Not knowing it, we might kill an important animal, a small bird, a roach, a flower even, thus destroying an important link in a growing species…

A Sound of Thunder
Ray Bradbury,


“Two adult tickets and two for children, please.”

It was Mariposa’s turn in the long line of waiting at the huge entrance gate to the ARZ “BiodiverCity”.

Augmented reality zoos were popular in the first decade of the 2100s, even though some visionaries foresaw their near extinction – following the actual extinction of the animals they presented. Yet, there was not much choice or an ethical substitute that would bridge the gap between the historical human craving for entertainment and the involvement of the animals and nature in it. 

Mariposa thought of the gory animal fights against the Gladiators or each other in the ancient Coliseum’s arena and cringed mentally.

“And no violent programs, please,” Mari forgot to say it in the first place.

Even though being a mature person, Mariposa – her name stemming from the Spanish root “butterfly” – did not like the adult programs and never attended them with her husband. The latter was an admirer and frequent visitor of the Roman Games in the modern Augliseum and the Kill Safari in the Tube, like right now.

“Ok, so two PG-13 tickets and two G-rated for adults, all with zero violence,” confirmed the corporately smiling young man in the ticket booth.

Inside the booth, all around the man, a school of the Clown fish was air-swimming, creating various figures ranging from a nimbus over his head to arranging themselves in letters and words. Children adored reading those fish-words. It was a good way to practice the alphabet and reading skills while waiting in the queue. It didn’t have to be the fish. The booth operator was free to choose the holographic program for their visualization. Some – especially ladies – opted for the butterflies. Others fancied birds that, according to the scenario in the operator’s mind, could sit on the shoulders, chirp, imitate the human language (a program option generally limited to parrots), etc.

“Do they have dinosaurs, mom?” Corvin, a boy aged nine, was pulling on his mom’s arm, as if it were a candy machine. His name was of Latin origin and meant “Raven”.

“Yes, they do,” Mari reassured her hyperactive son.

“And I wanna see dolphins, ma,” pleaded the little girl named Delphine and started jumping, probably to illustrate how much she wanted to see the creatures after which she was named.

It was a relatively recent tradition to give all children not only names but also totem animals at birth – a tradition inspired by the wave of rapid extinction of about 70 percent of the earthly species on the brink of the twenty-second century due to man-made global warming, pollution, and the kill. Thus, a spiritual animal coded in a person’s name was a way to induce love towards nature in a human being and commemorate the animal, be it extinct or yet alive.

“I’m sure we will be there on time for the dolphin show, darling,” replied the woman, barely keeping track and control of the children’s rotation around her legs.

“Would you like to feed the animals?” suggested rather than asked the man in the booth.

“Of course, we would! Right, kids?”

Following the mother’s words, the children confirmed with unintelligible screams of enthusiasm.

“Please give me your hands,” said the ticket man.

In turn, the woman and her two children put their hands into a special hole in the booth window. An equally special machine stamp-sprayed the luminescent bar imprint onto their wrists. The imprints were something in-between the nightclub stamps and bar codes on the products.

“I take it you would want the second adult ticket in the form of an adhesive sticker?” suggested the ticket man, noticing the woman’s constant glances aback and the lacking second adult member, whose ticket was already paid.

“Yes, please,” said the woman apologetically.

“No problem at all. Here you go!” the man issued a luminescent sticker and put it in the card tray along with the bitcoin card itself. “We wish you the most pleasurable of pastimes!”

After this standardized phrase, the family entered through the gate to the land of pleasurable “past-times”.

“Put your memory recording glasses on!” commanded the woman in a cheerful tone suitable for giving practical instructions to children.

Both kids put their glasses – and their toothless children’s smiles – on and pressed the REC button.

“Ok, so what do you want to see first?”



“Alright. Both should be in the “Extinct” section of the Zoo,” the woman was talking mostly to herself, trying to figure out the way.

The ARZ was a real maze of sections and subsections, so that a simple zoo-going often turned into a real quest. Many people, including Mari herself, used a special app in their mobile devices to find the way. When Mariposa turned the live camera mode on and put her device up to each gate or pathway, the app generated an augmented reality super-layer that could be either a visual illustration of the section’s contents or the informative map with a voiceover similar to the GPS in the old cars.

Just after having decided which way, the family heard the running footsteps and a familiar voice.


The man – obviously portraying some wild animal hunting and roaring – jumped on the kids from behind, yanking both off the ground in one sweep of the two mighty arms and doing the merry-go-round move. The kids were laughing and screaming hysterically. But the mother was not so enthusiastic. She crossed her arms on her chest and sighed.

“You are late,” she said, dryly.

“Where is my stamp?” the husband tried to deviate from the dangerous pro-quarrel course.

Mari took out a luminous stamp, unpacked its sticky side and, since her husband’s arms were busy with two kids, she did not find a better solution than the obvious. So she smacked the bar marker on the man’s forehead. The man brought his eyes to the spot that he physically could not see. The funny expression made the kids burst with laughter.

“Very funny,” he said it insincerely and made a face at his wife.

“How was your Safari?” she asked, casually, as if for the record.

“Good. Killed two rhinos and a lion,” replied the man, equally casually, bringing the children back to the ground.

The mother rolled her eyes.

“What?!” retorted the man, defensively.

“You are talking of killing in front of the kids, for Mother Nature’s sakes! Not to mention betraying your own name’s totem animal, Leo!”

“Those animals are already dead!”

“Yes, thanks to people like you,” snapped the mother. “Now we can see them only in the Tube or the ARZ… In the “Extinct” section!!!”

Mari shot the last sentence at the man, like a bullet.

“All I did was ride a Jeep down the rails in the Tube and shoot the holograms on the tunnel’s walls – with a fake gun!” the voice of the father was soaked in anger now. “It does not change anything for them. They are still long-dead!”

“Yes. And your hunter ancestors who went on actual safaris probably excused their craving for shooting with phrases like ‘It does not change anything for them. They are still many’” the mother was furious.

“In front of the kids, Mari!” the man referred to the quarrel and shook his head disapprovingly.

The abrupt end to the quarrel came from outside the married couple. Corvin turned on some program on his mobile device that portrayed the virtual birds on the branches of the real trees in the park and started pretend-shooting them with his pistol-shaped hand and the “pew-pew” sounds from his mouth.

“Corve-e-e-en,” whined Delphine, trying to put her brother’s arm down as if everything that happened were for real. “Why are you killing birds? You are named after one…”

“Happy now? He wants to be like his daddy,” commented Mari and sighed, disappointed and worried. “Children don’t distinguish what is real and what is not, especially with this augmented reality that confuses human perception of the world. In a child’s reality, a kill is a kill.”

The rest of the way through “the most pleasurable of pastimes” was marked by awkward silence between the two parents in a complicated adult world. The tension was relieved only in the children’s world, when they reached the cubicles with the first animals – the first in the Zoo’s rows of 6 Exposition Event Pavilions, chronologically. The dinosaurs.

“Maybe you will accuse me of their extinction, too?” Leo whispered through the gritted teeth, but Mariposa did not react.

For entrance into a cubicle, each visitor had to scan the bar stamp. On the Plexiglas sliding doors, there was a sensitive area scanning the pulse spot of their wrist. Mari and the kids came through ok, but their father had to bow and use his forehead instead.

Once inside, Corvin instantly turned into a happy kid, running to the rim from where he would observe his favorite creatures.

In the ARZ, the rims were not a matter of security that would prevent people from coming too close and putting their arms through the cage grates. In the old zoos, it was dangerous. Here, it was a technical know-how. Touching the rim with the hands initiated the automatic scan of the bar stamp by the mechanisms hidden in the rim construction. The system scanned the type of the program coded in the bar and played it in front of the visitor.  

Before Corvin approached the rim of an immense cubicle, it was devoid of any movement and any form. All one could see was the flat and immobile holo-image of the scenes from the dinosaurs’ prehistoric life on the far wall, and a real skeleton lying permanently dead in the foreground closer to the rim. It was a “still” life, pun unintended. Yet, the touch of the boy’s little hands on the rim made a huge difference.

The activated program brought the long-extinct species of the Earth back to life. The numerous dinosaurs in the deep-perspective scene became caught in motion. Thanks to Mari’s preventive words, no scenes of violence, such as the kills, were permitted in the scenario. So all the dinos did was run around, chase one another, sometimes compete for a spot or resources (but bloodlessly), or do other routine activities that were assumed to be typical of their species. Some emerged from the voluminous background to the physical cubicle space and started coming closer to the boy who summoned them. The skeleton got covered by the augmented layer of flesh and skin, yet the dinosaur still remained immobile.

Little Delphine came closer, pointed her finger at the lying creature and asked:

“Mommy, why doesn’t she get up?”

“Because she is dead, darling,” explained Mari plainly.

“But why?” the girl’s eyes showed signs of innocent tears.

The woman assumed in the violent version of the same program the lying dino would probably be covered in blood and have an open wound through which others would be feasting on her guts. But this one looked intact.

“Of old age, I think. She had a good long life and died peacefully,” said Mari and hugged her daughter.

“Mom, look, a stegosaurus!” Corvin yelled, full of uncontainable excitement.

As the creature was approaching with pre-programmed curiosity, Corvin extended his arm to touch it. At this point, the “Food” option ordered by Mari came handy. The bar imprint was activated again once inside the “Feeding” holographic field of the cubicle, and the boy’s hand was automatically filled with a bunch of shrubs and herbs.

Witnessing the edibles as an offering, the augmented stegosaurus started to show even more interest in the real boy. He came closer, opened his mouth, and swallowed the food in one crafted and carefully calculated move.

The scene attracted the attention of other actors. More types of dinos started to come out of the parallel reality where they were now conserved.

An audible crack resonated through the loudspeakers in the cubicle. It was coming from somewhere nearby the rim. Delphine leaned and looked down. In the corner, there was a fossilized stony nest. The eggs were forever frozen in time, in-between life and death. Yet, the augmented reality program tried to bring them back to life, more or less. On the holographic superimposed level, the dinosaur eggs started cracking open, one by one, unveiling tiny noses and curious glistening eyes. Mariposa was looking at the touching scene, and the only thing she could hope is that the dead dino was not – by some cruel man-made scenario – their mother. The natural cycle of life and death, Mari thought – children and parents, through generations, the ultimate law.

“Why wouldn’t they use genetics to make new dinosaurs, the real ones?” asked Corvin, turning to his dad.

“Because it would not be natural,” Mari replied before her husband could. “Some extinctions cannot be undone. There should be a balance in the ecosystem, the food chain, and the biodiversity that currently exists. You cannot just re-create some animal species from another time and insert it into the wild amidst the evolution. It does not work like that. Besides, if they outta bring someone back, it should be the bees.”

Mari extended her arm, and a holographic bee landed on it, its hind legs carrying a load of illusionary pollen. In a second, the bee took off to the faraway cubicle with the field of wildflowers.

“Bees? Why on Earth?” the man snorted.

“Pollination. Bees were the golden spike that set in motion the domino extinction effect. Cherries, apples, almonds… Honey per se – the product of the bee labor. Something I can vaguely recollect from the fading childhood memories… From the time we still had gardens. Or forests and grasslands, with all the other species inhabiting them.”

“Drones are doing just fine pollinating stuff!” the husband protested, fast-losing interest in the conversation. 

“Only the commercially viable crops, like coffee for the rich.”

Suddenly, the flapping wings of a Pterodactyl scared Delphine off the rim. The girl did not really like these creatures and secretly thanked Mother Nature for making them all extinct. She could not imagine them walking among people. Yet, she could hardly imagine any animal walking among people. In her time, animals could barely be seen by regular humans. Where they survived in the wild, they were put into the reservations generally inaccessible to people.

A new technology emerged in the last decades of the twenty-first century, after the era of intense climatic turmoil and destabilization, that allowed for the keeping of wild animals in the remaining few non-contaminated or suitable habitable zones. Basically, the pieces of the wildlife habitat were covered and conserved in themselves, being populated in a controlled manner.

As the climate change progressed, and the exterior environment kept changing drastically, these reservations of life remained the same. From space, the reservations looked like huge bubbles made of glass or Plexiglas, or long worm-like or tree-like structures ensconcing the rivers along their way to the seas, or crescents embracing the shorelines. Scattered oases amidst the degrading environment – a greenhouse of the dense tropical rainforest amidst the grasslands with lonely sporadic trees, or an artificial sea positioned inland in the middle of the desert, etc.

Delphine wanted to see her favorite dolphins in real life, in one of such wildlife reservations, but her parents said it was no longer possible. Mom said it was too late, while dad said it was yet too soon, implying genetic revival. So Delphine would just come see the augmented dolphins instead. Being five, she could not spell the word “augmented” let alone understand what exactly it meant, but she would want to see the difference between the real and the aug-something dolphins. Someday, if dad was right.

It took one long hour until the family was done through other cubicles with the extinct animals – polar bear, leatherback turtle, Amur leopard, Sumatran elephant, and other nice but not the fascinating creatures, not to Delphine’s taste. 

Finally, the family reached the circular “cubicle” with the concentric rows of benches. Mari was self-absorbed and upset about another family holiday ruined. Corvin had his visionary glasses on, replaying the recent dinosaur scenes. And Leo put the mobile device on his knees, turning on his favorite video story projecting the holographic image of the narration starting with the voiceover words, “TIME SAFARI, INC. SAFARIS TO ANY YEAR IN THE PAST. YOU NAME THE ANIMAL. WE TAKE YOU THERE. YOU SHOOT IT”.

Only Delphine was totally enchanted by the round arena and its show. In the middle, there was a holographic pool from which, with white splashes, the best creatures in the world emerged. They were doing somersaults and emitting funny sounds. Delphi loved them. Even though they were not real. Not anymore. 

By the end of the day, all the visitors were out, all the lights were down, all the cubicles were deactivated… And all the animals were gone, like they never existed. Back to extinction – the sixth one in the planet’s history and the first one in the history of human domination on this planet.

Evidently, sometime in the twenty-first century, someone did step on a butterfly or two… 

Copyright ©️ 2024 Iryna Dihtiarova-Deslypper.  All rights reserved.

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