Author : Bob Newbell

Hugo swallowed his last protein pill, paid his bill, and left the cafe. As he walked out the door, the rocket thrust from a young lady leaving the parking lot by jetpack blasted him with fire. It was only his quick reflexes that prevented him from being badly burned. As it happened, only his right pant leg was slightly singed. Mildly annoyed, he brushed himself off and proceeded to his flying car.

Hugo switched on the engine of his small, helicopter-like vehicle and began to slowly ascend. The aeromobile’s downdraft turned pebbles, bottle caps, and other assorted debris in the cafe’s parking lot into high-speed projectiles. The cafe’s windows and three parked cars all sustained minor damage. As he gained altitude and began to move forward, he saw the wreckage of another flying car embedded in the wall of a department store. Flames and thick, black smoke poured from the crash site.

After getting home and putting his car in the hangar, Hugo picked up the newsreel the “paper boy” — an antiquated term that for some reason people never abandoned — had thrown on his front lawn. Hugo went into his den and loaded the microfilm into the reader. The words “The Daily Gazette” appeared on the screen. Immediately beneath them appeared “August 3, 2000”. Hugo turned on the radio and after the tubes warmed up, big band music filled the room.

For an hour, Hugo caught up on the latest news. General Atomics was going to make another attempt to launch a manned rocket to the Moon. When GA’s fission rocket blew up shortly after launching last week killing everyone aboard and spreading radioactive debris along the eastern seaboard, there was serious concern they might be discouraged and not try another launch. General Atomics’ stock was up five points on the news they would try again. Should have told my broker to buy a hundred shares of GA last week, Hugo thought.

He scrolled the microfilm to the technology section. He read about an “electronic brain” at the University of Pennsylvania that could perform 5,000 mathematical operations in a single second. And the engineers had somehow crammed all that computing power into a mere 1,000 square feet of floor space. Hugo found this very impressive, although he couldn’t think of any practical use for such a calculating machine.

Hugo skimmed through the remaining sections of the film spool. He perused an item about the President meeting with the Russian Czar to discuss the potential threat posed by the Kaiser. He read that the Brooklyn Dodgers would be playing the Giants next week at Ebbets Field. He saw what sort of jumpsuits fashionable men and women would be wearing this winter.

At last, Hugo came to the letters to the editor section. One amusing missive caught his eye. The writer rambled about “the way we live now”. He claimed the rising incidence of cancer was caused by waste from atomic power plants. The death toll from aeromobile accidents, the letter said, was catastrophic because most people didn’t have the skill and reaction time to safely pilot flying cars. Ray guns, videophones, slidewalks: the author disparaged them all. He even warned that zeppelins filled with flammable hydrogen were “unsafe at any altitude”.

Hugo shut off the microfilm viewer and lit a cigarette. “Why would they publish such anti-humanistic, Luddite claptrap?” he said aloud. Some people will never be satisfied, he thought. Why, I bet that malcontented crank will live to the ripe old age of 50!

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