Another decade passes; life in Halifax for Pierre and Len has settled down to a predictable, daily routine. Halifax has settled down too, as its population is halved by aging, disease and the limits of medicine. The smaller demand on unstable resources like energy, food, and housing, however, proves easier to administrate and deliver. Social instability decreases as an aging population moves into its last decades of life; birth rates, in steady decline for many years reach an historically low point. There are few troublesome youths, in fact, barely any youths at all. Homo sapiens are likely making their final curtain call.
The carbon dioxide scrubbers within the huge domed section of the city preserve air quality, and the entire population now lives within its protection. A vigorous planting program has propagated trees throughout the dome; ironically, in the face of global, ecological collapse, Halifax has literally turned green, as avenues once dedicated to transportation are converted to parks and gardens. Despite its limits, medical knowledge advances still. The combination of technological achievement – artificial intelligence, gene editing tools, and pharmacology – extends lifespan for those who remain alive. Anyone who lives to 80 is likely to live to 90; anyone who lives to 90, like Pierre, is likely to live to 100 or more. Many of the oldest residents of Halifax are 110 years and older.
Since the botanicus are living in the wild lands, at least Pierre hopes that it’s still true, he and Len spend most every day together in the library, reading and having discussions about what they’ve read. As Len has aged, although his appearance is little changed, his outwards habits are more notable. To maximize his photosynthetic energy production, for example, while sitting under the library’s full spectrum grow lamps, he wears no pants, and for nostalgic reasons takes to wearing button down shirts and bow ties he finds hidden away in a closet upstairs in one of the many Gittleman home bedrooms. Taking his cue from an old, framed photograph of Pierre’s father, Leonard Gittleman, hanging in that bedroom, he is unaware that the very clothes he wears once hung from Leonard’s own shoulders. Len never knew Leonard, of course, but places him in a prominent position atop his own family tree, nonetheless.
“I’ve been reading a book by Buckminster Fuller, father,” Len opens the conversation, “did you know that he’s the man who first developed the geodesic dome, like the one that covers this part of the city?” “I’ve never read his books, Len. Which one are you reading?” Pierre inquires.
“The title is Critical-Path,” Len explains. “He wrote it in 1980, well before the planet’s climate shifted so dramatically, but he could see it coming if people didn’t change their habits and beliefs. They didn’t, so here we are.” “What did he mean by critical path?” Pierre asks. “Let me quote,” Len replies. “I’ve memorized some of what he says.”
“Conventional critical-path conceptioning is linear and self-under-informative. Only spherically expanding and contracting, spinning, polarly involuting and evoluting orbital-system feedbacks are both comprehensively and incisively informative. Spherical-orbital critical-feedback circuits are pulsative, tidal, importing and exporting. Critical-path elements are not overlapping linear modules in a plane: they are systemically interspiraling complexes of omni-interrelevant regenerative feedback circuits.”
“My,” Pierre replies, “Do you understand what he’s getting at?” “I believe I do, father,” says Len. “He’s describing a holistic model, what the Hwa Yen Buddhists call Totality. It’s a description based on interconnectedness, rather than separation into discrete parts. Overall, Fuller rejected arbitrary distinctions, strict dichotomies like good and bad, and instead viewed reality as matters of complimentarity, not polar opposition. He says,
“What humans have spontaneously identified as good and bad—or as positive and negative—are evolutionary complementations in need of more accurate indentifications. Since complementarity is essential to the success of eternally regenerative Universe, the phenomenon identified as the opposite of positive cannot be negative, nor can it be bad, since the interopposed phenomena known heretofore as good and bad are essential to the 100-percent success of eternally regenerative Universe. They are both good for the Universe.”
“In other words,” Len continues, “Fuller thought that solving the world’s problems required letting go of what is essentially selfishness, seeing the gains of another as a loss for oneself, in what another article I read they called a ‘zero sum game.’ Here’s one more quote,”
“Those in supreme power politically and economically as of 1980 are as yet convinced that our planet Earth has nowhere nearly enough life support for all humanity. All books on economics have only one basic tenet—the fundamental scarcity of life support. The supreme political and economic powers as yet assume that it has to be either you or me.”
Pierre’s impressed, feeling as if the student is teaching the master. “Wow, you’ve developed a great memory, Len. I’m impressed. I guess old Leonard’s collection of books has been worth keeping. You mentioned Hwa Yen Buddhism. I guess you’ve been reading that too?”
“I have,” Len nods, “and even though those teachings preceded Fuller by thousands of years, they make the same points about the true nature of reality, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. People’s penchant to make distinctions, divide and label parts and then call them good or bad, obscures what Fuller calls the ‘complementarity’ of one unified process. Hwa Yen acknowledges reality as complimentarity. For example, the universal and the particular are two observations about one reality of being. The same is true of difference and sameness and integration and disintegration. All these observable qualities are part of the unified whole of totality, all happen simultaneously and unobstructedly. To me, this is patently true, I see and feel it in operation. It’s all good!” Len’s animation is reinforced by his skin coloration, which colorfully pulses in sync with his excitement.
Pierre feels stunned by the degree of Len’s learning and understanding, which is beyond anything he imagined possible. As the first of the viable botanicus, Pierre’s expectations of Len were limited, but as Len has aged, his curiosity, intellect and sophistication have grown exponentially. At the same time, his sweet and loving nature has never faltered, and he remains devoted to Pierre’s welfare. “If this is the future form of humanity,” Pierre thinks to himself, “perhaps things will turn out better after all.”
“You know, Len, my son,” Pierre begins, “we once spent some time talking about your purpose, do you remember that conversation?” Len nods his head. “Yes, I remember, father,” he says. “Why?” “Well, “Pierre goes on, “I think you’ve answered that question, at least in part. I think you’re a natural teacher, and the knowledge you’ve accumulated is likely to be lost, were it not for you.”
“That’s a nice thought, father,” Len settles back in his chair and crosses his legs, “but I have no one to teach.” That statement hits Pierre, hard, like stubbing his toe in the dark. Pierre realizes his frame of reference is about a world of teachers and students that no longer exists. A sudden rush of sadness fills him, and he begins to sob. “I’ve been unfair to you Len,” he stammers. “I should never have kept you here. I should have set you free in the wild lands with the others. You could have taught them!” He buries his face in his hands, sobbing.
“I would never have left you, father,“ Len leans forward and places his green hand on Pierre’s knee. “I would never have left you alone. Of course, I miss the others, and wonder how they are doing, but you have provided me with purpose, father. Whatever the future brings, and honestly, I don’t think much about the future, I have had a wonderful life. I have no regrets. All I feel is gratitude and love for you, and the way you devoted yourself to caring for the world. I have great admiration for Buckminster Fuller, but you, father, are my hero.” Len is now crying, too.
“I’m not sure I entirely believe you, son,” Pierre smiles, “but thank you. You are an inspiration and comfort to me. It’s time to think of your future, though. I feel my age. We need to make a plan. Can we try to do that?”
“Of course, father, we can try to make a plan. I’m older too, you know.” Len wipes his eyes and stands up. “Here, take my arm and let’s get you to bed. It’s late.” At that, Pierre and Len walk arm in arm from the library and head to Pierre’s cot in the lab. “Perhaps it’s time to sleep in a real bedroom, father.” Pierre, however, has stopped listening and begins to form a plan for Len’s future in his mind. “Yes, bed, “Pierre repeats, “I am tired.”