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A Day in the Sun

A Day in the Sun

This is a short story I wrote last year for an internal work publication, as an imagination exercise: how would the world look like in 20 years? I’m republishing it here, adapted slightly to remove the more obvious name-dropping. If you’re looking for bloody conflict, giant robots / probing aliens or other such bleak dystopian tales of woe, I’ll have to disappoint; as I hope to still be around by the time this takes place, I’d rather live here than in a post-nuclear holocaust desolation. Enjoy!

* * *

Libyen-oase1The gradual light of dawn and a soft chime of wooden pipes woke her gently from her slumber. Eyes closed, body unmoving, respiration carefully measured, she feigned sleep. It was her little morning game, testing his powers of observation.

Good morning, Dara.”

She almost always lost though. He seemed to know exactly when she was awake. Which, she strongly suspected, made the handful of times when she won rather suspicious. “Good morning, Stephen.”

Slept well?” “Can’t complain,” she said with a smile and jumped for the shower. “Are the kids awake already?” “Not yet. What would you like for breakfast?” “Just coffee, thank you, Stephen. And don’t patronize me!”

He had a tendency to oversell the importance of the first meal of the day. Just as well that he didn’t try it today. Her heart just wasn’t in it.

The water was just cold enough to chase away the last cobwebs of sleep from her eyes. “Stephen, agenda for today?”

The glass door of the shower suddenly lit up with her calendar items: blue glowing neon for work items, bright green for personal, orange for shared / FYI and a red cancellation. The lunch meeting, it seems, was not to be. But she wouldn’t look this particular gift horse in the mouth.

“Stephen!” “Yes, Dara?” “I’m having lunch with the kids today. Could you please schedule us an hour? Indian fusion, if you can find a good one in Cairo. They should be getting more in touch with their cultural heritage, I should think.”

Of course.” Stephen’s educated, British-accented voice was somewhat muffled by the shower stall, but nevertheless she allowed herself a moment to luxuriate in the sound. It was modelled after a famous 20th century comedian and activist by the name of Stephen Fry. One of her father’s favourites, that one. She liked the name, too; it made him sound like an invisible Victorian butler.

I’ve also arranged for transportation, ma’am.” She smiled a little. It seemed her assistant could still surprise her. “A Qi will pick you up at 11:45 in Saqqarah.

* * *

She grabbed her steaming coffee from the counter. Majid and Alia looked up from their cereal bowls. She kissed them lightly on the top of their heads, then made for the door. “Mama’s got to run. No sharing today; Stephen ordered a car for you. But I’ll see you at lunch, ok? Have fun in school!” “Bye, mom!” “And Majid, listen to your big sister, ok?” she threw over the shoulder, already halfway through the entrance. A grudging 10 year old acknowledgement chased her out of the building.

Her Qi was waiting outside. She sighed, sipped at her coffee and got in. The fleet of driverless electrical cars, with their polarized glass canopy and specialized AI drivers hooked into a regional planning centre would have been unthinkable 20 years ago for Egypt. Luckily, things changed. She tapped her watch, which caused the windshield immediately in front of her to turn black and accept visual and tactile commands. She pulled the plans for the aqueduct and the desalinization plant with subvocalizations and gestures long turned into routine and started examining the B12 sector. Then made up her mind and called Siew Lee.

“Morning, Dara. En route already, I see.” “Morning, Lee. Afraid not. I looked it over one more time, and I think you’re ready to take care of this on your own. Besides, I have a meeting with TNG Solar about that molten salt reactor they’ve been shopping around. I think they should be the one to build it for us.”

He smiled, taken by surprise. “Are you sure? I mean…” “Course I’m sure. ” A well-practiced flick of her fingers pulled up a list of repair audits; she quickly located one and forwarded the relevant order history. “I’ve just sent you the bill of materials from last month’s issue on the Delta 2 pump. The cases look quite similar, so go ahead and order it. I can double-check your repair schedule before lunch, if you want, but I have complete confidence in you.” “Thanks, Dara. I won’t let you down!” She smiled. “Good luck. Bye, Lee!” Another flick and she cut the connection.

In a few minutes, automated factories in Germany, Ireland and Iran would receive their respective orders. Past experience showed that the order would be there in about a week. In fact, given the nature of the aqueduct malfunction (which was public information after all) and the past ordering pattern from her desert-forming company, chances were that the forecasting algorithms already predicted the order and the production was already set up, just waiting for the final “go”. And Lee was more than capable of dealing with the outcome. Besides, the temporary rerouting held through the night, and the main project was still on schedule.

It was one of the most ambitious projects of her generation. Reclaiming the desert had been a dream ever since Egypt, once the breadbasket of the Roman empire, had fell under the rule of the sand dunes . Desalination plants processed sea water via reverse osmosis and pushed it via reinforced glass aqueducts (sand had its uses) to the enrichment stations, where it would be mixed with nutrients – mainly from algae farmed off-shore – and onwards to the irrigated argan tree and oil palm forests that slowly turned the yellow desert glare into a sea of green. The goal was self-sustainability; the massive initial investment from World Global Climate Control Centre having been matched year after year by private investments playing the long game.

TerraForma, the consortium that took on this challenge, was unique in that it gathered the best and brightest from various companies around the globe, lending their expertise in their respective areas. Dutch planning and German engineering met Chinese solar tech and Japanese miniaturization – to name but a few of the nations that were represented in the project. And now Dara Stephens, née Banerjee, project manager and Harvard graduate cum laudae, daughter of a Mumbai rickshaw driver who turned his humble business into a logistics empire, got to fight for the rights to deploy the latest Australian molten salt solar reactor design into the heart of the soon-to-be-extinct Sahara.

* * *

The meeting was shorter than expected. Her initial plans for 10 reactor deployments was met with enthusiasm from the stocky, jovial Melbourne native representing TNG Solar, who seemed to regard this engagement as a proof-of-concept for an ambitious deployment in the Northern Territories. “And who knows, when you guys are done here, maybe you’ll visit us Down Under. We’ve got some deserts of our own to take care of.”

She smiled at the memory, already on the way to a well-deserved lunch, when her watch chimed. A touch and a well-known voice sprang from her left earring. “Ma’am, I just received confirmation on your order. The drone will be en-route in 15 minutes.” She drummed her fingers on the pseudo-leather of the seat. “Could you reroute it to the restaurant, please? It’s Alia’s present after all.” “Of course.” “Thank you, Stephen.”

She checked her schedule for the afternoon. Two more meetings, but none with face-time required, as the office lingo went, so she could work from home after lunch. Checking into the Virtual Office, the car canopy obliging her once more with the familiar black, she saw that the order placed by Lee already had solid confirmations and delivery estimations 5 days from now. That should keep him happy for at least a week, she thought, right until he’ll run into the subcontractors “midday-sun” fees. With a guilty smile, she admitted to herself that she looked forward to seeing him haggle his way out of that one. The Egyptian construction company they hired was nice enough, but enthusiastic negotiations were so ingrained in the local psyche that few visitors were ever able to get the better of a deal. She was an exception; but she learned from the best. Her father could out-haggle a Nairobi fisherman – and that was no faint praise.

* * *

As presents went, Alia’s wasn’t spectacular: a vintage iPhone with the WiFi module replaced to be able to connect into the modern CommNet. But Dara knew her daughter well, and a squeal of delight confirmed it, much to her satisfaction. Her interest in retro-hacking was recent, but enthusiastic. Fifteen minutes into the meal she was still playing with the thing, trying to get it to talk to a so-called retro appstore maintained by like-minded nerds somewhere in Pakistan.

“They were pretty dumb. I mean, you had to touch them all the time, and they didn’t even have voice commands.” It seemed the 10 year old’s enthusiasm did not extend to his big sister’s toys.

“Yes it did! Look!” A few minutes and turned heads later Dara began to question the wisdom of her decision to have this particular present delivered to the restaurant. Fortunately, a stern motherly look still had the desired effect (not for long, Dara sighed, the teenage years are fast approaching) and the rest of the meal went by in a much more companionable fashion.

“It’s still dumb,” Majid commented as they finished their deserts. Alia deigned to ignore both the comment and its author, with an exasperated sideways look that Dara recognized too well. As their father always liked to say, they learn it all, whether you want to teach it or not.

* * *

“… and then she played with that annoying pseudo-AI voice interface until I thought Stephen was going to take offence and shut me out,” she laughed, remembering. Daniel’s laugh came 3 seconds later, as the signal bounced through the network of comm satellites and reached him on-board the ISS Ophelia, the high-orbit biotech lab working on some I’d-tell-you-but-it’s-complicated 0grav project that was stealing her husband from them for 6 months at a time. She got used to the delay, and the absence; you got used to a lot of things in time, it seems. Humans are such amazingly adaptable creatures, she thought to herself.

“Speaking of Stephen; I hope you’re not replacing me with an AI, priya.” The warmth of his smile melted the distance between them.

“Not a chance. Be safe, jaanu.” She ended the call with what has become her mantra for all those times he was a way . Two more weeks , she thought, two more weeks and then he’s back with me. And this time it’s New Zealand, and we leave all the communicators at home. He promised.

“Stephen!” “Yes, Dara?” “Please schedule a meeting as soon as you can with R&D. I’d like to talk to them about Jasper’s fluid models; they were achieving an efficiency increase of 16%. And book us a flight home for the weekend. Don’t tell my dad; it’s a surprise.” “Of course, ma’am.” She dismissed the last of the mails and closed her eyes. “Good night, Stephen.” “Good night.

The lights, already dimmed and red- shifted to stimulate her circadian rhythm, slid down towards oblivion. Outside, a prickle of stars shone above the night desert.

In her dreams, the desert was green.

God – a conversation

God – a conversation

hand of god God came to me last night in a dream. I said: “Hey, God, how’s it going?” He laughed. He has a simply divine laughter. And then He spake to me, and he spake thusly:

“It’s going good, Laur, My child. Not great, mind you, but it cannot be helped for the time being.”

“What can I do for you, Oh God?” I asked.

At this, He laughed even harder. His laugh is contagious, like watching April lambs cavorting in new grass. Maybe that’s why they go on and on about The Lamb of God.

“That’s a funny question to ask, My child”, He said. “Usually people just tell Me what I can do for them.”

“Oh, you’ve been good to me, Oh God, I have no complaints. Or maybe I do, but I’d like to try and fix them myself first, if You don’t mind. And with a little help, of course”.

God’s really full of mirth these days.

“First of all, stop with that «spaketh» nonsense,” He said. “And the capitalization. It’s distracting me, and it is a bit pretentious. I don’t need capitals to remind people of who I am.”

I must admit, he has a point there.

“Of course I do, I am God after all.” She smiled at me. “Now, don’t be flustered. How would you like to work for me? At least for a little while? There’s a prophet position coming up, and I think you might be a really good fit for the role.”

“Prophet, Oh God?”

“Oh yes. It’s no big deal, really. Just tell the world what I’m about to tell you. Get some tablets of stone and a chisel and take this down.”

“How about I post it on the Internet, Oh God?”

“That could work too, I guess. Now write this down.”

“I am.”

“Don’t interrupt now, prophet of mine. Where was I? Oh yes. Paragraph. Don’t write that down, will you?”

Message from God

Hello World! It’s been a while since you last heard from me, and you’ve grown quite a bit in the while. You’re no longer small children who need to be spoon-fed and led by the hand, so I’ll say it to you straight. Pay attention.

  1. I am one God. You gave me so many nicknames over the years you tend to forget this small fact. I don’t care if you’re calling me Allah, Yahveh, Lord, Higher Power or Immutable Natural Law. If you all understand this, you’ll be better for it in the long run. Trust me. I am your God.
  2. Regardless of the name you chose for me, don’t take my name in vain! And I don’t necessarily mean swearing. I’m talking about killing people in my name, hurting them in my name, hiding your petty ambitions and awful nature behind my name! I’m referring to just a few of you, praise be to me. You think that by killing in my name you get rewards in the afterlife? Rest assured, we’ll have a word about that when you get there.
  3. Be decent towards one another. I would have said “be good”, but that may be pushing it a bit. Just be decent, it’s good enough for me. Go ahead and be good if you want to. Just don’t be jerks, that’s what I want to say.
  4. I have no beef with religion. If you want to worship me, fine – I like being worshiped. One little request though: don’t assume you know me and my will just because you’re religious. See 1, 2 and 3.
  5. I don’t require people to believe in me; I am not Tinkerbell. I will be here regardless. As a matter of fact, atheists that are good, decent people just because that’s how they are and not because of some church-induced fear of everlasting punishment are in for a nice surprise. Don’t tell them I said so though. They won’t believe it anyway.
  6. Let it be known that I am not, nor have I ever been, against science and knowledge. By all means, learn about this beautiful universe. I take pride in my work.1
  7. What I speak, everyone can hear. Few choose to listen. Do listen for my voice every once in a while.
  8. Which reminds me. To those of you who write down what I say: please remember, you’re only writing down with your mind a memory of an interpretation of a voice that spoke to your soul. Please do not claim it is the absolute truth. You don’t even have words in your languages for some of the things that I say. Maybe someday you will. Readers, beware.2
  9. I have many, many, many sons and daughters. You Earthlings are all my family, and I love you just as much as I love all my other creations. I sure hope one day you get to meet each other. Keep investing in NASA, you got a good thing going there.
  10. There has to be ten of them, right? Thanks, Moses. Anyway. As long as you get what I’ve said in the previous nine, you’ll do fine. For the rest, do what you will. Take responsibility for your actions. Oh, and “Thou shalt not kill.” I’m still rather privy to that one.

I guess this is it, world. Enjoy your life, don’t spoil it. I will be seeing you all later.



  1. “Plus, some of your physics theories really make me laugh”, he said. “Don’t write that down.” “Not even as a footnote?” “Ok, fine.” []
  2. “Besides, what do you think would happen if I would give you the absolute truth on a platter? That would kinda spoil everything, right? Searching for it is oh so much more fun!” []

The universe. The great unknown.

The universe. The great unknown.

human-space-universe-cosmos This is a trip down memory lane, and you will hopefully excuse me for indulging. I’ve written the following piece 10 years ago, while sitting in a boring class (not even in my curriculum, but my girlfriend was attending). It was April 6th, 1998. I was 20 years old.

The universe is a great mystery for mankind. For thousands of years, ever since the first man stood on his feet and looked to the stars, he asked himself about it.

What is the universe? Surely, you cannot expect me to have the answer to that question! That’s what we all try to do since the beginning of time; all I want to do is to point out some ideas that crossed our collective minds throughout the history.

The first universe we sense, and beware, sense is the key word, is the universe within our range. Things that we can see, touch, smell, taste or hear form the universe that we call “the real world” – and all living forms have one. We are the center of this universe, which relative to each of us, depending of our (natural) capacity to sense it.

The second universe is the near, or the reachable world. This term refers to those points of the world where we can transfer our real world. The reachable universe occupies only a small amount of space, consisting of the places we can visit – with or without the help of technology. This – as the others that follow – is a virtual universe, because although we can go there, we almost certainly will not, because there is no physical time to reach all the places I am referring to.

The third universe is the known world; it is the universe we can probe using our science and technology. Do not be fooled by its name – it’s not really that known. Since the dawn of man, we looked towards places we couldn’t reach and we tried to figure out what those places were like. Later, when science came up, we came up with a new technique: we experiment, we elaborate on an universe model, then we test that model, which is good until proven wrong or until we find a better one. However, we can only verify our theories in the reachable universe (in fact, in the real one), and by extending our conclusions, we suppose that the universe is the way we say it is.

The fourth universe is the unknown world. Well, this is the one that we know nothing about. Surely, we can extrapolate and assume it’s the way we say it is, but unlike the known universe, we cannot observe it, so the key affirmation here is we just don’t know.1

So, we’ve structured the universe from man’s point of view. Is then man the center of the universe? You might be tempted to say yes. You would be wrong. The only universe you might say has man for a center is the real world. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

The real world, the first one we talked about, is sense-based. But senses are not always accurate. Therefore you cannot really know your real world if you don’t enhance your senses with technology and science. But can you say then that you know it all?No, we don’t really know the universe. No matter how accurate our technology is, there will always be more information we cannot access (yet), more things to be discovered, more to learn.

Stop! We’ve just found another keyword. Information. The key to all the doors of knowledge, the magic potion, the very essence of it all… What is information? How do you define it? Is it matter? No, it’s not, but it could take a material form. Is it energy? No, because it doesn’t act like it. So it must be a whole different thing. Maybe the center of the universe.

Information is, was and ever will be, regardless of energy and matter. We can say that information just exists. The way to acquire information is also information, and therefore exists too, and so on, ad infinitum. Could we say that we just found God?

We can go beyond this. With a little effort of abstraction, we could say that matter is a form of energy; matter can transform into energy, and energy can transform into matter. But how does the energy know how to organize itself? Does energy generate information, or information is the one that defines the energy’s forms of manifestation?

I believe energy interacts with information. Energy takes from information a form of manifestation, and gives it an opportunity to manifest itself. They’re bound together and they form a whole. Information and Energy. God and the World he created.

  1. A man is himself an universe. But what kind of universe? You won’t be surprised to know that the structure of man can be described in the same way, with the four delimitations we discussed so far. []