13 - The Acropolis

(7 years ago, 998 S.E)

Eustace wandered the fields of Rimm. Today, like any other day, she would cover kilometres of the fertile ground that made up an expansive belt below the great city.

She traversed the rolling furrows, between the bountiful rows of crops that grew beneath the crumbling detritus of ancient and ruinous farming superstructures. The structures had been kept standing in that state, conceivably as a legacy to the Acropolis company. Perhaps the in-house Acropolis heritage pundits would have had a field day if these testaments to the farming excellence of yore were taken down.

As she wandered, drones buzzed over her head, shimmering in the sun, as they carried out heavy lifting tasks calmly. In the distance, C-rail traffic hummed along, heading towards Old Jardinian’s environs of bustle and delight.

Gazing at the C-rail elevated in the distance, memories flitted by. This had been her introduction to the city some years ago. She had traveled on the C-rail over these same Acropolis fields at Rimm, awed by the generations of farming superstructures. It had been an imposing first glimpse of the city. She had been struck by the gargantuan ruins, open to the sky with crops sprouting from within.

For her, and countless other travellers, perhaps tourists from the reaches of the empire, fortune seekers, students or working-class boxhome dwellers temporarily immigrating to the city. These ruins interspersed with drones and other state-of-the-art farming technologies, were a suitable preview of the awe-inspiring, and sometimes nebulous nature of the ancient city riddled with blossoming modern invention.

As Eustace meandered the workday away, she reflected on her path to a role at Acropolis.

It was quite an ask for an aspirant to achieve one of the coveted positions at Acropolis, like she had imagined hers before actually doing it.

It required excellence in studies with a focus on the science and engineering of foodstuffs, a particularly enthralling thesis, and a penchant for rubbing elbows with the right people at industry conventions. Or having parents that rub the right elbows, she thought with a palpable derision.

Though, based on her current enthusiasm for the work - perhaps it had been the politics of school and research that she enjoyed, making things happen out of nothing, rising to the top of her small pond. Now she was lost in a sea of wheat.

Acropolis, as far as she, or her academy peers knew, was the oldest company in Old Jardinian. It had certainly existed as long as the first historical records in the Jardinian language.

The interests and assets of the company had come to encompass nearly all of Rimm, the land south of the city, for a number kilometres southward. A majority are fields and groves, carefully manicured, the feat of many generations of agricultural innovation refined with extreme botanical and engineering precision.

Eustace could remember psyching herself up for one of the notable Acropolis sponsored affairs. Overly thematic regalia, this time a lush indoor garden announced a generous shire at one of the glamorous public halls of the academy. Students of potential, executives of means, and elite players with influence or interest in this sphere - they all had gathered to rub elbows with potential rivals, partners and industry stars of the future.

She had loved this part of it - dressing with intention, movements and conversation calculated in the never-ending game of jockeying for position in the transition of student hood to professional life.

Curious looks, her name whispered in conversation as she had entered the hall, from the shadows beneath the towering ornate columns that marked the entrance of the metaphorical playing field for those who mattered (or sought to).

She had come to the city as a nobody, and was now one of the rising stars in the food production sphere, a favourite for entrance to the industrialist caste.

Her big shot, and indeed - she dominated the discussion. With her studious and data-focused testament to a particularly exciting strain of root vegetables, with startling revelations within, she was suddenly a hot commodity.

She had landed at the top of the ‘unrealized potential’ rankings for students in her year, and had drawn considerable investment from those looking for a guaranteed return when she became successful. She finished her school years as a rockstar in the making, students following her around and hanging on her every word.

Upon graduating, she announced her acceptance of a role at Acropolis. The student gossip went wild, expecting a rapid rise through the ranks. Those who had invested in her, were over the moon - expecting a massive return.

Instead, several years on, she was still meandering, in her work, and career. She had all but disappeared from the young industrialist-in-making social scene, and her promising works had been forgotten. She couldn’t even complain to Management… She’d never met it, and had been effectively banished from the offices with pastoral tasks.

Like an octopus, the Acropolis company had several arms. One was concerned with the production of natural goods using classical farming techniques and their technological descendants (How boring, Eustace had thought while touring the agricultural firm with her classmates).

Another arm was experimental farming, inventing and developing new, exciting and useful foods. The pursuit of the Banana was legendary among her peers. Many nights at the academy had ended with drunken pronouncements by students proclaiming themselves the future inventors of the hallowed fruit. (How exciting Eustace had thought, acceptance speeches rolling in her mind.)

As if her mind had been read, and her superiors had made the point of following the exact inverse of her wishes, she’d been assigned to the production arm. She’d loaded the correct visual machine intelligence apps for her provided augmented lens from the Acropolis digital store, and sent off into the gargantuan fields, riding on, of all things, a hearty work sheep.

She had spent many long days wandering the rows of crops as the sun crossed the sky, on her less-than-aerodynamic steed, checking the crops for genetic defects that might proliferate with the help of her lens, and nipping them in the bud.

It was hot, slow work. Somehow, today more than ever. Her wooly companion didn’t have much in the way of cooling capacity, so they sweated together.

It wasn’t what any Old Jardinian child would dream of, certainly. It wasn’t the type of work she’d brag about in the chic bars and clubs on the Grand Kilo. But, at least the work was in her, er, field. Something she would try to remind herself of when the days got particularly tedious. Like today. A role at acropolis, this had been her dream!

She had been assigned a sheep, because that was the disposal mechanism for her rejected vegetables. They had been bred for iron stomachs, and as a side effect, had gained the ability to produce steel wool. This particular sheep mulched the genetically offensive vegetables, and with it’s enhanced stomach, broke them down to the degree that they could fertilize new crops.

Thankfully the sheep were soft to the touch, and comfortable for her buns on the long rides through the fields. The wool only became steely, compressed and impermeable to projectiles and baked on food after it was exposed to certain chemicals.

She had spent weeks at a time wandering the rows of wheat, potatoes and veg. It could be said that there was a certain rustic charm to it, the sun streaming through the fallen arches of the ancient potato chip factories that had featured heavily in the Acropolis rise to prominence, and alighting the dense rows of produce that her sheep wandered through. But it was lonely. The vastness of the fields was such that she was only able to visit headquarters once each day.

Of course, the sheep didn’t talk back. The produce sure didn’t either. That would have certainly qualified as a genetic defect. Her assigned sheep would then have squanched any reproductive ambitions with a few well placed chompers.

For Eustace, Today turned out to be the day. The day that the meandering through golden, prosperous isolation aglint with afternoon sun became too much. After months of metaphorically squinting at deformed and possibly sinister agricultural products, though with eyes wide open to let the lens do its work, Eustace needed a change.

She was determined to not waste any more time. The sheep took more convincing to turn around however. It had been investigating some suspicious looking produce. In its mammalian opinion, this particular lettuce might have been exercising too much genetic freedom. It’s bleated woolily, to no avail.

Eventually, she got its hindquarters opposite to headquarters and began the long journey toward the administrative capital of the corporate fiefdom.

After a sweaty hours-long march, she found herself at headquarters. It did not have the gracefully aged quality of some of the other structures that permeated the farming conglomerate’s holdings. A slanting face of floor-to-ceiling windows separated her from those inside. Here were the air-conditioned, the fashionable, and the theoretical. The transparent face of the building covered many stories as terraces, each fading backwards, and each layer upward holding conceivably more important employees.

A window panel rose up to greet her as the cool air from within beckoned.

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