Passing by a picnic bench, Elise leaned a little to the side so she could run her hand across its rough wooden surface. She continued toward the pond just past the pavilion she was walking through. As she left the pavilion’s cover she began to feel light rain kiss her skin.
She stopped at the water’s edge and sat on a large stone. Taking a deep breath, she could smell the smoke of charcoal grills burning close by. The smell of the rain mixed with the smoke made her smile. She took off her shoes, set them on the stone, and stepped into the pond, wading just deep enough to let the pond reach her knees.
She turned to the grills running along the side of the park’s pavilion and stared at the smoke gently wafting from the unmanned stations. Elise tilted her head and frowned a little before closing her eyes tight. She thought of her father and uncles before opening her eyes.
Standing before the grills were now a row of men wearing khaki shorts and brightly colored button up shirts laughing and waving to each other, repeating the same basic movements of flipping burgers, turning hotdogs, and looking back up to wave again. At the edge of the row stood a nun doing the same synchronized cooking routine.
Elise sighed, looking at the same wave for the fifth time in so many minutes. “Bleh.”
A voice whispered in Elise’s head, right behind her ear, giving it a little tickle. “Hey, Elbow, are you in there?”
Elise sank a little, slinking back towards the stone and sat on it. “Yeah,” she said out loud to the voice coming from her head.
“Can I come in?” said the voice like gentle rain.
Elise rested her arms on her raised knees and shoved her head in the little nest she made for herself. “No…”
Elise sat there for a second waiting for a response that didn’t come. She continued instead. “How did you know I was in here?”
“I used to come here all the time, last cycle. Was my own little hideaway, especially after that class.”
Elise asked the voice, “How old am I?”
“You’re 13 cycles, right?”
“No, I mean, like, back there. How old would I be back there?”
“That’s…hard to say. Hey, I’m coming in, can you unlock the gate?”
Elise closed her eyes real hard, much harder than she needed to, but it was a habit she picked up during her 6th cycle. When she opened her eyes again she saw that Clem was sitting next to her. She wasn’t simulating any costume, so she was simply wearing a student’s blue-grey jumpsuit, starkly contrasting her bright orange hair.
Clem looked around the park that seemed to stretch and stretch and stretch further than the eye could see. She turned to look Elise in her dark brown eyes. “Do you want to talk about what you’re feeling?”
“It’s just…I don’t know. But like, do you think it’s different, like it feels different, when you’re really there?”
Clem sighed, “I don’t really know…I’m only a cycle older than you. My family left before I was born, before I was even a twinkle in my mom’s eye.” Clem could see Elise retreating back into her nest. “But I have to imagine it would have to feel different, right?”
That was wrong, and it only pushed Elise to further burrow her head into her nest.
Clem sat there awkwardly for a moment, trying to figure out how to talk to the girl in jean shorts and a white tank top, simulated for sure.
She sat, and thought, and then placed a hand on Elise’s shoulder. “That’s why we are doing this. It wasn’t like this,” she said, motioning to the park around her, “by the time we left. It’s amazing we were able to get any memories like this even recorded, let alone clear enough for us to shape it.”
“I know, and that’s not it…I mean, it is, but it’s not all of it. I just…”
“Then what is it?”
Elise pulled her head out of her arms. “It’s just, I’ll be long dead before we get there! I’ll never get to experience our new home. I’ll never feel real grass between my toes, my mom will never yell at me for tracking mud into the…the…the house! Or whatever it’s called. I’ll never experience this.” She motioned to the nature around her, “Not properly at least.”
Clem waited a second after Elise finished, and then turned forward. “We won’t always see the good we do, but it’s still important to do it.”
Elise stayed silent, but kept looking towards Clementine.
Clem broke the silence. “Can I change the view?”
Both of the girls closed their eyes, Elise much tighter than Clementine. When they both opened them, they could see that they were sitting on the hull of a spaceship soaring through the empty void of nothing, stars barely moving with them.
Clem looked out to a brightly colored cloud of gas off in the distance. She felt the cold plasteel of the ship’s hull, and smelled the burn of empty lungs with none of the fear that comes with it. “No one else is going to see this sky. Not even tomorrow. It’s just me and you. And, and it may not be exactly the memory you want. But, it’s uniquely yours.”
Elise placed her hand on Clem’s. “Thank you. You know, I feel a bit better. We can go back…or stay here a moment longer. Just us.”
Clem opened her mouth in shock, looking Elise square in the eyes, and squeezed Elise’s hand.
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