_____________________The world before her___________________
I’ve believed as many
as six impossible things
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
4:58 AM, June 28th, 2017
It’s been a long flight. My legs hurt from sitting in one position too long and my eyes can hardly stay open. I blink a couple of times to regain some focus and look at the little screen on my phone. Missed calls: 20, unanswered e-mails… too many to even mention. I groan quietly, not enjoying the situation. This was supposed to be a good trip. I quickly turn off my phone, ready to get caught by the “plane police” at any moment. I look up suspiciously, lifting myself slightly and shifting my
head to the right. The coast was clear. Good. Now just relax.
I put my head against the seat and close my eyes. A different continent, a different view… on everything. My work was the reason why got to be on this plane. Sitting comfortably in first class and enjoying the spectacular views from the window. Staring at the changing scenery and sipping on something deliciously bubbly. Well, that was the plan. I sigh again, because work was also the reason behind my constant tiredness and growing agitation. I mean I should be over the moon.
Expensive trip, experiencing new stuff and doing the thing that I enjoyed the most.
Meeting new technologies.
I was an engineer for an American company “Tech-view Industries” and spend most of my time looking for improvements for the modern world. Always seeking new innovations, that would change the world and alter our future. Making our lives easier. But most of all I was a real, down to earth, science loving geek. But not just the normal kind. Oh no, I was the “worst” kind imaginable. In that aspect, I really loved my work. Yes, in that aspect… but when it came to everything else, the long hours, the constant need to rush. The never ending calls and reports. Yeah, that was the part which I could easily go without. Not a problem.
I take a deeper breath and rub my eyes again, feeling deflated. I put the phone in my bag and stare at the ticket sticking out in the side pocket. I pick it up and read automatically :
ANA flight #008, passenger’s name: Allison White.
Origin: Tokyo Japan. Destination: San Francisco.
Then my eyes drift down, to the number of my seat: 14C. Hmm, my lucky number. Funny that I always seemed to get it on everything. On my passport, on my ID, the driving license. I stare at the number again and feel a sudden chill. As if something’s wrong. I shake my head, smiling and rolling my eyes. Me and my stupid premonitions. Honestly. My imagination did the strangest things sometimes. I look around inspecting my surroundings.
It was quiet, most of the lights were turned off. The passengers in deep slumber or listening to music. Very peaceful. The only sound, a quiet buzz from the engine. I looked back to see if there was anyone in the passage. No one, not even the always perfect stewardesses. Strange, there’s usually someone there ready to help if necessary. Polite and not in the way. So, I guess it was just me then. Me and the pilots… hopefully. I shake my head again. Ridiculous. I decide to get up and use the bathroom, at the same time using the opportunity to stretch. My joints pop a couple times and I check to see if anyone heard it.
Nope, the aisles seemed deserted and the passengers definitely asleep. Great. So the only one awake was the crazy, neurotic and over stressed woman. Me. As always.
I walk by slowly taking my time, then open the bathroom door. I stare at the mirror and sigh again. Well, it could have been worse. For a 27 year old, who hasn’t slept for more than 18 hours and had too much complimentary champagne, I didn’t look too bad. Nothing a good jetlag couldn’t help with. I smile in spite of myself, looking at my tired face and my long, messy blond hair. Well Ms. White, it was time to get it together – my smile widens – Tokyo.
Now, that was a reason for celebration. I wash my face with cold water and immediately feel better. I think back to the time I spent indulging in the Japanese culture and it’s constantly spreading technology. Marveling at everything I saw.
The sights, the people... Oh who am I kidding. I mean, those things were great… but the Miraikan museum*? Wow, that place was just breathtaking .
Okay, let me explain one thing. You know how some people get an adrenaline rush from extreme sports and living the dangerous life? I get a kick from prototypes. New, shiny, never yet seen, or used treasures of nanotechnology. Yeah, that much of a science geek… and proud. Hmm, I finally had my big adventure cross the Pacific Ocean - I think to myself as I pass the aisles and sit down in 14C, sinking deeply in my chair. Now the only thing there was to do, was to return to my definitely less exciting life in San Francisco. I close my eyes, smile and dream of the future world as I drift into happy oblivion.
The light shines boldly as I try to wake up properly. I shield my eyes from the sun and groan loudly. Did I just drink the entire contents of the planes bar… or was my mouth always the texture of the Sahara desert? I sit up and rub my eyes. I definitely needed to wash my face and drink some water… or dive into it. Whichever came easier. I stand up a bit shaky and head for the bathroom, grabbing a small bottle of water from the cart. Moving like a dark shadow from a really bad horror movie. I reach the end of an aisle and try to grab the handle of the door… but it’s not there. I step closer and the door just opens, shifting to the left. I stare at it for a moment. Was this always like this? Never mind, it could wait. I step inside and the door closes quietly behind me. I wash my face without looking at the mirror and quickly step out and get back to my seat.
Alright, that was better. I felt almost alive. I take a steady breath and look out the little window. So bright. Ugh. I stare at the view for a moment and blink a couple of times as the bright blue letters move slowly against the glass surface. Wow, the Japanese airlines really did like technology.
I stare at the glass, tap it with my finger and start to read:
June 28th, 2037. 10:55 AM. 67° and sunny. I furrow my eyebrows and look the text again. The year 2037? Huh, so much for good technology. They should really check their calendar. I grab my bag and fish out my big, over the top sunglasses. Now, if I could get some aspirin… I don’t finish the though, because a stewardess steps closer to my seat.
Please strap your seatbelts ma’am, we’re landing in about 10 minutes.
She says this politely, but with some pressure. Then she points out to the window. I stare it and notice the message on the glass surface.
Estimated time of landing : 9 minutes : 28 seconds - - - - Please fasten
seatbelts correctly - - - - Passengers using virtual presence are
inclined to check battery status - - - - For further instruction use
helpers guide above seat - - - - Thank you for attending ANA Airlines,
flight #008 - - - - We wish you a pleasant day - - - -
The text ends and then turns to Japanese, French, German… and about twenty other languages, that I don’t even recognize. How very global of them... I stare in confusion, as the massage changes back to English. I read it again. Then swallow. Then I close my eyes and count to ten. I open them and stare at the window. It’s still there… almost screaming at me, but this time in different coloring. The letters change gently from a peaceful blue to a more alerting orange color.
My heart starts to pound faster, nearly matching the pounding that’s happening in my head. I can feel my body turn to panic mode. What the hell? Did I miss something here or was I still asleep… doubtful, dreams didn’t usually involve a massive hangover.
I move slowly, turn around in my seat and stare at the stewardess. She’s already sitting in her special chair, everything about her stating : professional. She notices me and smiles pleasantly at me and points to my chair with a more stern expression. I swallow again, but manage to fasten my seatbelts with shaking hands.
After a while, the plane changes its position and starts the landing process. Time passes and the plane touches the ground, landing so gently that I have to make sure we’re really on the ground. I stare at the view outside and notice that the glass surface is once again just a window. I inhale and exhale dramatically, making a lot of noise. Maybe I just had hallucinations, or the light on the window was playing tricks with my eyes. Or maybe it was just some kind of a publicity stunt… I look at the changing views and freeze, like I just got shocked with extremely high voltage... eventually I manage to blink a couple of times.
Yep, definitely hallucinations. The big ones. The kind that usually involved an expert’s intervention and some sedative. Preferably from a psychiatrist. I look again and my eyes almost pop out.Maybe I didn’t know what was going one or why, but this was not San Francisco. Not unless, I magically traveled through time and space… this was so absurd. I shake my head and then remembered today’s date that I saw :
June 28th, 2037.
No, that was ridiculous. It was a joke. It had to be… I look at the passengers, starting to get up. Everyone’s packing their things and taking the bags from compartments above their seats… packing, moving, chatting quietly. Nothing out of the ordinary. The scene seems so normal and boring, that I finally break out of the spell. Everything was fine, and I just had too much champagne to drink. The jetlag kicking in more, then I thought it would… I was stressed from the amount of work I had, and exhausted from the long trip. I’ve done so much, in so little time… processed so much information… all that put together, it was bound to rub in eventually. I stand up and grab my things, leaving the plane almost as the last one. Okay then, back to reality – I think to myself, as I adjust my sunglasses.
San Francisco International Airport
11:37 AM, June 28th, 2037
My glasses are high on my nose, and my head is bend down, as I try to ignore my hallucinations. Apparently in my three days absence, the airport of San Francisco has managed to grow out its form and gained another floor. So, as from now I’m in full on denial, when a small bus takes me to the main building. My co-passengers seem to be perfectly at ease. Very quiet and polite. Hmm, that was new. No arguments, no screaming kids… maybe they were just tired.
After all it was a long flight.
I go past the sliding doors and slowly enter the airport building. I head straight to reception – thankfully it’s in the same place – in desperate need of some answers. I reach the counter and stare at the information board… except that it’s no longer really a wall, because I can see right through it. I stare at it in consternation for a while, feeling like an idiot. The letters and numbers seem to almost float in the air. Disappearing at one point and reappearing at the beginning again. I blink a couple of times, than slowly look up and down. I furrow my eyebrows, when I notice small lights on the shiny, spotless floor.
Then my eyes wander up and there they are too. Flashing lights, high on a narrow metallic beam, close to the ceiling. So, not coming from the thin air… but from something resembling a hologram. Like a picture from a movie projector. Okay, that seemed logical… not at all scary. I turn back and stare at the woman behind the counter. She notices me, looks at me politely and smiles.
Welcome to San Francisco National airport, how may I be at service? – She gives me a reassuring smile.
Yes, hello… I have a couple of questions regarding… - I clear my throat – my flight?
Why of course ma’am, can I take a look at your ticket?
Oh yeah, sure.
I roam around in my bag for a moment and hand her the ticket. She takes it, places it next to a small glass surface and smiles again. I look at her and try not to frown. There’s just something off about her, something plastic. It gives me the creeps.
Ah, here we are. Welcome home, Doctor White. Did you enjoy your flight?
Doctor White…? – She looks at me calmly, then looks again at her information – Allison. Jane. White. PhD in engineering, since the year 2023. Flew from Tokyo, ANA flight #008?
She runs her fingers past the glass surface.
Age 47. Vice-president of “Tech-view Industries” – she smiles again – Is that correct?
Yes, I mean no… my name is Allyson White. I am an engineer, I do work at Tech-view. But I don’t have a PhD and I’m definitely not 47.
I close my eyes and once again think about some medical care.
I’m very sorry, let me check again... Would you be so kind and wait, while I change my avatar status?
Your what? – I ask confused.
The woman flutters her eyelids and momentarily freezes in place. Completely still. I stare at her for a long time and then quickly close my eyes shut. I rub my forehead, feeling a heavy migraine on its way. I was still asleep, that was the problem. Of course. One of those long, never ending dreams.
Excuse me, Dr. White? My name is Helen Queen and I hope I can help you solve this problem.
I open my eyes and give a little scream. I stare at Helen and her frozen double behind the counter.
I apologize, did I scare you?
She looks at me with kind eyes and gives a small – normal looking- smile. Then she turns her head left and gives her double a long stare. Then she smiles wider, when a thought hits her.
It’s because we look identical, isn’t it? Now, I know most of people prefer to use different looking avatars – she shrugs her shoulders, then speaks in a hushed voice – you know, better versions of themselves…
I stare at her wide eyed. My mind confused even more than ever. What was she talking about? Was this some kind of parallel universe, which I used to read so much as a student? You know, the kind where everything is upside down and different… even though you seem to be on the same planet. I take a deep breath and try to stay as calm as possible. Ok, I will just play along. This is only some weird, supernatural dream (and that was the version I was sticking with). I might as well enjoy this… I look around the huge airport and start to feel my brain work on higher speed. All that new technology. Just for me.This. Was. Amazing.
Excuse me, Helen? – I ask, trying to sound normal.
Yes? – She seems eager to help.
I’m really sorry. This has been a long flight and I seem to have an extremely intense headache – the woman looks worriedly at me, so I quickly add - but it’s getting better.
Would you like some medicine perhaps?
Oh now, that won’t be necessary – I answer politely – it’s just this, and the lack of sleep… and maybe a bit too much champagne… – I smile shyly and she nods quickly. Ready to solve any problem, that will come her way.
Of course – she nods again.
So, I think we should start over. The information you read before, seems to be perfectly in order - I can see Helen relax, her smile calmer.
I’m so glad. We do have one of the best information and data systems in the country -
She says this in a proud voice, slightly straightening her back.
Yes, I’m aware… but could you still answer some of my questions?
Great. Could you tell me more about your avatar? It seems to be an improved version… am I right?
I ask her politely, obviously bluffing. I had no idea what I was talking about, but something told that Helen will enjoy the complement. I stare at her, as she seems to light up from inside.
Thank you for noticing, Dr. White. It’s the new M.E.G. RH700 with addition functions and multiple security improvements – Helen seems to gain a couple of inches, as she speaks – And not only that. As you can see, this model has increased flexibility and strength power… which is very practical when dealing with a medical problem.
Oh? – I ask, actually interested now. Dream or not, this was my place to be.
Oh yes. Some of the passengers say that this model is better and faster than an ambulance - Helen says this with a big smile, her chicks turning pink.
A perfect example of a virtual presence then? – I ask smiling back – Now, can I ask how’s the communication between you and the… avatar? Does it work correctly?
It works without difficulty. Very quick response and human like qualities. I have to admit, there have been times when people thought it was me, and not Megs – She admits this with a big grin.
Megs? – I ask, a bit lost.
It’s a nick name for this model: M.E.G. RH700 seems a bit of mouthful, don’t you think?
True, but Megs does have a nice ring to it…
I smile back, then frown suddenly as a thought hits me. Something clicking in my mind. Okay, if this actually wasn’t a dream and there was the slightest chance that this was all real… I could feel my brain speed up again. The best information and data system in the country…
Helen, do you have access to articles and world news, dating back more than 10 years?
I ask, thinking again about parallel universes, black holes and… I look at the huge glass wall of the airport and stare at the clouds covering the sun. What did I hear in the news a couple of days ago… something about increased solar activity… dark spots covering a large amount of the sun’s surface, which causes a… I strain my memory, trying to remember just the right information. Increased activity on the sun… changes the magnetic fields covering the Earth. I look at Helen wide eyed again.
No, that couldn’t be.This wasn’t some silly TV show, or the “X-files”. These thing just didn’t happen. I swallow hard.
Certainly, even back 30 years and more – says my friend and starts to run her finger past the small glass surface of her… tablet, I guess – What information interests you?
Now, I know this may seem a bit odd… but can you tell me what happened exactly on June 28th, the year 2017?
So precisely 20 years ago? – Helen scrolls down her pad furiously – Did you have any particular information in mind?
Yes, weather wise. Could you tell me if there was any anomaly happening in that time?
Anomaly, let’s see. Hmm, yes. Multiple, expanding dark spots on the sun’s surface… which seemed to cause disturbance in the magnetic field. Yes, it had a lot effect on the satellites… some power brakes. According to this article millions of people suffered because of it… the internet was down for several hours. Can you imagine?
Helen looks up for a short moment, shakes her head disapprovingly and returns to her scrolling.While she does that my mind drifts to multiple possibilities. Magnetic field disturbance… solar activity… dark holes… One word pops in my head. Portals. An opening through time and space. My pulse accelerates and my heart starts to beat faster and faster. Portals… time travel. June 28th, 2037. Not possible, and yet somehow true.
Well, there must have been a beautiful aurora then? – I ask weakly, surprised that my voice still works.
Northern lights? Oh yes. Very beautiful… - Helen smiles kindly, but then frowns surprised – Did you know that something similar is going to happen soon?
It will? – I try to breath normally, but find it really hard.
Very similar. Thankfully were are more prepared now. I mean for this kind of situation. We can detect it beforehand and lesser the damages. Nothing as dramatic as in 2017, I can tell you that – she says, her head nodding with satisfaction.
Yes, Dr. White?
When is this anomaly forecasted? – I ask calmly now… well, as much I can anyway.
According to the weather broadcast… a sub-storm will come our way in approximately six days – she says concentrated, then gives a funny smile.
What is it...?
Nothing important really. I just checked your next boked flight and it seems to be exactly then. In six days. Another flight to Tokyo I see? – her smile turns warmer.
Yes, you could say a flight back home…
“Alice: How long is forever?
White Rabbit: sometimes, just one second.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
This was originally written for a contest. https://seat14c.com/future_ideas/new
“Your flight has been mysteriously transported 20 years into the future.
How could this happen?
* National Museum of Emerging Science and innovation - Japan’s major science center located in Daiba, Tokyo.