Finally, he was alone.
The Sahara desert was black, covered by billions of dark solar panels, silently chasing the sun. He had to bribe the Libyans maintenance workers to be left right at the centre of African Phoenix, the largest, fully robotic solar plant of the world.
Well, not exactly.
I really think this is insane, said Rick’s voice into his head.
Everybody thinks this is insane, commented Mei Li, another voice in his hears, but you know how Liam jumps into things. Let him stay there for an hour or two, and he will return home crying.
Looking at the display of his phone, Liam saw that most of his friends were online. They were there for him, to see if he was really going to do it. Rick was connected from his office in New York, Mei Li was chatting from home, in Hong Kong, then Michael, Alan, Nikolaj… all his chat friends scattered around the world.
If you want to stay disconnected for some time, you just turn off your computer and phone, you don’t go in the middle of nowhere, said Rick.
– How many different windows do you have open on your computer now, Rick? – asked Liam.
– What do you mean?
– How many other things are you doing while talking with me, my friend?
– Come on, this is not important.
Instead, thought Liam, this was exactly it. He knew he had the attention of all his friends in that moment, but none of them was giving him 100% of his time. Though, Liam couldn’t criticize anyone. His house in London was the first to have a TV in the bathroom, to keep away tediousness even in those special moments.
– I cannot remember myself doing only one thing at time. Ever. I cannot remember working without checking my email, or jogging without listening music. Come on, Mei, even when we used to have sex we had music in background!
Mei Li didn’t answer, maybe she was chatting with somebody else.
That was exactly the reason why Liam, that same morning, took a low-cost flight from London to Timbuktu. The crowd of that city, where half of the solar energy feeding the world was produced, was the last bit of hyper-connection that Liam could stand.
– Turning off the phone is not enough – he said to everybody – it’s like swimming in shallow waters, where you can in every moment put your feet on the ground. I don’t want any emergency escape.
Well, said Rick, call me when you are over with this bull…
He turned off his smartphone, its only remaining connection to the world. Then, he threw the phone away, with all his force. The phone described a long arc and hit hard a silicon panel, bounced a couple of times and fell down in the underworld between the solar cells and the sand. Then, Liam discovered The Silence.
Nobody around for kilometres, no internet connection, no way to communicate. He could hear the wind passing through the panels, whistling around the tubes, noises he hadn’t notice before. The huge amount of electricity produced and carried around seemed to induce a feeble noise into the air, or maybe it was just the noise of the piezoelectric actuators continuously aligning the panels to the sun.
Alone, and in silence, at last.
After some time, Liam got bored. There was nothing to do there, just walk and get sunburns. The desert was fascinating, but only for the first five minutes. Now he had shown he could do it, he could go home, talk about it at parties, and girls would ask: “really you stayed disconnected and alone for a WHOLE DAY?”.
The biggest fear of 21st century was not death, but loneliness. And low connection speed.
After some more time, he was bored, thirsty and tired. The Libyans workers should come and take him back at 8 p.m, but without his mobile he had no watch, and couldn’t tell the time; this made him crazy. Mei Li was right. He was going to come back home and cry.
After what seemed a huge amount of time, he was in full crisis. What if the workers didn’t come and rescue him ? The sun was still high, but he was sure that 8 o’clock should have already come and passed away. He could have called for help, but he had the stupid idea of throwing away the phone.
He adventured under the solar panels, departing from the main road. The panels were mounted on high poles, at least 2 meters high, so he could walk under them, in a pleasant shadow. It was easy to find the phone, laying in the soft sand, undamaged by the hard landing.
He had just turned on the phone when they came.
Four young guys, dressed in hip-hop style, their clothes whitened and worn by a long stay in the desert. They all had long metallic tubes, pointed as spears. Very primitive. And scaring. A gang of teenage marauders, as there were in the outskirt of every big city, but how the hell could they survive in the desert ?
He tried to say: -Hello!
They got closer. Their noses were deformed by cotton plugs soaked in gasoline, and they had headphones shooting music at maximum volume, keeping them in permanent hallucination. Liam turned back and ran away. After ten metres, they hit him. Falling down, he could hear Rick’s happy voice, answering his call.
-I had bet ten bucks on you calling back – said Rick -You would not survive a whole day alone.