by Mark Rosenfelder
Roger and Ann needed to meet Sergey in San Francisco.
"Should we take a train, or a steamship, or a plane?" asked Ann.
"Trains are too slow, and the trip by steamship around South America would take months," replied Roger. "We'll take a plane."
He logged onto the central network using his personal computer, and waited while the system verified his identity. With a few keystrokes he entered an electronic ticketing system, and entered the codes for his point of departure and his destination. In moments the computer displayed a list of possible flights, and he picked the earliest one. Dollars were automatically deducted from his personal account to pay for the transaction.
The planes left from the city airport, which they reached using the city bi-rail. Ann had changed into her travelling outfit, which consisted of a light shirt in polycarbon-derived artifical fabric, which showed off her pert figure, without genetic enhancements, and dark blue pants made of textiles. Her attractive brown hair was uncovered.
At the airport Roger presented their identification cards to a representative of the airline company, who used her own computer system to check his identity and retrieve his itinerary. She entered a confirmation number, and gave him two passes which gave them access to the boarding area. They now underwent a security inspection, which was required for all airline flights. They handed their luggage to another representative; it would be transported in a separate, unpressurized chamber on the aircraft.
"Do you think we'll be flying on a propeller plane? Or one of the newer jets?" asked Ann.
"I'm sure it will be a jet," said Roger. "Propeller planes are almost entirely out of date, after all. On the other hand, rocket engines are still experimental. It's said that when they're in general use, trips like this will take an hour at most. This one will take up to four hours."
After a short wait, they were ushered onto the plane with the other passengers. The plane was an enormous steel cylinder at least a hundred meters long, with sleek backswept wings on which four jet engines were mounted. They glanced into the front cabin and saw the two pilots, consulting a bank of equipment needed the fly the plane. Roger was glad that he did not need to fly the plane himself; it was a difficult profession which required years of training.
The surprisingly large passenger area was equipped with soft benches, and windows through which they could look down at the countryside as they flew 11 km high at more than 800 km/h. There were nozzles for the pressurized air which kept the atmosphere in the cabin warm and comfortable despite the coldness of the stratosphere.
"I'm a little nervous," Ann said, before the plane took off.
"There's nothing to worry about," he assured her. "These flights are entirely routine. You're safer than you are in our ground transport cars!"
Despite his calm words, Roger had to admit to some nervousness as the pilot took off, and the land dropped away below them. He and the other passengers watched out the windows for a long time. With difficulty, he could make out houses and farms and moving vehicles far below.
"There are more people going to San Francisco today than I would have expected," he remarked.
"Some of them may in fact be going elsewhere," she answered. "As you know, it's expensive to provide airplane links between all possible locations. We employ a hub system, and people from smaller cities travel first to the hub, and then to their final destination. Fortunately, you found us a flight that takes us straight to San Francisco."
When they arrived at the San Francisco airport, agents of the airline company helped them out of their seats and retrieved their luggage, checking the numeric tags to ensure that they were given to the right people.
"I can hardly believe we're already in another city," said Ann. "Just four hours ago we were in Chicago."
"We're not quite there!" corrected Roger. "We're in the airport, which is some distance from the city, since it requires a good deal of space on the ground, and because of occasional accidents. From here we'll take a smaller vehicle into the city."
They selected one of the hydrocarbon-powered ground transports from the queue which waited outside the airport. The fee was small enough that it was not paid electronically, but using portable dollar tokens. The driver conducted his car unit into the city; though he drove only at 100 km/hr, it felt much faster since they were only a meter from the concrete road surface. He looked over at Ann, concerned that the speed might alarm her; but she seemed to be enjoying the ride. A game girl, and intelligent as well!
At last the driver stopped his car, and they had arrived. Electronic self-opening doors welcomed them to Sergey's building. The entire trip had taken less than seven hours.