In this work of speculative fiction, award-winning author Lisa A Baird imagines a world transformed by TransCITS, a new car/road system designed by genius inventor Dallas Rand. The new roadway has created an economic and social upheaval unequalled in the new millennium, an upheaval that has driven The Families into the southwest desert to try to live free of Rand’s brave new world. Among those seeking a new life are Sage Rivers and her father, a genius in his own right. But what secrets from his past would explain his connection to Dallas Rand and that mysterious—even dangerous—world of the machine? Sage Rivers embarks on a journey to find out.
Read an excerpt of Jubilee
I’m awake early, listening in the dawn. Far away, the wind calls and I remember the Field of Stones out there, imagining the sand working to conceal the labor of many hands, the many lost hands that have built the mysterious memorial pillars. But something about the stones refuses to be erased.
After showering, I finger-comb my hair into a kind of style.
Zoë told me once, “With those dark eyes of yours and that fringe of hair…you look like a waif.”
I’d rather be a goddess like Zoë with silken hair and perfect features. Realizing it’s hopeless, I head for the galley of the True North where my dad is cooking breakfast.
“Darlin’,” he greets me.
“Morning.” He smiles at me because he knows I’m slow to wake up. “What are you hungry for? Pancakes? Eggs?”
Nothing sounds good this early. Chin in hand, I sit down at the breakfast bar to watch my dad at the stove. He likes to think he’s a gourmet in his white chef’s apron. His whole body moves as he whisks some eggs.
Often, when I try to see something of myself in him, I think maybe I got his build because we’re both a little on the lean side. I’m especially proud of my eyes because, like his, mine are hazel. I wish I had inherited some of my mother’s traits, too, because she’s “a dark sprite with bewitching eyes,” my father likes to say. I’ve often wished for eyes of bewitching depths, but mine are simply earnest.
When dad slides a cup of coffee in front of me, I add the usual breakfast mix of cream, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It’s good coffee, hot and strong, exactly what I need. With the first sip, I start to wake up, though it’ll take a few more sips before I’ll feel like talking and even more before I’ll feel like eating. When he’s finished at the stove, dad sits across from me, eating a plate of scrambled eggs while I sip my coffee. He reads quietly, waiting for my morning mood to pass.
I wish, to the ten billionth power I wish, I had gotten not only my dad’s eyes but his mind as well. Then I could understand the scientific journals he finds so interesting, then we could talk about…oh, I don’t know, why the sky is blue.
He’s reading one of his journals, one of the many sent by friends he knew at Caltech. The journals are full of incomprehensible formulas and schematics, and when I asked him once what all the equations meant, it scared me. I told him it sounded like mad scientist, end of the world stuff, but he’d laughed and said, no one had anything to fear from a bunch of nerds with protractors and when I said I didn’t know what a protractor was he said, “See? Nothing to worry about.”
He knows how to help The Families when members ask him about machines, about what the machines do and how to fix them. That’s why he’s the leader of The Families, though ‘leader’ is just the ‘unofficial title,’ he says. That’s how he talks, unable to disguise how smart he is. Which is why I’m certain I disappoint him, why I regret I’m not more like him.
Eventually, I feel hungry. “Any scrambled eggs left?”
“Thought you’d never ask. Some in the skillet just for you.” Dad dumps the rest of the scrambled eggs on a plate and slides it across to me. While I eat, I watch through the galley windows as the sun rises over the mesa. Another clear day promising hot weather. Most mornings are beautiful here in the desert, wild and windswept in this unforgiving land.
“Dad,” I ask through a mouthful of toast. “What do you know about the people who lived out on the road?”
“You mean people like us?”
“No. Not like us. Well, yeah like us, except they lived under bridges and overpasses and in old cars. They seem to have been everywhere along the road.”
“I suppose there were people living out there.”
“When Dallas Rand switched on his Integrated Highway, it put a lot of people out of jobs. A lot of them ended up homeless, so I suppose any number of them might have settled under some bridges.”
His name comes up a lot around here, especially his TransContinental Integrated Transit System or TransCITS. Just last week in sociology class we had been talking about what Mr. Okata called “societal shifts” that occurred because of TransCITS. I suppose the topic comes up a lot among The Families because Dallas Rand, specifically his transit system, is, in a way, the reason all of us came to Endeavor.
“Historically,” Mr. Okata said, “this country has experienced mass changes in the way people live and work, in where they live and work. Often these shifts resulted from extraordinary economic and financial changes, like the one we're experiencing right now, the Great Automotive Shift Phenomenon, or GASP, for short. We here in Endeavor are part of GASP. It started, of course, after the tragedy of the Daylight Savings Bombing.”
Even here at the end of the world, we knew about The Daylight Savings Bombers, a group of terrorists who had turned ordinary cars into bombs. But that wasn’t all. They’d timed an attack to within seconds of each other; ten suicide drivers drove their car bombs into nine federal buildings, killing over ten thousand federal workers, women, children, and pets. The carnage would have been worse had not one of the bombers failed to calculate for Daylight Savings Time and so missed his target. Hence, Daylight Savings Bombers. After that, public outrage forced Congress to pass the Safe Car Act. The Act was supposed to implement driverless cars, but Dallas Rand was ready with his Integrated Roadway, so instead of implementing driverless cars, which everyone thought would be the answer to car bombs, Congress approved Rand’s TransCITS highway and construction had begun right away.
Rand’s innovative car-road-highway system, Mr. Okata explained, had transformed the world’s economy from the internal combustion engine to a revolutionary new transit system. “And we are still paying the price of that transformation.”
“Why do you ask?” dad says, pouring another cup of coffee for me.
“Why do you ask about the people out on the road?”
“I’ve seen signs,” I tell him, thinking of the deep fissures Mr. Okata mentioned. “I’ve seen memorial stones but no people.” Troubled about societal shifts, about people living under bridges, I ask, “Are we homeless?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“We’re technically homeless, though, right, because we don’t have an official address.”
“And we’re using the road to live on when it’s not really our road, right?”
“Well, we’re homesteading. Making a point about how the federal government has become too bloated to be of any practical value, so we’re waiting for the inertia of bureaucracy to catch up, to force litigation in a court of law. And how long have we been waiting? How long have we been here?”
“Almost fourteen years,” I say.
“So, we are like those people who lived on the road?”
Dad drops the science journal to look at me.
“Maybe. But what we’re doing is different. We’re protesting.”
“All kinds of things, but primarily…and I do mean primarily…the excesses of technology, of venerating technology at the expense of the human spirit, especially Rand’s integrated road. I know you were too young to remember, but let me tell you, the excesses were appalling.”
“For starters, do you know how much energy is consumed by the TranCITS system’s conduction lattice?”
“Well…what’s a conduction lattice?”
“It’s…Sweetheart, look at the time. You’re going to be late.”
“Dad. We need to talk about the people who lived here, the lost people who might…who could be living out in the rocks. I mean, the rocks out on the western mesa. Where did they all go?”
“In the rock or on the rocks?”
“Dad, please. You know you can’t tell a joke.”
“Ok. I don’t think it’s possible for people to live in the rocks. What would they eat? How could they survive?”
“That’s what I’d like to know.”
“Alright. Finish up. No more questions.”
“Just one more.”
“Make it short.”
“Is Rand’s highway really that bad?”
“Short and sweet: yes. Now go get your stuff.”
I grab my skateboard and backpack and head for the deck. Before I can cross the galley, though, my father grabs my neck and kisses the top of my head. By now, I’m used to his affectionate displays, even though I pretend to hate it.
“Love you, Sage Cassia Rivers."