The Journey to Ekur — Chapter 6

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Sol groaned and rolled over, the artificial turf tickling his arms as he stared across the park. Cars whizzed by overhead, their shadows briefly shielding the families playing in the park from the late evening sun. He’d ended up here, not really sure where to go. His dad used to bring him here, when he was younger. They’d walk around the park, Sol happily munching on whatever sweets his father had finally caved and bought him, while his dad lectured him about the businesses that ringed the central park. He’d point to each building, listing off facts about the families who owned them, what they did, how they had contributed to building the city.

Sol liked listening to his father talk about these things back then, when his father was happy to share what he knew with his son. Not now, when it was argument after argument. Why aren’t you paying more attention? Why haven’t you followed up on any of the portfolios I asked you to track? Back then, it felt like he could just listen, walk along, and that was enough. There weren’t any ridiculous demands. He had been sure by the time any of it mattered, it would make sense to him. It would matter to him.

But now he was here and it meant as much to him as it has all those years ago. Just these big, abstract buildings, nonsensical business carrying on around the park. The people here taking whatever brief breaks they allowed themselves from the grind. And then they’d go back and do it all tomorrow, and figure out new ways to get even more — to do what? Flex on their friends? Weren’t there enough people doing all of that already? Why did he have to join in?

In a burst of nostalgia, he hopped up, walking the edge of the park until he found one of the candy sellers and bought a bag. He sat on a nearby bench, sucking on the sweets. The worst part of the whole thing, he realized, is that he didn’t know what he wanted to do. Sol thought about Brandon. He had wanted to go into cars — he was all about the latest models, always convinced his parents to let him upgrade to whatever was hot at the time. He tracked speed, metrics, design, everything about them obsessively. Raced on the weekends at the arenas at the edge of the city. Was pretty good at it, too, but he ended up getting a life path for distribution management. Sure, sometimes it would end him up in shouting distance of cars — when it came to sourcing materials for different companies — but it wasn’t the car trading and marketing he had hoped for. Bradon had been royally pissed at first, until a year or so had passed and he realized he made way more in distribution anyway and had all the money he wanted to pour all of his free time into cars. If Sol called him now, he would just laugh, tell him to trust the path. That’s what they all said. Trust the path.

But Sol didn’t even have what Brandon had, some other passion he was dead-set on getting for his path. What would that even be, for him? Gaming? He enjoyed it, and it would be something to spend his money on after he started working, but he already had more than enough to set himself up with his dream rig.

“Oh, my life is so hard, I can buy whatever I want,” he mocked himself aloud. A bird fluttered down, staring at him expectantly as he looked in his bag of sweets. “I don’t think there’s anything in here you can eat.”

The bird stared at him for a moment longer, then seemed to accept this proclamation and flew off. He watched it go, mulling things over. If he didn’t have anything he particularly wanted to do, did it matter what he did?

It was all too much. Sol shoved the candy in his pocket, started a last circuit around the park. He was just going to have to deal with it. That was all there was to it. Most likely, his father would get sick of him before long, and then he’d be let loose to do whatever, anyway. Stay on the payroll as a courtesy, keep up appearances. He frowned. Was that really the best case he was hoping for? A pity title and then…what? Gaming with Omar forever, whenever he was free? It was fun, but did it mean anything? Did it have to mean anything?

Up ahead on the path, a man was setting up a small folding table, carefully laying out pamphlets. Sol paused and watched. It was unusual — straight up absurd, almost — for someone to use paper products. You could still sell or collect books that way, Sol thought, but everyday stuff? You could basically transmit anything to anyone, particularly if you were in range. If people had their integration set up to receive local content, they’d get every banner, flyer, readout, whatever for people hawking their stand-up shows or hackneyed inventions. But pamphlets? He had to see what this was about.

The man nodded as Sol walked up. “Dex,” he said, by way of introduction.

“What is this?” Sol asked.

“We’re looking to expand,” Dex replied. “I thought this might be a reasonable enough way.”

“You missed the peak hours,” Sol looked back at the families gathering their things. “Would have done better in the middle of the day.”

“Not everyone will really understand what we’re doing here,” Dex said. “I’ve been trying to hit times where I think we might meet like-minded folks.”

Sol picked up a pamphlet. In clear letters, the front read, “The World is Wrong.”

“What’s all this?” Sol asked, flipping it open. “Some political group?”

“Essentially, but we’re more than that,” Dex finished setting out the pamphlets, “If you want to learn more, come walk along with me. I don’t stick around after I’ve set up.”

“Why not?” Sol followed him, “How does that make sense?”

“The kinds of things we’re envisioning for the future? People don’t like it.” Dex sighed. “They can’t see the bigger picture. How irrelevant it’s all become. Every society has its problems, but us here? We’re the worst. The farmers are growing things. The scholars are learning things. And what do we do? Move things around? Figure out new ways to get people addicted to tech? Determine who gets to get what, based on some monetary system that we made up in the first place? This isn’t an organized method for a society. They churn us through and set us up for whatever they need, not caring what is actually best for the world, just best for their pockets. What good is that?”

Sol listened as he looked through the strange little brochure, stopped short as he came across the last page, and he read aloud, “Our goal is to unmake the world and make it anew.”

“What is all this about?” he asked nervously. “Why don’t you want people to see you handing this out?”

Dex turned, smiling. “What does your father do?”

“Sells tech augmentation,” Sol replied.

“Right. And if I stopped by, maybe got a meeting with him, and pointed out the flaws inherent in our current system, would he listen?”

“He doesn’t see the flaws,” Sol said, furrowing his brow. “I mean, I don’t know if I could exactly explain what they are either.”

“Right, you’re just unhappy. And everyone likes to say, oh, if you’re unhappy, it’s your fault. Because you have to trust the paths, right? Trust the system. If they don’t have that, they don’t have anything to rely on, so they don’t want to consider the alternative.”

“Which is?”

“The system is making you unhappy,” Dex said, glancing back as they walked. “Me and my friends, we’ve learned — after a long time doing this sort of thing — that people don’t know what they want.”

Sol laughed. “I feel that.”

“Exactly. How can you know, if no one ever told you how to look? How can you envision a new world, with the old one blocking the way? Our goal is simple enough, but it’s hard to execute, which is why we need good people helping us. We’re going to show people what the world could be like. And sometimes you can’t really demonstrate it without clearing some room to do so.”

“But why all the secrecy?” Sol asked. “And why paper stuff? Surely, if you wanted to educate people, you could do it way easier online.”

“We’re everywhere.” Dex shrugged. “But when it comes to direct marketing in the city, paper is the way to go. Can’t trace it. Like back in the day, when people used paper money. There were no trails associated with it. Helpful when you need to do things off the books.”

Sol moved to hand him the pamphlet. “Look, I won’t pretend I don’t like a lot of what you’re saying, but this is sounding more…illegal…than what I’m comfortable with. Good luck, though, I guess.”

They were near the edge of the park, when Dex asked, “Are you just going to keep guessing? All the time? I guess I’m okay with what happened here, I guess I don’t like that? It sounds like you really don’t know what you feel. You’ve been told a lot of things your whole life. Wouldn’t you like to explore some other options?”

Sol was quiet. He didn’t know what to say. The whir of the cars zipping through the sky filled the space between him and Dex, and he thought about going back home, waking up tomorrow and going into the office with his father. Day after day of a charade, left just to hope that it would kick in one day, whatever it was that drove his father. That it would make sense to him the same way it seemed to make sense to everyone around him.

“Look. You’re dressed well. You’ve got a slick getup, and I can tell you keep up with the trends. Latest integration upgrades, probably got everything you want back home. Your parents have given you everything, and good on them! Providing for their son. But there is one thing they can’t do for you.”

“What?” Sol asked.

“Make it worth it,” Dex said, throwing his arms out. “All of this! They can’t instill it with meaning! They can’t make you feel like you’ve earned any of it! They can’t give it any sort of value that will mean anything to you, unless you think the same way they do! But it’s not the only way you have to live. Me and my friends? Every day, we wake up with purpose. Every day, we wake up knowing what we want and how to get it. Every day, we wake up and we know we’re working for something! What we do matters. What we do means something. What we do, we can look down at our hands at the end of the day, and we know we’ve done good work.”

Sol swallowed, looking down at his own hands.

Dex sighed gently, placing his hand on Sol’s shoulder. “Look, kid. I know this is a lot. You’ve been told one thing your whole life, and then you bump into me, and I’ve got this whole other thing going on. It’s a lot! But there has to be something more, right? We want a world where people determine their own future. A world that isn’t controlled by the latest trend. A world where we get back to old values, human values, look each other in the eye. Not something that runs on some arbitrary numbers a bunch of men in towers make up, determining what’s important, who goes where, who does what. Why don’t you come see what we’re doing? Meet some of the guys? They’ve got a passion that will inspire you. I think it will help you feel something you might not have felt in a long time.”

Sol thought about the game with Omar, how empty it had left him after the initial burst of excitement. The few times he had accompanied his father to the office, and how it had felt like everyone was doing something just for the sake of doing things. But Dex…there was something different about him. The fire behind his eyes. Sol could feel how much Dex believed in what he was saying. And there was no talk of duty, or tradition, or what he was the best fit for. It was just if he, Sol, wanted it or not.

“I guess I could talk to some people,” Sol said. “See what they think about all of this.”

“Excellent!” Dex laughed, slapping him on the back. “It’ll be worth it, I promise you. Now, let’s get going. The cops always patrol the park at night, and they’re going to wonder who’s been out here, daring to think about things differently. No point in getting stopped before we even get started!”

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Creator of Journey to Ekur a Sci-Fi Novel an episodic Sci-Fi Novel new chapter released daily

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Ahmed Beirouty

Ahmed Beirouty

Creator of Journey to Ekur a Sci-Fi Novel an episodic Sci-Fi Novel new chapter released daily

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