Written by Laura Lam
Imagine you live in this future.
The San Francisco in False Hearts rises from a bay that glows green at night from the algae farms. You take one of the many MUNI tunnels that burrow underneath the city, the glowing green light filtering through your train carriage, stinging your skin. When you reach your stop, you step onto mica-flecked pavement. There are no homeless people, palms out and eyes hungry. Poverty is one of those unfortunate aspects of a past best left forgotten. Orchard skyscrapers, filled with fruit trees and vegetable patches tower above you, woven among the tall residential housing. Every room in every house is fitted with a wall screen, with the ability to plug into a virtual reality that sometimes seems truer than the real thing. Every head is fitted with an auditory and ocular implant, able to stream data behind closed eyelids. When you sleep, you can choose to brainload more information directly into your cortex. When pent up emotions become too much, you may go to one of the many Zeal Lounges throughout the city and plug into the drug that lets you exorcise your darkest desires; you’ll come out of the trip refreshed, soporific, a little more tractable.
If you become sick or are injured, hospitals have everything you need. Nearly all diseases can be cured. Advanced prostheses, such as mechanical hearts, can be fitted easily. It’s all free. Leaving the hospital, you catch sight of yourself in the mirror. Gene therapy is helping, but you think the skin around your eyes looks a little loose. You walk into one of the many flesh parlors scattered through the city and tighten things up for about the price of a coffee. You walk back to your home, order your dinner from the replicator, not even noticing all the many camera drones watching your every move. You look out across the glowing bay to a patch of darkness—the redwoods where the cult of Mana’s Hearth stands.
Someone else lives there, among the tall trees instead of skyscrapers. They know nothing of implants, of the great wide world out there. They know only of the Mana-mas who have led them over the years, told them what is right and good. They know only that small patch of land, surrounded by an impassable swamp. Perhaps things seem simpler there. No noisy clamor of data, no flashing ads vying for their attention every spare moment. You’ve heard they meditate a lot out there, and raise their voices to the rafters of their wooden church during service. Yet you’ve also heard that if someone grows ill or is hurt, rudimentary herbal medicine is all that is offered. If that fails, or if the person requires surgery or advanced medical help, then the members of the Hearth must bow to the will of the Creator and either survive or rejoin the Cycle of the Universe.
You wonder if anyone on that side of the bay would want to leave, if they somehow found out about the world outside. You wonder how easy it would be, and what they would think of this San Francisco, if they made it here.