It is said that many people joining in focused thought, meditation, or prayer can affect outcomes.
The folks at XPRIZE believe that imagination crowdsourcing could generate solutions for some of the planets most pressing problems.
Examples of their competitions include; a 10 million dollar prize for a palm-sized health monitoring device, a $1 million award for leveraging technology to ensure women’s safety, and a $1.75 million prize for harvesting fresh water from thin air.
The XPRIZE group recently demonstrated that they have no shortage of imagination within their ranks. In preparation for a writing competition, they set a stage;
an international flight from Tokyo to San Francisco gently bumps through a time wrinkle, landing passengers twenty years in the future.
XPRIZE released an Origin Story video and asked thirty-two well-known authors including Margaret Atwood, Hugh Howey, and Kevin J. Anderson to contribute short stories for individual passengers on the plane.
As I was crafting my story, it was powerful knowing that other writers were working with the same ideas at the same time. Even more powerful is reading their stories!
The future I imagined involves a world health care system that supports people from the inside out. In this system, it is common knowledge that if someone feels balanced, loved, and connected they become positive contributors to their communities.
I’m glad that the competition brought my attention to the XPRIZE organization. I will be cheering on their progress and sharing the solutions they’re inspiring.
The Seat 14C contest criteria included;
- A unique vision of the future
- First person point-of-view
- Optimistic tone that demonstrates exponential technology positively impacting the future
- and the tale from when the passengers disembark at San Francisco International Airport in the year 2037.
Below is my entry, Renewal.
2,550 words. [*re-edited since entry]
Charlotte’s life was dead-ending. Surrounded by grieving passengers who’d lost twenty years, Sal, a Change Counselor, attempts to help Charlotte start over.
Clutching carry-on bags in white-knuckled fists, some passengers were openly crying. I was silent, my face, a stony mask of indifference.
A row of people dressed in white robes stood inside a blue, pulsating ‘environment’ receiving the occupants of ANA’s Boeing 777. One by one, the ‘waiters’ broke formation to pair up with traumatized time travelers.
Some hugged, some held hands. Most were led a distance away so conversations could be private. Big Bubba, my close companion for the last two days stepped ahead of me. Having grown used to him being as close as pea pod neighbors, it felt strange to see the distance between us growing. I heard the robed person say, “Michael, I am very sorry for your loss.”
Shoulders shaking, Bubba blubbered, “Twenty years! My kids won’t know me anymore!”
We’d been sharing jewelry, matching carbon steel bracelets. This was the first I’d heard about him having kids.
“It’s going to be alright, Michael,” his greeter crooned in a soft voice, taking his hand. “Your sons are doing well. They can’t wait to see you.”
I could tell when my greeter spotted me. Direct eye contact, a slight nod and a bee-line gait. “Hello, Charlotte, my name is Sal. I will be your Change Counselor.”
What? I stepped back, staying out of touching range. Sal was completely bald. Broad cheekbones and olive skin didn’t fit with the vivid blue eyes and white eyebrows punctured by rows of tiny gold beads. One eye had long, enviable lashes, the other had almost none. Sal’s voice was soothing, it’s timber fell somewhere in the medium octaves. My insides twisted, making me feel off-kilter like I’d entered the Firefly galaxy.
“What is this place?” I asked, glancing around. The room was at least four times larger than the plane. It pulsed with a delicate blue ambiance. The junctions at the railings and floors glowed, but I couldn’t see fixtures or bulbs. Small groupings of puffy furniture were everywhere. Change Counselors sat with their charges, including the pilots and flight attendants. Large iconic images of San Francisco hovered at the outer edges; The Golden Gate Bridge, Alamo Square’s Painted Ladies, the Transamerica Building and Fisherman’s Wharf. I wondered if those recognizable settings were put there to soothe us.
“It’s a Red Cross Trauma Unit,” Sal said.
“Are we prisoners?”
“No,” came the sympathetic reply. Sal noticed my inability to make eye contact. “Is my appearance distressing you?”
“Well — “ my eyes dropped to the floor. “I don’t know if I should call you a he or a she.”
Smiling, Sal’s demeanor reminded me of my kindergarten teacher. “I am gender neutral. The pronoun to use is, ‘zie.’”
“Ahhh,” I nodded, studying my fingernails.
Sal held out a hand, palm up.
After a few uncertain moments, I bridged the gap. The warmth, strength, and kindness of Sal’s touch sent a shockwave through my system. I would have jerked away if zie had not had a firm grip. Sal noticed the raw skin on my wrist.
“This must be painful,” Sal said. “With your permission, we have a cream that will heal dermal abrasions.”
“No one here is in trouble, including you, Charlotte. Your activities in 2017 are not illegal now.” Sal winked.
Closing my eyes, I inhaled deeply. For most of my flight home, I’d been worrying about my mother’s reaction when she saw me handcuffed to Big Bubba —
“Can I show you something?” Sal interrupted. Leading me to a set of stairs, we started up. To no one I could see, Sal spoke. “One ounce of tissue repair and a tricorder to the observation deck.”
“Who are you talking to?”
“The walls have sensors.”
Waiting for us at the top of the steps was an insect-like creature hovering at eye level. It carried a clear square topped with a dollop of cream.
“Hold out your hand, Charlotte, so the medi-drone can deliver your ointment.”
Doing as instructed, I waited as the drone delivered its payload. It buzzed away.
“Apply the entire amount,” Sal said.
It melted into my skin like whipped cream on hot chocolate giving off a pleasing floral, citrus smell. The soreness and red marks disappeared instantly. The clear square that held the cream dissolved, making a crackling sound.
Stepping farther into the room, I saw that we were inside a dome. Catching myself before making an exclamation out loud, I walked to the wall placing my hand on the seamless glass. “It’s beautiful,” I whispered.
Stars twinkled above. A Robert D. Brown version of San Francisco spread out below. Layers of vehicles in flight circulated around towering, clean-lined skyscrapers like veins and arteries. The air was crystal clear, plant life on platforms and terraces made the city look like a living jungle. The landscape below receded as we gained altitude.
“I thought we were still on the tarmac,” I turned to Sal. “Where are we going?”
“This transport has been programmed to take us to the Barry Healing Center in Monterey Canyon.”
“Monterey Canyon! Are we going under water?”
The curves of Sal’s mouth uplifted at the edges. “It is the premier trauma center on the west coast. As soon as your plane appeared on the radar, ANA began negotiations to secure the facility.
A buzzing distracted me from the conversation. Another medi-drone approached. This one was twice as large as the first. About the size of a box turtle, it delivered something that looked like a TV remote control to Sal. “Thank you,” zie said accepting the device. “It is a tricorder,” Sal turned to face me, “It will give us your baseline state of health.”
Shaking my head, I held up a hand, “Whatever it is, I can’t afford it.”
“There’s no cost, Charlotte, maintaining optimal health is a universal right as decreed by the Global Living Counsel.” Raising eyebrows, Sal held up the device.
Reluctantly, I nodded. Zie waved it in my direction then glanced down at the screen. Sal frowned.
“What is it?”
“Nothing,” Sal replied quickly, smiling, “You are a perfectly healthy, twenty-eight-year-old woman.”
“Who should be forty-eight,” I quipped.
Other passengers and counselors began arriving on the observation deck.
“We’ll begin our descent soon,” Sal stated as zie returned the tricorder to the flying turtle. “When we transition from terrestrial to aquatic, it’s a lovely sight.”
“What happens when we get where we are going?”
“Individual healing plans are manifested.”
I noticed Bubba and his counselor not far away. I could hear snatches of their conversation. He was still talking about his kids.
Facing Sal, I asked, “What if we don’t want to contact family?”
“That would be included in your healing plan. Your wishes will be honored.”
A weight the size of the moon, lifted. My shoulders slumped, I wobbled unsteadily.
Ever observant of my reactions, Sal hurried to bring a chair that I gratefully collapsed into. I could have easily closed my eyes and let the world fade but we were approaching the water.
Without a pause, we dropped below the surface. Tiny air bubbles passed the windows like spinning pearls. I sat up straighter, gazing at the pristine surroundings. Streaks of sunlight beamed through kelp flowing in the currents. A stunning variety of fish scattered. Off in the distance, I made out a multi-storied structure, clear like our dome. People moving around inside. Several crab-like robots, arms, and legs plodding slowly, looked like they were harvesting crops along the seafloor.
My suite at the Barry Healing Center was lavish. The amenities were like a high-end resort. It was difficult to accept that my time here was a freebie granted by a society that valued the well-being of its citizens. Sal showed me a button to push if I needed him.
Eight days went by before I pushed it.
I slept, finished the novels that I packed, and became acquainted with the helper bots that came out of the closet whenever I voiced a need to the listening walls. They brought my meals, cleared the dishes, changed my linens, and provided instructions on how to use the COMM consul, a connection to the outside world and the source of all human knowledge. Located in the sitting room, the History channel filled me in on what I missed while I was wrinkled in time.
My period was late. Was it because of stress or the result of a hot and steamy Tokyo connection? Wondering if it could be the latter, my thoughts returned to Mom. During the flight, I wasn’t worried about going to jail, but about what she’d say when she saw me with Big Bubba. “What kind of mess have you gotten yourself into, you worthless piece of crap? You’ve been a pain in my ass since the day you were born,” was a common theme. Attempting to win her approval was idiotic, yet I never stopped trying.
I knew about her diagnosis before I left. The sand in the hourglass of her life was responding to gravity. Tokyo was going to be my best, and last shot at pleasing her.
My chest constricted when I imagined having a child. I couldn’t remember a time when my mother didn’t mow me down with poison words. Picturing an innocent, cringing from me made my lips tremble. I couldn’t catch my breath. I pushed the button.
Sal was there without delay. Like before, Sal’s touch soothed, but it didn’t stop the flow of emotions. Zie confirmed the tricorder confirmation of a pregnancy.
“I can’t have a kid!” I wailed, “I don’t have a job; I’ll mess it up. It will hate me.”
Smiling, Sal rubbed my back, “Charlotte, you won’t have to do it alone. Like this trauma center, on-going life coaching, and basic living wages are universal rights. When you leave here, you and your little boy will have a home and plenty of support to make your lives healthy.”
“A boy!” I put my hands on my belly. “You can tell that already?”
“I don’t know if I want to be a mother.”
Sal assured me that my restless and bored feelings were signs that I was growing strong enough to begin living on the outside. I still wasn’t sure that I wanted a tag-along, but the idea of keeping the baby wasn’t as horrific as it was weeks before.
From the COMM center, I learned that ocean cleanup efforts were still ongoing, that we’d rolled back pollution levels to 1970’s estimates. CO2 emissions were almost nothing and international borders were relaxing as a global government was proving itself capable and trustworthy.
The rock inside that kept me encapsulated in a shell of fear was beginning to soften. Hope, given enough space to grow, will emerge, making room for new ideas. I’d chosen Albuquerque for my home. One helper bot would be assigned to me. If I wanted more, I’d have to earn it.
A week before I was scheduled to leave, Sal called me into the medi-unit to meet with a doctor. “There is something we need to discuss,” zie said. “Your tricorder scan found a genetic problem with your baby’s heart.”
My glass house was crumbling into wicked shards. Feelings of hope were evaporating like steam, I didn’t deserve them anyway, I was still the same messed up girl that my mother cursed.
“Charlotte!” Sal was gripping my hands, “You’ve stopped listening.”
Zie was right. When they said that something was wrong with my baby, I knew, suddenly, that I wanted him!
“The procedure to repair it is minor,” the doctor was saying over Sal’s shoulder. “CRISPR will eradicate it within twenty-four hours.”
In the last five minutes, I’d taken a roller coaster ride back into my dark place — one I’d hoped I’d left behind — and become frozen in a sticky soup of something much bigger. “CRISPR?” my eyes were as wide as saucers. “Isn’t that….??”
Sal squeezed my hands, He nodded sadly. “Everyone alive today lost someone in the tragedy. That harsh lesson taught us to be much more careful. Its use is highly regulated. There are multiple levels of oversight. For something like this, Charlotte, CRISPR is a miracle.”
Ryo was born, without a heart defect. He takes after his father with stiff dark hair that stands on end. Four years into our journey together, I’ve stopped stressing about repeating my mother’s mistakes. We’re good, but I’m still working on it, and me, every day. I have a small, precious community of friends, a life coach I enjoy, and meaningful work.
As settled as my life had become, I worried about Ryo’s father. I knew as much as social media told me.
Returning from a hole in time is big news. As far as I know, every ANA passenger had to deal with some form of celebrity. I had declined all interviews and had no social media accounts in my real name. I had hoped to stay out of his radar.
“Overseas communication, private discourse requested,” announce LeeLu, my house bot. “Caller ID: Haru Ito.”
I’d been painting a still life. At the mention of that name, my brush dropped to the floor, splattering yellow paint over my canvas shoes.
“Where’s Ryo?” I inquired. Did my voice sound shrill?
“He’s at the park with Nanny Ron,” Leelu informed.
I rushed to a mirror.
“Shall I decline the connection?”
“No! I’ll be right there,” I said, raking a brush through my hair. I pinched my cheeks, a ridiculous habit. Employing calming techniques, I took deep breaths while turning off all the listening devices, bots, and tools in the house. Stepping in front of the COMM screen, I gazed into eyes that matched my son’s.
A veneer of maturity was superimposed over my memory of a youthful boy. Ito was still trim and handsome, but a no-nonsense, self-confidence had replaced shy enthusiasm.
“Charlotte, you look just the same,” he said, smiling warmly, sounding surprised.
The hard irony of his statement settled between us like an elephant attempting to sit on a footstool.
After a long silence, he said, “I know about the child. I wish you’d come to me as soon as you returned —“
And then he said the words I’d been dreading, “I’d like to meet him.”
I was familiar with his family and career. He was working on international negotiations on behalf of the global governance. He had a teenage daughter who was an accomplished musician and writer. His wife was on a team expedition to Jupiter. She’d been gone for three years; it was unlikely she’d ever return.
I could feel my old insecurities clamoring below the surface like cage-crazed chimpanzees. It was difficult to trust that someone I’d crossed paths with in my old life could have turned out to be someone I’d want to know in my new one — let alone give access to my son.
I remembered something Sal said at the healing center, “Don’t let fear rule you, Charlotte. Life gives more gifts to those with open hearts.”
The private transport reminded me of the one I’d been on when I got off ANA flight #008. To Ryo, it was no big deal, a playroom to explore while he waited to meet his father.
Check out all of the short stories from Seat 14C.
If you found a particular story(s) that resonated with you, leave a comment in the box below. Did any of the authors come close to your future vision?
Thank you to the talented Wattpad author Amber K. Bryant for sending out the pointer to the XPrize writing competition.