Chapter 2 Springfield Central
Eric’s class was on a week-long field trip from Provo Central in Utah to Cape Canaveral in Florida to observe the launch of Lunar Base V. On the way they had a one day stopover in Springfield Central, the hub of the nine cities of Springfield. Springfield parish, which comprised all nine cities of Springfield was just south of old Springfield, the former capital of the state of Illinois. The train slowed as it passed the outskirts of the old city. The skyline was intact and looked like self-contained mountains in the distance.
“How big do you think those buildings are?” Kviiiy asked as they drew closer to the edge of old Springfield.
“It’s hard to imagine,” Eric exhaled slowly. “Mr. Simms, our history teacher said that a floor of one of those buildings was often 25,000 square feet or even larger.”
“Wow, just one floor is as big as Provo Central?” Kviiiy squinted as she stared at the skyline of the old city.
“Provo 2 or 3 yes, but Provo Central is a little more than twice that size,” Eric likewise stared at the skyline. “And that has a population of just under 100,000 people. Three of their city blocks would take up the same space as Provo Central, the eight other cities of the parish, and all the farmland to support us.”
“That’s amazing,” Kviiiy exhaled slowly and looked away. “And we get to see the old city tomorrow?”
“That’s the plan,” Eric nodded.
“I hope we’re not walking,” Kviiiy frowned.
Eric leaned back thoughtfully, “I wonder if Dr. Lambert will be able to walk again. He looked pretty chewed up.”
“Well, it would serve him right,” Kviiiy scowled.
“I don’t know,” Eric grew serious, “Without him we all might be dead by now.”
Thirty-six years earlier, Dr. Joseph Lambert, fresh out of MIT graduate school, ran across classified computer records about animal miniaturization. He wrote a grant, and began expanding on the research and within five years had successfully tested the process on more than a dozen varieties of animals. The evidence was pointing to the ability to shrink the subjects with no ill side effects, after the initial 72 hours of implementing the protocol. Twenty years later, on August 23rd, worldwide gassing, approved by the United Nations, and most of the free nations of the world, resulted in the global miniaturization of all animal life on the planet; correction… miniaturization of almost all animal life on the planet. The process worked perfectly on all mammals. However, the longitudinal impact on some species and sub-species had either been temporary, or had not worked at all. The Aves class of animals, or birds experienced temporary impact on various species that did not remain in subsequent generations. The result was also temporary on some varieties of amphibians and reptiles. And for some reason, the technique failed completed with one insect group: cockroaches.
Cockroaches were a giant menace to the new world order, but the return of the birds of prey, such as eagles, kites, falcons, owls, and hawks, had been devastating to families, and even some underprepared cities. Children born after the Transition referred to the birds as Cloud Dragons. Reptiles were another matter, as several cities had been decimated by isolated cases of snake attack.
As a result, Dr. Lambert was considered a hero by those who studied the histories, and remembered the famines, wars, and terrorism that preceded and caused the approval of the dramatic action taken. Meanwhile, families who had lost relatives to animal attacks considered Lambert a monster.
The lights of the train flashed, and Eric sat up securing his backpack. “I wonder if Springfield Central will be much different than Provo Central.”
Springfield Central was a hub for the rapid transit system going to the eastern states. From the platform where they exited Eric and his classmates could see several lines or tubes that were concentrated in this location. “Well, that’s one difference, Eric turned to Kviiiy, who was towing three suitcases, we only have two transit tubes in Provo.
“Provo Five gather round,” a deep voice rumbled.
Everyone in their group groaned. Mr. Dewquist of the science department was their sponsor and lead chaperone. He was a short, round, balding man in his 40s. He had conveniently disappeared to the front car of the train with Miss Jackson, a new teacher who reminded Eric of an adult version of Chanel. Eric had nearly forgotten that the teachers were even on the trip with them.
“We’re staying at the Spoon River Suites,” Mr. Dewquist announced with a voice of authority. Dinner is at six o’clock sharp at the hotel, so don’t be late. The hotel is the first stop off the red line, so don’t get distracted and miss the step off. I’ll lead, and Miss Jackson,” he paused to smile in her direction, “will bring up the rear. Any questions?”
Like Provo Central, the city was served by high speed walkways. The system was set up on a three parallel track system. The outer track was slow moving and fairly easy to get on and off. The middle track moved at a higher pace, about jogging speed, and the inner track moved at a sprinting pace. Moving on and off, or between tracks was fairly easy as long as you paid attention. Like Provo Central, the transit map indicated eight lines, all merging on the intercity hub, and three belt lines that circled the city in six city block increments.
Spoon River Suites looked much like the Timpanogos Suites in Provo. It was a two story white building just off the exit. It bore the same white plastic exterior as all the buildings in Provo. This was not an accident. Worldwide construction prior to the Transition had built infrastructure for 10 billion people in the form of over a quarter million cities. Cities were grouped in constructs for 25,000 people enumerated one through eight, with a city construct for 100,000 people designated as central. A group of cities for 300,000 people was termed parishes in the United States. The entire area for a parish was between one and two square mile depending on the required agricultural area needed to support the population. The project of creating 35,000 parishes around the globe resulted in a cookie cutter approach to designing the cities and parishes.
“Want to go for a swim after dinner?” Kviiiy asked Eric as they approached the front lobby of the hotel.
“I’m beat,” Eric replied honestly. “Why did you bring so much stuff anyway?” he pointed with his eyes at Kviiiy’s three suitcases.
“Bait,” she smiled. “Come on, I need your help. I overheard that Tony and his trolls are going to the pool after supper,” she pouted convincingly.
“Why do I feel like a tool in your evil plot,” Eric sighed. “Okay, I’ll tag along if you don’t try to dunk me. I’m good for a lounge chair at best.”
Eric skipped the hamburgers that most of his classmates were locked into, and tried the local favorite, a pork tenderloin sandwich. He liked the combination of meat and grease. He was also happy that he decided to join the group at the pool. Springfield was experiencing a heat wave. The temperature was only 89 degrees, which was a lot cooler than Provo this time of year. But the humidity was so thick that he could barely breathe. Despite the heat he left on a black tee-shirt with his swim trunks. He decided that dunking Kviiiy in the pool was better than a lounge chair.
The next morning the class met in the lobby for the tour of Old Springfield. For the trip Mr. Dewquist had chartered a two-deck copter. It was a tourist model with seats paired up with the windows of the circular cabin that had room for forty passengers on the lower deck. The upper deck had a snack bar and a closed off navigation room.
Eric had taken copter lessons before the incident, but had not been in a copter since and had some trepidation about going on the sightseeing day trip. His fear wasn’t of flying, but of the cloud dragons or birds. Illinois was along the migratory route of the massive ducks and geese. In turn it was home to thousands of predatory birds.
As the copter lifted off, Eric saw the central park, which was covered in shaded glass to protect individuals from aerial attacks. The copter soon rose above the four towers representing north, south, east and west at the edge of the circular city construct. As they rose higher the ivory white color of the circular city stood out brightly against the lush green vegetation that surrounded the city looking like some medieval castle.
Cultivated fields of corn and soybeans grew in rows that were tended by robotic farm units that rose like giants moving slowly across the fields. On the horizon, perhaps a quarter mile away, Ryder could spot two, then three of the seven satellite cities that made up Springfield parish. Beyond the fields rose a tangled forest of oak trees and underbrush that were kept at bay by more robotic field units.
“Sure is green,” Kviiiy commented from the next seat over.
“Yeah, it’s a lot prettier than the brown and red dirt with the greenish blue sagebrush of home,” Eric sighed. But it sure is sticky out here. I guess it’s all the humidity that keeps it so green. I’m not sure if I’d trade the dry air just to get this much green, but its’ a close call.”
In the distance, they could see the ribbon of one of the many small rivers that were common in the region. Beyond the river rose the decaying towers of Old Springfield. “I understand that Old Chicago is even bigger than this,” Kviiiy replied in awe as they approached the outer neighborhoods of the city. Roofs of homes were collapsing, ancient vehicles were rusting, roads and sidewalks were breaking up with the cracks filled with weeds. One entire neighborhood looked like it had been hit by some sort of bomb with buildings collapsed and dead trees scattered about like toppled toys.
The recorded narration and laser pointers helped identify the old rail lines and a derelict diesel powered train engine and cars. The copter flew in close to the massive engine, and disturbed a murder of crows. A couple of the crows came within a few feet of the copter as it hovered and Eric almost jumped out of his seat. The crows moved on and settled further down the rail line.
The copter continued its pattern pointing out office buildings, restaurants, and a car dealership with over a hundred cars sitting in a giant parking lot. It moved on to the first of two stops, the Wyndham. The Wyndham was the tallest building still standing in Springfield rising 352 feet in the air. The recording pointed out that by way of comparison to the pre-transition people, the Wyndham would have had to shoot two miles into the air to give a comparable affect. This drew ooohs and aaahs from the students.
The copter flew through the lobby and in and out of the building through large broken windows. Finally, it settled on the roof of the aging structure. “Fifteen minutes,” the canned narration paused. “Follow the yellow line for restrooms and snacks. The view area is just beyond the snack shack.”
The walkway was covered with bird-resistant netting. The snacks were expensive and bland. Eric was hesitant, but eventually moved to the view area. “It’s pretty much the same view as inside the copter,” he complained to Kviiiy.
Tony joined them with a fast melting ice cream cone, “Still nice to be standing here. I almost feel like I’m watching it on television when we’re in the copter.”
“Suits me,” Eric continued. It’s hot and muggy out here. I feel like it’s raining inside my clothes.”
“Hey look over there,” Kviiiy pointed.
Tony joined her, “What are you looking at?”
“The sky,” Kviiiy smiled. “Have you ever seen a green sky before?”
Eric, Coul, and Chanel joined them, “I don’t see anything,” Chanel frowned.
“It’s different,” Eric supported Kviiiy’s claim. “It is sort of blue, but sort of green too.”
“Yeah, I see it,” Coul agreed, but was looking west rather than south.
“That way,” Eric whispered.
“Oh yeah,” Coul looked perplexed but continued his affirmation.
A loud bell sounded scattering some birds resting on a corner of the building and spooking Eric. “I guess we better get back if we don’t want to get left behind,” he turned and started walking back down the yellow marked path.
The final stop on the tour, and the one many of the students had been excited about, was the zip line tour inside the former State Capitol building. The building infrastructure was still intact despite sixteen years of abandonment. The zipline tour started on the third floor and descended at a gentle slope that provided an up close view of the stained glass centerpiece of the capitol building. The plaster friezes were showing some cracks, but otherwise stood intact. Periodically the cable carried the passengers through open areas, which made Eric nervous, but he did not see any birds inside the rotunda. His eyes caught glimpses of movement along the floor far below, most likely cockroaches that now infested all the abandoned cities.
They were still several minutes from the end of the tour when the recall bell sounded from the copter. Trying to push forward more rapidly, Coul somehow managed to jam his pulley, blocking the progress of the rest of the class. Dangling, Coul kept taking swipes toward the cable, but could not get a firm grip on anything, making matters worse. Eric was stuck behind three other classmates who were starting to panic.
Tony had moved on ahead oblivious to the problem until he heard some of his classmates yelling. Turning he saw the dilemma and worked his way back up the cable to where Coul was dangling. “Calm down,” he commanded, and Coul finally relaxed enough that Tony, with longer arms, was able to reach the jam and tease it loose. The process had taken nearly half an hour, and the constant ringing of the recall bell was getting on everyone’s nerves as they worked their way to the final platform.
“What’s going on?” Eric was probably the fifth or sixth student to ask Mr. Dewquist, as he was motioned quickly to his seat.
“Tornado alert,” Miss Jackson tried to smile, but it just further exposed her worry lines.
Eric had barely taken his seat when the copter lifted off the shelf where it picked up the last of the class members. It raced across the breadth of the rotunda to where a narrow panel opened electronically to allow their escape from the building. As soon as the vehicle hit the exterior it started bouncing around with air turbulence. Strong gusts of wind lifted the vehicle skyward, and then sheer winds drove it back down, all as the copter jerked left and right. A seat belt light came on, but it was a bit late, as class members were either hanging onto their seats, or had been thrown across the chamber.
Eric had conscientiously fastened his seatbelt when re-boarding the copter, and was mesmerized with the effects of the wind. Leaves and debris were flying near their craft as it continued to wobble to maintain control. The sky had darkened. Off to the left and still in the far distance he could see clouds beginning to swirl into the tale tell signs of a tornado funnel.
The chime of the speakers rang and a voice came over the intercom, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are unable to return to Springfield Central in this storm. We’re going to have to return to the Capitol building and wait this out.”
Eric watched as the copter turned and tried to return to the Capitol building, but as he watched the copter fighting the wind, the craft continued to lose ground against the driving air currents.
The chimes echoed, and the pilot’s voice came back on the intercom. “We’re not going to make it back to the Capitol. Make sure all you and all of your companions are belted in tightly. Please prepare for a crash landing. We’ll try to make it back to the Wyndham.”
Eric turned his attention back to the battle between nature and the pilot. Rain began to pelt the copter hard, sounding like bullets crashing against the windows. What seemed like an eternity, but could not have been more than five minutes later, the copter whipped through a broken window of the Wyndham, and then settled into a hover, while the pilot looked for a landing site. In the semi-darkness, the craft moved out of the path of the wind blowing through the broken window and settled to the floor.
Again the chime rang, “This is your captain. Please keep your seat belts fastened. We’ll have to wait out the storm here.
Miss Jackson yelled out, “We need a doctor.”
Eric released his seatbelt, and ran up the stairs to the second deck and pounded on the pilots’ cabin. “We need medical assistance. Do you have anyone with medical skills aboard?”
The door to the pilot’s cabin opened, but no one was there.