“Have you ever seen an animal?” She blinks at me with a slightly confused look on her face. ”No, of course not. Everyone knows animals are dangerous. They carry disease, they hurt people, and they take up valuable resources. We’ve evolved to the point where we can grow protein based foods in our labs, we don’t need to cultivate them anymore. I mean, man stopped needing animals a hundred years ago.” Gently, she laughs. “You of all people should know this. Your family owns the largest protein company in Europe.” ”Well of course I know it.” I look down. “I was just thinking about them. People used to have these things called pets, you know? Dogs and cats and birds.” ”People were stupid back then. They almost wrecked the planet.” ”True. I wonder what it was like, though. Sometimes.” ”You shouldn’t. If you want a companion, your uncle will buy you the newest bot.” She looks behind her, gaze focusing on something out of my vision. “I have to go now. Talk later, kay? Ask about a bot.” ”Yeah sure. Bye Tess.” ”Bye Shae” She blinks out of existence, my room suddenly empty once again. It’s only a small cubicle, built to be cost efficient and easy to maintain. I own only the skinsuit upon my back and the jector in my hand, but for most people these days, that’s enough. The jector holds my credits, and the skinsuit can morph to fit any climate or situation. Despite the fact that my uncle is one of the three wealthiest men in Europe, I have no frivilous belongings. We must be role models for the rest of the planet, he says. We must set the best example, an example of conservatism and husbandry. So apart from the bare minimum required to keep up appearances, I own nothing. Which is perfectly correct, of course. After what the old civilizations did to the earth, we are lucky to be here, lucky to be able to in some way fix the damage. Mankind will likely spend the next thousand years fixing the damages still apparent from the wars and the excess, the wasteful, extravagant lifestyles of humanity. Like pets. Animals should stay in the wild, uncle says, where they were always meant to be. With a sigh, I stand and look out my window. I see the metallic gleam of solar panels on every building in sight. Nobody is out, it’s the middle of the morning. Most people are working, or, if they are one of the upperclass, like Tess and I, sleeping. Normally I would be sleeping as well, but Tess and I always talk once a week, at the same time. Back when we were younger, we thought it was greatly rebellious and daring to be up before everyone else. I don’t even know why we still do it, for old time’s sake, I guess. We were really close when we were younger. She’s got her own thing going on now, though, taking on more responsibilities in her father’s company. Looking up, I see the sun breaking through the clouds, a dim glow fracturing into broken glass on the skyscrapers surrounding me. There’s not a bird in sight. Hasn’t been one for the last seventy-five years, not since the wildlife barriers were set up around all populated areas. No birds in our air, no animals in our habitats, no fish in our waterways. We have placed the Earth under a complex monitoring system to ensure its recovery— somewhere there is a building that keeps tabs on every other living thing on earth. Somewhere, there is a file on me, Shae Lynn Precaris. Somewhere, in a building, there is a computer monitoring my every movement, cataloguing my pulse, my breathing rate. Sometimes I wonder if they even catalogue my thoughts. My jector flashs in the sun as I override the controls on the window panels. They open with a soft whir, a small sill at floor level the only barrier between me and the outside. I haven’t smelt nonprocessed air in months, and I fill my lungs with grave enjoyment. The wind sifts through my hair, filtering through the short utilitarian strands so unlike Tess’s long extravagent waves. They suit her, but uncle says they’re a bad example, a waste of time and effort. Beauty is frivolity, you know. I do my best to be a good niece, not like my mother, who ran off with my father who was some kind of naturalist. He wanted to experience nature, uncle says. That’s what got them killed. They went out of the cities, and died somewhere in the jungles. Sometimes when I’m alone, I think that my father must have been like me. Maybe he wanted to see the birds too. Sometimes I wish that they’d taken me with them, beyond the city walls. Once, I heard uncle say that they should have. He didn’t know I was listening, though. Birds have hollow bones, which makes them light enough to fly. I haven’t eaten in a week. I wonder if I’m light enough to fly yet?