Interlude pt. I p.4

Almost imperceptibly, the taxi edged out of traffic and into an intermediary lane where it waited only momentarily before lowering to street level. Quietly whirring, it alighted upon a cobblestone platform, filled with other, similar cars, and swung its side door open with the familiar hydraulic ‘pshh.’

She stepped down from the taxi and held her arms close, sorely lamenting that she hadn’t brought a jacket. Darkened boughs of trees lifted and swayed in a cool wind and a few stray leaves rustled along the concrete as she made her way carefully down a stone flight of stairs and onto a glowing pathway. Rose bushes and dark green patches of grass lined the rough, winding surface amidst artistic hedge figures and other oddities; apparently, Achewood Gardens’ influence had leaked into this area in the time since she had last been here... Most places in the city were significantly less eccentric.

A few people passed her along the way, some absorbed in romantic subtleties, locked arm in arm, eyes twinkling; others with their heads down and arms crossed to stave off the cold. She felt a silent camaraderie with the latter group, equally unprepared for the gusty tough-love of the world.

Shivering, she crossed through a vine-wrapped archway and found herself approaching a familiar sand colored building. The Ridgeway apartments bore many aesthetic similarities to the Paramount Human Arts Center, including the dome shape and occasional glass structures that interrupted the rock-like exterior. The biggest difference was the parking, with each house having an attached landing pad rather than a community garage.

Maria looked high up, near where she guessed Lana’s apartment might be. ‘Lana…’ she thought. It had been such a long time. And this would certainly be an interesting visit, all things considered.

Her high heeled shoes clicking and clacking up a wide, marble staircase flecked with swirls of white, she came to a pair of solid glass doors that provided a dim view of what she knew to be the building’s lobby. As she approached, a red, glowing window appeared upon the glass, reading:

“Residents Only.”

‘That’s odd…’ she thought. The landing codes Lana had given her should have allowed her access to this door as well.

She rustled through her purse, searching for the Mem; ‘Oh,’ she realized, staring at its austerely metallic face. ‘It’s out of power.’

Apparently, the wireless charging mechanism in her purse had died, and with it, the Mem’s battery. Retrieving the cylindrical charging device and turning its end 180 degrees, she felt a slight tingling sensation as it energized itself with her bodily current. The Mem sprang into life.

“Access codes received. Set to expire in: 6 hr 34 min 22 sec.”

The holographic window disappeared and the glass doors slid apart with a low hum. Soft lighting and moderate temperatures beckoned to her from within, where lavish decorations and potted plants helped to create a familiar and calming atmosphere. As well, the great size of the room instilled her with a comfortable sense of anonymity, as if giving her the space she needed to breathe.

Towards the back of the room, she passed a magnificent waterfall surrounded by ferns, and headed for the stairs. Elevators were available nearby, but she felt she could use the exercise. If nothing else, it would help clear her head.

As she approached, an automatic door slid open and revealed access to a slanted stairway. Flanked by bright, ivory white wall on one side and endless glass overlooking the city on the other, it shared the same quality of construction as the rest of the building; though, if there was any noticeable difference, it was slightly less decadent, lacking the vibrant wall hangings that were so ubiquitous in better traveled areas.

She removed her heels and fleet footedly navigated up the wide stairwell in her stockings, slipping a bit on the smooth surface. She quickly found her balance, skimming a metal railing with the pads of her fingers and cradling her purse and shoes in her free arm.

Outside, the city passed by beneath the light of a few twinkling stars, previously hidden behind the clouds. She looked over from time to time to break the monotony of stairs, platforms leading to apartments, and more stairs…

After a good bit of jogging, she saw the number “16” carved in a bronze placard next to a large open archway and stopped to catch her breath on a stone bench. Setting her purse on the bench, she bent over and slipped her shoes back on, buckling a set of small, criss crossing straps. Then, not wanting to arrive winded and thirsty, she took the bottle of water from her purse and drained it, waiting until her pounding heart and fiery lungs had calmed.

While sitting, she attempted to throw the emptied water bottle into a nearby trash receptacle, a large metal sphere that looked very nearly decorative. It bounced off and clattered to the floor, rolling away from her and back towards the stairs. She watched it, waiting for it to be taken care of.

Moments later, a robotic silver feline crept out from behind the metal sphere, swishing its tail back and forth, and stood next to the bottle, gazing toward her with bright blue eyes. 'A cat... they say that's good luck,' she thought. Most recycling was handled by some form of rodent. She waved it away and nodded smilingly, prompting it to grip the mouth of the plastic bottle in its teeth and prance back to its den with the coveted prize.

Feeling enlivened by the catlike automaton’s play, Maria headed up one more flight of stairs, careful not to trip in her heels, and turned into an archway labeled “17.” Dim lights ushered her down a long hall filled with identical dark wooden doors, blandly interspersed with stretches of chamois colored wall. It wasn’t long until she came to Lana’s apartment. And, taking a deep breath, she placed her hand on the door.

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