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Launch from 14C

A Leap Forward

By Thomas DurbinPublished 3 years ago 17 min read

The basis for this story is this setting from the originators of an xprize contest. "THE ORIGIN STORY: At 4:58am on June 28th, 2017, the passengers on board ANA Flight 008, en route from Tokyo to San Francisco, are cruising at an altitude of 37,000 feet, approximately 1,500 nautical miles off the West Coast of the United States. A small bump, otherwise noted as a barely perceptible bout of turbulence, passes Flight 008 through a temporary wrinkle in the local region of space-time. What these passengers will soon find out as they descend into SFO is that the wrinkle has transported them 20 years in the future, and the year is now 2037."


By Thomas Durbin

Another long flight and here I am alone with my thoughts again. It’s good to have this time to relax and clear the mind. I enjoy this routine now. This time in seat 14C. It’s not hard to remember since 14 is the number Calvin wears in little league, but I have the feeling that 14C is going to stick with me for a while for some other reason. It is a window seat with no immediate neighbor, but it is over a wing and the engine also blocks my view. I can’t see a thing down there except a little bit of the view forward. I usually enjoy the approach to SFO from a better vantage point, but I can only see clearly beside us this time. I think the window seats in the back are the best. I’ll make a point of reserving my seat earlier next month. What I can see ahead seems a little different, like there’s been new construction or a development added. I’ll check the local updates when the wifi service starts working again.

Flight Attendant, “Would you like the usual, sir?”

“Yes, please, but make it a double, Charlie. That little jolt has my mind wandering.”

“My pleasure, Thomas, but don’t let it bother you. We’ve been through much worse.”

“That we have, my friend, that we have. Thank you.”

At the least, it’s been a smooth ride except for that little jolt a while ago. Not an unusual jolt, but it seems that Captain Harkness has been quite nervous since then. The wifi and cellular service stopped working right then, too. I can’t wait to get to the ground so I can connect to a working line and tell KJ I’ve landed. I miss her when I’m gone. Meanwhile, I’ll take a nap. Electronics are still out, I’ve already done the crossword and sudoku puzzles in ANA’s monthly rag, and the view is mostly blocked. One more glance out the window and I’ll finish this drink, scan the horizon, and snooze.

Wait, what’s that? I thought the dream jets were huge, but I’ve never seen an airliner that big! Or this close on approach! No wonder the Captain is nervous. They are cutting things a lot closer than usual. There must have been delays here earlier. That jet has no front windows! Are they using cameras like the ones the new cars use while in reverse? I haven’t read anything about that! The markings look Russian, but I don’t recall crossing paths with them into or out of SFO previously. Why are those drones taking escort positions around us? I knew they were going to start deploying them to combat terrorism and increase airport security, but why this flight? We do this routine Tokyo to SFO circuit twice monthly. No one on board is acting suspicious, unless you count the two kids that keep getting out of their seats and looking out random windows. Nah, that’s just kids being antsy. Well, then, what is going <Captain Harkness speaking> “Sorry to interrupt your thoughts and wake those sleeping, but we have an urgent situation to report. We are approaching SFO, but the control tower does not recognize us. They report no record of ANA flight 008 from Tokyo. We’re low on fuel and they are allowing us to land. The drones you see outside our craft have been sent to escort us to a safe zone away from the main concourse for evaluation. We have been cleared to land on the remote runway and proceed to border security for identification. Please have your identification cards readily available. We’ll advise you of next steps upon arrival at the check point once we’ve been advised by border security. Prepare for landing in about 77 minutes.”

That’s very strange, but there’s nothing I can do about it and I still need a little shut-eye. I’m sure they’ll get us through about as quickly as usual.

Captain Harkness speaking a little nervously, “We have safely landed at SFO, please remain seated while we taxi to the check point.”

The drones are staying with us and seem to be flying autonomously, like a swarm of bees. Surely, they don’t think of us as a security risk, but, then, why the remote runway and secure check point? I’ll send a text message to KJ to let her know I’m here but may be delayed on the ground. <no service found, searching for signal> Electronics still not working. Okay, it can wait. The flight tracker will show her we’ve landed safely. We’ve stopped. Let’s see what security has in store today.

Border Security guard enters and begins, “Welcome, folks, to San Francisco. Unfortunately, your presence here is a bit of a mystery, please proceed off the airplane to the debriefing room in Building E for further information.”

Wow, I have an odd feeling about this. That guard looked familiar, a lot like Francis, but older.

Francis is speaking as the passengers of ANA Flight 008 gather in the debriefing room, “Welcome, again. This will come as a shock, but our escort drones have identified your flight as ANA Flight 008 that was set to arrive in SFO on 2017 JUN 28. Our library records show that flight to have gone missing about 1,500 nautical miles out. It was never found. Not until now. Library, show global database entry for ANA Flight 008.”

Huh?!? Can this be true?!? Wait, the voice is the same. That IS Francis!

Francis resumes speaking, “As you can see, the history is all there. If you scroll up and down on the touch screens on the desks you can browse the entry at your own pace. It’s hard for all of us to accept this and it will take a while to digest it, but here you sit! We are making every effort to assist you with this shock and will provide assistance as needed to help you acclimate to this new time. You have landed in SFO on time in every respect except the year. Folks, it isn’t 2017, it’s 2037.”

Dead silence. Even the children are muted. He said 2037. 2037!

A second border security guard enters the room and speaks, “Hello, I’m Winifred Speckle and I’ll be assisting you with acclimation as we all come to grips with the implications of your presence here and now. We have android assistants to assign to each of you to provide information and guidance. They are tied to the global neural network, the newest incarnation of what you know as the internet and wireless networks of past decades. As we speak, colleagues in the security agency are compiling records for you. We have your medical records, documents regarding the disposition of your estates, information about family members and employers, and global updates summarizing the most important news of the past two decades. You won’t need your passports. Our bio scanners have already confirmed your identities based on medical, dental, and flight records compiled in the global neural network. Voice recognition is common now, so please ask your android assistants any question you’d like to have answered.”

Twenty years. Gone. Seriously? Wow. It’s going to take us a while to comprehend that. Wait. Calvin! He’s 28 now! How can this be? They are really calm about this. I wonder if there have been other such occurrences.

“Computer, how many missing flights have appeared in future times?”

“Seven are now known, sir. Others may have appeared in years not yet recorded. Just last month, Amelia…” <cut off by Thomas>

“Display my file. Start with whereabouts of Calvin and KJ.”

“Accessing global genealogy database. Calvin, your son, now lives in Vancouver, BC, with his mother, KJ, and her mother, Ina.”

Francis announces, “We have accommodations for you at the gem of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Sky Plaza. You’ll be amazed! We have new accounts for each of you with funds authorized via special order from President Angela O’Clery. Your stay is complimentary and the welcome extended indefinitely while you acclimate to your surroundings. Please tell your android assistant who you want informed of your return and we will contact them and bring them here. Please proceed into the digi-cars in groups of three. They will take you on a tour of the city and deliver you to Golden Gate Sky Plaza. The android assistants will accompany each of you until we have current biometric electronic devices configured and assigned to you. We will automatically transfer old files from your antiquated devices. The new devices will scan a finger print and your iris for secure identification, so you don’t need to memorize passwords or codes. Once you activate the device all your accounts and information are available upon request while you remain in close proximity to the device and it can sense your biometric data.”

Digi-cars. Fully autonomous electric transports. I see they have our luggage here to be loaded. I can’t wait to see how traffic flows with these on the roads.

Computer, “Is driving yourself still an option?”

“Yes, sir, you may drive on the tracks in the countryside. Many people love to escape to the tracks and enjoy the thrill of the chase and the blur of the landscape. The motor laws went into effect in 2029 globally, though you may remember the first few were passed in 2017 during those tumultuous times.”

The kids from the airplane finally erupt in the crowd, “Can you help us? Our parents were to be here to meet us, we don’t’ know where to go! What do we do? I think he’s hyperventilating. I’m scared.”

Charlie approaches, “Kids, we are going to take care of you and we will have your family here soon. This is Doctor Hartnell. He will take care of you.”

“Thank you, Charlie. Now, please tell me your names, children. This is a new medical scanner with the latest neural calming function. The waves interact with your nervous system to combat anxiety and fear. There, are you starting to feel better?”

“Yes, sir, but we’re still a little scared. Do you really mean 20 years have passed? Our parents are old now, aren’t they? Will we recognize them? Oh, I’m Jenny and this is my little brother Billy. We visited our Grandpa Joe in Tokyo during school break while our parents were working in the blueberry fields. It’s a big, old farm they bought, but it will be nice when they get everything done.”

Doctor Hartnell responds, “Well, I see. I’d love to visit a place like that. The thought reminds me of my youth. You can reach me any time through your android assistant and once you get your new electronic communicators you can use them to call me, too. Now, you go along with Thomas in this beautiful rainbow digi-car to Golden Gate Sky Plaza. You are in good hands and your family will be brought to you soon.”

“Thank you, Doctor. You’ll be welcome any time at the farm.”

I step forward, “Okay, Jenny and Billy, right? Are you ready for a ride? I’ll help you with your luggage and ensure we all get to this new Sky Plaza.”

A voice from the dash, “Digi-car 214782 ready to go. Grand tour then delivery to Sky Plaza. And, Here…We…Go!”

I imagined a real taxi driver smiling as we lurched into deadly non-stop city traffic as we would have 20 years ago. But, somehow, this seemed much safer. Computer, “What is the casualty rate on the roads now?”

“The casualty rate due to digi-car failure was zero last month, sir. The electronic protocols and vehicle safety design features are close to eliminating traffic collisions. It’s been amazing for society. Our police officers don’t have to monitor traffic now and rarely are called to respond to collision sites and our ambulance crews are only rarely burdened with gruesome crash scenes. Life expectancy has started to rise again.”

Amazing. I knew the emerging technologies of the early 2000s had the potential to make sweeping changes. I can’t wait to see what else has happened.

Digi-car voice, “You can now see the solar demonstration sidewalks beside the tracks for the antique trolleys on your right. The moving walks are sheltered with solar-cell roofs from the Teslon company that generate electricity for the walks and the trolleys. Tourists love to get photos on them. The Fisherman’s Wharf trolley is the most popular one. Ahead on your left is the new SF Medical Center. Notice the medi-drone choppers delivering patients to the rooftop emergency entry. Heart patients get here faster than any other service in the country and we have the highest recovery rate of all cities! Diagnostic imaging is done during transport and cross-referenced with the patient’s record in the global neural network. Doctors diagnose patients via interactive medi-screens in real time and are ready for immediate treatment upon arrival 85 percent of the time. Fourth best in the world!”

Autonomous airlift medical emergency response. I hadn’t called that one. Amazing.

Digi-car voice, “Kids, you will see the hover park as we reach the top of the next hill. The headset controls allow you to control your board or vehicle, but you can still use a steering wheel if you want the old-school experience. Thomas, you may like that option. They have adult and kids-only zones. The hover-car bumper cars are very popular this year. The security folks will meet us at the Sky Plaza and help you get settled. After that, they will be glad to bring you to the park to unwind and have some fun. They have an arcade, too. Most of the games, even pinball machines, have neural controllers now, but you can choose manual controls in the historical gaming zone.”

Neural controls. Electric autonomous cars and medi-something choppers. Global information database available via interconnected android assistants. Amazing. How many times have I muttered that word in the last 3 hours? Oh, wow, that must be the Sky Plaza. It will be nice to get settled and digest all this and whatever else 2037 has in store for us. But first, Calvin and KJ. I need to speak with them.

Digi-car voice, “Here we are kids of all ages! The glorious Golden Gate Sky Plaza! Follow the attendant, Diana, and she will show you to your rooms. Your key is your biometric scan, so no need for standing in line to register. You can order lunch via your android assistant and it will be delivered to your rooms within 30 minutes. Best service in the city! Diana, take them away!”

“Diana, I’m Thomas and this is Jenny and Billy. You’ve been apprised of our situation I presume.”

“Certainly, Thomas. Please follow me to your rooms. You have Suites 4A and 4B. Your androids will remain with you and new personal electronic devices will be delivered within the hour. There are also electronic interfaces in the suites. You can browse the global neural network, order food, request clothing and amenities, review the personal and news summaries they told you about at the airport, watch the entertainment streams, and use the neural headsets for gaming and virtual experiences. The virtual experiences are almost 100 percent like being there, tour any place in the world. Soon, it will include real-time and historic era options for all locations, even lunar landing experiences. You may also summon Doctor Hartnell for any medical or counseling services you require. He’s located in the little blue building beyond the infinity pool and Stark’s Spa on the west side of Sky Plaza. Here we are. Look closely at the scan screen and then put your hand on it. The biometric verification will unlock your doors. I’ll stay with Jenny and Billy until their family arrives.”

“Thank you, Diana.”

From a speaker by the door, “Please look at the screen for iris scan verification. Don’t blink. Thank you. Now, place either hand on the screen. Thank you, your identity has been verified, Thomas. Please enter the room and make yourself comfortable.”

Queen bed, spa tub, massaging recliner, interactive electronic interface. Awesome. “Computer, access my file, excerpts pertaining to Calvin.” I can’t believe I missed 20 years of my son’s life. I’m sure his Uncle Scotty was a good influence in my absence. I need to find my brother, too, but first I must see about Calvin. The screen looks a little fuzzy through these wet eyes, but I have to know everything. They have all the photos from my old phone and some type of personal history report here. There he is, 4 years old, smiling and holding that toy baseball bat like a home run king. He could really hit the ball off the tee and knew all the positions already. 6 years old and his first base hit from a real pitcher on the mound, no tee, no pitching machine. Funny how something like one hit in a pee wee game can mean as much at that one does. 8 years old, the fourth game of the season, just before I left to go to Tokyo. He hit a home run in the third inning with 2 men on base. What a thrill! The last game I saw him play or will ever see him play. He had a good arm for a little kid, but an even better eye for the ball. He’s 28 now and surely a professional of some sort. He was a smart one. Maybe he’s an engineer or mathematician or maybe even a doctor. He could still be in med school or veterinary school at 28. Dang, back just in time to get a big college bill. Ha ha ha! Okay, back to the file and enough rambling of the brain. There’s KJ hugging him with tears in their eyes next to a bronze plate. It’s a memorial, Flight 008, dedicated 2018 JUN 28. He’s 9 years old. She’s 54. Sad <wipes tears>, what they all went through. Calvin holding a trophy in front of a dugout. Enlarge the photo, yes, touch screen still does that. 2020 League Champs, 11 years old. Still with the baseball. Ah, a graduation photo and a note below, third rank in academics in a class of 125. Fantastic job, kid! High school already and homecoming photos. Cute couple. It looks like they had a high-tech light show and a green screen background for photo ops. Electronic technology is outpacing human development through time. First photo with wild west background, next with full moon background, romantic. Maybe that was their first kiss. They look hesitant, but happy. Junior year class photos! One serious, one with half of them on their heads. Can’t help but laugh out loud. It will be nice to see him. I hope he’s available and they bring him here soon, but surely that will take a few days. He may have work or school obligations. Next page.

It's a news article. Breaking News: San Francisco high school seniors badly injured in fall while rock climbing. Tether broke, both teens taken in new drone chopper to hospital. The photo is Calvin and the girl from homecoming. Oh no. The girl, Meghan, found to have two broken bones, will fully recover in about 6 weeks. The boy, Calvin, suffered a severe spinal injury and may be paralyzed permanently. Doctors will be working to stabilize Calvin. Oh no, Calvin permanently disabled and I wasn’t here for him. Maybe KJ and Scotty…<urgent knock on the door> Who can this be? “Computer, can you show me who is at the door?” That face…Oh! That face! Already here? How! “Computer, unlock the door.”

The door swings open and a young man of about 28 steps in as I move toward the entrance to the suite. He looks confused, hesitant, eyes a little glassy. Our eyes meet and he says, “Dad?” Then, “Dad? Is it really you?”

“Calvin? Oh man, Calvin?” Tears flowing in disbelief. He was 8 years old yesterday. Now, I’m hugging a young man of 28. But, wait, the fall…the paralysis. “Calvin, I can’t believe it. I was reading my file in this global neural network library, trying to get through the entry about you. I just read that you were paralyzed. But, here you are, standing tall and strong looking like you just stepped out of a fashion advertisement. The computer file listed your address as Vancouver, BC. How are you here so quickly?”

“Dad, oh, wow, this is all too much to take in at once. Let’s take a minute to get composed and sit. I have a lot to tell you. You missed some great advances. Yes, we fell from the rock face and I hit hard in an awkward position. In 2017, I would have been in a wheel chair probably permanently. Two years before my fall, scientists doing research on spinal cord injuries using stem cells from the patient’s own bone marrow found that immediate treatment resulted in full recovery in more than 70 percent of cases like mine. After the fall, they took my bone marrow, refined it, and injected my marrow stem cells at the site of the injury. 5 months later I was walking and I was running a month after that. I missed my senior year of baseball, but graduated taking classes at the therapy center. You’d have loved to see me play, Dad. I wish you could have been there.”

“Really, stem cell treatment curing spinal cord injuries. There was hope and now it is a reality. You’re back on your feet and making a living in Vancouver? What brings you to San Francisco on this day, the day the unfathomable happens and my flight appears and lands 20 years late? Uncanny. I’d have loved to see you play ball all those years son. In a slump or slugging homers, I wanted to be there for you. I’m sorry I missed everything, especially the last of your playing days before the fall.”

“Dad. It’s not too late to see me play. Vancouver is where I live now, but that’s because they chose me in the expansion draft of 2036. I recovered from the fall and trained hard after my final medical release. I got a shot to play college ball and hit my stride in the second season. The major league scouts took notice. Things have gone well, Dad. You’d have loved every minute. I wish you were there when I got the call from the Giants big league team. The atmosphere seemed electrified the whole first week. I hit a home run and never got sent down again. Expansion was looming. They protected the ace pitchers and left the hitters exposed in the expansion draft to fill the new teams. Vancouver selected me in the third round and I’ve been there since. Mom, Omi, Meghan, and Uncle Scotty moved with me. We play the Giants today. That’s why I’m in town. It’s hard to believe all this, Dad. You can go with me to the ball park.”

Excitement and wonder build within me as my son relates the story of his rebound from spinal cord injury to major league baseball. Advancements I hadn’t imagined made it possible. What else remains to be seen? I’m ready. Maybe we can take those two kids, too. They need some distractions from all this.

“All right son, I’m ready. I can’t wait to see you play and you can tell me how everyone is doing on the way. Twenty years is a lot of time and I’ve missed a lot of major changes in this world. By the way, what’s the forecast?”

“It’s sunny, but there’s no guarantee it won’t rain. The weather patterns are more unpredictable than ever. The real-time modelling is hit and miss.”

“Ha ha, it’s good to hear that some things haven’t changed. Now, tell me about your mother and Uncle Scotty.”

The End

Thomas Durbin

2017 AUG 25

Copyright Durbin 2017

All Rights Reserved

science fiction

About the Creator

Thomas Durbin

Raised in rural east-central Illinois, I appreciate nature and the environment. I'm a father, grandfather, professional engineer-scientist, leader, scouts leader, coach, stoic, minimalist, costumer, historian, traveler, and writer.

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