All Keith Maryland wants to do is leave the collapsed United States and start a new life in the U.N.’s ambitious Worldfarm project. But American prejudice, the distrust of his colleagues, and the unwanted attention of local drug smugglers leave him wondering whether this was the best, or the worst, decision of his life. Sometimes, being a foreigner can suck.
Preview: Capítulo 1
“This is your Captain: Welcome to Houston. The temperature outside is a balmy 36 degrees, so enjoy the air conditioning in the airport before you leave. On behalf of myself and the rest of the crew, we’d like to thank you for flying Aire Sur. Have a great day.”
If it was possible, the air in the terminal smelled worse than the stale air on the airwing. This was apparently the impression of most of the passengers debarking from the wing, judging by the number of wrinkled noses exhibited as they entered the airport terminal from the connecting ramp.
Keith Maryland did not seem too particularly bothered by the smell of the terminal as he disembarked the wing. But he did seem to be a bit more interested in his surroundings than most. As he entered with the passengers that had flown with him, he looked around the terminal, casually taking in the large, airy space. All his possessions were in the two bags he had checked onto the wing, and despite a bit of weight, he carried them easily.
The flight out of Richmond, by way of Atlanta, had been uneventful, and had actually arrived within twenty minutes of on-time… considering airline operations these days, a not-bad performance. Keith’s connector to Brasil wasn’t for two hours, though, so he had time to kill at the airport. With an easy step, he walked through the terminal towards the promenade, where he knew he’d find the inevitable airport stores and services. He noticed an animated sign along the way that displayed the temperature, 36C/97F, and he reflected on his good fortune at not needing to leave the airport just yet.
Few of the people in the terminal looked at all excited, or even vaguely interested, in their surroundings. The days were long past when people traveled by air in the US for fun or recreation. Like most American air travelers, these were primarily people either on business, fleeing a failed business, or hoping to find better business—or any business—elsewhere. Many of them looked determined, or desperate, or frightened, or exhausted. Many of them simply looked hopeless—travelling from Hell to Hell, with stops at Hell in-between. That was America, these days: It had become a nation of migrants, trudging from job to job in a constant effort to stay ahead of destitution. Keith was sure he looked more focused than most; he was going to a job, and he was strongly looking forward to it. Not to mention alert to anything that might prevent him from getting there.
He hadn’t walked far before he noticed a young woman—a girl, really—walking alongside him. He was sure he would have noticed a girl that he had overtaken from behind, so she had apparently come up from behind him, to match his pace. At about the same time he noticed her beside him, she looked over and smiled at him. “Hi,” she said airily. “Visiting, or passing through?”
“Passing,” Keith told her.
“How soon’s your connection?”
“Um…” Keith glanced at her. “Not for awhile.”
“I’m here for awhile, too,” the girl stated. “Let’s spend a while together.”
Keith looked at her critically. One look was enough to tell she was no professional… she wasn’t quite pretty or shapely enough to be employed by one of the airport’s courtesy services or bordellos. Still, she wasn’t ugly, and she looked old enough to be legal. Most likely a poor local who turned tricks at the cheaper airport motels for food and rent money.
And as if she was reading his mind, the girl said, “Come on. I got a nice place right next to the airport. Fifty bucks for the hour. Private bed and bathroom.”
She said the last, as if it was a deal-clincher… which it most likely was, around these parts. Under almost any other circumstances, for Keith, it would have been an offer he could not refuse. But his immediate concerns were such that the last thing on his mind was tail.
“No thanks, kid,” he said. “Maybe on the way back,” he added, knowing full well that if he did come back this way, it would not be by choice, and he would not be given the chance to stop for sex.
As he continued along without his impromptu escort (who had not even bothered to try to change his mind, but instead had quickly veered away and slid up alongside another traveler in seconds), he noticed more than one woman here and there taking him in with an approving eye. He was on the handsome side of average, just enough to be noticed: His young features were of the mixed African-European caste that was common in North America; that is, his nose was a bit less broad, his lips a bit less full, and his skin not quite as dark, as the average African native. His 6’-1” frame was well-muscled and very light on fat, a factor highlighted by his light clothing and the lack of effort he demonstrated in carrying his two bags. A few other working women propositioned him as he continued on, just as the first girl had, but he politely declined them all and kept going.
He eventually arrived at the promenade, where the smells of greasy airport food quickly got the better of him. He bought a burrito of questionable contents, griping to himself about the exorbitant cost (as was proper airport etiquette), and found a seat in a small lounge overlooking one quadrant of the airfield. Most of the large jetwings he saw were from Aire Sur or Aire Unión, the two dominant airlines in this part of the world. A number of smaller city-hopping wings and older planes were also evident, and as most of these were independently owned, they sported names and logos that Keith had never seen or heard of before. The city-hoppers came and went with the speed of gadflies, the swarm only occasionally shifting aside for one of the big wings to enter and depart at a much more leisurely pace.
After watching the jets jockey around, take off and land for a few minutes, Keith decided to turn his attention to business… he was, after all, on his way to a new job, and a new life. Reaching into his belt holster, he pulled out an electronic device just a bit smaller than his outstretched hand, and about the thickness of half a deck of playing cards. The device was a fairly new Mobile Information Kompact, or Mik, as it was generically referred to these days. Despite its brand-new state, however, it was a government-issue model, with very basic features and limited expansion capabilities. Keith had only recently been given the Mik, but he already wanted to ditch it… no self-respecting person would be caught dead with such a cheap one, and he had a legitimate concern that it might attract the wrong kind of attention to him.
A quick look around the promenade revealed a well-known electronics franchise, which he immediately headed into. It did not take him long to pick out a new Mik from the extensive selection in the store, a unit only slightly larger than his old one, finished in a brushed blue steel, and with a protective cover that hinged over the touchscreen that filled the front side. Keith paid for the device, and asked the girl behind the counter to give him a crash-course in transferring his files from the old Mik to the new (so that he could do that in privacy). Fortunately for him, the salesgirl was bored, and had brightened up perceptively upon sight of him, so she willingly spent the time teaching him about his new toy. She even keyed up the contact screen, and showed him how it worked by inputting her own name and number as he watched. Keith smiled warmly, already resolved to delete her number later.
Then he returned to the lounge, selected a seat against the back wall, and removed his old Mik from its holster. Keith managed to follow the salesgirl’s instructions, and in moments, he had transferred his files from one Mik to the other. Certain files he deleted from his new Mik… they had been put there by the same people who given him the government-issue Mik, but he wanted to distance himself from them as soon as possible. Then he popped the access hatch open on his old Mik, and found the hard reset button. He pressed it and held it, which the salesgirl had advised him would delete every scrap of information on the Mik. After he released the button, he waited ten seconds, then pressed it again. When he was done, he used a napkin left over from his burrito to wipe the old Mik down and remove any fingerprints. Then he put the old Mik in the paper bag the burrito had come in, and wadded the bag up like so much trash.
Satisfied he had taken care of his old Mik, Keith took the new one from his pocket. He tapped on its touchscreen haltingly, trying to familiarize himself with the new device, until it finally made a connection with the Inet through the airport’s wireless links, and he began picking through what informational cells he could find related to his future employers. He already knew a lot about the Worldfarm Project, but hadn’t really done that much research on the Worldfarm One facility, and he figured now was as good a time as any to bone up.
The Worldfarm Project was designed, quite simply, to feed the entire world. It had been realized by the mid-twentieth century that there was more than enough food being produced by the growing nations of the world, including the United States, to feed the entire world’s population. However, the logistics of distributing food, combined with the demands of profit-based commerce, meant that many countries went hungry, while others gorged. The US, long the international poster child for greed and selfishness, had lost most of its luster before the 21st century specifically due to the perception of wasting mountains of food, even throwing away and burning excess, rather than finding ways to share their food stores with countries like Africa, which lost thousands every day to starvation and malnutrition. And the US’ spot on the international cat-bird seat was not destined to last.
The US situation had been predicted and expected for decades, and the only thing that surprised analysts in hindsight was that it had taken so long to happen. When the double-drought of 2016/17 virtually wiped out the US grain surplus, America found itself without one of its greatest commodities on the world market. With no American grain to buy, and little worldwide sympathy for a country that had long ago squandered its international good relations, countries declared America’s debts in default, and called in all monies owed. The US had finally seen the first domino kicked over, beginning the cascade effect that officially started the crash of 2019.
From there, job loss, lack of public services, food and commodity shortages, became the way of life for most Americans. The US armed forces organizations were practically scrapped, in order to divert funds and manpower to the vital maintenance of its own country. America finally had to close its doors to international influence and activity… it simply didn’t have the resources, or the power, to maintain its controlling position in the world. The US was the last of the great world powers to give up its role, and under uncannily similar circumstances as most of the others, especially the former Soviet Union. With Russia re-collapsing after over-reaching itself again, and China still too enmeshed in its own growth problems to put much influence on the world, the world was no longer dominated by a single powerful country or cowed by competing superpowers.
And so, after so many years since its original charter was drafted, the United Nations finally assumed the role it was meant for: World government. With the superpowers essentially powerless, it became the job of the UN to assume the dominant role in international politics. The arena they entered was a shambles, the result of the old powers’ decades-old struggles with each other, at the expense of all others. Many countries had been severely wronged, and in danger of imminent collapse themselves, if something was not done for them.
The UN had to make many tough decisions, pooling all available worldwide resources, and creating the first actual Global Network, in order to keep civilization from pitching into another dark age.
Unfortunately for the old superpowers, the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few. The US and Russia were the hardest hit by the diverting of resources to those considered to be more “in need” by the UN
America eventually found itself surrendering its own resources to the UN for world distribution, creating sentiments not felt since the American Revolution. Protests to UN leaders fell on ears which were not deaf, but hardened by years of neglect by these selfsame superpowers, long renowned for their wastefulness and aristocratic disdain for countries less fortunate (read: less powerful) than themselves. In short, nobody cared how Americans suffered, after all the years of hoarding and wasting everyone else’s fuel, air and water. To them, the US was finally getting the treatment that all bullies deserve.
Knowing full well how much worldwide peace depended on things like food and basic staples, the UN had decided to centralize and directly control worldwide food production, from growing to distribution, in order to guarantee every nation would get their fair share of food. Worldfarm One became the first of nine planned Worldfarms, including farms in Kenya, the United States, Eurasia, Australia, India, the future South Africa, and the experimental Pacifica and Antarctica complexes on the UN’s drawing boards.
They planned to utilize every modern farming technique, and pioneer many new ones, to grow new and better crops and grow them more productively, increase yields by factors of magnitude, and ultimately create a global food supply unlike any program ever seen.
As with any ambitious plan, there were, of course, problems. Most notably was the fact that the UN as an organization knew little to nothing about farming, research, or distribution of perishables on a worldwide scale. They were starting completely cold, and many detractors claimed this would doom the program for sure. The other problem was, or rather, were, the farmers of the world, who were being threatened with extinction by the UN’s program. To say that the world farming community was upset by the idea of a global superfarm project would have been the understatement of the century, and the polarization caused by the United Nations against the world’s agricultural backbone had shown no signs of letting up in the last decade. But the UN was equally adamant about their ambitious program, which was seen by many to be the first step in creating the first real Global Empire on Earth, and a feather the UN wanted for their own cap.
Early on, Keith came across a map that showed Worldfarm One itself, superimposed over the Brasilian landscape. Worldfarm One, named thus because it was the first of the Worldfarms to be operational, covered huge tracts of acreage in what had once been the Amazon rainforest, and quite a bit of the Amazon river basin itself. The choice of area had been an easy one, since these areas had already been razed by Brasilian entrepreneurs for its tropical hardwoods, and were rapidly on their way to becoming the Amazon desert when the UN stepped in.
Worldfarm One had already managed to reclaim vast stretches of ruined land for their plantation fields, hydroponic and aeroponic systems, tree farms and controlled environments. After only three years from commission, the project was providing a major crop to the UN distribution system, including seven new strains of popular vegetables, a new fast-growing hardwood, and even two officially manmade products, the hardy but tasteless Southern Potato, and the notorious Coci bean. Keith expected to be part of these research teams, working to create new foods and growing methods, as well as trying to remove some of the drawbacks of the existing ones. At least, that was what he had studied for… and he hoped he would not be placed in a marginal position and left to rot himself.
The main complex for Worldfarm One was situated a few dozen kilometers from Manaus, an old city in the northern region of Brasil. It was no Brasilia, but then again, that was not necessarily a bad thing: Brasilia had not quite managed to get rid of the incredible overpopulation and pollution problems it had learned from its neighbors in the northern hemisphere, despite UN aid in the right direction, and now Brasilia was slowly crumbling away, much like the old cities in North America and Europe.
Manaus, on the other hand, had grown at a much more relaxed pace, and had weathered well. It was a comfortable city to visit, and from the travelogue-like images he saw, Keith thought he could live there happily… especially with a good salary boosting him along.
Keith’s Mik beeped at him in the middle of his researches. It took him a moment to switch over to a voice com line, because he did not want to lose his place on the Inet searches. When he finally activated the com, the small screen on the Mik’s face showed him the insignia of the UN Worldfarm Project.
He said hello, and a voice out of his Mik said, “Hello… Keith Maryland?”
“I’m Grant Peabody, with Worldfarm One. Did you arrive at the airport all right?”
“Yes, I’m at the airport now.”
“Good. We’re on approach, and the pilot tells me we’ll be landing in about ten minutes. I just wanted to make sure you made it.”
Keith realized he was listening to an English accent… or was it Australian? “I’m ready to go. Where should I meet you?”
“At the gate, if you don’t mind. We’ve got some supplies for WF1 that we don’t want to sit around for too long, so we’d like to get back underway as soon as we can.”
“No problem,” Keith said. “I believe you’re slotted for… yes, I see it, gate 42. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“Excellent. Look forward to meeting you, Mr. Maryland.”
“You, too, Mr. Peabody. See you on the ground.”
“See you soon. Goodbye.”
Keith closed the connection, and decided he’d continue his researches some other time. For now, he decided, would be a good time to chance the men’s room. He took the burrito bag with him, and set it on the sink counter when he walked into the men’s room. He relieved himself, then went to the sink to wash his hands. Once his hands were dry, he picked up the bag and headed for the door. As he reached the door, he casually dropped the bag containing his old Mik into a nearby trashcan. With any luck, it would be unnoticed and burned with the rest of the trash.
Keith followed the signs and arrows to gate 42. The gate was in a lesser part of the airport, on the ground level beyond the larger gates of the full-size passenger wings. Keith assumed that some of the government jets must use these gates, because they were the least used.
He did not expect to see, two minutes later, a small jet rolling up to a stop thirty meters from the gate. The jet was a Rutan Starshuttle, the kind of jets that private corporations used. It had the UN seal on its side, and the usual identifying markings, and that was all. Keith exited the airport, and for the first time since he’d arrived in Houston, the hot, dry outside air enveloped him. At least, he realized, it smelled better out here than inside.
The door on the port side of the jet opened up presently, and a man in a white suit stepped out. The man was older than Keith, but not much, and in pretty good shape from all appearances. Keith picked up his bags and walked out into the Houston air.
“Keith?” the man called out, before they were really within conversational distance, and held out a hand. “I’m Grant. How are you?”
“Fine,” Keith said, transferring both bags to his left and shaking Grant’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Here, I can carry that for you. Is this everything?”
“Yes, just these two.” He let Grant take one of the bags from him.
“Planning to ship everything later?”
Keith decided to allow a bit of truth into his reply. “Don’t have much to ship, actually. I only finished school recently.”
“Oh, I see. Well, if you’re ready, we might as well get going.” Grant extended his free arm in the jet’s direction, and they walked towards the Starshuttle. “I’m sorry to rush you like this, but we have a cargo of perishable supplies for one of the labs, and we’d like to get it back as soon as we can.”
“I understand. Nothing serious, I hope.”
“Well, we couldn’t transport it like this if it were hazardous, of course…”
“No, of course not,” Keith shook his head, then ducked it to climb aboard the jet. “I meant, is it critical to anything?”
“Oh. No, just has a short shelf life.” Grant followed him aboard, took the bag in his hand, and stowed it in a floor compartment in the front of the main cabin. “Put that bag right in here, and take your pick of seats.”
“Thanks.” Keith put his bag next to the other one and closed the compartment panel, then turned to the cabin. There were only twelve seats, six to a side, and each was a large, comfortable affair with swivel mounts, side tables and some type of intelligence system, including an input port for his Mik, mounted on the armrest. The walls were carpeted almost as thickly as the floors, and even with the door still open, the cabin was as quiet as a library. The sound dampeners built into the jet’s interior were clearly much better than the ones used on commercial airliners. “I’ve never flown in a private jet before.”
“Well, strictly speaking, it’s not private,” Grant said. “But I know what you mean. Small jets do seem like an incredible luxury, don’t they?” He took the front seat on the left side, and hooked a thumb to the seat opposite him. “Better strap in. This thing takes off like an elevator.”
Keith obligingly sat down in the indicated seat, removing his Mik from its belt holster and putting it on the side table at his elbow, and put his seat belt on. The jet was moving before he knew it, the door closing itself as they rolled back out to the runways. He glanced out the windows lining the sides, taking a good look at the main wing at the rear of the fuselage, and the small wings barely visible at the nose. He had heard these jets flew much better than those with the old design of main wings up front, but he’d never had a chance to ride in one, and the major airlines had decided instead to go with the wing-body design for large jets, so he was looking forward to the sensation.
When the jet was in position on the takeoff runway, Keith felt rather than heard the twin engines revving up. He was pushed gently but firmly back into his seat, as the jet picked up speed and the roughness of the rolling acceleration increased with it. He noticed his Mik beginning to slide across the table, and he plucked it up and replaced it in his holster. Then, well before he had expected it, the jet seemed to leap into the air, pushing Keith down and tilting him back sharply. He felt like he was the axis the jet was turning upon, a very different sensation than traveling in airliners. Keith didn’t bother to disguise a grin, and glanced over at Grant.
Grant grinned back. “See what I mean? That’s why I was going to wait until we got airborne before I offered you something to eat or drink.”
“Good thinking,” Keith agreed. “But you were right about something else: This seems like an incredible waste of power for two people and some cargo, and that doesn’t sound like the UN I know.”
“True enough,” Grant nodded. “Actually, we’re only flying in this for the cargo. Like I said before, very short shelf life; and this is the fastest way to get it home. If we didn’t have it with us, you’d probably be flying commercial to Brasilia, then catching a Gull to WF1. But we just happen to be going your way.”
“Okay, you’ve got my curiosity,” Keith said. “What is our cargo, anyway?”
Keith waited for him to say something else, and after a moment of silence, finally repeated, “Plant cells.”
“Yes. Plant cells. They’re a strain of wild rice hybrids. Nothing incredible in themselves, but these happen to be an incredibly hardy strain… well, other than the fragility of the undeveloped cells. Besides being fast growers, with very little waste stalk, they’re bug resistant. We wanted to try combining them with a few of our cocoa and barley strains, to see what we can get.”
“Sounds like I’m speaking to another botanist,” Keith observed.
“Close. I’m a geneticist,” Grant said. “It is one of my projects, though. That’s why I’m along, babysitting it.” He suddenly stopped, unbuckled his seatbelt, and walked over to the front of the cabin. “Okay, come on and help yourself to some food and drinks.”
“Oh… thanks.” Keith unbuckled and joined him. A small kitchenette against the wall opposite the cabin door held a small cabinet of snack foods, a cooler of sandwiches and soups, a microwave heater, and assorted liquors in a larger cabinet below. Keith, working around Grant in the small space, found a healthy-sized roast beef sandwich, added some cheese and crackers to a plate, and poured himself a scotch and soda. Then he returned to his seat with his plate and drink, followed by Grant right behind him.
“Tell me,” Keith said between bites, “How long have you been working in Brazil?”
“Brasil, pronounced with an ‘S’, not a ‘Z’,” Grant offered, making a point of pronouncing the “s” like a snake hiss. “The natives like it that way, FYI.”
“Gotcha,” Keith replied. “So, how long have you been at Worldfarm One?”
Just three years,” Grant said. “I used to work for the Australian Agricultural department. Then the UN made me a good offer.”
“I thought you were Australian,” Keith nodded. “I just read an article about a girl who was beat up in Mexico because…”
“Because she tried to pass for Australian,” Grant finished for him, shaking his head sadly. “I heard it, too. Weird story. Funny part of it was, she probably would have been much better off just being Anglo.”
Anglo. Never heard that used before. “You think so?”
“Yeah. She was close enough to Puerto Vallarta that if she had kept her head, she probably would have been shooed into the old Anglo neighborhoods without being touched. Have you been out of the US before?”
“Do you speak Portuguese?”
“No,” Keith said, “but isn’t English the official language there?”
“At WF1, yes,” Grant replied. “Emphasis on ‘official.’ A lot of the scientists and workers there speak their native Portuguese. And outside of the Worldfarm, most everybody speaks Portuguese. I mean, people do all know English around there, and you will be able to communicate. But it would do you well to learn the local language. And practice your accent. Try to get the Anglo out of it.”
“Just don’t… seriously, don’t try to affect a different accent. Like European English, or Aussie, or something. If they think you’re trying to pass for something other than Anglo, you’ll probably get what that girl in Mexico got.”
“Is it really that bad?”
Grant looked at him, and took a sip from his drink before replying. “‘Fraid so. The US is in the international doghouse around here, especially with the UN Anglos are not exactly being welcomed with open arms abroad.”
“You don’t seem to mind,” Keith pointed out.
“I didn’t say everyone hated Anglos,” Grant told him. “Some of my best friends are Anglos. Most of the people at WF1 are pretty civilized. But there are always prejudiced people out there. You would do well to watch your back.”
Keith considered Grant’s words, and looked out the window at the rapidly receding country of his birth. “Okay.”
Despite a somewhat formal meeting, Grant turned out to be an okay guy after all, in Keith’s opinion… although he still kept hearing that “some of my best friends are Anglos” comment ringing in his ear from time to time. He was a useful fount of knowledge on Worldfarm One, and over the course of the two-hour flight, filled Keith in on a lot of official and unofficial details of life and work there.
Keith caught on fairly early to the fact that WF1… as apparently most people there referred to it… was not accomplishing quite as much as they would have the world believe, any more than the rest of the Worldfarms were. The UN put on a brave face, but they still had quite a ways to go before they reached their goal of feeding the world. They were also far from being the model research and development facility the UN portrayed in public. WF1 had its share of supply problems, funding problems, personnel problems, personality problems… in short, WF1 was staffed by ordinary people, as opposed to some kind of UN notion of Ubermensh.
This was actually comforting to Keith, who had been concerned that he might be getting in over his head with his brand new degree and lack of direct work experience. Grant assured him that there were many at WF1 that had started out just as he was, and had worked out fine. Keith, knowing the truth, did not bother to correct him.
Keith was glad Grant was so willing to talk about the Worldfarm. As for himself, Keith avoided saying much about himself, although he tried not to seem evasive. It had occurred to him days ago that he might want to invent a few choice lies to cover up his own past. So far, he hadn’t had to use any of them, and he hoped it wouldn’t be necessary any time soon.
The first half of the trip had been flown over water, as they traveled diagonally down the western edge of the Atlantic and skirted Central America. When they finally came back over land, they were already in South America, and only a few minutes from Manaus. Keith expected to see below him something like what he had seen when flying over the areas of the US east of the Appalachians, but they were still too high to see much more than a green carpet below them. Often the green was tinged with browns and tans, and as the Starshuttle neared the ground, he realized that much of the tan areas were completely barren of vegetation.
Grant nodded soberly when Keith mentioned this to him. “Signs of forest stripping, mostly. Some of them are just bad farming efforts… land used for too long for the same crop, now no good to grow much of anything without expensive soil treatment first. Much like your American dustbowl period. The UN hopes to re-grow rainforests on that land someday, when money and manpower are available to do the work.”
“What about the people who live there? Won’t they do the work, for pay?”
“The people who did that damage left long ago,” Grant stated. “Most of them are probably working manual labor jobs in Brasilia by now.”
“Oh. I take it a lot of South America is like this now.”
“Well, certainly far too much for our tastes. Most of the land WF1 works with looked like that, once. We’ve actually done quite a bit to improve things in our area. Pretty soon, you’ll start to see some of our own lands.”
Eventually, the jet veered to the west and headed further inland. Keith took a look downward, and saw a huge expanse of a river, dotted from his vantage point with large and small vessels making their way up and downriver. Keith didn’t need Grant to tell him he was looking at the mighty Amazon itself. The sheer size of the river, even this far inland, and the vast number of branches and tributaries, was incredible, and Keith had to fight the urge to shake his head in amazement. Along the edges of the river, where Keith would have expected to see walls of dense jungle growth, most of the banks were taken up with large and small docks and marinas, surrounded by warehouses and factories, and barely organized industrial parks. A few had roads that seemed to run headlong into thick forest and disappear. He assumed that there were more factories further distant, perhaps a few work villages where goods were prepared by locals and brought to the docks for export.
Soon even the Amazon had shrunk to dimensions more to Keith’s comfort, though still large enough to handle large ship traffic, and still they headed inland, more or less following the river’s meandering path. The wall of docks receded to an occasional few, then to small and handmade ones, which they continued to see for miles along the way.
Then suddenly, the number and size of the docks began to increase again. Many of the large ships were docking there, with only smaller ships continuing on. The number and size of buildings increased again, and soon Keith could see signs of a city through his viewport. This, Grant indicated, was Manaus.
It was not a huge city. Manaus was never a large city, which was probably why it was doing so well now. While the larger cities of South America were all on the way down, the small towns and medium-sized cities had either strengthened somewhat or actually thrived on the radically-shifting economies of the UN Global Era. Manaus had seen a great deal of shipping-related business come its way, much of which had been air-related and traveling through Brasilia, when air freight tariffs and resource export restrictions began to drive Brasilia’s economy downward. Manaus had been wise enough not to expand unchecked, but instead to improve what they already had, to a point. As a result, Manaus was a thoroughly modern southern hemisphere city, easily equal to any medium-sized new-world town of the mid-1900s.
It still wasn’t too impressive-looking to Keith. Even from this height, he could tell that most of the buildings were ages old, straight lines, stone and stucco the dominant motif. There was little civic improvement to see from up above. Of course, he hadn’t expected it to look like Richmond. But he found himself hoping that there were enough of the amenities in the Worldfarm’s complex to keep him from needing to spend much time in Manaus.
In about a minute, they were past the city and still traveling westward, but Keith could tell their altitude was dropping off rapidly. The city gave way to farms, then to mostly young forests and simple fields, and finally yielded back to the Amazon itself. From their lower altitude, Keith could now make out individual items in the forest below, though at that speed, he could derive nothing from the view. But at some point, he was not sure where, he began to realize that the patterns he was seeing below were becoming more regular, more predictable. He watched the trees along the nearer horizon, and occasionally he would be over a point where he could see that the trees were in miles-long rows, would see for a split-second perfectly straight lines of ground and lower growth beneath them, before they were no longer in line with the rows, and the forest canopy would close up and resume its random appearance again.
Keith turned to Grant, who was busy with his Mik, and not paying attention to the passing view. “We’re over the Worldfarm grounds now, aren’t we?”
Grant looked out the window, then back to Keith. “Actually, we’ve been over WF1 for at least ten minutes. Not all of it is this regular. Most of the outlying regions are still in very natural states, not like this at all. We’re just getting to the more ordered regions, where we need to exercise more control over the environment to properly monitor and evaluate the experiments we’re working on. Right now, I think about seventy-five percent of WF1 looks like raw jungle… at least from up here. But the ‘ponics areas are below the canopies, so you can’t usually make them out from above.”
Keith nodded, and resumed silently staring at the passing foliage. When the jet banked to the left, Keith looked as far forward as he could to see what they were approaching. In the distance, he could make out a vast clearing seemingly forced upon the jungle around it, with a number of large and small buildings nestled within it. The clearing was dominated by a single building, maybe ten stories tall, laid out like a square “U” on its side. The building’s walls weren’t vertical, but angled inward, resembling a long bunker or pyramid with two right angle turns along its length. The central area inside the three bordering walls was filled with a lush garden, which spilled out of the open end of the “U” and reached out for the surrounding buildings. Most of the other buildings faced the main building’s open end, with just a few smaller structures on the opposite side of the clearing, between the edge and the closed end of the main building. Keith could not tell what the smaller structures were, but the larger buildings seemed to be apartments and service buildings. It was a grand view of the entire complex, with the sun beaming down and reflecting off of shiny surfaces and manmade ponds; and from this height, at least, everything looked fresh and well-kept.
“I told Prinz you were on the starboard side of the jet,” Grant commented, grinning. “Be sure to thank him for the scenic view, when we debark.”
“I will,” Keith smiled back.
Eventually the jet angled back toward the complex. Keith caught sight of the landing strip, moments before the jet’s angle hid it again from view. As they dropped closer to the ground, he could make out more details of the buildings, and see a few people moving around here and there.
Then the end of the landing strip flew into sight below him, and a second later, the jet’s wheels bumped lightly onto the tarmac. It slowed rapidly (Keith was glad he’d thought to put his seatbelt back on), then turned for one of the smaller buildings on the far side of the complex.
The smaller building turned out to be a combination hangar and warehouse, and they jockeyed between larger cargo planes, mostly Gulls and Ospreys, before coming to a stop about fifty meters from the hangar.
I’m here, Keith thought. He almost didn’t want to admit that part of him hadn’t expected to get this far. I’m over the first hurdle.
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