Systemic issues were destroying the planet and fuelling unprecedented levels of inequality — but not anymore. People have put their trust in a political solution. Large monolithic structures with the power to not only resist but actually fight back. Governments have been empowered with a wide mandate to regulate society as needed to ensure society is socially and environmentally constructive. The public good — but who are the public and what is good?
The geopolitical stakes have been raised as strategic resources are not necessarily readily available on the market and the us vs. them rhetoric has sharpened. Deals need to brokered and if a deal cannot be reached, well then there are other ways to get what you need. Societies, nations, cities, and communities are defined by the heritage, history, culture, values, and the land on which they were founded. It binds them together as one and gives them strength. And you have to be strong as there are others out there who wants what you have and are willing to fight you for it.
States consolidate their influence and efforts around centres of power. The systems that are keeping society in balance are being empowered to do so.
Societies are centred on their regenerative responsibility, security, cultural heritage, and mechanics for systemic prevention to ensure the best conditions for all its citizens — now and in the future.
Doing what’s right in the grand scheme of things might come with a price — governments have the power to make those sacrifices
We are free but we can’t afford sedition. Subtly, we shut down extremist who poison those around them.
Foreign forces will take any chance they can get to hurt us. We need eyes everywhere to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Our history, art, and traditions are invaluable. It is what have made us into who we are and no amount of material riches can replace it.
We were born here. We’ve shaped this land and it has shaped us.
Over the years we’ve had to move closer together. Some areas had to be let go in order for us all to prosper within our great cities.
Conflict is always brewing.
A few dry leaves swirls across as you make your way down the paved path through the park. The gravel grinds between your shoes and the uneven limestone. Looking between two branches on the olive tree from this particular point of view in this particular patch of sunlight, you get a serene and perfectly framed view of the pond. A solitary drake quacks as it floats among the waterlilies.
One of your friends working with government told you that they started the process of ‘naturalising’ — as they prefer to call it — autonomous security units into the cityscape a few years ago. So who knows, the duck in the pond might actually be dressed up drone playing charades. It look real though.
The pond, part of a system of twelve similar reservoirs, was constructed more than a decade ago as part of the efforts to protect against the storm floods. It’s impressive how nature seems to have adopted it as its own so quickly.
Would you imagine how all of this used to be part of a corporate campus? Just last week the national conservatoire hosted a classical music festival and next weekend there is a new exhibition of autonomous sculptures opening at the pavilion. It’s nice how they designed the park as a place of beauty and life even as it is dedicated to the memory of the lives lost to that tragic event.
Another gust of wind breaks the silence and rustles the trees arching over you. The tall walls around the memorial park leaves only the sound of the birds — if they are birds and the occasional passersby. The park is shielded from the outside noise much like the city is.
All around the world, states have consolidated their influence and efforts around centres of power — large cities with the solidity and strength to withstand the challenges of the outside world. Be it nature or geopolitics. It was necessary to move closer together, grab hold of each other, and stand fast. It wasn’t easy and we had to make sacrifices to get here: To lead more balanced lives, of course, but ultimately it was a matter of survival.
Since then, we’ve empowered the systems that keeps the balance as we want it. They minimise the risks, they provide and fight for us, and they keep us safe and well. They protect us, what we stand for, and the land that we live on. Of course, once in a while, there are unfortunate hick-ups, resistance, and even attacks but the kinks are quickly ironed out. They aren’t as fortunate in other parts of the world, you’ve heard.*
Dominic recently got a new job in manufacturing.
I got recruited for a new job, just a few months ago – overseeing production at an A+ certified sensor company. They wanted someone with experience and a track record of stability. It’s nice to feel needed like that. Right now, we’re focused on a project aiming to improve the lighting in the city’s parks: Making sure it feels safe while also making sure not to disturb the wildlife. It’s a really interesting problem to tackle. We develop and produce the sensors for the lighting systems but we work with a range of different other partners like other suppliers, designers, the municipality, the park authorities, and the local communities. Most of the work happens virtually but from time to time there are town hall meetings or site inspections where people get together. Meeting the people you work within the flesh is just… different.
All our systems operate on open standards and are integrated with our partners’ systems as well as with the public infrastructure, resource allocation, and worker platforms. We know where every single gram of material in a sensor has been, who handles it through its lifecycle, and whether it delivers the results we promised. As an A+ producer, we need to track literally everything. This is of course required to prove that we’re in line with the A+ guidelines. That our production process has a positive environmental and social impact and so on. As an A+ company, the authorities need a real-time overview of our business. If we couldn’t give them that we would be downgraded to B+ and that would inhibit us from pursuing the most interesting and lucrative contracts.
Olga works in distribution.
I’m a distribution controller. Our team is part of the World Mobility Organisation working with teams across the world. In the WMO we organise and control the distribution and shipment of cargo across all registered private operators, making sure that no vehicles are traveling half-empty, that critical shipments are prioritised, and that all shipments follow the International Nairobi Convention for Local Production and Ethical Shipping.
Our offices are located here in the city. We’re the coordination lead for this region and are in daily contact with the leaders of each of the countries in our region. Some of our neighbouring countries have had foreign agents interfere with shipment data in coordinated attacks over the last couple of months. Things like critical shipments constantly being redirected to destinations abroad, points of entry being shut down, nonexistent shipments flooding the systems, that sort of thing. Naturally, security is a top priority at the moment.
One part of my job is to plan our shifts. Someone has to be here at all times as just many shipments are handled at night. It’s not always fun but someone has to do it. Some people are exempt from the worst shifts of course, as they have certain conditions but otherwise we try to divide the graveyard shifts evenly among us all.
As a public organisation, we have to follow some of the highest standards for healthy work environments. That can be… A challenge. One thing is that the hours are obviously classified as a health risk — another thing is the matter of our work. Because we deal with critical infrastructure the responsibilities for most of our jobs are classified as ‘very high’ which means, that we have to take a lot of precautions to avoid people being exposed to unnecessary stress factors.
Imaani is a risk evaluation specialist working far and wide.
I’m a high-risk evaluator for the regional Industrial Risk and Impact Evaluation Agency. We review the various risks introduced by- or affecting the local industries.
Our work is two-sided. We look at how companies affect the world around them and how the outside world affects the companies. We mostly focus on three areas: environmental, social, and political risks. I work exclusively with high-risk companies. In our region, that means mostly manufacturers working within the areas of biomedical-, security-, and chemical research and production. They work with dangerous materials and their products hold a high strategic value. They are among the most vulnerable in the country and pretty much tick all the boxes, which means on-site armed security forces, detailed disaster relief plans, and close coordination with the national intelligence community. The workers at the sites hold a big responsibility, are sometimes under a lot of stress, and are obvious targets for foreign interests. Therefore, we need some quite elaborate systems and precautions to make sure that no one person knows too much, that they and their families are well-taken care of to not give foreign agents any leverage, and that they’re vetted thoroughly.
I travel a lot for site inspections. Mostly, I just use the public transportation grid. The high-speed rail is fast, easy, and covers most areas both nationally and internationally. As a public servant, I can travel for free outside of work as well. Otherwise, I’d probably use some of the other options more. I haven’t used it much but a lot of people tend to use the publicly coordinated travel platform for longer journeys. It’s one of the results of the “No Empty Seat” policy, mandating all companies to bring passengers if they have empty space. Both parties can save a lot of money that way although the transition was hard on the companies.
Hitomi leads the production of welfare technology.
I’m the head of a company manufacturing welfare tech components. We’re A-certified but we’re hoping to earn an A+ grade within the next 6 months. Our majority stakeholder is a non-profit foundation aiming to help vulnerable young people. They’re very keen on us getting the A+ as soon as possible.
I’ve had to learn so much since I founded the company about 30 years ago. Back then, we supplied our customers with products that filled a demand. We were in the lab making prototypes. It seemed simple. Since then, things’ve changed and I’ve had to learn at least three big things. One, how to train and trust AI. Two, how to work the political system and influence the public standards and policies. And three, how to build lasting and trusting alliances with our partners that go beyond a contractual agreement. We’ve learned the hard way what it means when a partnership doesn’t have the right governance structure. A few years ago, we had a sub-supplier who had tempered with their worker biometrics which meant that everyone who used their parts suffered severe penalties. We were bumped down to a B- certification.
We’re on a profound mission for social equality and social- and psychological sustainability. We need to know that our collaborators feel the same way. It’s absolutely critical that our entire value chain lives up to not only our ideals but also the guidelines put down by the state board for regenerative production. We want a fair and just society and I think the model we have is doing a lot of good. But everything is politics now. And if one thing is true in politics it’s that there’s strength in numbers. It worries me that some small groups like certain minorities or people with very rare conditions lack the tools to work the system and risk getting lost in a sea of voices.
We struggled growing up but today, I’m in a position of power simply by having learned how to play the game of politics. But it’s different today with everything being built around transparency and accountability. My parents are taken care of and live decent lives, and my kids have had access to great education. They don’t need me to help them financially. We can focus on being a family. Back in the days, my success would’ve given me more opportunities to open doors for the people around me. That’s not really the case anymore and I’m weirdly grateful for that.
Henry experiences what the city has to offer.
What do you think, do you like it? — I’ll have to cover every inch of my body once I get on the train but… It really ended up much better than I expected. Just a cheap pill and every vein in my body are glowing bright orange. I honestly didn’t expect it to work.
If you’ve met me any other day of the month you would’ve forgotten me in an instant. I dare you to find a more average-looking middle-aged dude than me. Even if it doesn’t look like it right now, I usually lead a quiet life. Being recently single can have that effect on you, you know. Tonight is different, though.
There’s a party tonight! Normally I don’t go out much, nor do I travel, but this weekend I’m doing both. I’m meeting up with an old friend, who emigrated a few years ago. I’m going by the hyper rail. It’s impressive how today you can go thousands of kilometers in just a few hours. I normally can’t afford travel tickets but with the new regional cultural exchange programme, everyone gets a number of travel credits. It’s awesome!
So, it’s not like parties are outright outlawed but with the new rules, they might as well be. The changes are part of the so-called “cultural redesign” that politicians have been advocating for the last few years. The basic idea was for people to come together to challenge the idea of who we are and to rethink what we want to be. I honestly thought the whole process sounded interesting until I found out that the most popular concept was, and I kid you not, “The Quiet City”. No fun seems to be the new guiding principle. I’m not sure it works as they intended, though, it only seems to have ignited a counter-culture of illegal underground parties. With all the abandoned buildings outside the cities, it’s quite easy to find a secret location.
This whole situation might be the greatest paradox of our society. We pride ourselves on our intellectual freedom and cultural values but political factions are constantly fighting for the rights to interpret what those values actually mean and to get rid of all that which doesn’t fit the template. Anyway, the train leaves in 40 minutes and I have to clear security so I better get going.
Karen participates in recreational activities.
I’m on my way to a yoga class down at the pavilion in Memorial Park. I love it. I can’t imagine a week without it.
So, I’ve been taking this class for… Maybe three years now? It’s — believe it or not — offered for free by the municipality as part of the National Nature Appreciation Program. To celebrate our natural heritage and so on. Anyway, I’m usually there around three times a week. Every Sunday and a few times during the week. It’s where I’ve met some of my best friends actually!
We meet up super early in the morning, we settle in quietly, and get started — often without anyone speaking a single word. There’s something really special about slowly waking up along with the park. The animals, the morning dew, the fog slowly disappearing down by the ponds as the sun rises. When the weather allows it the glass walls of the pavilion slide down into the ground and you get to hear the birds chirping and feel the fresh breeze against your skin. It makes me feel alive and part of nature.
Some Sundays, my friends and I have breakfast in the park afterward. Many of the shops get their weekly delivery of fresh produce in those same early hours — so the timing is perfect. Other times we go for a walk, waste some time, and wait for the food stalls in front of the memorial to open. You can get all sorts of traditional dishes.
People love to debate Memorial Park. Personally, I like it but I get the criticism. It used to be a corporate campus but after the bombings, the previous mayor wanted to commemorate the victims in a big way. The critics say she just wanted to leave a big mark on the city but I think it turned out beautifully.
Tom dreams of a different society.
Oh no, this isn’t facepaint — it’s just mud. I’ve been in the marshes beyond the walls. I don’t have clearance for leaving the city, so I have to sneak out through the wetlands. You know, I’m not just doing this for fun, I’m part of a group. It’s serious. We’ve been meeting in one of the ghost towns for a few years now, slowly building a little refuge in an old school. I spent most of this weekend hauling parts for a 4d printer. The project is inspired by the international space station and how they tried to make stuff in space.
We have to be careful not to be seen, though, as city security is currently upholding a ban on all outside travel due to the recent attacks. On top of the risks of leaving, we also have to be careful not to get caught outside of the city when the flood gates close.
One of the others, Martha, has printed cloaking devices for all of us. They fool the surveillance AIs by scrambling our IDs, faces, and so on, so we can sneak in and out. She designed the masks herself and printed them in her basement. Apparently, she somehow managed to trick her way into one of the CITISEC data centers and stole a list of encryption keys. Martha is crazy. I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if she got caught.
So, we’re part of an international movement. We’re trying to build a global network of free havens outside of the control of the big cities. Small communities where everyone can come and go. Freedom of movement.
Today, the system is all about enforcing fairness, regeneration, and security. All the councils, committees, and agencies. They decide everything! It’s like they forgot people aren’t inherently evil nor stupid. If you want to do something that is against the official guidelines… You… I don’t know, it’s just tough luck, I guess. When my grandmother almost died, two years ago, we only had enough C02 credits for my father to visit. The rest of us had to stay home because the documentation from her country wasn’t good enough to unlock emergency travel.
Wojciech deals with the health system.
I’m constantly getting enrolled in a new public health program. Tomorrow, I’ll even have to get surgery. Something with my liver. It’s not like I’m sick or anything. “It’s all preventative”, Olaf, my current carer, says. My kids say the same thing. They say it’s voluntary but I’ve heard rumours. One of my friends who used to work in the system told me, that not playing along lowers some kind of rating.
Something they use to decide what kind of services you’re offered. However, at this point, I’m not sure whether they’re trying to keep me alive or bother me to death. All people my age are monitored and screened for all sorts of ailments. It is supposedly cheaper to maintain bodies than to fix them once they break. But surgery, really?
Olaf has arranged for me to be picked up in the morning and to be brought home later in the afternoon in time for the big game. I’ve made plans to watch it with my friend, Benny.
The people down at the hospital are nice and all, but… The kindness feels almost calculated. I mean, I shouldn’t be complaining about this but I feel like I’d appreciate it more if it didn’t seem like a routine. It’s clear that they’re busy. Once you’ve got the exact same questions, smiles, nods a hundred times you start to recognise the patterns. Seems like they got someone to write a manual on sincerity and they just enter autopilot.
The procedure itself is fairly simple and I’ll be awake throughout the whole thing. If it’s anything like the typical visit I’ll get a scan, have a chat with the doctor before and after, get some juice and a bunch of recommendations from the nurse, a goodbye, and I’ll get on with my day. Benny and I have made bets on how many suggestions for new treatments and programmes I’ll get this time.
Jamal helps people find new jobs. He’s a single dad to a child struggling with anxiety.
I’m a job consultant. When people are unemployed we direct them towards open positions, and when they are employed we make sure their work is good work. We need people to work for society to function and people need meaningful work to feel like they are contributing to something. Both are equally important and equally regulated. Most of the actual work is carried out by municipal offices but their work is subjected to the current policies and standards we make here in the National Employment Authority.
Our jobs can either give us meaning or be really detrimental to our wellbeing if not managed carefully. Being a single dad to a child with anxiety, I know first hand how important it is to have the right support and flexibility. It’s great we’ve built a system that recognises my contribution and makes sure that no employer is able to discriminate against someone like me. We’ve come along way towards the system actually recognising that people are different.
I still remember seeing people spend all their energy fighting a complex system just to get the right boxes ticked when they should’ve been fighting something else. The service research and design units have done a good job redesigning many of our public services and processes. It has become more mindful of the humans living within it. Maybe even a little too mindful according to some activists. Few people know what data feeds the AIs are connected to. It’s considered critical infrastructure so they keep most of it confidential to protect it from foreign interests. Or so they say.
Rita lives with her family in a small community and works remotely as a surveyor.
This farm has been in my family for generations. I tried living in the city for a short while but I just couldn’t let it go. I have to stay, here, on this island as complicated and dangerous as it might be.
I work as a surveyor for the national environmental control unit. We enforce the current standards in farming, forestry, construction, and so on. We normally spend our days following up on a mix of surveillance footage, public sensor data, and the occasional tip from a concerned citizen as well as a few random samples. Back in the days, we might’ve had to physically go do site inspections but today we do it all remotely through drone and satellite inspections. This is why I got my certification to begin with.
The island, our home, is currently protected as a historical site. However, in recent years there have been more and more attempts to revoke its status by politicians in the city. That would effectively mean that we would have to move, as no public services would be guaranteed and the coastal protection would seize to be maintained. I mean, I get why its cheaper to gather up everyone behind the dams, the canals, and the walls of the big cities but this is our home. We weren’t the ones that messed up the climate so badly, to begin with, that the planet is now trying to kill us all. It was the big corporations and the politicians themselves — they shouldn’t make us pay for their mistakes. We’re not giving up. We will protect this place no matter how many bills, hearings, and master plans we have to fight our way through.
Portraits by MetaHuman Creator