Iona greedily sunk her fingertips into the clouds as she soared among them. Here clouds are made of pillow stuffing, cool Sunday mornings, dreams. To touch them is to rejoice in the concept of clouds, which are said to have graced the sky of earth long ago.
Iona wasn't so sure, they looked like the conjurations of a child's imagination.
Breaking through the downy fluff, her eyes settled on the real "treasure" her NaturTec or NT brought to life. Trees. Green abundance that seemed unrealistic- to just have thousands of them all in one place didn't make any sense.
ComCore said that this was the pinnacle of human experience, and you could buy your way to it. But where were the people supposed to go?
Drifting slowly to the foot of a waterfall, Iona's blue-black hair was not disturbed from her journey, nor had her clothes become damp from the condensation above. Perfectly refreshed in appearance, she lands to approach a bear who has just found breakfast.
Shy at the prospect of a new friend, a cub hides behind her rump.
The roar that the momma bear lets out is soft, not a threat but a greeting. Humans and bears used to be good friends, sharing food and forest adventures. ComCore brings this back to life, letting man's best friend stand by our side once more in dreamscape.
The playful gurgle of the water is entrancing; Iona finds it hard to be interested in the bear. Actual running, fresh water. She leans in to smell the absence of odor, gathering her hands to cup some of the crystal-clear flow.
A skeptical tongue darts out from her lips, barely flicking the water which shimmers in the sun. It's delicious! She presses her cupped hands to her mouth, devouring the sensation of clean water.
After drinking to her hearts content, she pauses to marvel at the detail ComCore has employed in the dream space. Her nails are shiny. Her hair long, clean, and healthy.
The feet she tenderly presses against the cool stones at the water's edge are devoid of callouses, they are the feet of some kind of princess. It is obvious why father has invested; the programing is flawless.
Another boring bear walked the top of the waterfall, and what Iona recognized as deer roamed in a nearby thicket. Although these were the creatures of picture books and stories, long gone from the world, Iona was a spoiled brat who didn't much care.
She found a thrill in a swim, the luxury of submerging her entire body in water made her feel elated. So, this is what humans used to do on a 'summer' day she mused, thinking of the objects people once called 'swimsuits'. She prefered to go naked, now this was cool!
Ten Years Later
Seven AM hits the ground like a battalion in a surprise attack, a sudden clamor that shakes Iona awake. The coffee station springs to life, grinding fresh beans in a cylinder that fill the space with a beautiful aroma.
The minimalistic off-white walls of the pod kitchen are alive, one sinks in and flips out, becoming a table. Appliances are forced from their place in the walls, onto the generic countertops. They are accompanied by long robotic arms, that open drawers and cabinets as they begin to cook. the flurry of breakfast is a sight to see!
Two children gallop into the kichen, taking glasses of 'orange' juice from a cold metal arm. It wasn't real orange juice obviously; fruit bearing trees were extremely scarce. "Good morning kids" a sleepy voice stumbles in with a disheveled man.
He has several days of beard growth, and his hair sticks up wildly, but he smiles as he sits down. "Good morning Daddy!" the young girl beams, her name is Elle and she's seven. All she wants in the world is to eat breakfast with her mom, just once.
Iona enters the hubbub ready for the day, her sharp A-line dress paired with designer heels is a stark contrast to her family, who sit with sleep lingering in their eyes. Pajamas clad sit-down breakfasts were a luxury Iona did not allow herself, there wasn't time for such frivolity.
"Do you have to go already, mommy?" Elle looks at her mother with pleading eyes, yet Iona does not even look her way.
"Yes, dear." she breathes out in a sort of sigh, "It is a big day." her tone is businesslike, as she repeats tired reasons and excuses, which are truly stables in the family structure.
She is more concerned with the cup of coffee she prepares than her family. Each day she greets is viewed as another milestone maker for ComCore.
"Maybe you could be a bit late today, considering-" Iona cuts her husband off before he can remind her that today is Elle's seventh birthday.
"You know I can't James, today I'm meeting with the board to discuss the development of NaturTech, did you forget?" she eyes him with resentment, everything important got forgotten around here. She felt the pressure of holding it all together.
"Yeah, I'd hate for the board to be disappointed in you mom" Kier speaks up, evidence of puberty is beginning to change his boyish features, "there's nothing else going on today, right?" there are daggers in his gaze which do no damage, Iona still has not turned from the counter.
"Come on now buddy, mom is just preoccupied, I'm sure she-" once again her cold voice slices his words in half, muting whatever message James had, as she finally turns to address the table.
"I'll be home for dinner tonight, make sure your dedication to your studies shines through in today's math exam Kier." she states briskly, before striding towards the front door, leaving the trio behind.
"I understand mommy." Elle's gentle voice bounces against the sealed exit, to ricochet back on James. Each day, like the shell of an egg, his ability to hold it all in cracked a bit more.
Her words landed with a thwack, sending a fissure through his composure. "You are such a good, sweet girl Elle Bell." he says with every ounce of calm he possesses. "Why don't the three of us play hookie today to celebrate?" he says with a wink.
"What about my exams?" Kier asks with a wide grin, mischief sparkling in the white of his teeth.
"They are as important as the board." James says flatly, turning back to Elle. "What do you think, birthday girl?" he asks, as admiration takes over Kier's posture.
The tension is swept from the room, as James plans a bit of trouble with his children. Some small bit of belief restored in them, by a father's best attempt to even the scales.
The dome of the city was tinted at this time of the day, when their colony received the most direct sunlight. This gave everything a sephia hue, as the trio walked through the bustle of the market.
They lived in one of the largest colonies on Xia-29, only matched in size by a few other flagship cities- the hubs of commerce on their home planet.
The largest of course, which dwarfed them all, was the capital city of Elmer. About a three hour subway ride from Rion, where they resided, the capital's dome was easily five times the size of the others. James had taken the kids there a few months back.
That is where he had grown up, not rich by any means, but certainly privileged compared to the average citizen of Xia-29. His family owned and operated a food factory, passed down through generations.
It had been a surprise to James's father when Iona, the heiress of one of the wealthiest families on planet, had taken an interest in his son.
When he had last visited with the children- sans Iona of course, his father had seemed less impressed after the progression of time. Iona had done her best to lasso James into pressuring his father to sell the factory.
Her logic being, that she needed James to continue running the books for her end of ComCore's dealings. Why would he break from his role that had helped make them even wealthier, just to run some small food buisness? It didn't matter to her that James didn't see it that way.
As he passed among stalls with vibrant jewelry, embroidered bags, and beaded shoes, his mind couldn't seem to escape the gloom Iona had begun to seep into everything that mattered to him. He looked to his children, who at this point seemed to view her as a sort of rude stranger.
"Thanks for letting us out of school dad" Kier beamed, "I bet mom won't even notice!" and he was right. With a sigh, James considered the note he had left on the counter before they had departed...
In six hours, Iona would waltz back in through the door, ready to ask the children pointed questions that had very little to do with who they actually were. Would she have recovered herself by then, to arrive with a present for Elle, as if she remembered all along?
He needed to decide very carefully where he wanted to be when that happened.
Iona floats down the crystal blue water of the river on an elaborate barge. Laying back on silks which drape over conversationally placed poufs, Iona conducts her business.
Marking the seriousness of the meeting, the half dozen gathered young professionals sipped glasses of red wine. Swirling the liquid before partaking in appreciation, ComCore had perfected the simulation of wine.
This was her signature move, and had no doubt there would be a signing of contracts at the end.
There was some nagging feeling at the back of her mind, which she slapped away in all her arrogance. She didn't forget things, she payed her secretary's good money to make sure of it.
As the children climbed into their private compartment for the train ride into Elmer, James felt his heart hammer. "This is really the last chance, are you sure?" his voice shakes. "Once mom sees the papers, there is no turning back." he states, trying to sound pragmatic.
On the sterile countertops of the home that only filled with love when she vacated, James had set the stack of legal documents under a brief note to the woman he had once thought of as his wife.
A young girl with jet black hair, that turned blue in the light. She had been wild, adventurous. There was a time she punched the point home to him with passionate phrasing, that she would never grow up to live for business like her father.
He hadn't seen that girl in years, as she aged into someone her younger self would have despised.
"I don't want to live in that apartment anymore, I want to go to the farm with grandpa!" Elle declares, although she knows good and well that calling it a farm is a misnomer. There are no animals, and few plants. The farm was a refuge through, to cultivate other things that sustain.
"I can't take it anymore dad, I hate her, and that stupid company!" Kier blurts out, startling Elle with his honesty. James wraps his arm around his son, compassion swirling in his eyes.
"You don't hate her bud, you just wish she would do different things, and that's okay." he smiles, "We don't have to worry about it anymore." he affirms.
Iona tosses the note aside as she recognizes the texture of the papers below. So, this was it huh? He had finally grown the balls to stand up for himself in some way.
She isn't wistful or sad for a moment, before the echo of her front door closing has died out from the metal hallway, her lawyer is on the phone. They go back and forth for a time.
"So my money, it's airtight?" Iona asks, seemingly annoyed by the response she gets, "I didn't ask about the children Jerry." she spits in the force of her reply. The tone on the other end seems to shift.
"Okay, good." she says, hanging the phone up. She saunters over to the fridge to open some 'champagne', a faint smile on her lips.
On the floor lays a note from her husband of 9 years, whom she has no idea the whereabouts of. She does not know her kids are hours away, and it doesn't seem to matter, as she opens her laptop to go over work emails. A celebratory drink fizzling at her elbow
Elle can't stop blinking as she looks at the cake frosted in flowers of pink, as her grandpa beams in the glory of a job well done. "How did you- where..." her small voice trails off in wonder, "Thank you grandpa, it's the prettiest thing I've ever seen!" her eyes glimmer with the light off all the stars in the sky, or at least they do to her grandfather.
"Let's eat it!" Kier butts in, and they all laugh. James feels a weight lift from his shoulders, as he watches his children settle in at the big table he ate at as a kid.
Sometimes birthday gifts take the strangest journeys to perfect her mused, as his father sliced the beautiful cake, made at a moment's notice of their migration.
This originally was a story I started for September's monthly invitational; however I just wasn't feeling it. It's been about 600 words just sitting in my drafts for months, so with #hivenano2022 on the brain, I decided to give it new life. This free write ended up being quite a bit longer than I had anticipated 😅 Hope you enjoyed it!