Vale bolted through the door of her cookie-cutter house as soon as her mother, Kriss turned her back. She couldn’t take that look of disapproval today, not when history was being made just a few blocks away. She knew that Kriss would forbid her from going if she knew what Vale’s plan was. But she had to do this before she lost her chance.
Turning the corner down the street, Vale ran by a small store and caught her blurred reflection as she dashed passed. Her messy black hair was pulled into a ponytail and her dark green eyes were bright with excitement. She sprinted across the busy street, ducking under hovercars that honked in protest and she skidded to a stop on the sidewalk outside of an electronic store with a large neon sign posted in the display window.
Own Your Very Own Robot!
Perfect Companion, Maid, and Interpreter.
1,300 Petabytes. 325th Generation! Only 400 Painite’s!
Vale openly laughed. Robots had been as common as household pets for years, and yet, somehow, they still found a way to upgrade them like any Apple product from back in the early twenty-first century. Now in the year, 2312 things were different. Technology touched everything. People ate food made by technology, were taught by technology and were transported by technology. Most human interaction wasn’t even necessary, which caused every new conversation to come across as strange and full of anxiety.
There was hardly a job that a robot or computer couldn’t do better, so the thought of any human having a job seemed silly. Instead, if people wanted to work, their only option was to be in the entertainment industry. Humans could write books, paint pictures, star in television shows, and create music. Entertainment was the only job that robots didn’t run. Food and other items were dirt cheap, and money literally grew on trees in beautiful gems called painite’s. Kriss had a tree full of them in their backyard.
Vale was short on time. Pulling a small sphere out of her backpack, she threw it on the ground and watched it expand into a large hover disk. Stepping on it, she kicked the ground and was propelled forward at forty miles an hour.
Rounding the corner, she shot down a small alley, her eyes glued to a set of large letters in the distance. “Balboa Pier” was written onto a faded broken-down sign that looked out of place, too old for its surroundings. Vale had always wondered what that name meant. All people could tell her was that it was from before their time.
Balboa Pier was used as a cargo dock, with stacks of metal containers blocking the ocean’s horizon across the open water. A swirl of fish and oil filled the air, growing stronger the closer Vale got to the dock. She spotted a large metal platform that held a crowd standing next to a massive ship.
Vale slowed the hover disk, jumped off, and shoved it into her bag as it retracted into a small circle. She ran up the dock towards the crowd, her eyes focused on the large ship ahead, struck by how breathtaking it was.
She had never seen anything so magnificent in her entire life. The Libertatem was the first Lightning Seeker airship to be controlled solely by humans. It was styled to look similar to the sea-bound ships that sailed the seas before her, with one minor difference. Jets and air propellers adorned her exterior, ready to thrust her into the sky. The jets were designed to take in the carbon dioxide and pump out oxygen. The mainmast was over one hundred feet tall, and the length from the bow to the stern was seventy-five feet. The ship was made up of red oak, with a black cherry hue. It was menacing, terrifying, and beautiful.
The ship emanated a deep foreboding hum as Vale approached it. She couldn’t decide if it was warning her to stay away or calling her to come closer. She soaked in the sight as she walked the length of the dock and pushed through the crowd of people that waited to watch the captain take the ship up.
Ever since Vale could remember, technology had piloted every form of transportation. This ship in particular was called a Lightning Seeker. It was in charge of bringing back large amounts of electrical energy. This energy powered the city of Newport with what could only be found in lightning storms.
Lately, however, the sky had become a dangerous place, and no one wanted to send up robots anymore. They would short circuit and malfunction, their metal-framed bodies serving as perfect lighting conductors, setting too many ships on fire. Several different energy sources were sought out, but nothing came as close to the power found in lighting.
Society had begun to struggle under the high demand for electrical energy and people began to grow irritated as demands were placed upon them to conserve. The world tried to make do with less productive energy sources.
Until a month ago, when a man named Mortem offered to take over as a lightning seeker, stating that he could do the job better than the machines. It caused an uproar across the world. No one had ever dared to state they could do better. To challenge a machine was insanity.
Vale stared up at the ship, watching the crew shout to each other in the language of the sky. One that had grown turse, rough, and vulgar. She couldn’t help but grin as she watched them bicker, comfortable in their conversations like it was an everyday occurrence. She had wanted to be on a ship from the time she was little and knew today, against all odds, that she would become a Lightning Seeker.
Vale was tired of living a life with no meaning, no connection, no natural conversations. She wanted to go on an adventure, serve a purpose, and meet people but had been told countless times that she needed to leave those thoughts behind. Work was for robots. It was better to dive into the world of technology and forget the rest.
She had tried to get lost in the virtual worlds, attempting to create and interact, but it just wasn’t real. She always left feeling lonely, disconnected, unhappy. She wanted to make something of herself. Prove that her life mattered.
It was only when Vale had seen the virtual news article about the airship that she knew what she had to do. Vale would find a way to get on board that ship, find a real adventure that couldn’t be virtualized with a written program, and connect with the crew.
She spotted Captain Mortem at the starboard side of the ship. The man looked down at the people below who were chatting excitedly among themselves with a look of irritation. Mortem was a tall, tan man who appeared to be in his mid-forties. His black facial hair was peppered with strands of white that matched his stern brows. He wore a large hat covered in old worn feathers that looked like an ancient bird, ready to take flight at any moment. A thick black jacket with bronze buttons could barely stay shut around his large round belly.
Vale recalled reading an article about Mortem. He grew up on an island somewhere east, his thick accent acting as his calling card to his life as a fisherman before the robots had taken over that job. Mortem knew ships well and was the only man crazy enough to captain this ship on her maiden voyage. If he could bring back the lightning that Newport desperately needed, he would give humans a fighting chance at proving their worth.
Vale ran towards the ship, Mortem in her sights. When she reached the end of the dock, she shouted up at Captain Mortem. “Sir!”
Mortem looked down at her for a moment, and then as if Vale were merely a small fly, gave a disgusted wave of his hand, dismissing her.
Vale yelled again undeterred, “Captain Mortem!”
Mortem looked down, annoyed, but answered with a loud bark, “What do ye want?”
Vale answered quickly before she could lose her nerve, “I have come to join your crew, sir.”
Mortem gave a full-bellied laugh, “and what makes ye think this is a place for a wee young ’un?”
Vale cleared her throat and rose to her full height of five four, “I am eighteen as of yesterday sir. I am old enough to be considered an adult.”
Mortem furrowed his brows, unconvinced. “We ’ave an adult on our ’ands now do we? We already ’ave enough ’elp girl. Don’t waste me time.” He walked away and began to shout at his crew to set off.
Vale was not going to take no for an answer. She had memorized every part of the ship schematics in the weeks leading up to this and knew she could get on board. She wasn’t planning on going home.
The ship gave a deeper hum and slowly began to lift into the air. Vale only had moments to act before her opportunity would be gone.
She quickly pulled her hover disk from her backpack and changed its setting to “boost.” Jumping onto her board, she was launched into the air. The ship was already several hundred feet up, and Vale knew the board would only get her part of the way up the ship’s side. Pulling the disk out from underneath her feet, she quickly shoved it back into her backpack before slamming into the side of the ship, scrambling for anything to grip before she slid off and fell into the shallow waters below.
Her fingers met a small lip in the wood in between two portholes, clutching it as tightly as she could. Taking a chance, she turned and looked down. The city of Newport Beach had never looked so small. She could see her house, the roof painted in neon green. Kriss had painted it that color, wanting their home to stand out from all the others in their area. Mission accomplished, she thought sarcastically.
Vale found her footing in a small knot of wood and began to slide herself towards the left porthole. After several heart wrenching near misses, she slid through the porthole and fell inside. She hugged the floor, relieved that she hadn’t plummeted to her death in the most painful bellyflop imaginable.
She quickly got to her feet and scanned the room she had crawled into. The humming she had heard was twice as loud now. She found the source; a large generator placed in the corner of what looked to be the crews sleeping quarters. Hammocks stacked in threes filled the small space. No one seemed to be below deck.
Walking over to the hammocks, she found an empty one and flung her backpack on, claiming it. It was too late to kick her off the ship so she might as well make herself at home. The other hammocks were filled with clothes, odd trinkets, and pictures of family members.
Turning, she found the stairs to the upper deck and took them two at a time. The sound of the crew’s voices was sharp and full of pandemonium. A man on a rope swung by her, nearly knocking Vale over as she stuck her head out. People ran back and forth, pulling on ropes and adjusting sails.
She jumped to the left, avoiding the boom that swung past only to bump into a large burly man sharpening a contraption that Vale remembered being called a harpoon. The man shoved Vale back and sent her tumbling. She lost her balance and hit the ground, smacking her head against a pair of leather boots. Looking up, she found herself at the feet of Captain Mortem.
“Well, well, it would seem we ’ave a stowaway.”