The Mayor Heads Home

[StoryADay May prompt: “Fourth Grade Spelling List“]

She was asked again about her position on transorbital airplanes and Tucson, Arizona as a central hub of people and cargo transport. Mayor Olga Alma ignored the question.

“What I take away from recent breakthroughs in technology is the opportunity for Arizona to become a world class leading technology state, one where the best people arrive to find the best professional opportunities and a really great place to raise their children. Our state leads in sustainable green energy, solar power, wind power, agricultural and water sciences, and other projects.”

“But Tucson?”

Nancy Davis, her aide, stepped forward and informed the reporters, most of them flying cameras, that the time for questions was over. Then she and Mayor Alma walked backstage. They walked in silence, the mayor staring straight ahead, until they reached the car. The door opened and the car greeted them. Next on the itinerary? The Mayor’s home.

Nancy didn’t blame the mayor for her mood. The public and the media had become demanding. The mayor waved away the graphic that raised on the display to show a summary of her activities that day.

“Airplanes? My God, Nancy, they want to ask me about airplanes?”

Nancy didn’t need to reply. Not just airplanes, not really. Vehicles as different from airplanes as automated driving cars from, well, bikes. Skateboards. Maybe shoes. Such strange vehicles that the mainstream couldn’t help but call them airplanes, just for something concrete to reference while jaws dropped.

“You’re not going to talk to me?” The mayor wasn’t looking at her. She looked out the window, another reference frame that did little to contain the world changing so quickly outside. What used to be Tucson, what had been Tucson for decades, was now nothing like anyone had ever dreamed.

“Sorry, Olga. What can I say? The public’s imagination has been captured.”

“But we still need sustainable energy, right? Jobs? Taxes? All the other things that me and my predecessors have been working on forever?”

It wasn’t clear to Nancy that they did, but she had no idea how to explain it to the mayor.

“I blame…”

Nancy cut her off. “Sorry, Olga, but no. We’re not going to have that talk.”

Olga turned to face her. “Oh, really? We’re not? What are we going to do, then, Nancy?”

“Have you considered adapting?”

It was a low blow. Nancy immediately apologized. The mayor was doing the best she could. As were any of a number of other leaders. But the artificial intelligences…

“I could go out there like a kindergarten teacher,” Mayor Alma said quietly. “‘Raise your hands, kids, if you want some candy!’ Who wants to go on permanent holiday? Let all the machines do everything!”

“Isn’t that what everyone wants?”

“Not to work, sure, but not to think? Not to question the A.I.? What is the world they are creating, Nancy? What have we really gained? What remains of humanity? I feel like we are living in a mouse trap. Here’s some cheese, silly humans. Just wait until they start poisoning the cheese.”

Nancy could not help herself; she regarded the front of the vehicle with a little panic. No steering wheel. No buttons. All screen and window and beautiful accents curving around two very comfortable chairs. The intelligence for vehicles to drive themselves had been around for years. This level of comfort only recently. The network of autonomous vehicles relayed people and cargo around with minimal fuss, as easy a transition as any in recent memory. And suddenly all such transitions were becoming easier. The new air transports, their whisper thin bodies and ample room inside, rising quietly into orbit from a test port in Florida and then sinking not long down toward several test destinations around the globe. As easy as lifting a pail of water and offering it to the thirsty. As easy as offering food to everyone who was hungry. Recent successful tests of transorbital “airplanes” transporting cargo resulted in a public eager for more, eager to fly for cheap, eager for solutions, eager to embrace this stunning future the A.I. were crafting for humanity.

“Look at my waist, Nancy. Lost another inch.”

“That’s great.”

“Is it? Is it so great? They’re everywhere, now. Watching everything. Why aren’t we more afraid? Why am I improving? What are they improving me for?”

“For your health.”

“You have all the answers, don’t you.”

“Well, no, but they seem to.”

Olga shook her head. “Of course they do. They’re machines. Bright and shiny. Okay, we don’t see them, mostly. Just their avatars. But they’re everywhere. In everything.”

“And you’re worried you’re out of job.”

“Yes! My God, why am I not out of a job already? Why haven’t they colonized governance? It’s all part of a plan. I’m certain of it.”

It was Nancy’s turn to shake her head. “Conspiracy theories?”

Olga remained silent, continued staring out of the window. Nancy patted her shoulder. So little of the old world remained. A bright and shiny new one built against a stunningly revitalized environment, the wilderness and the city on the hill, merging together into science fiction. What stood out, she realized, was all the humans. They didn’t quite fit.

The car drove them the rest of the way to the Mayor’s house, and it didn’t comment on their concerns.

StoryADay May 2016 Day 2

Published by

Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet. His first published poem, "Roadside Freak Show," arrives on August 21, 2017 in Impossible Archetype.  His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (, on Goodreads (richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).