Once the security strap-in sign had been turned off and it was safe to move, Reshma and Mariana swiveled their chairs into a facing position and unfolded the table between them to get to work. Their company’s vision was to build a Hyperloop network across Europe after the successful inauguration of the Munich-Lisbon section.
The reasons why this had been first were simple. Munich was ideally located as a central hub within Europe offering both a solid scene of large corporations and innovative young companies. Lisbon had started to develop into Europe’s humming startup hub, and inspiring antipole to California. This was influenced by the confident Portuguese government’s decision to support private investments with a 200 million euro public fund. Ties with Brexit beaten London had intensified after the prime minister of Portugal had publicly invited startups with a “You are always welcome here”. More and more founders took him up on it. Many from London relocated their business to the Atlantic coast and turned their former English headquarters into minor subsidiaries- just to keep a foot in the door in case things turned around again.
Once the Lisbon Hyperloop route was progressing Mariana had looked at the connection between Hong Kong and Taipei which was one of the world’s most used travel routes hauling more than five million Chinese shoppers to Taiwan and back. But bridging the ocean was a challenge. Mariana had planted the seeds for their Hyperloop business during her student days in Munich. She had jumped to the occasion influenced by the mobility situation of her Brazilian birthplace Sao Paulo. Now she wanted to widen their focus to include transport of cargo.
Her ultimate goal was to build a track connecting Munich through Moscow with Jingjinji. The latter being China’s latest gig to combine the former areas of Bejing (Jing), Tianjin (Jin) and Hebei (Ji) into a 130 million inhabitant strong super smart city, not counting stray dogs.
Logistics would play a vital role on the route with sustainable transport a key factor for fighting climate change. Reshma had put out her feelers to possible financial partners a few weeks earlier. The data on her laptop contained ballpark numbers that some investors were willing to throw in to get their slice of the pie. If all decided to come on board it would be a home run.
Reshma had not heard back from her forensic team which made her uneasy. She wanted to be sure that no ransomware had been installed before she fired up her laptop. Only the paranoid survive. Her phone rang once. A message. Not via the secure line.
“Do you know what your boy is up to?”, it said. She frowned. What was that? The sender had no ID.
“Who is this?” she asked. There was no answer. Reshma dialed her son’s phone and got his voicemail. He was at pre-school. She sent him a text to call her back. She looked at the strange message again. Should she inform her husband? She decided to wait. Maybe it was just a blind shell sent by mistake.
A blonde young woman across the aisle shot her a quick smile before returning to her book. Her name was Sarah and she was heading to Lisbon to meet a race driver from Brazil. Mariana knew her from a community she was part of which empowered women and members of minority groups to thrive in the technology world. Sarah was one of the community’s ambassadors. Reshma made a mental note to check it out.
She remembered her teachers in school and her parents who had encouraged her to follow what she was good at and passionate about. Not everybody had grown up in such a supportive environment. That’s why she engaged in the “Founders at school” initiative. There, she shared her personal motto with the students at middle and high schools: to stay curious and not get locked in to what everybody else does. Maybe she could provide some benefit for the diversity natives as well.
Finally, her team informed her that it was safe to start her laptop. Mariana and her went through the list of questions that the investors had. Before they could start the project dubbed “Jingle Bells” they needed their buy-in. Mariana was almost shocked by the amounts of money that some investors were willing to put in. This list was dynamite for some of the big shots in logistics and automotive. It could mean the end for those unwilling to accept that new mobility was disrupting century-old coterie. Her team was well aware of the impact automation had on jobs. That’s why a task force was looking into other sources of income for those whose jobs became obsolete by the Hyperloop. Reshma’s phone chirped again. A new message.
“We know where your boy will be today.” No ID, just like the last one.
“What do you want?”, she replied. Was this some kind of bad joke?
She tried her son’s cell again. Only voicemail. Then she called her husband. But Philip didn’t answer either. She left a message and tried to calm herself. The security signs of the Pod were turned on and all electronic communication had to cease. What a bad timing. The arrival in Lisbon a few minutes later was not as smooth as the departure. They didn’t slow down quite as fast so the Pod had to be brought to an abrupt halt to prevent bumping into the emergency ram. The smell of scorched brake pads lingered in the air as the door opened.