Constance knew she still had it. No amount of downtime or Agency enforced leave could change years of training.
Carter was standing right there, almost right in front of her. Waiting for her, yet he couldn’t see her. He was looking every part the businessman in a sharply pressed suit, black of course, collarless. Those damn shades again. His freshly done buzz cut gave him a predatory look. Around them, the bustle of Skycity in it’s prime, just as washed and prepared as the both of them.
The crowds moved about their daily business, and even though Constance stood almost right in front of Carter, he still couldn’t see her.
She would send through a message momentarily, she figured. Once she was away and there was less of a chance of him tracking her down. As she walked away, her feet moving short and pert steps, further restricted by her colorful kimono and her station, Constance was glad that she had pulled it off. She should have stood out, practically signposted by Carter’s wetware, but she had managed to glitch the system again. No one was ever offline in Skycity.
Constance kept the slight smile on her face, moving with the efficiency that many years geisha training would give. Skycity never slept, but right now the suits were out and about, moving across the atrium towards the more traditional desk job. Wage slaves, all but carbon copies of each other. Carter’s shades were a hallmark of his difference, subtle in a world of uniformity.
Constance stood out in her startling array of colors. Other than that, she was every part the geisha. Despite all that, no one questioned her presence. Color in a sea of black.
The sun shined off towers of glass, streets manicured as well as its inhabitants. Nothing out of place, not even a hair. A flawless utopia in the heart of the Republic. Constance knew enough to know better. Appearances were too deceiving. It was utopia maintained by the ambivalence of the masses. No one scratched deeper than the surface.
“Sun. Serenity. Find your inner peace.” The huge vista rode the side of the building before Constance. Endless blue seas, almost running like rain down glass. “Find … Tonga.”
Constance turned her attention away, as the vista dissolved and almost mirrored her appearance. A geisha smiled, drinking lightly from a Branded Tea. A sea of connections was alive around Constance, connections not made, but present in the form of people.
‘I am Yuko.’
“Welcome, Yuko-chan,” reported the tiny transport, as Constance approached it. Like so many black bugs in a line. “Will I be taking you to the same location today? It has been a while.”
Constance smiled at the conveyances choice of Japanese. Her primary language, of course. She bobbed politely, as the transports door winged up, breaking the mold of the vehicle that resembled an elongated black dome. All smooth, unbroken lines. Room enough for one. At the doors side was a man in black, carbon copy of the line of men standing patiently at other conveyance doors along the sidewalk.
“Skycab is pleased to serve you again. Has your trip abroad been a productive one?”
Constance replied in unbroken Japanese, a southern dialect, letting it flow flawlessly from her painted lips, “It has. Thank you. The same location, yes?”
The inside of the cab showed the same conservative lines of the exterior. Soft seats in blacks. Corporate spam danced in the air about her as Constance gathered her kimono about her, and the door winged back down, embracing her in the plastic carapace of the conveyance. Just beyond it all, the same man danced into view, illusion that he sat in the front of a car that would no allow more than herself.
“Is there anything else?” the pleasant man asked. The car whispered effortlessly away from the curb, and beyond the subtle shades of adverts for poptarts and pennywhistles the atrium fell away. Constance tried to spot Carter, but he was lost. Her wetware reported he was returning to their room. She could see his halo through the dreamlike haze.
“Yuko?” the man reminded. “Perhaps an update of recent Skycity news?”
“No thank you. Just drive.”
“Certainly. Heading to Asano Prefecture.”
Constance settled back in the comfort of the U seat, and let her mind dance across the possibilities of her wetware. She thought though the processes of a message, before tossing it out mentally, and starting again. When she felt she had the briefness of it, she sent it along, all in the blink of an eye.
Need to clear my head. Project almost complete.
Outside, the day was perfect, almost as perfect as Tonga. If she closed her eyes, Constance thought that it almost felt as if she was sitting still, alone in a quiet booth, perhaps sitting on a bench along the top of the Taranaki Arcologies. When she paid attention, watching the city through shaded plastic, it was almost like flying. It was enough just to lose herself for the moment.
“A little bird told me.” remarked the pleasant man. His image flickered before Constance, danced and swum before straightening. A minor glitch before it was corrected by the system.
‘I’m sure he did,’ Constance though. ‘Well tell that little bird I’m not far away.’
Almost before she could give it more thought, she sensed the Skycab falling softly. The warm glow of the sun shadowed across the interior, before disappearing entirely. They were descending towards ground level, and then, impossibly, they continued to go further. The adverts about her glowed with a cheerful warmth, more perky than the suns. It made her painted white features stand out. For the moment, she was one of the adverts.
“We have arrived, Yuko,” the man remarked. He was before her, in the ‘drivers seat’, then almost immediately at the door as it swung up. She wondered if he would offer more than that pleasant smile to help her out if he could. “Asano prefecture.”
The Oriental Quarters.
Constance stepped out into the same airbrushed environment that she had left, but there was a closeness about the place with the number of people. No longer the wide open spaces, but spaces built along the lines of careful design. Hyper reality gave the illusion of garden at night, along what was essentially a grid of wide corridors, polite business. Above, the night sky was motherly, hiding the fact of an underground locale from her children.
“Travel again with Skycab. May your stay be productive.”
Constance felt the denomination leave her stipend, and then with a pleasant politeness the man and his conveyance was gone. Constance set off along the wide corridors, amongst lush green bamboo, and the glow of moss. Everything was lit at a careful level, lamplight and polite night.
Here was a different class of wage slave, a different sort of worker. A haven and escape, a quiet lie in a land that was one of their own choosing. Constance kept the same slight smile on her face as she walked, choosing to do away with most of the wetwares suggestions. Halos glowed only at a hint. The shared consciousness of the Quarter kept technology to a minimum, where most was a maintained illusion.
An asian youth with sharp blond hair, and yellow leathers smiled at her as she passed. Constance smiled in return.
The neon kanji were easy to read, as subtle as the rest of the place. Beyond the illusion of stars and shadow, Constance felt she almost saw a ceiling. She recalled what Carter had said about the mind correcting and overlooking glitches in hyper reality. She wondered what the Oriental Quarter would be without the influence of technology.
Constance kept reading the signs. Her wetware gave her a perfect recall of the route there, supplied part and parcel from mapping corporations, but even without it she would have known the way. A samurai bared her little mind as he passed, a few friends in tow. His friends were talking. Constance was surprised that they were using English. What was the prefecture coming to?
Ahead, she saw her destination, as unassuming as all other businesses in this area. It looked to be a single level building of the same traditional Japanese architecture of the area. The only thing that broke the illusion was the neon sign pillared at its front.
A Little Bird Told Me.
Only the Japanese could come up with a name as quaint as that for a teahouse, Constance reflected. She wondered what the little bird had told her, as she moved through the main entrance and found the place to be fairly unpatronized. She scanned the softly lit interior, in wood styles that might even have been real wood.
He stood out, just like he had stood out on the beach. A tall man, in a Chairman Mao coat, black with black slacks. John Lennon glasses, tinted dark. As she approached, he motioned smoothly to the vacant side of the table, and Constance knelt, tidy and efficient.
“My name is Jin,” he stated, in a firm, confident tone. His long braid hung down over one shoulder. He didn’t look Japanese. Chinese in fact. “No doubt you have many questions, Constance.”
“Who are you,” she asked, a tone more sharp than her appearance might suggest “Who are you really.”
“I am one of the two Secondaries.”
“Secondaries to the Principle,” she replied, as if she had always known. It just made perfect sense. The memories flouded back.
“Yes,” Jin replied. He regarded her with the same straight, serious expression as he had on the beach. “You recall correctly, Constance. Secondary to the Principle. I represent Asano Concerns. I am here to tell you the truth.”