Lawrence tugged wistfully on his mother's shirt sleeve, but he knew well enough the consequences of complaining out loud. The observation trek had taken at least two hours more than she had said it would, and he was quickly growing hungry and numb to the excitement of "scientific adventure," as she had called it. Her stone face did not turn, not even flinch, as she watched her quarry in the nearby trees. Quite nearby, a doe prodded at an overturned clump of moss. The doe would have been entirely normal, if not for a few protruding bony elements lining the nape of its neck. To catalog these mutations was Terra's self-allotted profession, and she was not going to pass up this find.
The magnitude of this moment was lost on poor Lawrence, only a boy six years of age. He understood well enough that his mother's work was important, owing to both hers and his older brother's lectures. "In the Efficiency Age, a child has to start thinking about these things very early, since there are not many people around to think about them," they would say. He just couldn't quite grasp why his stomach seemed to be thinking something else entirely.
Terra slowly positioned her wrist such that the optical lens of her portable computer was focused on the strange doe. For a few seconds, she was absolutely motionless. Suddenly, as if a new person had resumed the operation of her body, she turned to Lawrence.
"Time for breakfast, then?" she turned, prodding the young boy in the side. Ten meters out, the herd deer in the woods stiffened at the sound of her voice. Lawrence released a huge sigh of content that sent the rest of the wildlife in the area bolting off, and Terra giggled. Not waiting any longer, the boy darted through the woods towards the fringes of the city, still barely visible in the distance.
Scrapes and bruises accumulated over the remnants of old ones as he tore through the undergrowth. He didn't much mind the discomfort, but the heaviness of his fatigue began to weigh him down as he closed the distance to his home. Lawrence had been roused at the ripe hour of five o'clock in the morning to make a trek with his mom, and he had foolishly neglected the bread that she had offered him. His regret could scarcely be felt, however, as he heaved himself over the last hill before reaching the edges of the civilized world.
Lawrence turned, panting, to see Terra maintaining a confident and easy stride behind him. Long bouts of exertion could no longer phase her after years of work on the fringes. The young boy, hardly conditioned to the daily workload, rolled onto his back for a brief respite.
"So can you see the institution?" Terra inquired as she approached her son.
Lawrence mumbled some gibberish under his breath, too tired to roll over and point to satisfy his mother. She smiled, shifting her gaze to the vista before them. From here, the city seemed to punch holes in the leafy mat of trees, clothed sensuously with sheets of flowering ivy. The sun rose over all but the tallest structure, the institution's observation deck. Terra was accustomed not only to this view of the tower, but reciprocal one from the observation cafe. She sighed.
"Come on, you've done enough this morning," Terra wrapped her arms around her son and hoisted him to his feet. "You know your dad's off in the institution today, we might get to go see him." Lawrence didn't seem to react. He just kept walking. His father was almost always at the institution, working on one project or another. Nothing formal required him to stay there, but it was very difficult for him to justify spending a day anywhere else when there were only two hundred other people in the world that could do his job. He worked alongside the other systems theorists in the Mandelbrot, and he was the leading authority on the design of intelinet search algorithms. Of course, it wasn't very difficult to become an authority on such things, when there were only roughly a few million people in the world to fill such positions.
In the industrial age, the human population of the planet expanded freely. In a world of abundant resources, there had never been any penalty for living inefficiently. During the end of this age, as the scarcity began to set in, the standard of living in the greater part of the modern world plummeted. Transportation costs rose exponentially, and global commerce began to stagnate. Humanity would have been condemned to backtrack into barbarianism, if not for the action of a group of prescient intellectuals that formed just before the onset of scarcity.