~~ COMPLETE ~~
Foreword by the author:
Each of the six books in this compilation follows one or two characters on their own personal journeys through the world of Atopia, intertwining together as the stories progress. It is important to note that the Atopia stories are “sidequels” to each other, all starting at the same moment in time and occurring simultaneously in the same world.
So, when reading, please keep in mind each new story starts over again at the same point in time, and that the sixth and final story is the one that will wrap them all together. Enjoy!
~ BLUE SKIES ~
“NO! NO! YOUR other left!” I yelled at the idiot behind the counter, gesturing towards the pack of cigarettes I wanted. My anger was still peaking after the screaming fight I’d had with Alex in the street outside. We’d just broken up, and this time for the last time.
It wasn’t helping that I hadn’t slept properly in weeks.
The idiot stared at me and began to prattle on in some foreign chatter. How on earth they let so many people that didn’t speak a word of English through Passport Control stunned me. Even with languages going extinct faster than frogs, I’d read that the City still had over a thousand spoken throughout its many boroughs. What a mess.
Now the idiot shrugged as if to ask what to do next. The impatience of the people in line behind me almost overcame my need for a nicotine fix. Almost, but not quite.
“Just wait a minute!”
I scowled at him while I searched around in my purse for my mobile. Squeamish of implants, I still used an old fashioned ear bud, but showing people that I had one made me feel self-conscious. I hated keeping it in all the time. Popping the mobile bud into my ear I repeated myself.
“The Camel Lights!” I yelled over the counter, jabbing my finger at the display case.
Whatever language he was speaking was instantly translated, “Like I said lady, those aren’t Camels, the package looks the same but you’ll have to go across the street to find those.”
He pointed helpfully out the door.
I was annoyed this person couldn’t speak to me in the official language of the place we lived in. Why was it that I had to bow to his deficiencies? Why couldn’t he service me properly? I made a mental note to leave a scathing review of this pharmacy in my social cloud. The owners of this place would regret this.
“Whatever, that’s fine, whatever those are,” I snarled.
He shrugged and reached into the display and then handed them over. Credits for the transaction were automatically deducted from my daily account as I walked towards the door, picking up a bag of freeze dried vegetable chips on my way.
Getting cigarettes was a regulated activity that required a pharmacist to personally verify my nano–cleaning certification. Of course this also aggravated me. I banged open the door to the drugstore as I stormed out, startling some incoming customers, and opening the cigarettes as I went.
Smoking was a bad habit I’d picked up from my mother. I hadn’t spoken to her in years, but then, my mother had barely ever shown any interest in me. She was a very difficult woman, always judging, and had driven my father away to some Luddite commune back in Montana with the rest of his family. I hadn’t been able to reach him in years. It wasn’t something I was going to forgive my mother for anytime soon.
I stopped just outside the door of the pharmacy to light up, taking a deep drag and feeling some facsimile of relaxation spreading into my body.
Midtown Manhattan blazed away before me in an orgy of advertising. Almost every square inch of space, from lamp post to sidewalk, was full of some sort of commercial heralding a new Broadway show or multiverse world. A holographic head danced above me that sparkled and wobbled slightly as the smoke from my cigarette drifted up into it.
I blew more smoke up at it as I absently watched it tell me, “Come to Titan, experience the methane rain.” The chaotic glow from the street had an almost pornographic luminescence to it, but it hardly registered on me. For me, it was just the frenetically familiar background of New York City.
Taking another long drag from my smoke, I glanced back up at the holographic head. There was just no sex appeal in that messaging. They should be saying something like, “Make love in the hydrocarbon desert.” I laughed silently to myself—make love, now there was something alien, never mind Titan.
Without warning, a robotic surrogate that I’d noticed lining up behind me in the shop came from nowhere and barreled into me, pinning me hard against the wall. It fumbled at my body, grabbing at me.
Blood drained from my face with the incomprehensible and previously unconsidered prospect of being raped by a robot. The draining blood, however, left a vacuum that was filled by a bolt of pure fury, and I lashed back, yelling and flailing.
“Get off me!” I screamed.
It bounced back much more easily than I’d anticipated. We stood staring at each other for a moment, my green and angry eyes meeting its dead, gunmetal grey orbs.
Giving what I could only interpret as a furtive glance, it shrugged an oddly robotic shrug before turning to disappear into the stream of pedestrian traffic. I lurched forward as if to give chase, but gave up almost instantly.
I was shaking.
Breathing hard and ragged, I wiped spittle from the side of my mouth. Looking down, I noticed that he had stolen my cigarette pack, and my trembling hands were somehow matching the wobbly holographic projection still touting Titan above me. In my right hand, the cigarette continued to burn happily away, completely unconcerned with my threatened violation. I shrugged and took a drag, calming my nerves.
Nobody walking by seemed to have noticed anything, or at least, nobody had wanted to see anything. I guess he’d just wanted the cigarettes, although why a robot would want cigarettes was beyond me.
This goddamn city.
I had half a mind to call Alex, but after screaming at him that I wanted to be left alone, right now wasn’t the right time. I’d report this when I got home after work, but I was already late for my presentation. Shaking my head, I dropped my smoke and ground it out underfoot and then ventured out from under the awning to merge into the sea of pedestrians flowing down West 57 Street.
I surged with the dense crowd for a moment, watching for an eddy current that could carry me towards