Author: Stephen C. Curro
Clive Olsen reclined in his lounge chair with a sigh. It was past eight pm, and the city lights in the panorama window behind him glittered like a galaxy. Before him, a massive computer screen gave him a live god’s-eye-view of the factory floor of his new automotive plant.
Footsteps down the long hall grew louder until the door burst open. It was Clive’s ten-year-old son Maddox. “Hey, Dad. They said on the news that the aurora borealis is super strong this year!”
Clive nodded absently. “That’s nice, son.”
“Can we go see? We could fly to Alaska for Christmas!”
“Ask me again in an hour.”
Maddox left without a word. He knew that “an hour” meant “not tonight”.
Clive refocused on his new plant. Every second of every day, machines worked tirelessly to build, test and distribute the latest self-navigating cars. The plant’s AI had designed the cars, but Clive had designed the plant. Watching it work gave him such glee. It was one of many accomplishments that were nothing short of automated wizardry. Last year, Clive had designed the perfect drone delivery system for the Postal Service. Four years before that, he’d built an army of drones that now cultivated eighty percent of the country’s crops with only 0.01% waste. These were just a few of his company’s projects.
With his latest AI up and running, Clive was planning to celebrate by taking his family on a long vacation to Fiji. Though Maddox wanted to see the…what was it called? Aurora boreal? Bor-reelus? More like boredom, Clive thought. Still, if the kid wanted a trip to the Arctic for Christmas, it was just a matter of telling the family jet’s AI to set a flight plan north.
The walls chimed. “Tanaka Kasumi is calling,” a gentle voice said.
Clive growled. “Put her through.” There was another chime. “Hello, Kasumi.”
“Good evening,” an icy voice replied. “You finally got that automatic interpreter to work.”
Clive gave a half-hearted chuckle. “Yeah, sorry about last time. Thank God it’s working now. Did you know the UN uses the same software?”
“My employers are irritated, Mr. Olsen.”
He sighed. “Don’t tell me they sunk another drone boat.”
“Anti-fishing radicals fooled the radar. It crashed into a giant rock.”
Clive suppressed a snarl. “So a vegan lunatic outsmarted you. Who’s to say they couldn’t do the same to a standard ship?”
“Perhaps your automated systems are not as functional as advertised?”
Clive gritted his teeth. “If you’re not maintaining the ships properly, that’s on you. I have changed the world forever!”
Maddox opened the door again. “Dad, the news said the sun is—”
“Look!” the boy pointed to the window.
Clive wheeled around. The rage on his face evaporated.
The entire night sky was glowing. Brilliant green and red lights danced over the city, outshining the brightest building. Clive was so shocked that he almost forgot to breathe.
Then the lights intensified. The aurora borealis fell from the sky and dispersed over the city like a divine cloud. Simultaneously, the call with Kasumi dropped, the great computer screen winked out, and the lights died. Seconds later, the whole city was submerged in darkness.
The father and son stood in the ghostly light of the aurora. Maddox checked his phone, but it was as lifeless as a rock. In the distance, Clive could make out the shape of a self-nav jetliner careening to the ground.
For the first time in his life, Clive hated being right.
He had changed the world. Forever.