By Eric 'Erico' Lawson

Prologue: The Dreams We Had

May 12th, 2039

Franklin University, United States

They couldn't have asked for a better day to do this. The sun was shining brilliantly, and after a straight week of rainfall, it was a welcome sight to the class of 2039. Trees bloomed in lush greenery, and long dormant flowers fluttered outwards in triumphant ceremony. Grass as green as Elysian fields, and a sky that would have made Picasso's blue period pale. The only thing missing, were a sardonic witness present to make a comment, was a flock of chirping songbirds floating from tree to tree.

Nothing could ruin the graduates' moment, though. Fathers and mothers beamed with intense pride at their children, and despite the stuffy sensation of the long famed scholar's robes and flatboard caps, the students didn't mind. For all the years it had taken to make it this far, they could wait a while longer.

The President of the College was in rare form today, one particular graduate thought to himself with a smile. Doubtless there had been some measure of alcohol involved; with a speech this important, there was always a confidence boosting shot nearby.

"…And as the class of 2039 moves out into the world, I offer our new graduates these last closing remarks before we begin to hand out diplomas. Remember, always, that you have been given great knowledge within these learned halls, and that with your acquired skills, you will change the course of the world. There is much to be done in the new age, but with such capable young men and women entering the professional world…"

"Sheesh, what a chatterbox." A young woman muttered, leaning back in her seat and folding her arms primly on her lap. "He would keep this up all day if he didn't have to get back in time for tonight's football game."

"Oh, give him a little budge room, Lisa." The slightly older man beside her said with a smirk. "It's not every day he gets to give an important speech. And you know what these great educators are like; They do love to boost up their accomplishments."

"I do believe our friend Tom here has uncovered their dirty little secret." Another man on the opposite side of the young Lisa said with a grin underneath the mop of his bright red hair that refused to hide underneath his cap. "But let's see how sharp he is otherwise today, hmm?"

"Still placing your bets, Rick?" Tom chuckled, rolling his eyes mockingly before managing another grin. "Still, I'm game. All right, so what's your guess?"

"I'd say three shots." Rick said flatly. "He's got quite a head of steam underneath him right now…I imagine there's another five minutes within that speech, and he'll repeat his ideas a few times over."

"Oh, I think you give him a little more credit than he deserves." Lisa scoffs. "One shot, that's all the old goose can handle."

"No, I'm thinking two." Tom said, after a moment of thought. To summarize, he uttered a quick phrase in some foreign language, prompting his two friends to glance at him with a raised eyebrow.

"All right, and now for those of us that didn't graduate with a Masters' in Communication with specialties in nearly every language on the planet?" Rick uttered with a snort. "Especially Russian, you goof."

Tom reached up and scratched absentmindedly at his dark brown hair, even as his bright blue eyes twinkled in their mirth. "Misery loves company."

"…Remember and treasure always the lessons you have learned here at Franklin University. Named after the great inventor and idealist himself, you carry his creative spirit within you. Whatever road life gives you, walk it proudly and without fear. Here and now, I challenge you all; Make your own destiny."

The same obligatory applause that accompanied each of his speeches echoed through the crisp spring day, and the three College friends looked at each other, silently tabulating their bets.

"He didn't make five minutes." Rick muttered dejectedly. "Shoot."

"No, I'd say our dear friend Lisa wins this round." Tom decided, smiling. "So, what's your pleasure, miss?"

"The both of you are coming with me to dinner with my family." Lisa smirked. "And no good trying to find an excuse; I happen to know for a fact that Rick's parents couldn't make it."

Rick groaned, and Tom winked at him. "She's your fiancée, not mine."

"Don't remind me." Rick grumbled, getting an elbow to the ribs from the slightly irritated Lisa for his trouble.

"The class of 2039 will now rise." The President announced, lifting his arms up high within the folds of his long ceremonial robe. They did so, even as Tom exhaled a long breath from his lungs.

"Nervous?" Lisa asked with a grin. Tom chuckled a bit and shook his head.

"Maybe a little…I mean, Look at me." To emphasize his phrase, he glanced down at his robes, which held far more adornments than anyone else around him. "I'm the only person here who's walking out with a Doctorate instead of a Bachelors in my class."

"See what happens when you stay for eight years?" Rick snickered. "Aah, who'm I kidding? I'm glad you did, Tom. If you hadn't stuck around, me and Lisa would have never gotten a chance to meet such a terrific guy."

To that, the fair spirited Tom couldn't argue, and his smile seemed endless as he looked around. Already, the first row was lining up and walking up to the podium as the named began to be read.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, the young man with the ruffled brown hair who was known as Tom couldn't help but think that there was something strangely surreal about the entire moment. Something worth holding onto…something worth remembering.

So he did.

The line at last reached their section.

"Richard James Williamson." The President announced smoothly. Applause, and then Tom watched his longtime roommate stroll across with that same grin of his. Tom chuckled at that…he'd never change.

"Lisa Katrina Marine, magna cum laude." The applause grew louder, and some of the graduating class whistled. Lisa had always been a beautiful woman, and beamed all the brighter underneath her auburn hair that day. Tom smiled softer, thinking how lucky Rick truly was. Perhaps some day…Bah, no use thinking about that now.

And then he took a breath. He was next. He could see the President glance down at the name, smile, and turn to face him.

The leader of the College didn't need a list to remind him who came next.

"Thomas Xavier Light…summa cum laude." The applause was mixed; the partygoers could care less. The truly academic cheered with full force.

The President hadn't stated it, but Tom Light had taken a look at the program.

He was the only one who graduated with a Doctorate that day. Slowly, he felt himself walking up, shaking the President's hand, and accepting a diploma that carried far more weight than anyone elses' that day.

And he knew full well the responsibilities that came with it.

The world was growing more tense every day, and some would always make predictions about some great end…But for now, nothing was farther from his mind.

"Congratulations…Dr. Light." The President said, positively beaming.

Thomas chuckled at that, not quite believing what he was hearing. At age 26, he was a Doctor in Communications, with an undergraduate degree in Programming.

"Thank you sir." Tom said, nodding his head downwards in appreciation.

"You'll do something marvelous, I just know it." The President said with twinkling eyes and rosy cheeks…maybe he had partaken of two drinks this go-around. "Of that, I have no doubt, Light."

"I'll certainly try, sir." Thomas replied, shaking his hand one last time and strolling off the stage. There waiting for him were Rick and Lisa, beaming back at him with knowing smiles.

They had made it.

All those hard and frustrating years…

And they had made it.

The world was theirs.

Tom had to admit that he felt a lot better once he was out of his ceremonial robe and back into his normal clothes. Bright blue button down shirt, an even bluer tie, and a set of brown khakis completed his ensemble. He didn't look at all out of place as his company sat within the confines of the themed restaurant, which offered a mix of Irish and American cuisine. The meal had come and gone, and they were sitting around nursing the remains of their drinks as they waited for the bill to arrive.

Lisa's father was a physically imposing man, but his normally stoic manner couldn't have been farther. Instead, an unusual smile graced his features as he took another long draw on his draft beer.

"So you all finally made it." He said, shaking his head. "I've been waiting for this day for some time, you know. But what comes next?"

Lisa smiled a bit as Rick drew her in closer with a hug. "Well, daddy, we have been thinking about setting an actual date at some point…"

"Oh, I know." Her father replied, chuckling. "And yes, you might as well get started on that. Lord knows if I hadn't agreed to you two, you would have run off and done it anyhow. Still, time's running out if you were thinking about doing it soon."

"We were thinking early August, actually." Rick interjected. "June weddings get so overplayed, and it's too late to get reservations for then now."

"So what sort of ceremony are you two lovebirds aiming for?" Thomas Light asked, smiling over his own sparkling water. Rick and Lisa shared another one of their knowing smiles before looking back at the rest of their table.

"Just a small one…in the presence of our closest families, and our closest friends."

"Aah, you mean the cheap kind." Tom said with a grin. That prompted a laugh from both of the lovebirds, although it received some cold stares from her parents.

"Our baby will get the best kind of wedding money can buy." Lisa's mother said, her thinning brown hair pinned up tightly behind her head.

"Oh, stop it." Lisa chided them, shaking her head. "I know how much you want to make my wedding day special, mom…but we really do just want a small ceremony. No big party, no grand reception…it's too much hassle, and we've had enough hassles for some time."

"Not nearly as much as old Tomboy here." Rick grinned, glancing in his friend's direction. "Correction; Doc Light."

"Oh, stop it." Thomas Light blushed, shaking his head. "I just stayed a few extra years, that's all."

"So what does the future hold for you, then?" Lisa asked. "I mean…you've got a doctorate now. You can go anywhere, do anything!"

At that, the newly proclaimed doctor smiled. "Maybe I can, but…No, I've only a few things I'd like to accomplish in my time."

"Going to make some money, eh?" Mr. Marine said, his eye twinkling. "Lisa, it's never too late to marry the sure thing…"

"Oh, stop it daddy!" Lisa laughed, giving a dejected looking Rick a kiss on the cheek.

"Seriously, though. I don't see myself getting too rich and famous." Thomas Light said, his bright blue eyes peering down into his glass of wine. "Not too many people get rich off of their dreams."

"And what's your dreams then?" Mrs. Marine queried.

"I've spent a lifetime…learning every language I could." Thomas Light said slowly. "And while I was here, I spent almost as much time learning how to work with computers, and how to get them to communicate. Networks…" He shook his head, a whimsical smile beginning to develop. "There's a lot of tensions around this world, most of them stemming from the fact that even as technology continues to develop, humanity is separating itself more and more."

"You think you can bring the world together?" Rick queried, tilting his head to the side.

At that, the linguist blushed a bit. "Well…we can only try." He finally said quietly.

The waiter came by and put the bill on the table. Rick took one look at it and paled, even as Mr. Marine reached over casually to pay for it all.

An eyebrow went up at the price. "One hundred and twelve dollars?" The waiter nodded, his face seeming apologetic.

"I do apologize, sir…the shortages and all."

Mr. Marine sighed for a moment, then smiled and pulled out a credit card. "Well, a day like today doesn't come along often. Don't worry, friends and future family…I'll cover the tab today."

"You're far too gracious." Thomas stated, even as he smiled in relief. "I'll have to find a way to pay you back some day." The waiter took the credit card up to the register, slipped it through, and returned it in a few moments with ease.

Mr. Marine smiled as they all stood up. "Don't worry about it, Doctor. Something tells me you have enough worries on your hands, what with all those College bills to see to."

Light's smile faded a bit. "Yeah…I suppose so." Rick gave him an odd glance, but everyone else missed it.

"So where shall we go next?" Lisa asked excitably.

Thomas Light pulled his dark blue overcoat onto his shoulders before shaking his head. "I'm afraid I'll have to ask to be excused from any further adventures for today…I've some other people to visit to finish celebrating."

The Marines all nodded, but Rick followed him outside even as the newly proclaimed Doctor Light approached his motorcycle and started up the engine, which settled into a low purr.

There was a flash of concern in Rick's eyes. "Going to visit your parents?"

Light was, for a change, emotionless as he tied back the windstraps on his coat. "Yeah. It's that time again."

"I don't begrudge ya." Rick said softly. "But don't stay too long with them. You've got your own life to live now, you just remember that."

"I know." Dr. Light replied, pulling his helmet up and sliding it over his head, glancing through the thick black and ivory tinted sunglare visor. "You just worry about taking care of Lisa and her folks."

"You got it." Rick chuckled. "Keep in touch, bud. It won't be too much longer before me and Lisa are going to start working on making some grandkids for her folks, and we'll need you around to be their fairy godfather when the time comes."

Underneath his helmet, Thomas Light couldn't help but smile at the visual image of Rick as a father, as goofy as he was. "I wouldn't miss it for the world, friend." He said, nodding his head. Rick took a few steps back away from the curb and gave his former roommate one last nod.

In the small roar of an engine gunned to full power, Dr. Thomas Xavier Light shot out of the restaurant's parking lot to join the mainstream of traffic. What he had told Rick was true.

There were still promises to be kept.

Rohannesville Cemetary

Rohannesville, Indiana

Late that Evening

Despite the 'marvels of modern technology', as some called it, it still took forever to get anywhere. The roads had only gotten more cluttered as the years went by; a sobering fact for the lone visitor to the old cemetery.

Rohannesville lay at the southern end of the state, surrounded by green pastures and open farmland. Nobody came by there much, and the town itself was a dying entity. The schools had closed down and joined with a nearby school district shortly before he'd entered into high school. Still, Tom could remember the long nights spent stargazing while his folks drank iced tea out on the porch; the same porch where he'd eventually gotten his first kiss from Peggy Schuler down the street. Most of Rohannesville was just an old folk's town; it had no real industry to speak of, and everywhere one looked, it carried the signs of eventual abandonment.

It was home nonetheless.

Pulling his leather gloves off as he walked away from his motorcycle, the young Light carried a box under one arm. He'd carefully tucked it in his ride's storage compartment after the graduation, knowing it had to survive the ride here. All of today had been a happy occasion, cause for celebration…

Only now, did Thomas Light revert to a more somber tone.

"Hey mom." He said quietly, stopping at a nearby dual headstone. His eyes glanced to the next name. "Hey dad. I came back." He opened the box and pulled out its contents; a pair of perfect red roses. He laid them down in front of the headstone and nodded. That, at least, was done.

Some might have found it odd to watch his visit, a man staring and talking to a grave long since settled. Tom thought little of it, closing his eyes.

The headstone listed their dates of birth and their deaths, only three short years before. Rodney G. Light and Wilhelmina A. Light, died February 14th, 2036. You will always be loved.

"…Well, of course I'd come back." Tom reminded himself stubbornly. "I made a promise, and I keep to my promises." He exhaled and started again. "I graduated. I actually did it…Earned my doctorate and everything. And no, dad, it's not useless. I still have that minor in robotic engineering…seems like you can't walk ten feet without tripping over a reason to have some skills in electronic hardware."

Tom chuckled a little at that; His father had been the solid one, always talking about dependable careers. His love of language had come from his mother, who had insisted that it would help him more in understanding people than he'd ever dream to believe. Only her influence had kept him from dropping his major in language studies as a sophomore, all those long years before. She'd even won over his father.

He missed them terribly, but children always would miss their parents.

"So now it's just a matter of what to do now." The young doctor knelt down beside their graves, touching each name reverently. "I've got plenty of ideas. I still believe that interlinking the world is key. The human race will either stand together, or fall divided."

It was a controversial thought; Even at his young age, Tom already had his critics. There were some who believed the world was already interconnected enough, what with the internet, near full broadband access, and viral media.

Somehow, though, little of that had made the world better. Noisier, yes, but not better. Something was missing from it all. That missing piece, whatever it was, had led Light to write his thesis on the idea of a global "Network"…a true second coming of the internet into something so much more than links, squabbling glory hounds, streamed video, blogs and everything else.

"The Network." Light repeated, clinging to the word and whatever inner hope it represented. "It could work."

But, as the nagging voice of his father told him, it could just as well not.

He rose back up and straightened his coat. "The faculty said they knew some friends in high places…I think I'll take them up on it. It'll at least get my foot in the door, give me some honest experience." Tom ran a hand through his wild brown hair. "I just never thought I'd be the kind of guy to end up working at the national academy of the sciences…but I suppose, what better place is there for what I've been trained to do?"

Somehow, the thought tickled him, and he giggled. "Lord, look at me. Right. Somehow, yours truly is going to impress them with my suave charm and my good looks. It'll just be a matter of trying to prove to them that somebody who earned his highest degree in communications belongs with them, and not in the State Deparment."

It wouldn't be easy; somehow, he suspected it even then. It didn't matter as much then, though; He had but the weight of his own responsibility on his shoulders.

Nobody else was tied to his fate or his decisions in life. Tom liked it like that. Responsibility had made his father into a tired old man who couldn't see the glimmers of magic in things. Thomas Light was many things, but he was not his father.

"Wish me luck, mom and dad." Thomas Light said softly. "And know that I love you."

The graves remained quiet, but somehow, Tom felt as though the message had gotten through. He nodded respectfully one last time, then turned about and left the last of his family behind.

At twenty-six years old, Dr. Thomas Xavier Light moved into a future he couldn't predict, but one he stepped into with great hope. The words of his College president, spoken to him earlier that day, rang in his ears and left a bounce in his step.

Make your own destiny.

He climbed back on his motorcycle, adjusted his helmet and gloves one last time, and started the engine, throttling it to a purr.

Thomas looked up at the clear night sky and found himself smiling.

"Time to change the world."