I have the lovely distinction of hosting Friday Fiction this week. To join in the Friday Fiction fun, just add the link to your story to the linky widget below. Remember to keep your stories PG-13. Don't forget to read and comment. We all love the feedback. Happy weekend!
A/N: Hey everyone! Sorry for the long wait, I guess we're having Friday Fiction on a Saturday after all. It's just been a really big week for me (midterms), and so I've been scrambling to get papers written, tests taken and all of that other fun college student "stuff". At any rate, I didn't have a chance to proof the next section of the Greybell story, so I'm posting this little oneshot I whipped up this afternoon. I hope you enjoy it and next week, I'll try to get back to Nena, Andy and Liandra. Happy weekend!
Carla fumbled in her purse for the membership card, crossing her toes for luck as she shuffled the handful of plastic debit and credit cards. It took a moment, but she found the one she wanted and slid it through the card reader, jamming the rest into her coat pockets.
The gloomy grey gate beeped at her, the security light winking, before it swung open with a quiet click. The hallway was barely lit, as usual and her footsteps echoed on the damp concrete floor as she scurried down to the door at the end where the green light signaled a vacancy.
Here, she swiped the membership card again, keying in the passcode before swiping an available credit card. The transaction took a few minutes and then asked for program selection and physical verification. Carla tapped through the presented options and selected the time slot of half-an-hour and then reached inside her shirt for the fat gold locket. Clicking open the catch, she held up the contents to the tiny robotic eye.
The lens readjusted and after a moment, a thin net of green light shot out and analyzed the curled lock of hair and the faded photograph. A congratulatory message flashed on the screen, then a progress bar blinked to life beneath it.
Building visuals and checking data match…
Carla tucked her cards back into her purse and then pulled the cuffs of her hoodie over the palms of her hand. Today was an early work day. She’d been up and on her feet since four-thirty, dealing with idiots and non-idiots alike. She still had to pick up her mother’s prescription and cash her father’s bi-monthly paycheck.
Her parents would not expect her for at least another hour, her mother at least. Her father would be too busy to notice unless there was no dinner on the table. For now, she had time enough.
The card reader beeped and a deposit box slid open below the reader. Shrugging off her purse, hat and her locket, Carla dropped them inside and accepted the ticket that would allow her to retrieve them when her time was up.
The dingy door swung open into a blinding white light.
Squinting into the brightness, Carla inched through the doorway and tried not to flinch when she heard the door clang shut. The lights flickered and dimmed as her vision adjusted, before a virtual backdrop of green grass, blue sky and stick-like trees were projected on the blank walls.
She tried to focus on the crooked burn on the back of her left hand, the painful hangnail on her right pointer finger and the way that her shoelaces were tied unevenly as the gaudy pixelated images sharpened until they were so fine and delicate, she could almost believe they were real.
The lack of wind was remedied a moment later when the air vents at the corners of the room switched on and a white noise chatter seemed to filter through with it. A generic wooden bench slowly formed in front of her and Carla gingerly perched on the edge, twisting her hands in her lap.
This was always the worst part.
“Carla? Is that you?”
She bit her lip and squeezed her eyes shut, hands tightly clenched into fists.
No, this part was always worst.
She forced a smile and turned to greet her grandfather. He looked just the way he always did, a little worried for her sake, a little more wrinkled than she remembered, but always, always so steady and comforting.
“Grandpa!” She was off the bench and hurtling towards him.
He caught her easily in a hug and held on tight while she sniffled and bawled and babbled incoherently into his chest. She cried until her voice was rough and hiccupped as the tears eventually stopped on their own.
Her grandfather guided her back to the park bench and sat her down next to him, one arm wrapped around her thin shoulders. He pressed her head to the crook of his shoulder and hummed softly, an old lullaby from years ago.
When she tugged on the hem of his workshirt—he always wore the same uniform as her father had—he stopped humming and smiled down at her. “Feel better?”
“Yeah. A little.”
“I didn’t think I’d see you this week.”
“…I worked late on Tuesday,” Carla took a careful breath. “It was a lousy week.”
“Tell me about it.”
He listened, never interrupting, but always having just the right sort of thing to say or the right sort of pause that let her continue explaining about her work, the new management rules and how her mother was too sick for two weeks in a row.
“…be sure you’re resting enough.” He warned, threading a hand through her fine hair. “And eating. You don’t sound like you have enough time for anything.”
“I don’t,” Carla admitted. “I honestly don’t. I don’t even know how I’ve made it this far.”
“But you’re close to the end, aren’t you?” He asked, referring to the internship. It had been just the break she’d needed at the time, but sticking it through to the end was the real challenge.
“Six more weeks.”
He chuckled. “You’ll do it.”
“I hope so,” she slowly began to straighten up, a flicker of sadness filtering through her eyes. “I really hope so.”
“That’s my girl,” he praised. “Make me proud.”
Tears shimmered, threatening to spill once more, but she blinked them back and made herself smile even as his digital form twitched and fizzled, the timer on the door, chiming for the remaining thirty-seconds.
“Always,” she whispered, watching as the figure pixelated and exploded into tiny fragments of floating blue light. It swarmed around her, briefly, cool to the touch, before the air vents along the ceiling sucked it away.
The timer buzzed loudly, the projected atmosphere and setting slowly vanishing away, taking the light with it, until four, drab grey walls greeted her. Carla shuffled to the door and stepped out into the damp hallway once more.
She gathered her things from the deposit bin when it opened and hurried out with the same speed she’d entered. She thought of her coworkers and then her poor parents. Six more weeks, she reminded herself. Six more weeks and then she would be certified for one of the prestigious IT positions.
Once certified, she wouldn’t have to pay to use the virtual reality rooms. She could store more data for free and even purchase her own canister of Realistix, the evolving AI that could mimic any given creature or person with the proper DNA sample and a visual reference.
Six more weeks…
(c) Sara Harricharan
Thanks for reading!