“Aunty? Aunty, you here?” I call out, latching the apartment door behind me.
A sigh comes from the kitchen, accompanied by the scrape of a chair against the wooden floor and the telltale tapping of Aunty Syan’s cane as she appears at the end of the hallway.
Tired gray eyes linger on me before visiting the paper clutched in my hands.
“Something you mean to show me, Aviva?”
“Yeah, we’re doing another donation drive at school. It’s clothing this time. I would dig up my old stuff, but I left most of my stuff in the flat. So um…” I continue, eyes drawn downwards, to the bouncing of my feet. She noticed, cocking an eyebrow ever so slightly. With a drawn-out sigh, she pulls a hand through her curly red hair, dulled by the ever more prevalent premature grays, as it falls lankly to her back.
“You want me to dig up my old junk don’t you?” It wasn’t really a question. “Take your shoes off,” she says as she limps over to the closet. “We’ll start here.”
I kick off my multi-shoes, straightening them on the mat, before joining Aunty Syan where she’s easing herself to the floor.
She pats the floor beside her.
I settle down next to her, peering into the newly opened closet. Boxes upon boxes stacked several feet high, brushed by shirts and dresses and scarves all jammed onto one bar.
“Wow.” The single word slipping past my lips. Shoot, how do I take it back. She’s watching me and…she just snickered.
“I told you I had a lot of old junk. You can pick up your jaw now.”
“Wha-why so much?” She shrugs.
“Eh, it comes with being the baby on the team. They spoil you something fierce,” she says, avoiding my gaze.
“Come on now. I’ll take the boxes on the right. You pass them down to me, alright?” I nod. And so it begins.
I take the boxes from the top of the pile passing them down to her and together we sort through them.
“I wore them all the time at your age.”
“A full box's worth?”
“These locks were hard to tame,” she quips, fluffing her hair and flipping it over her shoulder.
I start digging in the next box.
“Look here,” she says, pulling out an old picture. It was worn with rough edges yet sure enough. “I still don’t see why you need that many clips. Hey, are those these?” She must have been fourteen to fifteen or so years old in the picture. Uncombable copper hair was piled on her head, barely restrained by the numerous butterfly clips spattering her head. She was wearing a sparkling silver dress with a bow tied around her waist and matching sandals, providing a bit of extra height. As a final touch, her shining silver eyes were veiled by a pair of rose-tinted glasses with a gleaming golden frame.
She looks between the photo and the glasses, a slight, vacant expression taking hold. She shakes it off, smiling wanly at me.
“Yes, they were a gift from my induction.” I study the finely made spectacles, turning them around in my palms.
“Then why did you stick them in the closet?” Her eyes dodge mine, instead focusing on the next box. “Well?”
“Too hard to see,” she mumbles.
“My eyes aren’t what they used to be.”
“You aren’t even thirty.”
“I had to wear actual glasses for a while.” I groan, pinching the bridge of my nose.
“You can have them.”
“The glasses. If you want them they’re yours.” I slip them in my hoodie pocket then reach for another box.
A small pile accumulates, made up of pieces to be kept, but the larger portion ends up in black trash bags for donation. We made good time, creating a decent-sized dent in the stacks. I crawl forward in between two stacks, reaching for a box towards the back. There is something peculiar about the box. It is flatter and sleeker than the others, all black in color, although it's a bit difficult to tell with the thick layer of dust clinging to it.
“What’s this?” I hold the box up for Aunty Syan to see. She doesn’t seem to register at first, only sparing it a brief glance. Then it clicks. Her head pivots with such speed that it nearly gives me whiplash. Her light skin turns utterly pallid and eyes grow to the size of saucers.
“No!” She jumps to her feet, cursing her limping leg, as she stumbles, collapsing on the floor. “Throw it out.”
“I don’t want to see it again. Take it with you when you take the rest of the trash,” she says, gesturing to a separate trash bag. “We’re, we're done for the day,” she says, pulling herself back to her feet faster than she ought to, staggering as she limps down the hall. I look between her and the box, placing it carefully on top of the trash and tying off the bag as she stops, watching momentarily, then shuffles off as I head for the door.
I amble my way down the hall, stopping in front of the trash chute. I place the bag down in front of it, undoing the knot, and pulling out the sleek box. I blow off the dust, hacking, and coughing as the cloud launches an attack on my lungs. Using my sleeve I wipe away at the remainder of the dust. “Vib…ran…t? Vib…rant? Vibrant!” I squeal. Lifting the lid confirms my suspicion. The trash forgotten, I dart down the hall towards the apartment, box in arms. I stop outside, peaking in before cautiously entering. I grab my backpack, swiftly shoving the box inside.
“Aunty?” I call out. In the absence of a reply, I continue. “I’m going to Arlen’s.”
Her cane strikes the floor three times, the sound emanating from her room. Acknowledgment. With that, I race upstairs to catch the rails.
We have a rail platform connected to the roof, rail cars silently zipping above the rails at odd hours. The closest cars are already drifting off.
I click my shoes twice activating the rail setting. Stepping onto, or more accurately hovering above, the thin metal foot rails I skate across to the platform. My phone buzzes, a warning to remove myself from the rails I’m sure.
“Excuse me,” I say, deactivating my multi-shoes as I weave through a few departees.
“Kids these days,” a woman scoffs. “Holding up an entire rail line for their own convenience.”
“Those genius type boys and girls up in H-tech should have never made rail shoes for common purchase,” another agrees as I reach an open car, placing a hand on the scanner, the door dinging open.
“Oh, and she has fancy multipurpose shoes. I wonder how much of mommy’s money she wasted,” a third one adds as I slip into the car.
“Go choke on a cactus, lady,” I shout back at the last one, the door sealing before she can reply.
As the rail starts moving I kick back, setting my backpack beside me and pulling out my conductors. It’s a small, but comfortable car, with one plush chair, a mini-fridge, and a space set aside for a hollo-screen. In other words, it would never work for public transport. Good thing it’s a private rail.
“Aviva.” A holographic projection appears in front of me. It’s a man in his early thirties wearing a navy blue blazer with a dress shirt and slacks. He has tan skin and well-groomed jet black hair. A pair of wire-framed silver glasses rest on his nose as he stares down at me.
I’ve met Coda before. In-person. That’s better than can be said of most of the tech types that work for him. Coda is a bit of a…what would you call him? I’d say a recluse, but it’s not like he doesn’t talk to people. He just…hollo-calls.
He lets out an exasperated breath, well his hollo-self does anyways.
“Soooo, what’s new?” He glares at me, brows furrowed and hands held behind his back as he begins to pace.
“What’s new? What’s new is not the problem. You keep on doing this.”
“Doing what?” He stops in place, turning to face me, throwing his hands up.
“This, Aviva,” he declares. “This. Running out in front of moving railcars? Using side tracks to do so? Delaying the rest of the rails? Do you not think?”
“It’s not like I got hurt.”
“And if you did? Or if you hurt someone else?”
“And what makes you so certain?”
“Your system’s too good for that. Besides, it’s never happened before.”
“Just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t.”
“Are you saying your system is imperfect?”
“Aviva…” He shakes his head, muttering something under his hollo-breath. “I will drop the ticket, but if this happens again you will have to pay for it yourself.”
He turns away, muttering something to himself, then disappears as abruptly as he appeared.
I slide my conductors in front of my ears, music failing to fill the empty car. I watch the buildings blur around me, absently sipping at a soda. Eventually, they lose any semblance of shape, becoming mere blurs of color, running together in a motile mass.
The rail slows after about half an hour. Welcome to West Eains. The line of cars curls around the elevated, circular platform. The platform is large, capable of casually holding up to six full rail lines at a time and hosting numerous stands where departees and those waiting to board flock.
Passengers disembark spreading out amongst the numerous stands as salesmen compete for their attention. Most I would peg as upper-middle-class or lower-upper-class. Easy money for the station prowlers.
Speak of the devil…A baby-blue-haired man studies me from the side, eyes flicking between my backpack, multi-shoes, and the car I just exited. Apparently deciding I’m an apt target, he approaches with a fake grin plastered across his face.
“Hello young madame,” he says with a slight bow. “I see you have fine tastes in tech, your multi-shoes are most impressive, but it appears they are lacking the latest mod.” He raises the briefcase by his side. “I could get you right up to pace, giving you all the fantastic new features and making you the most in tech kid in school, all for only a small sum.”
I glance at the case, wondering what kind of counterfeit mod this guy is selling if he thinks it’s more in tech than the newest multi-shoe model. An amateur mistake. He takes that moment as a sign of interest and latches on.
“We have all kinds of mods. We have rail mods, both for speed, agility, and sport. No? What about standard surface hover mods? Skate past all your friends on and off rail. No? Not that one either?” He says, shuffling in front of me as I attempt to walk around him. “What do you think about pranks? No one will ever hear you coming if you get our new stealth mod.”
“Oh? Well, how about a gliding mod? I bet none of your classmates have them?”
“Because most of them are illegal?” His smile falters slightly at that, but he masks his frustration quickly.
“Keyword being most. This is a tried and certified selection. I could get you gliding on air. It would normally be for the price of 1,000 credits, but I’m offering you a deal. For the mere price of 750 credits, I can make you fly.”
“There’s a difference between flying and gliding.” He’s about to object but gets cut off.
“Leave her alone Marcel.” The voice comes from a boy about my age. He has white-blonde hair, combed back longer on top than on the sides, and storm gray eyes with a hoodie that matches in hue.
“Corentin, I’m not bothering her. We were just about to strike a deal. Isn’t that right miss?”
“Nope.” He steps back, disgruntled by my blatant rejection.
“Well,” he says, straightening his suit. “It is your loss.” Then he walks off in pursuit of new prey.
“You know him?”
“Ah, yeah. He does that a lot,” the blonde boy replies meekly. “My name’s Corentin by the way.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” I reply, scanning the surrounding booths. “My name is Aviva”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you as well, Aviva. Can I help you find anything?” I look at the boy, him shifting from one foot to another.
“You don’t happen to know where I can find the Melio Maker, do you?”
“Oh!” his eyes light up. “Are you a super? We have a number in the area, but it’s always great to meet more. What’s your power?”
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Ah,” he says, calming slightly. “Some powers make sore subjects. I get it, I do.”
“Look, Cori. It’s nice to meet you and all, but I really need to find the Melio Maker.”
“Right, right. I can show you the way.” He takes off at a sprint, expertly dodging and weaving through groups of passers-by. I give chase, following as he dashes down the stairs.
“Not a lift type of guy?” I ask, catching up to him.
“The elevators are a pain at this time of day.” We run past a final bend, releasing us into the streets.
“Hey, are you new around here?” he asks as we skid past a car to a cacophony of horns.
“Oh, no. I’m just visiting from East Eains.” We turn around a bend. Taking the opportunity I activate the hover-skate setting. “Are you from around here?”
“There about,” he says as we race onwards, this time sticking to the sidewalk. “I frequent here fairly often, though. Sometimes you can find some really interesting stuff in the stands. Oh, and you have to try the food at Sam’s. You haven't had sausage until you've had Samson sausage.”
“That good, huh?”
“No joke, it’s life-changing.”
“Sure…Hey, is that it?”
The building before me towers over its neighbors. The exterior consists mostly of amber-tinted windows and is spattered by-
Just as I say it, a set opens and a cape-clad figure in a solid white super-suit jumps from the edge, falling before pulling up and shooting up into the sky. Nobody even flinched, well, nobody except-
“Exo,” Corentin says, his eyes lingering on the spot in the sky where the caped super once was. “I didn’t know he was back in town.” I shrug.
“Maybe he needed a suit update?”
“I gotta go. Thanks for the help. See you again sometime?”
“Yeah, see you around, Aviva.”
I step through doors, the normal ground-level ones, that is. The atmosphere is remarkably calm with only a few employees bustling around towards the back. A receptionist sits centered at a large desk. Glancing up from her hollo-screens she notices me.
“Hello there,” she says with a friendly smile. “Do you have an appointment or are you picking up?”
“You must be the new receptionist, Gracile, right?”
“Yes,” she replies, slightly flustered. “And you are?” She pulls up a screen to check my name.
“My name is Aviva Mercier. I need to speak with Arlen.”
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