What if companies replace countries?
Oblivion, Chapter 7
This is an edit of chapter 7, my most recent chapter, which previously looked very different. More thoughts on why I made this change to the story in my author’s commentary at the bottom! Chapter 8 will be coming next week!
Quick recap: Elysia finds herself on Fenghu, isle of the immortals, with no recollection of her past and a painting of the island in her pocket. Now she’s about to learn how this idyllic place came to be.composed a beautiful musical score for this chapter. I hope you enjoy this meditation as you read.
We slept on tatami mats in a room with no roof. Towering trees crept through cracks in the floor and comets spilled through their branches, crashing into our hair in the night. Snow leopards wept for a land that once held snow, their large white paws prowling silently around our dreams as we slept.
We were awoken by a waterfall that burst from the mountain, and we followed it to a tranquil valley below. We walked in a stream, the pebbles soft beneath our feet, our kimonos trailing in our wake. Pink flowers spilled into the water as the jungle leaned in to hear our words. Even the waterfalls slowed to a trickle as we passed.
I searched again for some memory, some explanation for this dazzling sense of vertigo, but I increasingly felt that it wasn’t just my memory that was lost, but my entire world. I thought about the horizon Taka showed me last night—the one in which there was no Asia, no continents at all, just five islands living on the backs of turtles.
“You said the world was flooded,” I ventured. “What did you mean?
Taka tousled his black hair with his fingers, a moment of indifferent leisure that was beginning to seem so intrinsic to him.
“The world used to have countries, whole continents where people lived and worked,” he said. “But then people invented technologies that gave them the ability to transcend borders, to expand beyond what existed locally and connect with others who lived globally. Suddenly it wasn’t location that connected us, but ideas and ideologies.”
I did not remember my past, but I at least remembered the world in which I lived. It was loud, disorienting. For the first time, I realized that I hadn’t seen any technology since my arrival in Fanghu. For the first time, I realized I didn’t want to.
“Eventually humanity became truly free from location,” Taka continued. “Organizations that once hired from a local community could now hire from a global community. Suddenly everyone in the world had access to work, and everyone in the world had access to wealth. Half the world went from impoverished to affluent nearly overnight.”
Had I seen Taka work? I remembered him swimming through the cities in the sea, gathering the remnants of our past, I thought of his shack filled with treasures at the end of the world. And then there was Sanyu the scientist and her mentor Wao the botanist—did they work too? How very full of leisure their lives seemed.
Before I could ask, Taka answered.
“Over time, work became less attached to location or even hours. People had a vocation to achieve, and they were paid to achieve them. When a groundbreaking agreement made all knowledge available to everyone, a renaissance of human progress flourished. Organizations grew and merged with one another until five of them employed most of the world. It wasn’t long before they were more powerful than countries.”
I knew this world, I remembered it—Taka looked at me as if he knew it too. And now, where was it? Where was the place I was from? The one Taka now spoke about in the past tense? I felt for the scroll in my pocket, the painting of Fanghu, the isle of the immortals. Something pricked at my memory then, but I suspended the thought as Taka continued.
“As governments became unable to provide a good life for their people, much less go to war to protect them, those organizations discovered they could. They started using their wealth to provide for their workers. They paid their healthcare costs when governments didn’t, and created education programs for their children when the government wouldn’t. Eventually, they provided everything their workers could ever need—food, housing, cities, communities.”
Our walk ended at an emerald blue lagoon, and pouring into it a giant waterfall. At the top of the waterfall a towering cherry tree reached into the sky. With a giant sigh, a twirling pink flower flitted from its branches and landed in the lagoon. I knelt in the water and scooped it into my hand. It yawned awake as the sun climbed another foot in the sky. I could almost hear the water twinkle in the newfound sunlight. What was this strange paradise? And how did I find myself here?
“Eventually, governments lost power altogether,” Taka continued. “Why would anyone pay a portion of their income to a particular location, when the organizations they worked for provided them with everything they needed? Especially as many governments weren’t providing adequate conditions in the first place and often amounted to authoritarian rule. Countries crumbled as they lost money, then power.”
“When the borders opened, everyone resettled within the communities they wanted to live in. Everyone contributed to their communities, and those communities made sure everyone in their care were provided for. When the waters drew in, they resettled into the mountains, they built beautiful cities in the sky and designed golden terraces in the clouds. They planted eternal gardens and carved sculptures of onyx and jade. By the time the floods came in, only the most beautiful parts of humanity remained.”
Taka stepped into the lagoon, his blue kimono draping gently in the water. He looked up at the tree. How deeply at peace he seemed, how unconcerned with the world as it once was. I could almost hear it now—the sound of my past—and this time I let it in. I could hear the whispers of something I had once longed for, something I had spent my life in search of. I remembered what I had been trying to find—it flooded into my mind with abandon. And now, had I found it?
“Do you really have no government then?” I asked. “No organizations? No technology?”
“We have everything those systems once aimed to achieve,” he answered. He turned to look at me. “We have five islands, communities people contribute to and that in turn care for them. The eight immortals preside over all of us. They are our philosophers and they weigh everything the islands do for the greater good of all. You have already met one of them, Ama.”
“I thought Fanghu was a mythical place,” I said, a tendril of red hair escaping across my face in the breeze. “Someplace unreachable by mortals.”
He watched my hair turn to gold in the sunlight. For a moment I thought he might tuck it behind my ear, but the impulse was stilled. He put his hand in his pocket.
“We were once a small mountain-top monastery that could only be found by the few,” he said. “But as humanity began to accept that we are all one, it became accessible to the many. As they drew closer to one another, they climbed higher into the mountains. When their continents finally washed away, so did the things that once divided them. We focused only on the ways in which we are all connected.
“But it has been several thousand years since then, and we haven’t seen someone like you in a very long time.”
He jumped in the water then, flipping his hair out of the water when he emerged. The water pooled around him, spiraling out to touch my toes. Then he waved for me to join him.
“That’s why Ama thinks you are not from this time,” he said, before ducking beneath the waterfall.