Page 2. The hungry worm.


Even though the nearest FreeStore was a couple of kilometres away, the trip with the Automaton only lasted a couple of minutes, a result of the policy that restricted all the cars to a maximum of 50kmh per hour while inside city limits.

It also helped that all emergency services vehicles, such as ambulances and the fire department trucks, were replaced 3 years ago by utility drones. Combined with a strict schedule for other heavy and slow vehicles – which were allowed inside the city only during the night, meant that on Thursday afternoon, the roads were eerily empty.

The FreeStore was among the most recent innovations of the Department of Trade. After several successful pilot programs around the world, the Planet Council took the concept on a global level, basically ending once and for all world hunger and raising people’s  living standard to an unprecedented level. And that’s not even the amazing part. What’s incredible is that they made it possible in only 2 years – yet another testimony to humanity’s ability to conquer major issues once they decide to put aside petty preoccupations such as military ambitions.

“Who would have thought that buying tractors and irrigation systems instead of nuclear carriers would cure world hunger?”  Although usually accompanied by a sarcastic smirk, all these thoughts had, in the end, the same effect on J – they sadden him.“We had all the answers, all the resources and we were all incredibly self-interested. Well, better late than never…”

All fruits, vegetables and most animal products were free of charge. They were considered basic mandatory goods just like clean water, and thus the Planet Council decided everyone should be able to access them, without any cost, up to a certain extent. This limit was generated by the daily amount of calories an average human adult would need to live a healthy life. Simply put, your AllCard allowed you to go in any FreeStore and purchase for free, every week, any amount of food that totalled up to 62000  kilojoules or around 15000 calories.

The weekly limit was imposed for one reason only – to reduce, as much as possible, waste.

Basic food was part of the Tier 0 sustenance class. Tier 1 consisted of low-sugar and low-fat snacks like dark chocolate or simple biscuits but also of everything that was not considered basic necessity but technically everyone needed. Stuff like shampoo, light bulbs, garbage bags and cat food were included here.

Tier 2 consisted of foods such as cakes, milk chocolate, muffins, bagels and Tier 3 contained most of the pizzas, cereals and all kinds of pasta. Tier 4 was reserved for beers and wines and processed meats. Tier 5 had everything considered junk food in the past – from hamburgers to carbonated drinks. Tier 6 included strong spirits such as whisky or vodka and light drugs such as tobacco and marijuana. The higher the tier, the unhealthier the food, the more you would have to pay.

J visited the store several times a week – something very peculiar among all his acquaintances and neighbours  – not because he was very considerate about the environment, but because grocery shopping was the only thing that brought a familiar scent from his past in this new, enlightened World.

Also, Cat was a moody eater. She would devour one variety of food today, but wouldn’t touch it tomorrow. The following week the same thing happened, only the other way around.  J was on a constant cat-food buying spree.

Feeling unusually melancholic, he bought with the last credits on his AllCard a bottle of Scottish single malt and a pack of cigars. “I should find a way to postpone that appointment with Dr Alburn”. Calling in sick was definitely not an option… But Cat seemed a bit under the weather lately… She didn’t sleep the full 20 hours a day as she used to.

With the plan well-set, it was time to get back to work.

There were no cashiers in a FreeStore shop, as all were equipped with self-checkout systems. The process, although not recent – shops in Japan had it implemented as early as 2025 –  was made possible on a globals scale by the AllCard, the new personal ID card that functioned as a passport, medical card, credit card, gym card, Automaton subscription and so on. Every AllCard was linked to its user’s DNA & fingerprint, storing all his information, account balances, transactions etc. and could be read wirelessly. Purchases and other sensitive actions needed to be confirmed with a fingerprint check. Accessing the transport system or getting into the gym would be done automatically through the sensors that would detect the card proximity.

Two minutes after collecting the paper bags filled with cat food, booze and cigarettes, J was heading home on foot, walking down Sunrise Boulevard, towards the eastern entrance of the Dome, the city’s biggest park. Hundreds of other people seemed to have the same idea, as J found himself surrounded by runners, people walking their dogs or just taking a casual stroll in that late afternoon.

With the two paper bags in hand, J was painting an eccentric scene in that play. He looked lost, misplaced. No one was carrying anything, except maybe a leash (they haven’t yet figured it out how to stop dogs chase squirrels) and everyone was there for the same reason – to unwind. J was technically still shopping.

A quick pace carried him through park’s gate and into what was the easternmost section of the park, a 10 hectares area faithfully replicating the luxuriant forests and gardens of Asia. The winding paths turned visitors into veritable explorers, carrying them through Japanese gardens, covered with green moss and crossed by shallow streams, fenced by rocks, gravel and even small sandy beaches. Wooden bridges allowed visitors to pass over the crystalline creeks while benches and tables were placed in the more open areas of the gardens to allow people to rest.

If J looked out of the ordinary outside the park, in the lush green forests of the Dome, he was a veritable blot on the landscape. The bags seemed suddenly larger and heavier. He felt watched by everyone and instantly realised this walk was going to be anything but relaxing.

Hastening his pace, he started thinking about random things. The bags saved him. He tried remembering the last time he saw plastic bags. When he was a kid, every store used to provide customers with colourful plastic bags. Billions and billions of plastic bags carried home and thrown in the bin every day, choking the landfills and the world with the wonder of the 20th century – the indestructible plastic.

Well, presumed indestructible… Nature, once again, came to humanity’s help. To combat her biggest threat yet, she sent forward her toughest soldier. More accurately, she re-programmed it! The wax worm – Galleria mellonella! 

One of the world’s biggest environmental issues was accidentally discovered in 2015 by a scientist in Spain, after cleaning her beehives! The wax worm’s main source of food is the bee’s wax so it wasn’t something uncommon to discover some in a beehive, the startling discovery happened a few hours later when the scientist returned to her work only to discover that the worms have eaten through the plastic bag they were placed in.

A few years later, the same scientist and a few of her colleagues, successfully separated the enzyme in the worm’s body responsible for dissolving the polyethylene molecules.  By 2025, plastic wasn’t a problem anymore, and the world scratched one more name from the whiteboard.


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