His mobile blooped at him with one of those noises a company spent money to get. A timer started on the screen as he rushed to put his shoes on. He finished and pushed open his door, running down the stairs two to a bound. By the time he reached the bottom of the stairs he had his backpack slung over both shoulders, which he mentally cursed himself for since he’d just have to take the dang thing off again.
It was morning on January first, and he was due at his parent’s house for a new year’s dinner fifteen hundred miles away. He should have booked a plane weeks ago, but now the Loop was his only option. The Loop didn’t really have peak rates, and while the plane would be a little faster, more direct, and cheaper IF he had remembered to book it in time, the Loop would take him the same distance today. Plus, the seats were comfier. They reclined nicely, and he intended to nap on the way. Hopefully, by the time he got there, the bleariness from last night’s celebration would be undetectable by parental senses.
He locked the door to his apartment complex, a reassuringly square assembly from the seventies, and walked to the sidewalk where a friendly light blue car waited for him. When he got close, his mobile vibrated and made another distressingly cheery noise. The doors of the car swung open opposite of each other to expose the space inside. The car displayed two rows of inward facing bench seats, a panoramic row of windows around the entire perimeter of the vehicle, and… yes, his nose was telling him before his eyes fixed on it, a very unsettling amount of vomit in the center of the floor.
He turned around, a bit squeamish, and took out his mobile. He navigated through the controls. Where is the menu option? What year is it now? Why is this still hard? Three awkward menus deep and he finally found and selected the option to let the dispatch know the car had an issue which made it uninhabitable. The car immediately began to chirp warnings and the doors soon started to close. In a moment, a human somewhere in the city would be looking at a video of the inside of the car, determining him a liar or not. As expected, a few seconds later, the little car began to drive off. The lights on the rear of the car turned from bright red to the yellow amber of headlights as it decided its front would be its back. It drove off to the dispatch center for cleaning and repair. Someone would be eating a 100 dollar cleaning bill today. He didn’t feel sorry for them.
His phone began to vibrate. He picked it up to answer a call from a bored customer service representative who was trying hard to sound earnest. “Sorry for the trouble sir, the ride today will be free. We have another car on its way”
“No big deal,” he laughed, “Someone partied a little too hard last night, you know?” He was picking up on a slight bleariness in her voice as well.
“Thank you for your understanding sir.” She said goodbye.
Ten minutes later, he mentally patted himself on the back for precognitively putting his backpack on after all, another little square car drove up. Its doors opened, splitting an advertisement for a phone in half. This one proved to be spotless. They must have dispatched one right out of cleaning to make sure, and he got in. When the car registered his seat belt clicked, a cheery voice let him know how thankful its company was that he chose them to drive him to the Hyperloop terminal.
The ride was comfortable, but he had picked what he thought would be a forward facing seat based on the direction the car came from. It ended up being a rear facing seat, which was making him nervous in the stop and go city traffic. The car protested as he undid his seatbelt and switched sides, but let it go as he clipped in on the other side. An advertisement started to play in the car. He subconsciously reached up, and hit the mute button. Wasn’t there a big media thing a while back about how much everyone hated the new ads? He took out his mobile, and caught up on his social media for the rest of the ride.
The car blooped another expensive chime at him as he felt it slow down. He put down his mobile and looked out the window to see that he had arrived at the Hyperloop terminal. The terminal was still relatively new, though the chewed gum and scuffed steps were starting to make their mark on the previously flawless façade. He looked up at the animated overhead signs, and noted a section of security lines that seemed to have the lowest wait time. He started off in that direction.
A few minutes later he was handing his ID to a man in a uniform who was doing his best to give individually tailored distrusting looks to every person. He dropped his bag on the conveyor, and held his hands up through the scanner. In a moment, he was walking through the terminal to his assigned capsule.
He got to his gate. Another man in a different uniform took his ticket and bag. He looked at the capsule in front of him. It was raised slightly above the ground to make it easier to get in. This was one of the capsules that supported ADA customers, so a ramp led to the front of the capsule where there were no chairs. Currently a passenger in one of those increasingly common standing wheelchairs was lowering to a sitting position and being strapped in by an attendant.
Focusing, he walked up to his row and noticed a man was sitting in the seat in front of his. He apologized and asked the man to get up. This was a little effort for the man, as a person kind of had to fold themselves into the Hyperloop chairs. It made for a comfortable ride, but people definitely used the hand grips provided. The man stood out of his way, and he folded himself up into the vacated seat, and then did a little hop scoot across the small aisle into his seat. He folded the armrests down as the man got back into his chair. He looked around, and noted with relief that nothing was broken or dirty around him. He had one trip where the screen in front of him was broken, and another where someone had left one of those disgusting spit bottles for chewing tobacco in the seat pocket. The attendant came and took it away, but it was still gross.
He zoned out for a bit, and came to when the doors started to close. The screen in front of him jumped to life, and began to give him the safety briefing. In the event of a stop something something. It’s against federal law to be a big jerk in a confined space. Everyone’s on camera so don’t be bad. The door closed all the way, making a low ratcheting noise as the cabin sealed tight. If it’s vomit time something something bag is in the seat pocket. The briefing went on for a bit, covering up a low vibration as the capsule began to move into its vacuum lock.
A mechanical hum could be heard as the vacuum was turned on around the capsule. The screen felt the passengers were safe enough, and began to show information about the trip. Seven hundred miles in an hour. The capsule’s lights dimmed briefly as the vehicle moved to internal power. No delays expected. He heard a clunk as the next door opened in front of the capsule. It showed a map, and then he felt the vibration of the rollers moving the capsule into place. He remembered how smooth they were when the station opened. Carrying a couple million passengers will do that to any system.
If it could be seen from the outside, the first part of the journey would be very much like a roller coaster ride at an amusement park. The capsules were rolled out of their bays and rolled forward to wait their turn at the linear accelerators. On the inside, the capsule bumped and rattled a bit. Disenchanted people began to get seriously involved in their mobiles and computers. He did the same as the screen in front of him showed the wait time until their turn.
Another computer voice started talking as their capsule was positioned above the linear accelerators after being fed through another set of locks. He could hear the turbine fire up, and a subtle vibration carried all the way through the craft. The computer voice warned about some acceleration as the electrical hum continued to build up. The accelerators fired, and then he could feel it. He was pushed back against his seat, not uncomfortably, but also not much differently from a take-off in an airplane. The screen helpfully showed how fast they were going, and began to humbly brag about all the time he was saving by choosing the Hyperloop.
Once they had reached speed, the screen began to show live camera footage of the outside landscape. It was kind of jarring at first, as the perspective would shift in and out as they reached new pylons, but it was cool and certainly made the capsule feel less claustrophobic. He tapped the screen a few times and got it to dim a bit. He was still hung-over, so he put his jacket over his eyes and went to sleep.
He felt the capsule come to a slow down. Next the turbine whined down and he felt the moments as the craft was fed into the receiving locks. Roller vibration started again, and he started to rearrange his things. Time to transfer. The capsule vibrated a bit more until a final clunk. A woosh and another round of light dimming signaled their docking. He disinterestedly listened to the computer voice thanking him for his patronage as the door opened, and he waited his turn to do another hop scoot across the aisle and exit the capsule.
He nodded at the attendant, and walked over to the small conveyor beside the capsule loading area. He could see his bag being unloaded by a man feet away from him, but figured the belt just helped keep the guy un-harassed by a build-up of impatient people after each unloading. He took his bag and walked over to the next assigned terminal.
He woke at the other end, an hour’s nap later. He had a loading side seat this time which was way more comfortable to get out of. He stretched, looked around, got his bag again, and headed for the bus terminal. His parents lived too far away to make an automatic car rental affordable, and their town was still small enough that people drove their own cars. His parents couldn’t come pick him up so he had booked an automatic bus to the next location.
He found his bus. There was still a driver standing outside, but he wouldn’t be doing much driving. It was just a legal requirement for vehicles of a certain size to maintain a driver. The AI’s had a bad track record from their earlier implementations for trying to drive large vehicles through streets too small for them. The problem was fixed now, but it would be a few years before trust was rebuilt. The driver checked his ticket and put his luggage underneath. He got on the bus and took a seat behind the driver with what he hoped would be a nice view.
The bus driver announced their destination, and then pressed a button on his computer. The steering wheel in front of him recessed slightly to make it clear who was in charge, and the bus got on its way. Thirty minutes into the drive he smiled a bit as he saw the driver was immersed in a phone game. It was definitely illegal, but he’d ridden on the buses tons of times and wasn’t too worried. It wouldn’t be long before these guys were all just attendants anyway.
Another hour and a nap later, he was feeling good as new. He got off the bus, and walked over to a bench where he sat to wait for his parents. It was about four-ish hours from when he had started, and he had made a trip of about 1500 miles. As he sat, he watched the surroundings as the sun began to think about noon. The bus driver finished his inspection, and got out, strolling over to the employee break room. A few moments later, the bus hissed and rose to its full height. It drove off to the charging station at the other end of the depot. He guessed they both were a little hungry.
Some time later a new car pulled up in front of him. He was surprised to see his parents get out of it. They hugged him. His father took his bag from him, and put it in the trunk as he started to brag about their new car. They had gone on a road trip with their friends who owned an automatic car last summer. After seeing their friend, illegally, take a nap an hour into the trip, they decided they had to get one for themselves. Oh well, he couldn’t blame them, though he’d miss their old car. He liked the way the engine sounded. The electrics just didn’t have the same charm.
He was proudly ushered into the front seat of the car. The car swayed slightly from side to side as his mom and dad got in. His dad told the car to go home, and then smiling, did a little dad joke about driving with no hands.