FRESH FRONTIERS, INC
“Dad, you don’t have to come. It’s just a ceremony where they hand you a piece of paper.”
Evelyn, Gus Trenton’s daughter, talked like she didn’t want him to come to her doctoral graduation. He had spent a near fortune to help her reach this pinnacle of education. It had been her mother’s dying wish.
Damn-straight he was going.
The ceremony was in the basketball gymnasium. The doors stood open. A cardboard sign bearing the college logo sat on a little tripod announcing the event. He took a seat above the general crowd and pulled out his mini-binoculars.
Evelyn sat near the front twiddling a finger through her curly, blonde hair. There were a lot of empty seats down there. Many of her graduating class must have chosen not to attend.Up on the constructed dais only a handful of professors sat wearing their robes and fancy ribbons of accomplishments.
A man walked to the podium with a big, fake smile pasted on his face.
“Welcome all, to the passing of certificates. Will everyone please rise.”
Gus rose, as did most of the students. Only a few of the parents and associated family stood. The school’s alma mater played too loud over the speakers.
“Thank you. You may be seated,” the man said.
“Graduates, please come and collect your official certificates.”
Evelyn and her classmates cycled up the stairs to the dais where they collected a rolled paper from a bin behind the speaker. Once they were all back to their seats the national anthem played, again, too loud.
“Thank you all for coming. Congratulations graduates.” The man gave another gleaming, fake smile and a few in the crowd clapped.
The ceremony celebrating his daughter’s doctoral degree, something that had taken eight years and more money than he wanted to think about, was over.
Everybody filed out of the gymnasium quickly. He lost sight of Evelyn and rushed outside, but couldn’t find her. He flipped open his cell and called.
“Hi Dad, I just got out of my graduation.”
“I know. I was there.”
“Oh yeah? Where are you?”
“Ah, I see you.”
She emerged from the parking lot, his little girl grown up, smiling her dimpled smile at him. She did a turnabout in her cap and gown with her arms up like a mock ballerina.
“How do I look?”
He smiled in spite of himself then nodded toward the gymnasium doors.
“They call that a graduation ceremony?”
She sighed and grabbed him by the elbow, but he didn’t move.
“Dad, it’s not a big deal.”
“That was a joke.”
She shrugged and tried to pull on his hand. “I told you it was nothing.”
“Mailing your doctorate would have been better than that mockery.”
“Dad” She looked around. A few people had stopped to stare. “It doesn’t matter, really it doesn’t. I don’t care.”
He saw the sincerity in her eyes. She wasn’t fooling.
“You don’t care that you just got your doctorate?”
“Can we please go somewhere else? You’re embarrassing me.”
Befuddled, he let her lead him to her car. She drove while he tried to figure out what had happened to his once proud, fiery, little girl. After only a short ways she pulled into a coffee shop.
“What’d this school do to you?” he asked.
She laughed, which only scared him. “Nothing Dad. I grew up.”
He shook his head. “What?”
She gave him a patient look, the same look his wife used to use when she thought he didn’t understanding something that was apparently simple.
“Dad, it’s the world we live in. We have all we need to be happy so there’s no reason to advance. Our lives are pretty much perfect. There’s no hunger. There’s tech enough to keep us entertained twenty four hours a day. There’s air conditioning to keep us all in comfort. Machines do all the hard labor so our jobs are white collar and easy and mostly useless.”
What was she talking about?
“My job’s not useless,” he said.
“You’re a theoretical scientist, Dad. How much of what you’ve done has seen the light of day?”
What she said was true. They had science fifty years beyond what was being used today.
He looked into her eyes and didn’t like the haughty, nonchalant, apathy that’d settled there. It was awful.
“You really believe that?” he asked though he already knew her answer.
She patted his hand. “The world is finally free, well, mostly.”
“Evelyn,” he began, but stopped. Words weren’t enough. He was glad his wife wasn’t alive to see this.
“Take me back to my car,” he said.
“Don’t be like that.”
He wanted to tell her that if everything was so easy then he’d stop sending her money and just let her have at it. But, when push came to shove, he’d never be able to follow through with that. She was his one and only daughter, after all.
She stared at him as if waiting for him to fight her like Mom would have. He opened the car door and got out. They had not driven far. He could walk.
He bent down and looked once more at her calm, resolved face.
“You’re wrong, Evelyn.” He shut the car door and walked back the way they had come. She didn’t say anything or try to come and pick him up. He got to his car and drove straight home.
There was one thing he could do. He had done the science many years ago but had kept it to himself over the fear of possible repercussions. After his wife had died, he hadn’t wanted to take the risk. Evelyn had needed him. Now, though, she needed him in a different way, and he might be able to make a difference.
He went to his closet and dug out the device he had invented all those long years ago. He found it in a box along with the old, yellowed spiral notebook he had used to scribble notes.
Holding the thing made him nervous all over again, but it was time.
He made copies of the papers and snail mailed them to all his colleagues. He did the same for every college and research facility in the world. He included copies for the media outlets and various government agencies. Everyone he could think of got a copy, even many of the utility providers around the globe.
It took days, but he pressed on. After the physical mail was all sent, he scanned the data and began e-mailing it.
There came a knock on the door. He’d hardly slept since he’d started and wasn’t thinking clearly. It wasn’t until he’d unlocked the door and was turning the knob that his sluggish brain chugged to life. He slammed the door shut, but wasn’t quick enough to reengage the lock.
He fell back a step as the person on the other side of the door gave a shove. A large man with a cleft chin stood there. He wore a perfectly pressed, grey suit.
“Back up,” the man said.
“You can’t stop it.” He hoped he was right.
“Not my problem.”
“Everything will change … everything.”
The man stepped in past the threshold, pushed Gus back and shut the door. He pulled a gun from the inside of his suit jacket and pulled the trigger. A little ‘pffft’ sound came out.
Gus didn’t remember sitting down. He tried to talk, but all he managed was a weak cough. He tasted blood. There wasn’t a bit of pain though, just panic, just worry. He hoped Evelyn would be alright.
The gun made its little sound a few more times.
“He’s coming around.” It was a male’s voice. Somebody he didn’t know.
“Dad?” Evelyn. Her sweet voice.
He tried to answer her, but only managed to bite his tongue.
“Don’t try to talk, Mr. Trenton,” the man said.
He opened his eyes. Everything was fuzzy.
“Whah” he bit his tongue again.
“Mr. Trenton, please don’t try to speak.”
Evelyn was a blurry, pink smudge against a light-brown background.
“Dad, you’ve been in a coma for … years.””Ellef” he bit his tongue again. He had to find a way to ask questions. He tried to sit up and only his right side moved.
“You had a lot of internal damage,” she said softly. “You lost a lot of blood and had a couple of strokes.”
He lay back and closed his cloudy eyes. He couldn’t talk.
“You did it, Dad,” she said.
“You sure did,” the unknown man said. He noted a tone of awe in the man’s voice.
He didn’t say anything. He couldn’t say anything.
“Can you hear me?” Evelyn asked. He tried to nod and only managed to turn his head to the right a little. He fought the ache in his chest. He could hear fine, just like he could feel everything. He just couldn’t do anything about it.
“I’m so glad they were able to wake you before I leave on my trip, Dad.”
He raised his right arm an inch or two from the bed and she gripped his hand.
“I’ve missed you.”
“And the world is eternally grateful,” said the man.
“They are going to have you do some test and get you all set up. I’ll see you after,” she said and kissed his forehead.”
“Alright, Mr. Trenton,” the man said. There was a click as the wheels of his hospital bed were unlocked. “Let’s get to work. It’s not every day that a hero rises from the ashes.”
He didn’t feel like a hero. He felt like a ghost inhabiting a broken shell that’d once been a man. Evelyn had said years had passed. It seemed like just an instant. One moment he was a doer hell bent on giving his daughter a better world, the next his body had been taken away. It hurt to think about.
A couple of very tiring hours later he returned to his room. His eyesight was much improved thanks to a pair of glasses the hospital had prepared for him. He still couldn’t see anything on his left side, however.
Evelyn was there, waiting for him.
He chewed his tongue and stared at her then started to cry. The speech therapist had left him a little machine that would say anything he typed into it, but he didn’t want to ruin the moment with words spoken by a glorified speaker.
She looked older than he remembered, but her eyes were bright as the sun. She beamed as if life had meaning again. She leaned over his bed and hugged him.
“Do you want to get out of here for a little while?” she asked.
The excitement in her eyes was a treasure. He smiled crookedly at her.
“Come in,” she called. A wheelchair rolled into the room and sidled up next to the bed.
“Voice controlled,” she said. “It’s an AI, fully integrated.”
With her help, he transferred to the chair. He looked for some kind of hand control but couldn’t find one. Before he could type his question on the little keypad on his left wrist, the chair started moving. It paced Evelyn as she left the room.
Just outside the hospital, a couple of kids stood wearing heavy-looking backpacks. They braced their feet and jumped. Blue flames shot out of the packs and they disappeared into the sky. He turned wide eyes to his daughter. She smiled.
“Jetpacks were invented,” she said and laughed. “We helped with the patent. Flying cars too, but don’t worry, we’ll stick to the ground today.”
They walked a short ways to a car that looked like any other on the street, until it opened up and made a ramp for the wheelchair to enter, which it did without any coaxing.
“The AI in the wheelchair and the car are of the same system that’s housed in the company office.” She took a seat beside him. There wasn’t a steering wheel or any kind of dash at all. The interior was just a little oval room with windows.
“Let’s go to the Trenton Science Museum,” she said.
The car took off.
He reached for the keypad to type out a question, but Evelyn put a hand over his.
“I know why you did it, Dad.” There were tears in her eyes, but she smiled with full dimples on display. She got out of her seat and wrapped him in a big hug. He hugged her back with his right arm.
“It is amazing,” she said, regaining her seat. “You invented a way to generate and store energy with the smallest amount of original kinetic input. The world went haywire. I thought the thing was a fancy coffeepot the first time I saw one.”
Well, it did look somewhat like an old-timey percolator. It even made sounds a lot like a one.
She shook her head. “Do you know what happened when the engineers and scientists could use any value of energy they wanted in their calculations?”
He was riding in a car without a steering wheel driven by an artificial intelligence. He had never expected that. And the jet packs were just plain crazy. He had figured the oil companies would probably collapse, maybe coal too, but he hadn’t been sure of anything. All he had had was hope.
“They did a lot,” she said. “You can read all the patents when you get back to the office.”
The car stopped and the door opened. A massive building sat before them with the words ‘Trenton Science Museum’ in big bold letters upon its frieze-filled top. It reminded him of the Parthenon, only bigger, and without all the wear and tear.
They crossed an entryway and entered through an automatic sliding door. On the inside were row upon row of familiar technologies, all the things he had used every day before his attack.
They passed microwaves, refrigerators, wristwatches, convection ovens, and a bunch of different types of computers. One section had nothing but different types of vehicles. The crowning jewel was a space shuttle with its nose pointed skyward.
Evelyn put something in his hand. It was a little button.
“Dad, I had that spaceship made special for you. You can travel into outer space. All you have to do is push the button. The AI will do the rest.”
His daughter had made him a spaceship and had parked it inside an enormous museum with his last name on it.
“I have to go,” she said as he was looking at the shuttle.
He typed on his little right-handed keypad as fast as he could.
“You’re leaving?” The voice that came from the wheelchair sounded like him, with just a small loss of inflection.
She nodded. “The ore companies already have ships out in the asteroid belts. The solar system is like a backyard to us now. There are more expeditions than I can count out there working and exploring.”
“But, outside the solar system it’s all still unknown, and, Dad, I’m on the maiden voyage. We’re going to Proxima Centauri.”
It felt like a dream. He wasn’t absolutely sure he wasn’t dead. None of this made sense. But, there stood Evelyn, pretty as a picture, looking at her feet and chewing on her lip. She felt guilty, he could tell, for leaving him alone so soon after waking up from such a life-threatening ordeal.
“Have fun,” he typed and smiled as much as his paralyzed face would allow.
She gave him another hug then pointed to a thin box on the right arm of his chair. “That’s a special-restrict printer with lightzip capabilities. It’s programmed to receive messages from only my pad. And yes, it will work where I am going, though there will be some delay.”
He nodded. She showed him her dimples one more time then flipped her curly yellow hair over a shoulder and left. He watched her go.
“Do not be alarmed, sir,” a voice echoed in his ears as soon as she was gone. He craned around, but didn’t see anyone looking at him.
“I’m speaking hypersonically to you alone,” the voice continued. “I am the driver of the chair.”
“I am to take you to your company, Fresh Frontiers, Inc, when you are ready. Your office has video links of your daughter’s launch.”
“I’m ready,” he typed.The chair turned and headed outside. “My company?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. You are now the acting director of the company. Your daughter set it up that way from the beginning.”
“What does this business do?”
“It takes experiments like yours, patents them, and launches their production.”
That sounded promising.
He didn’t get a good look of the outside of his office building because the car whipped into a parking garage. From there, the chair made its quiet way to a service elevator. Once the doors were closed, the button for the top floor lit up of its own accord.
When the doors opened, he could scarcely believe his eyes. The cityscape through the office windows was breathtaking. Lights lit up everything. Cars and jetpacks and other stuff he couldn’t explain zipped all over. Architectural designs that looked to be a cross between Dr. Seuss and Frank Lloyd Wright filled up the vista.
And here he sat, unable to stand, unable to walk, his entire left side a waste, with half his tongue and half his vision gone. He felt afresh his severe limitations. The world before him appeared limitless.
“Sir, the monitors are to your left.” Shutters slid over the windows as his chair turned to face a pair of televisions that were as large as the windows. They were also fully 3D with clarity much better than any he had seen before.
On one screen his daughter sat in full orange astronaut gear facing the ceiling. The other screen showed the entire shuttle with a little window counting down time till launch.
“Sir, while you wait, there is a historical file on the company that your daughter had me compile.”
“No thanks, not now,” He typed.
“There are also the newly risen patent applications if you’d like to peruse them: biotech, deep sea exploration, cybernetics, various species uplifting proposals, many on nanotech applications.”
“Be quiet.” There really wasn’t much time to wait. His one and only daughter sat happy as you please about to go into space. He had never thought to see such a day, not ever.
The countdown hit a minute when his printer cycled out a piece of paper.
‘Here I go, Dad. I love you.’
There was no way to send a reply. He figured she must know how much he loved her. She had to know.
The countdown hit zero and the shuttle went up in a streak of blue. He had never seen anything like it.
“What?” he typed.
“New thrust and G force transitional technologies approved by Fresh Frontiers eighteen months ago.”
In a flash, the ship was in outer space. The screen that showed the shuttle switched to what must have been a satellite shot.
His printer cycled out another paper.
‘Now for the new extra-solar engine,’ his daughter sent.
Another countdown started.
At zero the view of his daughter went to static. His eyes clicked over to the other screen. A perfect white circle shrunk slowly down to nothing then that screen too went to static.
“Whah,” he bit his tongue in his hurry for answers, and tasted blood. His fingers banged on the keyboard.
“They are gone,” the AI said.
“Museum”, he managed to type with shaking fingers. Evelyn. His only child. She needed him. The thought that something might have happened to the new engine, that she might be … no – that was not an option.
“You wish to return to the museum?” the AI asked.
“Now.” He didn’t care if it was useless. He didn’t know what else to do. He couldn’t just sit there and do nothing. He needed to try to find some kind of answer.
“But sir, the nanotech and cybernetic applications look very promising. They might hold the key to your recovery.”
He couldn’t believe this machine. Had it not seen what had just happened to the experimental spaceship?
“Evelyn,” he typed. He had to have this thing’s cooperation in order to get anything done.
“Yes. It is a great day. Humans have finally left their solar system.”
It took him a minute to process that. He could have sworn that was an explosion, and the way the cameras went to static – what else could it mean?
“She is safe?” he typed.
“I assume so,” the AI said. “The ship is tracking toward Proxima Centauri as we speak.”
He sighed out his tension. What remained of his muscles twitched with the release of his nervous energy.
“Do you still wish to go to the museum?” the AI asked.
“No,” he typed.
“Very good. Then I’d suggest you read over the applications I mentioned. They may be able to get you back on your feet.
‘Back on my feet.’ The notion sounded wonderful.
“How long will Evelyn be gone?” he typed.
“That is dependent on what they find.”
Since he couldn’t do it actively, he nodded internally. He would find a way to fix his body. Maybe he could be back to normal by the time she returned. He still couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that she was in a spaceship trailblazing her way across the stars.
Yes, he would see to it that he got fixed. He wouldn’t miss what else she had planned for the world.
As the AI filled the dual screens with applications he thought of his wife. She would have been so proud of the woman their daughter had turned out to be. He sure was.
Food For Thought
1) Can practical scientific advancements continue if the population’s needs are met?
2) What drives further advances if the populous are sated? (example – If you are fed and the fridge is full, why would you try to find more?)
3) What happens to the world if you take away competition, strife, or reward?
So, for the just in case, I thought I’d better send them to you.
About the Author
Jason Lairamore is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror who lives in Oklahoma with his beautiful wife and their three monstrously marvelous children. His work is both featured and forthcoming in over 55 publications to include Sci Phi Journal, Perihelion Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories and Third Flatiron publications to name a few.
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