Still amazed by what he was learning, Rodney stood up. “Jessica, what would you like to see next?”
“I’m not sure. There is so much to see, and I’m still not quite 100%. What is nearby?”
“Well, most of what you wanted to see is pretty close. Let’s save the vehicles until you want to venture out a bit more. So how about we check out some of that automation?”
“That sounds good. Since we are thinking about food, maybe we should start there.”
Rodney thought for a minute. “The transport is by vehicle, so that can wait. And preparation, well I’m not sure you ready for that.” He paused. “Why not? I can tell you about some of the infrastructure on the way.”
Jessica stood up to follow. “I know, most of our infrastructure is automated too, but people have to maintain it, don’t they?”
“Everything has sensors and routine maintenance is done by specialized robots. Initially building those and the sustainability overhaul took a lot of labor, but now it basically runs itself.”
Jessica thought for a moment, “I know I don’t know a whole lot about how modern life runs, but I’m pretty sure that in my world no one has bothered with a ‘sustainability overhaul.’ Is that just to make it something that allows it to be run by robots, or does it have to do with the environment?”
“Well, yes it got set up for the robots, but it was primarily because of the environmental damage we were doing before.
“For instance, to replace old fuels, the windows and sidewalks collect energy from the sun. The roads were replaced with parks like this one. It’s not really my field, so I couldn’t tell you all the things they do. I know they are more pleasant and clean up something that would have wreaked havoc on the world.”
“That must have been expensive!” Jessica exclaimed before she realized how illogical her comment was here. “But I guess that is kind of a non issue here, as long as people are willing to do the work.”
“The people who did that work knew that as soon as it was done everyone would have less work, most were passionate about the benefits. Some needed the hours for something they wanted. The more things that people don’t really want to do gets taken over by machine, the more that people get to do the work they love.”
“That’s really awesome that people here were able to get together in time to do something before the world starts going all to hell. Where I’m from, the people who are in a position to orchestrate something like that refuse, and tell everyone else that it’s not happening.”
Rodney was confused, but that quickly became concern. “Why would they do that? And how would people let anyone who would do that get into a position of power?”
Jessica started explaining about elections and loyalties and disheartened people and betrayal, before she stopped and just said, “Money”.
Rodney wanted to ask why people would put up with a system that caused so many problems, but he could see that Jessica was wondering the same thing. And his confusion was no match for her frustration.
They walked in silence for awhile, before Jessica stopped. ” Can I tell you something?”
Rodney was encouraged by her trust. “Sure, what is it?”
Jessica took a moment to figure out how to say what was on her mind. “I have been frustrated for a long time by the way things work in my world. This place seems to have all the solutions.” She paused for a chuckle, “Which might be why it seems like a dream.” She became serious again. “In my world I work all night long, every night of the week, just to have a roof over my head and food on my table. My boss won’t pay more than they have to, I have no time to look for a better job. Then one night a kid comes in to steal money and shot my coworker. Now I have not been working for awhile to recover. I don’t know how I will pay my bills. And on top of that I spent some of that time in the hospital. Each hour there costs more than I make in a whole night. I am beginning to wonder if I am making up this world as a coping mechanism. Each time I am here, it feels more real than the last time. Sometimes I think I am going crazy.”
Rodney took Jessica’s hands. “Do you feel this? Is this real?”
“It feels real. But how—”
“Never mind how. Never mind what other people think of it. You are here right now. Maybe you are only here in spirit, but does that make your experience of it any less real?”
Jessica was beginning to cry. No matter how many times she thought that she had released her stress and anxiety, it kept creeping back. She looked at Rodney, who lifted up her face to look at him.
“It’s alright. You will be taken care of here.”
Jessica sobbed, “But it is there that I am worried about.” Rodney gave Jessica a great big hug.
“I know I can’t help with there in any way but through your mind. How about we fill your mind with solutions, and try to find a way for you to make a real difference back home.”
Jessica pulled back and looked at Rodney. She was beginning to trust him, in spite of the strangeness of this place, these people, and his own persistence. “Thank you.”