Today’s post is something that I’ve been trying to post in the past few days. It’s taken some tweaking, and it’s not fully baked still, but… hey. Here goes. Part of the story I’m writing.
Darkness. A pitch black darkness. One couldn’t see anything, lest their own pair of hands in this blackest of blacks. This was where light went to die, extinguished by some cosmic force that most people couldn’t understand. Isolation. It’s a strange feeling, and one that most didn’t seek out on their own. For those that did pursue it, the experience was available – for a price of course.
Bright purple light flashed into existence, spewing forth a cloudlike nebula, breaking the grip of darkness. The light, gentle and pure, cast a shadow on to a lone form, bringing it definition. The form spun, brightened up from darkness by the nebula’s soothing rays. It wasn’t just featureless space junk – it was a human being. Female, to be precise. With much lethargy this girlish figure spread apart from the huddled form, letting her arms and legs go where they may. With no gravity, it took very little effort, but expending energy was not the goal. No, to be by oneself alone in the middle of nowhere was about introspection. She spun around slightly to reveal the face of Ellie Kalas, eyes closed, her auburn hair spread in every direction due to the lack of gravity. A skin-tight black bodysuit covered her entire body, except her hands. which were encased in matching gloves.
Ellie spun around in the silence, letting herself fall deep into the sound of nothing. The lack of sound externally didn’t mean that it cancelled out the sound internally. Her brain raced with a multitude of thoughts. The goal: to sort them out, to finally be able to master her confusion and understanding of the world. It was her form of meditation. Her time spent traveling to and from Mars allowed her to gradually acclimate to the sensation of zero gravity. When she experienced zero G for the first time, she lost more than just her lunch. Over time, her body grew accustomed to the sensation, enough so that it was something she actively sought out.
She tried to breathe calmly and deeply, which one would think is an impossibility in the middle of space, but not so here. Ellie opened her green eyes and observed her surroundings, pleased at the light show. LSD must be like this, she thought. Dabbling in recreational drugs was never on her list of things to do, given that she saw many lives destroyed by the worst of them. Still, psychedelia achieved in other ways wasn’t so bad. All of the colors, none of the brain damage. She got her own kind of high by visiting these places. Who needed drugs when you had this?
Ellie was not completely up to speed on her celestial bodies, and wasn’t sure what or where this particular area in space was. Not that she really cared about the specifics – it was just nice to look at. Celestial gases swirled about, gently changing colors from blue to red and back again. As she hurtled through the void, her mind contemplated the insignificance of her life. Every day, she toiled away trying to do “the right thing,” whatever the Hell that was. For being in a public profession, nobody knew who she was. She could never get a lead on her biggest story, which sat stagnant after all these years. The struggle to be content with one’s life, to do the best you could do with what you had hung on her like a boulder, even in the weightlessness of the interstellar void.
Being in here meant relaxing and forgetting about those things. In here, there was no constant chatter of the radio, or bosses telling her what to do, or expectations to live up to. She was truly free.
Until someone decided to turn on the gravity.
Ellie felt the force of all of her one hundred fifteen pounds return in an instant as she fell downwards. The moment was brief as she soon landed on an invisible cushion in the middle of space. The nebula slowly disappeared along with the blackness of space as a series of white grids faded into view. It was over already? That couldn’t have been an hour’s worth of time. Her next session will definitely need to be longer. Ellie staggered up from the floor, a bit disoriented from the sudden return of gravity. There were clearly some bugs still left in these, that’s for sure. The gel-like floor of the large spherical chamber did a good job of cushioning her fall, as it was designed to do. The wind was knocked from her, but she was otherwise okay. A portion of the white glowing grid slid apart, acting as a door. Ellie stepped out of the chamber and into a room which had an array of the large, white spheres.
These spheres were the core product of Experience Industries, a group of nerds who decided to turn a sensory deprivation chamber into something marketable. By using the gravity force generators used on spaceships, moon, and Mars, they were able to create an environment similar to space or the ocean without the need to leave Earth or go on a dive in the Pacific. The scenes that they could provide you with were pretty limited for the time being – you could float in space, fly through the air, or explore under the ocean. It was enough to make them one of the biggest moneymakers in the American Protectorate, though they’ve so far been unable to export the technology. Gerod housed one of their largest Experience Centers, which by Ellie’s rough guess had about twenty chambers.
Space was her choice for the day. She could only take so many skydives before feeling too drained. The thrill of flight couldn’t be fully appreciated without the complete emptiness of space. The dives under her belt ranged from the Himalaya, to the surface of Mars, and off the top of Gerod’s tallest building. A new and different one was needed every time, as each one was far less fun without the surprise.
Ellie opened up the small locker next to the sphere, which had her shoes, shirt, and skirt hung up along with her other personal effects. On a day that she planned to visit her quiet place she dressed for minimalism, as she didn’t like having clothes floating in various directions due to the lack of gravity. She quickly pulled up her pointed white skirt and threw her arms into her cropped shirt before slipping her feet into plain white shoes, making her semi-presentable to the outside world. As she grabbed her small bag, she heard a muffled sound coming from it. Opening it revealed her earpiece, ringing Beethoven’s fifth symphony. Pressing the display button revealed that someone had tried calling her six times over the past hour. Yeesh! Ellie clipped behind her ear and hit the answer button, ready to take the call.
“Hello?” Ellie asked, annoyed at the little ringing irritant. The voice on the other side of the line was none other than Oscar.
“Ellie, Where’ve you been? I’ve been trying to get a hold of you. You’re supposed to answer when I call,” he said, slightly irritated. Contrary to what he thought, he and her job were not the most important thing in Ellie’s life. A little pushback was required.
“You don’t control every minute of my life,” she grumbled. Oscar continued on, unperturbed by her barbs.
“You’re right, I only control the waking ones. Quit your bellyaching; I’ve got some good news for you,” buzzed Oscar’s voice. Good news? Was he going to give her a raise? Maybe a bonus, some extra time off, or a bigger office? No, those hopes were too big, best to temper herself and remember his love for sarcasm.
“Go ahead, sir,” she said, mildly annoyed that he interrupted her relaxation time.
“Someone who recognized themselves on the security footage we had on the air today called us. She hasn’t gone to the police yet, and she wants an interview,” he explained. Hey, that was good news! Someone who hadn’t been confronted by the police, hopefully, would be able to give them some different insight. Most of the suspects there were damaged goods.
“That is good news. I’ll hit up the next pod and get back to the office,” she said. Finally, a person she could talk to about this that wouldn’t snap her legs in two!
“Actually, I’m sending you her address. Go there, talk to her, and see what you can find out,” he said curtly. Oscar was definitely direct. Perhaps too direct.
“Yes, sir,” she replied, and cut off the communication. The pad in her bag buzzed, and she pulled it out to find that Oscar’s information already arrived. He’d been kind enough to provide a bit of a dossier of her subject. Name was Cinte Lyn of 5441F Barber road, part of the Errui district. The only photo provided was the snapshot from the aforementioned security film, her face clearly visible. It was time to pay miss Lyn a visit. Ellie shut the locker and walked out of the stark white Experience Center, returning to the noise and controlled chaos of Gerod.
Her feet stumbled here and there as Ellie made her way to the pod station. The sudden onset of gravity never sat well with her. Learning how to deal with the loss of weight came much quicker. She could just float and spin and remove all of her worries. Gravity was reality. Gravity meant having to deal with life’s troubles. If only she could spend all day floating in space.
With a tick and a touch, Ellie selected her destination on the pod station’s service panel. Estimated arrival time: ten minutes. Ellie looked around for a place to sit and get this dreaded gravity off of her feet. No such luck. Not a bench or anything in sight. She sighed lightly and leaned against the side of the service station, waiting for her pod to arrive. White skirts and tops acted like dirt magnets against such public pieces; Ellie didn’t really care. All she wanted was another five minutes to escape from the world.
The hustle and bustle of Gerod continued as she stood waiting. A businessman gulped down his coffee on the way to his office. Some townie woman walked her dog along the street, yapping into her earpiece and probably watching some entertainment behind her sunglasses. Music from the steps and streets swirled in the air and seeped into Ellie’s ears. There was a pattern to this chaos, but she didn’t have the perception to sort it all out.
She stood impatiently against the service stand, waiting for the pod to arrive, and it did. Right on schedule, too. Breathing a sigh of relief, Ellie dashed into the pod and fell back into its seat. The weight of gravity shifted from her feet to her butt, which was better designed for supporting weight. Instinctively, she reached for the switch that would turn off the pod’s holoprojector, having figured out that it was hidden underneath the lip of her seat. Now she wouldn’t have to deal with having her ever so lovely rival staring her back in the face.
Buildings of all sizes whizzed by as Ellie gazed out of the pod’s window. Their height lowered, building by building, as the pod took her towards the Errui district, a less densely populated district of Gerod. Errui’s demographics trended towards the more affluent, which tended to not like super high rise buildings as much. A mixture of finance and residential zones marked Errui’s borough-like setup, which was generally self-contained within Gerod. Most of the people who lived there also worked there, creating a bit of an isolationist culture. Par for the course for those in that business, as Ellie knew their contempt for everyone else first hand.
The pod network in these neighborhoods reminded Ellie of the tram system in Seattle, where it served neighborhoods more than each street, unlike her current home district. The pod stopped at the station nearest to her destination, and she figured that she still had about a kilometer to walk to this place. Ellie gently hopped out of the pod and looked around at her surroundings. She couldn’t recall ever visiting Errui in the past, even on business.
Ellie immediately noted the very clean – perhaps too clean – streets and sidewalks. Several small shops bordered the pod station, which was a smart move for those business owners, given the foot traffic. It had sort of a rustic look, but Ellie knew it was mostly a facade, as Errui’s one of the newest districts in Gerod. Now, what was the way to Barber road?
Pads were very good navigation devices, thanks to good orientation sensing, compasses, and a global positioning system built in. Ellie pulled her pad out of her bag and switched to the navigator application. She quickly tapped in 5441F Barber road, and it quickly calculated a walkable route to the residence. Only eight tenths of a kilometer – not a bad guess of hers. Satisfied with her sense of direction, Ellie dropped the pad back into her bag. Since it would automatically send directions to her earpiece, there was no need to look at it. Her first move would be to head south on this road, Newton avenue, and Ellie walked briskly down the sidewalk, her hair bouncing up and down with a gentle rhythm.
As she walked down the road, her mind wandered a bit about this Cinte Lyn. This would be a spur of the moment interview, as Ellie had nothing at all planned for it. Questions were always tough to think of on the way – Ellie would usually write some notes beforehand when doing an interview. Still, this was how she earned her money, by being quick on her feet, mental or otherwise.
The first thing on her mind was why she didn’t go to the police. Something to hide, or just afraid of them? Either was likely. Did she see a show at the Garden? Was she wearing one of those wristbands? What did she remember about the crime, if anything? Where did she go afterwards? All relevant things to ask.
“Turn left on to Signet boulevard,” said the synthesized voice of the navigator. Ellie could see the intersection ahead, and made a mental note to turn left. Shops and buildings faded away to a small park at the corner of the road. As she rounded the turn, she looked over at the park, seeing lush green trees and a small pond dotting the grass. Ducks waited patiently next to an older gentleman, trying to coax some food from him. He would have none of it, as he quietly munched on his toasted bagel while reading something on a pad. It must be nice having some open space, as parkland was a premium in Gerod.
Ellie continued walking down Signet boulevard, anticipating her next change of direction. Being the middle of the afternoon, there were few people on the street. The fairly well populated area felt strangely empty, almost like a ghost town. Unnerving and unnatrual. Even if most people were at their jobs or homes, there should have still been some people walking about, or vehicles traveling the street. She just couldn’t shake the strangeness brewing in her gut.
“Turn right at Barber road,” said the navigator into her earpiece. That was the street, all right. Ellie continued down her path, noting that Barber road consisted almost entirely of townhouses. Most of them looked very similar, with the only variances being some accent colors. It was a pre-fabricated building block neighborhood if she ever saw one. If there were any architects involved, they wouldn’t have let this travesty of buildings go on. At least the high rises of the big residential districts were mostly designed by big-name building designers in an attempt to create an artful skyline. This was just… bland. Ellie stopped in front of one of the townhouses, its only differentiating features being red painted accents on a primarily white paint scheme.
“Five four forty-one foxtrot Barber road,” said Ellie under her breath as she walked up the small staircase in front of the aforementioned townhouse. This whole neighborhood didn’t sit right with her. It reminded her too much of Seattle. Spread out, people with their enclaves trying to stay apart from one another, yet just close enough to keep the illusion of density. It didn’t feel right. Ellie tapped the doorbell pad and waited for someone to answer. Wind blew around, reminding her that fall would soon be at hand. Before she had a moment for her mind to start wandering, the door slid open, bringing a middle aged woman to Ellie’s view. She looked like any average mother with a bit too much to do, her hair going slightly gray in a few places, well-worn clothes covering a body that was probably far more attractive fifteen years ago.
“Who are you?” asked the woman.
“I’m here to see Cinte Lyn,” said Ellie, expecting to give an explanation. This wound up being unnecessary, as the mother turned to call her daughter.
“Cinte! I think one of your friends is here,” yelled the mother. She frowned a bit at this case of underestimation – did Ellie really look that young? She continued to wait until a lowly teenager bounced in front of the door. She barely looked to be sixteen years old, still immature both in her body shape and language. Cinte’s long purple and blue streaked hair flowed over her shoulders, accenting her blue eyes. Kids got dye jobs earlier and earlier these days. She saw Ellie and immediately beamed.
“Cinte?” asked Ellie. She nodded in approval. “Ellie Kalas, Genesis News. You called us?”
“Oh, wow, you actually came out here! I can’t believe it,” said Cinte, really super excited that the NEWS was in her presence. “Am I going to be on the news?”
“If you keep acting stupid, no,” Ellie said with a little disgruntlement in her voice. This snapped Cinte into line a little bit, realizing she might have been a little too enthusiastic. Ellie motioned with her arm for Cinte to come outside. “Let’s go for a walk.”
Ellie and Cinte shuffled down the stairs and on to the sidewalk, where the two started walking with no particular destination in mind. Cinte stood several centimeters taller than Ellie, reminding her a bit too much of her small stature. How bad is it when teenagers are taller than you?
“So, let’s get to business. You said you saw yourself on one of the security footage clips from a recent robbery. Why’d you call us instead of the police?” questioned Ellie. Cinte carried herself with all of the self-confidence, or lack thereof, that a teenager usually had. She couldn’t really look Ellie in the eyes, and her posture showed just as much ambivalence. Ellie guessed that this was probably her first real interview with anyone, ever.
“I didn’t want to go to jail,” she said. Well, that was a natural feeling, and would have explained her ambivalence.
“They wouldn’t put you in jail. You’d probably get immunity for working with them… but that’s beside the point. What can you tell me?” asked Ellie. Cinte looked a bit into the distance
“Well, I mean… what do you want to know?” said Cinte, still with some nervousness and excitement in one. It wasn’t every day that she talked to someone on the news, after all. Ellie remembered her thoughts from earlier, and
“What do you remember from that night?” Ellie asked. An obvious question, but since Cinte needed some prodding, it seemed fair.
“Nothing, really. It feels like a dream,” she replied, trying to think about that night. “If I hadn’t seen that video, I would never have known that I did anything. But before it happened, that’s different,” she said. Ellie raised an eyebrow – this was an interesting response.
“Before? Like, directly before you can’t remember things, or something else in the past?” pressed Ellie.
“Both, kinda. I remember seeing all of these flashing colors and patterns in my head. I don’t know what they mean, but I think it’s a clue,” Cinte explained. Ellie scratched her chin in thought. Flashing patterns and super bright colors, eh? Where had she seen those things before?
“Have you been to any concerts lately?”
“I did, a while ago. It was at the Gerod Garden,” said Cinte. Bingo. This was less of a coincidence now and more of a pattern. Something at the Garden was the cause of this. Ellie dug into her bag and took out one of the wristbands that sergeant Huffman gave her earlier.
“Did you have one of these wristbands?” asked Ellie. Cinte nodded, remembering the knickknack.
“Yeah, but I only had it at the show. I threw it away afterwards,” she replied. Damn, Ellie thought, as she wanted to do a comparison. Did this mean that the wristband was a red herring, or unnecessary for the complete plot?
“That’s… interesting,” said Ellie as she studied the wristband again. That didn’t fit in with her theory at all. Her face contorted a bit in thought, revealing her befuddlement. It wasn’t as simple as the wristband controlling the person. There was more to it. “Have you told your parents about this?”
“God no,” Cinte said, fearful thoughts permeating the exclamation. “I have enough problems as is…” Ellie said nothing in response to this; any words would probably come off wrong or sound condescending. Still, she understood Cinte’s situation. After all, Ellie wasn’t the perfect teen, either. Kids loved to push their boundaries, but in this case, they weren’t the ones doing the pushing. Someone else was, and Ellie didn’t want to see innocents hurt. “There was another reason I called you guys, too,” said Cinte with a hint of nervousness. Ellie glanced back over at Cinte, wondering what she was talking about.
“What was that?” asked Ellie, genuinely curious.
“I recognized you at the show I was at. I’ve seen you on the news before. That’s why I called you guys, because I thought you would help,” said Cinte. The explanation lifted a bit off of her shoulders, as she felt a little uncomfortable being around someone so much more important than Cinte herself was.
“Well, that means I didn’t do a very good job of going incognito,” Ellie said with a chuckle. “I think we’ll be able to help. You’ve given me plenty to think about. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone about who you are.” Cinte looked very relieved as the pair worked their way back to Cinte’s residence. The teen looked at Ellie as the two walked, studying her a bit. She seemed like a regular person, like being on video didn’t faze her.
“So what’s it like to be on the news?” Cinte asked. Ellie shrugged, used to the question at this point.
“It’s not as glamorous as you’d think. There’s a lot that goes on to get you what you see on the holoproj,” said Ellie.
“I know. I love putting videos together, but it takes a lot of time. Do you have any advice?” Ellie didn’t want to crush this poor girl’s dreams, but… reality calls.
“Yeah, don’t get too involved. Unfortunately, this is a business. My advice is to do what you love, and see where it takes you,” advised Ellie. She didn’t get her intended message across, as this served only to give some kind of excitement to Cinte, though Ellie wasn’t quite sure what precisely excited her. The two finally reached Cinte’s townhouse row once again, and the teen bid Ellie adieu with a little hand flip salute from her brow. Must have been a trend.
“Got it. I hope you get those guys – I don’t like being used,” said Cinte, confident in Ellie. Sighing a little in appreciation, Ellie turned to face Cinte and wish her well.
“Me too. Thanks for the help,” Ellie said as she gave a quick wave goodbye. Cinte entered the house, and Ellie decided to head back towards the pod station. It was time to go home… or back for a dive. Either way. She tapped the call button on her earpiece, connecting her directly to Erik. “Erik, you there?”
“Go ahead, Elle,” said Erik over the radio.
“We’ve got some stuff to talk about.”