Seat 14C – Thousands of Minds Concentrating on an Optimistic Future

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.

From June – August 2017, one seat was open for a writing competition, Seat 14C.  Aidan J.S. Menuge, a musician, composer, and writer, claimed that seat from the 1,400 entries (see links below).

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.”

Michael?

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.”

I nodded.

“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?”

Sal nodded.

“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.

A

Anders, Charlie Jane – Trapped in the Bathroom!

Anderson, Kevin J. – Terminal

Asaro, Catherine – The Alder Tree

Atwood, Margaret & Ashby, Madeline – The Japanese Room

B

Bacigalupi, Paolo – A Passing Sickness

Barretta, Mike – Post-Temporal Stress Disorder

Benford Gregory – A Suprise Beginning 

C

Cambias, James L. – Treatment Option

Cooper, Brenda  –  Unforeseen Consequences

F

Finch, Sheila – Homecoming

G

Goonan, Kathleen Ann  –  The Dream of a Common Language

Grimwood, Jon Courtenay – The Trouble with Brothers

Gunn, Eileen – Transitions

H

Hill, Matt – Eighty-niner

Howey, Hugh – Full Unemployment

 K

Konstantinou, Lee – The Girl Who Almost Became a Zombie

Kress, Nancy – Collapse

M

Menuge, Aidan J.S. – Dido’s Lament – WINNING Entry

Mohanraj, Mary Anne – Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Morrow, James – Technofeelia

 Q

Qiufan, Chen – Oblivion Is A Crease Left By Memory

R

Rajaniemi, Hannu – NiceCoin 

Resnick, Mike – A New Reality

Robson, Justina – Gap Year

S

Schroeder, Karl – The Urge to Jump

Shunn, William – Last

Smythe, James – Catharsis

Sparhawk, Bud – Yesterday’s Solutions

Sterling, Bruce – It Feels So Exponential

  W

Watts, Peter – Incorruptible

Wilson, Daniel H. – Iterations

Y

Yu, Charles – Morning Glory

Z

Zhang, Hal Y. – The Noctilucent Paradox in E Minor


 

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?

 

Resources:

WIRED – XPrize is Now Backing Sci-fi Like it Backs IRL Science

XPRIZE Enlists Science Fiction Advisors to Dream Bigger

Thank you to the talented Wattpad author Amber K. Bryant for sending out the pointer to the XPrize writing competition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Single Step Adventure

single step adventure T“I think I see it!” Chelsea ran ahead keeping a watchful eye on her smartphone compass. Seti, the families Irish Setter, sprinted beside the young woman barking with unrestrained joy.

Lexi and Ed paused to tighten drawstrings on their windbreakers. A brisk, grit-filled wind scoured their exposed skin. “You’ve got everything?” she asked.

“I do,” Ed nodded. Reaching into his pocket, he removed three small silver objects. He dropped two of them into the palm of her hand. Lexi thought that the high bluffs of Dover were an ideal location for today’s activities.

“This is it!” Chelsea squealed as her parents gathered around.  From a small box that had been hidden in the rocks, Chelsea removed a strange oblong object. It was identical to the ones concealed in Lexi and Ed’s pockets. She read the paper it came wrapped in. “It says that if I, Chelsea, hold this and step over the edge of the cliff, I will be transported to another place.” Her eyes sparkled.  When she turned her gaze to take in the open expanse, the challenge morphed into to uncertainty.

Her father stood behind Lexi gripping her shoulders. “Are you entirely certain about this, Chelsea?”

She bit her lip. Chelsea almost changed her mind. But the hard look on her mother’s face wiped that away. They’d had many arguments over Chelsea’s obsession to prove the existence of Time Travelers. In fact, she was sure that she was on the trail of one such person now. For years, she’d been getting personalized clues in every single geocache she’d located.

Chelsea approached the edge of the precipice. Without even a look back, she firmly gripped the thing in her hand and took that step.

The man, woman, and dog watched Chelsea wink out of sight. Holding their breath, they leaned over the edge of the cliff and peered down at the sharp rocks below. Not seeing a twisted and broken figure, they relaxed.

Reveling in a feeling of completion, Lexi thought of her partner. She yearned to his skin instead of his fur. Twenty-three years of parenting and observation had taken a considerable toll.  She turned to Ed. Placing a hand on his shoulder; she lifted up onto her toes so that their eyes were level. Winking, she gave him a salute. Squatting down, she opened her arms to Seti. Burying her face in his coat, she whispered, “I’ve missed you!”

His immediate, silent response, And I you, Mistress, appeared in her mind.

Before she rose, Lexi slipped one of the silver ovals into the dog’s mouth. The three of them stood together, taking a moment to regard France across the English Channel. At Lexi’s nod, they winked out of sight and stepped onto the Constellation.

Lexi felt a large warm hand slip into hers and squeeze, before releasing. A voice she had not heard spoken aloud in twenty-three years inquired, “Shall I set the coordinates for home?”

——

Story Prompt: WriteOn weekend challenge – Bluff

Inspiration: Preliminary research for a ‘someday’ travel possibility.

United Kingdom – Dover Cliff’s Travel Information:

traveltips.usatoday.com/white-cliffs-dover-england-3316.html

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/white-cliffs-dover/

www.visitkent.co.uk/attractions/the-white-cliffs-of-dover/9002

Good Morning Aboard Caralee

Their movements were automatic with a choreograph-like smoothness.  In a galley smaller than most American coat closets, this was an accomplishment. The 45 foot Caralee housed all of their worldly possessions and had transported them to exotic ports all over the globe.

He reached for bowls while she filled a pot with water. He struck a match to light the flame on the stove as she pulled out spoons from the drawer. She placed the pot on the burner while taking a box of oats out of the cupboard.

When hands were not occupied with tasks, they would glide across or alight upon the other’s body; a brush down the back, coming to rest on a shoulder, a hip or making a light tap on the behind.

Oats were added when the water boiled, the pot covered and the heat turned down. During the brief pause in their morning dance, their eyes lingered on each other; they smiled.

He enjoyed watching the light play across the pink facets of the pendant that always hung around her neck. A gift he’d presented to her some thirty-five years earlier on the day that Asmara was born. Their only child had been conceived above deck, on a warm night, under a ripe Sri Lankan moon.

Sitting hip to hip at the tiny table, they held hands as they ate. Her nervous fingers twisted his wedding ring around and around on his finger. She paused occasionally to rub her fingernail over the smooth mound of rose quartz that she’d found in Brazil.

Before taking that first sip of coffee, they clinked mugs together softly. A tradition adopted from their time in the British Isles.  It signified ‘a robust day and a tender heart.’

Photography by: Mark Pepall
Photography by: Mark Pepall

Bundled in coats, they went topside to welcome the sun as it crested the horizon. Elbows resting on the rail they let the cool breeze flow across exposed skin. Smiling, she turned to him, observing the lines on his face and the wiry gray hair that steadily overtook the brown along with the passage of time.  She thought that he looked as good as the day they met…even better. She mouthed the words, ‘olive juice.’ This was a family joke; these words look like something else if one is lip reading. A chuckle from deep in his chest echoed across the water.

____________________________

Story Prompt: [reddit writing prompt]

A married couple starts another average morning on an average weekday. No one dies. No twist. Show their overwhelming love for each other without them speaking a single word.

Inspiration:

Answered Prayers

A hint of lemons on the ocean breeze coming through the open window brought a wistful smile to Marzia’s face as she pulled more wet laundry from the tiny washing machine. She could already taste those lemons in her mouth at the end of the day.

Carlo would be in the fields now laughing and smiling with the men and women who also worked there. Carlo was always bright and cheerful, not like his sister who’d grown increasingly tired and sour with the years.

Marzia carried a heavy sheet out to the balcony where she added it to the others that swayed and moved with the currents of the warm scented air. Looking down below, she spotted young Theresa and Paulo hiding and giggling near the corner of the market. They didn’t realize that they had an audience as they French kissed and ran their hands over each other in places that would have their mothers squawking.

She remembered when she’d been Theresa’s age, wearing the starched white shirts and pleated skirts of the Catholic school. Toni Marellli had been her boyfriend then. They’d thought that the same corner was private too.  After Carlo’s accident, Toni had gone away. Marzia stalked him sometimes on the internet. The photos of his receding hairline, beer buddies and of his two grown daughters always stayed with her for days. That would have been my life.

When the disaster struck—the one that had left the top half of her brother’s skull missing, Marzia knelt in the surgery waiting room saying prayers on her rosary and begging God to let Carlo live. God had granted that wish. The Doctors warned her that Carlo would probably not live past the age of twenty-five.

They were both in their sixties now. Carlo worked during harvest in the lemon and olive fields perched on the steep slopes of the coastal mountains.  In the early evenings, he sat at the edges of the walkway leading down to the Ligurian Sea. He smiled innocently at the tourists who regarded him with surprised pity. There was never a language barrier for Carlo. Turning his head so that they had a clear view of his injury, he motioned toward his hat lying near his feet. The loose change that he proudly poured into their kitchen table did help make ends meet, as did Mariza’s miniature sketches that she drew of seascapes and buildings in their tiny town. The sheets she washed were destined for tourist beds. At night, she sipped on Carlo’s share of the Limoncello that he received at the conclusion of the harvest season.

In her top dresser drawer was the rosary that she’d used that night. She hadn’t touched it since. If Carlo beat her to the grave, she planned to put it in with his ashes.

___________

Story Prompt: WriteOn weekend challenge: 500 words or less – “Window”

Inspiration: A trip to Manarola, Italy in Cinque Terra – art and photography by the author