Sailing to Dev Island
Full sails were raised. Wind pushed and pulled the ship on nascent turns. To steer the ship, Oliver sat on its opposite side to reverse direction. This would allow him to grasp wind buffets for momentum.
Too much wind moored over the ship, nearly tipping over. It was a fierce battle, sailor against endless ocean and one furious wind.
There were weightless moments. Sitting adrift needed an enormous amount of resolve. New York City’s skyline stood at the horizon. But the wind was stubborn. It would not even negotiate a return home. It simply pulled him further out.
New York City looked quiet from far away, Oliver thought. At age 40, he considered himself a citizen of the world. By that regard he felt New York was capital of the world. This dawned on him at an earlier age. He was only 10 years old.
Oliver found certain things hilarious. On the subway, he once saw a sign for drug research. “DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH HEROIN?” To a ten year old, it was an odd sign.
Oliver blurted out, “Could you have anything BUT a problem with heroin?”
“I would not know,” James said, “it can be deadly, even once.” James was Oliver’s step-dad. He has been teaching Oliver how to travel in the city.
They were on a southbound 4 train to Fulton street. James stood up on his phone, and tapped several emails out in succession. Oliver sat to observe the morning commuters. Shuffling into their trains, they all seemed desperate to avoid one another. To a ten year old, they appeared like zombies or robots — he was not sure which.
James and Oliver got off the subway on Fulton street. Light rain fell outside, the streets were soaked through. As they approached World Trade Center, a few construction workers yelled for coffee and bagels.
This was a crossroads of two distinct worlds. White and blue collar workers, both arrived here daily for the completion of the Oculus, a new mass-transit center. James explained this to Oliver, sheltered under an umbrella.
Oliver reeled before the tallest tower he had ever seen. One World Trade Center, tallest tower in the Western hemisphere, stands at 1,776 feet. Must have been a nod to the year the Declaration of Independence was written.
Tourists attempted to photograph the tower, kneeling before it in unison. It was a modern diety, the tower of Babel, yet they could never capture all of the spire on their phones.
James’s office was a block south of One World Trade, at the southwest side of the 9/11 memorial. They stood in front of the original tower sites, where towers one and two stood before. Police and army guards patrolled ground zero touting rifles, shotguns and the occasional bomb dog.
James asked, “What’s the difference between the twin towers and gender?”
“There used to be two, but now it’s too offensive to talk about.”
“So I arrived here last week, got off my bike, and realized that my bike key was not in my pocket. I knew that it would be impossible to take the bike into the lobby entrance, and I did it anyway. I planned to take the freight elevator upstairs.”
Oliver and James entered Four World Trade Center. The lobby had one large desk for security guards in suit jackets.
“Four of these guards swarmed me. I might as well have brought a horse into Four World Trade Center. They told me to use a service entrance around the corner. The guards said that bikes could not enter there either.”
James tapped his ID card to enter the elevator. The elevators, summoned by touch screens, announce themselves in a woman’s robotic voice.
“Doors Open.” The elevator said. James and Oliver walked inside the chrome elevator. “Doors Closing.”
They felt the elevator move upward. James’s office was on the 29th floor.
“With neither elevators available, I had to return to the lobby and ask for help. Luckily, a guard showed me a way into the Oculus.”
“Oculus?” Oliver asked.
“Yes,” James said, “It’s the new mass transit center below this tower. It’s also a bunker, in case a 9/11 happens again.”
Oliver shuddered at the thought, it was one of the scariest things imaginable. He had seen footage of a burning building next to another one.
“Inside the Oculus, the guard led me to the elevator entrance. There, my bicycle was padded down for potential hazards. I waited for clearance to enter the office. Another construction worker entered the room.”
“The construction worker’s bagpack was taken into a scanner. Like an airport terminal scanner, the security guard watched the scanner’s screen. Then the guard turned to the construction worker.”
He said, “Sir, do you have a gun in your bag?”
The construction worker was baffled for a moment. He said the bag had just his lunch. The guard looked at him, looked back at the scanner and laughed.
“Just messing with you, man. These scanners flash a red gun every once in a while, just to make sure the guards pay attention.”
“The construction worker laughed too. Finally my bike was all clear. That’s a true story of the security detail at Four World Trade.”
Oliver said, “Sounds like the boy who cried wolf.”
“Floor Twenty-nine.” The elevator replied, “Doors Open.”
They walked into James’s office at 10am, in time for a stand-up meeting.
Diverse and small, James’s team stood and spoke around the room. They were building a variety of digital products, mobile apps and websites. All these meetings were brief, because everyone wanted to take a seat again.
During their meeting, Oliver stared out the west side window. He saw ships with sails heading towards the Statue of Liberty.
After his stand up meeting, James stood next to Oliver.
“So Oliver,” James asked, “When are you going to die?”
“Probably once I start working here.” Oliver quipped.
It never occurred to James that recon, the chosen time of death, was too far away for his young companion to consider.
Recon is the time one chooses to pass away. Because all diseases were cured, nobody could die of natural causes. In fact, it was considered impolite to live beyond age forty.
Initiating recon typically involves a long ceremony. Fanatics hold this belief, but most will go surrounded by loved ones. Some of Oliver’s friends already committed to recon, yet he loved life. He dreamed of sailing, floating on the ocean forever.
Alduous Huxley, author of “Brave New World,” once asked his wife for LSD on his death bed. His wife then described it as, “A Beautiful Death.” Oliver considered an acid-induced recon, to die in a wave of euphoria.
James turned to Oliver.
“Sorry to have asked you about recon,” James said, “it creeps up on all of us, sooner or later.”
Oliver stared out the window in silence.
He was lost in his dreams. There was not enough time if he was to learn to sail. It was a lifelong struggle. Oliver noticed sunshine glimmer on the 9/11 memorial water. Unsure why, he became filled with hope for the future. He replied:
“It’s okay. Recon is only the beginning.”
Thirty years later, Oliver sailed further out from the city. He was lost at sea.
What did time matter anyway, he wondered, if it was only him and the driftwood?
On the horizon, a green speckle of land began to grow. Oliver abandoned all hope of returning, yet this small island held a glimmer of hope. Night would fall soon, and he needed shelter. He began to steer toward the green islands.
The sun set behind New York. He drifts closer and closer to the island shore. The skies reveal spectrums of colors, pink and orange. Peaceful signs toward the end of his acid trip.
He landed on the shore of the island, docked and crept onto the warm sand.
His first priority was food. Going to be difficult without fire, he thought. He then saw smoke rising at the center of the island. Oliver moved in a beeline, towards the island center.
In the center, there were ten others. Tall and lean from their rustic lifestyle, they danced by the pyre which burned… a phone? Was he still tripping?
Oliver was a bit stunned by the situation. He approached a bald round man and stood his ground.
“Um, hello?” said Oliver.
“Hey there,” the bald man extended a hand, “my name is Tanay.”
“Oliver. Where in the hell are we?”
“This is dev island.” Tanay said with a smile.
Oliver was picked up by Tanay for a bear hug. In his husky frame, the round man nearly crushed him.
“Thanks,” Oliver said, brushing himself off. “But what is dev island?”
“Dev island… is an island for developers.”
“What does ‘developer’ mean?” Oliver asked.
“It means computer programmer,” Tanay sighed, “We were all former devs. This island, dev island, is our safe haven.”
Since they arrived here, these developers escaped one of modern society’s greatest walls: Recon.
“Why else would we strand ourselves here?” Sanjyot said, she parted her long dark hair. “This island is an escape. We have no desire to off ourselves, so we decided to come here.”
“Why do you think recon became standard?” Oliver asked, “Overpopulation?”
“No way,” Phil said. He had orange hair, and a soft-spoken voice. “It’s because of uncertainty. Since technology eliminated all our other uncertainties, there was only one left. Death.”
He pointed skyward with his index finger. “We did not want to go before our time.”
“It creeps up on all of us,” Oliver said, “sooner or later.”
The sunset’s afterglow faded, night arrived. Oliver asked if he could stay on dev island. Tanay smiled, “Of course.”
Oliver wondered on dev island. Were lives before technology simpler? How did time pass, did everything seem further away, like in a rear-view mirror?
He dreamed in a hut, moonlit rays crept inside the straw ceiling. Tanay took him in with open arms, literally. Tomorrow, he could start a new life on dev island. Exhaustion pulled him back into sleep.
The next morning, Tanay was assigning tasks for the week. Oliver stood with the other dev islanders.
“So, y’all used to sit in front of computers.” Oliver said, “If you were inside all day, how could you survive here?”
Tanay replied, “We had to learn. Every day someone learned a task. Became better at it. That was the only requirement. A grant of freedom, in return for survival.”
“Must have been brutal,” Oliver said.
“You will learn now,” Tanay laughed.
Tanay assigned him a task to collect water. Like a sponge he could absorb all this new information. Since they offered refuge, he was willing to contribute in new ways. Without recon, the future was looking brighter already.
Carrying two blue buckets of water, Oliver found his balance. He was always up for the early morning standing meeting. This was similar to James’s team he thought, except it was orchestrated by Tanay.
This morning, Oliver wore a quizzical grin. He was excited to get a new task. “How can I be of service?” He asked.
“Just keep filling the water tower,” Tanay replied. This went on for weeks, on for months, until Oliver had enough. He wanted to live, but this was a game of survivor.
The next morning, he asked to do something else. “What if I could write our daily activities,” he asked, “like a dev island newsletter?”
Tanay chortled in response. “We have Peach for that. Everyone else manages on their own.”
Peach, who lived here longest, looked as if she never met sunlight. Still there was no doubting her brilliance. She was the organizer making sure everyone knew what they were doing.
“Don’t mind him,” she said. “He just hates anything less utilitarian. We’re not a clan of artists, mind you.”
“Can we take this offline?” Oliver asked.
They left the stand up meeting to walk by the shore. Oliver’s ship sat by the calm tides. An ocean breeze lifted up Peach’s short brown hair and let it go.
“Writing has no place here?” Oliver asked.
“No, we cannot let anyone know about dev island.” Peach replied.
“Fair enough,” Oliver said, “what if I tell the world about this strange island?”
“No one will understand. It makes no sense.”
“Like if someone walked into the story at this stage, it would be impossible to explain.”
“Does it need to make sense?” Oliver turned towards you, the reader. A short pause punctured their conversation.
“It does not have to,” Peach said, “Who are you looking at?”