A bustling central forum marked the center of each institute, serving as common ground for the three disciplines of creation, observation, and systems. The campuses devoted to the subdivisions of human advancement formed a ring of three semicircular segments, equal in size, that flanked the center point at intervals of one hundred and twenty degrees. The same archetypal design scheme could be found in every institute in an Efficiency Age city, although the more specific features of architecture and campus layout varied liberally.
Meyer and his students looked out over the massive circular structure from the café balcony, set upon a terrace close to the top of the forum. Below were rings stacked in tiers of decreasing radius, terminating in the center of the room around a glistening fountain. Looming above was a domed ceiling, shading all but a single ring of light from a massive opening, the illumination of which traced an arc along the various shops and amphitheaters according to the season. Alec and Andra were shielding their eyes from the radiant sunset.
"Meyer, you had the espresso?" a distinctly human voice squeaked over the distant bubbling of the fountain. The waitress was standing by with a beverage carrier, a device of four cup holders suspended from an L-shaped handle.
"Thanks, Florence," he smiled as he assumed control of the smallest cup. Of the many professions transformed by the Efficiency Age, that of waiting tables and preparing food could not be automated. Restaurants, diners, cafés and the like were places of social gathering, and the people working in food establishments were often included in these interactions. Rather than a source of wages and tips, waiting tables was a means of maintaining one’s credit in society. Credit was simply the measure of one’s services towards the maintenance of structure in the cities, whether that meant keeping the city clean, refereeing for a local sport, or serving breakfast.
Credit, as a symbol of economic value, served an interesting function for Efficiency Age city dwellers. With the ability of personal devices to record complex information regarding acts of service, it became easy to reward people for contributing to orderliness in daily life. Unlike the currency of past ages, however, credit was not something to be spent or traded. Rather than being "paid" for her hours as a barista, Florence was simply recognized as having good credit due to her efforts to make city life efficient. Under this scheme, the average citizen was naturally inclined to helpful acts such as cleaning up after oneself, volunteering for temporary jobs, and passing on practical knowledge through institution classes.
And so as Florence continued her rounds, Meyer and Andra continued to discuss the budding project of hive construction intelligence.
"—As I was saying, it’s going to be a matter of testing the ideologies in the lab first, then attempting a field run and documenting everything. It’s probably going to take a full year once you’ve got the resources," Meyer explained, "and those will all have to come from the recyclers." The recyclers of which he spoke were another group of credit-worthy professions. In the same manner that industrial society functioned for years on the chemical structure left behind by previous life in the form of fuel, Efficiency Age progress relied on the leftover materials from past ages. Over time, people gained credit in society by converting old materials into fresh, raw supplies for the use of others. Institutional study rose to the aid of the vital profession, expanding on research into methods of recycling and the efficient allocation of recycled material.
"How exactly do you go about that?" Andra tentatively leaned into the table, unsure of herself.
"It’s not something I’d expect you to know yet, only project leaders have to do it. A lot of your work has already been done, since there’s already a network of interested researchers that can back your proposal, and I can serve as supervisor," Meyer reclined his chair slightly, "but nothing is ever for sure. There are only so many more tons of recyclables, and natural resources are hard to partition these days."
"Do you think we’ll have a good chance?" Alec suggested in a distant tone.
"Oh, I think so. Your project would come up just at the right time, it’s a construction project that would save energy. Something like 29 percent of the optimum land capacity has been built, which leaves a great deal to be done before we see the continents filled. After that, construction projects will likely be left in the backlogs of the intelinet until it’s time to make the next natural move—"
"—to the oceans," Andra completed.
"Exactly," Meyer resumed, "but that’s going to be well beyond our time. For now, we are concerned with creating a sustainable land presence."
The two youth pondered his words. For years, they had been educated in the general trajectory of mankind, taking time to assimilate and understand the core elements of the Efficiency Age. This day marked a change in their lives, a transition from observing the creation of a more perfect humanity to an active role in the journey. There had been any number of possible ways to join the cause, whether it meant providing basic services in cities, data collection and analysis for the intelinet, or ecosystem maintenance and creation on the fringes of the cities. By fortuitous circumstances, Alec and Andra had chosen to venture into the advancement of the knowledge of mankind, the figurative brain of an entire species.
Their time was one of growth, the first emergence of the greatest manifestation of life in the history of the planet. Their work would set the path for future generations, and would decide man’s fate in surviving the dwindling abundance of its nascent years.
This marks the end of this first series addressing the Efficiency Age. Rest assured, I'll be back in a month or two to drown StoriesHouse with a continuation set, provided I don't get run out of town first.