Contemporary Speculative Science Fiction

Thomas Adler grinned as he watched the full-sized vehicle make its way along the track. It accelerated quickly and was soon going at a steady ninety kilometres per hour. No emissions whatsoever. It was getting its energy in three ways: directly from the sunlight, from the saved-up energy in its battery, charged from the movement of the wheels, and from wind power, all successfully stored in a second battery which was turned on and off by a gyroscope. The small model had performed successfully; he was gratified to see the full-sale one doing the same.

"Well well," said Robert, his chief mechanic. "You've really cracked it. Now we'll just have to convince the others."

There had been attempts before to make a perpetual motion machine but they'd never quite got it right. Other initiatives had only gone so far in creating greener energy. The early electric cars that took ages to charge and the hybrids still used quite a lot of fossil fuel. Various enlightened cities had put in place public transport systems that certainly used self-charging batteries but they still had to take some power from the grid.

Here now was a vehicle that wouldn't harm the environment and which could be run on very little money - it would only need the occasional repair. The two batteries, the solar panel and the small turbine took up less space and were lighter than a conventional fuel tank. The whole vehicle could be made from recycled materials so would be very affordable even for poorer families.   

Thomas knew though that convincing others would not be easy. The initial outlay for setting up a factory to produce the vehicles would be quite high.    

And that did prove to be the first major problem.

"The trouble is, you see," said the CEO of the large car-making firm, "we'd have to completely retool."

"But you've got the main infrastructure haven't you? And surely you can use robotics? You could put a fair profit-margin on each unit and they'd still be reasonably priced. It's only really the engines and the fuel tanks that are different."

"I'm not sure the shareholders would be too happy about it. And it's not just our own shareholders but the ones in the petrochemical industries as well."

"It's all got to change though, hasn't it? What about the environment?"

"And what about the people who work here? There's a whole industry going on here, with people earning money in order to support their families. If we get rid of all of our refineries they'll be out of work."

"There'll be other opportunities, surely?"

The CEO shrugged. "Maybe in the long term. But what do I tell my workers when I have to make them redundant? You might think we're making a packet but if we introduce your vehicle, we won't have enough cash flow to support all the redundancies that we need to make. It's no go, I'm afraid."           

It was the same with all the car firms. They all had the same concerns. No one was interested in producing his perpetual motion car.

"I think we could try the railways," he said to Robert.

So they spent a few months tinkering with their design and produced a locomotive that required no fuel and could pull as many carriages as a conventional one.

"It's impressive," said the chairman of the South-West Coast Railway Company. "And you're sure it will always work? There would never be a shortage of energy?"

"At any one moment each system can provide enough energy to keep the vehicle running at an average speed of ninety kilometres per hour for twenty-four hours. It's completely failsafe."

The chairman nodded. Then shook his head. "We'd have to change all of the locomotives," he said.

"Surely you could just do it gradually? Replace ones that reach their end of life with new ones?"

The chairman shook his head again.

"There'd have to be a lot of training on how to drive these beasts and how to look after them. That would cost,"

"But the savings you'd be making? You could bring down the fares. More people would travel. The company could grow."

The chairman shook his head a third time. "But all of my people are used to the old ways. Diesel and electric. Retraining them would cost. The older ones will take early retirement. I'd lose my work force."

"Well, get the younger ones in. Train new people."

"There aren't enough people to go around."

It was a similar story with all of the rail companies Thomas approached.     

He met with his team one dull November morning.

"What now?" asked one of his bright post-doctoral assistants.

"We apply for more funds. We see whether we can make the thing fly."

They got the funding. It was a good cause, the grant gurus said. It would help the environment. It would provide employment. It would aid levelling up. Cheaper air travel would give mobility to people who hadn't had it before.

The day came when he met the chief executive of one of a big national airline. Not only did Thomas meet him but he also demonstrated his product with an actual flight in a small plane that had been adapted.

"There's hardly any noise," said the chief executive.

"Another advantage surely. And of course, no pollution."

"It's the way we ought to go, certainly."

Thomas began to feel hopeful.

Then though a shadow passed across the chief executive's face. "Health and safety," he muttered. "We'll never get it past health and safety. And even if we do the public just won't trust it."

"Why on earth not? There are three failsafe systems. On every engine."

"No it's no good. They'll only trust the fossil fuels."   

He tried several more air companies, big ones and smaller ones. The concerns were all the same.

A sad day found him locking up his lab for the last time. He would take early retirement. Many of his colleagues would jump at the chance but for him it had a sour side to it. He’d planned to travel the world once he retired but he couldn't face doing it in pollution-causing, planet-destroying planes, trains and cars.

"You know you should try approaching some billionaires," said Robert as they walked over to their cars.

"I don't know." Thomas was relieved to see that his car was now fully charged. What a pity though that that was with energy from the grid.

"You could try. What will you lose if they say no?"

It did give him something to do with his newly acquired spare time. He contacted everyone he could think of. He was mainly ignored. He got a few rude replies. Half a dozen set up meetings with him. They listened politely but then came up with similar arguments as the car, train and airline people had used.

"I don't get why they're saying things like that. This is something new and experimental," he said when he was chatting to Robert one evening on the phone.

"They want to make money."

Eventually he stopped contacting people, he got himself a dog and joined the rambling club as well. Life became quite pleasant though he still felt the disappointment.

Then one day the phone rang and he almost fell off his chair when he heard the name of the caller; it was one of the billionaires who had ignored him. This one had a reputation for seeking adventures and he was extremely concerned about the climate.

"I think you and I need to talk," said the voice on the other end of the phone.          

"There's something I'd like to show you," said Alex Parsons, the billionaire who'd listened to Thomas. "Come over to my office during your break."

Thomas liked Alex. He was very hands on in his enterprises and he always had time to talk to the staff.

Thomas had now been working on Paradise Island for almost a year. It was really an upmarket theme park where the rich came to play. What pleased him most of all, of course, was that all of the rides were clean and cheap to run. Naturally they used his perpetual motion methods.

Paradise Island was roughly the size of Wales. It had splendid beaches and luxury hotels as well as some of the most adventurous rides in the theme park world. A lot of well-known people holidayed there. Thomas was given absolute freedom to run other experiments and the island was now using completely free energy.

He felt quite nervous when he knocked on Alex's door at lunch time.

"Ah good, Thomas" said Alex after he'd let him into the office. "I wanted to show you the latest weather and air reports."

Thomas looked at them on Alex's computer screen. "That's incredible," he said. There had been thirty days of zero pollution and the weather patterns had returned to what they'd been like fifty years ago. Yet the nearest landmasses were experiencing the effects of climate change that they had all been getting used to over the last few years.

"I'd say that that's got to be down to you new technology," said Alex.

"That was always the intention," said Thomas.

"So," said Alex, "I'm going to start straight away on commissioning a whole fleet of new aircraft for the transatlantic run. All using your technology. I shall of course expect you to work as a consultant on the project, which means we'll be looking for a replacement for you hers. Do you have any ideas?"

"I'm sure I can think of someone." There was that fiery postdoctoral assistant or maybe Robert if he felt like coming out of retirement. Surely he would, wouldn't he? Retirement was for couch potatoes, not perpetual motion machines like him and Robert.               

November 30, 2022 09:14

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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