I forged a path toward the washroom through the thinner bits of the crowd, conscious that my newfound powers in clearing away knots of people were 100% due to the Junoesque figure following me. And this, I realized, was one of the most exciting things that had happened on any of our CLPFC days; the expressions around us were awash with curiosity, shock, and delight. Everyone here would know that Ibrander’s date had jumped ship to Lalantree before lunch was served.
Trying to scan as many faces as possible without making eye contact (now this is a true art) I almost bumped into Loddi’s mum. This in spite of her neon floral mumu. “Oh, hello Lalantree. Loddi isn’t with you?”
“No…” Mavind had come up close behind me, and Loddi’s mum did a double take.
“Goodness! You’re looking very well.”
“Thanks.” She seemed genuinely skeptical of my appearance, what with her forehead noticeably Rejuv-smoothed since I last saw her; however, my secret was no more and no less than I had never tried very hard to look my best on these occasions. Always set low expectations. “Um, if you don’t mind, I should…”
But she was apparently done with me, turning enthusiastically to Mavind.
“I don’t think we’ve met! Nim Frisket.”
A very warm hand planted itself on my hip and Mavind was leaning around me, extending her other hand in the old-fashioned manner, and I swear her roguish smile did in Loddi’s mum for the rest of that party.
“Call me Mavind, Nim. As you can see, I’m here with Lalantree – ”
I think I took my cue to frag off, slipping out from under that possessive hand and zipping away before I could hear what else Mavind would lie about.
Zeroeing in on the HWAC1 sign, which was floating discreetly in the air at the southeast2 corner of the plaza, I kept my head down as I rushed inside. One step over whatever bound had been set below the glowing “HWAC”, and where I had been stepping onto grass I was now on mosaic tiles of brown and beige.
Raising my head, I saw a few things:
- A sea monster of unlikely blues and greens and reds was depicted within an oval medallion in the middle of the floor, and it was eating something with cloven hoofs.
- The beige and brown mosaic tiles continued halfway up the walls, but the line where the floor met the walls was frequently blurred, sometimes bring more of a convex curve than a right angle. Had a novice gotten their first shot at laying meshes in here?
- My es-father was standing in the middle of the four-tap vanity, giving me a dour look in the mirror.
“You seem to be getting a lot of attention.”
Ugh. “Dad, not now.”
“Who’s your friend?” he called after me as I stepped through one of the greenlit doors and shut myself into the blessed solitude of the HWAC.
Five minutes later: public HWACs are not supposed to issue their gentle reminders of “promptness for community’s sake” to lingering individuals whose biosigns exhibit evidence of distress. After the second reminder I was forced to the bitter conclusion that in the eyes of the Communal Leisure Spaces Regulator (CLeiSR)3 I did not qualify as an individual in distress.
I emerged to see that my es-father was still applying a pick to his teeth.
“Crispy minces,” he informed me darkly, as if I had been itching to know the cause of his distress. “Can’t recall the last time you swung for one of her type, Lal.”
“That’s probably because I didn’t. And I don’t.”
“Coulda fooled me.”
Double ugh. I stuck my hands under a tap for a misting, and then, for good measure, flipped it up to get my face too. Nowhere near as satisfying as a shower – I was exhausted and I hadn’t even made it 1/3 of the way through the requisite day-hours with these people. Maybe it was worth it to pay the fee to my Department and get out of here.
I resurfaced to see that my es-father was throwing out his toothpick with precisely the sort of face that meant he wanted to be asked a question.
“Uh, is there something…?”
“Chass Frisket would’ve given your brunette a run for her money, back in the day.”
“Hmph. Too bad she’s letting this astroanthropologist walk all over her. Apparently he told her that our ‘style of interaction’ could be inflating ‘earthly notions of flightiness’, and not only did she turn down my offer of a drink, but told me that I should find an astroanthropologist of my own to talk to. This fellow has her blatantly advertising for his trade! Can you believe that?”
“Yes,” I said, without thinking. And just like that I couldn’t hide in the bathroom anymore.
1Hygenic Waste-Atomizing Commode
2Not that there are any cardinal directions to speak of in a VR. This allows me to decide for myself which way ought to be north.
3If you work for CleiSR the odds that you were either a Fair student in tertiary school (which sounds okay until you learn that the only grades we have are Fair, Good, and Excellent), or spent critical years of human capital formation backpacking around the Zone in lieu of applying for a job, or have a hobby in your closet that should never, ever see the light of day. Or all three.