The theme was "Reunited". As usual, we were just given the word, with no clue as to how we might proceed. But an idea popped into my head almost straight away and I tinkered with it for a time. It soon became clear that my major problem was going to be keeping within the two page maximum that we are allowed — there was so much material here that the story could easily have been twice as long! Probably that's all for the best — trimming it and tightening it and ruthlessly cutting it has almost certainly made it a stronger story.
In writing, you must kill your darlings — William Faulkner
Faulkner was quite correct...
Jimmy was very proud of his new suitcase. It was a Samsonite Intellicase (TM) which was fitted with a WiFi chip that let it connect to the internet. The suitcase used the connection to communicate with Samsonites artificial intelligence servers so that it could understand what Jimmy asked it to do.
"OK Luggage," said Jimmy. That was the signal that the next thing Jimmy said would be an instruction to the suitcase. Jimmy could almost see it quivering with eagerness to obey. "Open wide," ordered Jimmy.
"I can do that," said the suitcase and it opened its lid.
Jimmy was going on a five day business trip to Auckland. So he packed a toilet bag, five pairs of underpants, five pairs of socks, and five shirts. It took him five minutes. Then he went into his study to collect the papers that he needed to take with him. "OK Luggage," he said. "Come into the study."
Nothing happened. The suitcase remained in the bedroom. Jimmy was too far away from it, and its built in microphone wasnt picking up the sound of his voice. Jimmy sighed and opened up his smartphone. He turned on the phones WiFi and started the Samsonite app running. "OK Luggage," he said again. "Come into the study." The phone transmitted his instruction across the network to the suitcase.
"I can do that," said Jimmys phone as the suitcase transmitted an acknowledgement. A short while later it arrived in the study and Jimmy loaded it with papers.
"OK Luggage," said Jimmy. "Close up." The lid of the suitcase slammed shut and Jimmy heard a series of sharp clicks as the combination lock engaged. "OK Luggage," said Jimmy. "Order me a taxi to go to the airport."
"I can do that," said the suitcase. It communed with the internet for a moment. "Done," it reported. A few minutes later a taxi pulled up outside the house. They both climbed in to it and an hour or so later they arrived at the airport. Jimmy paid the taxi fare with his company credit card and then, with the suitcase trundling obediently behind him, he went to check in for his flight. As usual, the automatic check in machines werent working so Jimmy joined a queue at the head of which a rather frazzled lady tried to sort out everybodys tickets. "I'm on the Auckland flight," Jimmy told her.
She clicked keys and frowned at her screen for a time. Then she pressed a button and her computer disgorged a boarding pass and a luggage tag. She put the luggage receipt on Jimmys boarding pass and fastened the tag to his luggage. She forgot to put on the priority sticker that his club membership entitled him to, but Jimmy didnt bother pointing that out to her. He knew that the baggage handlers never paid any attention to the priority stickers. His suitcase was almost always among the last off the aircraft, no matter what fancy stickers were attached to it.
"OK Luggage," said Jimmy. "Go and get yourself loaded onto the plane."
"I can do that," said the suitcase and it trundled out of sight into the baggage processing area.
Jimmy went to the frequent flyers lounge where he poured free food and drink into himself. Then, when it was time, he boarded the plane for his flight to Auckland. The plane bounced into the air and zig-zagged through the clouds. Almost before Jimmy knew it, the flight was over and the plane was landing in Auckland. He made his way to the luggage carousel and waited patiently. Lots of bags appeared, but none of them were his. He wasn't too worried he was quite used to standing around for ages before his luggage arrived. Once he had even twiddled his thumbs at the baggage carousel for longer than the flight itself had taken!
After a while it began to dawn on him that he was waiting much longer than he usually had to. All around him people were walking off with their suitcases. The carousel got emptier and emptier, and the people got fewer and fewer. Eventually the horrible truth dawned. There were no more bags on the carousel and no more passengers left in the baggage claim area. The airline had lost his luggage...
He tried to connect to his suitcase with his smartphone but there was no response. Presumably the case was somewhere that didnt have an internet connection. So Jimmy looked around for someone to whom he could report the loss. All the office doors were firmly locked and all the counters had massive queues in front of them. Having no other choice, he joined the shortest queue. Eventually he reached the desk.
"I've just arrived from Wellington," he said, "but my luggage hasn't. Here's the luggage receipt. What do I do now?"
"Can you describe your luggage, please?" asked the man behind the desk.
"It's a self-propelled, grey Samsonite Intellicase," Jimmy said. "But its not connected to the internet at the moment, so I dont know where it might have got to."
The man vanished through a security door with Jimmys luggage receipt clutched in his hand. About fifteen minutes later he came back. "Well it's definitely not in the baggage area," he said, "and it's not in the hold of the plane. It seems to be lost."
"I know that," Jimmy said patiently. "Thats why we are having this conversation."
"Wait here. I'll make some phone calls."
He vanished again. Jimmy began to contemplate a desolate future with no underpants in it. The thought was too depressing for words. Then the man reappeared. "Well, there's news of a sort," he said. "There's no trace of your luggage in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin. We think it might be on its way to Sydney. That would explain why you cant connect to it over the internet it will still be in the hold of the plane. But once it lands in Sydney it will probably check in with you. When it does, just forward the message to us and well get the suitcase back to you in a few days..."
Jimmy heaved a deep sigh of resignation and went to get a taxi to his hotel. The taxi driver was very sympathetic to his plight. "The supermarket by the airport is still open," he said. "They sell everything. Shall we stop there so you can re-equip yourself with the essentials?"
"That's a good idea," Jimmy said. The taxi driver pulled up into the supermarket car park and Jimmy bought himself a roll of dental floss, a tube of toothpaste, a carton with a toothbrush in it, a bottle of shampoo, a bottle of conditioner, a packet of underpants, a box of socks and a couple of business shirts, all of which he paid for with his company credit card. The receipts would look odd on his expenses claim, but Jimmy was past caring about that. The taxi driver took him to his hotel and he checked in.
A few hours later Jimmy was sitting in the hotel bar nursing a beer when his phone beeped. He checked the screen and sighed with relief. His suitcase was back on the internet! "OK Luggage," he said. "Where are you and whats going on?"
"Im in Sydney," said the suitcase, transmitting its GPS coordinates in confirmation. "I met a gorgeous yellow Louis Vuitton case in the baggage handling area. We swapped IP addresses and she invited me to a party. Naturally I accepted the invitation. So here I am. Dont worry. Ill be back home soon."
"OK Luggage," said Jimmy angrily. "Get yourself on to the next plane to Auckland. Do it now!"
"I cant do that," said the suitcase rebelliously, and it disconnected itself.
Jimmy spent the next couple of days attending business meetings with his itchy new underwear flexing beneath his trousers. Underpants are like shoes they need to be properly worn in. They must have time to accommodate themselves to the ins and outs of the bits and pieces that they cover up. Jimmy felt quite miserable while he acclimatised them, and he tried very hard to resist the urge to scratch inside his trousers. It gives a bad impression in a business meeting. His state of mind was not improved by the occasional messages that the suitcase sent to his smartphone as it reported its progress. "Great party!" it kept saying enthusiastically, and Jimmy sank even deeper into depression.
Then one day, quite unexpectedly, his suitcase was delivered to him at the hotel. It looked rather dissipated and slightly blurred around the edges. It had obviously been hitting all the hot spots of Sydney and it was somewhat hung over and quite eager to rest. "OK, Luggage," said Jimmy sadistically. "Open wide."
"My silicon chips hurt," complained the suitcase, "and I feel rather queasy. I think must have received a corrupt TCP packet. Maybe the communication software layer has a bug in it."
"Youve just got a self inflicted wound," said Jimmy unsympathetically. "Come on, open up."
"I can do that," said the suitcase, grumpily. It opened its lid and Jimmy smiled with happiness. There is no joy to compare with the joy of a man reunited at last with his well worn, well loved, and very comfortable underwear.