by rugal b.
A quaint wintery scene on an empty street brings about inviting memories.
The street was quiet as I walked down it, the only noise one could hear being my own muffled footsteps. I stopped to admire what I saw. White – cold and wet – blanketed everything for as far as the eye could see. The trees, buildings, the street itself and the cars that lined it. Nothing seemed to have remained untouched. Time stood still, that’s what it had seemed like. A place frozen in time as it was wrapped tightly in this cold, white embrace.
I could see them; the Memories. Ghostly figures, spectral scenes as clear and vivid as anything else I’d seen that day. People outside their homes shoveling snow or scraping the ice from off of their windshields. Kids, all bundled up, were running around as happy as could be likely due to having some time off from school. Was it a snow day? A break for Christmas? I wasn’t quite sure. But it was a scene that evoked strong emotions from within me. Though I fought it as best I could I couldn’t help but let the Nostalgia overtake me.
“Well well, haven’t seen you in town before.”
I heard a voice. I turned, looking this way and that but it was a tap on the shoulder that caused me to turn completely around. The man was very clean cut, his hair cropped closely with a friendly smile on his face and his eyes, though shut, still managing to show a warm expression behind his glasses. I could only look at him with bewilderment.
“How’d you, uh... know?” I asked. “I mean I... I am. New in town that is. But how could you tell?”
“Haha!” he chuckled and it strangely put me at ease. “Oh it was obvious to be sure. Looking around, trying to get your bearings. I see it all the time from newcomers.”
“You do?” I said a little unsure. “You like to talk to people new in town or something?”
“Well I’d hope so. A mayor can’t effectively run a place if he knows nothing about the people who live here,” the man answered before adding, “or who will be living here.”
“The mayor huh?”
“Yes ma’am,” he replied while sticking his hand out. “The name’s Gibson. Mayor Art Gibson.”
That seemed to trigger a further sense of deja vu in me. Yeah, he Nostalgia was really hitting me. I couldn’t help but to remember this conversation. “Oh, um, I’m Jen. Jen Lamonica,” I stated as he grasped his proffered hand and shook.
“Well it’s certainly nice to meet you Ms. Lamonica,” replied Art warmly. “So what brings to Winterbank?”
What had brought me here again? It took me a second to remember but it was soon very clear. “Oh, my friend had moved here recently on a job. She said it was nice and the work was good and suggested I come out here as well,” I answered.
“Well she couldn’t be more right,” Art stated proudly. “So who is your friend if you don’t mind my asking?”
Another voice called out to me. I turned just a bit to see a young woman around my age, her hair dark and cut short, come jogging up and waving. “That’d be her,” I said.
“Ah, Ms. Sun I see,” the mayor stated.
“Oh, mister mayor hey,” the girl, Gigi, said in between huffs and puffs. “Hopefully Jen’s not keeping you held up.”
“Not at all Ms. Sun,” he replied with that friendly smile of his. “In fact I was just getting to know her a little bit.”
“Ah, yeah, I was introducing myself.”
“Well even still,” Gigi said as she grabbed my arm. “I’ll take her off your hands for you Mayor Gibson.”
“Thanks for taking the time to talk to me,” I said offering a wave.
Art offered his own friendly wave in return. “Not a problem Ms. Lamonica,” he said cheerfully. “I am always glad to meet new residents and help get them acclimated.”
“Nice guy,” I stated as walked off.
“He really is,” Gigi gushed. “I actually wasn’t expecting you to actually show up.”
“Well, I mean, you talked it up so much and it’s not like I had anything else going on,” I told her, “so I figured why not try a new life and see if it’s as great as you made it out to be.”
“You’ll like it Jen,” she smiled, “trust me.”
I followed her as she showed me around the town. The main feature was a large town square – the fountain turned off due to the wintery weather – that everything seemed to radiate out from. Stores and shops of all sorts, from bakeries to barber shops to clothing stores to cozy little restaurants and cafes, lined the outer edges. From there the town went off into various directions. This way was the neighborhoods where most of the residents lived. That way was where other businesses and the local government operated.
I could, in fact, see the town hall even from here. For such a quaint place there was something about it that seemed to impose itself upon Winterbank in a way that felt simultaneously intimidating and comforting. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it and I didn’t have any sort of chance to ask Gigi as she excitedly led me to one of the places – a small cafe – along the outside of the town square. I looked at the sign that hung above the door as we entered.
“Memories?” I asked as we took a seat and placed our orders.
“It’s my favorite place,” Gigi said happily. “The atmosphere is really comfy and the people that work here are so nice and the coffee...” She trailed off and let out a contented sigh before continuing. “It’s so rich and it just has this way of making you feel... nostalgic. Like nostalgia for some kind of simple evening at home with your family. A nice breakfast, everyone at the table, that sort of thing.”
Something about that didn’t sit right with me. “But that’s not something you ever experienced right?” I asked.
“Well, no. Not before coming here,” she admitted.
“So how would you know what that’s supposed to feel like?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged, “I guess maybe what I think it’s supposed to feel like? What I imagine that would feel like? You can imagine that, right Jen?”
“I can’t,” I said after a second of thought. “You know how I grew up. It was... rough. The only thing approaching happy thoughts like that is when I think about...”
And I froze. Right there in the middle of the conversation I froze up. Something about this conversation, about what I’d said, it had suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks.
“Hey Jen? You alright?”
Was I alright? What was it about what I’d said that had brought this on? All I’d said was that I couldn’t really imagine anything like what she was talking about and then...
“No,” I finally said. “No, I’m not alright and neither are you. Not here anyway.”
“Huh? What are you talking about?” asked Gigi.
“Listen,” I said quietly as I leaned in. “I don’t belong here. This isn’t home for me. It never was going to be and I never intended for it to be. I only came here to get you.”
Gigi looked at me with worry and confusion in her large green eyes. “What are you talking about?” she asked. “You’re not making any sense.”
“What doesn’t make sense is this place. Not for us it doesn’t. Gigi... no, wait who the hell is Gigi?” I asked suddenly feeling incredulous. “Gig, neither of us belong here. You know it.”
She trailed off and looked confused before laughing nervously and waving it off. “No no, it’s Gigi,” she said.
“It’s Gig, remember?” I asked sternly. “My partner?”
“Right!” I exclaimed with a little more enthusiasm. “The two of us working together in Neopolis on all the stuff that would fall through the cracks? All the grime and missing persons and the like?”
“I... kind of,” she admitted. “I remember bumbling a lot.”
“That’s ‘cause you’re still getting your feet wet,” I reassured her. “Look Gig, you want an actual good memory? What about the Maxluxe case?”
Yeah. That one was something alright. A casino dealing with a real bad psy theft when some gang jacked right into the owner’s daughter and brought her over to them calling him and demanding ransom. The kind of thing that wasn’t going to happen on the newer implants unless you knew your way through the maze. Would’ve meant an inside job which is what we were working on when we took the case. We had gone in while negotiations were taking place intending just to get the girl and get her out of there. But Gig had taken a wrong turn and ran right into the punk leading the whole operation and put a hole in his head, more on instinct than anything, before any of us knew what had happened.
We were able to get his own implant out and run a scan and that’s when we’d realized the whole rotten thing: that the owner planned to off his own daughter, collect on the insurance and offered to split everything with the gang if they’d help them. And the idiots took him at his word not realizing the cops weren’t going to leave any one of them alive after that.
Needles to say that the NPD wasn’t too happy about that and it wasn’t long before the whole thing leaked out and the guy decided to “make amends” before being hauled in.
“Yeah, I remember,” she said quietly.
“Right. Couldn’t have brought that bastard to justice if you hadn’t ‘bumbled’ you know.” I smiled. “So is that why you did this? You thought you were being a burden or something?”
“Well, money’s always tight and I feel like I’m screwing things up so...”
“Gig, you’re learning, it’s fine,” I said as I grabbed her hand. “You’re like my little sister. I’m not gonna toss you on your ass over a screw up here and there.” She looked at me, again with those large green eyes, and I smiled. “Let’s get out of here. This isn’t where you belong.”
We looked up to see Art standing out our table. The mayor of Winterbank. Or I guess more accurately the artificial intelligence that runs the Snowglobe, a place where those who feel like the can’t take Neopolis run off to live in a virtual paradise. Frozen in a state of ignorant bliss, their minds pumped full of enough Nostalgia to make you truly believe this is how things have always been.
“It’s not, mayor,” I said firmly as I stood up and leaned in close to him. “She belongs by my side and I sure as hell don’t belong here.”
“And you agree with Jen?”
“It’s... it’s Gin, actually,” she corrected him. “And yes,” she said as she stood up, “I do.”
“See, we both agree. You’re not going to keep us here.”
“I wouldn’t think of it Ms. Lamonica,” Art replied. “People come here and stay because they want to. If you don’t want to it is not my place to force you.”
A reasonable A.I., who would’ve ever guessed it? But I didn’t have time to ponder that. I grabbed Gig by the hand and walked with her out of the cafe and towards the edge of the Snowglobe. Neopolis was a damn sight more dangerous than a place like this but for people like me and Gig who pulled ourselves out of the techless slums to make something resembling lives for ourselves?
It was home.