Aurora hunched over her desk, rhythmically tapping her keyboard. The open window let in some cool air, revealing the daytime city scape outside. An eclectic mix of tools and paraphernalia cluttered her room, and a soldering station sat in a dark corner while colorful music equipment flashed on the sides of her monitor. Exhausted, she closed down her computer, shut her window and blinds, and fell onto her bed in a stupor.
It had been six years since she had graduated college, and she was left in the malaise of early adult life. Her previous day job as a support technician didn’t pan out, too boring and pointless, so she chose CitiDiv income payments supplemented by contract work. Leaning over she saw her busted Ilyas laptop, some old import her mother gave her before she went to college. The stickers on it were bittersweet, the bright poses of the characters from Giri Giri Chocolate and the kitschy agitprop from the student movements she participated in made her reminisce about those carefree days. Sure, that time did have its downfalls, as do all golden eras. Obscure interpersonal drama, precarity, the usual problems with youth trying to change the world, these memories tinted her cheery view of the past. But the promise was there, she thought, some fuzzy dream of a unified community. No barriers, real or emotional, just an endless canvas for human creativity, alongside the loving embrace of your peers.
Aurora squinted as the dawn sunlight peered over the barricades, a pile of desks and “requisitioned” electronics equipment just barely held together with duct tape. Clutter filled the streets adjacent, batons and makeshift plastic shields reflected yesterday’s violence.
“Tired, Aurora?”, said Bernadetta.
Aurora sighed. “I don’t really want to do this crap.”
“Don’t think like that. This is good, y’know? Students, taking control of their community! It’s what you’ve been envisioning since you joined up.”
“Yeah, but, flowers? Why is the committee making us plant flowers? Striking and marching is at least cool.”
“Well, pish-posh, somebody’s gotta do it. Not everyone can be the shining vanguards of the revolution. At least you’re cute when you’re grumpy.”
Aurora blushed, and crouched down in front of Bernie to begin her work again. Bernie stared at her work with the same kind of intensity she brought to the rest of her life. With her jet black hair tied back and her brown eyes focusing deeply, it was as if her current task was the most important thing in the world. Yet her intensity had a gracefullness to it, a sense of nobility even while wearing a dirty gardening bib. Aurora wondered where this mentality came from. Bernie looked up again, and continued to speak.
“I still can’t believe it. Like, this is real, we’re actually doing it. I mean, there were times when we all would see the bullshit the school administration would pull, but I didn’t think we could actually rise up like this. I’m just glad we’re not the only ones in this damn country to be tired of this bullshit. Unions have been calling strikes all over the country.”
“Yeah, it’s insane. But I just… I don’t know. I thought it could be peaceful but…. I suppose I just need to get used to the situation.”
“Look around Aurora, this is what you dreamed of. I remember you talking about students organizing, helping each other, being greater together than apart. We couldn’t have started this without people like you. Look, I know I’ve argued with you in the past about your mentality and whatnot, but you have so much value within you. We need you, please don’t get cold feet now. You know firsthand how reactionaries are, they’re not gonna kneel down without a fight.”
Noticing her friend’s reluctance to respond, Bernie stood up and walked around the garden to work alongside Aurora. Aurora blushed at their closeness and leaned away slightly. She felt Bernadetta’s warm breath.
“You know Aurora, the things you’re able to do are amazing. We all want to help you, you just need to allow us to do so. So we can all put your ideas into practice, right?”
“I get it, I get it. I’m trying, it’s just difficult. But I’m trying, you know that.”
Aurora felt Bernie’s eyes piercing into her, thinking carefully about what to say. But she looked down and nodded, satisfied with her friend’s conviction.
Jolted awake by the echoes of warning sirens in the distance, Aurora stumbled over to her window. Steel shielding went down, covering the skyline in a droll grey, while men in hazmat suits down below frantically sprayed the sides of the buildings. They’re dropping Termites again, thought Aurora, wobbling on top of her desk to close her emergency shutters. The city had little protection, nothing like the civil defense systems one would see in the cities across the channel.
Third time this month. I’m just glad PestCon’s been getting faster.
Aurora sat down on her bed, thinking wearily about the fate of nearby buildings. Once the Termite capsules hit the pavement, all you can really do is mitigate the damage by poisoning their food. The poison would linger on the concrete for a few days after each week’s skirmish, giving the streets a poignant acidic smell. She found herself unable to lie down again. Walking over to her standing mirror, she thought back to her youthful appearance in college. Nowadays, she couldn’t stand to wear anything more than a sweatshirt outside. Her ruffled dirty blonde hair and baggy eyes reflected a long period of, well, nothing. Hibernation from the world, if you could give it a name. Aurora attempted to straighten her lanky frame, until she was startled by her shaking door.
“AURORA! AURORA! OPEN UP! I’M IN TROUBLE!”
Aurora ran over to her rattling door. Through the bolt chain, she saw the toothy grin of her friend Lucy.
“Lucy. There’s no trouble, isn’t there?”
“Yeah, there’s none, lol. I just wanted you to let me in.”
Aurora’s expression lightened up upon hearing her friend say “lol” out loud, but decided to be a mom instead.
“Lucy, it’s an EM-ER-GEN-CY! We’re supposed to shelter-in-place!”
“Oh, don’t be like that, you know they don’t check. Besides, I got something to show you. It’ll be cool, I promise.”
Lucy tried to stick her hand through the bolt chain. Aurora, giving up, unlocked it and let her in.
“Fine, come in.”
“Yay! Playdate with Aurora!”. Lucy jumped up in celebration, and continued.
“Look, I know I usually bang on your door when you’re AFK or when I’m uh, lonely. But! But. My package came in the mail today! It finally passed customs, sanctions just got lifted a couple weeks ago. Help me with it, it’s heavy.”
Aurora grabbed the scuffled white suitcase and brought it into the middle of the room. It smelled faintly of cigarettes. “What is this…. Is this what I think it is?” Aurora said.
“Find out for yourself! I’m not gonna ruin the suspense, not something like this!”
Aurora had an idea of what it was, so she brought it over to her soldering table. Shoving away some plastic containers, she flipped over the case. The back of it read “RELIC, AZRAEL”.
“Lots of chatter over Sneakernet about this, even found a dead drop getting me in contact with the seller. I have my ways.”
Lucy did a little dance to celebrate her success, but Aurora’s eyes were too fixed on the case in front of her. No longer able to tolerate the wait, she anxiously flipped open the case. In front of her lay a wriggling, fleshy organ, or at least it seemed like an organ to the untrained eye. Circuit boards attached to the slides like they were leeches, while hydraulic tubes extended from underneath its plastic cushion. Aurora leapt up in shock.
“No way. Lucy, how, uh, why, uh, HOW?!?!”
“I couldn’t believe it either.”
Aurora began to smile with a childlike excitement.
“Can it get us in? I’ve never been to the other side before, I’ve just read rumors! H-how did a relic get over the channel? Wait, hang on,” said Aurora
Aurora stepped past the grinning Lucy, rummaging through her tools. After rattling around for a minute, Aurora’s grin faded.
“I’m gonna need some extra parts to do this. I still have the instructions I found over Sneakernet. Let’s hit the market tomorrow, after the order is lifted.”
“Wow! Look at you, you’re serious about this aren’t you? Some obscure white paper, a couple of stray rumors, and now you’re ready to jump into god-knows-what?,” said Lucy.
“Oh, now you’re gonna be the mom in the friendship? You know how long I’ve been planning this.”
Lucy sat down.
“Oh, I do. It’s why I wanted to hand deliver it in person. Hell, if it works, I might just jump in with you. I just hope you can find who you’re looking for.”
Aurora looked down upon the Relic, the brightness of its flesh illuminating her face. She smiled.
“Bernie, just wait. I’ll see you again, I promise.”