2030: Sienna Tales: Episode 3: Sienna meets Sidharth, and finds out about his illegal past. She also gets a view to what he is today. Inventions on the confluence of Biotech, Genomics, Visual and Performing arts, and a bit of old fashioned hacking abound in this episode of Sienna’s travels in the landscape of the future…
Sidharth had a beautiful Hayabusa parked up front, revving to their arrival. The electric motor had a silent purr, like a whisper against the night. Sienna looked at him, he said “My bike or your car. I can’t afford a car and I don’t need one. I live in the safe area so I don’t need to be inside so much. The air cover on this baby works like a charm.”
“Your bike of course! My brother also has a bike although I hardly get to ride it. I wish you’d told me earlier, I’d be wearing jeans then. But don’t worry about it. Lets party!”
Sidharth gave a booming laugh that resounded in the atrium around them. It made the birds wake up and start twittering. “Let’s go girl. Lets party. Hope that band is good.”
“They’re the best. I work with them. It’s a long story.”
“Do you sing or play?”
“Neither. I said long story.” She turned around with one eyebrow raised. She was walking backwards and bumped into his bike. The bike absorbed the impact with an air cushion and stabilized her, giving a wink with her headlamps which only Sid could see. Sienna beamed at the bike.
“Atta girl.” He patted her tank shaped front compartment as he mounted her and the compartment opened up. Two gas masks and helmets slid out which he picked up and half turned around to give her one. She took the mask from him and slipped it on before he had a chance to try putting it on her, she gestured ‘turn around’ and he did. He cleared his throat loudly & settled into his seat and hers rose up to contour comfortably around her back. The back rest was small but supportive. She wiggled a bit and it adjusted itself. Off they went as the gates opened for them directly into the super fast channel for two wheelers.
It took hardly 15 minutes to get to Attitude, whereas with her car, it would have taken at least an hour through the traffic. He had also taken the scenic route, through his neighborhood, she guessed. Nice green lanes with low-rise buildings and lots of verdant woods. These were the areas that could save themselves as they had good ground to plant on. The sweet smell of forest around her. Of plants that grew from the ground, drawing upon the strength of the earth. Where there was ground, entire ecosystems had been created with birds and small animals, water bodies, fishes and ducks. It was a magical feeling, to be whispering through lanes where deer were seen grazing on the side. It ended too soon for Sienna as she alighted from the vehicle at Attitude.
Next time she vowed to take the mask off when in that area. Maybe the bike won’t mind and stop on the side like Pratish’s. She missed living there with her Dadu and family inside acres of rainforest so deep that roads had a difficult time charging and you had to repeatedly go around on a side sunny path to recharge enough to reach civilization if you stayed inside too long. Those were the days, when they plucked mangoes from the trees and ate next to the stream that fed a lake beyond the rocks. Crystal clear water, Dadu had ensured that by putting in a dam of filtration rocks at the entry into the farms, and before the place they sat because his kids would be playing there and would swim and drink from that stream.
It was too tame for her. Too protected. She needed the excitement of the unsafe city where anything could happen in a moment. Where the paradigms were actually changing and people lived with an open mind. Back in the cemented portion where the ground was networked with tunnels and passages and at least 10 ft thickness of concrete above all of it, her reality lay. Far above the smog.
She heard the first strains of Joel’s 90 string lute which got picked up by the system and mixed live with drums and banjo someone else was playing. Her feet started to tap and she quickly headed in with her hand on Sidharth’s elbow. The gate slid open for them as it recognized Sienna as a ‘friend’ of the management. Inside the music was pulsating and the ambient light patterns bordered on violent. The dome above was the vision of a star collision happening on the background of the night sky. Violent starbursts and holo flares were hitting the public on their heads while they danced. Although they didn’t have substance and no one felt anything, some holo illusions were so fast that people ducked and screamed as they hit them and burst. The energy affected them as well and they quickly joined the crowd. She motioned to the bartender robot for two drinks and they arrived on a HoverTray. Sid picked the drinks from the tray which he froze a couple of feet above her head with a gesture. She sipped and gestured thumbs up to the bartender. He flashed ‘Enjoy’ to her from his view panel. The party was on.
The drink was pretty potent, it was her ‘magic potion’. The exact kind of drink she liked to party to. Soon she started to feel the beat and swirl to the music. It was a mixture of Arabic rock & a jazz electronic derivative and sounded fabulous. Joel noticed her and gestured for her to come forward. They moved on ahead and joined the dancers around the floating stage. The moment he saw Sidharth, his eyes widened. He looked at Sienna and gestured her to meet him in the back office. Handing his flat pick to the auto player, he asked it to continue the same composition with a swerve of his hand while he headed out back. The crowd booed. Siddharth saw her leaving with the musician so followed her as she hurriedly walked behind him.
Joel stepped off the stage and gestured to the wall. The wall slid apart to allow the two to enter and it just as quickly fused behind Sienna to prevent Sid from entering. As Sienna saw him being shut out by the wall she turned to Joel and said
“What? He’s with me!” Just then the wall closed and the music got completely shut out so it came out really loud.
“No, he’s not. He can’t be with anyone, you should know that. He is a criminal who stays in isolation at the prison but somehow he seems to get out whenever he feels like it. All efforts made by the prison management to keep him inside have been for nothing. He’s a gene hacker. He calls himself ethical because he does it with the consent of the individual whose genes he’s hacking. He specializes in genetic coding for paranormal abilities. He’s not revealed the secret to anyone and no one has been able to reverse engineer it. But he can give you the ability to both read and control minds. Thats how he escapes from prison whenever for however long he wants. Even the police has given up on him because he always ends up back in the cell. In his previous life, he’s given this ‘ability’ to two crime lords and caused loads of havoc.”
Sienna’s heart sank. She knew it was too good to be true.
“So he’s a criminal. But what makes you say he’s a bad guy? He’s found in prison at the end of every escapade right?”
“Sure, if you want to believe that. But I wanted to warn you about him. He knows me so he’s gonna know that I’ve told you. He’ll come clean with you. But be careful. He deals with dangerous people and may turn out to be bigger trouble than earlier.”
Another ‘loose boy’! Dadu will kill her now, but that made her resolve stronger. She walked out with her shoulders square and started looking for Sid around the dance floor. He was sitting on a bar stool fixated on the dancing images on the ceiling. The stool had contoured to his point of view and he was leaning backwards supported by the curve. The angle looked precarious with an empty glass in his hand. He was waiting for her.
She tapped him on the shoulder. He got up with a start and then his entire being visually collapsed as soon as he met her eyes. He looked down and said “He told you huh?”
“Yes. Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“That’s really not who I am. In not a criminal. I’m a hacker. The mind reader sequence is not all that I hack. The city wants to keep an eye on me for their own reasons. Why I need to stay inside is because once I’ve done it, it can’t be undone. Really bad people are also looking for me to be fixed for the same thing. It’s not that easy. If you don’t believe me, come I’ll show you what else I do…”
“What are you talking about? I don’t want to see anything incriminating or outside the law Ok?”
“Not all of me is outside the law OK?” He mimicked, “Come on. Are you in? Lets go!”
“Where?….” She trailed off as she trotted after him with trepidation in her heart. But a little frisson of excitement also that bound her to him. She also wondered if she was making a mistake to trust him.
As they entered a thickly wooded area on the bike, she could feel the road climbing up through the trees. Looked scary with trees at all heights and vines falling from them. The moon shone large through the thick leaves and the road glowed lightly. The stark white strips eerie against the darkness. Her hand tightened on his shoulder. He covered her hand with his and gave her a reassuring squeeze.
“Keep your mask on. The gases are harmless and good for plants but they stink like crazy.”
Sienna’s heartbeat quickened. She tightened her gas mask around her. As they started coming down the mountainous terrain, she could see shimmering colors through the trees. Something stung her eyes and she blinked multiple times to get rid of the feeling.
“Don’t worry, your eyes will get used to it. It’s a bit like cutting onions, coming here. But its worth it.”
Just then they cleared the trees and came out at a look out point that had a direct view of the lake below. The vision was sublime. Multiple myriad colors shimmered across the surface of the lake. Some pulsated and bubbled. Some blended into each other forming waves and swirls. It was a beautiful sight in the strong moonlight.
“It gets better up close. Lets go.” He hadn’t gotten off the bike and gestured to the back. She was blinking twice in every direction she turned, taking pictures. She immediately hopped on but she couldn’t take her eyes off the lake of colors below her. They soon hit the shore and she gasped. At the water level there was a profusion of lilies and lotuses of various colors. What looked like whirlpools from above were all anchored in a bunch of flower pods growing in the middle. So the colors floated around the flowers. She took dozens of pictures from every angle.
He took her hand and walked to the water. Picked up some of the liquid into a leaf and swirled it around. Then her let it fall to the earth. It disappeared in seconds, soaked by the ground .
“This is my work. I genetically modified a form of marine algae to digest the inorganic waste that this town produces. Believe you me, even with biodegradable packaging, waste recycling and all the measures we take, we still produce a couple of hundred tons every day. Manufacturing by products for things that are not economically viable to 3D print, inorganic waste from hospitals etc.”
“I’ve seen waste ponds earlier, but they don’t produce this florescence.”
“Neither are the by products completely harmless to the environment and they produce their own wastes as well. These algae produce only organic by products that can be and are absorbed quickly by the earth and go towards regeneration of forests. It leaves the water clean in 24 hours for the next dump and disappears. From the earth and back to it. Once the sun comes up, these will also turn green from photosynthesis but right now, at night, since the dump pipe opens at dusk, they glow so beautifully while they are being digested.”
She took a look at the glowing expanse of colors and blinked twice, this time from the sting in her eyes. He saw that, and gestured to the bike. “Come, I’ll drop you home now.”
“Sure. If you come up for a drink or a coffee, really a drink or a coffee, and tell me your story, I’ll tell you mine.”
“I need to go at least an hour before dawn, the cell checks are done at dawn.”
“It’s what 15 minutes away, why an hour?”
“My bike, Reshma, is not genetically modifiable unfortunately, else I’d have made her a woman a long time ago. So I have to hide her and then steal in. Robots don’t have minds so, I have hack into prison. The old fashioned way.”
“Well, I’ve written a right old fashioned algorithm and embedded it into the prison system. When I say “Open Sesame” and spread my arms, the gates open and the robots start facing the other way. That with some more secret ingredients in the algo, it works for the time being, till they find the cloaked bit of code.”
Sienna laughed out loud. It echoed in the empty space above the pond. An owl hooted loudly, perhaps to scare the two intruders away from his oasis. She locked eyes with him and both their eyes crinkled in silent laughter. He put a finger on his lips, but his eyes smiled in the moonlight. She came forward and took his hand to go back to the bike.
They were seated comfortably in her floating garden on chairs which conformed to their tired bodies, each with a drink in their hands. The night cocooned them in darkness and the transparence of the floor over a multi-tiered garden of green gave a feeling of floating over it. Sienna asked Shiela to play a soft jazz piece. Siddharth constantly checked out the distance from the vertical farm below the transparent floor of the balcony. It was giving him a head buzz. He also realized he was hungry.
“So, tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine.”
“But first do you have anything to eat? Can Shiela cook?”
“I have a cook. But I also have a sandwich maker. It’ll take 5 minutes.”
“I too can cook. Let me help you.” He stood up.
“So, Can you clone me? Or my father? I have a few of his biological samples frozen.” Sienna walked ahead of him so he couldn’t see her face.
“Sienna, is this a test? Cloning is unsuccessful period. Clones retain genetic memory and that affects a lot of things with kids. And contrary to popular belief clones do not retain actual living memories, only impressions left behind by those experiences on their genes. Believe you me, its much better to have a fresh combination of you. You are passing on genetic memory anyway that has been affected by what you have gone through before that. The results are eerie, especially on humans, of carrying on a cycle that is meant to not be carried on for that many years. Living longer is better.” He smiled.
“Yes, I’d heard that. But I’d also heard that you cannot read minds. You can’t believe everything they tell you, they change their mind every 10 years.” She countered laughing. Turning around abruptly she says “Vegetarian? Ground grown only? Any preferences?”
“I’ll take whatever I get. Prison food is awful! Robots cannot cook, I swear. The food is the same throughout, it never varies. No texture, no taste, no flavor ever varies. Month after Month! Standardized bloody nonsense.”
“And thats why I don’t have one! I have a maid, who cooks for me when I don’t feel like it. But I fend for myself mostly.”
He smiled a fond smile at her and touched her hair. Wavy, unruly yet soft with crazy hues of gold, brown and white going down in veins through brown. She moved away to open the fridge. Very few people today invested in human labor. All the labor in the city had gone back home after Global Socialization hit. Surekha was alone in the world and had nowhere to go. Employment was hard to get but everyone could farm energy, or nano mine their land to get whatever else they needed. She had none. Some went back to creating the handicrafts that they made earlier since those had a premium market after manufacturing meltdown of fashion retail. 3D printing had done away with most indsutrial production of fashion items. Surekha did not know anything else but Sienna as she had mothered her after her mother had left. So whatever magic robots did, Surekha would stay with Sienna, working, like she always had.
She plated the two sandwiches quickly. Sliding the bread into the toaster and said “Two club sandwiches’. Two pieces went through the toaster and came out with a coat of mayo and a slice of cheese on it. Plopped into the plate below as she took the ham from the freezer and fed it to the slicer. The slices landed neatly onto the toasted bread below. She pulled a lettuce each from the lettuce dispenser and plonked it on top. She fed the egg fryer with two eggs and slid a tomato and an onion into the slicer. First the slices of vegetables fell onto the sandwich and then the eggs cleanly slid onto the slices. She snapped her fingers and the other two toasts slid into the toaster.
She called the yoghurt and the strawberries from the fridge for the smoothie. The fridge piped up to remind her that Surekha had made her smoothie and it was chilling in the chiller. She got it put it into two glasses, two ice cubes each. The other toast popped out with fresh green chutney made by surekha thinly spread over each toast. She made a cutting gesture and a slicer dropped down to slice the sandwich cleanly in half. While the glasses of smoothie slid out of the fridge with 2 perfect ice cubes each.
“See, why do you need a Robot? Cheers!”
They toasted and ate over the kitchen counter. Each munching more than they spoke. Sienna was also hungry by now. When they were done, Sienna poured some desert liqueur into two glasses, it chilled in the glass which took it from room temperature to nearly a degree in 60 seconds, while they washed and wiped their hands.
Outside the green smell of plants was heavy in the air. It smelt of new leaves and flowers but also of wet upturned earth. Sienna glanced down to see the Gardener bots going over the floor leaving behind a darker layer of hoed mud, perhaps in preparation for the next crop. They had planted corn here last time, it looked like sea of gold below her, especially at sunset. They could see the horizon glowing peach and it was time for Sid to go. Sienna turned to him and whispered.
“Before you leave, I’ve gotta say to you that I had fun tonight. It was madcap, but it was also invigorating and different. And that I’ve got my eyes on you mister. You be good.” Her voice turned into a laugh as she ended. She poked with one fingertip on his chest and made a fist.
“Whoo, I’m scared.” Putting up his hands to shield his eyes “But I’m glad because that way you see me.” He smiled and reached out to weave her fingers into his. “I had fun too. Bye…”
“So, are we going to actually see each other again besides this seeing business?” Sienna asked.
His eyes softened as he looked into hers. He tugged at her hand and pulled her closer into a hug. Sienna fit right below his chin, ears to his chest, it was a nice feeling. Sidharths heartbeat quickened in her ears after a couple of seconds and Sienna said “Shiela Shut off. Come back tomorrow 6:00 AM.”
Original Post published on:
Ekta Rohra Jafri
Design Director-Group Manager at IBM Interactive Experience
Ekta is an HFI certified Usability Analyst, IBM Design Thinking Practitioner, Designer & Strategist with expertise in creation of content & products. A story teller who works to translate your vision into a usable, monetizable product. With a stellar 22 yrs of experience out of which 13 yrs in design & user experience of digital entities, she has managed and delivered design projects on platforms from web to mobile to TVs, short form text to 3D reality. An outcome oriented expert who can create, diagnose and repair experiences through research led analysis. She has successfully driven product innovations to drive monetization, guided product strategy to match business goals. Adept in all kinds of the observatory and generative research from contextual studies to traffic or social analysis, she is also a mentor & team builder who has set up & led UX teams for COEs. A Design Thinker who loves to bring people to the same platform in terms of thought and action and a futurist who reimagines the future every time she designs.