A complete lack of vibration or noise characterized the ride along the tubes between the Mandelbrot and the Banach. Meyer shook himself awake and hazily opened the display on his wrist. The time and location along the tracks fizzled into view. The personal device was housed in a module in his pocket, an advanced microprocessor with an array of memory drives and integrated circuits encased in what looked to be a smooth, black, rectangular pebble. Plugged into the device, an assortment of sensors and antennae fed data to the main processor. At any point in time, Meyer had access to the intelinet, his location, his health condition, and in his case, real-time information concerning the construction machines. Satisfied with the rate of progress in the new city, he readied for arrival to the construction site.
A younger man sat across from him, lingering over a steaming cup of coffee in the continuous appearance of one attempting to taste their drink by breathing alone. He was one of several engineer understudies along for the trip, an eager culture of youth that had shown both promise and drive in their respective institutions.
"Alec, what on earth are you doing to that poor coffee, son?" Meyer inquired through half of a bewildered grin. He had immediately taken the wiry kid as a sort of unique specimen among the creation discipline interns.
Alec started, "Oh, it’s too hot. Thought I’d try enjoying anyhow." Testily tilting the cup to his lips, he winced. A pleasant silence grew in the aisle between them. It was perhaps the thing that Meyer delighted in the most concerning Alec; he had an uncommon ability to cultivate understanding without words. With a flick and a pointing motion, Meyer’s wrist display projected a map of the city onto the smooth panel of the train wall. He traced out the area that would form today’s case study, which was intended to demonstrate techniques of synergetic construction to the students.
The pull of gravity seemed to shift, drawing the passengers backwards into their chairs as the train entered the incline that would arrest most of its energy before it reached the Banach-Mandelbrot platform. As the train rose, it stored potential energy for the trip back. Brakes as a widespread tool in transport had been removed from all but emergency use, thanks to the principles of the Efficiency Age. If heat generation could be avoided, it was. The transformation of kinetic energy into reusable storage had become a popular path of study in the institutions, and the result was a system of transportation that required very little input energy. In fact, the rapid success of transport technology spawned a broad study of processes that could take advantage of passive, inline energy storage.
The train slowed to a halt, and several indicator lights on the ceiling flicked on. One, a red door, told the passengers that the airlock had not sealed yet. Since the trains traveled along magnetic tracks in very low-pressure tubes, mechanisms for connecting the pressurized cars to the outside platform were devised. A second light, a brilliant blue one, informed Meyer as to which gate the group had been assigned. For now, the signal was merely a courtesy, as Meyer and his students were one of only a small number of groups traveling to the Banach. In times of normal traffic, however, the gate lights would channel individual passengers into paths that minimized crowding and transit time for the travellers. This system was devised to talk to the black pebbles that people carried around with them, and even a child could successfully navigate the transport platform with the use of a wrist display.
Alec referred to his own display, shuffled his various belongings, and drained his coffee. He compressed his cup into a small disc and slipped it into a pocket in his bag. The train had very few trash receptacles, because packaging material was inherently wasteful. Several biologists, chemists, and systems scientists in the institutions worked tirelessly to devise new and effective methods to transport food safely from production to consumption without the use of disposable packing material. The agrinet contained some of the best biosensor technology, able to assess the sanitary conditions of food transport to incredible degrees of precision.
As the group of engineers filed towards the airlock, Meyer felt a tug on his sleeve. Andra, a sleek and aggressively enthusiastic young woman, was staring at her wrist display with bated breath. Her complexion reflected confused wonder, mainly through her wide, glassy eyes.
"Doctor Bramblett—" she started.
"—Meyer, Andra, don’t waste syllables on formality," Meyer chuckled at the slip. He had spent the last week conditioning the kids to speak with efficiency. Despite the widespread understanding of Efficiency Age ideals, many households had not yet overcome the superfluity of formalized dialogue. Efficient articulation often required more freedom than the bounds of etiquette allowed. Andra was possibly the most hopeless case.
"Meyer, sorry— I was just watching the data map for the machines— a lot of them just stopped! I think something’s wrong!" Andra sparked a flurry of wrist displays. Confused glances and exclamations textured the trek to the airlock, and Meyer released yet another chuckle.
"You see that set of markers?" he motioned towards a collection of icons on the right panel of the illuminated map, "those are the mac-ID’s. You see, you’ve only pulled up my machines, look at what’s happening while our bots are sitting still." Andra tapped a transparent icon, and it melted into a bright orange glow. Over the images of the construction robots, another set of markers cropped up.
"Zoom in on that one," Meyer dictated. The students observed as a smaller bot, indicated in an orange outline, deftly removed the arm of a larger blue silhouette. A series of precise motions and placements had changed the machine’s drilling tool into a wire feeder. "You see, the robot’s abilities come in modules. If they had to carry around all of their tools at once, then they’d need a lot more power. If we had to build different bots for every job, then we’d run out of space for the bots. We’ve packed the construction requirements into two automata: one to build the buildings, and one to build the builders.
As the airlock doors opened, Meyer was overtaken with questions, mostly from Andra. Alec quietly tailed the group with his hands in his pockets.