The elevator closes up behind her and Jade flicks her fingers to turn the glass transparent as it shoots down from her office floor, sliding down the outside of the amber-tinted building. The windows have absorbed the light of the artificial sun seeping over the sky, turning the amber brighter with stored power.
The elevator's view of sleek towers in beautiful rainbow hues of glass is interrupted by her neatly dressed reflection. Jade huffs and untucks her blouse, hikes up the pencil skirt to make it easier to move in and swings her purse over a shoulder.
The meeting wasn't that bad, but she still has adrenaline from the presentation - or too many caffeine rings. She's definitely working from home tomorrow.
The elevator hits the ground floor and the sides fold back completely. Jade steps off, short heels clicking as she strides across the road currently showing massive artwork of a pastel woman contrasted strongly with hair made of iron deposits. The art flutters her rust-coloured lashes, lips parting, and turns her head. The hair cracks, crumbles and reforms in staggered towers.
Jade waves off a private carriage that slows to a hover over her, and it shoots off again soundlessly. She turns a corner and the next artwork fades off to a pure white with dancing, spinning colours, pulsing in rhythm to her click-steps. Jade snaps her fingers and does a shoulder wiggle, the starbursts shaking it with her.
She steps onto the outlined platform in soft purple. Two others are there: one tapping idly away on the screen they’ve thrown up on the side of the building nearby, another wearing blackout glasses for whatever they're watching. Both have slim earcuffs on to provide audio.
The tram pulls up in a few seconds just as a fourth joins their small group. The sides open up to reveal seats that people step out of, most wearing the glasses. One closed panel is currently advertising boxy shoes in hot pink that Jade bought last week.
"I don't need another pair," Jade quietly hisses at it.
It turns into spiked heels in sunset orange. Jade bites her lip, tempted, but by then the other three people standing at the stop have entered through the open front of the tram.
Jade steps in next and walks down the aisle, steady even as the tram closes again and shoots straight up, gliding down the street a couple stories above the sprawling art. They must have upgraded the tech recently because she doesn't even feel a hint of momentum.
Most of the aisle is walled off, the seats filled, but the tram wouldn't have stopped if she had to stand. She finds a single seat, a comfortable armchair facing the aisle that she falls into. The entire structure turns to face the tram side, to block her off from the rest of the passengers.
She taps twice on her lap, a screen lighting up over the skirt on her thigh. She picks her stop on the list of them and sends a kissy face to Hein. A flick of her wrist dismisses the screen, and she looks out of the one-way glass just in time to watch the tram run through a series of yawning peepholes cut out of the buildings, a dizzying blur of colour. That's always her favourite part.
Jade searches through her purse and lifts out a small plastic package. A small popup on the window informs her that she can press the down arrow to check her hormone levels before she uses the ring. She raises an eyebrow at it and the popup sheepishly disappears.
Ripping a corner dissolves the wrapping into nothing and a ring falls into her waiting palms in marbled grey. She slides it onto a finger and the GABA hits immediately, relaxing her muscles and she flows with it, going limp with a sigh.
A cat-mod exclamation mark appears, the little tail swaying and ears twitching, and Jade looks at it for two beats to open the message. It’s a kissy face from Hien. Jade smiles.
Another popup, looking like a cute tram this time, comes when her stop is next, and soon after the glass slides open. Jade steps out and the chair turns to reset behind her, going through a sterilisation before the next person uses it.
The artwork here is a long, trailing snake in dots and dashes, boldly organic. Jade follows it around the corner and looks up at the huge monument of water flowing through a complicated set of gravity pipes that loop in concentric circles. Not a drop of water lands on her as she passes under it to the elevator of her apartment door.
The building is a soft grey and the walls glow softly as the elevator opens up. A line of brighter lights flares up to guide her to her apartment.
"Really, honey?" Jade sighs as she follows it. "I take a wrong turn once and you mock me for the next week?"
The line dims but is still present. It changes to a soft orange to make her happier.
Jade passes through the hallway of identical doors up until the blank wall comes and with a flick of her wrist, the glass turns clear, showing the gaping peephole with a fantastic view of the water feature. Her old apartment was bigger, but she agreed to move into Hein's because she’s a bit old fashioned; likes the view more when it’s not AI generated.
A hint of muted green and Jade stops.
She looks down, at the bottom corner of the floor.
A slight crack through the thick glass that wouldn't have shown unless she made it clear like this.
A budding leaf off a white tail, miniscule, damp from the water of small droplets shot off the fountain’s faulty gravity pipes.
She's breathing it in.
Jade's fingers twitch and a popup appears saying that her stress levels spiked, and asks if she would like some assistance. Jade stares at the greenery as the popup counts down from 5-
"I'm fine," Jade rasps. "Dismiss."
The popup stops counting down but stays up on the glass. Jade takes a shaky breath and turns, follows the line with a stagger, that turns into swift walk, heels clicking sharply.
Jade takes the last corner and slams a palm on the wall, the door sliding open after it verifies her. Jade kicks off her shoes on the way in, throws down her purse and half sprints into the living room.
"Jade-" Hien begins, standing up from the couch with the wall lit up on the opening scene, ready to play Jade’s favourite sci-fi series.
"Pack a bag!" Jade cries, skidding past and into her room. "Clothes, food, just the basics. We need to go!"
Hien follows her in, watching wide-eyed as Jade hauls out luggage and starts throwing things inside. "What's wrong?" Hien laughs nervously. "I mean I know you were worried, but I'm sure the presentation went fine."
"I saw-" Jade cuts herself off and shoves a pair of shoes in. "Just, please, I'll tell you later. Pack the food, we need to get out of the district."
"Why can't you tell me now?" Hien asks softly. "Jade, tell me while we pack, okay?"
"They can't hear," Jade whispers, jerking the zipper closed in frantic stutters. She pushes the button on top and it slowly starts compressing itself. “It – it was…let’s just go.”
Jade grabs another piece of luggage and heads out to the kitchen, shoving open the cupboard and grabbing armfuls of fist-sized boxes. Even in her panic she grabs mostly curry meals because they're Hein's favourite.
Jade turns and Hein is standing at the edge where the kitchen meets the living room. Her mouth is parted, lower lip wobbling as she tries to speak, a dawning horror taking over her expression.
"Hein," Jade pleads. "It's going to be okay, but we need to leave. Right now, we have to get out before they start locking down."
Hein's eyes flicker to the side, the glass of the fridge.
"Please," Jade begs, rushing up and cradling Hein's face with gentle hands. "We can do this. I'll take care of you, you know that. Love, please, we can get out."
Hein swallows thickly. "Dismiss." She looks back at Jade, eyes wide. "We...we have to report it."
"They have medicine now, they can fix it!"
"There is no cure!" Jade cries. "Hein, love, there's no cure. They purge. We have to leave." Jade fumbles and pulls off the marble ring, takes Hien's hand and slides it on. "Go pack anything you think we'll need. We'll take the tram to the major station and then get out of the district."
"We can't, we have to take private." Hien turns as Jade moves past her to pack the water next. "It's – are we already sick? We need to stay isolated - dismiss! Fuck, yes, I know I'm stressed. Mute! Jade, if we're already sick, if we get others sick..."
Jade leaves the luggage to compress and wraps Hien in a tight hug. They sway together a bit, clinging. Hien is shaking as she buries her face in Jade's neck, fingers digging into Jade’s waist.
"It's new," Jade says softly. "It's new, we have time. We'll both take full sterilisation showers now and broad-spectrum health rings. We'll stay as far away from others as we can."
Hien nods slowly.
"Let's go, love," Jade says, pressing a rough kiss to Hien's hair. "We've got this."
They split and pack the rest in ten minutes. They're out the door and in a private cab in another five. Thirty to get to the major station. Another private carriage to drain their bank account more.
They're a day out after three more transfers, in a paired seat and gripping each other's hands tightly, but they can still see the dome come up in dazzling, dangerous green far off in the distance.
Hien bows her head, pretends to be focused on the AI generated drama playing on her blackout glasses. Jade watches the dome flare and then sink away. The skyline is empty now.
Hien starts coughing a day later.
They pretend everything is okay, for as long as they can.