Murray Steele shifted uneasily in his seat. It was less a discomfort with the navigation than with the hover itself. Despite several weeks of being without either his own hover or home, he had yet to grow accustomed to the accommodations of others. He well knew Bernard’s acumen regarding hover piloting yet it seemed that being a passenger would never fulfill him the way piloting his own hover had.
“It’s just a small detour,” said Bernard, his mind only half trained on their current flight.
Murray watched as Bernard’s free hand reached over his driving hand to adjust the flow of air conditioning.
“Some honor to witness,” continued Bernard, “as the last of these giants pass into history.”
Murray noticed the small swarm of hover craft rapidly making their way across the sky before them. He counted seven in all, only one at a noticeably higher altitude.
“What is this occasion?” asked Murray.
Bernard banked the hover hard to the left, causing Murray to reach out quickly for support. “It’s the end of an era. How many times must I say it?” snapped Bernard.
“Yes, that I remember,” responded Murray, “But what era?”
“An historic one,” answered Bernard as though no further explanation was required.
Murray let it drop. He would soon enough discover the reason for Bernard’s excitement. Unfortunately for Murray, he rarely shared Bernard’s enthusiasm when such things were finally revealed.
The countryside was marked by intermittent fields variously bordered by tall trees. The hover sped along at a fast pace, leaving a rush of treetops unsettled in its wake. In the near distance was a small town, its sky dotted with hovers moving to and fro. Before they reached the outskirts of the town, Bernard again turned sharply toward a massive complex of buildings to the north. Outside the largest of these buildings was acre upon acre of open lots filled with what appeared to be automobiles. Murray held his query until he was certain of what he saw.
“Why are there so many automobiles out here in the middle of nowhere?” asked Murray.
“You really have no passion for tradition, do you?” responded Bernard.
The hover settled near a large, partially open entrance to the building. There were a handful of other hovers in the vicinity. As the two men walked toward the factory, Murray looked across the sea of automobiles basking in the early evening sun. He thought of asking how many there were, but Bernard’s response was likely to sting.
The building towered over them when they finally reached its entrance. Within stood a small number of people in a semi-circle near one section of a massive assembly line. Standing on some equipment before the gathering was a short man in an ill-fitting suit. As Murray and Bernard approached, they could hear the man speaking.
“…a testament to the hard working people of this great nation,” he bellowed to the gathering, “This giant of a man carried to his grave a tradition hard won on the picket lines of history. We witness today the passing of the last vanguard of a bygone era where the rights of workers were gained and protected through solidarity and perseverance. We are all forever in his debt.”
At this the man stepped down and mingled into the crowd. A polite applause grew modestly from the attendees as the speaker made his way through handshakes and pleasantries. In a few moments, the crowd dispersed. The few who remained raised their Expliques toward the interior of the massive building, taking photos of the machinery. The speaker paused to take in the scene around him, then placed his weathered hat upon his head and made his way toward Bernard.
“So good to see you again, Bernard,” he said, his hand reaching forward.
Bernard took the man’s hand, shaking eagerly. “William, stirring as always,” he said, “It is both a sad and joyous occasion.”
“Indeed,” responded William.
“Murray, I’d like you to meet a great man, William Riley,” Bernard said, turning toward Murray. “William, this is a colleague of mine, Murray Steele.”
William eagerly shook Murray’s hand. “Pleasure,” said William.
“I find opportunities such as this to impress upon Murray the reverence he seems to lack regarding such historically significant figures and events,” continued Bernard.
“Really?” asked William.
Murray, having yet to grasp the circumstances of the event, much less it’s significance, simply smiled.
“Well, Murray, a great man passed on this very week,” said William as though he’d resumed his position before an eager crowd of onlookers. “This monument within which we stand speaks of the struggles long ago won by this great man and his contemporaries. The fifty hour work week, Sundays off, and the end to retirement are but a few of the many worker rights hard won by that generation of men and women now gone with this man’s passing.”
Murray looked from William to Bernard and back to William. “There was a time when the work week was shorter,” he said, timidly.
“Yes, the struggle encountered setbacks,” responded Bernard, “But thanks to visionaries like this man, we are better able to work for the benefit of society. Mr. Riley will similarly be lauded as he is the final member of the auto union.”
William instinctively produced a business card from his jacket pocket and presented it to Murray. Above his name were boldly printed the letters “UAW”. Murray looked closely at the card, turning it over to see what other surprises it might contain.
“I had no idea,” said Murray, “I assumed there were no automobiles being made anymore. Hovers have been around for decades.”
“This is what I mean,” responded Bernard, “Murray, one doesn’t simply eliminate an industry of such importance. We have to sustain these things if for no other reason than to keep these important men and women contributing.”
“Indeed,” added William, “Where would the world be if we forgot the contributions of this industry?”
Murray thought for a moment, looking at William and then at Bernard. “I guess we wouldn’t have all of these automobiles.”
“Precisely,” said William.
“Now you see,” added Bernard.
“So this man…” Murray started.
“The last of his kind,” responded William, “He worked here all alone for several years. Kept this whole operation running by himself. Well, we made sure the facility was maintained. Society values such important figures doing essential work. Of course, he hadn’t completed any vehicles in the last few months, but he kept at it, contributing up to the very end.”
Murray nodded as though he understood. “What will become of this?” he asked, looking around at the cavernous building.
“The Comity will maintain it, like all the others,” Bernard responded.
“Others?” asked Murray.
Bernard quickly lost his patience with Murray. “Yes, others. What makes you think we would want to lose such history? The things these people did for us? All workers benefited from their efforts.”
William glanced at his Explique and appeared startled. “Have to go. So much to do,” he said hastily. He reached for Murray’s hand, shook it vigorously, then did the same with Bernard before rushing off.
Bernard and Murray followed him out at a much slower pace. By the time they reached the massive door, William had already strapped into his hover. Once outside, Murray paused to take in the immense building and its contents. In the distance, thousands of automobiles sat idle in the shadow of this enormous structure as the sun settled over the horizon.
Bernard continued toward his hover. When he realized that Murray was not keeping up, he grew impatient. “Murray, must you dawdle?”
Murray hurried toward him. As he approached Bernard’s hover, he realized that it was the last one in the lot. “Should we close up or something?” Murray asked as he settled into Bernard’s hover.
Bernard considered the question for a moment before releasing a sigh. “Murray, do you think there is no one from the Comity to tend to these things?” he asked.
Murray, familiar with his tone, did not respond.
The hover lifted from the lot and moved under Bernard’s direction. As the sun set behind them, the interior of the hover adopted its soft orange glow of light. Murray kept his hands firm against the handle ahead of him as he scanned the sea of automobiles spreading out to to their left and right.
“Bernard,” said Murray, his grip tightening slightly, “Who drives all of these automobiles?”
“Why would anyone drive an automobile?” asked Bernard.
“Yes, that’s what I mean,” responded Murray, “why do we have all of these automobiles if no one drives them?”
“Do you really know nothing?” blurted Bernard.
Murray wasn’t certain how to respond. Obviously he knew something. He knew how to speak. He knew how to operate a hover. He knew enough to stay silent when Bernard was on his high horse and he knew that there was no longer any reason to be building automobiles.
“Like dogs, people have a purpose,” started Bernard, measuring his words, “Some are good at hunting and others are excellent alarms if danger approaches. When you find their purpose, you don’t discard it. Those that are good at making automobiles are no different. They fulfill their purpose for the good of society. You and I benefit from their efforts.”
“Like dogs?” asked Murray.
“You know what I mean,” responded Bernard, “People feel better when they contribute and they contribute most when they fulfill their purpose.”
“So that entire factory was there to allow one man to fulfill his purpose?” Murray asked.
“It is amazing what we can do with wise leadership, isn’t it?” Bernard answered.
As darkness descended around them, the hover raced on above the tree tops. In the distance they saw the light of what appeared to be a construction site. As they approached, Murray could make out several pieces of heavy equipment along a thin stretch of flat land. When the hover finally passed over the site, Murray could make out an asphalt paving machine and a host of men tending to newly laid road.
“Working late, I see,” said Bernard, a hint of pride in his voice.