Summer Lang slid open the door of her Grube, and the light strip flickered on. No surprise—four days of rain had depleted the solar collectors. Brin followed her inside, and the door closed behind him.
“Nice place,” said Brin conversationally, though Summer knew he was being polite. All the Grubes—Green Cubes—looked alike: 200 square feet of compact, carbon-neutral, sustainable living space. Individual touches, like pictures, weren’t forbidden—but everyone knew they were a waste of resources.
“Want something to eat? A sandwich, maybe?” asked Summer, to cover how nervous she felt. She’d never invited a guy to her Grube before.
“A sandwich would be great, thanks.”
Summer went to the food center and made two tofu and sprout sandwiches. She started to add mayonnaise, hesitated, and chose mustard instead; a green light on the cooler door flashed: WISE CHOICE!
A pleasant voice reminded her that she was low on fruits and vegetables, and Summer pressed a button to add them to the auto-grocer list. She sat down beside Brin on the futon, ignoring the voice of the auto-advisor: It’s great to spend time with friends... so why not exercise or jog together this evening?
Summer took a bite of the sandwich (Would have been better with mayonnaise...), and thought about Brin. She liked him better than anyone she knew; but lately, he’d been urging her to Commit. She’d hesitated, because Commitment was a big step. You had to promise to share a Grube for two years; and newly-Committed couples couldn’t apply for a bigger Grube until after that.
“You said you had something to show me,” said Summer, when they’d finished eating.
“That’s right. Look at this.” Brin pulled an ancient leather-covered book out of his canvas satchel. “Found it today in the salvage.”
Green Colonies were built on the foundations of the old cities, and their unsustainable buildings had been bulldozed to be recycled into new materials. Summer and Brin both worked at a reclamation plant—Brin in the historical division, where interesting artifacts were scanned or photographed.
Brin opened the book, and Summer realized it was a photo album. The pictures must have been taken a hundred years ago, because the family’s house had been huge. Just like their automobiles, those nasty gasoline-powered vehicles that had generated poisonous fumes and contaminated the atmosphere. Still, the family looked happy. Brin turned the pages, and on each page, the two daughters of the family grew older. Eventually, one became a young woman in a white dress beside a man in a black suit.
“A wedding,” said Summer, rolling her eyes. Commitment for life. It was an old custom—still practiced, she had heard, by those who lived in the few remaining Reacto cities. Some Reactos still lived their greedy, excessive, unsustainable lives, despite high taxes and societal disapproval.
But Brin said tentatively,
“I’ve been thinking. This life we live... we’re not free. We talk about ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness’... but we sort of gave that up, didn’t we?”
“You sound like a... Reacto,” whispered Summer, and became aware that her hands were trembling. Not Brin! “You want to be like them? Using up natural resources, polluting, eating like pigs...”
“We’ve always been told that, I don't know if it's true... but Summer, they choose what kinds of lives to live. And they don’t have mechanical bureaucrats built into every piece of furniture.” Brin caught her hand, and met her eyes. “Summer... I’ve loved you ever since I saw you. I want to get out of here, find a different kind of life. And I want you to come with me... and marry me.”
Summer stared at him, really stared at him. His eyes were green and bewitching. She couldn’t go with him, of course she couldn’t. But if she could...
Twilight in 45 minutes! chirped a cheery voice, breaking the spell. There’s still time to enjoy a walk or jog! Did you know a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to...
“I can’t,” said Summer. “I couldn’t live like that. I’m... sorry...”
“I understand,” said Brin, “but if you change your mind...” He went out, leaving the photo album open on the futon.
Summer leaned back and closed her eyes. She tried to visualize an endless field of organic produce, like the expanse of green that surrounded the community. But she only saw herself running through the fields, her long white dress billowing out behind her.
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