You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, a fantasy adventure novel available at Barnes and Noble Online.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Electric Gypsy

The Electric Gypsy

A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

Oliver Wendell James hit the save button, and then directed the laptop to shut itself down. He gazed out beyond his little machine and drank in the view. He had found a great place to stop, that was for sure. Hills, trees, a stream and a quiet lake. Blue sky, just enough clouds to make thing interesting.

When his laptop was finished with its closing procedures and had powered down, the middle-aged author closed the lid and picked the valuable instrument up from the table. He set it on his chair, and folded the table into its surprisingly compact travel form. This he stowed in the compartment behind him.

Standing by the compartment door, he gazed at the machine that was his home. Top end construction, and a massive experiment. It amazed him, and also made him chuckle. The damned thing had more advertisements painted on the exterior surfaces than a Nascar racing vehicle. Contributors, fabricators, and sponsors of his mobile lifestyle.

Ollie moved the laptop to the entry steps, folded the chair, and stowed that with the table. He closed the compartment door and secured it against the days travel. The vehicle should reach full charge any moment, so Ollie began his walk around. Before moving each day he would check the vehicle with care. Doors secured, no damage, tires fully inflated. No obvious flaws.

He heard the chime just as he reached the main door. He had been traveling this way only two months, yet he could sense when the charge was complete. He pushed a button on his key fob, and the awning began stowing itself for travel. Not only did it provide shade, but the surface of the awning was also part of the solar charging array.

Ollie stepped back and watched as the awning put itself away, and the tilted panels on the roof moved into travel position. The satellite dish on the roof also folded into travel mode. He could hear the hum as the electric levelers stowed themselves under the vehicle. Everything was being managed by the central onboard computer.

Many items on the vehicle were experimental, donated or provided at a discount in exchange for mention in the travel blog and advertisement space on the outer surface of the experimental recreational vehicle. Ollie chuckled once again at the rather obnoxious outside of his home, scooped up the laptop, and stepped up into his mobile castle.

The interior was very well laid out. Designers had agonized for many hours over form and function, constantly trying to save weight while creating an environment in which a man could comfortably live. Sometimes it seemed that the interior was larger than the exterior, the design was so well thought out.

Ollie stowed the laptop in a compartment, plugging in the charging unit. He then brewed a cup of tea, and took it with him to the driver’s station. He set the cup in the holder, and settled into his driver’s seat. It was almost too comfortable to make for safe driving, but he could never figure out how to complain to the designers about that. He really didn’t want to.

He switched on the several monitors. Rear-view, navigation, system information. He first picked a spot on the navigation map that would be their destination. The computer advised him that it was within range. He double-checked the information on the other screen. The batteries were at capacity, and the lock-outs had cut off any unneeded systems to prevent trickle leaks of power. He hit the button to accept the route to the target.

Since the target this time was a commercial RV park, the computer automatically began making a reservation and deposit. The confirmation chirp came almost immediately. Years of high cost had diminished the RV market, and it was often easy to find a space in the surviving parks.

Though the vehicle had an accelerator pedal, it was seldom used. The computer was more efficient. The driver would steer and when necessary control the vehicle with the brake. Ollie pressed down on the brake, released the parking brake, and then let up on the brake pedal. He pushed the engage button on the computer monitor, and the vehicle began to accelerate.

The acceleration was slow and steady, much like a train ramping up to travel speed. The computer, using the mapping data and inputs from a multitude of sensors, would do most of the work. It was Ollie’s job to avoid other vehicles and try to keep the vehicle on the selected course.

Once he got back to the main road Ollie had to wait for a suitable opening in the traffic. It would have been much more difficult in years past, but the higher cost of fuel finally compelled even the most ambitious drivers to slow down. Hybrid drivers were the most conscious of cost-saving driving skills, but practically everyone had made adjustments by the time Ollie launched this great experiment.

Grabbing an opening large enough to allow for the metered acceleration of his experimental vehicle, Ollie took his foot off of the brake and allowed the machine to move out onto the highway. After this, it was just steering and enjoying the view. The smooth progress was pleasant.

Ollie had named his new home The Electric Gypsy. An electric powered motor home. It was capable of forty five miles per hour on flat terrain. Ollie rarely achieved that speed The course was always plotted to keep to roads where a top speed of thirty five miles an hour was acceptable. The computer had to account for elevations as well as distances. Climbing required energy and that was always in limited supply.

Even as they traveled the solar collectors gathered sunlight and converted it into electrical power. When not in motion the array was rotated to an optimal collecting angle. The outdoor awning also made a contribution. Even some of the suitable side surfaces had collection panels. All of them were gathering energy and storing it in the huge battery.

However, on any given day only so much energy could be gathered. Here the travel philosophy of the famous Tioga George came into play. Travel a little every day, and conserve the resources. Of course, George had been saving gas. Ollie was conserving his precious electricity.

The road ahead began to rise. The vehicle had gathered speed on the long stretch of relatively level land, and made good use of a recent down hill run. Now the inertia was consumed by gravity, and the computer smoothly introduced power to the drive motors. The vehicle slowed to about 27 miles per hour, and maintained that speed all of the way to the top of the pass. Ollie just had to keep it on track.

“Check point. Turn off onto route 17.” said the computer. Ollie glanced at the map on the navigation monitor. They were almost half-way to their destination. Ollie watched for the exit, and smoothly turned the vehicle off of the main highway.

The Electric Gypsy had slowed almost to a stop when Ollie stepped on the brake at the stop sign. He took his foot off of the brake right away. There was no traffic. He turned right, as directed by the navigation computer. The computer began accelerating the vehicle to the optimum speed for the road.

So it went for almost three hours. Finally their destination was in sight. “Bide-A-Wee Recreational Vehicle Park.” Ollie read out loud. He turned in at the entrance and stopped at the office.

“Welcome, Mister James.” Said the proprietor, as she checked The Electric Gypsy in. “Right on time. I am so glad you could stay with us.” Ollie smiled, signed the papers, accepted his space assignment, and was soon on his way to his lake side space. He also signed one of his novels the proprietor pressed into his hands. Ollie never minded this. His readers made this life of his possible.

Once he had The Electric Gypsy parked, Ollie advised the computer of their arrival. The machine knew where they were, of course. However, it needed permission to begin setting itself up for camping. The system deployed the awning and levelers, and put up the solar panels and satellite dish. Though the system had maintained an Internet connection through cell phone connections, it now switched to the more reliable satellite Internet.

Ollie did not have to attend to any of this. He just made another cup of tea, grabbed his laptop, and headed outside. Soon he had his “office” set up, and was back at work on his next novel. At least he was, for a few minutes.

“You’re that traveling writer guy, aren’t you?”

Ollie looked up to see a gentleman in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt standing nearby. He obviously belonged to one of the several RV’s in the park.

“Yes. Yes, I am.” Ollie answered. “Would you like to sit down?”

The man looked around, but did not see another chair. Ollie indicated the open storage area. “No, thanks. Just wanted to say ‘Hi.’”

Ollie nodded, and waited.

“So, this is the future, is it?” the man said. “I don’t know if I like it.”

“Which rig is yours?” Ollie asked his visitor. The man waved vaguely at one of the machines across the way. Ollie looked, and saw more grime from sitting than road grime. “When did you last move it?”

“Been here almost a month.” the man answered. “I expect I can move on in a few more days. Maybe.”

Ollie said nothing.

“Pretty expensive, moving on.” the man said, sheepishly.

“I traveled about seventy miles today.” Ollie said. “It cost about three dollars. That includes the prorated cost of my share of the vehicle.”

The man simply blinked, and looked at the machine.

“Rich writer like you should be able to travel in style.” the man finally said. “Hang the cost.”

Ollie nodded. “I guess you are right. However, I am also rich enough to choose not to throw away my money. I used my wealth to create this experimental vehicle. I used my wealth to create this experimental life style.”

The man blinked again.

“I don’t know if it is THE future.” said Ollie. “I do know it is MY future.”

“Maybe I’ll read one of your books one day.” said the man, as he turned to walk away.

“That would please me.” said Ollie. “In the mean time, I will write you a new one.”

With that he returned to his keyboard, in the shade of the solar awning of The Electric Gypsy. Ollie could almost feel the power for the next day of travel being packed away in his amazing machine. It felt good.

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