Interlude pt. I p.3

‘Fifteen… no, twenty years ago now, none of this was here.’

It was always stunning when she really thought about it. No flying cars. No dune shaped buildings. No A.I. constructs directing the flow of traffic… Just a patch of burning desert and a few desiccated trees. Right now though, she couldn’t think about it. She could only watch dazedly as the cars went by, her mind drawing a numbly comfortable blank.

After a time, her arms began to move, unbidden, pressing her away from the window and upright; and soon her legs followed suit, guiding her slowly down a small set of stairs. She hardly noticed, lost in a haze, her body commanding itself by old impulses.

As she passed through a wide bridge entrance covered by a holographic display bearing the letter X, green light washed over her skin and she found herself headed towards stall number seven. Presently, she realized that it was all the way on the other side of the bridge.

‘Well that’s odd,’ she thought, plucked out of her stupor by a delightfully dull notion, ‘Most of the stalls here are empty... Hmm, there must have been a lot of people here just a few minutes ago. I wonder what’s going on?’

She looked at her watch, an old, silver timepiece that she wore mostly for fashion purposes. ‘It can’t nine o’clock,’ she realized, looking up; she’d have to reset it later. A large, blue 8:13” glowed at her from a nearby window. ‘Oh, of course.’ There were always conventions getting out around this time.

Suddenly aware of how fortunate she was to have just missed the evening rush, she hurried towards a stall midway down the bridge, keeping an eye out for any stragglers. One encounter had been enough for the evening.

‘33-x7’ she read from a holographic sign, shimmering electric blue. A gleaming car sat docked behind it, bright yellow like the taxis of the early millennium.

With a light hydraulic hiss, the cab’s door swung down from an arced roof, beckoning her up to the docking platform. Blue-lit chrome interior gleamed out at her, surrounding a large circular couch and darkly colored table in the center. Setting her purse on the floor, she lowered herself inside and dropped onto a soft, synthetic cushion, uttering a sigh of relief.

Upon the door’s sealing of itself, a variety of holographic displays appeared in the windows. The most noticeable one showed the location of surrounding vehicles: beyond the parking garage, the sky was filled with streaming lines of cars, invisible to the naked eye. For a first time rider, this was essential for peace of mind, but right now Maria preferred the solitude of a clear sky.

‘Holograms off,’ she thought, as the A.I. controlled vehicle lifted away from the platform. Immediately, the cloaked streams of cars blinked out of sight and the glowing metropolis sat unobstructed by the liquid flow of automobiles. As if on a cloud, the taxi swung around to face the city and gently took to the skies.

Inside, the cab was nearly as dark as the wispy clouds overhead. With a couple flicks of her wrist, soft, golden light filled the taxi and she found herself gazing into a large holographic mirror. Emerald orbs peered back at her, framed by long, black hair. She brushed some errant strands to the side and surveyed the damage: salty trails were caked into her makeup where tears had passed down her face, and dark lines of mascara streaked beneath swollen eyes. She looked like a harlot, she decided, letting one strap of her dress slide down past her shoulder to heighten the effect. ‘If I lose my research license, at least I’m a shoo-in for a whore,’ she thought glumly.

Blinking a couple of times, she retrieved the folded cloth from her purse and dabbed at her eyes gently. ‘No no, it’s okay… just take a deep breath,’ she thought (with a subtle undertone of ‘damn it, I thought I was over this’). Her inner rhythm calmed as she focused on her breathing. ‘Alright, you’ll be fine. Just clean yourself up, and everything is going to be fine.’

Listening to the calmer part of her mind, she accessed a holographic menu, selecting a picture of a raindrop and a bottle. She could have just said “water,” but didn’t feel in a talking mood right now. Especially when the walls were the only things listening.

With a loud plunking noise, a chilled beverage dispensed from the table in front of her. She twisted off the top and drank modestly. Then she dampened her cloth and carefully wiped away the ruined cosmetics, deciding she’d done all she could upon seeing her cheeks dry and red. A final gesture of the wrist returned the window to its transparent state, and she leaned against it to look out over the city, numb.

Subtly lit buildings dotted the landscape below; domed and slanted, each held a mountainous appearance, blending naturally with rock and tree. It was, she had been told, modeled after desert landscapes and concept paintings that looked more “national reserve” than “major city.” Still, a variety of steel skyscrapers had managed to make it into the final plan and now towered impressively into the night sky, lending a powerful aesthetic to the center of the young metropolis.

Even at night, the lighting was such that she could see intricate details of the buildings and city parks below. Achewood Gardens, a sizeable clearing in the neatly arranged forests, was littered with strange sculptures, colorful flower beds, and performance artists at all hours of the day. But from so high up, all she could clearly distinguish was the Kazenzakis fountain around which the gardens were built. Resplendent with trickling tendrils of watery allure, the purpose of this otherwise strange monument had been the topic of many a lively discussion.

Maria sniffed gently. She felt much better; silently though, she understood that it would be a long time before she found resolution, if ever. She brushed her hair back with her hands, taking a deep breath, and stuffed the half-full water bottle in her purse. She would be landing soon.

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