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Personal Reflections UN Special Mission: 2923 Day 1 “Remember to watch for hope.” The Director’s parting words echoed in my ears. In 2923, I’m buoyed by hope, my faith in humanity rekindled. I traversed the time portal at Johnson Space and Time Center in Houston, Texas, this morning, May 4, 2023. My first breath in 2923 was suffocatingly hot. Hands pulled me through a green liquid current as I fought to breathe. As I gasped in cooler, fresher air, a person with a gentle smile reached out, tapping my ear. An indiscernible din dissipated. Welcome! I’m Mel. I clearly wasn’t hearing English, but I was understanding clearly. Direct-to-Mind translation technology. Children learn languages in early childhood, but after acquisition, we celebrate with a ritual, bestowing the tech and elevating the child to full participation in the pod system. I peered through the translucent green walls of a floating orb. We hovered above a vast sea, descending toward a massive floating array of green globes radiating out from a colossal central dome. Approaching a mid-sized orb midway down a primary ray, our transport merged into the walls and I found myself standing on the edge of a large atrium. Welcome to the Southwest Commons. A beehive of cells spanned the circumference, each containing what appeared to be artisan kiosks. I smelled fresh bread and roasting coffee, listened to the recognizable din of people at market, and breathed in a delicious blend of the familiar baked into the completely novel. In a cinema cell, I experienced an immersive crash-course in human history spanning the third millennium. The catastrophic climate disasters and subsequent human atrocities were wrenching, if not unexpected. In 2551, the merging of photosynthetic energy capture, AI, genetic and bio-materials engineering, and architecture yielded self-constructing, selfsustaining, inhabitant-supporting domiciles, clearly precursors to the current orb structures. The tech provided everyone, everywhere with the luxury of “enough.” A nascent society matured over the next few centuries, moving away from the trauma of scarcity and into a new understanding of the sacred worth of the individual, and the greater beauty of one’s place in the universal whole. I blinked away tears. Yes, hundreds of years and countless atrocities littered the path, but ultimately, hope. Mel guided me to the 21st Century Foods cell cluster for lunch, then brought me to my host family. Warm, curious, and welcoming, they delighted in my experimentation with the 2923 version of showers, books, and fabricators. The children introduced me to frighteningly realistic 30th-century gaming and after a delicious dinner, I fell, exhausted, on the decidedly organic but exquisitely comfortable bed. Day 2 The children were my guides the next morning, each holding a hand as the transport orb carried us to the Learning Center. It was similar in size and organization to the Commons, with a familiar din of children’s voices. Kairos, the younger of the children, pulled us toward a hive cell where an older child read aloud with great emotion. Kairos bounded in to join the children sprawled across the floor. A smiling Learning Guide approached and I asked, “Is that Kairos’ class?” In a way. Each child is encouraged to float from one cell to another, stopping when captivated, moving on when bored. We have cells for tinkering, reading, drawing, building…. The guide gestured to the myriad cells. “Is that adequate preparation for higher education?” It is. We embrace self-direction throughout our lives, pursuing the desires of the moment to the fullest. Most of us taste a little of everything and specialize when something captivates us. “Do people’s passions meet the needs of the community?” Needs — housing, clothing, sustenance, transportation — are provided by the Pod itself. Vocation is mutable, and we find contentment by serving the community through our art, breadmaking, innovation, research... Whatever piece of the human experience captivates an individual yields rewards beyond measure for the community. “What if no one is pursuing, say, breadmaking at any given moment?” Fabricators can create bread, of course, but Council facilitates artisanal openings, querying other communities about, for example, artisanal breadmakers seeking relocation. I turned to identify the source of raised little voices. Two children wrestled over a tablet. A Learning Guide gently swooped in with another tablet, hugs, and gentle murmuring about dignity. “What does discipline look like here? Is it always that easy?” Yes and no. Selfishness is easily curbed in a world of abundance. Values and thoughtfulness are central to our daily conversations, in the Learning Center and at home. Helping children to understand their place in the community and in the greater universe is critical to maintaining the gentle stasis that buoys the pods. We stress the SUMMER 2023 COMPASS 166 dignity of the individual as the wealth of the community, and our cultural rituals—songs, art, celebrations — glorify individual accomplishment within the context of the greater beauty of the whole. I caught cynicism rising within me. Where was the catch in this utopia? “Are there ever outliers, people who fail to thrive in this sort of community?” I caught a glimmer of uncertainty but the response was quick and clear. The pod tends to community-averse behaviors, like hoarding or hurting, by automatically reabsorbing surplus or erecting barriers and isolating individuals needing therapeutic intervention. “The pod is…aware?” Mellifluous laughter. But of course! Come, let’s join the children for lunch preparation. Lunch was delightful, prepared entirely by the children and served as a buffet of incongruous dishes, spanning time and geography. Kairos came to hug me as I left, and we made plans for a game rematch that evening. An older child reached for my hand. I’m the Pod Council representative designated to bring you to the Central Orb. I smiled, glancing questioningly at the Learning Guide. Everyone, even and especially children, serves on the Pod Council annually for one month as part of our community responsibilities.We take civic responsibility, and the wisdom of children, seriously. My child guide pulled me along, continuing the explanation of pod governance. On matters of importance, everyone votes through our internal augmentation system. Council does the important, behind-thescenes stuff, like processing relocation requests and reviewing anomaly reports. “Does the Council prosecute crime?” Oh no! The Pod tends to those sorts of things. My eyes widened. “Without human oversight?” The Pod is always fair, and always aware. That sounded like a creepy little jingle, but I maintained what I hoped was an untroubled face. “Is the Pod always watching you?” Aware, not watching. Pods don’t have eyes!! The child dissolved into laughter and I marveled at the juxtaposition of this childlike joy with civic awareness and maturity. The Pod is always fair. It’s designed to uphold individual dignity for the greater beauty of the community. That mantra.It was lovely but beginning to trigger unease. Day 3 I boarded my travel pod early, having bid bittersweet farewells last night. Excited for my trip to a moon pod system, it took me a while to notice the pod moving out over land. I understood that the technology which allowed me to travel to 2923 also facilitated travel between Earth-based and Space-based colonies, so this trip over land was expected. We descended to a standstill in front of a wooden house where two children were feeding chickens and a woman was tending a garden. They looked at our orb warily but kept working. They share your doubts about my benevolence. I gasped. The Pod was communicating with me directly. A box containing bolts of fabric, oranges, and hand tools slid through the sides of the orb, landing gently on the ground. Our orb moved back several hundred feet and the woman nodded at the children, who came running. “They accept your supplies?” They didn’t, initially, and there are still some settlements that resist, but hunger, thirst, and exposure are powerful motivators. “How did they come to be here?” It felt weird, very weird, to be conversing with an infrastructure, but my duty to the mission outweighed my discomfort. A handful of humans elected to remain on land after orb technology emerged. Then, in the early days of pod systems, before humans abandoned a carceral model of behavior modification, some people were exiled to land settlements. Presently, some individuals elect to leave the pod system and join the land dwellers.Freedom of movement includes the freedom to leave. My chrono-bias remained on alert, unable to fully embrace sentient infrastructure surveillance and behavior modification, but the sense that the pod elevated humans, even humans outside of its sphere of influence, and cared for them moved me. May 20, 2023 Two weeks back in 2023, and reports of wars, school shootings, immigration atrocities, and oppressive legislation overwhelm my time and attention. My faith in humanity wavers. But inasmuch as my 21st-century bias triggered unease about AI surveillance, my 30th-century experience triggers a motivation to share a story of hope and the sacred balance of individual dignity within the greater beauty of the community. Remember to watch for hope. __________________________________________________________________________________

Nicci Obert Nicci Obert is a student in the MS Foresight program at the University of Houston. She writes grants and contracts with nonprofit service providers to develop programs, refine mission statements and policy documents, and craft sustainability and succession plans. Her current research focus in future studies is storytelling and its influence on reality and ability to generate social change. She holds undergraduate degrees in Biology and English and lives in Galveston, Texas.

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