#fridayflash: freedom

Here's this week's #fridayflash. Please leave comments/critiques!

John glanced at the clock on the microwave. He still had fifteen minutes to get to work. No problem; it was only 7:30, and the queues wouldn’t be that long this time of the morning.

He yawned, slugged back the remains of his coffee, and stuffed the last bite of toast into his mouth. Fortunately he’d had the wherewithal to leave his overcoat, hat, and briefcase by the door; it was a habit he was trying to keep, but some nights he forgot. He pulled his work keycard from the outside pocket of his briefcase and stuffed it in his overcoat pocket — the people behind always hated it when someone fumbled for their destination ID. On the way out the door he grabbed his house keycard from the row of hooks by the door and tapped it against the scanner in the hall to lock up.

On the street there were a fair number of people at the cafés and fast food outlets getting breakfast, but the commuter queues were only three or four people deep on the boulevards. A streetcar grumbled by with commuters who had less than the minimum transport length of ten kilometres to travel. John checked his pocket watch, which told him it was 7:40. He supposed he had enough time to get a coffee to go; the stuff at the office was awful, and there weren’t any cafés handy nearby.

There was a long queue at his favourite café, maybe a dozen people, but it moved quickly. John waited for another streetcar to pass so he could cross the road to the transport boulevard. He paused to admire the street. In some neighbourhoods they had just built right on top of the old parking lanes, but where John lived the old lanes had been resurfaced with paving stones — nicer for people to walk on than plain old asphalt. They’d added some trees in cement planters too. It looked good. You’d hardly know that ten years ago cars used to run on the same streets.

John picked a queue that looked like it was shorter than the others, then waited his turn. The commute was moving well this morning. A woman in a blue suit and a grey fedora was directly in front of him. John met her often, but didn’t know her name. He nodded hello when she noticed someone was behind her and glanced back. She smiled at him, and John smiled in return. Maybe in a few more weeks he would get a chance to ask her name.

It was the woman’s turn to commute. She stepped through the turnstile doors onto the pad, made a quarter-turn to the left, and reached back to tap her work keycard against the scanner. John always had fun watching how people used the transporter. Some people positioned themselves to suit the location of the departure pad. Some people planned how they would look when they arrived. The woman vanished in a burst of white light.

The turnstile doors hummed and the indicator light turned green, telling John the woman had transported to her destination and it was now his turn. He pushed his way through the doors, letting two fingers hook through his briefcase handle while the other three held his cup of coffee in the same hand.

Through the glass walls that surrounded the transport pad on three sides, John could see a young couple struggling with a beat-up couch on one of the oversized cartage pads. He rolled his eyes and wondered why they didn’t just rent a furniture cart like normal human beings. “Always has to be someone doing it the hard way,” he muttered to himself.

He reached into his coat pocket and tapped his work keycard against the scanner.

He was never sure if he actually did blink, but it felt like he had. One moment he was standing on the boulevard in front of his condo building; the next he was in the lobby of the office tower he worked in.

John stepped out the exit doors of the arrival pad and glanced at his watch. 7:45. He was doing well. He still had fifteen minutes before the morning status meeting.

He walked to the elevator bays and tapped his keycard against the elevator scanner. The elevator ascended to his office’s floor and he got out. As he reached his desk, he could hear Mike from Accounting complaining about his commute again.

“Twenty minutes today,” said Mike to Agnes, who was doing her best to pretend she was interested. “Twenty minutes, at seven in the morning! Don’t you think that’s insane?”

“You have to learn to keep calm about it, though,” said Agnes. “The cops are starting to crack down on queue rage.”

“People should be ready,” said Mike. “If they’re in the god-damned queue, they should be ready. Otherwise they’re just part of the traffic problem.”

John started his computer and sat down, leaning back and taking his first sip of coffee. It was still too hot to drink, so he hung his coat and hat up and made sure he was ready for the morning meeting while he waited for it to cool down.

“Hey John,” Mike called from across the office floor. “Got lunch plans today?”

“Just going home.”

“You always go home.”

“It’s cheaper and the food’s better.”

“Even with paying for transport four times a day instead of two? Are you sure?”

John grinned and headed back to his desk.

He checked his e-mail, dashed off a few quick replies, then locked his computer to go to the conference room for the status meeting. As he got up, he took a quick glance at his desktop wallpaper.

It was a photo of his father with his first car — a petroleum-burner that had constantly needed repairs. Whenever he took a good look at the photo, John remembered what his father had said when John was growing up: “You’ll never know. You’re never going to know what it feels like, to get that kind of freedom from owning a car.”

No, no he wouldn’t.