The People Who Staid Put – TLWM 6D

Jane turned her head, then extended her arm and jabbed a finger to her left, pointing past Gary in the direction of the CAD room doorway. “Look at that!” She scanned both Gary’s and Arjie’s faces, both looking in the direction she was pointing but clearly not seeing what she wanted them to observe. “The window!” Across the hall from the doorway was a window, looking out onto the broad street outside their office. A green sedan raced past, heading south, into the city. “There! That’s what I’m talking about!”

Arjie turned to her. “Traffic?”

Jane slapped her left hand down on her thigh. “No, cars. They haven’t — ” She stood upright, pointed a finger at Gary. “What was the first car you remember seeing?”

Gary stood open mouthed staring at the floor a moment, then looked back up at Jane. “My old man’s sedan. An Oldsmobile. Battleship gray.”

“And right now, you’ve got, what — ” She paused, leaning towards Gary.

“An Acura.”

“That another sedan?” Gary fought the urge to reply that it was a luxury car, and instead nodded.

“OK, two sedans, one half a century older than the other.” Jane smiled mischievously, pointed with her left hand at Gary, her right hand at Arjie. “Now tell me — three things about your car, that your dad’s car did not have.”

“Simple.” Arjie held up one finger of his right hand. “Air bags.” A second finger. “Onboard navigation — ” he turned to Gary — “you did get that, right?” Gary nodded, Arjie turned back to Jane and raised another finger. “Fuel injection.”

Gary held out a hand. “Antilock brakes, too. And power steering — my dad’s car didn’t have any of that.”

Jane smiled. “Minor innovations, for safety and convenience. But nothing that revolutionized the industry, just minor tweaks. You think my world — the world I came from — ” she closed her eyes and shook her head, as if blinded by a flash of light — “the world I remember, I don’t know how to explain what’s happened, all I know is that yeah, we don’t have smart phones, we don’t have laptop computers, we don’t have the Internet or Facebook or text messages or any of that stuff, and I know from talking to Wings, how that sounds real odd to you.”

Arjie’s mouth popped open. “Like a third world country.”

Jane smiled back defiantly, pointing her right index finger at Arjie, the left still pointing in the direction of the passing traffic. “So if you’re world’s so marvelous, why hasn’t transportation technology advanced, at all, in the last fifty years? Your world — this world — has done nothing, nothing, in the last fifty years to evolve transportation. I looked it up, you went to the moon same time as we did, July 1969. But then, you just — stopped. Went back to the moon a few times, sent unmanned spacecraft to other planets, but then you decided to stay put and keep driving the same cars you’ve always driven, while we were developing systems like Unirail that made cars obsolete, at the same time sending people, not robots, to freakin’ Mars. We’re both living in the 21st century, but you’re the only ones still getting around the same way you did in the mid-twentieth!”

Jane folded her arms in front of her chest, a content look on her face, nearly condescending. Gary’s round face was pained with confusion. Arjie, however, seem unimpressed, his expression dismissive as he waved a hand in Jane’s direction. “OK, you got me. Cars haven’t changed much in fifty years.”

“Or planes.” Jane stared at Arjie intently, her voice insisting that he acknowledge the truth of her words. “Or trains. Or — ”

“All right, fine.” Arjie waved his hand at her, turning his head. “But if you ask me, transportation technology didn’t need much change. All the major innovations came in the early twentieth century, and once we got what we needed, we moved on to more interesting challenges.” Without looking down, he reached with his right hand to his hip, and after a rip from a Velcro strap on his belt holster retrieved his smart phone, which he held up to Jane. “This is where the action’s act, buddy. Not in some cockamanie public transportation scheme.”

Before Jane could give voice to the indignation that erupted on her face, Gary stepped between her and Arjie. “You know, what I actually find more interesting — ” he stared directly at Jane, the palm of his left hand pointed at Arjie’s face — “is that you’ve taken such an interest in learning our technology.”

Gary sighed internally as he saw Jane’s face relax. Her voice made her sound almost hurt by Gary’s statement. “Of course I want to learn.” She raised her hands in the air. “Since I don’t know how I got here in the first place, I certainly have no idea how to get back to the world I remember. And if I don’t know how to get back, I can’t say when I’ll get back. Or even — ” she could not hid the apprehension in her voice — “if I ever will.”

She scanned the faces of the two men in the CAD room with her, and was relieved to see their helpful eyes. She lowered her arms, and walked back to her chair in front of the computer screen. “So if you don’t mind, I’d like to learn how to draw drainage profiles on this thing.”

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