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Jacob's First Flight
4 secret ingredients assigned to incorporate into a story:
14 Year Old Emancipated Boy, a Transition Town Meeting, In-Flight on airplane, No cell phone use due to some cause
"The clouds look really strange," Jacob thought to himself as he peered out the airplane window, "but I guess I've never seen them from this vantage point before. Still, something about them seems so…," he shuddered thinking of the word, "…ominous."
He was used to bleak thoughts, but this was more in the category of insecure, almost paranoid. Something was catching him off his usual confident stride, most likely the fact that for the first time in his life he was 40,000 feet in the air. The pilot announced that the turbulence they experienced right after take-off was normal and would adjust after a few minutes, but it took over half an hour. This produced a queasy experience for most passengers and Jacob wasn't alone using the vomit bag. Regardless, he felt a bit ashamed by the whole experience, particularly when the flight attendant babied him like a little child. He hates it when people do that. They see a 14-year old kid by himself and immediately think he needs a nanny or something.
"I'm fine," Jacob explained to her as she patted his back, but when she persisted he glared at her with a steely glare of someone twice his age. "As in ok on my own, not as in its other meaning of delicate or diaphanous, so it is most unnecessary for you to coddle me." She departed in a huff. Jacob felt he may have been a bit too rude, for she barely returned to handle his drink options, but he'd rather she ignored him than treat him like a baby. Still, Jacob was feeling perturbed by all these unsettling emotions he was experiencing. He was not in his usual game and stride.
He took a moment to close his eyes and center himself, but this only made him feel the subtle rocking of the plane all the more, emphasizing the fact he was in a tiny little craft held precariously aloft in the air, far removed from the stable earth he knew all too.
His parents used to take him to all manner of odd locations that tested his abilities to meditate; everywhere from casinos to sporting events, from train stations and amusement park rides. This was something like a roller coaster ride for Jacob, but a lot further of a drop down to the ground. He stretched his mind anew, and focused on gravitational theorems, mathematical equations, and statistical analysis to ease his mind. He remembered reading an old report that the likelihood of a plane accident was slimmer than other modes of transportation.
But times have definitely changed and he wasn't sure what the current rates were. Besides, he skewed the odds by being a most unusual child, an anomaly in fact. While he had role models of other brainiac children, Richie Rich, Doogie Houser M.D., the original Sponge from the Nickelodeon TV show "Salute Your Shorts", there was one startling difference, they all still had parents to take care of them. But Jacob proved to the courts, with the help of a exorbitantly priced lawyer and letters of recommendation by his now deceased progenitors, that he was the most capable person of taking care of himself and the family business. He had, after all, finished college and invented the world's most efficient Solar Regulator by age 13.
He picked up his VuePad and focused on the speech in hand. While he didn't mind speaking at conferences, this was the first overseas event ever attended. Not that his parents weren't the type to travel the world, they were just overly cautious about accumulating the type of radiation frequent passengers receive by flying at high altitudes since the studies were released about the state of the ozone and circumstances dictated otherwise.
It was hard to believe, in just two years how much the world had changed. Jacob was gifted his first computer at age three and skipped from childhood to young adult quickly by his parents prompting. To some people this may have seemed obscene or criminal, but they wanted him to have a head start. His parents knew not only about their son's gifts, but the rapid worldwide decline of life expectancy. They knew their time would be short, although neither of them could have predicted the gas line explosion would end it ten years too soon. They somehow could foresee how the startling and scandalous Rossgar Reports would alter everything.
The results of the controversial scientific study were debated for several years, and while many counter-reports were issued, it gained world-wide credibility as foreign countries issued their own conclusions from similar research. While global warming took decades to argue, there was soon no denying that solar and cosmic radiation levels had skyrocketed from a triple whammy of damaged ozone layer, increased solar activity, and our galaxy's entrance into an intense stretch of cosmic radiation. Normal satellite and cell phone use across most of the Northern hemisphere and parts of the south were sketchy at best for several years. Eventually cell phone and wireless technology was useless outright, and everything went back to good, old-fashioned wired connections. Animal die-outs occurred at an astonishing rate, making the honeybees Colony Collapse Disorder look like a simple cold. Cancer rates went through the roof, taxing the health care industry and leading to pandemic. Plant life and food production took a major hit. Transportation of necessary goods through normal planes came to a halt., paralyzing much of the world. Eventually civilization was encouraged to seek shelter below ground.
Which is what made this flight all the more frightening.
While anarchy flared up for several months, small bands of developed countries eventually hobbled together into coalitions, many of them dropping their former antagonistic policies to join forces in light of this new, common threat. Other countries were unfortunately overlooked and ignored as they died out, simply because there were scarce few things that could be done, as few resources could be stretched to help. Countries like the US, China, or any of the EU nations could barely support themselves much less others. Eventually light pulse technology allowed countries to communicate over long distances and a frail stability was put into place. Things began to get a little bit better.
Except Jacob. The plane hit another patch of turbulence. He wretched again, only this time without warning, so it plastered the floor in front of him. There wasn't much left in his stomach so there wasn't much to hurl. The flight attendant stood over him, one hand poised on her hip, her head cocked to the side. With a little smirk she uttered, "Need help?"
Jacob didn't want to give her the satisfaction of victory. He wiped his mouth and muttered "Yes actually, tell your pilot to take some flying lessons, and while you're at it bring me some some seltzer water. You can worry about cleaning up the mess later."
He could afford to be a bit of an ass; he had status. He was part of a special envoy, on a rather urgent mission to central Europe. Plane flights were extremely rare in this day and age, but a few planes were fitted with specialized shielding to protect them from the intense radioactive bombardment. It increased the weight of the plane, but there were now fewer passengers. They still burned diesel fuel, and although oil was at a premium after its peak many years earlier, a few flights each day were still made for special reasons.
Jacob was on route to tour several cities and speak at the Annual European National Transition Town Meeting in Paris. They were one of the leading countries in handling the conversion from oil-based economy when the peak oil crisis hit just before the radiation retreat. The irony of how the plane depended on oil was not lost on him, but there was no way around it. They were still several years away from the development of any large, heavy non-oil based modes of transportation. Jacob was viewed as a necessary guest, there not only to help them get the most out of their solar panels, but to impart some kind of sense of hope to future generations and share insights into how he grew up so fast. With people living for only 30-40 years on average now, his accelerated mental growth was now highly sought. If only Jacob agreed with that view.
In recent months Jacob had shifted from missing his parents, to hating them. Perhaps he was merely entering a typical teenage rebellious phase, but Jacob now loathed his parents from robbing him of the one thing he couldn't now replace: a childhood.
He gazed out the window at the clouds. Being a solar expert Jacob knew all about the troubling effects of haze very well, but he rarely spent much time outside these days except to handle and inspect solar panels. The sight of the billowing giants from above inspired a mixture of awe and fear. He had read early accounts about the game of making out shapes in the cloud and was always curious as to what that was all about, but he could never make anything out but blobs. These massive forms looked nothing like the images he'd seen on display screens, but then again, the sky was a very different shade of blue and the radiation affected all manner of surface conditions, including cloud cover - which had to do with the type of evaporation and condensation which now occurred. Jacob could compute all manner of equations or go into great detail of the scientific method of cloud formation, it was purely theoretical. He just couldn't make sense of the actual essence and presence of clouds and it bothered him to no end.
He didn't see rabbits, or dragons, or kites, or trains, or castles in the amorphous shapes. He couldn't tell if it was just him, or if those shapes were now as extinct in the cloud kingdom like most of the planet's former mammals. It was as if some great mystery, some secret of the ages, was lost on him, and it may soon be lost on everyone.
"Welcome to the future," Jacob wrote as the first line of his speech, "Where childhood is a thing of the past."