that I had gotten up a few minutes late, and now at eleven o’clock in the morning I was just on my way to breakfast. The whole family was already waiting for me at the dinner table, with a whole stack of thin pancakes and a dozen syrups of all kinds, and a big glass kettle on an automatic heated coaster in the middle of the table.
We sat and laughed and tried to think of something to do for the day, which was our tradition. We could talk like that in the morning and then, a few hours later, sit in a rented plane and fly to the other side of the world. And every day it was more and more difficult to come up with a new activity. Once we realized there were no good ideas, we decided to turn on the news — just in case we missed something.
It should be noted that all digital broadcasting now belonged to one social network, and the TV channel “News” showed the most interesting videos for our family from various bloggers. My attention was completely absorbed by the video where a poor boy somewhere in the Amazon jungle saw and filmed a wild jaguar. It was now akin to a miracle. How could one encounter a wild animal in this day and age! I even made a generous donation to this boy and began to speculate that this world was about to kill itself:
— Interesting! There are still places where there are wild animals after all. I would even pay the person who shows me a stray dog in Kupchino! — I philosophically exclaimed.
— You’re afraid of dogs! — My wife never missed a chance to tease me.
— Yes, but now I’m more afraid of robots. Honestly, I miss the days when you could buy bread at the store and give it to a mutt. — I was beginning to complain about life.
— So let’s get a puppy! — Diane loudly blurted out.
— Or better yet, two! — Milana instantly picked up on it.
— And a cat, too! — I started sneering, though I liked the idea. — And who will walk with them?
— Yes, we all have so much to do… — Marina said meaningfully and smiled widely.
We all laughed and went to pack — we could only buy a puppy in one place — the zoo. In general, the Edens were unbearably logically designed; there was practically nothing duplicative, moreover, everything was always in one place. There was a veterinary clinic next to the zoo, an animal owner certification office, a shelter, and an animal observation center.
When everyone was ready, we called a cab to go to the pet store. I’ve never had a car — I’ve always wanted one, but was afraid to drive, and now there are almost no private cars — it’s the lot of the richest people in the world. Everyone else was left with robot cabs, which always came quickly, were always clean, and, of course, there was only one operator for the whole world.
Fifteen minutes later we were already there. I sent my family off to look at the flora and fauna, and I went to get my pet license myself. I had to listen to a few hours of a stupid lecture and pass a test to get a permit, with which I could then buy a dog. As usual, a robot accepted the course fee, another robot took me to the auditorium, where a third robot showed me a long movie about how pets should be loved, as if someone had gotten dogs without feeling affectionate about them.
Anyway, I was able to pass the test the second time because I couldn’t tell several different pinschers from each other, and as a result, I was banned from buying dogs of those two breeds. I actually wasn’t going to choose these breeds, my dogs are supposed to be big and drooling, but it was still very frustrating, although I had accomplished the main task, it was only a matter of time.
I found my girls in the cafe that was in the zoo. They were eating ice cream, of course. There was a lot of noise, apparently they had brought children from behind the “fence” and showed them both the zoo and Eden itself, so they knew what they had to strive for. I always thought it was a kind of mockery of children: first bringing them from hell to heaven and then taking them back to blackness with the full knowledge that they are still no good, since they don’t live here. And the most cynical thing about this world was that all of these excursions were paid for and quite expensive for the parents of these children. But it was in such twists and turns that Toleko’s main policy lay.
We went looking for a pet store to buy the puppies that were to become the new members of our family, but unfortunately it was closed for quarantine. For some reason we couldn’t carry out our plan today, so we had to resort to the backup plan of buying a few bottles of wine and half a pound of mold cheese.
June 22, 2038
For several days now we haven’t been able to buy puppies, and it’s been pissing us off, especially since no one could explain to us what happened.
So for the past few nights we have been resentful of Thaleko and his comprehensive policy. My wife and I were reminiscing about the times when there were no industrial robots yet, and how good we were then. It was a very painful topic, because in part I always blamed myself for what happened to the planet. After all, I was the one who worked at AGV Solutions, and it was with that company that such a crazy automation race began.
That evening, we all went to our sauna as a family and for some reason the conversation about anxiety came up, I guess again it had to do with not buying puppies again, anxiety, and here I was for the first time admitting my biggest fear to my family. Surprisingly, no one was going to reassure me.
— I felt guilty about it all. — My phrase came out of the blue, I really wanted to be comforted.
— That’s because you are guilty! — Marina blurted out her remark as a crude joke, but I realized that she also thought I was involved in the disaster in the world.
— But I did not know that this would happen! — I began instinctively to make excuses.
— So? Are you going to regret it for the rest of your life? — My wife suddenly pointed out a new meaning to my life.
I don’t remember how that evening ended, or what we talked about, then we all slept to an old movie in the couch as a family. There was no fighting, but it was like I had no sleep at all. Slowly I got up and went to get some fresh air. I walked as quietly as possible, so as not to wake anyone, I didn’t even put my shoes on. The summer nights in Eden were very warm anyway. I decided to walk around my property. The dew touched my bare feet, burning them with a pleasant chill, and my mind was spinning with thoughts about how I could fix the situation in general. But I had no ideas, though I tried to think in different ways. And then, by some miracle, a strange but useful thought occurred to me.
I thought: what is the worst thing about slum life? It’s the terrible ecology and people’s lack of occupation. What if I could solve these problems at the same time? The most dangerous thing is the smog and ash, which must be removed first. Talo and his companies didn’t care about the common people, so here they have to save themselves. If they have a permanent and useful occupation, there may still be time to make things right. It was with this thought in mind that I returned to the house and lay down to sleep on the couch closer to my family.
At breakfast, I decided to share the evening’s reflections with the whole family. I never would have thought they would take the idea with enthusiasm. They were all eager to help me, perhaps my first useful initiative. So they were a little offended by my reluctance to take them along because I had worked all my life to get my family to live here. No, I wouldn’t let them voluntarily give it up, much less for the provocative idea of an old man who might just be starting to lose his mind. Despite the resentment, they still actively discussed my idea, tried to give advice and plan the process with me. Except that what I had in mind defied planning, so we simply decided: I would return to our old apartment in Kupchino and improvise on the spot, and if something went wrong, I would return immediately to Eden.
Until the night continued talking about my future attempt to save humanity, and every new word about it only added responsibility, it became scary, I somehow did not even really want to go anywhere, but my pride did its job. I decided firmly to try — I would go tomorrow, and whatever happens, after all, what is destined to happen cannot be avoided, and moreover, I personally had nothing to lose. I had already fulfilled my main goals in life, and I could only risk my life, but I had already lived long enough to fear for it; with age the fear of death was replaced by the fear of unfulfilled duties, and that was the only fear I had not had until recently.
June 3, 2038
This morning started out chaotic-we were packing me as a family for a trip that could take a very long time. My beloved wife was masterfully packing my things in a suitcase, placing literally a few dozen things in a few square centimeters. At the same time Diana was setting up my smartphone – she created my blog and wrote instructions on how to use it, set up a mutual transmission of coordinates so that I could always see where my relatives were and they could see where I was, activated an additional app so I could stream by myself, even though I was too old for all that. And Milana was carefully making a list of things I could use. And I was the only one sitting around drinking coffee, eating breakfast and watching the bacchanalia that was going on. I kept trying to figure out if they were so fed up with me that they wanted to get rid of me, or if they really believed that I could make the world a better place and were just trying to help? Either way, I wanted to think they still believed in me.
Of course, I still didn’t know what or how I was going to do, what it would be like to step outside of Eden and live in the very past from which I had so zealously fled. My altruistic goal of cleaning up the whole world, or at least beginning to do so, seemed distant, unrealistic, and somehow I remembered a youth that had transpired at a very different time. Back then I was a limited man, like all my compatriots, we could only dream of a job that would benefit people, and we also dreamed of traveling by train throughout our immense homeland. But my father had slightly different plans. Having worked as a shop foreman all his life, he understood that it was much better to work with his head rather than his hands. This is why, by hook or by crook, he was able to get me into the university, where I was to get an unusual profession of a marketing specialist.
At the time no one knew what it was, in fact throughout my career I always had to explain what I was doing, even though the word has become very fashionable. And, of course, no one had any idea how to properly teach marketers, so my diploma was obtained without much difficulty, and I instantly found myself at my father’s company, where I took an honorary position. The work, by the way, turned out to be wonderful: no one asked me for anything, and all work was reduced to endless meetings about how great it would be if something happened. However, I must say that I got a lot more money for this completely useless work than my father did – all I had to do was not to be late and to leave fifteen minutes later than the end of the day. Yes, that was how I learned that there is no justice in the world, and that the evaluation of work and actions is extremely subjective, but then, it was all in my favor. I was always lucky, though I never admitted it out loud, and I even forbade myself to think about it.
I told you that I also had another dream: to travel. This dream was not destined to come true. The first time I got on a plane was when I was forty years old, with my wife and children. I still can’t explain why it happened, even though I remember exactly that I had money and time. Throughout my life, I have seen all my friends and acquaintances have had their teenage dreams crushed, and I guess that was the plan. After all, we can only realize the true value of our desires after enduring dozens of failures and shedding several liters of sweat while trying to achieve our goals.
Then the collapse of the Soviet Union awaited me, a time of dashing perestroika, and a period of forming my new country, which had sprung up on the ruins of the previous one. Those times were not easy for anyone, but, nevertheless, all my acquaintances got families, apartments, and everything that everyone dreamed of. After all, man is an amazing creature, he can live and enjoy life under any conditions. Even in those conditions where there is no life, from this point of view, we almost do not differ from cockroaches, and I do not even believe that the nuclear winter can survive only these repulsive creatures, because as time has shown – our, human, species has remained, and about them I have long heard nothing.
In the end, life somehow got better on its own and a commercial boom began — everyone was providing some kind of service or producing something. And at some point there was so much stuff that it was hard to go to the store — there was too much choice, for example, there were thousands of bottled drinks alone, so it was with all the products. Uniqueness was gone, and companies had to compete with each other, and that’s where I made my first really big money. Suddenly it turned out that it was the marketers who could influence the situation. After all, our work is based on studying the market of competitors and consumers and offering the best solution in favor of the latter. It was at that moment that I got a spacious apartment in Kupchino and a big summer house, and on vacation I went not to the suburbs but to Paris.
The city itself grew and developed rapidly and attracted more and more new people who brought their money into it – it was a kind of vicious cycle of money, which for some reason was always scarce, as it turned out that gold is not shared equally. And each of the new residents wanted to show their superiority, not even thinking about the fact that no one was interested in it. So we had expensive brands, where a wristwatch could cost as much as several apartments. And these companies did not skimp on marketing salaries, I got richer with each new player in the market, and we dined at home less and more and more in restaurants. It seemed to me that this would always be the case, that the money would never run out, and that if disaster did strike, I would be free to find another high-paying job.
As I realized later, it was just an attack of stardom, nothing more. But I went along with it and opened my own business. I have always liked restaurants – I opened a trendy and prestigious restaurant, thanks to the demand for them. I built it myself, entirely with my own money, which had almost run out by the time it was finished. I still did not take into account a lot of factors that were not very expensive, but there were a lot of them, so the investment in my construction increased several times.
The first year was very hard – I didn’t know how to run this business or how to manage it, I had to learn everything all over again. By the time I was able to figure it out, I already had several loans hanging over me. I was barely making ends meet, but there finally came a time when my restaurant started to make a profit. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to start with, but then a new economic crisis began, which completely undermined the purchasing power of the population. My restaurant turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life, because it was simply empty. My dream had become useless, a problem and a pain in the memory.
What happened next? Yes, for the next few years I worked in different positions, desperately not understanding why nobody needed me. And when I did, I didn’t feel good at all. It turned out to be elementary: no one needed me before, I did not have the knowledge to be paid so generously, people just had money. There was plenty of it, so I could give it away, I didn’t feel sorry for it. Now I understood people less and less. The gap between social classes was so huge and so blurred that it was no longer possible to tell who was poor and who was rich. People seemed to go crazy in the pursuit of money – it was much more tragic than the famous gold rush. Back then in Alaska, only those who went there took the risk, but here the whole town measured everything in money. The most disgusting thing was that money replaced even my feelings.
So I got by on a pittance, even rented out a room to workers, constantly trying to get back on the same level of income. Only later I wised up and began to brazenly lie at job interviews, and one day it worked – I managed to convince the director of a garage production, who hired me as a marketer with a very good salary. And I then…
While melancholy memories were flooding through me, my family had already fully equipped me for my future exploits. Before I knew it, it was evening. All we had left to do was eat dinner and say goodbye. We finished the delicious pizza the robot courier had brought us and called me a cab. I promised to do my first live show on the road: give my daughters a tour of the city they were born in, but hadn’t been to in a very long time. I was sure that my girls would not recognize it; indeed, I doubted whether I would recognize the city myself. After a long and warm embrace, I did get into the snow-white cab that was to take me to my old apartment. I was going back to where it all began.
I rode in the cab and kept trying to convince myself that I had made the right decision when I left the zone of the protected city. It’s always unpleasant to leave my comfort zone, especially when you realize that living conditions are now deteriorating with every second, with every meter I move away from Eden. Even though the cab was as comfortable as possible, my soul was scratching at me-no refreshments, no light jazz pouring in as if from nowhere, not even a soft, stitched leather couch could save me. On the one hand, I was very glad to be going home now, to the very place I had only good memories of. In general, the human brain is designed from the start to erase all the bad stuff, leaving only the most tender and pleasant memories. Of course, I remembered that a lot of things had happened there, and even events that would have been better not to have happened at all, but I did not want to think about it, chased the memories away, scrolling through the future again and again.
Suddenly I realized exactly how ridiculous my idea was. What if, in idealizing the memories, I hadn’t considered the fact that I could only make things worse? And at the same time, I knew clearly that I couldn’t turn back, and I didn’t want to. My trip was only supposed to last about twenty minutes, and it started on the insanely dusty Savushkin Street. This district was always windy because of its proximity to the Bay, and when the roads were covered with a few centimeters of dust, the black tornadoes often started dancing wildly here. The only thing that had changed on the positive side was the lack of traffic. I drove along the embankment almost all the way to the end and recognized all kinds of buildings, some I had memories with, but I didn’t have time to manifest them in my memory. In my head, my thoughts were changing as quickly as the landscape outside the window, as if I were watching a personal dialog film, necessarily black and white, and my thoughts were bleak and gray, just as the city had become.
The entire once majestic Neva embankment was now laden with the black hue of water. No, it had always been dark, but I hadn’t seen it in a long time, and now it looked like the site of an oil spill – everything was just as black and scary, as if I were seeing footage of early 21st century environmental disasters again. I remember admiring the majestic river in London until I saw pictures of it. Up close it turned out. There wasn’t even a river – yellow mud flowed between the embankments. But even that disappointment was nothing compared to the horror I felt now, looking at what was called the Neva, which had always been portrayed in white and blue hues. How hard it is to readjust to a new world with its new colors. I kept wondering if there was any water and mud in this world, at least relatively intact buildings. And then suddenly my heart somehow twitched – I saw a ship, not completely sunken, which in my youth was no longer running on the waves, but a restaurant, which I had once wanted to buy, and now turned into a pile of rusty iron. For some reason my car went through the Petrograd side, apparently it decided to show me the center of the city.
St. Petersburg itself is a gray city, for as long as I can remember, it has been that way. But now it had become really black, and the only sources of light were the advertising screens that broadcast the world’s only brands. As a marketer with half a century of experience, I was completely perplexed – why advertise something that would be bought anyway, given the lack of alternatives? Probably for the sake of reducing the city’s lighting costs at the expense of private companies, and if so, Taleko’s greed had no bounds.
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