Līlāvatī – or Līlā, as she was known to all – opened the window of her tiny apartment and picked up the neatly packaged loaf of bread that had been left on the window sill by the delivery drone from GoodGrocer. Along with it, she also picked up the two ripe muskmelons packed separately in a shrink-wrap. Carrying them into her open kitchen, she de-hibernated her personal digital assistant - the Dija - and snapped a quick image of the barcode on the addressee labels. Almost instantly she heard the soft tinkle of UniCrypts – the global cryptocurrency – being  debited from her account and sensed its proof of delivery being signed with the image of the barcode. She smiled at the two muskmelons, that she knew she would not have to pay for, but that was a different story. For Līlā, a resident of Chandilis, this seamless use of technology was something that was quite routine but little did she know that matters would take a different and dramatic turn today.

Chandilis was the one of the thirty nine technopolises, or technos, that had come up across the world as a refuge for those who could flee the violence and bloodshed that had engulfed the planet towards the end of the 21st century. Extreme technology had initially helped society with an uptick on certain quality of life parameters like infant mortality or longevity but the long term trends were always negative for the world as a whole. Overpopulation, unemployment, poverty, religious and ideological fundamentalism, stupidity, venality and sheer cussedness had resulted in an anarchic struggle for scarce resources that had gradually caused the collapse of national and local governments. Mankind had regressed to medieval barbarism and what the Indic consciousness remembers as matsya nyaya had become the order of the day.

A small coterie of wealthy techno-entrepreneurs – the kind of people who had access to eighty percent of global wealth – had fought back. Obviously they could not defy the Second Law of Thermodynamics and reverse the inevitable descent into chaos but they had created islands of peace and sanity – where the entropy of disorder was far less! This did not happen overnight, but one by one, a number of self-sustaining enclaves had emerged. While the details differed, what was common to all of them was that they were monitored, managed and actually controlled by ultra high technology that provided a comfortable, though somewhat claustrophobic, lifestyle for those who had the license to live there.

Initial and ideological experiments with reusable energy like solar and wind had eventually proved inadequate to support the immense energy requirements of a high-tech society. All technos were now run with small nuclear reactors based fast breeder technology. Cutting edge farm technology that could use every square inch of space and every droplet of recycled water had now made it possible to grow real plants and vegetables quite efficiently. Meat had been a challenge but with the rise of processed insects this too had been successfully overcome. This was so good that even the externals – who subsisted on the natural stuff – could barely make out the origin of the patties and steaks that were available in the technos.

Not that too many externals could ever access any of this because the anarchy of the outer world was kept at bay with powerful force fields. These were visually transparent but physically painful barriers to life forms with specific genetic characteristics. Birds, beasts and bugs could travel through them but not humans! To ensure the safety of the technos and their citizens, these barriers could be made opaque to both matter and energy whenever required. Entry to and permanent residency of any techno was not easy but was granted on the basis of competence, bloodline and occasionally on grounds of compassion. To ensure that all such decisions were fair, these were taken by software systems based on artificial intelligence or AI.

In fact, the leitmotif of the techno society was AI and one of the earliest decisions taken by the pioneer-designers was to eliminate humans from administrative decisions as far as possible. Planet earth is sick and the disease is man was one of the driving philosophies and as a result humans were in general excluded from most routine decisions.  One of the biggest challenges of the pre-technology era of anarchy was the corruption, nepotism and rank inefficiency of humans. People had learnt from history that many processes like railway reservation, income tax returns, passport renewal had become far more efficient when people were replaced by software. This of course was just the beginning but it coincided with massive improvements in AI systems and it soon became clear that not just administration of policy but even policy making was better done with AI systems that had become increasingly adept.

Eliminating people from administrative and business processes had meant that more and more people were now without jobs. This was rationalized with the belief that people now had more leisure or the freedom to work on interesting and creative things. The lack of employment was never an issue because thanks to the ultra efficiency in production, the cost of goods and services was very low and this was could easily be covered with a universal basic income scheme. The real issue was what would people do with their free time and this is where society was split into two. For the majority, an idle brain was the devil’s workshop and society had been on the verge of falling back into anarchy but for the timely introduction of smart surveillance and crowd control systems. After some initial hiccups with tasers and nerve gases, most people were conditioned to be happy to sink into an endless series of video and online games that kept them engaged and entertained. But there were others – the small number of truly intelligent, creative types who had the ability to visualize and create a new reality – and one such individual was Līlā.

Līlā was an engineer. She had used distance learning technology to attend the Mechanical Engineering program at Kyoto University and had graduated at the top of her class. Then she had enrolled, again virtually, at the doctoral program at the Hampi Science Institute where she was working on Extraterrestrial Dynamics. Here, as a part of her thesis, she was designing a nine degree-of-freedom mining arm – the NonaDexter – that could be used autonomously. This was waiting for its turn to be manufactured at the 3D printing facility in Arezia, the Martian habitat located deep in the caverns of Hebrus Valles. If it were to work as expected, it would revolutionize mining on Mars and accelerate the process of terraforming that had been initiated there. But all that could wait. Right now she was looking forward to the two muskmelons that Xerxes, her friend, partner and significant other, had just sent from TransCaspia. It was not something that was readily available here, on the edge of the Chotanagpur plateau.

Līlā was tall, dark and athletic with a finely chiseled face, laughing eyes and close cropped hair. But for her high cheekbones and full lips one would not have suspected that she was a member of the local Santhal tribe. In fact, she was a first generation resident of Chandilis and was one of the very few who had been admitted without any family connections.