The air lock seals the entrance immediately after we enter my Pod - SR24. I walk straight to the incubator without addressing my guests — in the transparent container grows a single plant of basil.

The self-regulated incubator sends growth data to me when I’m away. But seeing it, seeing the tender green leaves getting bigger and darker each time, and the stems getting stronger, well, it’s a marvel to behold. I smile and tap the container once -- today is the day.

Oh, I should pause my basil gazing for just a moment, and introduce myself. My name is E. Fang. I’m a “chef” in the year 2500, offering a particular type of experience — cooking and dining — which has not been a common, or necessary, for over two hundred years.

I designed and configured SR24 painstakingly for this vision and it took a very long time, down to the antique lighting and the oven which actually runs on real heat. The custom-engineered vegetables and fruits are my favorite. The precise color and texture were finalized after careful studies of many historic records, as the remaining ones are kept in antiquity reserves. Some of them are very oversized. That was my idea, just for fun.

It baffles my guests why I spent so much resource on creating SR24. Because it has been nearly three hundred years since science achieved the perfect precision in neural activation and rendering tasting real food obsolete.

What is neural activation, you ask? To put it simply, and with food in particular, it meant we stopped needing actual food items to have an tasting and eating experience. We don’t even need artificial strawberry flavor to experience the taste of strawberry, for example. Instead, a simple neural activation sent as an energy pulse directly to the precise location of the brain, creates the complete sensory evocation. The visual, which is obviously the simplest, sees the 3-D object image of a strawberry. Nerve endings experience the texture of the pulp, the tiny bumps of seeds, the wetness of juice, even the fruit fibers getting caught between teeth. Different combinations of sweet, sour, tangy, and dozens of sub-flavors of strawberries were created, based on original growing locations and conditions.

In short, with a simple click, the complete feeling and experience of eating a strawberry is delivered to perfection, without that strawberry ever having existed.

This achievement finally put to rest all debates about the real purpose of food. The first to go was “food as fuel”. Technology decoded the precise combination of macro and micro nutrients which was perfected to each individual’s needs based on their live biochemical reading. Actually, to use organic foods (such as actual meats or vegetables) was actually not the optimal way to deliver such customization and precision. Many people who saw food as fuel opted for the dynamic optimization and experienced increased energy constantly and no fatigue which people used to get after a big holiday meal.

Then the argument that food was for social bonding and cultural heritage was also lost. New and improved substitution was quickly prevailing.

Intriguingly, food as a sensory, and therefore highly private emotion experience, was the most persistent. It took scientists many years to completely map the entire human race’s emotional response to eating, down to individual neurons of every single person. It was then that science at last could completely render an eating experience down to every last nuance without food.

As a “chef” at a time when there is no more “food”, I carry on with my guests of the day. As they gather around me in my SR24, I snip two basil leaves from the now exposed plant. The juice glistens immediately and the smell seeps into my nostrils quite like sudden rush of cold air. I clap my hands together with the two leaves between my palms. A chef would do this action hundreds of years ago, to release its taste and smell, according to my research.

My guests bend forward at the same time to inhale as instructed. I watch the reaction on their faces. The bail smell isn’t new to them. It’s been programmed into every experience delivery system and the guests must have experienced it before. As a matter of fact, this incubated basil plant, due to sub-optimal growing condition, actually smells and tastes “less” than the delivery system. After moments of confusion, at last, I see something else on their face, which is the only reward I seek.

I see a look that is the exact same as I caught my own reflection on my helmet, the first time I hovered and watched a new galaxy being formed. I still remember the undulating boilings of black, after the bang. I remember how they moved like black flowing lava stretching in all dimensions. I remember seeing into its future, endless possibilities of matters and even life, long before they even form.

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