Lorenzo lives in the future

This is not a regular 'oh my god I got so drunk and funny stuff happened' story, instead this is my go at writing in the third person and giving a sci-fi taste to a bog-standard regular boring day. Beware.

Lorenzo slowly woke up and got out of bed in silence, no alarm was set for this morning. The bed, made out of temperature-moldable and semi-intelligent foam, slowly reverted to its base shape in absence of his body heat and weight. He enjoyed spending his cycles of unconscious hallucination naked and didn’t appreciate the chilly ambient temperature of his bedroom so he turned the heating-knob that was installed on the wall.

Elsewhere in the building an electronic brain registered this and took action, within milliseconds valves opened and refined gaseous fuel streamed into a small reactor where its combustion heated a flow of water, which was in turn fed through pipes laid into the wall of his small residence to a radiator in Lorenzo’s bedroom, pleasantly heating it.

Not having any pressing matters to attend to today, Lorenzo sauntered into the next room and turned on his pers-comp and sat in front of it. He’d built it himself only a few cycles ago and it had been cutting edge then. Nowadays better models were available as shop-standard, even as portables and his custom job wouldn’t impress anyone. Nevertheless, an impressive suite of VR entertainment programs for him to choose from appeared on the screen in front of him. He chose an island simulation and waited as it was starting up.

Entertainment-VRs had been accepted as mainstream entertainment in society only a few years ago, even though there was nothing strange to it, not really. You sat in front of a screen and used a pair of special utensils to control the actions of an avatar in a virtual world. The VR he’d chosen today was that of an innocent tourist marooned on a hostile island on a quest to save his friends that’d been captured by evil pirates. It was horribly contrived and not terribly realistic (you couldn’t speak to any of the characters beyond corny one-liners and they wouldn’t respond to much else than being shot at, for instance. Incidentally the avatar was an unreasonably resilient and skilled gunfighter) but entertaining none the less. Lorenzo’s vidscreen only covered about a third of his field of vision which wasn’t quite enough for total immersion, but albeit its small size it was a high quality ‘screen and the display seemed very lifelike. It wasn’t long before Lorenzo was inexorably engrossed in saving his comrades from evil pirate clutches.

After a few hours of island and a couple horrendous deaths he shut off the VR and went back to his bedroom, which was now comfortably warm. Picking up a rectangular piece of plastic about the size of a large piece of paper he sat on his bed. Lorenzo folded the top of the plastic rectangle back and a screen sprang to light. It was displaying nothing but words, the contents of a book he’d downloaded off the local data-net the day before. It hadn’t been free; to gain access to this book he’d have to authorize a payment of one credit. Not a large amount by anyone’s standards, about equivalent to the amount needed to purchase a piece of bread, but still he’d rather had gotten it for free. Reading books was a form of entertainment that had lingered throughout the ages, whilst lacking any sort of interactivity or visual stimulation there was still a great pleasure attached to following a strictly linear narrative visualized by nothing but one’s own imagination. Whilst not averse to more modern forms of entertainment Lorenzo enjoyed reading, and did so until he was disturbed by a soft chime coming from his nightstand.

A small, palm sized piece of glass and plastic had been lying dormant on Lorenzo’s nightstand. Although its screen had been cold for hours now, it was still listening to and checking in with the local data-net, connected to it through the nearest wave-tower. Just now that very tower had focused a hi-bandwidth signal on the little gadget, causing it to wake up and call for attention. Lorenzo put folded shut his electronic book and put it away, its tiny electronic brain recognizing what was happening and minimizing power consumption from its battery so it’d be ready as soon as it were to be opened again. Reaching over to his nightstand he palmed the compact plastic disc and looked at its glass screen, it’d lit up and was displaying a variety of colored pictograms. He recognized this particular arrangement as an indication of an unknown person calling, he put his finger to the glass plate and swiped the glyph that meant ‘answer’ to the command slot. After doing that he put the disc to his ear and spoke a standard greeting. The plastic disc recognized being picked up by its owner and upon receiving the command to put through the anonymous caller it diligently switched off its human-interface screen, as it was no longer required; it was now in live voice mode.

Pressing the plastic-and-glass disc to his ear Lorenzo spoke, and was spoken to. Although to the innocuous bystander it would seem as though he was speaking to a ghost (or had gone mad), in fact Lorenzo was speaking to an actual person, the impractical physical distance bridged by his plastic gadget, the data-net and a similar gadget in the hands of the woman he was speaking with. He didn’t know the location of woman whose voice he was conversing with, it might be the building next door, but could equally well be some place on the other side of the world. In fact, she might even be floating around the planet in space, although that was unlikely as only a handful of people were privileged enough to ascend into the heavens themselves and live there, floating.

The woman was calling from Lorenzo’s personal credit management company, inquiring as to whether the one credit charge was authorized. It was, and the conversation verifying this was brief and to the point. Before Lorenzo could ‘hang up’ (a figure of speech dating back to the early days of long-distance communication, where to end a link one of the speakers had to physically ‘hang up’ a voice-piece on a base station) a nonintrusive beep signaled someone else was waiting to speak to him. After wishing the credit-woman a pleasant day he briefly shook his hand to indicate he was ready for the next speaker. It was his sister, inviting him to dinner that evening. Lorenzo accepted and then shut off his phone, going about his day.

A few hours later he was preparing to go see his family. His sister lived roughly ten walk-hours away, an unreasonable distance to actually walk. Lorenzo gathered his things, pocketing his personal communications disc, his various credit-cards and metal ident-chits. Immediately outside his residence stood a large metal box, shaped like a flattened cylinder, with translucent glass panes on the top half. Lorenzo inserted one of his metal ident-chits into a small slot laid into the side of this metal contraption. One of the panels swiveled open and allowed him entrance. Lorenzo entered the vehicle and sat in a chair, in front of him were several dials, a large wheel and, at his feet, various pedals. He inserted his chit into another slot and turned it. The unique shape of the metal identifier was recognized by the vehicle’s electronics and they in turn gave the subsystems the ‘all-green’ which allowed the vehicle to start.

Electric motors sprang into action and fed high grade liquid fuel into the combustion chambers that lay at the heart of the vehicle’s overland drive. Although the fuel reacted in a chemically similar way to the gaseous fuel that’d heated his bedroom, this machine was nothing like the simple reactor in his home. The technology to release the energy locked up in chemical bonds in the form of heat had been understood for generations, it lay at the basis of every campfire. More recently, technology had been developed to transform heat energy into useful motion, this too was a fairly simple albeit slow process. The land vehicle required a much faster transformation of chemical-bonded energy into useful motion. To achieve this, the machine utilized several combustion chambers, which utilized the heat and pressure of a brief but violent combustion to drive up-and-down a piston. The pistons was connected to a reciprocating drive-shaft which in turn would drive a series of gears eventually connecting to the four rubber wheels that the vehicle rested upon, these wheels would then be forced to turn by the energy released by the burning fuel, thus moving the vehicle forward.

Lorenzo understood the basics (but not the intricacies) of the impossible choreography of metal, heat and motion that was going on in the bowels of his vehicle. He’d started the engine, for the moment it was busy heating up its lubricant fluids and cast iron casing, so Lorenzo could focus on setting a destination. Upon engine activation, a small screen had emerged from the dashboard, waiting for input. Lorenzo tapped a few controls, indicating his sister from a short-list of people and locations he frequently visited; within seconds the system had suggested a route for him.

As soon as Lorenzo stated his destination the electronic brain of the vehicle had started listening for the signals of six or seven different ‘satellites’, these machines floated around the planet at the staggering altitude of roughly seven thousand walk-hours. These satellites were in essence nothing more than very accurate clocks with powerful radio transmitters, in theory one could calculate his position on the planet based on nothing but the stated clock-times of a handful of these machines. In practice, the speed-of-light delay and quantum mechanical time dilation effects were much too difficult for hand- or vehicle based electronic brains to compensate for. While listening for these satellites the vehicle simultaneously patched into the local data-net and obtained a set of time-dilation correction factors, using these wouldn’t provide the same accuracy as calculating it on the spot would, but would suffice for vehicle navigation.

Lorenzo accepted the first suggestion in spite of a myriad of available alternative routes, tailored to all kinds of vehicles and driving styles. He owned an all-round vehicle and was competent at driving it so he didn’t see any problem with the standard route taking him over the inter-city expressway. Having selected his route Lorenzo carefully steered his vehicle between the residences of his neighborhood, being careful to remain on the surfaces allocated to road vehicles of his type, he wasn’t usually the first to obey the rules but in the case of road traffic it really was best if everyone behaved in a predictable fashion.

He could operate the vehicle by turning the wheel in front of him, this wheel was directly linked to a sway-bar connecting the two front wheels so any rotation imparted upon the steering wheel would translate as left-to-right rotation of the front wheels, effectively steering the vehicle. The pedals available to him were a ‘clutch’ which could cut or engage engine power to the driven rear wheels, a ‘brake’ which would apply friction pads to all wheels, converting momentum into heat and effectively slowing down the vehicle. Finally there was the ‘throttle’, the position of which decided how much power the engine generated. With these four controls it was possible to control the vehicle to a surprising degree of accuracy, so much so that after a brief exam every citizen was allowed to operate any vehicle they could reasonably afford.

As Lorenzo made his way through his populated area he kept to reasonable speeds, between ten and twenty times walking speed. Should something unexpected occur he could stop within a reasonable distance and even if a crash was unavoidable the built-in safety mechanisms would be relatively sure to keep him alive. Upon entering the express-way all this changed, however. The express-way was mainly used for long distance travel of people and goods and vehicles travelled an order of magnitude faster than they did in built-up areas there. Merging onto the express-way Lorenzo pressed hard on the throttle pedal, ordering the electronic brain to deliver maximum engine power. He felt the acceleration pushing him gently back into his seat, at about a quarter of the force that normally glued him to the ground. He kept this up until the vehicle had accelerated to over 10% the speed of sound itself. At this speed rapid maneuvers were all but impossible, but the express-way had been built to account for this, it had long slow turns and was strictly prohibited to pedestrians and even to vehicles that could not at least travel at 5% soundspeed.

Lorenzo knew that if he were to crash at this speed he would most likely not survive, even a glancing blow would probably lead to loss of vehicle control, leading to a full on impact only somewhat later. Of course modern vehicles were built to offer maximum protection; they had amazing safety features such as inflatable air cushions that’d deploy before the driver could even blink and the very chassis was designed to absorb as much energy from an impact as possible before crumpling. Despite these measures, accidents at express-way speeds were more often fatal than not. Having comfortably joined with the rest of the traffic Lorenzo activated the orchestra-simulation. Immediately the tones of a fully staffed 60 person orchestra flooded the cabin of the vehicle. The simulation wasn’t perfect, the audio simulators were unable to accurately reproduce both the very high and low frequencies and as such the orchestra seemed ‘canned’, also the engine made a considerable amount of noise which made a true appreciation and concert experience impossible. The music was soothing nevertheless, but Lorenzo never did take his hands off the steering wheel.

His vehicle ran off a refined form petroleum-oil fuel which was mined in some far-off part of the world, the oil had become such a coveted natural resource in modern society that wars were routinely fought over it. While most vehicles ran on this refined oil, modern variants could run on nothing but electricity, storing it in vast battery banks and recharging much like he did his communications-disc. While these ‘electric cars’ had a myriad of advantages, he still preferred his good old petrol fueled vehicle. For the moment nothing beat the range (and therefor; freedom)imparted by a full tank of high-energy petrol fuel, and he also liked the raw sound the engine made, electric cars produced nothing but a thin whine which in his opinion didn’t do the inherent fun and danger of operating a motor vehicle justice. He covered the ten walk-hours in less than fifteen minutes and shortly met his family for dinner and catching up, discussing who-and-who did such-and-such and how fantastic/embarrassing it had been. Essential things of life that hadn’t changes in generations and would probably remain unchanged for generations more to come.