Solar Seal by Ryan Stong Home

Chapter 3

Early in the morning after they left, everyone on board went up to the main deck to wave to the next collection team's boat as it passed by. The trip back to the mainland took the whole rest of the day after that, and once they arrived at the docks, it took another train ride to get back to the compound. The trains were lifted off of a track by magnets to reduce drag, and it was propelled forward by more electromagnets that drew from the solar panels on the roofs of each car. As the train moved, it gained supplemental energy from thousands of small turbines installed all around the perimeter of each car, which were spun by the wind rushing past the train. These trains only moved during the daylight hours so that the large, heavy batteries that would otherwise be needed could be left out of the design and used elsewhere. In fact, the large, heavy batteries were instead used to operate the hydraulic motors of the cranes beside the tracks that were used to move heavy cargo.

By the time the shipping containers of material were loaded on the train, the team still had plenty of daylight to make it home. It lifted off the tracks with ease, hovering about an inch or two above them, and slowly accelerated up to its max speed along the mostly-straight track. The train tracks ended at the compound, a single point to point shuttle, but there were plans to build the tracks out to the east and north to try to bridge the distance between some other settlements that were having trouble.

Isaac watched the desert rush by, dotted with the occasional red rock formation and plateau. He hadn't been this far south before coming to the compound, so most of the terrain was still new to him. Occasionally, the train would pass by an ancient ruin, only the crumbling cement foundations left after the plywood and lumber had either burned, rotted away, or been plundered by material collectors long ago. He had a hard time believing that so many people lived in these kinds of settlements—suburbs, he had heard them called—filled with identical houses. The people drove cars that apparently spewed smoke into the air as they drove for miles into cities just to sit in a chair for several hours until they drove back to their house at night.

How did they even keep track of which house was theirs? Why did they use cars that were so filthy when they apparently had the technology to do otherwise? What were they doing in their chairs for so long every day? Nobody knew what the experience of the ancient people felt like anymore, so the ideas were naturally a bit hazy, but he let his mind drift as he gazed out the window, imagining a time long gone.

Isaac was shaken out of his reverie as the train slowed to a stop. He had hardly felt any time pass, but the sun was already starting its dive over the horizon. He could see the light from the compound pouring into the train, but he was on the wrong side to see it in full, so he got up and exited the train. He had arrived at the compound in the middle of the day when he had first come, so this was his first time seeing it at night. He climbed the lookout tower situated at the end of the train platform to get a better look at the compound.

The compound was a dazzling city spanning only 100 acres. In the twilight, the millions of LEDs lighting the streets made it look like a sea of stars in a swirling, green galaxy. The buildings were constructed out of the same marbled plastic as the boat but with different materials thrown into the walls for both structure and aesthetic. Few buildings were taller than a single story above the ground, and although nearly everything was built using the same materials, no two buildings looked exactly alike. Several large roads split the compound into a few neatly organized areas, all surrounding a large central plaza with a tall, cylindrical greenhouse jutting out the center. The buildings were all neatly spaced with enough space to pull a cart between them and to grow a garden or keep animals in the back. Even at this hour, people and animals pulsed through these arteries, creating a bustling, healthy city.

Nearly every surface open to the sun was covered in a glassy, black material that collected sunlight during the day, all connected with small wires hidden in the sides of the building. In each corner of the compound and at regular intervals throughout the compound, vertical wind turbines thrust high into the air with blades that swirled around the turbine like snakes perpetually climbing a pole. Batteries were built into nearly every neutral wall and fence, all connected in a way that allowed energy to flow freely to wherever it was needed most. To the south of the city also stood a covered reservoir that collected rain runoff from pipes and gutters along every building and road as well as moisture pulled directly from the air from many cone-shaped devices distributed around the reservoir's cover.

"Pretty impressive, right?" Emma's voice said from Isaac's left, nearly startling him over the railing. She laughed, apologizing, "Sorry, I saw you come up to look, and I hadn't been up here in a while so I figured I'd join you."

After he had caught his breath, Isaac replied, "Yeah, it's really something. It looks like they've thought of everything." He nodded appreciatively down over the city before setting his jaw in thought, "I'm curious how everyone gets along in such close quarters, though. I mean, it looks nice, but you're kinda always right next to someone." He glanced down at Emma, who had sidled next to him to look out at the compound.

"Well, it's all in the lifestyle code. In order for the compound to live up to its name, Felicity requires that everyone agrees to some basic ground rules. You've seen them, right?"

Isaac nodded. He had seen them, though briefly. He had mainly just gotten the general idea and liked it, so he agreed to help out. He'd have to sit down and read through them in earnest, though.

In reply to Isaac's nod, Emma went on, "It might not be as 'polite' as some places try to be," she gestured finger quotes with her arms spread far apart, "but we believe that the openness the code requires makes for the best possible society—everyone knows and understands why everyone feels the way that they do, more or less." He'd have to ask about that bit after he had read the code more thoroughly. In his experience, there were times that it was impossible to know why someone felt some way, even when that someone was yourself.

After looking at the compound for a few more minutes, they finally climbed back down and joined the city's throng.

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