Liang supposed it wasn’t much of a job for all the degrees he’d earned, but at least he was working. It was a start. He’d established compensations for his poor attitude. After his implant gently woke him, sensed by his alpha waves that he was awake, he’d programed it to begin flooding his conscious with subliminal messages: “I’m so glad I work for the U.N.; I’m so happy I’m helping feed people; I love working”. And so on, up to the point in which those same alpha waves suggested an improved level of contentment (not that some days he didn’t shut it off early so he could enjoy his bad mood).
He stepped into the bathroom and his 16’ by 20’ apartment began to quietly reconfigure itself; the bedroom set quietly withdrew, like an old-style Murphy bed but quite different due to the materials, and, as the glass wall leading to the small balcony went opaque, an enclosed shower, wardrobes and dressing area emerged. He stepped into the shower and the commode withdrew as the sink expanded and the toiletries cabinet opened. He stepped out of the shower and it folded away, the kitchen folded out, the coffee maker and oven began prepping breakfast. He finished dressing and the wardrobe switched out for a table and chairs, but as the glass wall became polarized and transparent again, giving him a view of Shanghai’s Pudong district, he decided to take breakfast on the balcony. His implant reminded him of his first meeting in 40 minutes. He enjoyed the late summer fresh air as he ate, then stepped back into the apartment wishing he’d set the oven for a chocolate muffin instead of the raspberry scone he’d nibbled at. The dining table had been replaced by a desk. The kitchen had withdrawn into only the coffee bar, and the commode was back. He ordered up a second latte and as his implant interfaced with his computer and connected him with his meeting. Liang slipped on his goggles so he could see them. His view divided into four screens, smallest on the lower right where the translation program ran and would monitor the conversation and decipher anything not related in English. Liang was the second participant on, along with his counterpart from Mexico City. Next came one of the American representative from Nashville where distribution to the hard-hit central regions was headquartered. Finally the director of the World Food Program from United Nations headquarters in Dubai.
The director said, “Welcome to yet another meeting of the ‘Feed America Initiative’.
Liang offered a greeting, as they all did.
“Let’s pick up where we left off,” the director began. “Mexico, I’m starting with you, since you’ve been dealing with the most urgent issues”.
The Mexico City official colored; Liang found that surprising as he’d supposed she’d be used to the criticism by now, not that it was her fault. The Mexican economy was booming (both legal and illegal). Shipments to America, which had to go through Mexico because American west coast ports had been devastated by earthquakes, were routinely hijacked. She said, “I’ve met again with security officials who assured me they are establishing new measures. If it means anything, they succeeded two days ago in rescuing the shipment received on 11 September and it is currently being convoyed north under guard.” They all knew the ‘under guard’ part meant nothing, and that the shipment would likely be hijacked again.
“How much of the shipment was received,” the Nashville representative wanted to know. There was just a tinge of frantic tone in his voice. There usually was.
“About half,” Mexico said.
“About 40 percent.”
“So,” Nashville commented, “Closer to one-third.” The American situation gave him good reason for scrutiny. The Pacific coast was in chaos. The near west, from Arizona and New Mexico north to Montana, was out of water. The warming planet has shifted the grain belt much farther north, and the entire Midwest from Kansas north and east as far as Ohio had become a desert. The south was socially and political unstable due to repeated nationalism insurrections and the Atlantic had degenerated, for all practical purposes, into a series of city-states that could not sustain themselves. And most of New York City, of course, including the old United Nations building, was under water.
“Shanghai,” the director asked, “What have you got for me.” Shanghai was the collection point for aid from China, Korea, and southeast Asia, and Liang was responsible for coordinating its distribution.
Liang said, “I have one shipment already halfway to Manzanillo, and three more are in various stages of preparation, but as long as the situation at the Mexican ports remains so hazardous I would argue against sending them to that destination.”
The director said, “I tend to agree; this has gone on long enough.” Canada’s west coast was little better off than America’s, and with the Panama Canal closed the director’s decision meant there was no recourse but for a long trip west, through the Indonesian straits and around Africa to somewhere on the Atlantic coast.
Nashville said, “Forget about Baltimore.”
“Already forgotten,” the director said. “My discussions with Canada have been promising, either Saint John or Montreal. We will reconvene five days; that should give me and them time to make arrangements. Make it 9 a.m. my time, please. Shanghai cease further shipments to Manzanillo. Mexico, I’d like you to attend also to discuss the shipment that’s already halfway there. Thank you, everybody.”
Goggles went black. Liang removed them and discovered that his latte had gone cold. He set his implant to prepare calls to his warehouses; he’d determined to get a new shipment in the water towards Canada quickly, with the specific port identified after the upcoming meeting, and he directed his implant to schedule that meeting for five days hence, 5 a.m. GMT, 1 p.m. Shanghai time, Friday, September 27, 2193.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.