Opinion varies on the world of the Home Time. Some would consider it to be paradise, some regard it as hell and most see it as somewhere in between, in the unlikely event of their thinking about it at all. As Time’s Chariot puts it:
“Thousands of years of disunity, war, nationalism, religious differences, all officially done away with, and even if there were still people who would as soon kill each other as look at each other, they could be kept safely apart. So in that regard, planet Earth was united, and it was an achievement worth celebrating.”
One thing that most would agree on is that life is crowded. Twenty billion people live on Earth and the available ground space is either unuseable because of the excesses of previous centuries, a designated wilderness area or an ecopolis. Food is grown on undersea farms, vast expanses of reclaimed seabed under forcefield bubbles, so that most people can at least live on the surface and see the sun and sky from time to time. The space nations, the colonies in space descended from the first space explorers to set out from Earth, have long since barred any further mass immigration from their ancestral world; only first-time retirees with wealth and experience to contribute are allowed out. It is an imperfect situation which many would like to see changed, but for most people life isn’t too bad if you don’t think too hard about it. Your every want is taken care of, from the cradle to the grave, and the full resources of humanity’s history are there on demand, though not necessarily in a form that people from previous centuries would recognise:
“The entfeed started automatically on his favourite channel as he went into the shower and he just caught the last few minutes of one of the leading soaps. He loved counting the anachronisms which he could then compare with Su once they got to work. Imperial Romans in motor cars, medieval knights with computers, that sort of thing. Today it was a Victorian lady going off to join a free love commune.”
You have no real worries and you hardly have to think. What could be wrong with that?
Someone from the twenty first century who came to the Home Time — which, of course, will never happen if the College has anything to do with it — would think of life in terms of a universal network. The average Home Timer won’t even think of it that way.
Every man, woman and child is connected to the worldwide symb network. (Symb is short for symbiote: the connection is made by artificial organisms implanted in the brain at an early age.) Through symbing it is possible to talk to anyone (though they can of course refuse the connection), check any database, interface with any automated system – and anything remotely technological is run by an automated system of some kind.
An untrained Home Timer who ends up outside the Home Time would be at a severe disadvantage — were such a thing to happen, of course.
Twenty billion people live on Earth and the available ground space is either unuseable because of the excesses of previous centuries, a designated wilderness area or an ecopolis. Most people live in an ecopolis — a self sustaining, ecologically contained megalopolis, grown out of land coral and with billions of citizens. Ecopoloi that are named in Time’s Chariot are Appalachia, Azania, Cuzco, Pacifica and Russkaya, but there are many more. Typically, a citizen will live in an apartment, or suite, that is part of a community module. The module is one of many in a residence cluster, and the cluster is one of many, many more in the ecopolis.
Life and Government
A citizen’s memeplexes — subconscious units of thought, encompassing his or he entire range of tastes and likes and dislikes and loves and loathings — are constantly sampled through a symb connection and fed into the central systems which run the module; hence, a citizen’s entire life can be governed by an unconscious democracy. The memeplexes of the modules run the clusters, the memeplexes of the clusters run the ecopoloi and the memeplexes of the ecopoloi run the planet, in the form of a consciousness called the World Executive.
Life expectancy is measured in centuries, which could lead to the world becoming even more overcrowded in very short order. Fortunately, once someone has reached the age of first-time retirement — anywhere between seventy and ninety, depending upon preference — they can emigrate to one of the space nations, taking their experience with them. Home Time citizens routinely save up for their retirement and emigration in the same way that people of the twenty first century will save for an old age pension.
Fortunately, the people who set up the world of the Home Time knew that mob democracy is a far from an ideal way of running a world. Hence the patricians.
Society is divided into many different levels and sub-levels, and up to a certain point your level is much what you want it to be — meritocracy is taken very seriously, but at the same time everyone knows their place. And at the top are the patricians: the rich and the wealthy of the Home Time, themselves managed by a Patrician’s Guild. The patricians take — or are expected to take — their responsibilities seriously. From those to whom much is given, much is expected. The thought processes of one character in Time’s Chariot who learns that she is in the running to be a patrician are recorded as follows:
“Marje’s thoughts were whirling. She had known she could bring something to this job, but patrician. The perks — and responsibilities — of a patrician were enormous. A vastly increased salary, which she would be expected to use to sponsor and support deserving individuals. Close social contact with the great and the good of the Home Time, an apartment like Daiho’s, increased allowances of just about everything — and the expectation that she would allow the power and privilege that accrued to her to trickle down to the sponsorees she took under her wing. Being a patrician could be a full time job in itself.”
And later, when she has it:
“Everything she could want was hers. Oh, there were responsibilities, yes. She could expect to be worked into the ground. No more of this tentative offering of provisional sponsorship to errant Field Ops. She would have to cultivate a whole new crop of sponsorees, use her power and privilege to their advantage …
It was what she had always wanted. To do good, to help others and at the same time — she glanced around appreciatively — reap the rewards. A private, secluded lodge far away from the hustle and bustle of the Home Time was only the beginning. It was only scratching the surface of what was now available.”
Being a patrician can be a blessing and a curse.
In a world of twenty billion souls, there are many opportunities for getting on someone else’s nerves, or having someone else get on yours. Symbing brings many blessings, but another side — some might say a dark side — is that everyone’s mood and mindset is constantly sampled and reported on to the central systems. This, and the subliminal conditioning that everyone is subjected to from childhood onwards, is social preparation.
The lower your social level, the more social preparation you have. Some people can’t even look at a sharp edge or anything that could conceivably be used for violence without having peaceful and calming images pumped into their minds; in extreme cases, the system may step in and take active control.
Conversely, the higher up the system you are, the less your social preparation is enforced; you can think thoughts of violence and even subversion if you are careful. After all, you wouldn’t be that high up in the system if you couldn’t be trusted with it, would you?
Field Ops, the people that the College sends through time, necessarily spend much of their lives out of touch with the symb network and so have virtually no social preparation at all.
And if it all goes wrong? There are any number of counselling and therapy programmes available to those who find that, despite everything, they just can’t cut it in the Home Time. And if the worst comes to the worst, there’s always the Correspondents Programme, but we don’t talk about that. You’ll have to read about the College …