The Raccoons - by Radu Gheorghiu
When Keiron, the ‘wonder of post-circular architecture,’ burned to the ground in 2041, apparently due to a fire that first engulfed the vast sequoia forest in its 54th fold, the continental government gave up. The weather was going to remain insufferable. A private initiative, coordinated by billionaire Ms Bloom, promised to take up the lead. By mobilising over 100 trillion euros from different sources, mixing investment funds and crowdsourcing, the ARCA initiative (from the Romanian translation of the Ark) delivers ‘climate as a service’ to the wealthiest cities and sometimes private domains. The ‘seasoned areas’, as they are called, not without envy, by the less lucky, pay up to ten per cent of their annual revenue in exchange for balanced weather, delivered by ‘precision geo-engineering’. As most of the profits are invested in green areas in developing countries, “What's not to like,” they claim. Of course, many do not like it, from the ecologists who warn about the uncertain effects of local geo-engineering to those preoccupied with massive accumulation of power to the naturalists who blame, well, the unnatural intervention. Loved and hated, Ms Bloom makes the headlines every day and even minor gestures, like opening an umbrella in the sun during a press conference, affect the stock markets. The story’s main character is not Bloom herself, but a lonely farmer of the 2050s called Esiod. He manages his fleet of picking robots on a medium-sized berries farm outside a seasoned area. Perdisio, one of the first ARCAs, had launched in ’42, back when they still served Asdemos and even attracted tourists. Esiod spends his days repairing and enhancing the animal-like autonomous robots, capable even of emotion recognition, an extra feature he has added for rather playful reasons. The swarm of robots work primarily at night when the wind is strong, and wireless energy is much cheaper. He recently bought spare parts from which he adapted night vision to the robots. He needs to cut costs, given that his business is on the verge of going bankrupt. We see him in the evenings watching the strange harmony of the fleet of robots, heading towards the semi-deserted plantation hills when the strong winds blow. However, as we deduce from his sporadic talk with his neighbour’s family - also burdened by costs - the robots don’t seem to have the same productivity at night. Esiod is, in fact, keen to investigate, as he suspects his neighbour of sabotage. 56 57 One night he puts on the ‘bio invisibility cloak’, which does not make him invisible, but blurs his presence and tricks the bio-detectors. When he wears the cloak, the robots do not recognise him; otherwise, they would change their behaviour in his company, as they are programmed to do. In the moonlight, he follows the robots to a point where they leave their regular work area. He heads towards the noise, and what he sees is not the neighbour but the robots playing with a nursery of raccoons. They use a strange language, mostly gestures and sound, an endearing, albeit uneasy symbiosis. ‘Du mécanique plaqué sur du vivant’ he remembers a young woman’s voice from the past, quoting Bergson’s definition of laughter, only to tease him each time he slipped on the robot parts lying all over the bar floor. On his way back home, he feels relieved about his neighbour’s innocence, but he realises that the raccoons belong to the seasoned area, from which they cannot escape, allegedly, given the plasma walls of the city. The following night, he embarks on his investigation again and observes the racoons manipulating his emotionally receptive robots. The animals are trying to attract the robots into a windy underground tunnel. ‘They got so used to the smart, responsive environment of the city that they started learning to control it!’, he thinks. He follows them and discovers a large cement structure, which pulls him behind the city plasma wall. Esiod realises that the seasoned area is not contained but absorbing air from the neighbouring regions. The bigger question he poses–‘where does the air go?’. He ventures into the underground world - populated by modest-looking workers - only to discover that the structure is a radial one, hosting at its centre the iconic tower of the Perdisio – an abandoned prototype of a space elevator. Esiod, a techie as always, manages to enter the forbidden areas. He is in awe: The whole structure filters clean air from outside the area and pushes the city’s residual polluted air into the stratosphere. ‘Hah! Bloom playing all mother saviour, look at you discretely destroying our atmosphere!’. The technical team of the tower is alerted, and after a short chase, he is caught and brought before Ms Bloom, who we now discover is the female presence from his memories. He blames her for her treacherous ambition and the increasing deterioration of the Earth’s atmosphere. She explains that she failed to reach reasonable levels of precision geo-engineering, but they used the money to improve their inventions further. Despite the ‘smart everything’ system they developed, the power needed to manage the complexity constantly increases. Perdisio will soon be the first ARCA area to lose its plasma walls, and probably the citizens will be dramatically affected by the shock. He tries to persuade her to evacuate the city, but she refuses, as this would cause the
collapse of the entire ARCA project. During their conversation, the situation already seems
to get out of control – the tower walls are shaking.
He then suggests precisely that–to give up control and allow smart city objects to obey
nature. He has learned that from the symbiosis of the racoons and the robots. It would
naturally reduce complexity, he argues.
As the situation worsens, she finally agrees to him decentralising the ten million smart
artefacts hosted by the city, allowing them to interact, restoring nature’s will organically.
The tension in the building continues to increase for a while and then gradually diminishes. The tunnel wind grows weaker while the plasma wall becomes permeable. The city
and the external environment get connected. The robots and the racoons are playing in
the mild breeze.