"Um, excuse me?" Caitlin swiveled her head in the direction of the voice. A short, primped up woman with graying hair smiled up at Caitlin and handed her a sleek, black tablet. Caitlin's eyes darted to the tablet to the woman in the expensive blue cloak hemmed with synthetic fur.
"Oh, yes!" The woman flapped her arms in excitement. "Can you bring this to the upper fourth floor of the experimental lab suite? It's imperative that this is sent to the engineers as soon as possible." The woman hurried away. Caitlin gaped. She had a lecture to attend in the next three minutes. She was going to be late if she ran this errand. She sighed. If she didn't get the tablet to the engineers on time, there would probably be some serious consequences. Maybe if she ran, she could be a few minutes late.
She rushed to the nearest elevator, nearly tripping over the small gap that her foot accidentally fell into. The big doors began to close.
"Crap," she muttered frantically, putting all her force into pulling her foot out of the jam. Her foot came out of her shoe with a loud pop, causing her to crash into the wall of the elevator opposite of the door. The elevator doors closed, powerfully smashing her shoe into a pressed plastic and synthetic leather sheet. Caitlin sighed. This was going to be an interesting day.
… … … …
She sprinted across the hallway, limping from the lack of shoe on her left foot. She ran to the door labeled EXPERIMENTAL LAB SUITE, and tentatively pushed the door open. It was unlocked for some reason, and the room was eerily dark. Blue projections floated in the air, emitted from aquamarine crystals embedded into the circular disks placed randomly on tables and bookshelves. Caitlin awkwardly pulled out the tablet the woman gave her. She walked up to a blacktop table and carefully placed the tablet gently on the table. As she turned around, she heard a faint voice.
"If you see this, you must swear to break this tablet as soon as possible. If this information were to be obtained by the opposition, then life, as we know it, is in grave danger-" It was coming from a curious old man with strange, round, wire-rimmed glasses, and a weird cloak with sleeves and buttons. He had many badges on his cloak. Caitlin quickly tapped her watch thrice to record the unfolding scene.
The old man paused, seemingly staring at Caitlin. "There is a group of radicals who believe it is possible to create a singularity in order to warp space-time. Specifically, they believe that they will be able to go back in time. They believe that it is possible to alter the events of the past to change the outcome of the future, our present. They believe if they can bring technology from our time to combat the ancestors of our enemies, then our present can be reimagined as a gleaming utopia under sky instead of under bedrock. This is problematic. Not only is the research too sensitive to fully experiment with, but any prototypes we create will draw attention for us. Such-" The projection cut off suddenly.
Caitlin was stunned. She didn't know how to react. She quickly grabbed the tablet and stowed into her bag. Maybe she could get the rest of the projection to play. She hurried out of the room, not bothering to shut the door.
… … … …
She didn't bother attending the lecture. Caitlin had to go to the library, it was the only option. She briskly walked down the steps of the large hall, and made a right. The library, an expansive space holding an eon's worth of knowledge, could potentially help her uncover what was going on with the tablet and the projection, and especially who the weird man was talking about.
"Caitlin!" A male voice called out to her. She turned.
A man dressed in janitorial robes walked up to her and handed her a slip of paper. "Someone told me to give it to you, but I don't know who."
"Thanks," Caitlin murmured, intently staring at the rough script. The person who wrote the note had terrible handwriting.
The man promptly dismissed himself.
The note was a book title. She was certain.
… … … …
Caitlin cradled the delicate slip of paper, furrowing her brows and squinting her eyes, trying to read the tiny slip of paper with such a messy scrawl. After 30 seconds of trying to read, she gave up, and placed it carefully into her coat pocket. It was no use trying to read the slip of paper in the dim light of the library. Caitlin had to go home. Better yet, go to Cato's compartment.
Cato lived in the quiet, pleasant atmosphere of Sector 6. Caitlin boarded the express train to Sector 5 and transferred her ride to the monorail that ran right through the center of Cato's sector. She quickly typed out a message to Cato that she was coming on her watch.
The monorail slowed to a complete stop. Caitlin picked up her knapsack and exited the monorail. At the station, she noticed Cato waiting for her. A small smile formed on her lips.
"This is a surprise," Caitlin told him as she approached him.
Cato shrugged playfully. "I always try to impress. Now," he said, grabbing her bag and slinging it over his shoulder. "Let's stop by the skate park first."
… … … …
The skate park was one of the few oddities leftover from the past. It was strange to be there, a concrete park with rails, quarter pipes, ramps, snake runs, and stair sets. The grey playground was full of teenagers and young adults on hoverboards and classic, vintage skateboards.
Cato didn't skateboard, weirdly enough. Caitlin didn't understand why. He liked to stand there, amidst all of the skaters dutifully maneuvering their boards around to complete various tricks, just an observant fan. They walked slowly across the park, Caitlin placed one foot in front of the other carefully as she balanced artfully on a long pipe.
"I was thinking… What would you do if someone gave u a message to deliver but you accidentally messed up and ended up reading the message yourself?"
He stopped and looked at her curiously. "That's oddly specific."
Caitlin blushed. "I'm asking for a friend."
"Sure." He ran his hands through his hair.
"Tell your friend that it's really bad to snoop into someone else's business and she's going to be in a lot of trouble if said people find out."
"I-She didn't mean to," Caitlin's face flamed, as she turned away from Cato's watchful stare and gazed intently on a small crack in the heather-gray concrete. "She told me she attempted to deliver the message but-"
"The tablet turned on and started playing and she couldn't help but listen!"
"Sounds like snooping to me." With that, Cato held his hand up for a board. His friend, two meters away, tossed him a red hoverboard to which he lifted off, and skated down the ramp's slope. Caitlin huffed in annoyance. She was still talking. And Cato wasn't helping.
"Not a single piece of advice," Caitlin murmured to herself. She passed Cato on the way out of the skate park. "This was a waste of my time. Later," she hissed loudly at him. Cato's face blanched and he fumbled the trick he was attempting in front of his friends. He fell squarely on his face. Caitlin laughed rather harshly, along with the other boys in the skate park, at Cato, as he gathered up his battered board and looked dejectedly (and rather hurt) at Caitlin. She looked away. The laughter of the rowdy boys echoed around her ears for the rest of the way home. And, she could faintly hear her own shrill laughter, bouncing around sharply in her mind, tracing a faint cut between the bond she thought Cato and she shared.
Why did she act that way to her childhood friend, her crush, her-
It didn't matter anymore. He never cared as much as Anna cared for her, anyway.
… … … …
Caitlin turned on the lights in her dark, dark compartment and gasped. Feathers floated in the air, as books, with pages shredded and torn, upended from their places on their shelves; as her mattress and threadbare sheets, flung across the room and viciously slashed; as all of her worldly possessions lay shattered before her, amidst broken shards of glass and shell. Her whole life, lay there, open towards her and bared out for the world to see, on her linoleum floor. The mirror was cracked. Her electronics, wires cut and on display near the broken picture frames of her childhood, broken. Her room reeked of violence and metal and chaos and whatever sense of her hold in the world was gone, gone like the shell Anna found tucked into a crevice of a crack in a cave that they explored as young children too inexperienced, too innocent and carefree to realize what reality was really like.
She knelt in front of her stuff, not caring that the glass was digging into her palms and drawing blood, and scooped whatever life she created for herself, into a large pile. She took her mattress, wrapped it up so the stuffing inside stayed put, and laid it back into the brass bed frame. She stepped outside into the cool, dank air, and grabbed her trash bin meant for recyclables. Wincing from the sharp points of glass digging into her hands and arms, she scooped up the broken life she once had and dumped it unceremoniously into the black bin. She grabbed whatever feathers she could find and put them back into the pillowcase. She straightened shelves, carefully stacked torn books and pages, put her clothing back into the dresser, until the room looked empty. The broken clutter was gone. All was left was a battered old brass bed frame with a beaten down mattress and somewhat-intact blanket and a brown dresser with loose, iron knobs, and a brown desk in the same design. Her tablet was broken, discarded into the black bin that sat gloomily next to the door. Caitlin took in her surroundings and her bloodied arms and hands. She felt numb. The room felt numb. She blindly pulled out the slip of paper from her pocket and absentmindedly stared it.
"Were they looking for this?" She tossed into her desk drawer, and plopped herself down on her mattress. She sighed, tears finally welling up in her eyes.
Who would do such a thing?
Why would they do such a thing?
What exactly were they looking for?
Why exactly were they targeting her?
How did they know who she was and where she lived?
Caitlin finally turned off the lights, the shards of glass in the trash reflecting the dim light coming from the only window in the apartment. It almost looked beautiful, a painful kind of beautiful, the type of melancholy that makes you want to cry, but it feels good to look at. Caitlin turned around and stared at the blank white wall instead.