The chill of winter's eve stripped away what little residual warmth autumn had left. It was a week before the DystopiaNZ would be formed, and David was carefully fastening an old bike lock to an even older bicycle. He made certain that his bike was securely fastened to the stand and that even the wheels were locked in place. It was a routine he had established after returning to his main mode of transport one evening and finding the wheels had been stolen.
David shuddered in the cool southerly breeze as he checked the time on his cyPhone. As he slid the screen open, the high-tech device lit up with a soothing "bliiim" sound, and informed him he still had a few minutes until the lecture. Satisfied, he pocketed the nearly obsolete gadget and proceeded to rummage through his worn backpack, eventually locating his box of cigarettes and the lighter he needed to ignite them.
He withdrew the items, flicked a cylinder of death into his mouth, and shielded the lighter from the breeze as he sparked a flow of butane into a flame. There was something Promethean about a device that could summon fire at the mere flick of a thumb. Early man had toiled for hours with primitive tools to create the heat necessary for a fire to begin, but after thousands of years of technological progress it could be done in a split second.
The incandescent flow of burning fluid was brought to the protruding end of David's cigarette. The paper and dried tobacco offered no resistance to the might of over a thousand degrees centigrade. David grasped the cigarette with his free left hand, taking in a deep breath. As he inhaled over 4000 deadly chemicals, he looked to the flame in his right hand. A slight smile graced the corners of his mouth - the young man had always admired the beauty of flames, and today would be no exception.
As much as it felt immoral to an alleged pyromaniac to extinguish the very phenomena he was fixated upon, he had no more need for the lighter at this point of time. Unwilling to waste his expensive (at least to a student) lighter fluid, David released the button that supplied the fuel to his hand-held pyre. The flame spluttered for the slightest moment, then ceased entirely. For now.
David had always found the dance of flames seductive - the combustion of fuel and release of light and heat, continuing in a chain reaction so long as the balance of fuel, oxygen and heat remained steady. He sighed slightly as the lighter was closed and dropped back into his backpack. The flame was gone, but the smouldering cigarette in his mouth now provided the burning phenomena he so desired.
David's black canvas backpack was slung over his shoulder as he made his way across the lake bed of cement. Leaving the frugal sea of bicycles behind, he left the parking lot and sauntered along the footpath. His beat-up trainers scuffed along the uneven stony surface. David took another puff of carcinogenic fumes and carelessly flicked the ashes onto the ground.
The gateway loomed shortly ahead, an ornately carved archway of pale grey sandstone that lingered beneath a ceiling of pale grey sky. It was an entranceway he had been through at least a hundred times during his first year of study. He didn't bother to read the elaborate typography - or the crude graffiti scrawled over top - that announced "Aparangi University" and "Welcome to our drug, alcohol and smoke-free campus". The smog of cigarette fumes and warm breath against the cold morning air demarcated the outer limits of most public buildings, campuses and workplaces, and this was no exception. David casually zigzagged though the crowd of other youths who were likewise throwing away their money in order to squander their health.
He knew the procedure for entering the autumn leaf-carpeted campus: as he arrived within a step of the Victorian-gothic masonry gateway he grasped the cigarette in his right hand and stubbed it out on the provided ashtray above one of the bins. However, rather than throwing out the half-spent cancer stick, he returned it to the generic brown plain-packaged box that it came from. Cigarettes cost a small fortune, and he'd be damned if he was going to waste even half of something so valuable.
The university campus was a loose collection of buildings, which dated back to the nineteenth century. From its beginnings with a small library and a couple wooden classrooms, it had expanded throughout the history of New Zealand - and later Neo Zealand - with architecture that represented nearly every major aesthetic movement. Classic Scottish masonry was mixed with Georgian, Victorian and Gothic stone and brick - all given a local twist by using cream-coloured Oamaru limestone for their intricate facades. Modern, post-modern and contemporary mid-rises peaked several floors above their vintage forebears. The schizophrenic mix of buildings served to reinforce the eclectic combination of studies that took place within the brain of Aparangi.
David strolled past a wall covered with adverts for everything from student accommodation to upcoming concerts, and sauntered into the anthropology block. A nearby poster announcing the lecture by fringe anthropologist professor Jacob Lambton was defaced in permanent marker: a large triangular symbol covered the professor's face. It was no surprise that the controversial Reconcilist Church objected to the theories of this likewise controversial scientist, even to the point of repeatedly tearing down and vandalizing posters announcing his visit to the capital of the south.
In spite of not being an anthropology student himself, David soon found his way to the auditorium where the lecture was due to take place. A brutalist construction ripped from the 1970s, the large building at the centre of the campus anthropology block was a mid-rise fortress of cold concrete blocks. Bleak slabs of invariably grey aggregates presented striking angular geometries, the blocky and bulky exterior formed of in-situ concrete casting projected an unfeeling character to its surroundings. Small square windows dotted the east, north and western sides, while the southern face was a cold and featureless slab of solid concrete. It was a cruel irony that a building for the teaching of the humanities was itself a design that felt so inhumane.
The motivation for a physics and chemistry student to sit-in on a completely unrelated lecture wouldn't be initially clear. David had some curiosity about the professor and what exactly his theories were. He also wondered what justified the contention from some circles and disregard from others. Ultimately though, he was looking for a new perspective of humanity that could help explain not only this professor's work, but also aspects of himself that were poorly understood.
"Post-humanism" David read thoughtfully to himself as he approached the creaky swinging doors to the aging auditorium. The fresh whiteboard directing students to the third lecture room offered a tantalizing taste of what was to be discussed. David continued to the room as directed and made his way up the creaky wooden staircase to a row behind the centre, taking note of the sparse audience inside the room.
As he dropped his backpack by his feet, he took an uncomfortable seat that was wallpapered with decades of graffiti. The assorted vandalism repeatedly questioned the sexualities of numerous lecturers and students, asserted the uselessness of various classes, and made inaccurate statements about the value of minorities - regardless of how nearly everyone was a minority of sorts in modern Neo Zealand. It was disappointing to David that such views could exist even in a stronghold of critical thought and intellectualism. Disappointing, but not unexpected.
The lights towards the back soon dimmed mildly to bring the focus forwards, and the small amount of small talk amongst the small audience ebbed away. A slightly round and severely balding faculty took to the floor and cleared his throat. "tēnā koutou katoa." the man announced pretentiously, in spite of being white as milk. "Hello everyone," he repeated in his native tongue. "It is my supreme pleasure to welcome doctor Jacob Lambton, professor of anthropology with the Global Institute of Social Sciences. Well-known in humanities circles for his ground-breaking research into the evolution of the human condition, doctor Lambton is here today to speak about his latest theories about humanity and what he dubs post-humanism. So without further ado, please give your warmest kiwi welcome to professor Jacob Lambton."
The faculty stepped aside as he overly-enthusiastically led a round of applause for the international intellectual. Lambton was a mildly tall European man in his fifties, crowned by a receding line of long silver hair, tied back in a short ponytail. His thick-rimmed glasses rested on a blunt nose and magnified the wrinkles around his grey-blue eyes. A green tie was tucked within a grey business jacket over a white shirt over a slightly plump stomach. His studies seemingly left little time for an excessive fitness or grooming regime, but he still managed to look presentable to the several dozen students and lone videographer in the audience. He walked forwards to the spot vacated by the faculty who introduced him, and subsequently took up the microphone to begin his lecture.