Walking through the forest, I luxuriate in the cool breeze blowing through the trees, the flashes of warmth as I pass through shafts of luminaire light here and there, and the collage of smells that carry on the air from the rich environment around me. That all of these things are being scanned, tested, filtered, and then passed on by the envirosuit that covers me from head to foot, is completely irrelevant and undetectable. The suit functions perfectly and, with a guaranteed operational lifetime of well over a century, I would be shocked if it operated in any other fashion for the duration of my time here.
The climate in this part of the cylinder is similar to that found in the Pacific Northwest of Old Earth and the forest reflects this. Tall pine trees rise into the sky and thick stands of bushes and brambles fill much of the space between while a thick carpet of needles covers the forest floor. The suit's sensors are linked to my exoself, which finds the clearest and most stable path through the sometimes treacherous landscape, while subtly directing my steps and angling my limbs to ensure maximal balance and stability. Nevertheless, there are spots on my journey where the slope of the land or the roughness of the terrain makes it necessary for the suit to step in, it's internal musculature and carbo-fiber structure smoothly augmenting my clumsy, merely evolved limbs, or even taking over entirely to navigate a couple of particularly difficult slopes.
A clearing opens out before me, free of trees but filled with a great stand of Devil's Club, and it is here that I come to appreciate the envirosuit most of all. Without it, I would be forced to either divert around the stand or suffer through multiple punctures and scratches from the sharp, irritating spines coating its stems and leaves. Instead, I can simply push through even the thickest growths, the tough outer surface of the suit totally impervious to anything the plant can metaphorically throw at it while the internal power assist makes forcing aside even the toughest branches a matter of trivial effort. Indeed, the biggest hindrance to my progress is not the Devil's Club itself, but rather the hardcoded environmental regulations that govern the suit's behavior and which require me to divert around the large old-growth center of the thicket rather than ramming my way straight through. Damaging the local ecosystem is very much not part of my remit here and so I cooperate with the suit to find a path that pushes through some parts of the clearing, while leaving the most established areas untouched. Throughout, and per my standard settings, the suit allows my body to add enough of its own effort to the task to provide a nice level of exercise and my preferred level of sweat. Of course, the suit's internals clean me completely and leave me feeling fresh and dry within an hour.
Once past the clearing, the land begins to rise, a prelude to the much greater ascensions to come. The trees thin slightly and I can look back across the clearing I just crossed and then onward down and across the length of the cylinder habitat at the many places I have visited. Forest, plains, and a medium size river that I had forded day before yesterday (although some might argue whether or not simply walking straight across the river bed, water as much as three meters above my head at the deepest point, and being able to completely ignore the effects of the powerful flow of the current as I examined the various plants, crustaceans, and fish that I passed or passed me on the trip would really count as 'fording'). The luminaire is beginning to fade; its pure yellow-white light gradually converting to softer pinks and oranges as dusk is begins to settle across this section of the world. Time to make camp.
A thought and a cheery campfire springs into existence, its heat gently caressing my hands and face as I stand over it. Another thought and my favorite chair manifests at a comfortable distance from the fire, a bowl of succulent Brunswick stew, complete with fresh opossum, sitting on a small table to one side, next to a plate of steaming hot cornbread and a generous mug of my favorite beer. Sighing happily, I sink into the chair, settle the stew in my lap, and balance a chunk of cornbread on the edge of the bowl. Dinner is as delicious as I anticipated, and the experience of eating by the light of the fire and the blazing stars (projected holographically from the luminaire each night) has yet to pall.
Just as I have wiped up the last of the stew with the last of the bread, an impulse tag from the suit directs my attention to the dark across the clearing. Audio and olfactory sensors tell me what is coming even before visual enhancement does, and a few moments after that a bobcat wanders into the clearing, staring at me curiously. I go still, not from any fear of the animal, which cannot actually see me, but so that I might better appreciate the beauty of such a magnificent beast. The short, but powerful, body, the great eyes, and the long whiskers. Beautiful.
Not for the first time, I wonder what the animal makes of the image the suit is projecting (a large pile of rocks). Not whether or not it is fooled by the illusion - which is functionally perfect and actively tailored to work with all the cat's senses - but with the fact that this pile was not here until tonight. Although it seems unlikely the animal will dwell on the matter since, along with producing both visual and olfactory illusions that make me look like a pile of rocks, the suit is also projecting subtle ultra and infrasonic signals that make any local life forms uninclined to linger or attempt to climb up on the newfound vantage point. It cannot see my fire or smell my food of course, since these, along with my chair and table, are simply virtual projections into my own sensorium.
I am sitting down and enjoying my dinner, but it is the suit, bending at the appropriate places and then going rigid, that is supporting me. And it is the suit that is feeding me, drawing in raw materials over the course of the day, converting them into nutrients, and injecting them directly into my bloodstream under cover of a delicious virtual meal being injected into my eyes, nose, and mouth. The fire, with its heat and light, is the simplest of all - merely images generated on the inside of the suit while appropriate nerves are stimulated through our mutual connection. Who needs a backpack when you have an envirosuit?
The bobcat finally loses interest and continues on back into the forest. I spend a little time reviewing my memories of the last few days, tagging bits that I deem particularly interesting, either for my personal files or presentation to my wider audience beyond the cylinder world, and then decide it is time for bed.
I lie down on the ground of the clearing, the envirosuit cushioning my body like the best bed, supporting my head and neck at just the right angle above the ground to match my favorite pillow. It's massage functions kick in and I am lulled to sleep by the pleasant sensations of an expert backrub, guided by feedback from my internal medical systems to the suit's environmental optimization systems.
Just before I drift off completely, I find myself thinking about the next day and all the changes it will bring. By this time tomorrow, I will have reached the tube station at the base of the cylinder endcap and will be riding up to the axis and the ship that awaits me there. My twenty year journey, walking the length of this, the first of the 100,000 kilometer long habitat cylinders of the Buckminster dyson, will be coming to a close. While my contribution is only a small part of the vast publicity exercise the Mutual Progress Association is engaging in to promote its new mega-structure, I like to think it will be a potent one. Downloadable memories of walking from one end of the cylinder to the other, observing the entire vast ecosystem along the way. And while it will be nice to return to the bustle and manifold entertainments of the Civilized Galaxy (although I could readily link to the local net for such things whenever I wished, I preferred to avoid such interruptions and turned up the loner tendencies in my personality matrix accordingly), I know that at some level I will always miss this place.
Journey's end - time for a new adventure.
'Taking a Hike' by Todd Drashner (2015) Voices Future Tense Table of Contents
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