Thursday, October 30, 2008

Friday Fiction for October 31st, 2008

This week’s Friday Fiction is from the third story in the Eridanus series, Eridanus Comes. In this scene, the main character is passing through a terminal – the future meshing of airport, bus station, and subway – en route to the Embassy in the Oregon district.

I enjoyed imagining what this future terminal might be like, and particularly some of the more aesthetic aspects of it. The concept of the “solar art” is one I read about many years ago in a magazine, and which I imagine will be played with by different artists from time to time throughout the coming years.

Next week, I expect to post an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo work in progress, which I have decided will be a restart of Precocious by Design. Elements of the previous excerpt from that story will make their way into the rewrite, but the manuscript itself will be written from scratch – no “copy and paste”. Until then, I hope you enjoy this short scene.

An Insulated World
From the novel, Eridanus Comes
By Rick Higginson

The Baum Memorial Transportation Terminal in Manhattan was a modest facility, serving a mid-sized community’s needs for air, surface, and subterranean conveyances. While capable of supporting shuttles to Midpoint Station, the market didn’t warrant direct to orbit schedules from the Kansas District city. For that matter, the majority of the residents of the area didn’t want the noise and other side-effects of shuttle traffic over their homes.

The corridor leading from the surface gates to the airborne transportation pads was made from a green crystalline material, bathing the various travelers in emerald hues of filtered sunlight. By some trick of color mixing, though, the moving walkway he stood on appeared to be made of gold colored rectangles. He’d never seen it, but once a year the sun would line up just right for a few minutes with protruding stones in the main outside wall, and would cast a shadow of a witch. Six months later, similar construction on the opposite wall would spell out “There’s no place like home” for an equally brief span. “Shadow Parties” took place on both occasions, as folks from all over gathered to watch the carefully calculated and constructed solar artwork.

David had lived within a short distance of the terminal his entire life, and had never once attended either party. Rumor had it the same artist had traveled to Centauri Proxima and constructed a special piece that would act similarly just once, when the two stars of the binary system aligned just right. He wouldn’t be there for that one, either. Then again, if the rumors were true, he’d have to live an unnaturally long lifespan to be there when the rare alignment took place.

Arriving at the departure lounge, he presented for identification and was admitted to the waiting area. It would be at least another half-hour before they started boarding, and he took a seat near one of the large windows that looked out over the tarmac. One of the smaller transports lifted from the pad and pivoted off towards the southwest, corresponding to the monitor’s display of the flight to Cabo San Lucas.

His Aunt S’Bu had offered to send the Embassy’s private transport for him again, but he’d elected to travel via the commercial system. For some odd reason, it just felt better at that moment to be surrounded by strangers, many of whom would file aboard the transport for the Portland Terminal at the appointed time along with him.

The Cabo transport vanished in the distance, leaving the sky empty for the time being. A child ran to the window near him, looking with anticipation for any sign of activity in the air or on the tarmac. The remote that shadowed the girl indicated she was between nine and fourteen years of age – old enough to travel without a responsible adult accompanying her, but not old enough to be left totally unsupervised. The remote monitored her behavior and would summon terminal personnel if she started doing something she shouldn’t, and would serve as a potent deterrent to anyone foolish enough to attempt criminal activity on the child.

He’d once wondered how he would feel the first time he sent one of his sons off on a trip with a remote guardian overseeing their safety. He knew it couldn’t feel worse than sending his sons off to grow up calling another man “Pa”, or “Dad”, or whatever Bertie had them call him. He wouldn’t find out anyway; by the time he was allowed to see them again, they would be young men capable of independent living.

He had to quit thinking about it. The decision was still painful enough without rehearsing it over and over again in his head. He looked around the lounge; that time of day during the workweek, the majority of the passengers were lower level managers, and most of those were busy on their portable terminals. They paid him no attention, focusing instead of whatever it was that would benefit their corporations, their careers, or their accounts. That was the life Rosa had wanted for him; always pushing ahead and reaching for more. He’d seen enough of them to know he wasn’t suited to such pursuits, and that too many of them died still trying for that next plateau of success.

A food-service remote rolled up to one group, dispensing drinks without requiring them to look away from their terminals. The remote wasn’t programmed to care about courtesies or tips; waiting passengers placed their orders on their terminals and the drinks were delivered.

Remotes were insulating people from each other throughout the most developed areas of the Archipelago. A small café such as the Sirius Question in Earthrise still worked the old way, with a human taking the order and delivering the food. As likely as not, the arrangement was due to the expense of buying and programming a remote as it was devotion to any form of tradition. Still, it had made the modest restaurant seem warmer and friendlier. Remotes didn’t converse with customers; they didn’t trade quips the way Marcie had with the rover. They didn’t tease, and while they could be programmed to recognize repeat customers and greet them by name, it wasn’t the same as the affection one person could feel for another. Remotes might be convenient in many ways, but there was just something about knowing the person who delivered your food or your drink actually cared whether you enjoyed it.

Some progress just wasn’t really progress, he reflected.


LauraLee Shaw said...

Wow, this packs a whole lotta punch. I've actually been thinking about this very issue lately. I've been longing for a country life, lol, and coming from this city girl, that is a huge statement. Why does everything have to be so busy, so performance-oriented? Some things are just plain ole good enough. Do we really have to try to improve everything under the sun? Ranting.

But see, that's just how good your writing is. You got an emotional response out of me! Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Your writing amazes me. It's unlike other fantasy I've read. Yours makes sense to me. Have fun with NaNo.

Julie Arduini said...

When I grow up I want to write like you! Amazing.

Best wishes with NaNoWriMo. I'm still too chicken on that, but I am doing the NaBloPoMo.