“I hate flying; I guess it seems obvious that sitting in a metal box so far above the ocean when I spent most of my life living under it was a rather natural fear. Nobody liked being put in a situation that was the opposite to what they were used to. It was the reason I had decided to fork out the extra for a business class seat. I thought that if I had a few extra creature comforts like a TV, some leg space, a reclining seat, that I would be able to delude myself into thinking I wasn’t on a plane. It had worked to begin wi-
No, no it hadn’t. I guess I shouldn’t lie to you, should I? What helped was washing down a couple of sleeping pills with my extra strong gin and tonic. It meant I missed the initial turbulence, the power cut, the moment of panic from the rest of the passengers. The only reason I was awake now was because of the sweet flight attendant gently informing me we were only half an hour out from San Francisco.
“Could I grab a coffee?” I croaked, pushing myself up into a seat position and attempting to rake the hair off of my face with my nails.
“Of course, how do you take it?” His lips – pressed tightly enough into a straight line that they had begun to lose colour – confirmed my suspicion that my hair was beyond saving. I gave up and let my hands drop into my lap.
“Milk and two-”
As far as last words go, and I honestly thought those were my last words, they’re pretty lame. When they told my brother would they have said, she died groggy and demanding coffee? Then again, it’s how I spent most of my life so perhaps it was poetic.
The plane reeled sharply to the left causing the flight attendant to careen into my lap. Several of the overhead lockers sprung open and spilled their contents onto the legs, shoulders and in some cases heads, of the other passengers sans a flight attendant. Before we had had a chance to assess what was happening, the plane lurched to the right to straighten itself out. Luggage and people clattered back into the aisle. I was lucky to be one of the few already with a window seat, but those in the middle of the plane and several members of staff pressed themselves against me and other window passengers to see what had happened.
“Is it an engine? Have we been hit?” A panicked voice asked from further towards the back.
But those of us at the front had no words to explain what had happened. A missile strike would seem far more plausible.
“It’s lightning,” I murmured. At least, that’s what it had looked like to someone from the year 2017. I guess you find that funny, huh? Looking back on it, now that I know what it is, I find it funny too. Of course, it couldn’t have been lightning – it was too large for a start. It was more like a column of electricity and the colour was all wrong. Lightning was very rarely red.
“Hey look, it’s raining,” someone further in front of me exclaimed. Sure enough droplets began to hit the windows of the plane.
“But it shouldn’t be raining, we’re still too high up.” Everyone looked at the flight attendant, who suddenly seemed to realise he had spoken out loud to the group of people he had been put in charge of. “What I mean is-” I’d have loved to have heard him explain away the rain.
It would have made you laugh.
Can you laugh?
Sadly, we were robbed of what would have, I’m sure, been a favourite thanksgiving anecdote at the family dinner table because no sooner had the rain began that a torrent of water fell from the sky. Several people yelped as the edge of the spinning tornado of water clipped the wing of the plane, causing it to rock unsteadily to and fro. I craned my neck up as best as I could, attempting to see where the water was coming from, but it looked like it was coming from the heavens themselves. A glowing red ring surrounded the column and when I glanced down I could make out the faintest sign a twin ring was positioned on the ground.
The murmur of speculative whispers which had started when the plane had first lurched off course had risen into a crescendo of shouting, arguments and demands. I quietly plugged in my headphones and finally let out the breath I had been holding.
It took us another 20 minutes to finally reach the ground. Someone had pressed the coffee I had ordered into my hands at some point, but when I got off the plane it had remained cold and untouched. I was too busy watching. The San Francisco rising to greet me was not the one I had left six months ago. In fact, I wouldn’t have recognised my home at all if it hadn’t been for the Golden Gate Bridge and the smudgy outline of the Sierra Nevada in the background. Gone were the concrete monstrosities that had ruled the city for as long as I could remember. In their place, their glittering usurpers stood surrounded by acres and acres of green. It was like a painting of an abandoned futuristic city. I sat up straighter, craning to see as much as possible out of the little window, when a drone arrived at my window. Startled, I leapt back from the window, suddenly aware I had pressed my face up against the glass like a small child would. The droids lens narrowed to a pin prick then expanded again, focusing on my face. Mesmerised I reached out towards it, but it whizzed off onto the next window. The series of startled shouts kept me informed of its progress up the plane.
By the time we had landed a team of soldiers, men in fancy looking suits, and several members of the airports senior staff, were there to greet us. Well, I guess they more escorted us than greeted us. ‘Greeting’ would imply some smiles, or a certain warmth to them. In contrast, the staff were sweating and casting nervous looks at one another, the soldiers held their fingers a little too close to the trigger and the men in suits wore a the face of a disappointed school master.
The mood was sombre enough that nobody voiced the millions of questions that had to be racing through everyone’s minds. We filed like obedient school children into the airport, we collected our bags under their supervision and then we were escorted into a waiting room. One by one passengers were called into a small room. They didn’t come back. I stood at the large window that over looked the airport and city beyond. The buildings were definitely made from some reflective material. The refractions from the surface cast pretty rainbows over the tops of the trees. It looked like a paradise.
“Are we sure we’re in San Francisco?” I murmured, more to myself than anyone else. So absorbed in my gazing, I hadn’t noticed one of the passengers come to join me at the window in an attempt to get better signal.
“Of course we are,” he snapped, “It looks the same to me.” I was about to ask him how it could possibly look the same when I suddenly heard my name.
Tearing myself away from the possibility of an actual answer to one of my questions, I dutifully followed the woman with a clipboard into one of the rooms they were taking people.
“Please, take a sit Cassie,” one of the men in suits seemed to remember that smiling tended to put people at ease and gave me an expression of forced empathy. A soldier shuffled his feet in the corner. Slowly, I slid into the chair offered and took a sip of the water.
“There was a … problem with your flight,” he began, opening the file that had had my name on. I said nothing. He watched me for a moment before continuing. “Do you remember disturbances on the flight? Power outages, turbulence…?”
“You mean, aside from a bolt of lightning that nearly fried our plane and the whole column of water thing?” I raised my eyebrows. He jotted a note down. “No. I was asleep. I don’t like flying.” I began to fidget.
“Anyone suspicious on the plane?”
The question almost took the edge off. This was a routine question, something normal. I answered in a negative. There were a few more of those types of questions, I guess he was easing me into it. I just wanted to get out of that tiny room, my patience began to fray as the clock on the wall indicated I had been there a full hour.
“And what were you doing in Japan?”
“I’m a marine biologist,” I let out an irritated sigh. Considering the folder has my name on, I had a feeling he already knew the answer. “I’m working on the new Pacific Ocean Alliance, it’s an expansion of NOWPAP, joining together all the countries that boarder the Pacific in an effort to clean it up. I was doing a series of talks over there to convince the Japanese to join whilst completing some research on the new species some of their fishing boats have been catching.” It felt like a life time ago I had been standing on deck of the tiny little wooden boat, teaching people the importance of traditional fishing. Techniques that would stop harming the ecosystem.
“Look,” I interrupted as he opened his mouth to ask another question. “I just want to know what is going on. That,” I pointed in the direction of the door. “Is not my San Francisco. Where am I?” The man carefully closed the file as he deliberated with his choice of words.
“It is San Francisco, Miss Deville. The question is not where are you but when.”
The rest of the meeting was a bit of a blur. I guess I had been expecting the answer on some deep level. It was the only explanation for the familiar landmarks. He explained that they believed my plane had gone through a cut in time and space which had spat us out here. 2037. Yes, my brother was still alive, he had been informed about my arrival and was en-route to collect me. There would be a press conference, they would appreciate it if I attended. Counselling was available until I –
“What about the man?” I was drowning. A sensation I thought I would never feel. The ocean was my home but at this moment I felt all the same sensations: panic and an overwhelming inability to breathe. The man in the suit, I think he had told me his name at one point but I was hopeless with names at the best of times, paused in what was clearly a well-rehearsed speech.
“He couldn’t see the city. Well, not this city. He could still see tower blocks, traffic…” I trailed off, doubting my own words now. He hadn’t said that exactly, of course, but…
“Ah, yes, the windows. It’s a new type of glass. Most buildings have them here. They show you what you want to see, or what you believe you should see. Some people are very good at controlling it – like a desktop on your laptop. Others minds are not as well tuned and their subconscious simply projects the image it believe to be best for the host. Some of us, like you Miss Deville, are able to see through it all together.”
I slumped back in my seat. My victory felt a little sour: it was an answer that made sense but not the one I had wanted.
“I… need some air,” I stood up, pushing the chair back with a screech. The man in the suit rose too, extended a hand with a card.
“If you need anything else just give me a call. Georgina will take you to get kitted out with what you need.”
And so, that is how I came to have you. Apparently you’re my councillor. I’m not sure when we stopped paying another human to let us lay on a couch and moan about our problems, but it’s one of the few things I like about this new world. Feels like I’m just making a vlog. I suppose they don’t really happen anymore?”
Vlogging is still quite popular, but the written version… blogging, is viewed as eccentric.
“Right. Well. Like I was saying, I got you, and all these other high tech gadgets. I felt like I was some sort of old British spy gearing up for a mission. And then I was being rushed through a series of other rooms, given more information, before I was released like some rehabilitated animal into the world. Into 2037.
“Cassie!” Slowly I turned towards the sound of the familiar voice, but the only face I could see was not the one of my nerdy little brother who had only been 12 when I left. A 32 year old man greeted me by pulling me into a bear hug that reminded me of dad. He even smelt like our home, all pines and earth. I think that’s the moment it really hit me that I had lost 20 years of my life. I’d missed out on him graduating, I’d missed out on teasing him about his first girlfriend, had missed his wedding and the birth of his two children. That was a lifetime. A lifetime I had spent in a metal box in the sky zooming through space and time.
My nephews think it’s rather cool, they keep calling me the Doctor, which is something to do with that weird British show my brother used to watch. Some things haven’t died out I guess.
Benjen insisted I stay with them. His wife’s a sweet little thing named Susie who bakes cookies and leaves flour handprints on her son’s cheeks after she kisses them. I sit in their kitchen and watch like someone would watch a TV show. I eat dinner like a programmed machine, I feign jet lag and go to bed. And here I am, talking to you, like the man in the suit said I should.”
It will help you to process things, speaking out loud.
“Like a diary, I get that,” I nod to the machine like he – it – is a real human. The machine is meant to help people with PTSD like me, I guess. It’s some new form of AI that can hold a real conversation, offer advice like a trained psychiatrist, and was on call at any minute of the day.
“I’m going to try to get some sleep,” I reach for the off switch and then pause. “Night,” I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for speaking to robots just yet, but it felt polite.
I left before the rest of the house woke up. I wasn’t entirely sure whether they would try and keep me in the house or would do the opposite and insist on taking me for a tour around my own city. I hadn’t quite figured out the man my boy brother was. I had made a decision with my little councillor that the best thing was to get back into my normal routine, and that involved going to work.
My work place used to be a small office block along the bay. There had been a family owned sandwich shop next door. Last night I had learned that my new office was the great big tower that jutted out of the Gulf of Faraliones. An elderly lady very kindly informed me a water bus came and collected workers at 9am every morning from the dock and dropped them back at 5.30pm every day. I dug around in my pocket and produced the paper thin gadget I had been given the previous day. Apparently it was the new cell phone. You simply placed it where you wanted on your skin and it fused itself into your arm. From it you could call anywhere in the world for free, you could translate people as they spoke, arrange your calendar – anything. I just hadn’t had the confidence to attach it just yet. A part of me rebelled at the idea of giving my all to this new world who hadn’t earned my love yet.
Even though it was still in its wrapper I could still use it. 7.03 am. It would be hours yet. Shoving my hand back into my hoodie I suddenly felt the cold edge of metal. I hadn’t yet taken my keys out of their usual place inside my work hoodie jacket. It was another small step I was not ready to take. But it gave me an idea. Wandering back along the shoreline to the storage sheds along the seafront, I walked until I stopped in front of my shed. A few decaying flowers had been left to rot just outside. I crushed them angrily under foot before testing the key. It took a bit of effort but the door finally slid upwards.
I had built the jet-ski myself in another life. A life where I had still lived with my parents and my dork brother. It had been a piece of freedom and it felt even more so now. It skimmed over the water beautifully, the spray hitting my face made me laugh with genuine joy for the first time since I got off Flight 008.
The reception desk stood quiet and so I slid past without the awkward conversation of asking for ID, helping myself to one of the guest passes behind the counter. I took my time walking through. I had done some research the night before about the new buildings and had discovered the reason they glittered like a jewel was because the material was a distant cousin of the diamond. Some genius had figured out a way to separate the carbon from C2o and turn it into building material. It was linked to the machine that had nearly fried my plane in the air, which did a very similar thing but pulled fresh water from the air. It had ended two of the world’s biggest problems: a fresh water supply and dwindling resources.
The inside was just as beautiful and had been the reason for my slow amble through the new offices. But what had made me stop was the big projection onto the windows.
‘The Cassiopeia Foundation’ hovered in big 10ft letters above me.
“Miss, can I help you?” a voice made me wrench my eyes away from the board to the woman, who dropped the glass she was holding in her hand. I probably would have too if I had just seen in the flesh, the face on the company logo. Especially when she had been dead for 20 years.
“The Cut could have aged you a little bit, this is just unfair,” Lucy, the woman who had trained me throughout my university career, who had been in her early 30s when I had left for Japan, sat in front of me a greying woman. She smiled and clasped my hands again to reassure herself I was actually here, but all I could do was stare at the wrinkles in the corner of her eyes. I’d lost so much time.
“When we heard your plane had gone missing, the whole team was distraught. You were our rising star – I thought you would have taken over from me one day,” a sigh. “We were toying with the idea of setting up some sort of charity in your name, your mum really wanted to, and then we got an email from the MSC. The work you had submitted to them about the creature that had been caught in one of the fishing nets had really impressed them and they gave us a heck tonne of money to do further research into the deeper parts of the ocean. With the leaps in building materials, we’ve actually been able to create a sustainable and functional city of sorts under water. Currently our deepest base sits at 5,000 metres.” Lucy’s eyes sparkled as she leaned forward conspiratorially, as if she were sharing some deep secret with me.
“We found your sea creature, Cassie. Alive. They’re called Opeia’s – after you – and you were right. It is a relation to the whale, it just doesn’t need to come up for air.” I could see she wanted to tell me so much more, but she knew it was taking me a while to process this. She hurried on when I didn’t offer any questions.
“So we moved to our new offices, and we thought hey, why not name the whole thing after you. After all, you’re the reason it all happened.”
“But… it was just a paper. A theory.”
“Yes and they took a chance on us, they tested whether POA was actually going to work and when we pooled all our resources, it worked. These bases are all over the Pacific. Our dream came true Cassie.” The memory rose suddenly to my mind. We were sat in a coffee shop, talking about how we needed to keep our resources open, so anyone could access them. We had understood that sharing and collaborating was the answer.
“When we published our further research based on your theory about why these creatures were coming further to the surface, and once we circulated a few pictures of some of the less photogenic ones, the governments started to fund us as well. The ocean floor has been cleared of rubbish and with the strides in renewable energy oil and waste aren’t being pumped into the waters anymore.” Lucy produced a slick tablet and played a video of some of the footage taken in the deepest parts of the ocean.
“Oh Cassie, we’ve answered so much. We’ve found lost cities that are sending historians into fits; creatures that archaeologists say should have died out, new types of vegetation which are proving to be useful in medicine, and it’s helped us understand climate change. Our ozone layer has stopped deteriorating so fast, the ice caps are actually rebuilding themselves. I mean, we still have a long way to go but…”
I wasn’t paying much attention as Lucy talked of her plans for the future. We had been right all along; the answers were in our oceans. All it had needed to come to being was the most human of all emotions: trust. Pure, unadulterated joy unfurled in my heart.
“I want to see it.”