We agreed to sign the papers. No more trying to heal us. Fixed on our poker faces and met at his house. By nightfall, we were wrapped in each other’s arms.
“Sorry, but we don’t deliver out there,” the woman on the other end said.
“Because,” she stammered. “The neighborhood.”
Our call crackled with silence.
I stared out the tattered screen mesh that shielded my doorway from the neighborhood. My eyes met an abandoned home, probably housing squatters, across the way. An old air conditioning unit oozed black goop and white spray paint adorned the sunbaked fence out front.
Why would anyone want to come here? Not even the neighborhood’s inhabitants wanted to be here.
“I see,” I said and ended the call.
The sun boiled his sweat. Air was like a thick mass in his lungs and if it weren’t for its necessity, he would’ve expelled it like a lump of mucus. Tendrils of heat wafted from the ground and tickled his exposed, cut legs. Everything around him was alight except for a distinct shadow.
He focused on the clank of his pickaxe as he drove it into stone.
The shadow shifted as if aware that he’d taken notice. “Have you thought of my preposition? I can give you whatever you desire,” it said as it had for the last twenty years.
Has it really been twenty years?
The pickaxe droned on–clank clank clank–pieces of sediments tumbling to the ground.
“Warm bed, not the rock,” it continued. “Your enemies to take your place. All you need do is say you’re mine and I’ll free you from here.”
The pickaxe stopped mid swing. Twenty years toiling. Twenty listening to the shadow’s promises.
And it was all beginning to sound more promising.
It takes a special person to be the failure of one’s lineage. To not only be the disappoint of ones current family, but also that of one’s distant ancestors.
Gregor would have to face all of them at the arcanum. He’ll have to stand there and let their digitalized minds know that the business they’d erected in the late 3000s and carried for a century, was going to die.
The particle wall to his office hummed to life as his robot assistant rolled in. The whirl of its inner parts were deafening. “They’re waiting for you sir,” it said.
“Here we go,” he breathed to himself.
The lights haven’t been on for weeks. A hot meal and central heating were privileges we couldn’t afford. We considered our small TV, sitting on top of a box labeled “shoes” in our empty living room, an exotic item.
It stared blank faced at the two of us.
His body protected me from the cold. Rough carpet rubbed against my exposed skin. We were a tangled mess of heat and pleasure under a single, tattered blanket.
Outside the wind screamed and rain pelted the roof as if upset we could find joy—delicious joy—in a time meant to break us. A time we’re supposed to want more.
… is enough.
Her headphones spilled music into her.
She closed her eyes and watched her thoughts shoot across the blackness of her mind, but the music stood in their path like a slab of concrete. They shattered against it, exploding into shiny bits and fading as if never there.
There was the flap of wings and then a thud on the bench beside him. “It’s been a while,” a voice said.
Viz shrugged. “Only a few centuries, brother.”
“Because you do your job poorly,” his brother snapped. “Speaking of which, where is your ward?”
He gestured towards the woman he’d been staring at. She was sitting at a ragged park table, crying. “There.”
His brother scoffed. “At least it’s alive this time. Do you know how annoying it was to wait—what was it again—a few centuries for it to reincarnate?”
A man approach his ward. She wiped her face and stood, mumbling an apology. The man embraced her. “It’s all right,” Viz heard him say. His ward went rigid. Then, sobbed on the man’s shoulder.
His brother groaned. “Well, that’s finally done.”
“Yes. Yes, it is.”
Picture by: Jodi McKinney
He passed her crossing a busy intersection on his way home. Her arms clasping her sides, shielding herself from the night’s air. Her dark eyes peered from under the sweater’s hood when he mumbled, “Hello.”
She looked away and walked faster. Rude, but he understood. She was probably like him, retreating to her sanctuary after a day of dealing with the world.
He saw her again on the balcony across from his. She was sweaterless, but the frigid cold didn’t seem to bother her. She was simply watching the snowfall. Vulnerable to the icy wind around her, yet beautiful.
Photo by: Filip Gielda
“Blue skins aren’t allowed on Station 3,” the terminal conductor repeated with some annoyance.
Her father waved a holo display in the conductor’s face. “Would you look at the papers. She’s a legal citizen and has the same rights as—”
“I don’t care what it is. Letting that thing on the transport will only cause problems with the other passengers.” The conductor slammed the transports’ doors and fired up the engines, leaving the two of them alone on the space bridge dock.
“Your species is filled with assholes,” Jamie finally said, interrupting the silence.
Her father chuckled. “Yeah, maybe.”
A martian usher escorted the woman away from the rest of us enslaved musicians. As she stepped onto the levitating stage, the alien audience let out a deafening cheer that rumbled the ship.
“She’ll be the one that wins her freedom,” Mikhail, my accompanying pianist, said as the ship began to quiet.
I nodded. Why wouldn’t she win? She was Alyssa Garner! A gifted violinist coveted by conductors back on Earth.
Alyssa’s bow hung in the air. Once it was silent, she struck the strings and played a strong chord. She progressed through her piece. Her delicate fingers gliding across the violin’s neck with practiced precision.
A true master.
But her enchantment on me shattered when she yelped. The stage split and sucked her into space. A raucous noise, that I can only describe as laughter, erupted from the audience.