This story was written in 1990 and, at that time, would have been very prophetic. In 2019 it’s interesting to see how much of it, albeit in a slightly varied form, has come true. I hope you can still enjoy it and think of it in its own time frame.
The tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the ensuing political events prompted the leaders of every Country to take a long, hard look at the realities of the situation. At the repeated World Conferences the same themes were discussed: Communism, Dictatorships, Socialism, Monarchies and Democracies were no longer working; terrorism and other forms of crimes were out of control; drug addiction was rampant; but, most importantly, the economic structure and stability no longer existed.
In the end it all came down to money!
But no matter what the cause, the effect was: the Summit Meeting of the year 2000 culminated in the total redrawing of the world map. It was a new century and, after the chaos of the last decade of the previous one, the leaders finally put aside their egos and lust for power and joined forces.
Some of the new nations retained their names and some were merged under a new name, but they functioned only as semi-independent states under the Governorship of one of the six capitals: London for all of Europe, including what was once called the Eastern Block; Moscow for the newly named U.R. (leaving out the two S’s of the old U.S.S.R.); Tokyo for all of Asia, which now incorporated the Philippines and Hawaii; Cairo for all of Africa; Washington, D.C. for all of the Americas, the outlying islands and Canada and New Delhi for India and the Middle East.
Initially the reorganization created an outcry at the fear of loss of identity, customs and language problems, but the previous quality of life had become so intolerable that it was easily quelled.
The under-class, which had burgeoned in geometric proportion to the technological advancements that had rapidly accelerated during the past ten years, leaving them totally disenfranchised, was also appeased by the new structure since they were now taken care of and felt that they had their place.
In short, after a short transition period, everyone seemed happy. The homeless had homes; drugs were legalized and, once the illicit thrill and the need for escape was removed, people stopped using them and the dealers went out of business by attrition; and terrorism ceased because all of the six nations, bound together by their common needs. Offered primarily the same alternatives. The world had been homogenized, but, for the first time, there was world peace.
The electric companies, having found no satisfactory method of charging for sunlight, turned exclusively to nuclear power and, through the miracles the technological and scientific communities were bringing about, atomic energy plants were reduced in size to the point that they could be slipped into a shirt pocket and were being used in every new convenience the engineers devised.
By 2019 the transition period was over and the kinks worked out so that things were running smoothly.
The majority of the world’s population lived a life of leisure. Robots did all the manual tasks and computers did the mental work, making the most taxing decision to be made by any individual on any given day the choice of what form of entertainment they should enjoy.
The crime-ridden streets of the 1990’s had progressively forced everyone back into their homes on a nearly permanent basis and, until the changeover in 2000, the governments had found it easier to allow this to happen rather than deal with the problem.
This, of course, had a dramatic effect of the arts. Concert halls, opera houses, stage and movie theatres all disappeared and everything shifted to television. But with the advent of the giant projection system, with viewing screen capacity of up to ten feet by fourteen feet, the audience was completely satisfied visually and the demand for program material became almost insatiable. Five hundred thirty six channels broadcast simultaneously and the average viewer spent thirteen hours per day lounging in their miraculously comfortable homes.
The exception to this life of repose was the writers, actors, technicians, etc. who turned out the requisite material in the nine hundred video studios scattered around the world.
ANTALUBIUM VIDEO, located in Hollywood, California was, by far, the largest: turning out as many as two hundred seventy five individual programs in a single day, although that was a record not often duplicated, much to the chagrin of its President, George Bartholomew.
All of its sixty three hundred employees lived and worked on the studio grounds and were transported from their homes to their working environments by means of an intricate system of conveyor belts with pop-up chairs attached.
All of this had a drastic positive effect on the environment, which largely reversed itself due to air pollution from cars and factories being eliminated since they were all run by nuclear power, totally bio-degradable products being used exclusively and water refineries and desalinization plants being perfected. The only residual was the holes left in the ozone layer by previous generations, but the research computers were working on a method to alleviate them as well and the solution was expected in the near future. However, the greenhouse effect had produced a general warming of the planet, but, even that, seemed to be working in everyone’s favor since it allowed a longer growing season for food crops.
Friday, September 13th was an average one hundred fourteen degrees in California and John and Denise Hayes awoke to another of what they considered perfect days.
John and Denise and Fiona and Mark Wood shared a twenty-room house on the Antalubium grounds. They all worked as videotape editors, but both John and Denise had degrees as engineers and had worked to help develop the giant projection television system.
Fiona and Mark started as actors, but were quickly replaced, at age twenty, by younger people, everything and everyone being disposable. They’d barely escaped total retirement because they’d learned editing on their own and managed to convince, or more likely, made George Bartholomew feel sorry enough for them to get him to permit their reassignment, on the condition that they found an established team of editors to take them under their wing.
They’d found that in John and Denise, who not only agreed to retrain them, but the four became such close friends that they requested a house to accommodate them all. The request was granted and for two years now they’d been living under one roof.
From George’s point of view the arrangement had worked out well since it saved supplying an additional house and increased productivity because the two couples, unlike the majority of his employees, took their work home with them. Not that video editing amounted to much more than pushing a button periodically, but even that was accomplished faster if the footage was pre-viewed, which was how the Woods and Hayes spent their off hours.
John was especially happy this morning and whistled as he came into the dining room for the breakfast the electronic device had prepared. Friday the thirteenths were his favorite days and he considered them lucky because they happened so seldom.
He was also looking forward to the day’s editing projects: an all-Mozart concert by the Los Angeles Symphony, a murder mystery movie, two comedy programs and a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and although he knew only the comedies would be seen by most of the viewers and the others were only produced because an Arts Council somewhere thought appearances should be kept up and gave the producers a grant, he planned on enjoying himself.
Denise, Fiona and Mark were already finishing their breakfast by the time John joined them in the dining room and took his seat to await the robot-maid serving him.
The three people seated at the table stared at their plates in silence. To them a Friday the thirteenth, any Friday the thirteenth, was cause for depression and he’d given up the idea of convincing them otherwise a long time ago, but refused to let it dampen his spirits.
Out of respect for his wife’s and friend’s feelings however, he refrained from speaking, but that didn’t stop his mind from wandering along its joyous course and he automatically started humming the theme from the first movement of the Mozart G minor Symphony which, he knew, was on the concert program slated for this morning’s editing.
Da Da Dah Da Da Dah Da Da Dah Dee
Denise gave him a forlorn look and he immediately stopped humming and concentrated on finishing breakfast as quickly as possible.
“Do you think we’ll have time to work on the new projection system?” Mark suddenly asked.
“I hope so,” John replied and pressed one of the buttons attached to the bottom of the table which activated the robot-maid to re-enter and clear their dishes.
The new, expanded projection television system was a project John had been working on for a while and Mark was especially keen to not only learn the mechanics of the apparatus, but because he, like John, truly believed it would open up a whole new world of cinematography and make it possible for the viewers to experience the feeling of being totally engulfed in the picture. The thought of feeling you were traveling through space to one of the seventeen cooperatively owned space stations, or following the course of human blood through the veins and arteries during a medical demonstration without leaving your living room produced a greater sense of euphoria than Mark had ever experienced.
Space travel had never fulfilled its promise anyway and was primarily reduced to acting as an auxiliary laboratory for the scientific community, but this new television could open whole new worlds of possibilities.
Simply stated, the idea called for a modification of the present system so it could project on any surface, at any distance and in any size desired.
Mark’s dream was to lie in bed and look up at a screen the size of his room, which was, in reality, the ceiling and feel whatever he was watching. If John’s new version worked, his next step, Mark thought, would be to add a sense of weight to the picture, making it almost as if the viewer was actually within what he was viewing.
He’d discussed it with John several times already and he intended to press the issue further once John reached the next plateau.
Fiona looked at her watch and suggested they go to the studio.
It was only the third sentence spoken this morning, but all that would change once they began working and their concentration overcame any thought of the date.
John pressed another button, just inside the front door of the house, and the conveyor belt that took them the two miles to the furthest point in the southwest corner of the Antalubium grounds, abutting the sheer cliff at the edge of the North American Continent at the Pacific Ocean.
The editing studio itself was a gigantic geodesic dome enclosing nearly three and a half acres and contained within its glass and steel covering the facilities for two hundred fifty editors’ work spaces, complete restaurant, housing for fifty and a miniature farm to supply the kitchen. All power, water desalinization and other essentials were contained and/or produced in its controlled environment and once inside it was possible to remain there indefinitely.
The conveyor trip took six minutes and John spent the time reviewing the cue sheets for the day’s five projects and calculated in his mind how long he anticipated the job would take.
Not long, he thought. The concert would run practically straight through, which meant an hour and forty-three minutes. The two comedies lasted a total of one hour and twenty minutes. The mystery: two hours even. Twelfth Night presented the greatest problems because no network thought it important enough to allot more than two hours of airtime since they expected ratings to be almost zero for any slot devoted to a cultural program.
John was always amazed at the general level of sophistication of the public and that, instead of offering more intelligent programming, the approach was to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
Well, at least he was one of the lucky few who had access to all the classics of the nineteenth century and could watch whatever he wanted.
Denise, Fiona and Mark took care of the comedies while he worked on the mystery and then they all tackled Twelfth Night, dividing the scenes among them and working out the total timings so the final product, at least, made sense even if not quite as Shakespeare conceived it. The concert was saved until last so John could savor every note of the Mozart.
By four o’clock they were finished and everyone else was already gone: the average work load was three hours of air time per editor per day and since all the facilities were fully automated they were left completely alone.
The afternoon sun was still blazing its setting orange rays when they walked out of their workspace into the center quadrangle of the dome.
“Did you just feel something?” Denise asked.
“Please don’t start imagining things, Denise. I know it’s Friday the thirteenth, but…”
“No, I just felt it too,” Fiona interrupted.
“I think they’re right, John,” Mark added. “I think I felt a tremor…”
“Well, I didn’t. And even if it was a tremor, we’re in California. What do you expect?”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m going to turn on a television and see if there are any reports about what’s going on,” Fiona announced.
“Not a bad idea,” Mark agreed.
“Okay. If you’re all so skittish, we’ll go to the booth,” John said condescendingly.
“Repeating our lead story,” the anchorman stated, “the Chernobyl Atomic Power Plant in the U.R., which was outmoded twenty years ago but never shut down, exploded an hour ago. The effects of the shock wave from the explosion have already started a chain reaction of effects: tidal waves have overtaken Hawaii and the Philippine Islands, there have been earthquakes in Japan and landslides in the Alps. No word has been reported on casualties or property damage and we don’t know exactly how severe the effects will eventually be inasmuch as communications have been cut off almost entirely in these areas.
“Scientists from around the world are already conferring and considering the possibility of the need to shut down other major reactors to prevent further accidents being caused by…
“Excuse me,” he said, taking a sheet of paper being handed to him.
“The Toshibi reactor outside Tokyo was split in half by the earthquake devastating Japan and has exploded…”
“What happened?” Denise screamed.
“The channel’s out,” John answered.
“Try another one!” Fiona demanded.
“I am!” John shouted, frantically switching from one channel to the next.
“Don’t tell me it’s here too!” Fiona said almost hysterically.
“It’s impossible! They’re talking about half way around the world,” John said, trying to maintain the appearance of remaining calm.
“I don’t care what you say, I felt another one! Try the satellite channel,” Mark said, frantically grabbing at the television control box.
“There’s nothing there!” John stated, panic creeping into his voice.
“That can’t be!” Mark shouted.
“Okay, try it yourself!”
Mark leaned forward to take the control just at the instant a major quake struck California. For years there had been predictions that the west coast would split off from the mainland along the San Andreas fault and as the four people now trapped in the geodesic dome fell to the floor, along with nearly everything else that was rapidly turning to debris, the single thought was, is this the one that would prove all the predictions correct?
It never entered any of the minds that they were about to die since they’d long ago come to the understanding that on the day of the big one they would be dead. All Californians had learned to live with that fact as a reality rather than a possibility and therefore they assumed they only had minutes left.
The floor continued to shake under them, each time becoming more intense and they clung to each other in the hope of not being tossed along with the chairs, tables, walls, electronic equipment and all the other items in the glass cage.
Each time the earth shuddered there was a violent wrenching of the steel frame, but none of the glass had broken yet.
None of them knew how long it continued.
The ocean was suddenly washing across the dome, shutting out what little light was left as the sky turned blacker.
Still they clung to each other and the four bodies, like a human star, feet stretched out and arms wrapped around each other’s torsos, slid from point to point like a ping pong ball shot from a cannon.
And then it came. The cracking sound, even miles away, was deafening. It seemed, to them, as loud as a thousand giant redwood trees all falling at once only two feet in front of them.
The waves from the Pacific washed over the dome from all sides now, completely submerging it in its black cover.
No one screamed. No one made a sound. And if they had it wouldn’t have been heard, not even by the other three still struggling to hold on to the last seconds of life in each other’s arms. The fear they thought they’d reconciled so long ago overcame all of them and they knew, at any moment, the glass would break and they’d be drowned.
How long it would take none of them knew and they prayed it would happen soon and end their torture.
But the four people encapsulated in the dome under the tons of water would have found it incomprehensible that the world was being snuffed out by the synthesis of nature’s fury, just as the populace of Pompeii and Herculaneum, in 79 A.D., could not have understood the magnitude of the effect of Mt. Vesuvius would have on their cities.
Only, this time, a chain reaction had started: public and private nuclear reactors triggered one another and the various natural phenomena. As each reactor exploded, volcano erupted or earthquake began the scale tipped a little further as the geometric progression proceeded.
Without their knowing it three hours passed, and then four, and they still clung to each other as the earth shifted and the steel and glass shrieked its own agonizing cries each time it was pulled and pushed and twisted by the waves and the stress from above, below and all sides.
And then, just as suddenly as it began, it appeared to be over. They still sat in the center of the quadrangle, locked in what might have been their death embrace, and stared at the blackness surrounding them. But the horrifying shaking had stopped and the deafening roar changed its tenor, becoming more like the sound of waves washing onto a beach, heard but not fully observed, while sunbathing on the sand.
Time had stood still for so long for John, Denise, Mark and Fiona that now they weren’t certain what to expect next.
They blinked their eyes furiously in the vain attempt to reestablish contact with reality, but it seemed their only reality was the sense of touch and the feel of each other’s bodies pressed one against the other.
Slowly the water receded, at first imperceptible, but then to a point where the top of the dome was uncovered and over the next six hours it continued lowering, licking the sides of the glass, and the huddled mass, from the exhaustion of the experience, fell asleep.
As the dawn broke over their heads they awoke and were able to look out of the glass and discover that the dome had planted itself in the center of what was now a small island.
To the east, in the far distance, they thought they saw land, but that was uncertain and their first thoughts, once they fully realized that they were alive and had survived whatever had happened, were to try to establish contact with anyone outside the dome and ascertain the extent of the damage and if there was food and water.
Fiona and Mark took charge of the latter while John and Denise tried the electronic equipment.
“There’s practically no damage to the dome and plenty of food and water,” Mark reported, returning to the editing room a half hour later where he and Fiona finally found John and Denise trying to untangle a maze of wires and broken equipment.
“I wish I could say as much for this mess,” John replied.
“Any chance of fixing it?” Fiona asked tentatively.
“There may be enough parts to cannibalize if we’re very careful,” John answered.
“Why don’t we eat something first and then get started,” Fiona suggested, “it looks like it’ll be a long process.”
“And it doesn’t look like we’ll be going anywhere for a while,” Denise agreed.
* * * *
After the initial shock of the experience, which was an attribute in disguise since it permitted them to approach the immediate necessities in a logical manner, and the ensuing hysteria at being trapped and isolated had subsided, a sense of normalcy returned and over the next three months a routine was established: Mark and Fiona handled the majority of the domestic duties; they all spent part of the day farming and tending to the other necessary chores for the requirements of life support; and they shared the watch duty, both visual and electronic, in the event that someone tried to contact them.
John managed to restore the equipment to the point where they could receive signals if any came in, but, due to the lack of certain requisite parts, was unable to construct a transmitter.
However, he also managed to restore the projection television system and they spent their leisure time watching the vast array of programs already on videotape in the huge library.
It became a relatively tranquil existence.
By means of a few minor adjustments to the radiometer connected to the internal nuclear power plant John was able to measure radioactivity of the atmosphere outside the dome, which, for some reason, and he could never explain why, seemed to be protecting them.
During the next six months John tinkered with his idea of the expanded projection television system and on July 13th, exactly nine months to the day, he gathered everyone together for the final test.
He focused the lenses at the apex of the dome and pressed the play button on the video tape player. Instantly the entire perimeter became a vast screen, but what was totally unexpected was the degree to which they were engulfed in what they were seeing. Suddenly it was as if the third dimension had been bridged and they were now actually within every scene.
Hour after hour the tape player poured out a new sense of reality, one created by video cameras, but now they were part of it, inside an imaginary world of their choosing, like Alice in Wonderland.
It suddenly seemed possible to have company any time they wanted and when they got bored with their guests they would be gone at the touch of a button.
The accomplishment was beyond John’s or any of their expectations and it took a while for them to get used to it.
On the first anniversary of their being in the dome, as they gathered for a celebration breakfast, John asked:
“Well, who should we invite to the world today?”
Fiona answered first:
“Anyone but Ben Hur, he has such awful table manners.”