Memories of Aiyana 12: Winter Travels (3)
The big debate, after the passport trip, was how to get to Florida. The issue, believe it or not, was the RV.
The original plan, which Cass and I were thrilled about, was to drive to Grand Forks, then a jump bug to Orlando.
Maybe I should explain about jump bugs.
The Green War pretty well killed off the airline industry as it existed in the first half of the 21st. The reason fossil fuels, specifically hydrocarbons, were used for so long is because they’re hugely efficient in terms of power potential. A gallon of gasoline, for example, weighs a little under three kilograms but contains 125,000 BTU of energy in the form of heat. For comparison, ethanol contains 76,000 BTU for the same gallon. After the War many smaller applications of petrochemicals were converted to Hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen is more efficient than gasoline in terms of BTU per kilo, but has two major problems of its own. First, Hydrogen doesn’t exist naturally on Earth in its pure state; it has to be separated out from other compounds. This takes energy. Second, to transport the Hydrogen it either needs to be hugely compressed or refrigerated to a liquid state.
The aviation industry looked at these problems and said, “No thanks!” Then Boeing and Airbus went out and bought up all the companies which had been building the semi-ballistic cargo carriers. Then came the redesigns, but in a couple years most of the “airplanes” carrying passengers were the jump bugs.
They’re not particularly aerodynamic, at least not in the sense of any kind of lifting body. They’re intended to punch vertically through the atmosphere, coast through vacuum in zero-g, and then blast their way back down to their landing spot. In a way they’re a throwback to the science fiction of the mid-20th Century in that they land under power.
Anyways, most ‘airports’ were converted to ‘jump ports’ in short order. Only the extreme short-haul routes remained the province of actual airplanes, and no way was Grand Rapids to Orlando short haul!
As I was saying, though, we were thrilled by the idea of riding a jump bug. Me, I loved the thought of the speed, and Cass kept saying she was going to look out the windows at the stars.
But then we took the trip to Duluth in the RV, and suddenly Cass’s folks were full of arguments why we ought to drive to Florida. It would be fun, it would be a gradual transition, it’s almost a vacation by itself. And their clincher, in their mind, was they’d take the RV and leave us in Orlando while they went to Key West.
Dad vetoed it.
We were having dinner together every other day and I think it was Charles who brought up the idea again. He’d even gone so far as to map it all out, and had put it on the table for us kids to ooh and ahh over. Clever, right? Get us excited and it would be harder for Dad to say no?
Dad pulled out the one detail which Charles and Tammie had forgotten: their visa only allowed them to go from the Imperium to Big Sky. There was no direct travel permitted between the Imperium and the New Confederacy. The two had maintained a frosty relationship for years at that point, and while citizens of the two countries were permitted to enter the other they couldn’t do so directly. Couldn’t do it by air, couldn’t do it by land, couldn’t float down the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence to the Atlantic and go the long way. You couldn’t leave the Imperium and arrive in the Confederacy without an intermediate stop.
Remember, they’d been on the ‘No Travel’ list the IAB maintained for years and only Dad’s influence had permitted them to get permission to leave for the trip. And the only country to which he could wangle a visa was Big Sky. Now, travel from Big Sky wasn’t a problem; once they were out of the country they could do what they wanted.
But there was no way they could drive the RV from the Imperium to the Confederacy. Sure, there’s a border between Illinois and Kentucky, but they’d never get across. They couldn’t get into the United States because their visa didn’t permit it, which cut off most of the other land routes. The only other option would be to drive South through Big Sky, into the Republic of Texas, across the Border States and into the Confederacy. Three problems with that: Texas wouldn’t let them in. The Border States were worse then than they are now; it was only a few years after the Nameless War and the gangs were still fighting over control. And nobody from the Border States was getting into the Confederacy.
So the idea died there. I watched it all with big eyes, but it didn’t stop me from eating dinner. And dessert. Couldn’t skip dessert.
Finally it was The Day.
Cass and I and Shawn helped mostly by staying out of the way. We were each given a single small bag which we could pack with whatever we wanted, but our parents did all the important packing. I guess they didn’t want us forgetting to pack underwear or something. Actually, it’s more like we would have packed too much heavy clothes, since we’d never known anything but Minnesota weather and Minnesota in winter? The joke is it’s so cold in December the cows give ice cream.
At about ten a transport pulled up, a big van, and we all piled in. Cass and I sat all the way in the back where we could talk and giggle without anyone listening. My mom and Cass’s mom were in front of us, her dad and Shawn in front of them, and Dad sat up front with the driver. It was a slow drive; Minnesota, winter. Ice. Snow. Bleah. But we got to Grand Forks in an hour.
Getting checked in for the jump was – you know, I was going to say easy, but I really don’t know. I didn’t do anything except hold Cass’s hand and look around. I don’t want you to think I was a total hick, but this was unlike anywhere else I’d ever been.
There were people, of course, and I’d seen more people than that at the county fair the previous summer. No, it was, well, the sense of purpose everyone had. There were queues and desks and kiosks, things going this way and that, and always the announcements!
Grand Forks isn’t a big port by any means. It’s barely a terminal when you compare it to ones like Houston, or Phoenix. But I was in awe.
Cass acted like she knew it all, and maybe she did. She probably researched the hell out of it; in fact, I’m sure she did. She was telling everyone who could listen every detail about anything she saw. After a while she calmed down a little, but then Dad came back and we went through Customs and she started right back up again.
I’ve learned over the years that Customs officers are not ones to take a joke. Period. They have their senses of humor surgically removed when they take the job, I think. But we didn’t know that, and of course we kids were asked questions.
So when this one officer asked Cass if she’d ever entered Big Sky illegally, she said yes.
That stopped the process dead in its tracks.
They huddled up; after all, who expects a six-year-old to admit to violating a border?
“When did this happen?”
“Last summer,” she says.
“What was your purpose for entering Big Sky?”
“I didn’t mean to! I was riding; she was driving,” and she points to me and now I’m the center of everyone’s attention.
“You were driving?”
“You mean riding. You were riding your bike, right?”
“No, I was driving. I’m a good driver,” I said.
Again they huddled, and I could see one of them tapping away at a terminal.
“There’s no record of your entry into Big Sky,” says the one who did the data search, and no wonder. I’ll bet the officer who pulled us over simply dumped the record of the stop and never made any kind of official log. I mean, what was he going to say? ‘Stopped two five-year-olds driving on highway for improper border crossing and possession of an illegal plant’?
But I don’t know what to say to this, so instead I pitch my voice higher and say, “I want my Dad. Can I have my Dad, please?”
Which brings him right over and I see his face fall, wondering what kind of trouble I’d gotten myself into this time. Then he’s talking to the officers, I guess explaining everything that happened but I can’t actually hear him. Then he raises his voice.
“There is no record of a border violation? Then what’s the hold-up?”
Which was true enough. We were six; we weren’t under oath, and our testimony would certainly have been thrown out of a court if it ever went that far. Grumbling they waved us through.
Dad walked us both out of the checkpoint and well away before he stopped and knelt to look us both in the eyes.
“Girls, don’t talk about your little accident with the border. It might cause problems. Okay?”
“Okay, Dad,” I say, followed by Cass’s, “Okay, Mr. Briggs.”
We get to the lounge and she and I rush to the window overlooking the field. There are all sorts of ships out there, passenger bugs, cargo bugs, some airplanes.
“Which one is ours?” I say, and Mom shows me the walkway from the lounge out to the bug. Then Cass starts telling the entire lounge about it and how far it can travel and how fast and every other detail she’s memorized about them.
We were loaded into the bug, but there was a glitch. Of course.
Seems that they’d screwed up when they were assigning seats.
I’ve got to explain about the labels on the seating. They’d done away with the airlines’ ‘First’, ‘Business’, and ‘Economy’ labels and gone with things more space-y. ‘Economy’ was now ‘Astronaut’; ‘Business’ was ‘Voyager’; and ‘First’ was ‘Explorer’.
Well, we were all supposed to be sitting in ‘Voyager’ class, because it was more comfortable and had better views out than ‘Astronaut’.
But somehow my ticket and Cass’s had been upgraded to ‘Explorer’.
We were ecstatic! But there was a problem.
See, ‘Explorer’ was on the deck right below the crew decks, and ‘Voyager’ the next level down. The problem was the passengers weren’t allowed to move between decks during the flight. The first part they couldn’t, because of the g forces, then during the coasting phase, well, most people were going to be dealing with spacesickness. So we’d be on the top deck and everyone else would be on the deck below.
First Dad tried to talk one of us into moving down so an adult could sit with the other one. No go. These were our seats, the woman said so, and we were not going to not sit together! Then Dad got sneaky and tried to convince the agent to let two of the adults sit there instead of us. But the agent, whose name I still remember, told him he couldn’t change the seating assignment now we were in the lounge. So sorry; it could have been done at check-in, but it wasn’t and I can’t do it now.
His name was Steve Miller and I think I fell in love with him just a little bit because of those words.
After a final, “You two behave!” from Dad, we took our seats with huge grins on our faces and stares from the other ‘Explorer’ passengers.
The window was only maybe twenty centimeters by thirty, not much bigger than a book, but it was big enough for both of us to press our foreheads to peer out. At least until the attendant told us we had to sit and strap in. We did so with barely contained eagerness; strapping in meant we were going to be launching soon!
First came the safety lecture. You know the one, don’t you? It’s a little different for a jump bug than an airplane. “In case of loss of cabin pressure, stay strapped in. Do not attempt to move about the cabin. Automatic systems will deploy to seal the leak, if possible.” No oxygen masks; if we lose pressure at 100 kilometers above the surface, we’re pretty well dead!
“In case of an unpowered reentry, remain seated and cover your head with your hands.” In other words, tuck your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye, because an unpowered reentry means we’re either burning up or smashing into the surface; either way, you’re done.
We didn’t know any of this, so we listened carefully and made sure everything was where it was supposed to be, and then it was time.
The first sign we were really going was a low rumbling, felt more than heard, as the booster rockets ignited. Then the rumble became a growl and the growl became a roar and then we had all the weight in the world pressing down on us and I just about managed to turn my head to see Cass smashed flat into the seat just like me but with the biggest happiest smile on her face.
Boost went on forever and lasted four minutes, then we were on our ballistic arc out of the atmosphere and over to Florida.
I’ve never been prone to spacesickness. Ever. Zero-g simply doesn’t bother me. Cass, well, she wasn’t happy, but she wasn’t sick. She simply didn’t want to move overmuch.
When I could I unstrapped my belt and floated over Cass to the window. We’d lucked out and were at just the right angle to see both the Earth below and the horizon and stars beyond.
I’ll never forget that view.
There was our beautiful planet, streaking by below, golds and whites and browns and greys changing, as we watched, to greens and browns and blues as we streaked southward. I could see the tops of the clouds, white and fluffy, dark and angular, storms and drifts and curls. Cass was trying to point out details and names but I told her to shush, I just wanted to look, and eventually she did.
I could hear her still whispering the names to herself, and that was fine. It made her happy to say them, so why should it bother me?
Far too soon we were being instructed to return to our seats and prepare for re-entry. I buckled in and leaned as far over Cass as I could still manage, watching as the bug pivoted. I lost sight of Earth but was treated to a full view of the stars in all their glory.
I had never known they could shine so bright.
Then the retro-rockets fired and we were kicked back into our seats. Gravity returned with a vengeance, though I suspect it was much to the relief of many, and then it disappeared again. Free-fall only last a few seconds this time, then Earth stretched out her fingers and drew us back in. We descended, falling backwards out of the black, the sky gradually turning bluer and bluer. We passed through a cloud, a hazy impression which whipped past in an instant.
Then gravity decided it wanted our attention again and smashed us into our seats, the rockets firing, screaming their defiance at the ground rushing to meet us!
And we were down, not even a bump to mark the transition, only the sudden cessation of noise. Then the attendant was speaking, saying, “Welcome to Orlando McCoy International Jump Port.”
“But he just got here?” said Cass.
“Um,” was all I could say.
Never did figure that one out.
Okay, so next time it’s on to Disney!