This is the digital version of QUANTA, the first article in No Boundaries magazine, released fall 2021, depicting Buffalo in 2051. Our authors were given a 12 page report compiled by area professors, researchers and non profit leaders about the city we might have by then, if we get to work now. Those authors then let their imaginations run wild. The entire production was presented by West Side Promise Neighborhood. This article is presented by Burchfield Penney Art Center and Winter Jewelry.
Written by David E. Feaman
Illustrated by Renee Helda
There was only one thing Cadence wanted to do that drizzly September day and thinking about it kept her up the night before so Quanta auto-cured her. It was a very unlush thing to have happened because she woke up late and was so shaken she had to self-cure before breakfast or Quanta would have auto-cured her again. Her brain reeled through yoga and when the class ended and the holographic instructor faded from her living room she didn’t feel refreshed at all. It was six o’clock before she knew it and the drizzle became a downpour. Cadence now had to venture out into a storm to be trapped in the cold and wet with thousands of persons at the Expo, squeezed in like a jar of olives. Just the thought of it nearly made her hyperventilate but she quickly self-cured. Then she was lush again. Kinda. All the good-thought-thinking threw her out of whack so she had to sprint down the street to make the CrossTown, her invisi-brella parting the falling rain like a force field. She could see it just ahead. Its bell sounded, its doors hissed closed, and its stupid serene voice announced its departure. It was gone before her sneakers hit the platform. She waited a solid ten minutes with the damp chilly wind blowing in her face before the next CrossTown cruised in.
The beginnings of thunder rumbled far off and the only sign of the setting sun was the slate gray smudge of cloud cover to the west.
Cadence found a seat, by a window, facing the persons who stood in the aisle, smiling, glancing at each other from time to time with a placid nod. The doors hissed closed and the CrossTown glided off. Her cell-watch told her it was a quarter to seven and the Zero G display would begin at seven on the dot. She’d also received dozens of HMs. After scrolling through them she came to Jacket’s and an awful feeling settled into the pit of her stomach. He lectured her responsi-bullshit after telling her that she’d used up all of her self-cure days – one of which was today. She strongly disfavored Jacket and her position at uEat facing the lunch-packages as they slid down the chutes but what else was there? In a perfect world she’d be working for iXperience as a think-tech coming up with great ideas for new stuff. She could have been the one to imaginate ZeroG instead of turning lunch packages so that they’re facing the customers. But iXperience was at the Expo and wherever iXperience was Russ Derling was and all it took, Cadence figured, was to ask him for a job . . .
The CrossTown lights suddenly flickered off, it slowed to a stop, then it died. A little needle spiked through Cadence’s chest. She glanced around. Did she sense a hint of panic in the air? Why would she?! This was the CrossTown, the most reliable mass transportation system in all of New York state. They (whoever the “they” were) would have it up and running in –
“It is important to breathe, person.”
Someone’s anxiety from within the throng of passengers had triggered Quanta.
“-Your anxiety is acceptable given the circumstances, person, but we must remember.”
“Too shall pass.”
Others had now alerted Quanta and a chorus of soothing soprano Quanta voices filled the CrossTown but seemed to create a stir instead of the intended serenity. A flash of lightning and a rolling clap of thunder. The smell of electricity hung in the air. Many persons shrieked. More Quantas joined the chorus. Through the darkness Cadence could see the silhouetted shapes of the passengers bobbing their heads as they looked from one to another, running worried hands through their hair. There was murmuring and panting and –
“Anxiety levels are dangerously.”
“Can’t self-cure your stress levels yourself.”
“ For your own health and well-being, person, I will now.”
The CrossTown filled with the hiss of synaptic-hormonal-adjustments. Cadence had no clue how many persons had been auto-cured but there was significantly less movement and silence fell over everyone. Wary of being auto-cured herself, Cadence closed her eyes to self-cure, even as lightning flared up again and thunder burst around her so near it shook the railcar. She imagined being a kid again in the house where she grew up, playing with Clancy, her Rottweiler mix. At first, she’d been afraid of him with his giant teeth. He would stalk her, pretend to pounce on her, but it was all just an act. When he bowled her over, licking her face and dancing her in circles, she’d laugh and cry with delight.
The lights of the CrossTown blinked on, the air hissed from the hydraulic cables, and they were again speeding along, towards downtown. Cadence looked around at the placid looking persons as they chuckled, smiling to one another. No one spoke for the rest of the ride.
Outside, the rain grew heavier but the crowd didn’t seem bothered—the invisi-brellas dissolved the downpour into a thin mist several feet over their heads. Lightning flashed out on the water beyond the Outer Harbor’s exhibition grounds. The sky was now blackhole black. As she wriggled her way through the mass, the wind surged up around them, took hold of nearby reusage receptacles and sent them flying. The surprise warranted a volley of Quantas who assured the persons that the weather was not the enemy and that the rain would be good for the vertical urban gardens.
Cadence managed her way past the holo-cade display where two young persons were dance-fighting cartoon ice cream cones, and the AI exhibit where an ordinary looking person dug her fingers into the left side of her head and pulled her face in half revealing flashy micro-computer-stuff. Those exhibits were super lush, of course, but Cadence didn’t really pop until she saw the ZeroG exhibit some twenty or so yards ahead.
She began elbowing her way through the persons loitering, gnawing on KarrotStix and drinking NectR from compostable jugs, until she reached the main stage. Hanging over it, suspended from steel rafters twenty feet up and lit by spotlights from the corners of the stage, a banner read:
PAN AMERICAN EXPOSITION 2051
BUFFALO, LEADING THE FUTURE!
Below that, projected from the edge of the stage, was a shiny curtain with the iXperience logo. She didn’t have to wait too long before hearing Quanta’s gentle voice resonate from the stage.
“Long ago there were wars, racism, wealth-oppression, casual wonton brutality.” The projection changed, the logo disappeared, and was replaced by news footage and body-cam feeds of mass violence. The persons around Cadence stirred, murmured. “There was social upheaval, authoritarian police forces fought to uphold the status quo, which, unfortunately, was built on and thriving off of white supremacy. In those days fear and hatred governed our political and societal decisions. We were killing each other for no better reason than our own emotional reactions. Luckily for us, Russ Derling, founder and CEO of iXperience, knew that in order to cure us of our emotions we needed to simply disrupt and augment their chemistry at the synaptic level.
“That’s where I come in. You may know me, I certainly know you, I’m Quanta, your own personal mental health guide. (A movie flashed over the projection of a person’s hot pink cell-watch) iXperience designed me to monitor your body’s emotional reactions through the sensors in your cell-watch and to use those very same sensors to deliver the electric stimulation needed to augment those reactions (the cell-watch-wearer became see-through except for the central nervous system, throbbing as the yellow lightning graphics pulsed into it from the sensors). Thanks to Russ Derling, violence is obsolete. But, hey, you hear enough of me every day, let’s hear from the genius himself.”
The audience roared with applause as Russ Derling materialized on the projection. He raised his hands in salutation, his ShockSuit undulating in pastel colors. Everyone went quiet.
“Welcome everyone to the Expo. You know, I started iXperience a decade ago with a single goal in mind, creating an easier, more peaceful future. Our first phase was WorkrB, the nano-AI-technology that powers almost everything around you, from mass transportation to the invisi-brellas that are keeping you dry right now. WorkrB made the cell-watches you all wear possible and brought Quanta to life to literally peacen you. But that was so 2049!”
Derling’s projection smiled wryly as the audience hooted and laughed. When they’d gone quiet again he spoke.
“Now, though, the time’s are changing but some aspects of our lives aren’t. There’s still one big menace to our ‘easy life’. Let me ask you this, where would you go if you could fly? No, I don’t mean buying a ticket on an airliner, I mean if you could really fly?”
A space simulation sprang to life behind him. There was the impression that Derling was soaring through the universe, asteroids, pinpoints of light and cosmic gas-clouds rushed by him. The audience stood enrapt, still as statues.
“Since the Big Bang, gravity’s been the glue that holds everything together. Planets are caught in the gravities of stars, their solar systems bound to galactic gravities, and on and on. And what about you?”
Projected Derling flew into a giant blue orb, the Earth, and alighted in downtown Buffalo. The streets buzzed with persons. The CrossTown floated by effortlessly.
“Gravity holds sway over everything around you. Walking, running, sitting, even sleeping, gravity makes your life hard. I’m going to fix that.”
The view behind Derling changed, he seemed to be walking through a very sophisticated laboratory where dozens of persons, clad in white bodysuits and donning reflective helmets, fiddled and tinkered with the micro-computer-stuff of an enormous copper machine. Cadence thought the whole scene resembled a bunch of albino carpenter ants trying to abscond with a huge uniced donut.
“This is where ZeroG was born . . .” He swept his hand towards the machine. “You might think that harnessing and manipulating the very gravitons that have forever kept us on Earth would be a cinch, right?” Scattered laughter. “Well, think again.”
A white flash came from behind Derling. As the glare ebbed, the copper machine lay twisted and crumpled—then the scientists were gone. Dozens of others, silver-clad persons, were running with hoses and tools flickering with blue lights. Cadence watched on in horror. Quantas sparked to life from within the crowd, reminding each terrified person to breathe, everything was absolutely fine.
“Yes, this really happened. My critics blast me for it, say this is something I want to hide but they’re wrong. What happened at the Perch Mountain site was terrible but it was part of something bigger. iXperience learned from the deaths of those persons and it would be wrong of us to discontinue our research. Because of their sacrifice we’ve developed a better, safer ZeroG. But instead of just standing here telling you about it, why don’t I show you.”
When he finished speaking Derling vanished and the curtains dematerialized like a rising mist. There on the stage, lit up from the lights as brightly as if it were day, was a sleeker, shinier version of the machine roughly the size of a reusage dumpster. To the side of it a band was set up. Three young persons with mood-hair that fluctuated blue, purple, and green awaited their cue as Derling reappeared, brightening on stage as though from a dimmer switch.
There was a long, deep hum like a giant om-ing after yoga, then a tremendous sucking feeling nearly knocked Cadence off her feet. Everyone reeled. There was murmuring and laughter. Cadence felt a deep pressure rise up in her chest. The power pulling against her was part of the show, she told herself, that was all.
Projected Derling’s ShockSuit flushed yellow with excitement.
There was electricity in the air. A low-level throb ran through the harbor, and the persons around her, it pulsed through her muscles and bones. Cadence was nearly swooning, the pressure in her chest mounting, when Derling spoke again.
“You can feel it, can’t you? ZeroG is gearing up! I could get into the weeds, talk about how we tapped into the same energy fields that allow us to use electricity anywhere we want, but I think you’d rather see the ZeroG Field in action!”
The crowd whooped, cheered, and clapped. The weirdness in her chest began to spike and her heart beat so fast she thought she’d pass out. Quanta piped up but Cadence couldn’t hear anything but the roaring crowd. Derling thrust out his arms and yelled, “Without further ado, I present to you Human Agency… and ZeroG!”
Human Agency launched into their hit single Beyond Us. The blast of sound was staggering. The jamming on guitar strings, the beating of a drum set, their feet left the stage, their purple, green strobing hair floated over their heads, in a matter of seconds they were levitating six feet above the stage.
Derling’s ShockSuit had gone strawberry red. Wherever the real Russ Derling was, he was watching this and he was lush.
The crowd screamed with pleasure.
Cadence felt as though her body was filled with downed power lines. Something was very wrong, she just knew it. The music beat through her. A sea of bodies waved against her in every direction. She wanted to leave. Had to leave. Now.
“I’m concerned about your increased heart rate and blood pressure, person… Perhaps you should take a minute to self-cure. Prolonged stress can be deadly and – “
“SHUT UP, QUANTA!” She shouted, trying to ferret through the gyrating crowd, but her words were lost in the ambient sea of noise.
“If you can’t self-cure, person, I will have to auto-cure for your own safety.”
“NO, QUANTA!” She shouted, struck still, nearly in tears. “NO! I DON’T WANT THAT! SOMETHING’S – “
Then the hiss, the warmth flowing through her veins, the mellow shades of happiness that followed. Suddenly the music wasn’t so bad. It was pretty lush, the band floating over the stage, she could almost see the dashing colors of the music and of her own excitement. It was absolutely lush.
And when a flash of white light issued from the donut machine on stage, well, that was lush too. The music stopped and the band hung in the silliest way, their arms flapping, their eyes big like pie plates, their faces had gone white like marshmallows. Their screaming was funny and strange and Cadence thought this was the best concert she’d ever been to. A woman shrieked in a way that made Cadence think of a meadow bird’s call and that made her smile. When the air shifted it felt like the roaring winds that washed over her when she was a kid and rode the Maid of the Mist into Niagara Falls. It was her grandfather that took her that day, she remembered his face, his eyes glowing, he was laughing, his arms spread out unafraid. She was terrified, though, but he told her it was okay, it couldn’t hurt her because that’s the way people made it, so the falls were harmless. Placated, she raised her arms in the air too and the excitement was bliss.
“I’m concerned about your.”
“ Blood pressure and.
“Can be fatal if left.”
All around her Quanta sprang to life with her soulful soprano lilting over the persons as they screamed, pushing, and shoving. This was a dance, though, between friends. Lush.
Projected Derling cried out, his ShockSuit pulsing red, and shiny persons with mirror helmets scurried from the corners of the stage with long hoses and silver wands with blue fire sparking from the ends. It was funny to see these alien persons clustering around the donut machine onstage. Cadence laughed. Derling made a gesture with his index and middle fingers and the curtains blinked into place, the iXperience logo firmly set in the center. The band could still be seen hovering over it, some twenty feet in the air. They weren’t screaming anymore. They smiled as their instruments dangled in the sky around them and seemed to bob in drifting ocean waves.
“You should take a minute to . . .”
“To self-cure or I.”
“Have to auto-cure.”
Derling was shouting soundlessly in a way that reminded Cadence of a mime trying to get the attention of passers-by in a bustling subway, arms stretched out and body rigid. There was another flash of light, this one even brighter than the last, and with it a force that was like being bear-hugged by God. The persons went still, their frenetic dance sloughing off, as the long slow hiss rose up like a million espresso machines shooting off steam all at once.
The flash had undone the projected curtains and the donut machine was twisted into itself and the funny metal persons were wadded up on it, spraying out a mist of red confetti. The persons around Cadence oohed and aahed, whooped in surprise as God’s bear-hug became tighter, pulling them closer and closer to stage. Above them, the band and their instruments were yanked down, onto the knotted machine, balled up, and more puffs of red confetti only this time the mist was caught in mid-air and sucked back into the gnarl of undulating fleshy metaly stuff. Cadence gaped, smiled so wide her face hurt. She threw up her arms and felt the pull around her, inside her, this was better than riding a roller coaster, better than sky-diving, better than sex even.
The steel rafters instantly crumpled and folded into the growing mass. Before it did though, the banner detached, dangled in the air, and for a second Cadence could read the BUFFALO, LEADING THE FUTURE! before that too was caught and sucked down. Screams of ecstasy leapt from the persons around her, as one by one, their arms wagging over their heads, the audience was yanked onstage. They were wadded into the growing mass that was now snatching up the spotlights, the seagulls that struggled against it, the planks of the harbor. There was a permanent red mist hovering over the ball of spinning mass, now floating in the air as though it had its own invisi-brella that was deflecting a crimson rain.
She laughed as she slid towards the stage. She felt everything inside of her compressing and there was pain.
Horrible pain . . .
And suddenly she wasn’t laughing anymore. This wasn’t lush. What she saw was the world around her, all the persons, the reuse receptacles, the bicycles, the CrossTown, the buildings brick by brick being crushed into this point of mass that was now spinning tighter and tighter, smaller and smaller, and she began to scream, to scream—
“It seems your stress has spiked to dangerous levels, person. I will have to increase your auto-cure dosage to satisfy these new levels of stress.”
The long slow hiss.
The warmth of pure joy rushed through her veins.
The exquisite pain melted away and Cadence smiled, her eyes sleepy and her back arched into the pull of God’s wonderful bear-hug. Quanta became the soundtrack laid over the movie of the persons around her pulled faster and faster into the ball of mass. The hissing became the sound effect of the swirling eddies of water as Lake Erie was sucked into the ball. The only sounds of panic were from the seagulls. Everything else was lush. Very lush.
“Picture verdant expanses of spring meadows . . .”
“Not necessary, Quanta.” Cadence sighed. “This is a happy place.”