I was one of the last of our group to realize what had happened. I was returning home from a conference in Johannesburg and was looking forward to being on vacation for the next few weeks. It had been a long but inspiring trip — consulting on new uses of industrial waste in Tunis, an audit of a recently opened waste reclamation project in Lagos, and then the Jo’burg conference. My talk was well received and there was an excellent presentation on a new use of carbon dioxide that both reduces its impact on climate change and provides cost effective protein for food. It was impressive work.
The flight had been smooth and I slept comfortably most of the way. Through some reservation mix-up, I ended up with an aisle rather than my preferred window seat. That was one reason I found out late. My seat mates both had tight connections so I let them out first and sat down again one row up to let others who were rushing pass through.
My flight didn’t leave for several hours and it would be many more before I made it home to Arkansas. I couldn’t wait for the vacation. There would be no major responsibilities until after Labor Day and, major plus, I’d get to see my first total solar eclipse. There had been so much planning for the Great American Eclipse of 2017.
While I waited, I called my husband to let him know I’d landed. He didn’t answer and for some reason, I couldn’t leave a message. The same thing happened when I called my daughter so I just texted them both. It was days before I realized that the one to my husband was never delivered. Just as I finished, I noticed worried looks on the faces of the flight staff.
“Is something wrong?” There were just a few passengers left on the plane now.
“One moment, please.” The flight attendant, who’d been working first class, heard me but turned away when the pilot called him.
Another attendant who worked in my area answered. “There appears to have been some sort of, well, mishap.” She looked toward the pilot but she offered no assistance. “Come with me.”
I unplugged my phone and got my purse. She moved as if to get my roller bag from the overhead bin, but I was closer and got it down without a problem. I don’t mind claiming middle age but years of yoga and swimming made help with my bags unnecessary. I appreciated the thought though.
We walked quickly through the jetway and exited into the gate area which was still crowded with all the passengers from my flight. I had a fleeting thought about how strange that was. Several airline representatives were there apparently rebooking the passengers and someone from airport security was speaking.
“. . . and make any additional travel arrangements. Again, the current date is June 28, 2037. We do not know how this happened but we will get you to the destination of your choice quickly and safely. Please see a reservation agent to provide your contact information, collect reentry materials, and make any additional travel arrangements.”
“What?” I thought I must have misheard so I listened to him say the same thing again. I turned to the flight attendant but she looked just as confused as everyone else. It was true. Twenty years. Gone. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply to settle myself. Guide me, please, I prayed. My husband would be in his 80s. I wouldn’t let myself wonder if he was still alive. My daughter is 47. I had to get home.
My phone buzzed to show a text from my daughter.
“Mommy! Can’t wait to see you! Come to LIT as soon as I can. We’ll be waiting. I love you!”
She’s alive! I let myself believe that ‘we’ meant my husband was too.
Then another text. “Voice calls don’t work. Text when you can. Love you! See you soon!”
I found the second shortest line since the shortest one was slowed by a man who was wailing. Perfectly understandable. I’d probably be doing the same if I hadn’t just heard from my daughter. I was staring at the text, still breathing deeply.
The young man in front of me turned around. “Our phone cords don’t work now so you may want to save your battery.”
“No worries. Do you have a plan?”
“Not much of one, but I’ve heard from my daughter and she’ll be waiting for me in Little Rock when I get there. I don’t know when that will be though. And you?”
“We live here and my husband is on his way over. All the families were notified as soon as we landed. They’re stunned.”
“I am too.” But it was only then that I realized that my family thought I was dead.
He stepped to the desk, gave his name, was handed a bundle and directed to some sort of screening area. I moved up.
“Thank you for your patience.” The woman looked to be about the same age as my daughter but then I remembered that my daughter wasn’t 27 anymore. “Do you have someone to meet you in the Bay Area?”
“No. I’d like to get home to Little Rock, please.”
“Of course, is there someone there to meet you?”
“Yes, my daughter and husband will be there.” I hoped that was true.
“Would you like to call her?”
“Yes please!” I didn’t reach her but at least was able to leave a voicemail. “Hey sweetheart! I’m at SFO but will be home at . . .” I looked at the woman.
“7:15 tonight. Can’t wait to see you all!”
“Here’s your boarding pass and docs.” She handed me a two-inch square orange plastic card with my name on one side and some irregular brown crosshatching on the other. “This is your temporary identification. It’s like the ones issued to refugees.”
Refugees flee war, natural disaster, economic collapse. I’m fleeing time, I thought. I’m a temporal refugee,
“Keep it with you all the times. Once you get resettled you’ll be issued a permanent one.” She reached in her drawer for something else.
“And you’ll also need this.” She handed me a small disc about the size of a Sacagawea dollar, except it was blue and had a circle with the number one on one side and on the other, two circles each with the number nine. “This a Universal 199. You’ll have an escort on your trip. All the 008-ers do. But if anything happens, any sort of emergency anywhere, at any time, just press these three numbers and help will come.”
“Thanks.” 199 was the emergency number in some countries. Maybe it’s the number here now. “Wait, what time is it?”
My phone hadn’t updated the time (or year) and I needed to save the battery anyway. “That seems fast. How can I get there that quickly?”
“Hyperloop. It’ll only take an about hour. It’s sort of like a . . . “
“Like a train!” I’d read about the development of the hyperloop just days ago. I took the disc and documents and noticed information for counseling services in the packet. I put the bundle in my purse.
She directed me the screening area where an older man instructed me to breathe several times into a device.
“We’ve eliminated several major diseases in the last twenty years — polio, guinea worm, HIV, malaria, and others.” I was still breathing in the tube. “We’re checking for those, some of the chronics like cancer and dementia, and basic vitals.” He removed the tube. “You’re fine — normal temp, none of the big six conditions. Welcome back and travel safely.”
I was directed to the hyperloop waiting area. My escort would join me shortly so I finally had a few minutes to myself. In some ways things seemed normal — I was on my way home to see my daughter, just like I planned when I left Tokyo yesterday, but I’d missed so much. For one, my dad was sure to be gone by now. It was unreasonable to expect otherwise. I hate he had to deal with my sudden disappearance or, for all he knew, death. I hate that for all of them. My daughter is now fully grown, in the prime of her life. I had been too, just yesterday. But that could be lost, unrecoverable perhaps. My cheeks were wet now.
I thought about all the men I’d read about who lost decades of their livelihood while falsely imprisoned and wondered if I understood some small part of how they felt upon release. The world has changed so much and we, the so called 008-ers, haven’t kept up. My mind wandered again to my husband, but I could not bear the thought of him potentially gone and instead chose to focus on the fact that I’d missed yet another solar eclipse. I’d even missed the one bringing totality to Little Rock in 2024. The absurdity of prioritizing that loss made me smile.
I remembered twenty years prior to my yesterday, closed my eyes, and considered the scope of the elapsed change.
Soon, my escort arrived with seven other people from my flight. I opened my eyes and we just looked at each other. No one said a word. The reality was starting to sink in for us. My grandmother would have said we looked shell shocked.
The escort has a tablet computer along with a small roller bag. “Would you all like something to eat? I’ll pass around the menu. Just select what you want and it will be waiting for you on the hyperloop.”
The curried chickpea dish looked good.
“Where’s the meat? Can I get some beef on this?” That was one of my seatmates who rushed off the plane to make his connection. He was getting agitated
“Of course. Is plant-based okay?”
“Huh?” Now he just looked confused.
“I’ll find cow-based.”
Everyone else in our group seemed fine with the options presented. Or maybe they had too many other things on their mind.
The escort typed a bit then put the tablet away. “We’ll board the Little Rock hyperloop in 20 minutes. It will leave 15 minutes after that and we’ll be in Little Rock in just over an hour.” There was some murmuring. “I can imagine that must be startling.”
“How would you know? Were you even alive in 2017?” That was my seatmate again. He was back to being agitated.
“Actually, I do remember the 20-teens. Only those of us who do are allowed to escort 008-ers. TSA thought that might help ease our travel together and your transition. I’m happy to answer any questions you all have or at least lead you in the right direction.”
“Why are we being taken to Little Rock? It’s called flyover country for a reason.”
As much as I love Arkansas, I’d wondered why so many people were going. There wasn’t even a direct flight from San Francisco the last time I left.
“I’m sure that must be surprising. Many of what used to be rural or mid-sized cities are now economic hubs for the country. The water farms are generally placed in areas with good access to previously emptying aquifers, rivers, or lakes so that the condensed from the air can be stored for later use. Many of your families moved to around Little Rock to work on the condensing farms. There are similar clusters around Louisville, Kentucky; Boise, Idaho, and all over the Global South. Basically, this means water shortages no longer occur and the middle of the country is definitely a destination.
I made mental note to research the water farms and find out what kind of waste they produced. Then I raised my hand. “What was the device we blew into for the health screening?
“Yes, that’s a heptacorder. It uses exhaled breath, saliva, cells, the oral microbiome, and more to measure indicators of seven body systems. It’s revolutionized routine medical exams because it’s so effective and relatively inexpensive.” The escort typed something every time we asked a question. “We’re collecting all of your questions so we can share the responses with all passengers and crew. We’ll have time for more on the hyperloop. Let’s head that way.”
The boarding process was surprisingly simple. I’d learn on the Loop that that was because the security screens were integrated into the architecture of the building. The escort showed us how to use the internet enabled seating. There was a screen and a headset with glasses and earbuds. My chickpeas came and they were delicious. I ate and read and watched the 3-D videos about the challenges of managing water farm waste, the relationship between lunar and deep-sea robotics, and how CRISPRII (evidently, pronounced like ‘CRISPR two’) was causing class and biological divides in ways that had bioethicists had warned about in the 20-teens. It was all interesting but was really just a good way to keep my mind from wandering to places I wasn’t yet ready for it to go. From the looks on the faces of my companions, not everyone had made the same choice.
The trip was smooth and very fast. The countryside had changed. There were now water farms with houses nearby every few miles. These created a network of people and the businesses and infrastructure to support them spread throughout the area.
As we approached Little Rock, changes were immediately evident. My city was a transportation hub. Hyperloop tube-tracks stretched in every direction. The airport had four concourses, not just the one I remember, and electric trains replaced the interior lanes on the highways. The boat traffic hadn’t changed much though, perhaps to preserve water quality and storage options.
We pulled to a stop. Crowds were waiting, including lots of people from the internet news sites I’d been reading on the Loop. I recognized some of the logos. The families had special access though and I saw my daughter waiting for me. No one was with her.
After reminding us to double check for our new IDs, the escort led us off the Loop and toward our families. I could see my daughter was crying. I didn’t see her father. A young man about high school age carrying gerbera daisies, joined her. Once she saw me, she ran calling “Mommy!”. I was crying too by then and running toward her. We hugged and cried and she cupped my face to be sure I was real. “Mommy.” She was almost whispering. “Mommy, this is the day of my dreams. I never thought you’d be home again.”
The young man caught up with us. My daughter took his hand and pulled him to our circle. “Mommy. This,” She caught her breath. “This is your grandson.”
I was stunned. My grandson? I hugged him tight and then took his face in my hands.
“Welcome home,” he said. When he spoke and smiled, I realized how much he looked like his granddaddy.
“You’re Daddy?” I turned to my daughter. “Is he . . .” I didn’t want to a say anything more.
“He’s fine Mommy. Just fine. We’ll plan to see him soon.” The look on my daughter’s face said this was true. She was never one to lie.
The next few days we spent at home learning about each other’s lives. My daughter is a neuroscientist and had recently found a significant correlation between CRISPRII and a new form of dementia. The hope is that the treatments for Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body, and other dementias will work on this new form, but that hasn’t been shown yet. She still sews.
My brilliant grandson is a writer and programmer and will enroll at Swarthmore College in the fall. He wants to be an attorney like my daddy, rest his soul. I had a so-called “geriatric” pregnancy so I never expected to know my grandchildren. What a gift my grandson is!
And my wonderful husband. We have talked by video several times since he lives in Ghana now where he still advises his literacy company. Soon after I disappeared, he completed development of software that that teaches children basic reading, writing, logic, and mathematics. In conjunction with Ashesi College, they are now adapting the software to the languages of the world in an effort to eliminate illiteracy and preserve endangered languages. I am so very proud of him.
He has a new wife, though I guess she’s only new to me since they’ve been married fourteen years. She retired from work as a women’s health advocate and now runs a small water farm in the Volta region. We’re discussing ways the waste could be used. She’s going to be great to work with.
I got my permanent ID in August and, with some help from my grandson, learned how to use the crosshatch barcode. We’re already have a family trip to Ghana scheduled for December. And we will be there long enough to catch the January solar eclipse. It will be my first.