Twelve-year-old Bobby Henderson loved America's birthday more than his own. In fact, it was his favorite holiday. At any time, he would be calculating how many days he had to wait until the Fourth of July.
During the Independence Day of 2009, he had the time of his life. His middle school had sponsored an afternoon dance. Being obsessed with fireworks, Bobby didn't go to many social events. However, several of his friends had convinced him to attend the dance. Contrary to his expectations, Bobby began to enjoy it. He got to slow dance with several girls that he had liked. Since it was his first time dancing with anyone, he was both shy and nervous. Appropriately enough, just about every girl that he had danced with had asked him about his fireworks.
After several hours, the dance was over. But for Bobby, the "day" was only about to begin. Knowing that his family were having a large barbeque party that night, Bobby saw an excellent opportunity to shoot some of the fireworks that he had won from a contest the year before.
Being a responsible teenager, the first thing that Bobby did when he got home was to help clean up the house. As soon as he was done, he began to set up his show while his parents prepared the food. After about three hours, Bobby had just finished inspecting his set-up when the guests started to arrive. And when they did, they stood in shock after seeing what Bobby had planned to do that night.
Being too excited for the show, none of the guests ate very much. When the fireworks began, the roar from the audience was louder than the pep rallies at Bobby's school. Explosions filled the night sky. Colors sprang to life and dueled. Comets screamed towards the heavens. Chrysanthemums blossomed in the air. All of this were accompanied by the chorus of mines and fountains. It seemed that the fireworks would go on forever. When the show finally ended after 90 minutes, Bobby was flooded with both compliments and questions.
"Bobby, that was wicked!" one guest shouted.
"How much did that cost ya?" another asked.
"Daddy, can we come to Bobby's house next year?" one little girl asked her father.
Two hours later, most of the adults had left after taking some food with them. However, most of Bobby's friends stayed. Since Bobby still had several tons of fireworks remaining, he didn't mind letting his friends light off shell after shell.
In fact, he would have lit fireworks with them all night. Nevertheless, he did not want to wake his neighbors. After a short discussion, Bobby and his friends agreed to play video games instead. Bobby later invited them to sleep over for the night, and they were more than happy to oblige. He and his friends also planned a rafting trip for the next day. Still excited about his fireworks show, Bobby had difficulty sleeping. He eventually dozed off, dreaming about fireworks as usual.
* * *
Bobby stirred when he heard shells explode in the distance. Thinking that people were shooting off their remaining fireworks, he would have gone to watch, except that he was too tired. Several minutes later, he heard some more explosions. This time, he could not resist, so he yanked himself out of bed. He noticed that his parents were not home, but he did not think much of it. As soon as he got dressed, the fireworks had stopped. But he did not feel like sleeping anymore, so he decided to look for his friends. Unable to find them in the house, he figured that they were outside.
The moment he opened the front door, he got the surprise of his life. He saw that his neighborhood had completely changed. All of the houses were different, and not one of the cars on his street looked familiar. None of his friends were anywhere to be seen. Bobby blinked his eyes, hoping that he was only hallucinating, but nothing happened. Bobby panicked, not knowing what to do. He eventually calmed himself down, but he knew that he had no choice but to explore.
He walked around the neighborhood and noticed that many of the roads had been renamed. After going downtown, he saw that most of the stores had changed as well. The local Albertsons had been bought out by Trader Joe's. Longs Drugs had been taken over by Wal-Mart. Nob Hill Foods had turned into Big 5 Sporting Goods. Only the nearby Phantom Fireworks store had not changed. Bobby instantly forgot his troubles and headed towards it.
As soon as he entered the showroom, he was astounded by the large amount of new products that he had never seen before. He also noticed several large boxes with pictures of strange machines on them.
"What's in those boxes?" asked Bobby.
The salesman was eager to answer, hoping that Bobby would buy something. "Those are force field generators. They're designed to prevent people from getting hurt in case something goes wrong with a fireworks show."
Bobby took a closer look at one of the boxes. It was labeled "Phantom Phorce Phield" and looked very heavy. "I didn't know that such technology even existed!" he exclaimed.
The salesman laughed. "Haha, welcome to the year 2048!"
Bobby was confused. "You mean, I'm in the year 2048 right now?"
The salesman shot him with an annoyed look. "Is this some silly joke? Look, I'm a busy manager. I have customers to deal with. I don't have time for this nonsense."
"I'm serious! I fell asleep in 2009 and woke up this morning. This really happened! I swear!" argued Bobby.
The salesman was about to ask Bobby to leave the store when he saw that Bobby's clothing was out of style. "So that's why you're still wearing one of those t-shirts from the 2000s."
"Yep. Do you believe me now?"
The salesman didn't know what to do. "Unfortunately, there's not much that I can do to help someone in your situation. I might as well introduce you to today's developments."
Bobby had already grown curious about the technologies of the year 2048. "All right, that sounds great!"
The salesman's frown had turned into a smile. "Here, I'll introduce myself. My name's Matt."
"Mine's Bobby." He shook hands with the salesman.
"So, what would you like to know about? Inventions? Politics? Anything?"
Bobby already knew what he was going to ask. "Has there been any significant changes in fireworks-related laws since 2009?"
"Of course. In fact, there had been many changes. But they were for the better. Fireworks have been legal everywhere in the United States since 2033. It was because more and more people were learning how to use them properly."
To Bobby, it was too good to be true. "You mean, I could just go out to some random park and shoot 500-gram cakes?"
"That's right! It's funny that you mention 500-gram cakes. Fireworks may now have up to three kilograms of powder, unlike in the good ol' days. Firecrackers may have up to 350 milligrams of flash. Oh, and two grams for aerial shells."
"Aren't those going to be expensive?"
"No. As a matter of fact, fireworks have become much cheaper due to advances in chemical engineering."
Bobby looked around and saw that some of the largest cakes were available for less then ten dollars each. He also saw a sign offering "cheap 1.3g courses" for less than 100 dollars. "You guys train professional pyros now?"
"Yeah. And now you can get a Type 54 license in less than two days."
"That's amazing! What other cool stuff do you guys have in 2048?"
Matt led Bobby to a large room. Unlike the other rooms in the building, this one was made of glass panels with millions of diodes behind them. Near the entrance, there was a control panel with many buttons, switches, and a large computer screen.
"This is the PyroDeck, a true hologram projector used to simulate fireworks displays. When these devices were invented in late 2027, they were originally used by the U.S. military to simulate nuclear explosions. Now, this technology is readily available to almost anyone."
Bobby was too stunned to say anything, so Matt went on. "The PyroDeck is powered by a 600-petaflop supercomputer. It can simulate from entire shows down to individual objects. Our R&D department uses it to 'test' new products. Customers use it to plan their shows. Of course, kids always love to play with it."
To Bobby, this device was extremely tantalizing. "May I try it, then?"
"Of course! Let me set it up for you." With that, Matt walked up to the control panel and entered the activation code. "All right, it should be ready in a minute or two."
A digital voice sounded from the control panel. "Please wait, initializing PyroDeck system software."
The lights in the room dimmed. The buttons on the control panel lighted up and the computer screen flickered to life. Bobby saw many strange lines of text scroll down the screen. He figured that they were some sort of code, but he didn't understand any of it. Finally, the screen indicated that the PyroDeck was ready.
"PyroDeck initialization at 100 percent. Awaiting command."
The device was fairly complicated, but Bobby got the hang of it pretty quickly. The first thing he did was to simulate a large shell exploding in slow motion. He had seen all sorts of high-speed films on science programs, but none of them involved fireworks. After that, he began to create his own virtual displays. He tried every type of set-up he could think of. Although the shows were not real, Bobby still loved them. Having never seen this type of technology before, Bobby was mesmerized.
Several hours later, Bobby overheard Matt talking to an employee about testing some professional shells. Although he didn't feel like leaving the PyroDeck, he wanted see how the actual shows were done. He left the PyroDeck room just in time to see Matt and the employee exit the store. Another employee had taken over the counter.
"Hey, I've heard that you guys are going to test some of the professional stuff. Is that right?"
"Yeah. Wanna come?" asked Matt, holding the door open for Bobby.
"Well, hop along, then!"
Bobby followed Matt to his car, which was a brand new Lexus SUV. "Whoa, that's a nice car!"
"Haha, thanks Bobby!" smiled Matt.
Once the car was on the freeway, Bobby had to ask another question. "Has there been any other major inventions since 2009?"
"Well, yeah. You know about the chemical element cesium?"
"Yeah, it's extremely reactive in its pure form. Even most of its compounds are too reactive to have practical uses." Although Bobby had learned some chemistry from his science classes, most of his knowledge about chemicals came from library books and sites like Wikipedia.
"Bobby sure knows a lot for his age," commented the employee.
"Bobby is indeed correct. But in 2020, someone discovered how to make cesium compounds more stable. That's why some of our fireworks now have that sky blue which was impossible to create for nearly three decades."
"Yep, the wonders of technology hold a lot for us."
"I kinda feel bad for those people in my era. They didn't have as much benefits as we do now."
"I agree. But instead of thinking about the problems of the past, we should look to the future."
Bobby nodded in agreement. Meanwhile, the car had arrived at an empty field. Matt stopped the car and began unpacking the shells while his assistant started setting up the mortars. Bobby was not licensed to work with professional fireworks, but he was allowed to help by carrying tubes and wires.
Within two hours, the fireworks were ready, and Bobby was given the honor of pressing the button. While the shoot was only experimental, Bobby thought that it was as good as a full show from the 2000s.
After the three had cleaned up the site, they arrived back at the Phantom Fireworks showroom. Unfortunately, it had already closed by that time. Matt would have shown Bobby more things, but he didn't want to arrive home too late. After all, he had a family to take care of.
"You're more than welcome to come back tomorrow," he said.
"All right, I'll see you around!"
Bobby turned to go, but Matt stopped him. "Before you leave, I have something for you." He went into an adjacent room and brought out a small orange box.
"What is it?"
"It's an LC-58 laser system. It's useful for lighting fireworks, but it can also be used for laser shows. It's a good thing that we're good friends with Wicked Lasers."
"Wow! You're so awesome! Thanks, man!"
"No problem, Bobby. Just be careful. Those lasers aren't toys!"
"All right, I'll be careful. Thanks again!"
Back at home, Bobby set the box next to his bed. Having had another busy day, he was very tired, so he went to sleep. He was eager to try out his new laser device the next day.
* * *
When Bobby woke up again, the sun was shining into his eyes. He saw that the orange box had disappeared! He panicked, thinking that someone had stolen it. He then realized that his experiences in 2048 had all been a dream! He was glad to be back in 2009, although he had wished that his dream had lasted a bit longer.
Suddenly, one of his friends burst into his room, followed by two others. "Whoa there, Bobby, you've slept enough already! It's almost noon! Are we going rafting or not?"
"Sure, just give me five minutes to dress."
"Man, we've been waiting for you for three hours now," complained another, who closed the door behind him.
After dressing, Bobby went to Yahoo! News on his laptop and entered "fireworks" into the search box. He did not like what he saw at all.
"Results: Thieves steal from fireworks stand in Pacifica. California confiscates 18 tons of illegal fireworks at border inspections. Police respond to 316 fireworks-related calls in Phoenix. Three teens injured after misusing fireworks mortar. Alabama man dies in fireworks accident. Eight boys in New Orleans arrested for making illegal fireworks. Roman candles caused wildfires in Wyoming."
There were more, but Bobby didn't feel inclined to read them all.
"Bobby, are you coming out or not?" called a voice outside.
"All right, all right, I'm coming!"
As Bobby packed his things into the car, he looked up into the sky and closed his eyes. He knew that the utopian world he dreamed about would someday become reality.
All he had to do was wait. And hope.