“We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“Wake up.” Mason shakes my shoulder until I look at him, my eyelids heavy with sleep.
“What?” I grumble. There is sunlight streaming through the green-tint windows. I notice he is dressed in a sleeveless, long vest that goes to his knees, “Are you wearing leggings?” I add.
“Come quick.” He moves off the bed, heading to the door, “It’s happening.”
“Huh?” I have no idea what he is talking about. Standing, I realize I had fallen asleep in my clothes. Not bothering to change them, I twist my hair into a bun and walk out. I follow him outside, “I don’t see anything.” I yawn, “What’s happening?”
“Look.” He points towards the house in the opposite direction. I squint. Inside, I see two people inside. With the glaring sun, it is difficult to see who though.
“They’re probably just visiting.” I mention, thinking of Yona and the others.
“No, no.” Mason’s voice trembles with excitement, “It’s /her/.”
Looking back, I watch as the couple comes outside – having noticed us, as well. The blond-pink curls are drawn up into pigtails, bouncing against Aria’s shoulders as she walks towards us.
“Good morning!” She greets us. Behind her is a tall woman that I don’t recognize.
“Are you moving in?” Mason blurts.
Aria laughs, it is a melodic tone, “Yes! Don’t look so surprised, you’re the one that made it sound so inviting.” She reaches out and lightly pats Mason on the shoulder. He looks as if he is about to faint. As she turns her attention to me, my throat goes dry. Somewhere in my cheek, there is a muscle twitching.
“Happy day.” I stammer, mostly out of nervousness.
“You have something of mine.” She replies.
“What?” I watch as she moves her hand from Mason’s shoulder to mine.
There is a brief pause, then she laughs shortly, “My coat?”
“Oh! Right.” I realize I’m still wearing it even. Blushing, I quickly take it off. She accepts it with a smile.
“Thanks.” With a light bounce, she looks to the stranger behind her, “Oh, sorry, this is Sister Sophie.”
The tall woman nods to us. She has sharp cheekbones, a prominent chin, wide eyes with thick lashes and silky hair teased into an elegant updo. Her shoulders are wide, but hips narrow. She’s at least three heads taller than I am, making Aria look tiny beside her. I feel like an ant, the shortest and smallest out of the group.
“Lovely energy you both have.” Sister Sophie compliments, “I hope you don’t mind, when Aria mentioned she was moving here, I decided to come along.”
“No, we don’t mind.” Mason answered quickly, “It feels nice to know that these houses won’t be as empty anymore.”
“You say that now.” Aria says, rolling her eyes.
“Hush, dear.” Sophie taps Aria on the wrist, “Shall we have brunch by the fountain?”
Aria nods, glancing at me. The heat in my cheeks flare again.
“Sure.” I mumble.
“Do you two drink Sus?”
The mention of Sus makes me perk up, “Yes.” I quickly nod. Mason nods as well.
“Any particular color? I brought a Juicer with me and the reserve is full, so I can do any type.”
“Green and red.” Mason answers, sounding as excited as I feel.
“Uhm,” I hesitate, then answer, “Blue and green?”
Sophie nods, pointing at Mason, “Green and red.” She points at me, “Green and blue.” Then she points at Aria and smiles.
Aria returns the smile with a wink, “You know what I want.”
With a dry chuckle, Sophie leans down to kiss Aria on the cheek. It is a light, polite peck. “Alright dears, I’ll be back in about twenty minutes then.” She saunters back to their home.
Aria looks at us with a smirk, smoothing her coat out on her arm, “She’s great.” She comments about Sophie.
“It’s nice of her to make Sus for us.” Mason adds, sitting down at a stone.
Chewing on my lower lip, I mumble, “I’m going to change my clothes.” Taking a step backwards, I wait for them both to nod before turning and heading back into my home.
“I thought you were supposed to be silent?” I ask Aria. The four of us sit around the fountain, holding our glasses of Sus. I take a sip of the blue-green juice mixture. Instantly, I feel a refreshing relaxation run through my muscles.
“Shh,” Aria smiles, “Don’t tell anybody.” She drinks an orange-colored juice that is streaked with white.
“Wawack likes everybody in his meditation group to go through a silent period.” Sophia says. She holds a deep green juice carefully between her long fingers. I notice, in proportion to the glass, her hands are especially big. Briefly, I wonder about her genetics because of the oddity.
“So, if you don’t want to do it, why don’t you just not attend the group?” I ask, moving my attention back to the blonde.
“I got used to being there,” Aria shrugs, “I always sleep so well after I go and the next closest meditation group is about three hours in the hovercraft.”
Sophie looks to the side, lips pursing as if holding her breath. She sips her juice, but the expression is noticeable enough to all of us.
“Sister Sophie believes that it is time I start meditating on my own.” Aria glances at her friend, “But I told you, it’s just not the same.”
“Why do you think that is?” Sophie asks, glancing over the rim of her glass. She takes another sip.
Aria shrugs, looking away and drinking her juice. An awkward tension seems to pulse between them. I look at Mason, but his attention is completely absorbed into watching Aria.
“I didn’t really like meditating in a group.” I mention. When Sophie looks inquisitively at me, I add, “I mean, something happened,” I think of the golden room, “but, it didn’t feel good or anything.”
“But did you sleep well?” Aria interjects.
I frown. I realize I did. Better than in the past week. Slowly, I nod.
“See!” Aria gestures to me as if I am an exhibit displayed for Sophie to look at, “Something about that group… maybe it is Wawack.”
“I doubt that.” Sophie adds, finishing her juice, “Wawack is one thing, but he wouldn’t have something as consistent as what you’re experiencing. There’s something else happening…”
“What?” Mason adds, possibly to remind us that he is there.
“Could be a number of things…” Sophie murmurs, “I’ll have to research today, see if I can find anything.”
“Let me know if you do?” Aria asks.
“Always, dear.” The older women exchange smiles.
“Are you sisters?” Mason interrupts.
Both laugh, loudly, and Sophie shakes her head. Aria wraps an arm around Sophie’s shoulders, “Spiritually, yes. Biologically, not at all.”
“Oh,” Mason nods, “I see.”
“Did you know each other before you transferred citizenship?” I ask.
Sophie stands, “No, but I met Aria the day she transferred into the community.” Placing a hand on top of Aria’s hand, she speaks smoothly, “How much you’ve grown since then. You should have seen her, just as scrawny and plain as you two, no offense.”
I shake my head, “No offense.” Though I don’t consider myself either of those traits, from Sophie’s tone, I know it wasn’t an insult. Mason doesn’t say anything.
“Stop acting so old, you’re only twenty-eight.” Aria mumbles into her glass prior to taking a long gulp of juice.
“Older than you.” Sophie retorts, “Well, I better get reading. See you around, sisters, brother.” She nods at Mason, then heads away into one of the homes.
Silence is left in her stead. We drink our juices, glancing between one another. Finally, Aria places her empty glass next to the stone. She asks, “What are you doing today?” The question is directed to both of us.
“Nothing.” Mason quickly responds, tilting his head back and finishing his juice so fast that the apple in his throat noticeably slides under his skin. I rub my throat.
“Avery?” Aria looks at me.
“Oh, uhm,” I look at my barely finished juice, “Well, nothing, I guess.”
Aria smiles, “Great. Let me take you to the nearest city. Show you around.” She stands, “Oh, before we go though, someone should call Yona or Ara and let them know to freshen up the reserves, if you haven’t yet.”
Mason nods, “I’ll do it.” He stands, “I can clean your glass.” He offers, holding a hand out for Aria’s glass. She shakes her head, instead taking his glass from him.
“They’re from Sophia’s. I’ll put them in there.” She looks at me, “Are you done?”
Though there is a lot of juice left in my glass, they both stare at me intently. I feel pressure and nod. Placing the glass to my lips, I steadily drink until it is all gone. With a mighty exhale, I hand the glass to Aria.
Sometime during my depression marathon, or perhaps even overnight, a couple packages had been set beside my door. I didn’t notice until I went to change my clothes. Inside the thinnest package, there was my new citizenship papers, identification chips and an USB drive with further information. The chips are to place in my hovercraft and anything else I might take over a national border. They were as much for me, as for the U.N., since if I lost my craft, the chip could be used to track it down. Though, I’ve never heard of someone misplacing their hovercraft.
I’ll get to the information later though.
In the second package, which was more box-shaped than envelope, is folded clothing with a note on top that says ‘From Zoey <3’.
“Yay.” I murmur to myself, dragging out the first item. It is a tight, long-sleeve sweater in the color of neon green. Setting it on the table, I continue to look through my new clothing. Will any of it even look good on me? Still, Zoey’s clothing was high-fashion compared to the clothes in the closet.
I pick out a few items. The sweater is tight in some places, loose in others. I feel awkward, as if I’m cosplaying Zoey and it’s just not right. The hot pink and orange striped pants squeeze my waist, but bunch loosely around my calves.
I brush my hair and put on city make-up. This time, I remember to include the third-eye marking. I, also, paint a silver circle in the center of my throat with a line that leads up along my throat, over my chin, and to my lower lip. Focusing carefully, I try not to mess up the thin lining around my eyes when Aria appears beside me.
“We’re waiting.” She says with a smile, moving ahead of me. Her eyes survey me.
Finishing a line, I decide I’m good and look at her. She changed her clothing as well, the comfortable outfit from before gone. Instead, she has on a ruffled skirt, a halter-top, extremely large earrings and her hair is curled to prominently display the pastel pink strands. She is even taller, wearing platforms that give her an extra five inches. I feel like an imposter next to her.
“Wow,” She says, looking over me, “We have to get you some new clothes. Where did you get these from?”
I look down at my best friend’s clothing and shake my head, “Just an old friend.”
“Well,” Her arm slips around my shoulder, “We’ll find you some of your own in the city.” She guides me outside.
Mason waits beside the fountain, wearing the same clothes as he had been before. He smiles anxiously, “Ready?”
I nod. We walk to the launchpads.
Like expected, there are two other hovercrafts at the site. When Aria leads towards one, Mason stops and I do, as well. Both of our mouths fall open and hang. The hovercraft is unlike any I have seen before. It is sleek, a metallic rainbow sheen glistens. I can’t decide what color it is – if it is even one – and the windows are black, not transparent, so that the inside can’t be seen. The landing feet are curved, without gears or screws, reminding me of tongues by their shape alone. The shape of the craft itself was symmetrical, not a sphere like mine, but not an egg like Mason’s. Instead, the shape resembled a flattened diamond. The height was just enough for humans to fit inside.
Aria taps her bracer. A ramp slides out silently, a curved door hissing quietly open. I close my mouth. Glancing at Mason, he looks at me with wide eyes.
“Is this a Transcendi make?” Mason stammers.
“Hm?” Aria blinks. I can’t tell if she’s pretending to not notice our shock. She shrugs, “No, no.”
“Uh, Epicuri?” He guesses.
She laughs, “No!” Gesturing for us to go inside, she answers, “It’s not a brand. I made it myself.”
“You’re kidding.” The words fall out of my mouth.
“No.” She gestures again. Mason walks into the craft. I linger at the ramp, “What you see is my work of the last eight years.”
Walking up the ramp, I examine the entrance, “This is so far from space debris calibration.” I murmur, thinking of what Mason had told me.
She follows me inside, the ramp coming back up and the door shutting behind her, “Actually, it’s not. I have to be able to test my ideas somehow.” Running her hand along the inner wall of the craft, she smiles, “Zero does that well.”
“You named your craft, Zero?” Mason asks. He is already looking around the inside. I join him. It looks nothing like either of our crafts. At the front and back ends are the one-way windows. They aren’t open and tall, but narrow and barely big enough to get my head through. The two strips follow the entire craft, parallel to one another.
“Yeah, what’s your craft’s name?” Aria asks. She walks to the center. There is a column from the roof to the floor with smooth handles randomly placed along it. Circled around the column are four seats with various restraint straps. Looking above them, on the roof there are identical seats, but placed between the 90degree angled ones on the ground so they are not directly above them.
“I never named my craft.” Mason answers, sitting down in one of the seats, “It sure is small in here though. Looks much bigger on the outside.”
“Where is the dash?” I ask, realizing I can’t find it anywhere.
“Oh!” Aria grins, pressing a few things on her bracer and a projection flickers into being from the column. It spins slowly around so that the screen circles the column and is visible by each ground chair, “I’m still working on it.” She admits, sitting down in the chair next to Mason.
I sit, as well, following along as I look at the map projection in front of me.
“Still, I can’t believe you did this all yourself.” Mason shifts to look at her more closely, “You’re lying.”
Aria shakes her head, inputting the address code. I watch as the code transfers into the map and the craft begin to make it’s navigational path. Since my dash was always under my fingers, I never really watched a craft work it’s path out. I watch as the cyan lines shoot across the digital terrain, weaving and adjusting rapidly.
“You’re lying, where did you get this craft?” Mason pushes.
“I’m not lying.” Aria says shortly, her cheerfulness disappearing, “Why would I?”
“I don’t think she’s lying.” I defend her, looking over at Mason, “Just because you can’t build something like this doesn’t mean she can’t.”
Mason shrugs, crossing his arms and looking at the screen with a surly expression.
“Look, I can explain it to you more in depth later.” Aria sighs, “But now isn’t a great time, I just want to show you the city.”
The surly expression fades from his face. Mason shrugs again, looking more guilty than anything else, “Sorry.” He mumbles.
“Lemuria?” I ask, my attention distracted from the exchange by a flashing word on the screen.
Aria nods, “That’s the city’s name.” She smiles. The tension dissipates entirely. “You two are going to love it, I did when I first went.”
“Oh!” Mason raises a finger, taking out a thin card from his pocket, “I brought my debt-tracker along. It’s got a super high limit, if you want to get anything with it, that’s fine with me.” He stammers, as if he had tried to rehearse the words in his head too many times.
Aria laughs at him, “A debt-tracker?!” She keeps laughing, gasping for breath. I feel bad for Mason, he looks entirely shunned by her laughter. Licking my lips, I don’t understand what’s so funny. I don’t have a debt-tracker myself, my father always kept a family one for both of us, but I can’t imagine why it’d be hilarious to anyone.
“What is it?” I ask.
Gulping for oxygen, Aria waves a hand. Her cheeks are flushed red. “I’m sorry, Mason.” She places her hand on his knee and squeezes, “It’s just… you’re not going to be needing that for a long time. At least, not as long as you’re a citizen here.”
“Why not?” I try to ignore how tightly she’s holding onto his leg.
“Because, Transcendi doesn’t track debt or any monetary transactions.” She answers.
“How do you buy things?” Mason tucks his card back into his pocket.
“You don’t.” Aria leans back, glancing at the map, “Buying implies ownership. Transcendi citizens don’t own anything.”
My brow furrows so hard, I feel a headache rising, “Don’t I own my house?”
Aria looks at me, then shakes her head.
“Who owns my house?” I query.
“No one.” She responds.
“Impossible.” Mason blurts.
“Wow, did you two do any research before you decided to transfer here?” Raising her eyebrows, she sighs, “Transcendi doesn’t own anything, but uses everything. As citizens, you do the same. You use the houses and everything else, but no one – not even the Transcendi Ambassadors – own them. It’s common courtesy that once a claim is placed on a home, others only use it in time of dire emergencies and only if there isn’t an unclaimed one nearby to use.”
Mason and I are silent. I feel as if something strange, but great, has just happened. I, still, don’t entirely understand. The claiming system of A-Utili was similar, which is why I didn’t notice anything odd when I arrived, but as I think further, I realize there was no need to input a debt-tracker code for taxes. This must be why.
“If you want,” Aria adds, “there’s a ton of research about it, just have to search. Most other citizens will talk to you about it too, if you want. There’s a pretty vibrant discourse around the topic.”
“Let’s just focus on getting some outfits.” I say wearily, realizing I didn’t want to think further about it.
Aria smiles, “Agreed.” She looks to Mason.
“Agreed.” He says flatly with a nod.
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to be continued