The Shortest Commute

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
In the future, fast space travel has resulted in people commuting to Earth for work, but living on Sol's planets. This means a lot of time stuck traveling between planets. An inventor has created a new device that he believes will lead to instantaneous travel, ending the morning commute once and for all. One intrepid reporter though has reservations.

Submitted: September 10, 2016

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Submitted: September 10, 2016

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The audience listened intently in silence. Despite being assembled outdoors in the parking lot of the United Planets building with all the sounds of the city around them, everyone was sitting at rapt attention. Robert Morrison smiled. He had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.

“Every year, commute times get longer and longer. As people settle on Luna, Mars, and Mercury, it takes ages for people to fly their shuttles to Earth, do their normal eight hour shift, and fly back home. Speed is key. We can now travel from Luna to Earth in thirty minutes, but what about those who must commute from other planets? Moreover, we are in the process of buildings homes on the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and even on Pluto itself. How do you expect commuters to get to work at eight and get home for supper at 18? If they’re lucky if they can be home in time to kiss their kids goodnight. Speed people, speed! I cannot emphasize that word enough. Speed is key to getting to work and from work in time. Speed has enabled us to live in our homes away from home. Speed has enabled us to enjoy the luxuries Earth has to offer whilst living away from all the noise and overcrowding. Speed has built the society we now enjoy. Faster is better”.

The president, standing at the podium, cleared his throat. The noise carried through microphone and out of the speakers.

“What precisely is it that you suggest Dr. Morrison?” the president asked impatiently. Morrison smiled confidently. The moment of unveiling had arrived.

“I believe a demonstration is in order.”

He nodded at his assistant waiting expectantly in his shuttlecraft, then produced the device he had been hiding in his pocket.

“Behold the Robert Morrison bridge!”

Morrison pressed a button and a hole seemed to open in the sky. Air was being sucked into it like a whirlpool. Out shone a light so bright that no one could look at the hole directly. The audience gasped. Morrison nodded again. The shuttlecraft lifted off the ground and headed towards the swirling pool of light and air. The audience gasped again as the shuttle vanished into the whirlpool. Then the hole itself vanished. The audience looked at each other dumbfounded.

Morrison signaled for silence.

“There ladies and gentlemen is the solution to your commuter troubles. What you have just seen is an example of what used to be known as an Einstein-Rosen bridge, or a wormhole. That is, until I took the luxury of renaming it. Formerly only a theoretical concept, thanks to my genius, it has become a reality. Appropriately I have taken the luxury of renaming the bridge after its inventor.”

Morrison grinned smugly, his arms folded around his chest, basking in the awe of the audience. Before any questions could be asked, the sky again opened, this time with the air pouring out of the hole. A moment later, Morrison’s assistant emerged from the hole and landed back where the shuttle had once stood. A beam of light emerged from the shuttlecraft and shone onto the giant projection screen that stood in the parking lot. On the screen emerged the image of a red dwarf star on a black background.

“Doesn’t Proxima Centauri look lovely this time of year?” cooed Morrison. The stunned audience now burst into spontaneous applause. A glowing Robert Morrison fielded questions from the enthused and exited audience.

“Excuse me Dr. Morrison,” a voice called out over the crowd. All eyes turned to the petite, white-haired reporter sitting in the middle row. Robertson frowned.

“You have a question, Ms. Jackson?”

Jane Jackson stood up and glared up at Morrison over her horn-rimmed glasses.

“I do. In fact I question this whole endeavor. Is it not true Dr. Morrison that when freeways were first built back in the twentieth century it was thought that they would reduce commute times? That people would no longer have to spend hours stuck in traffic to get to and from the suburbs? Is it not true that instead these freeways encouraged suburban sprawl, resulting in commutes that were just as long. Even worse, periodically there would be a car accident and traffic would get backed up for miles on end. Drivers had to wait for the accident to be cleared before they could start moving again. As a result, commute times actually increased.

“In response to these problems, we started building high-speed rail to connect the cities to the suburbs. It was promised that rail transit, unlike freeways, truly would get us to work quickly and smoothly. Once again, people migrated from the cities to the suburbs, negating the benefits of the high speeds. Once again, commuters would be stranded, this time due to a mechanical failure. Everything from a power outage to a snowstorm to a fallen tree would cause the train to stall, leaving people marooned.

“Need I remind you,” she continued, “that this same mistake was repeated yet again just a few decades ago? When Dr. Morrison created shuttles that could travel as fast as one thousandth of the speed of light, it was promised that this too would put an end to the nightmare of commuting. Instead it led people to set up house throughout our solar system. Now we spend as much time commuting to Earth as our ancestors did commuting to the city.”

Jackson turned to face the crowd.

“Dr. Morrison has created a device that will take you to Proxima Centauri in under a second. Given this, we know for a fact that the entire galaxy has now been opened up for colonization. How pray tell will such a device shorten your commute when you are living on the other side of the galaxy?”

Morrison flushed a deep shade of crimson. Leave it to Jane Jackson to rain on his parade. Not for the first time either. Jackson represented everything he hated. She was a Luddite in the worse sense of the word. Here he was trying to help humanity, and Jackson wanted to keep people in the Stone Age. While almost everyone else of means had moved to the planets, Jackson insisted in remaining on Mother Earth, in her city of work no less! Worse, she refused to buy one of his high-speed shuttlecrafts, instead insisting on going about her day to day tasks on a hoverboard. Worse, Jackson had admirers in the media who loved to go around photographing her doing her shopping on her hoverboard. Rather than cover her face in shame at being seen on such an archaic machine, Jackson openly waved at the cameras as they snapped her kicking her way home.

Fortunately for Morrison, the press loved him far more than it loved Jackson. He was confident that he could woo them over. Morrison suppressed his rage and smiled confidently for the cameras.

“I appreciate Ms. Jackson for her obvious concern. Fortunately they are baseless. You see ladies and gentlemen, a wormhole works rather differently from normal space. With a wormhole, the distance traversed from London to Paris is no different from the distance traversed from Sol to Sirius. Or for that matter, from Sol to the other side of the galaxy.”

He smiled smugly at Jackson as he said the last part, then directed his attention back to the cameras.

“Distance is not an impediment when the distance covered is not in normal space. It makes no difference whether commuters are a thousand miles from Earth or a thousand light years. I propose creating such a device for each and every colonial outpost. Every morning the gate opens above Mars, Mercury, or whatever planet you are residing on. You take your shuttle through the gate and find yourself in Earth orbit. Every evening the gate opens above Earth, you fly through it and find yourself back home. Rest assured ladies and gentlemen, your commuter nightmares are at an end!”

Applause broke out throughout the crowd. The press crowded around Dr. Morrison and began throwing questions at him. The audience talked loudly and excitedly to each other. Only Jane Jackson remained seated, lost in thought, a frown across her face. She remained frozen in place, not paying attention as the crowds thinned and the noise began to die down. Eventually she got out of her seat and made her way across the parking lot to her hoverboard, the only one there. She got on and began to kick her way home in silence. Shuttles zipped by her, with their pilots slowing down only to honk and jeer at her, but she paid them no notice.

 

Two weeks later, the passenger space shuttle Odysseus was orbitting the Earth.

 The bridge of Odysseus was dark and quiet. The crew was immersed in their work with their eyes fixed on their stations. The blue and white marble that was the Earth stared in at them through the windows. The quiet was interrupted as Robert Morrison arrived on the bridge with a stream of reporters pressing against him. As if on cue, the sun rose over the Earth; its rays reached across the endless expanse of space lighting up the once dark bridge. Dr. Morrison looked like a prophet with the light behind him and a crowd of admirers, and he was keen to play the part. He smiled for the cameras.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Last week I laid out my vision to you. Today you will see that vision in action.”

Morrison signaled to the ensign sitting at the console next to him. The ensign plugged in the coordinates for their journey and pushed the button in front of him. A bright flash of light emerged from the hull of the ship. A moment later, the scene from last week was repeated as a swirling whirlpool of light opened in the dark sky that was outer space. Dr. Morrison’s smile widened even further.

“Hang on to your seats folks!”

The ship moved towards the wormhole with everyone aboard holding their breath. A moment later the darkness of space was replaced by blinding light as the ship entered the wormhole. The crowd grabbed onto what they could as the ship moved down an endless tunnel of swirling light and colour. Only Morrison remained calm, his face frozen in a peculiar grin. Standing still with the light and colour washing over him he looked mad scientist. The press muttered uneasily.

Then just as quickly as it had begun, it was over. Odysseus was back in the darkness of normal space. The white light of the wormhole was replaced by the light of the sun. But not Earth’s sun.

“Behold ULAS J0015+01,” said Morrison, gesturing at the red giant shining through the ship’s windows. “You are now orbiting a star located 900,000 light years from earth. We have made the first extra-solar space flight in human history in less time than it took Apollo 11 to reach the moon. Now you see before you the location of Earth’s next major colony. In a few hours, we’ll all be back home with the story of a lifetime and pictures to boot. We are through the looking glass people!”

The press forgot their earlier apprehension and burst into applause. Microphones were shoved in Morrison’s face as he began to answer and endless stream of questions.

An hour later, the reporters had finally tired of asking questions, and Morrison made his way to the recreation lounge. People stood around drinking and socializing as they took in the new view outside the windows. Morrison made his way to the bar and began to scan through the drinks listed on the wall.

“Can I buy you a drink, doctor?”

Morrison turned smiling. His smile turned to a frown as his eyes met Jane Jackson’s.

“Ms. Jackson, I didn’t see you in the crowd this morning,” said Morrison coolly.

“There’s no point being seen when you can’t be heard,” replied Jackson. She proceeded to sit on the stool next to him.

“May I help you Ms. Jackson?” said Morrison curtly.

“You could have helped me and everyone else by scrapping your latest invention before bringing it to market” she replied coldly.

Morrison eyed her sharply.

“If I’d thought like you Ms. Jackson we wouldn’t be colonizing the solar system like we are today. People wouldn’t be living out their dreams to own their own home on an alien landscape living under the stars, away from all the hassle of Earth. Imagine living on the moon with Earth rising over you. Imagine living under the pink skies of Mars. Well they don’t have to imagine it any more. They live it!”

Jackson snorted.

“Some dream. These new suburbanites daren’t venture outside unless they wear a spacesuit. How are kids supposed to frolic and play in such an environment? When they go inside they must live in a super ventilated hole in the ground that must always be reinforced to keep out radiation. It costs them a fortune to keep their places cool or heated, not to mention recycle the air. They live in a sterile environment where nothing ever grows and nothing but a thin wall protects them from the vacuum outside.”

Morrison shrugged his shoulders.

“Nothing’s forcing them to live there.”

“On the contrary,” said Jackson, “something is forcing them to live there. Gravity! Between living on a low gravity world and commuting, these people don’t have time to exercise and prevent bone mass loss. Many of them are so far gone that they can only withstand the Earth’s gravity for a few hours at a time, and those children born off the Earth can’t withstand it at all. They have no choice but to live in a hole in the ground on a lifeless world. What kind of existence is that?”

Morrison lost his temper.

“You and your small ideas! You just don’t understand progress! I recognize and appreciate the benefits of technology. But you? Do you have any idea how stupid you look going to work every day on your hoverboard? Frankly I’m amazed you’ve progressed as far as you have; I would expect you to be still riding a bike!”

“You may mock my small ideas Dr. Morrison,” said Jackson, “but from my standpoint I see things differently.  Every morning when I go to work on my hoverboard the noise is deafening from all the shuttles I hear entering the atmosphere. It used to be the skies were almost empty, but thanks to your high-speed shuttlecrafts there is a never-ending stream of traffic coming from throughout the solar system. Hoverboarders like me must live in constant fear of a shuttle landing on them because someone wasn’t paying attention. I may look stupid to you on my hoverboard, but I say commuting to and from Pluto in a fancy toy is the epitome of stupidity. Your doing Dr. Morrison.”

Janet Jackson stood up.

“Enjoy your delusions of grandeur Dr. Morrison.”

Jane Jackson left the lounge leaving Robert Morrison seething.

 An hour later everyone was back on the bridge of the Odysseus. The Odysseus had circled ULAS J0015+01 and taken no end of dazzling pictures. Morrison had suppressed his rage and was now ready for the cameras again.

“Ladies and gentlemen, in a moment we will make the final leg of our journey. We are about to make the shortest commute in history. Won’t you have a story to tell!”

Morrison laughed heartily and the audience laughed along. Morrison saw Jane Jackson out of the corner of his eye. He averted his eyes and continued to smile. He wasn’t going to let some crazy hippy ruin his day. He imagined all the people and cameras back home who were soon to greet him.

“Anytime you’re ready Dr. Morrison,” said the captain.

Morrison gave the okay. The captain signaled the ensign sitting at his station. The ensign punched in the coordinates back to Earth. The press waited expectantly. Nothing happened.

The captain frowned.

“Something’s wrong sir,” said the ensign. “Let me try again.”

The ensign punched in the coordinates again. Again nothing. The captain looked at Dr. Morrison expectantly.

“Well?”

Morrison did his best to look confident.

“I’m sure it’s nothing major sir. I’ll have my team look at it once…” His voice trailed off. Realization dawned on him.

The captain looked up at him sharply.

“Once what, Dr. Morrison?”

“Once… we get back to Earth. Sir.”

There was dead silence on the bridge. Morrison refused to make eye contact with the captain.

“Are you telling me Dr. Morrison that there’s no one on this ship who can fix your device?” asked the captain.

“The Robert Morrison bridge has never broke down before until,…” he paused, “until today.”

The captain turned to the ensign.

“Ensign, how much time will it take us to get home traveling through normal space?”

The ensign cleared his throat.

“Well sir, with our old engines taking us to one hundredth the speed of light it would take us around 900,000,000 Earth years.”

“And now?” said the captain gravely.

“Now sir, thanks to benefits of Dr. Morrison’s high-speed engines, we can travel up to one thousandth of the speed of light. Only 90,000,000,000 Earth years.”

The captain sat back in his seat, the colour completely drained from his face. The crew slumped by their controls in shock. One female reporter broke down and cried. The rest were so dumbstruck they were at a loss for words. Robert Morrison stood in the centre of the crowd, his eyes downcast, cheeks aflame, looking like he wished someone would just shoot him.

Jane Jackson broke the silence.

“Well Dr. Morrison, you’d better get moving.”

Morrison looked up at her and tried to say something, but the words wouldn’t come out of his mouth.

“Well what are you waiting for?” said Jackson, her arms folded across her shoulders. “You need to get a move on. We’re due back home in ten minutes and we can’t afford to be late. Remember Dr. Morrison, thanks to your invention, we’ve eliminated the morning commute. And won’t the press on Earth be delighted when we arrive back home in less time than it takes to cross the street. We’re about to make the shortest commute in history!”


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