By: Lee Almodovar
"Watch" he whispered to his friend while leaning against the hood of his white HyWire X-Drive vehicle steadying a Spectre rifle on his broad shoulders. His long, dirty blond hair fell gingerly over his shoulders hiding the stems of his dark sunglasses resting on the bridge of his nose. The vehicle dipped slightly under his large body, but sustained his weight. A small beep inside alerted him to the pending release of school, and the ensuing need to pick up the kids from school. "Damn it."
He bid goodbye to his friend, stowed the rifle in the trunk, and lazily boarded the hybrid minivan. The communicator announced an incoming videocall from his wife. She stood halfway across the room, her figure barely visible in the communicator, her angelic voice filling the cabin of the vehicle as he drove down the isolated dirt roads towards the sprawling Edge City metropolis.
"Are you picking up the kids? I programmed the minivan to let you know...just in case you kids were having a little too much fun with your toys."
He rolled his eyes and puffed a strand of hair from his face. The vehicle rolled softly onto the paved road engaging the TransNet autodrive systems, redirecting the vehicle towards the schools in Central Plaza. The overhead BizTransNet highways provided shade from the looming solar triplets above, contrasted only by the overhead AeroTrain track winding around the buildings. The shade greater amplified as the clustering of the buildings increased all around. The lower highway departed from the main AeroTrain network weaving him through the picturesque dwellings of Edge City's residential zone. He watched waterfall cascades flowing off the rooftops of the prestigious dwellings, watching the water droplets glitter like trilithium crystals reflected off the regenerative windows of the buildings. The water, supplying an extensive park and pond surrounding the highway, flowed gracefully beneath his car reminding him of his love sitting just beyond the communications screen.
"We didn't get to play," he started while unlocking his safety belt moving towards the passenger seat in preparation for his eldest son wanting to drive once they left the city, "since I have to pick up the kids instead."
Her figure crossed the screen again, "I'm sorry, love. Pick up my herbs on your way back through the Business Plaza please?"
He nodded at the screen and shut it off. The buildings parted as he neared the streetways heading towards the large Nisian trees of Central Plaza. Their large oranges nearing ripeness, the vehicles moving through the area automatically accelerated in order to force any falling oranges to bounce off their exteriors rather than piercing through their roofs. Dots of shade filled the cabin as the large canopy above obscured the solar triplets. He depressed a comfort preference contact on the main panel slowly reclining his seat to view the rapidly flowing mesh of leaves and oranges above. The communicator beeped again. A screen installed in the ceiling illuminated showing his youngest daughter, four years young, peering down at his scruffy face. Her hair waved gently in the shallow breeze; he knew she was already standing outside waiting for him.
"Hi!" she yelled into the communicator, "Guess what I made?"
He smiled, his silver-gold eyes twinkling in the skewed sunlight, and answered as caringly as he could muster, "What?"
She laughed, cupping her small hands over her mouth and disappeared off the screen. Laughter and talking in the background indicated that her friends were still around. Her older sister stepped into view. She glared at him, obviously annoyed that he was running a little late. He shrugged his shoulders, and asked where her sister had gone. She tilted the communicator panel and pointed towards a small huddle of girls. The youngest separated from the group and skipped towards the communicator.
"Look!" She held up a small holodisc, and then placed the disc inside a handheld reader placing the reader on the ground and tilting the communicator towards the reader. The device whirled around producing a small holoemitter displaying a little unicorn running on a pasture accompanied by many little awkwardly drawn faeries. She turned it off, removing the disc, and stood close to the communicator. "I made it for mommy," she whispered in her sweetest little voice. T'om smiled, returning his glance to the road watching as the vehicle left the Central Plaza heading for a small elementary school near a clearing just east of the Plaza.
"I'm sure she'll love it," and reached forward turning off the communicator. The minivan stopped in front of the school, his middle daughter--Cassandra--stood on the curb watching her father lounge in his seat. The passenger door slid open, her youngest--Paige--skipping past the middle seats stopping only to give her big daddy a hug and kiss before settling in the far back seats staring at the glittering sunshine filtering through the trees. Cassandra huffed, pushing aside a golden strand of hair before climbing into the van and settling into the middle seat. She slid over slightly, and kissed her father on his forehead before sliding back into the seat. She reached up overhead pulling down a set of wireless headphones effectively drowning out the world.
The door slid closed again, and the minivan moved back onto the streetways heading towards Meridian City to pick up his eldest child, Donovan. Paige hummed a little song to herself watching the trees flow by the glass. Her eyes twinkled in the reflected sunlight. T'om hit a contact on the comfort panel sitting up again. "Accelerate, and prepare learner program for Donovan." The vehicle acknowledged the request, moving the control paddles up slightly, shifting the seat down and slightly back. The paddles locked on the steering column disengaging the control column and activating the accelerator and decelerator pedals. Process complete. Increasing speed. Destination in three minutes.
He depressed the comfort contact and lowered back into his resting position watching the trees disappear and the triplets reappear, their shared sunlight illuminating the cabin. The minivan rolled off the TransNet streetway switching into AutoDrive heading up the gravel covered hill towards the apprentice school situated on the rolling edge of a hill overlooking the towering TMC building and surrounding Edge City structures.
The communicator chimed in again, and Paige answered it in the back. "Dad?" Donovan's deep voice filled the cabin as the screens illuminated revealing his scruffy face, "I'm driving today, right?"
"Daddy set the training controls, and locked the paddles!" Paige chimed in the back, her warm mischievous smile filling the screen. T'om watched a split-screen from the front seat, catching his eldest roll his eyes.
"You said I could drive without the training mode, Dad," his face morphed into a scowl as snickers from his friends flooded the speakers.
"When we're not picking up your sisters, you can drive out of training mode," he waved to Paige motioning her to sit back down, "till then, you're stuck on training mode until Night Squadron or Special Ops gets off my butt."
Paige giggled wildly in the backseat chanting, "Daddy said butt" over and over. T'om turned to face her shooting a little scowl at her. She giggled, cupping her hands to her mouth again, then settled back into the seat.
"Fine," Donovan said obviously not amused, "I'll be waiting out front." The screen reset to its standard screens.
The minivan pulled up to the front of the towering school gates, its massive metallic doors covered in overgrowth from the surrounding vines. Donovan stood in front, flanked by his friends, wearing his usual black jumpsuit and trenchcoat. He greatly admired his father's ex-status with Special Ops, and planned to follow in his footsteps. The large Taroxian felt strongly against Donovan's decisions to follow him, but there was no swaying the boy.
Donovan opened the front door stepping into the seat, and settling into place. He touched controls on the steering column, but the car denied him access to the main control settings. T'om smiled at his son's attempt to disable the training mode. The AutoDrive disengaged as his friends piled into the remaining seats. T'om turned to launch a cold scowl at one of his friends trying to steal a look at Cassandra. The boy shifted away from the beautiful girl, whom coyly glanced at him before returning her gaze to the vast sunroof. The boy leaned forward and whispered, "Your dad is scary, man," at Donovan. Donovan glanced back at his friend, and nodded.
"What are you waiting for?" T'om said giving his son a slight shove, "Are you waiting for the Showers to come around, or should we just hold out for tomorrow?"
Donovan sighed heavily, and touched the accelerator pedal. The vehicle drove fluidly down the road slowly accelerating heading towards the TransNet enabled city and onwards towards Oakridge where T'om wife waited for the carpool. T'om leaned towards his son, "You know that you can take the scenic route if you'd like to drive longer."
Donovan shared his silver eyes with his father, and they brightened slightly at the thought of driving all the way around Edge City rather than through it. Since all traffic in Edge City was controlled by TransNet, he would have only driven from the Meridian City border, through Central Plaza, and then just outside Edge City to the Oakridge City border. The longer way was worth the effort, and Paige could at least spend a few more minutes staring at the nature she so loved.
"Really? So, mom won't mind if we don't pick up her herbs?" Donovan glanced at his father, and mashed the accelerator pedal launching the mini-van towards a dusty tree-enclosed trail heading towards protected forests just outside of Erdu City. The van glided effortlessly over the dirt road, kicking up small clouds of dirt that Paige watched intently through the back window. She still hummed her little tune, when her gaze fell upon the rifle sitting in the trunk. Her little hand dipped down into the trunk area, and T'om yelled at her instantly. She had tripped the motion sensor in the back, and he was instantly alerted in the front. Paige huffed, and sat back down, arms crossed and glowering at her Daddy. He sat up, turned to face her, and mouthed the words, "You can come next time." She slowly mouthed the same words back, then smiled and disappeared behind the middle seats.
"Approaching Erdu City checkpoint. Sending authentication codes," declared the vehicle in its soft female voice while Donovan decelerated. The trees parted allowing the sunlight from Solaris I to filter through the leaves and fill the cabin of the vehicle. Cassandra, or Cass as she preferred to be called, removed her headphones and coyly glanced at Donovan's friend, J'el. J'el was top in his class at the apprenticeship academy, son to the most prominent Nisian scientist, yet a complete flake. While only two years older than Cass, he fell in love with the girl early last year when Donovan had started learning to drive.
Cass had a long-standing crush on the boy, and had talked to her mother about the feelings she harbored for him. She couldn't bring herself to admit anything to her father. He was too overprotective of his little girls. But, she wasn't little anymore. And, J'el was the most handsome of all the other boys her age. Secretly, T'om knew of all this. And, he didn't mind their childhood loves. But, he knew what J'el represented in the great scheme of things, and he didn't want his daughter to become involved in that. At least, not right now.
The minivan neared the Erdu border, with its picturesque Elken trees hanging their vines just above the minivan's roof, driving on towards its quaint downtown area just beyond towards the main road out of Erdu. Heading past Ryan's home and down the dusty trail towards Scientia Hill. Just over Scientia Hill and past the sprawling fields of Zedari on towards the outskirts of Oakridge. Donovan brought the minivan to a halt at the central fountain in Erdu City's downtown.
"Why are you stopping?" T'om asked, bringing his seat back up from its reposed position.
Donovan pulled a small coin purse from the depths of his trenchcoat while opening the door, "Mom's herbs. Only the finest from Erdu. Not those hyped up imitations from Edge City." He stepped out and ran towards a small cottage style shop opposite the fountain. Other children played around the fountain, some still dressed in their school uniforms. A familiar little blue Electriz HyWire sat at the store next to the herbs shoppe. T'om turned to face the kids, informing them that he'd be right back. He stepped out of the minivan, only to be joined by Paige--her little hand dwarfed in her father's hand--walking towards the car.
Her hair flowed as they walked, their footsteps muffled on the cobblestone walks around the fountain. The air smelled sweetly of Elken berries, and dots of light danced around on the ground as the trees swayed in the mountain breeze. They approached the small grocer store, only to be greeted by Myst, Ryan's cat, standing at the foot of the entrance. Paige knelt down to pet the jet-black kitty while T'om glanced through the stained glass windows looking for Ryan.
Donovan yelled at both of them when he emerged from the herbs shoppe, and T'om--after talking a few minutes with Ryan--scooped his daughter up onto his shoulder and walked back towards the minivan. Paige giggled and wiggled on her father's shoulder. Once settled inside the van, they resumed their journey through Erdu. Just past Ryan's home, the massive skyscape of Edge City pierced through the low-lying clouds just above the University area. Donovan handled the minivan with such expertise that T'om released the training controls at the bottom of Scientia Hill.
After the vehicle had announced the training program's termination, Donovan grasped onto the control paddles slowly twisting the accelerator paddle. The minivan responded instantly moving the vehicle slowly up the hill. Paige whistled at the birds flying around the minivan as it made its way up the hill. T'om glanced back towards his daughters, catching Cass's hand resting on J'el's hand, and watching Paige press her little nose on the glass fogging up the window with her whistling.