A Short Ride in a Fast MachineBy Firerose
Page 1 of 3
To 'MGV (Musique à Grande Vitesse)' by Michael Nyman
Lexa would have loved the Louvre.
In fact that was how it all started. Me and Lexa. She'd been so excited when I'd said at the office that I was going to take my accumulated three rotations' leave at once, that I was going to take Mirrie to Earth, see all the sights.
We took to sharing coffee breaks, poring over all the cultural artefacts on show in the Northern Terran Dome on my clunky old data-viewer. Planning itineraries on the backs of discarded plans, then spilling coffee all over them and laughing. Lexa and laughter go hand in hand.
And then... Well...
It wasn't the sex. I mean Mirrie... Let's put it this way, I was a bit out of practice, really.
But Lexa understood why I wanted to spend three rotations' leave and nearly all our savings seeing the places and the things that had shaped our society here on Demeter in so many ways.
And I was glad to have seen them. Proud, even.
It wasn't as if we had anything much to save for.
Mirrie'd just said, 'These marble floors may look very fine, but they make my feet ache.' Somehow Mirrie's feet always contrived to ache, despite the sensible shoes she always wore.
'Can we go to the canteen now?'
'Mirrie, dear, they call them cafés here,' I'd said, for at least the sixth time, but Mirrie hated new words.
'They serve food, don't they?' she'd said, as she'd clumped along. 'Well they're canteens then,' she'd said triumphantly. 'Not that their food is up to the standard of my home cooking, mind you,' she'd added.
Earth food was also on her list of dislikes.
In fact it was hard to recall anything she'd liked. Except once, in the huge New Presidential Park -- which the guidetext entry said '...rivalled the great parks of the Pre-Atomic Era, for example, Versailles, Hyde and Central' -- she'd said, 'It feels a little like that copse near Lorrie's place, you remember, out by Dad's farm.'
And now she wouldn't even look out of the window.
I understood that she wasn't interested in the magnificent arched monorail that wound round the whole Northern dome like, well like the necks of those extinct white birds in the Nature Museum. What were they called? Swans, that was it. Nor in the supercooled herculaneum rail above which the monotrain floated serenely, almost silently. After all, she'd never shown any interest in my work back on Demeter. But didn't she even want to look out at this Earth that we'd come so far, spent so much, to see?
Lexa would have looked out of the window.
'I'm tired,' she said. 'Why can't we sit down over there?'
And I had to explain for the sixty-sixth time that the seats were only for Alphas -- yes, even though there were only three people in the Alpha section -- while my guts shrivelled remembering that first time, when we'd sat on those comfy black seats, proud explorers of this old new world. I don't think I'd ever felt so small before. Back on Demeter they wouldn't even put cattle in the Delta areas, and the Gamma section -- remember, 'Green for Gamma', the official had said -- was hardly better.
She did look tired, actually. Tired and old, though she was younger than me. Tired and careworn, though it was my labours that paid for the farmhouse she insisted we lived in, me that had to commute three hours every day into the office. She'd never liked the city, she'd said.
And looking at her, framed against the moving backdrop her mind was too closed to see, I decided. Why should I be tied to this woman I'd married so many years ago when we'd both been different people? It wasn't as if...
I didn't know whether Lexa would have me, but at least I would have tried. Tried to be more than an ignorant peasant on some back-of-the-woods planet.
Late. Again. I regularly stayed after hours to chat with colleagues on the team, and just as regularly, thought I could make the fifteen minute walk in seven if I ran. Reached the station, chronometer reading 19.99, monotrain doors beeping -- forced my aching lungs into one last spurt to sprint up the rolling stairs, across the empty platform, got my shoulder into the door before it clunked shut. Just. Christ. Heart pounding, breaths in gasps, legs forgotten how to walk. Usually I stood in the service section, an inadequate gesture of solidarity, but today my legs told me that they needed a rest. Plonked down on the nearest free seat and settled back into its body-hugging comfort. Spent a moment or two, eyes closed regaining some control over my breathing, then fiddled in my coverall pockets trying to dig out my id card.
The movement must have unsettled the woman to my left, I heard a muttered curse and somehow my hand shot out fast enough to catch her data-viewer before it hit the ground. As I handed it back I glanced at her and smiled. The black tunic dress barely covering the tops of her thighs and the heavy leather jacket with its out-of-proportion fur collar were standard enough student wear, as was the dead-pan white and purple make-up. But I guessed her scraped-back bob of blonde hair -- the colour people sometimes called corn-gold, though I'd never visited any of the agricultural planets where corn was grown -- was actually natural.
The smile froze on my lips at her look of contempt. I turned away, careful not to meet the eyes of the dark-haired man opposite. The flashes on his coveralls told me that he was several grades my senior and his mobile face was twisted in an expression of amused disdain he could not quite conceal.
Not for the first time, I wondered what kind of figure I must cut: pouches under my eyes from too many late-evening meetings, thickening belly from the combination of a desk job with a total lack of spare time. That and over-eating in the free canteen, I suppose. I'd always been fairly solidly built, but now... Well, I was too young to succumb to middle age just yet. She was probably only five or so years younger than me. I'd better investigate the project gym -- with the deputy team leader promotion my credits should stretch, even if I really should send more home for Rheanna's college course.
As the monotrain decelerated for my stop, I vowed -- no more excuses, I would get some more exercise.
Just my luck, that man who'd bounded onto the mono at the last minute was lurching towards me as if I was wearing some kind of homing beacon round my neck. Then he had the nerve to sit next to me -- I mean, the Alpha section was almost empty! Looked like an engineering technician, probably worked in one of those hideous sheds that entirely spoiled the view from the library windows. I had to squeeze right up on my seat to avoid his thighs touching mine. I could feel his warmth -- and smell his sweat.
'Shit,' I said, as my DV slid gently off my lap. Before I could reach it, the man intercepted it, his hand brushing my thigh just above the boot, and then was actually smirking at me as he handed it back. I suppose he thought he'd done me some sort of good turn. Urgh. Not that I didn't like men with curly hair, but the way his stomach strained against the belt of his coveralls... I turned away. Only one of the boring lit texts, anyway. Well, the whole fucking course was boring. I could hardly remember why I'd enrolled -- probably to get away from home and Mother always inviting the sons of the hags in her Penta club round to dinner to meet 'my darling daughter'.
The man opposite, well, he was a different matter. He had the kind of eyes that other people wrote poetry about. His lips were pretty cool too. Knowing my luck, though, bound to be gay. I was beginning to think all the sexy men in the bloody Northern Dome were gay. And that smile -- well, it looked like it needed more rehearsal in front of a mirror.
Maybe I should take up Aunt Jesca's offer? Last time she'd visited, what four years ago now, she'd taken me aside and said that if I ever got bored with high society on Earth, as she'd put it, I could always visit them out on Scandium Five. 'I'm sure that Foster would teach you to fly,' Jez'd said, probably little guessing how long I'd remember her words.
I'd always wanted to fly. Ironic really, only child of the owner of the largest commercial carrier company in the Northern Hemisphere, and Dad would never let me go near a flyer. Let alone pilot one. I suppose it was because of Reesar, but no-one ever talked about him. Sometimes I wanted to say, 'Hey, he was my brother too!'
I wondered how much the bracelet they'd given me for my twenty-first would fetch. Enough for the fare? And I'd been saving my allowance for months and months. Well, there was nothing much to spend it on really.
And I was sure that the men would be more interesting on a frontier world like Scandium Five.
The monotrain was running 21.4 seconds behind schedule. Four minutes, 34.3 seconds elapsed travel time, six minutes, 22.6 seconds remaining. Approximately.
I avoided the eyes of the cause of the 21.4 second delay. Though he wore project coveralls, I was certain that he didn't work in the computing section. He was a fool if he thought that the blonde seated adjacent to him would notice him. Her pure calf-skin mid-thigh boots alone probably cost more than he earned in a month, not to mention the heavy bracelet that she was fingering, her eyes tight closed. If it was real gold of course -- which had a reasonably high probability: while a girl like her was probably empty-headed enough to be content with gold-effect plasteen, her father was unlikely to share her lack of discernment.
No-one else occupying the Alpha section. In fact, the mono was almost empty, one of the advantages of leaving relatively late in the evening. Once I'd remained in the lab because the research in which I was engaged had filled my whole attention. Now, I marked the time like any Beta admin clerk. Best not to analyse why I did not leave earlier in consequence.
Time to seek another appointment? One that would utilise my intellectual skills more fully. Not to mention one that would allow me to purchase black calf-skin thigh boots. And freedom from the tedium of communal monorail travel. Everything could be purchased, at one price or another.
Banking, perhaps. I was certain that there would be opportunities, shall we say, for a man of my particular talents in the banking arena.
Perhaps I could even purchase someone to come home for.
Across the carriage, in the service section, my eye was arrested by a solitary grey-clad man, leaning against the central pillar. That dingy Deltan nonentity actually had the temerity to be staring at me. I glared back, and his gaze nonchalantly slid on to the woman opposite. A pickpocket, I guessed, casually assessing his potential prey. I smiled -- there were richer pickings to be had in other spheres of criminality.
I flipped open my data-viewer and initiated a search through the recently advertised commerce appointments, on a whim prioritising those in the North-Eastern Dome. A change of residential location-yes.
There was certainly nothing to keep me here.
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