The second installment in the series

Flyover Country

Vol. 16 // 2021

Art PVP – Market copyright cartoon volcanic via Creative Market

Part 2

…“Happy Birthday, Grandmaaaaa!” her 13-year old granddaughter Magdalene shouted to her. What a voice she had, Marie thought. She thought she caught a wildly waving arm gesticulating at her from inside a Boeing DM-6. This series of aircraft resembled what was once called a minivan, a long rectangular fuselage with seats for six people and the ability to fold its seats flat to carry cargo, everything from basketball teams to furniture to livestock to a cord of firewood had been carried aboard them. At least, that’s what the commercials said. It was a smoother ride, but a slower one. It had six larger engines, and greater battery capacity, but it was better suited to suburban or rural environments rather than the urban core neighborhoods that were no problem for a smaller aircraft like the GH-2 on which they had flown their first leg. The biggest distinction for travelers was that its interior felt more like a cabin, not a cockpit.

Marie quickened her pace and William sprinted around her to leap inside and grab the seat next to his sister, two years older and still wearing the soccer clothes from her game.

“Did you win?” Marie asked.

“Yes!” Maggie said, “overtime and sudden death. I didn’t have time to change.”

“I’m just glad you’re here,” Marie said.

“Happy birthday, mom,” said Luisa, her daughter. “Come sit up front by me.”

Her husband, who went by CJ, smiled and reached up to squeeze her hand in greeting.

“We’re racing the sun, aren’t we? Let’s go!” Marie said.

Once buckled in, Bertie explained the flight route as the elegant gullwing doors on both sides of the aircraft slowly lowered. The aircraft jerked softly, like the start of an amusement park ride, as a moving-sidewalk transported the entire aircraft to the flight line. This allowed a far safer interior environment and kept the conductive chargers running until the very moment they reached the departure bay – and lift off. Within a minute, they were poised to take off. Warmth and light washed over the cabin as their hangar’s outer doors parted to let in dazzling post-storm sun.

For the first few moments the group said little, comfortable in the proximity of reunited family. Marie studied her daughter Luisa in the seat next to her. While she saw her almost every week for dinner or to help watch the kids or just to have coffee, there was always something different about her. She had a new pair of earrings, pieces of egg-shaped turquoise. And maybe her black hair was shorter, just above the shoulders. Given how much energy people put into their appearances, less out of vanity but more as creative expression, Marie would need to ask in a bit.

“How was your trip so far?” said CJ, who managed a Swedish lending library franchise that offered everything from machine-learning algorithms to table-sized carbon-press mandrels — even books that smelled of cedar.

“Perfect,” said Marie. “William and I had a great time. Even took a nap.”

“We should be there in about an hour,” said CJ. “Thirsty?”

“No, I’m fine, thank you,” Marie responded. CJ handed his wife a bottle of green tea.

“You should see the picnic,” Maggie said. “Wow.”

“Shhhhhh,” Luisa gestured smilingly.

Within a few minutes, everybody but Marie was engrossed in their AR feeds. Time, space and the immediate environment had taken on different meanings in this modern age. She put on her own glasses, no less enthused. The world had so much to know, just as people had so much to see. Since the advent of the airborne mobility economy, the physical world regained a new importance as a means to connect emotionally, spiritually, or even naturally. The AR and other virtual experiences between trips were part of that evolving experience, and it was not unique to America or even western countries. It was a global movement, aided by democratized access to the skies that truly allowed people to live life in three-dimensions.

“Good afternoon, this is your onboard aviator, Bertie. Weather predictions indicate that we will be slightly ahead of schedule thanks to a tailwind that will develop soon, reducing our remaining flight time to about 48 minutes. Since we’ll have a bit less time in the air, I thought I would offer a chance to view hologram images from a recent trip to the Grand Canyon that might help you select the best spot to view the sunset.”

“Sure, thank you, Bertie,” said Marie.

Art PVP – Market copyright metro wagon via Creative Market

Luisa looked back at CJ and gave him a strained smile, Marie noticed. It was subtle, but the kind of thing a mother does not miss. It was true, Marie acknowledged to herself, she usually let “HI” or human-interface AIs like Bertie go on even when it was completely fine to tell them no.

Anyway, it was her birthday. It was what she wanted. She liked the certainty in his voice.

Whether or not everybody else followed Bertie’s tour of the South Rim area, their general destination, was not something with which Marie concerned herself. The stunning holograms revealed a slightly spectral rendition of pink and orange sunsets, light brushing across the rocks that quickly turned a cold-looking grey once the light faded.

“Where is that one?” asked Marie.

“That’s Hopi Point,” Bertie replied. “The red rocks and the grey sky are a beautiful combination, aren’t they? I would be more than happy to shift our arrival point; currently, there is adequate landing capacity.”

“Actually, we’re still going to our planned destination near Yavapi Point,” said Luisa. “Thank you, Bertie.”

“OK,” said Marie. She told herself that the view would be memorable anywhere, and that what mattered was that they were together and were going to have a wonderful time.

Luisa patted her mother’s knee and gave her a reassuring smile.

A short while later, Bertie reengaged with the passengers. “If you look out the left side, you’ll be able to see the Grand Canyon,” said Bertie. “We’ll be landing in a few minutes.”

Out the left-side window, a rectangular shape set inside the gullwing door, the expanse of the entire park came into view.

“Woah!” exclaimed young William. “So much deeper than it looked!”

“Nothing like seeing the real thing,” said Marie.

CJ had Maggie reach back into the cargo area to check that the two coolers they brought were secured. “Such a dad move,” she mumbled, and it was typical for him. Marie admired that constant diligence that never came across as worry, and thought it made him a great parent and partner.

After that there was little talking as their collective awe at the growing scale of the canyon left no room for conversation. Finding moments of shared reverence for the natural world was literally her life’s work as a teacher – and parent — and so she relished the amazement at something so simple as the human reaction to this particular combination of rock, atmosphere, and light.

Bertie put the air taxi down smoothly on a pad at the edge of the landing area. Marie fumbled with her seatbelt, quickly glanced out the window to see that it was quite crowded. That didn’t surprise her given it was a weekend.

“Ready, grandma?” Maggie said.

She was already half out the aircraft, holding out her hand for her mother to follow. Marie took her hand, enjoying the youthful strength in those soft, slender fingers.

Once clear of the door, she stood up. What she saw brought her to tears. At first she tried to fight it, holding back out of a desire to not embarrass herself. Or her family. But it was too beautiful to behold. So the tears came.

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!” a crowd of at least 100 people shouted to her.

Maggie squeezed her, and Luisa came over to give her a tender hug. CJ and William stood off to the side, wrestling with the coolers and they both looked like they were unsure of whether to give her a hug or let the three continue to have their moment a bit longer.

For Marie, it was overwhelming. She opened her eyes, she saw former students and colleagues, her best friend Reilly, old friends from childhood. Arm in arm, Marie, Luisa, and Maggie walked toward the crowd. They had flown in from all over Texas, and the rest of the country. But it didn’t matter where they lived. What truly mattered was where they went and who they were with.

For Part 1, read the previous issue of Cognitive Times.

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