Jack Rivers looked at the clock and then at the telephone. Nearby a mexican-wave of car alarms sounded. He couldn’t wait any longer.
He pressed each button with a single minded focus which looked as though he was struggling to remember the number. It was a number he’d never forgotten.
It rang for over a minute before the line picked up at the other end.
“Jason, it’s your Dad.” There was silence on the other end, then the sound of a throat clearing. “I need you to holoport yourself to this destination. Have you got a pen?”
“Christ Jack, I don’t have clothes on, let alone a pen. Call me in the morning.”
“Jason. Don’t hang up. There isn’t time to explain.”
“There never is.”
“Please Jason, there won’t be another chance.”
An explosion shook Jack River’s home and he covered the phone to attempt to drown out the noise.
“Where the hell are you?”
“I’m calling from home and… Jason, I…”
Another explosion sounded closer.
“Get to the nearest holoport and punch in these numbers – 873415.321.”
“Hold on. Hold on.”
Jack could hear his son swearing, things being knocked to the ground.
“Ok – I’ve found a pen.”
“873415.321. Repeat it back to me.”
“No, no, no. Point Three Two One. And Jason – break in if you need to. I won’t matter.”
“Dad – what aren’t you telling me? I don’t hear from you in five year and you call me at 3am to tell me to go log myself into Holo-Life.”
“Just go. I… I–”
The phone was dead before Jack could finish the sentence.
Jack spent the last minutes in his home securing it then carrying the cans of black market bio-diesel down into the cellar. Jack could only hope, as he fuelled the back-up generators, there was enough time and power to see one final sunrise with his son. Once he holoported out, there was no control of what happened with the data server and with his own physical body. There would be nothing to come back to.
Jack stood for a moment taking in his life’s work – columns of electronic equipment crowded the cellar. It was the equivalent a cerebral cortex – the nerve centre of Holo-Life. As such, Jack had never trusted it to an off-site location. Hanging on hooks were a collection of Holo-Bands, from the very first ones he’d designed and built through to the latest model released just a month ago.
He reached up for the brand new one and tried not to think about the email which had arrived three days after its release. The phone call to Jason should have been made then, but his pride and then guilt stopped him. Finally it was the immediacy of the situation and now…
Jack strapped the band to his ankle, activated it then punched in the code he’d given Jason. Setting the timer for 60 seconds he settled into the old dentist chair he’d used as his holoport from his very first test jump and waited for the temporal shift.
The air was still and cold and Jack clasped his arms around him. His eyes adjusted slowly to the dark and when the thicket of trees stood out in the distance he began walking. Greenman Ridge had been his original test site, but it had been more than twenty years since he’d jumped here. It was was more sophisticated than Holo-Life, running on neural vibrations mapped from Jason as a child.
At the camp site he lit a fire, to ward off the bone-deep chill. It would help Jason find his way. The flames threw awkward shadows and Jack fed log after log into the pit, as he waited. The fire settled into a bed of hot embers and Jack began to worry. Finally he heard a twig snap, and amoment later Jason appeared with a dog at his feet.
“How did you get the dog in?”
“The same as me – strapped a band to his leg.” Jason’s hand rested no the dog’s head. “I wasn’t leaving Barney behind.”
“Didn’t think you liked dogs.”
“That was you Jack. You said a dog was too much trouble. A bit like what you thought of me.”
“It will be dawn soon,” Jack stood, ignoring his son’s jibe and stretched, pocketing a flash light from the canvas chair he’d been sitting in. “Let’s walk up to the ridge and watch the sunrise.”
They walked single file up the path with the flashlight cutting a narrow swath of light through the darkness. Jack heard Jason stumble and fall several times but didn’t stop. They were both breathing heavily when they reached the top. The dog moaned and slumped to the ground.
“How long until sunrise?” Jason asked, sitting down on a rock.
“An hour maybe.”
“So where are we?”
“Greenman Ridge is gone.”
“I built a version of Greenman Ridge as my beta area.”
“So instead of spending time with me, you were hanging out here what – pretending every was OK.”
“I wasn’t easy when you’re mother died.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I should have called you three days ago. I got an email from a friend telling me what was about to happen.”
“What’s three days Jack at the end of the world. Really..”
Jack looked out to the horizon waiting for the first smudge of dawn. It would be any time now.
“I couldn’t go without you.”
“You’ve never worried about leaving me behind before.”
“This is different Jason.” His mouth was dry. He willed the sun to come up. It had to.
“Can’t you call me Dad – just once.”
“No. You have to earn. I don’t even know why I’m here.”
An alarm sounded and Barney whined. Jack willed the sun to rise out of stubborn blackness. The transponder light on his leg band was flashing. The link was breaking up.
“Is it wrong to want to save my son.”
“I died in your eyes when Mum died – we all know that.” Jason ran his fingers through the dog’s long hair. “We’re all going to die now, so it’s kinda a moot point.”
“I bought us here to escape.” The words tumbled out of Jack’s mouth. “This isn’t Holo-Life. This where you flew to as a boy. I mapped your neural vibration in the sleep lab one –”
“What the hell-”
“We’ve transcended the base physicality of existence. We can stay here, even when our bodies die.”
“I’d rather be dead.”
Jason moved towards the dog and Jack threw himself across the divide but he was older and slower. The return button depressed on the dog’s leg and then Jason’s and Jack fell through the air where his son had been.
I didn’t get a chance to do a third rewrite on this to pull it down to the 1000 word mark as I’m about to head off to Melbourne for the opening of a writing festival and won’t be able to post otherwise. As always, critical comment is welcome.
This is loosely based on the [Fiction] Friday prompt #156 for May 21st, 2010: “A boy and his father awaken early to watch the sunrise from their mountain campsite, but they begin to panic when the sky remains dark long into the afternoon.”