In search of ties

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic


This short story is the first work in English I have ever published. It deals with a thriller revolving around missing family, all of this set in a futuristic scenery in Australia. I hope to
receive constructive crisiticism about my writing style, grammar and typography in general. In fact, every piece of advice will be invaluable to me. As this was a trip I have recently undertaken, I
will try to implement a "traveling feel" to my writs. Thank you all for your attention, Pascal "Kyroya" Guardian.

Submitted: August 11, 2018

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Submitted: August 11, 2018

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In search of ties

A story remembered and written

By Pascal « Guardian » Kyroya

 

 

Preface

 

It’s been around ten or eleven months now. Ten or eleven months ago, I’ve left the Australian soil to regain and further walk down the straightforward road that is my life.

As of today, I am slowly getting out of the engineering student life to divebomb in the overwhelming, vast and terrifyingly unknown realm of the active world. From this point on, everything seems to revolve around a job, a family and trying to fill your own life with personal satisfaction – from whatever source you fancy. From what I’ve gathered so far, those can be from work, family, trips around the world, leisure, mastering an art, investing in a passion and so forth.

But from where I stand for the moment, these perspectives of life seem to be far out of reach. Thinking about them would bring me nowhere save for canvasing blurry lines of what my life would look like – or rather, what I want my life to look like. I never was one to paint an ideal and doing whatever it takes to reach it. Instead, I would just pick whatever suits me the best when choices and opportunities are to be had. The fact that I am working at a glass manufacturing company today is – to me at the very least, a series of events and circumstances that led me to choose this opportunity. I didn’t steer my life or shape my future towards this end goal – more precisely, I like to say I let life come up with this path for me. If you are one of these people, one could say I let fate decide for me.

My second year of engineering school brought me to one of these circumstantial opportunities. As the end of the year approached, we students were rushed to find an internship—the ideal being it be abroad. As time went by, choices and offers passed. At some point, my path came to a crossroads. One of the courses that were available was Australia.

Deciding to get there was agonising. Several problems emerged, to mention a few; finances, accommodation, distance from main land – all of these were to be considered should I wish to undertake an internship there.

Yet, despite all odds and warning from my peers, I chose to go there. A physical and mental digression from my life in France to go live in a land that is four thousand kilometres away from home. A life where finding a job and basking in vain yet fulfilling satisfaction would not be necessary to thrive. A break from the obligations life demands from each and every one of us. In my eyes, back at the time, this was perfect for me to recover and come back anew. And, to be fair, many dream of going there.

 

 

  1. Farewells

 

I had joined her after inspecting my room for one last time. Here we were, sitting on that same couch-bed, which mattress was fitted with a rudimentary piece of cloth. It looked like something that came out of any grandma’s drawers—it bore some cliché flowered design that I had already seen before. Knowing her, she must have changed the covers right before I arrived. The weather outside was as sunny as it ever was. Birds were chirping musically, and dogs committed to barking uncontrollably while leaves rustled as they were disturbed by the gentlest of breezes. Had it been any other day, it would have been a normal to good day in Brisbane. However, for the both of us, we had something to mourn.

My flight was due to take off at 2pm. Knowing this, having to wake up in the morning was something that could not be described as annoying or even painful. Getting out of bed on that day was just grim. I knew what would entail: gathering my belongings, starting to stack everything in my luggage, mentally erasing any tie I had built during that time. One of those were Millie—in fact, she was the strongest one I had in Australia, in Brisbane, in this very house. Saying farewell to her wasn’t going to be something pleasant to live through.

I was gathering myself to build a task list, my very own thoughts and my very own words to make this rupture as seamless as possible. Lying on my bed, I was basking in the morning sunshine my only window let through. My few square meters room was flaring like every morning. My brain was running in circles when it was interrupted by the rolling sound of my door opening. The rectangular wood panel slid to the side revealing a slender, tall and familiar figure standing in front of it, in the corridor.

Millie was standing still, face down glaring at the ground, as if the carpet floor was threatening to bite her feet off. I was seeing her this morning for the first time today, and the last time forever. Her presence reminded me of the time we had spent together thanks to the past series of uncalled circumstances—during all that time, I have been what she called her “moral support, caretaker and guardian”. However, this era of unconditional companionship would soon have to come to an end.

She remained petrified, as though the time we have spent physically close with each other had evaporated within the course of a night’s sleep. “Millie.” I said with a husky morning voice. I stretched my arm over my night table to reach for my phone. I pressed the centre button: the screen lit up to show 6:20am. I chucked the phone back. “Come in; don’t be a stranger.” I said whilst raising my head to evaluate her oddly yet visually satisfying figure. She shuffled her massive feet, one after the other, slowly shifting herself into my room, and into my bed. Looking back, it’s daunting how fast she was yet how slow she looked during that movement. She usually was an uncoordinated clumsy girl, but her agility for this very act seemed as though it was performed by the deftest of assassins.

Yet, within what looked like seconds, here she was, lying beside me, in my temporary single bed, under the blanket. Her legs and feet were frigid, and anybody could have seen she was freezing with the black shirt and shorts she was wearing. We lied a few centimetres apart from each other, with our faces drawing close to one another, trying to fit on the single size mattress. But from this close, I could engrave every detail of her round face in my memory.

Her big bright yet pale green eyes of hers will forever glint in the dark. Her brown tan lips were committed in my souvenirs as well. Every strand of her chestnut hair could be precisely drawn with my mind’s eye. This lumpy yet harmonious nose left a persistent shape for recollection.

We remained in the same position for what felt like aeons—which was all I was wishing for. Like any classical romantic fad or story, I wanted this moment to last forever. The peace the exterior ambience was giving. The soothing calm brought by the silence. The warmth provided by her presence. Our gazes were locked into each other’s eyes, as though we were trying to dig and pierce to get our very souls.

Then, my mind chalked up a question I thought would never even be canvassed in the wildest of universes.

 

 

  1. Landing in Brisbane

 

The plane slowly shifted downwards to reveal what every passenger hadn’t seen in the past eight hours: ground lights, buildings, roads and in general signs of human life. As the aircraft descended, the windows let in the reassuring signs of civilisation glinting in the middle of the Brisbanite night. The myriad of luminous dots went past the double-layered transparent openings, putting up a mesmerising and lulling lightshow. The wing signals were blinking as they have been for the past eight hours—at least, those were still intact.

The interior lights were dim and were getting brighter as though they were encouraging—or prodding the sleepy travellers to wake up. The flight attendants were walking and shuffling in the choking narrow corridors of the plane, pulling the sleepiest of us out of Morpheus’ arms. Some others were hurrying to the strategic spots of the plane, such as the side doors, the toilets and the class dividers to make sure the plane was safe and secure to land. On the way, a few asked: “Please stow your tray and set your seat upright,” with the keenest of manners. As the passengers woke up, the corridors of the plane came to life with chatter of relief, noises of belongings being shuffled around and the seemingly never-ending yawns of the heaviest sleepers.

I couldn’t help but let loose a sigh of relief as I peered through the window from the aisle seat. My neighbouring passenger—which was sitting an empty seat away from mine, was gazing in the same direction, still clutching the same pillow she had been holding onto for the entire flight. The occasions to speak were plenty, but I think we had both preferred to remain anonymous to each other for reasons of awkwardness. Conversation with her would have been pleasant still, as her long dark chestnut hair framed what looked like a smooth face. But for the moment, both our minds were set on a whole another thing.

I made sure my own personal space was safe for landing. I checked whether my seat was upright, and if my tray was stowed. Everything was set for me to not get a head or body trauma during touchdown. I unplugged my trusty earphones from the onboard entertaining device and connected them to my phone. A song immediately came up: Delilah by Florence + The Machine. An upbeat tune along with a strong yet smooth feminine voice accompanied by orchestral harps and violins, following the tempo of an energetic drum. A perfectly suited music to give me the last burst of energy I need to get to my accommodation, coupled with the reverberating symphony of freedom and discovery. The commander announced over the scrambled speakers: “Ladies and gentlemen, good morning,” he said with a very marked Asian accent. “We have arrived at the Brisbane International airport,” he continued, while I was struggling to make out his speech. “It is now 10:20pm and 18 degrees Celsius in Brisbane. Please remain seated while…”—as he carried on, I had given up on listening to him as I obtained the information I was interested in.

From my seat, I stretched myself as fully as possible: arms, legs, back, fingers, feet, hands. Every movement resuscitated the entirety of my limbs, as though they were petrified for decades. Yet, the flight from Bangkok only lasted all of about eight hours. Time goes by very slowly on an airplane, and we were to suffer for it. It only gets worse during the descent phase of the flight where one can feel the end approaching, peeking through the small peepholes of the cabin. Florence Welsh’s voice kept vibrating in my lone right earbud, giving some sort of musical background to the activity in the corridors. As I laid back for the umpteenth time in my seat, I relaxed and calmed myself as best as I could.

In fact, my heart was pacing. I hadn’t slept properly during the flight from Paris to Bangkok, and the last eight hours did not change that fact either. Nevertheless, I could feel my entire body getting empowered by eagerness, excitement, and desperate need for a safe place to set myself up at. I was getting more insecure as time went by, not knowing whether I’d have to spend tonight in a dark street or under a roof.

Yes, more than a day of travel can get the best of you.

Waiting patiently for the plane to set down, the song ended. Next up was Please Sister from The Cardigans. A melancholic piano intro accompanied by Nina Persson’s saddening mature voice was not something I needed to hear right now. I dug in my pockets to retrieve my phone and subsequently unlocked my phone to select another song. Skimming through the endless artist list I had, one retained my attention: Supercell. Browsing the albums and songs, I chose Feel So Good. An efficiently jazzy beat coupled to an intricate drum line, accompanied by an addictive groovy bass riff. Yanagi Nagi’s smooth voice just takes the cake. Bobbing my head to the rhythm, I watched the activity inside the cabins from what seemed to me an outside perspective.

As the songs took turns to play in my ears, the tiny structures we could see from above gradually became part of the horizon. Soon enough, the landing gear struck the ground in a thundering rumble that shook the whole plane. It reached Australian soil. We made it. I arrived at the land down under. The aircraft taxied slowly on the endless asphalt track, making its way amongst the various lights dotting the path. Some passengers stood up to stretch in anticipation of treading solid ground again. Some others remained seated, completely devoid of any shape and energy, idly gazing through the window. Each passing light signal left a same-coloured trail, making the arrival all the more magical and thrilling. Soon enough, I felt my legs wanting to move, to feel my entire weight, to make me go forward. I wanted to get off this plane.

Australia was right beneath my feet, and these were dying to get a feel of the land. In my mind, this was comparable to the first steps Neil Armstrong made on the surface of the Moon. It was small steps for me, but a huge leap for my own personal growth. Mind you, I knew the stakes were different for both. The reasons for me being in Australia were futile, but plenty. As student engineers, we were encouraged to find an internship abroad. Considering my proficiency in English and my eagerness to put it to use, I was leaning towards finding something in countries such as the United Kingdom, America and whatnot. Circumstances have brought Australia as a choice, which is one of the main reasons why I went there. Another one was to get away from France. I was recovering from a breakup—usual romance and drama stories. However, these affect me more than the common man. And I mean, the masculine human. I took drastic measures to get those stories out of my mind. Yes, one might think going to a land remote from everything might have been a bit overkill. But it had the expected effect, and it was well worth it to me.

Any other reasons of travel: be it the road trips, the culture or the outlandish sights that are littering the Australian country were completely secondary to me. This being said, I was already amazed whilst walking around the airport. After retrieving my cabin luggage, everyone waddled in the narrow corridors to the exit. I felt a fallacious burst of energy I had to take advantage of, were I to get out of this plane and into safety. Mustering all of my willpower and focus, I successfully made it out of the flying contraption and onto the passenger boarding bridge. I could feel my legs and entire body getting rejuvenated with each metre walked, empowering my own self even more.

At this point, my English would yet again serve me well. Being dropped off in unknown territory, the best I could do was following the signs to retrieve my luggage. Each step I took was accompanied by the Good Lawdz’ A Lil Somethin’ Somethin’ – a cliché yet catchy jazz tune, painting a tasty velvet background to the environment I was thrusted in. Being the innocent little lamb that I was, I blindly walked in the directions the huge passenger-friendly panels were pointing to. Looking around, I could already feel Australia had something different. It may have been the air, the architecture of the building, the way things were setup – or simply my own damned tired self. Either way, strolling down the corridors with my heavily stuffed black messenger bag felt amazing. I was doing something not many Europeans had done before: walk on Oceanian ground and survive every step. While the jazz beat was still thrumming in my right ear, the other one sensed the general ambience and usual noise of an airport. General safety announcements, footsteps and luggage wheels echoing in the halls all of this while machines operated like bees in the middle of the night.

Still, I didn’t have a solid roof to sleep under. I reached for my phone inside my ridiculously deep pockets—travelling pants must contain a lot after all. My fingers danced on the screen, browsing through custom looking menus with optimised speed to get to my contact list. As my sole acquaintance’s name popped up, I tapped it to subsequently write what felt like a desperate castaway’s message: “Hello, this is Kyroya, your soon-to-be guest. I’ve just arrived at the airport and am currently retrieving my luggage. I should be out of the airport in a few minutes.”. My phone found its own homey spot in my left pocket.

After bobbing and weaving through the security line and passport check barrier, I got to the luggage area. The place was vast and was boasting an endless conveyor belt snaking along a few dozen marked retrieval islands. Small tip: everything relating to airport most likely has information hanging above your head. Knowing this, spotting and grabbing my brand new massive red luggage was trivial when I knew where to look for it. Except it didn’t look as brand new. Scratched, scrapes, warped parts: it had undergone a few rough manipulations and a very long trip. I quickly set my disappointment aside as I knew the risks. Plus, it carried nothing too precious as common sense would have it.

After lifting my bulky pack of belongings, I checked my phone once more: a blinking red light was indicating a new message: “Hello Kyroya, I should arrive in ten minutes. See you at the entrance of the arrival area.”. I grinned at the sight of the relieving text. I was progressing towards a haven, that is for sure. But there was something essential I needed to do. Getting to a currency exchange booth, I checked the pockets of my signature burgundy jacket for the euro bills I was safekeeping for the trip. Mustering every ounce of energy I had, I mumbled: ”Good evening sir!” as I tried to remember how English sounded like. I unconsciously slammed the hefty handful of bill I was holding on the counter: “I’d like to swap currencies please.”.

 

 

 

 

  1. First contact

“Oh, my elder son has left. I can’t believe he left the house!”, she said with a raising tone, “just because he didn’t want to apply to get some financial help from the state, I still can’t believe it!”, she continued, as the derelict SUV shook ominously under the woman’s cramped control. Remaining pretty calm, perhaps because of the long flight he just came out of, Kyroya answered with a hesitant voice: “I understand how you’d be upset… It seemed to benefit the both of you, yet he chose to live with his girlfriend,” he gazed to his right, trying to make out the driver’s alert face, almost stressed out, “but at least, he’s happy and healthy to this day… Right?”

“I guess so…” she answered after a short moment of indecision. She sighs: “At any rate, I’m sorry—I’m ranting about my life to a total stranger—"

“It’s alright, people tend to do that; for some reason, I look like someone you can trust…”

“I can see that!” She chuckles and continues after a brief pause, “I didn’t hear your name at the airport though; with all the cars and everything I couldn’t make it out. What was it?” She hit the brakes hard, resulting in the car violently rocking forward and backwards as though a tidal wave had slammed the car. She apologised.

“Kyroya. My name is Kyroya Pascal,” he said trying to keep awake, “I didn’t quite catch yours either. Linda Smith was it?”

The car restarted gently, as though the previous sudden stop left it unaffected. The blonde-haired woman answered from the top of her high-pitched voice:

“Yes! I have to say, for a foreigner, your English is really good! We don’t have many guests that are as good as you are—and more so with an accent. What is that, is that British?”

Kyroya smirked from embarrassment: “It is, I suppose? I’m trying to speak and completely hide any foreign accent I may have... Though I can manage a pretty mean French accent if need be!”

“If need be? When would you need that?”

“So as to not seem as stupid and clueless when asking total strangers for directions…!”

She laughed. The silence set between the passenger and his driver, leaving the newly arrived to peer around, the inside of the car being the most pressing issue; the first thing he had noticed upon getting on the left-hand front seat was the nearly-shattered windshield. As Linda drove around whilst speaking to him, he started to notice missing parts: a split handle there, a missing plastic cover here, the broken sun panel—and that’s to name a few. The car handling felt rough and rigid at most, as though the suspensions were made of stone and the brakes functioned with an all-or-nothing rule. He couldn’t quite make out whether the woman or that husk of a car was to be blamed. In fact, as Kyroya threw a few glances on the blonde-haired woman; her driving stance looked tense and her grip on the wheel was cramped. Her eyes showed overly-alert bright green pupils as they were darting left right and centre, as if they had seen several ghosts floating around. My trip to Australia will end faster than I had initially thought, and I will not have died because of an animal at least, Kyroya thought to himself.

“Did you see that?”

“Sorry?” he said, unearthed from his thoughts.

“The tooltip, just then? On the building?” repeated the overworked driver. Her accent struck the Frenchman as he noticed the sharp and exaggerated vowels sounds.

“I haven’t; my HUD isn’t on. It seldom is—"

“What do you mean?! How did you handle at the airport then? It had to be a maze to get out of!” She interrupted, surprised.

“It wasn’t such a big deal, really. Following static signs and general instincts led me outside, without any hitches at that,” said he while hiding his pride, “HUDs are really invading—it can be a bother at times.”

Linda brought to car to a sudden stop at a red light, rocking it as if it hit a stone wall. Her face turned toward Kyroya, eyes opened wide from the amazement:

“I wouldn’t be able to find my way inside that airport, or any other place I don’t know about…”

“It’s not that hard—not everyone has access to a HUD system these days, even though it’s quite well-spread today; static signs and general instincts are still reliable… I prefer seeing without those most of the time—I only activate them when I really need it.”

“But still, I understand how you’d think that. I get too distracted by those sometimes too,” she said, settling down, “everybody says it’s a matter of getting used to, but I’ve never been able to get used to those things.”

Kyroya thrusted himself deeper into his seat, his muscles aching from the lengthy trip: “Everybody reacts differently to a screen popping up in your field of view. It’s not just the screen, though right?”

She nods in agreement. “The amount of information both useless and useful that appears is just overwhelming at times. The ads are the worst—"

“That’s one of the reasons I deactivate my HUD chip. I react pretty well to it though; I even work with those on a daily basis.” He said pressing gently on the back of his ear. “What did you want to show me again? Oh, hold on a second.”

Various see-through pop-ups and interfaces phased across Kyroya’s glasses. Many of them were familiar and reassuring as they guaranteed the HUD’s correct start-up. Booting K-HUD-Os…OK. Chip integrity check… OK. Glass screen cast… OK. Verifying user data… OK. Pairing with phone… OK. Region parameters… UPDATE REQUIRED!

Welcome back Kyroya.

The message faded away, leaving Brisbane’s landscape unfurl before Kyroya’s enhanced sight. The HUD was a chip, or a small device designed to provide information through a Heads-Up Display. The software would recognise any item within the user’s field of view and give further information available.  The young man looked to Linda and nodded: “Alright, it’s all done. What did you want me to see again—oh wow.” The system was showing artefacts and glitches everywhere instead of the usual tooltips and extended descriptions usually seen; something was wrong and was rendering his HUD system—and his vision— completely useless.

“What’s going on?” inquired Linda, genuinely worried.

“Nothing, it’s just… This city is ripe with holo-signs. And pop-ups. Everywhere. I get why you’re so tense while driving—"

“Am I?”

“You look tense. You really do, it’s… Almost worrying,”—he added with a soothing tone— “how do you feel?”

“Just fine, I didn’t… Realise. Anyway, look at those buildings over there,” she hesitantly released one of her hands from the wheel and pointed towering constructions, “That’s the CBD. You could call that the city centre, it’s usually bustling during the day.”

“Sorry- CBD?” highlighted Kyroya with a rising tone. She chuckled: “Aha, you don’t know that do you? Central Business District—where the heart of Brisbane is; you’ll most likely find anything you’re looking for there.”

Kyroya let loose an enlightened sound. As the car kept making its way in the streets of Brisbane, luminous holograms were parading in his vision; information, advertisements, roads signs... All of this on top of the overlay that usually cluttered his eyesight. He pulled his phone out of his pants’ pocket. Linda glanced over: “Fancy phone. What is it?”

“Thanks. It’s… A heavily customised piece… I’ve lost track of where it came from and what it’s made of, “he answered, “I invested a lot of time in it… I guess it shows—”

“Where did you learn to do all that? It’s a rare skill to have, especially at your age… You look quite young; how old are you?”

“I’m an engineer—sorry, no, soon to be engineer. I came here to undertake an internship.  And I’m twenty-two, by the way!”

She pauses for five minutes, trying to piece what the young man just said. He swore he could have felt the cogs grinding and working against each other. At last, she said with great haste, as though an important piece of information needed to be said: “Twenty-two—oh, so you need those to complete your studies, is that right?”

He nodded in agreement. Linda couldn’t wipe the smile of pride off her face:

 “And how long will you stay exactly?”

“Exactly? I wouldn’t be able to tell you—I don’t even know myself. Oh, I converted a bit of money, I can pay for a part of the stay—”

The car came to a gentle stop for the first time in the entirety of the trip. The blonde curly-blonde haired woman pulled the handbrake up and retrieved her keys: “We’ll talk about this inside—we’re here… Let’s get in!”

 

 

 

  1. The Queenslander heirloom

 

Brisbane at night differed from any city I have ever been to in my entire life. If it were not for the overflow of HUD displays, I would have been sitting in that car, gawking like an ape at an abacus for the entirety of the ride. Upon leaving the car—on the left-hand side for the first time— I looped around back to retrieve my luggage from the boot. Linda appeared short after and opened the door separating me and what seemed to contain at least three quarters of my life’s belongings—if not more. I grabbed the handles of the massive red luggage and summoned the remainder of my might, willpower and strength; the plastic container obeyed. My face turned towards Linda to thank her for both the ride and the luggage. Upon insisting that those were natural, she headed up the driveway towards the house. I shadowed her after disabling my HUD; I could now see properly now that the overwhelming display was gone.

The house was built following a classic Queenslander style; two floors where the topmost one was accessible via stairs from the front garden, while a simple door would allow entry to the first one. The blonde-haired woman walked up the driveway on which a derelict car was parked. Some rundown tarp was covering the roof as though to hide the depravity of the wreck, but it wasn’t big enough. I could see the body was lacking side windows, door handles and several other parts I couldn’t either name nor see in the gloomy darkness of the night. The path was wide so as to accommodate a single car—grass was surrounding the strip of cement, making navigation with a massive piece of luggage difficult.

After struggling to make my way up the driveway—even if the car was a wreck, I did not want to damage it— the host was struggling with the front door under a newly-lit ceiling light: “Ah, darn. The door is locked,” she said while fiddling with the door knob, “I need to get upstairs, wait here—I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright,” I replied instantly, “take your time Linda!”

She darted upwards on the stairs to access the top floor, leaving me to explore my surroundings. The house was in a sorry state; debris and random items were dispersed in the garden, the structural wood was decaying at places, the paint would peel off at some places… The construct has seen time pass, that was for sure. But how much time was the critical piece of information. However, some efforts to keep the structure going could be seen: some titanium alloy bearings were supporting wooden beams, and some steel fitting were set on the stairs.

Other than that, the suburbs of Brisbane were ghost-quiet but somewhat restful. This particular district was far away from all the high-technology displays, as opposed to the city centre ripe with holo-signs and panels. The street gave the impression it was worked on recently as it exhibited a pristine sidewalk separated with a line of LEDs from the dark black road. In the midst of all that, what I would soon call “home” stuck out like a sore thumb. And a really sore one.

Minutes passed, as I was enjoying my first gasps of fresh air away from thermal motors and the airport. I confirmed the air felt damper than in France, but it remained refreshing nonetheless. Winters in Brisbane are rather mild, I said with a smile. A noise got my attention. It was a pleasant one, a really familiar and reassuring sound. A meow echoed in the dark; gazing in the general direction of its origin, I noticed two pairs of glowing gems staring at me.

Cats. Two of them. One had a sleek blue shorthair coat while the other looked fuzzier and majestic in the same colour scheme. I squatted down and held my hand above the ground, fingers sticking out: “C’mere, I won’t hurt you… Please?” Both felines stood there, alert and ready to scatter at the first sign of danger. The short-haired one approached, crouching close to the ground still, all four legs winded up and ready to spring loose at any moment.

The door came to life in a fanfare-like fashion. Both cats scurried away for their lives and disappeared like shadows in the void that were the bushes underneath the stairs. The door opened—surprisingly, quite silently— and revealed Linda holding the door, standing in a narrow corridor with grey carpet floor: “Come on in Kyroya,” she said with a smile, “welcome home!”

I headed indoors, heaving my luggage, curtseying to my host to thank her for holding the door. She closed it and went a few paces ahead of me. The left wall was plain, save for its beige paint and the few light switches mounting it. The right wall showed three doors, probably leading to three separate rooms. The Australian host skipped the first door and stopped right after the second: “This is your room Kyroya!” She said whilst pointing her hand towards the opening.

I nodded in acknowledgement heading towards the door. She slid it open to the side, entered and flicked a table lamp switch. The birthing light revealed a bed, a desk and a nightstand on which a table lamp rested. Proceeding inside, a massive old wooden cupboard could be seen sharp right, in the corner of the room. Beside was a more modern white commode, no taller than a metre. The bed was dimensioned to accommodate for one, though it remained pretty large. I noticed the absence of ceiling light, meaning I’d have to rely on table lamps for decent lighting.

“I have to go upstairs to fetch something to write with,” I turned around, brutally pulled from my exploration, “I’ll be a second—meet me in the kitchen in a while? It’s at the end of the corridor and on the left… Please make yourself at home! I’ll call you when I’m here.”

“Oh, thank you! Take your time, there’s no rush.”

She chuckled and disappeared in the corridor. Looking around, the furniture in my bedroom seemed ancient. The desk was made of secular wood, as was the massive cupboard. The bedframe comprised of a few decorative white iron beams, bent in such a way they would form an artsy bedhead. I setup my luggage alongside the bed, right in front of the cupboard’s doors. I laid it down on the ground and opened it. I saw my life appear before my eyes; clothes, tools, wires and more technologic rarities pertaining to my computer. I started to get the alimentation cord, along with the mouse and the mat to invest on the desk. While it was relatively small, it was sized so it could accommodate my station properly. Some door slammed in the distance: “Kyroya? Come to the kitchen please?”

I left my belonging as they were the make my way down the corridor. The carpet floor felt soft and silent. I went through the leftmost door and found myself in a poorly lit kitchen. Linda pulled a chair: “Sit down, please! Don’t worry about the light, it’ll become brighter—”

“Ah, fluorescent-compact lightbulbs…! Handy, but they take a bit of time to spool up…”

She acknowledged and got up to pour water into two glasses: “By the way, tap water here is safe to drink,” she sips shortly, “now, about the rent…”

We proceeded to calculate the money I would have to pay. After a series of projections and agreements, I’d pay around three hundred and fifty euros for a fortnight, which was a fair bargain. The meals and breakfast were to be comprised. I handed part of the bills I had to pay for the first two weeks, which Linda clutched maliciously: “Thank you! When you wake up tomorrow morning, if you need breakfast, everything should be in the cupboards around the kitchen,” she pointed her finger towards a row of wall cupboards, “and if something is missing, don’t hesitate to come upstairs and knock on the door!”

“Alright, thank you Linda… By the way, would you have a few adapters I could use? The wall plugs here aren’t compatible—”

“Right, of course… I’ll be back in a second!”

She made for the kitchen’s backdoor, revealing a large shabby backyard. The door closed short after as it was fitted with a dedicated mechanism on top. The kitchen seemed fairly plain and as old as the rest of the house, save for a few kitchen appliances bearing HUD supports. The room was big enough so as to accommodate a handful of people. It comprised of a table surrounded by iron frame chairs, a makeshift couch, a piece of wooden furniture on one side. The back wall exhibited a grand white fridge sided by a row of kitchen counters topping a series of cupboard, and a washing machine. A microwave heater and a sink rested on them, undisturbed up until my arrival, or so it seemed. The backdoor opened abruptly in a concerto of bells; those were tied to the interior door handle. Entered Linda with two adapters: “Will those do?”

“Absolutely—they’ll do just fine, thank you!” I said while impishly grasping the items, “It’s a wonder why we still have to use these at this time and age.”

“You reckon?” she said, yawning.

“We have evolved so much within so little time, yet the wall plugs remained the same…”

“It doesn’t bother us too much,” she laughs, “well, anyway Kyroya, it’s getting late and it’s way past my bedtime already,” she smiles courteously, “when will you sleep?”

I responded intrigued: “Uh, what time is it?”

“Around half past eleven—the family usually goes to sleep at ten.”

“Ah well… I usually find sleep around midnight to one in the morning—I’ll keep quiet though, I promise.”

She started heading towards the kitchen’s backdoor: “Very well then. It’s been a pleasure meeting you Kyroya, I’ll see you tomorrow! In the meantime, please make yourself at home…!”

“Good night Mrs. Smith sleep well.”

“Please call me Linda!” She smiled, “And good night to you too!”

She opened the hefty backdoor—actually heavy because of the mechanism it seemed— and disappeared behind it. I took the several papers the blond-haired woman scribbled numbers upon and walked towards my room. I proceeded to finish setting up my computer and its accessories—which took a fair amount of space considering the amount I had. The fatigue and strains came crashing upon me; my body was about to crumple to the floor. I shuffled in my opened luggage to get my toilet kit and made for the shower. The bathroom did not differ from the rest of the house and was well-furnished. It was rather clean, save for the spider—yes, Australian spider— in an upper corner of the room. The space was at least ten squares metres big, but the ceiling hung low—so was the spider living in its web. “Hello spider,” I said worryingly, “just taking a shower, don’t mind me.”

The water felt rejuvenating. My body regained part of its energy and my mind cleared as though a thunderstorm had passed. Showering in thirteen hours after a long trip was a godsend at this point. Not wanting to disturb the household, I picked the pace up, dried myself and got back to my quarters and put away my clothes, accessories and showering items. I closed the sliding door to my room and opened the grilled window to get some Brisbanite fresh air. I threw myself in my bed and laid down—I turned into an amorphous sack of meat for what seemed to be ten minutes. I stretched and laid around to come upon a sheet of plasticized paper on the single night table. My arm speared to it—the paper was no more than a reminder of the general rules and the family in the household:

Welcome to our warm home! My name is Linda and I will be your host for your stay!”

The font was blue and curvy—a round and reassuring sight for a new guest. The next was written in dark red with a sterner, more rigid font:

“And I am William, Linda’s husband. If you need anything, please let us know!”

The rest was mostly in the friendlier writing:

“Our three daughters and sons are Leon who is 18, Emilyana, 16, and Adelia, 8!”

I was pretty sure someone was missing from the line-up. Back during the car ride, the blonde-haired woman had mentioned Cassandra, two years of age. This writ was redacted without the passing of time in mind—the ages and the people in the household were off-target. At least the rules were clear: laundry day on Thursday, dinner at eight o’ clock and keeping noise to a minimum past ten in the evening, amongst others. But at least I had an idea of the guidelines to follow—something to hang on to in case I am totally lost; which I was. I chucked the out-dated sheet at whence it came from. Now was the time to notify my family of my arrival in a relatively safe haven: I fetched my phone in my pockets and opted for a text message. At that time, I couldn’t bother to compute what time it was over in France and I didn’t want to disturb my family. I sent a message to my mother on an instant messenger app. Her response in approximate French was immediate.

 An hour had passed. Still, after all that happened, I could not find sleep—I stood up once my muscles felt back in order. There was one thing I could do to pass the time. I sat at the desk and booted up the computer. My HUD was not up to date with Brisbane’s display systems and my field of vision suffered for it—the chips had to be updated with the location’s settings. Failure to do so would lead the device to freak out and display all sorts of artefacts cluttering one’s sight. I had not planned for this as the only places I have been to with my piece were around France, which runs on European parameters and software. This update would require a visit in a specialised Heads-up Display system shop; but I had my ways and networks ripe with resources.

Being an engineer today meant something other than in the olden days—people in this line of profession are required to have a deep wealth of knowledge in a vast scope of fields. One of my favourite fields was HUD systems and technologies—having an intricate network was vital to my hobby then. It took me about an hour to dig up the set of parameters and the frame of the Australian software. I had to adapt and retrofit the foreign HUD system to make it compatible with my custom chip; which was done successfully but clumsily.

Once done, I crashed on my new temporary bed without trying out the updated version of my chip. I chucked my glasses and phone on the night table and switched off the desk’s table lamp.

I fell asleep two hours later, around half past two according to my phone, and woke up at six o’ clock in the morning.

Jet lag was setting in quite convincingly.

 

 

  1. Daughters and siblings by name

 

Taking into consideration the little he had slept, Kyroya woke up feeling surprisingly rested and eyes wide open. He almost jumped out of his springy bed—that he found more comfortable than the one he had back in France. Unsure what to do, he set out to sit at his computer to check for possible updates on people he followed, friends, and even latest releases concerning HUD systems. He proceeded to play slow paced games such as strategy or management games; shooters weren’t an option since jet lag was preventing him from being at his best. He kept playing until he heard stomps from the floor above him. He watched the clock on the bottom of his screen; half past nine in the morning—It was high time to move.

Now, he wasn’t used to getting dressed first thing in the morning, but he didn’t want to make a bad first impression on the hosts. He slid open the door to the corridor and made for the bathroom to brush his teeth and other natural needs. All he could see were blurry blobs of colour; he returned to his room for his glasses and put them over his squinty eyes. Everything looked clearer and brighter, even more than last night—more to explore and wander at.

After a long moment of reflect, he started rummaging in his suitcase and unburied a pair of bright orange chinos along with a printed light blue shirt. He put both pieces side-by-side and nodded at the odd yet matching colours. Having put them on, he looked over to his three bracelets and watch to equip them, as a soldier would his armour. Loud footsteps could be heard through the floor, indicating a very thin layer separating him and the topmost story. After grabbing his signature burgundy jacket and tying his blue light scarf around his neck, he headed to the kitchen where he set out to find breakfast: cereals and milk, as usual— shouldn’t be too hard to find, he thought whilst rummaging in the cupboards and fridge.

Those were, however, nowhere to be found. Rather, what he had discovered was already opened by someone before him; a half-full (or half-empty) milk bottle and a tightly sealed cereal container. The guest was confused whether he could help himself to those. He then paced around, deep in reflect, debating to eat his findings or go upstairs to investigate further.

Kyroya did not want to blunder on his first day here; he took upon Linda’s words and put his hand on the backdoor handle. He pulled and invested a bit more strength than he expected—the attached bells shook in a harmonious bouquet. Kyroya passed the doorframe to step in the house’s backyard—or pre-backyard, in that case. A long set of black metal bars separated him from the desolate-looking garden—the grass was patchy and even revealed large spots of dry soil, a toy plastic hut lost all of its colours under the blistering Australian sun, and the metal shed lying next to the neighbour’s lot was not something to boast about either. To the French’s left was the entrance to that garden along with what looked like an intricate pile of junk. To his right were the stairs leading to what he guessed would be the second floor.

After heading a few paces towards the stairs, Kyroya heard the grass shuffling to his left—he turned his head to the noise only to see two hounds rushing across the garden. They crashed on the set of metal black bars, making the Frenchman recoil: “Putain!” he uttered, eyes open wide and heart racing, “Hello dogs, nice to meet you too...”. The dogs barked relentlessly, trying to ward off what they recognised as an intruder. Both were large, heads arriving to an adult’s thigh or higher when on all fours. One had a black and white colour scheme, with a squished bulky face. Its build was rather muscular, as opposed to the other, slimmer with a black and brown palette. It was somewhat taller thus slender, but it remained an imposing figure nonetheless.

Kyroya kept making his way up the stairs chased away by the two hounds’ frenzied barks. He stopped midway to gaze at them one last time—first cats, then dogs; Kyroya was pretty sure the house was described as animal-free on the website he found the household. Both canines were staring with fierce intensity and pressed the young man to join the second floor. Once he reached it, he stood on a wooden balcony fitted with a large glass table on which were stacked large exterior couches. The seats were put so as to form arches with the surface of the table—bright-yellow feline eyes emerged from the shade the furniture cast on the table. Kyroya could make out the same two cats from last night, sitting peacefully in the obscurity; both were observing the young man as if he were a caged animal. He shifted towards the cats ever so slowly, hand above waist-level and fingers raised; the cats recoiled simultaneously, ready to scurry away on the slightest hint of danger. The young man sighed: “No? No dice? Come on, I’m friendly…!” while lowering his shoulders in defeat.

He regained his usual stance to look around and quickly came to a set of small worn-out white double-doors leading into the house. After a few paces, he hesitated and committed to knocking on the frail door, thrice. Kyroya could hear some jumble going on behind the wooden membrane, as though people were running and tripping over nails spilt on the floor. The lock on the door clicked and the white panel opened slightly, revealing a small child, no higher than a metre and a half: “Hi?” she said with utmost care and hesitancy. Her eyes were blue and her face pinkish spotted with a handful of freckles. The man unconsciously lowered his shoulders, slightly curtseyed and leaned slowly towards the youngling: “Hey, um—your mom told me I should go and look upstairs if I didn’t find anything to eat for breakfast downstairs…” She stood still with her eyes opened wide, while the Frenchman waited for a reaction. He quickly continued: “I’ve found some cereals and milk but—”

“Wait!” She said disappearing behind the slamming door. A few seconds passed before the entrance gaped open revealing the child’s plump body: “Mom told you to come in!” The young man accepted expressing his gratitude and went past the door short after. He arrived in what appeared the be the house’s living room and kitchen. To his right was an open kitchen with counters laid out against the wall, forming a U of workspace. It seemed well equipped with countless cupboards, an enormous grey fridge, a stove atop an oven and many others. It seemed rather well-maintained and clean, as opposed to the rest of what the man had seen.

“What’s your name?”

Kyroya shook his head and turned towards the child standing behind him: “Huh, what, sorry?”

“What’s your name?” She repeated with the same intonation whilst walking towards what looked like a couch. The Frenchman replied spryly: “Oh, my name’s Kyroya! Kyroya Pascal—you must be… Adelia, right?”

The presumed Adelia was taken aback, gawking: “Wow, your English is good—how do you know my name?”

He laughed: “Your mother told me a bit about you! We’ve had time to talk a bit to each other yesterday—”

“When did you get here?” She asked, sitting on the couch-looking seating.

“Oh, last night, around ten in the evening. It’s not a surprise you don’t know; I guess you were all asleep at that time—”

“Hello Pascal!” Kyroya recognised Linda’s high-pitched voice as she emerged from a corridor: “How did you sleep last night?”

“Not too much, but I still feel rested!” He paused for a while: “I’m sorry to disturb you this morning, I wasn’t quite sure what to—”

“Oh no, I’m the one that should apologise,” she turned towards him, looking genuinely alarmed, “I didn’t have the time to get you something—what do you usually eat?”

Kyroya cleared his throat: “Cereals and milk—I don’t mind if you don’t have any in store, I can just go and go get some myself!”

“It’s alright, we have both here—Adelia!” The girl turned her head towards her mom: “Can you go and fetch some milk in the cupboard?” She acknowledged, darted to the man’s left towards two wooden doors and began rummaging. Linda called: “Please sit down!” she pointed to a long table behind Kyroya and went past him to pull a chair out from its side. It was donned with a large grey piece of which and looked as old as everything there, but it kept some integrity. He adorned the chairback with his jacket and found himself in front of a bowl and a spoon; Linda winked and laid a box of cereals on the table.

“I’ve got the milk!” Shouted Adelia. Her voice was a girl’s, yet still lower pitched than her mother’s. “Give it to Kyroya please!” She shouted, getting the girl to leave the milk on the table near him; he nodded in gratitude and gave his thanks, to which she replied with a gentle smile before scurrying back to the couch. Kyroya poured some cereals and milk and reaped the rewards for his quest to a first breakfast.

The living room did not have any physical barrier separating it from the kitchen aside from the makeshift couch backed up by a singular cupboard. It looked more of a children’s bed framed with a set of high metal bars, large enough to comfortably welcome three people to sit. A turtle swam slyly inside a large quadrilateral aquarium sitting near the opposite wall. The table was long enough to seat ten people—five on each side—but only six to eight chairs were surrounding the piece of furniture. A worn-out leather desk chair ruled over one end of the table, while the other was watched over by a large TV screen hanging on the wall. On the floor nearby were laid a myriad of small and other bigger toys; dolls and their accessories, toy cars, plastic power tools, pegs, model garages, miniature shopping carts and much more. Kyroya kept munching his cereals as he looked around—those were filling, satisfying and refreshing considering the simplicity of what they were: cornflakes. “Is everything alright?”

Kyroya came back to his senses: “Sorry?”

“Is it any good?” Asked Linda, genuinely worried.

“It’s alright! I mean, you can’t go wrong with cereals anyway…”

“You can keep them, they’re yours—"

“Yaaaaaaaaaaaay!” foot stomps were getting closer at an alarming speed. The loud, eardrum-piercing shriek echoed in the entirety of the living room and was getting nearer with every passing second. The Frenchman felt the draught of a person going past behind him. He turned around to see a toddler, no taller than a metre, rushing towards Linda’s legs. Cassandra, he thought. She hugged her mom’s legs: “Mummy! I woke up and I—” the rest was gibberish the guest couldn’t quite make out. The blonde-haired woman crouched: “Here’s my Cassie! How are you, how did you sleep dearie?” The youngling replied with an unintelligible string of words which the woman nodded to: “Well Cassie, are you ready? Let’s head there with Adelia right now!” Kyroya lost focus and finished eating his cereals. Both girls and their mom were engaged in deep debate of today’s plan; the Frenchman could precisely tell what two out of three of them were saying. Linda called: “Kyroya?” he turned his head, “If you wish, the girls and I are going for a small walk around town—do you want to come along? We’ll visit your workplace, it’s close to where we’ll go—after we get back from shopping for a few things.”

In a heartbeat, he answered: “Oh, yes please, if you don’t mind!”

She smiled and nodded: “Very well! I just need to get a few things with Cassandra and Adelia… I’ll be a minute—” she paused, and looked towards both girls, “Girls, have you met Kyroya?”

“I have met Adelia,” said Kyroya, “I haven’t met the small toddler though—”

“I’m not a toddler! I am two years old!” This was perhaps the most intelligible sentence he’s heard from the smaller child. She had drawn near the Frenchman without him noticing. He laughed and apologised: “I’m sorry! You’re a big girl—what’s your name?”

“Cassie!” barked the child loudly, as if her name was a word to dispel demons—Kyroya recoiled to protect his hearing.

Linda came close and carried the smaller girl in her arms: “Well dearies, it’s time to go. We’ll be back in half an hour, you can either stay there or… Tend to your business! I’ll come and get you when we arrive—”

“I’ll stay up here, if you don’t mind,” he said dreading the thought of being alone, “I have some information to look up on my phone either way!”

She nodded and took her leave with some informal salutations. Both smaller children shadowed her past behind Kyroya’s back and past the door leading out of the living room in the narrow corridor. He could see the front entrance to the second floor from here, as he saw the trio disappear out of sight. As he gazed down the small hall, a door opened and revealed the back of a slender, tall, long-legged woman. The end of her damp long dark chestnut hair swept her wide lower back as she walked towards the entrance. A few minutes later, the same oddly pleasant silhouette came back up the corridor to the living room. The Frenchman turned to face the table in shyness and heard a door behind him slam; shuffling, rummaging and the noise of a hairdryer ensued. Silence then came for a small while before the door gaped open, creating a vacuum in the living room. Loud footsteps headed inside—she got within Kyroya’s sight walking underneath the television screen. Her hair was tied in a long-braided ponytail, still sweeping her lower back.

“Hey.” The voice was a young girl’s, harmoniously pitched, soft to the ears. Kyroya replied, turning towards the call: “Good morning!”

“What’s your name?” She asked directly.

“Kyroya! My name’s Kyroya. What’s yours—”

“Oh wow,” she paused for a second, “you have a British accent…”

Kyroya stopped dead in his tracks, wondering if he had done something wrong. He replied hesitantly, asking whether it was a wrong thing to have. She vigorously shook her head: “Nah, there’s nothing wrong with that at all—where are you from? London? Manchester? Wales?” Her speech became imprinted with more and more eagerness with each city she mentioned. Kyroya smirked: “None of these; I’m French—”

“French?! But you don’t look French at all—”

“Well to be fair; I don’t look British either!” he said while highlighting his squinty eyes. The young woman looked down towards the floor with a wide smile, seemingly trying to hide it. Kyroya pressed on: “I still don’t know your name!”

Her face turned towards the Frenchman in a second, eyes wide open, as though she was unburied from deep reflect: “Hm? Oh! My name is Emily—I’m Emily!” she had started pacing around, walking between the large aquarium and the TV, fiddling with chairs and others on the other side of the table.

“Nice to meet you Emily!”

She hesitantly looked towards the man: “It’s… Nice to meet you too! How… How long will you be staying?”

“I haven’t the foggiest, but I’ll tell you as soon as I know—I don’t want to disturb for too long around here,” he paused and looked around, “you guys seem to have a very lively family after all, I wouldn’t want to intrude—” his gaze stopped on Emily to find her staring at her large feet, stomping nervously. His face contorted to a worried state: “Hey,” he muttered, “are you okay?”

She came back to herself: “Hm? What? Oh, yes, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m sorry!” she went back to pacing around the living room and circling around the table. With a hesitant tone, she asked: “Do you… Do you know where everyone is gone?”

“I believe your mom and two sisters went to get something at the shops—”

“And Father?” she cut with haste.

“William?” She nodded. “I wouldn’t know; I haven’t met him yet and I didn’t see him this morning either.” he said in a confused daze. Emily acknowledged and kept on pacing as though stopping would mean the same for her heart. She threw herself on the couch and sat down, holding her legs against her body: “And what are you doing here, in Australia, so far away from home?”

“I’m here for an internship; I’ll work at the QUT—something about Heads-Up Displays.”

“What’s this internship for? Is that for your studies or some sort of certificate?”

“I’m a soon-to-be engineer—” his gaze stopped on Emily, who was staring back at him in awe, eyes wide open. She had quit her curled up position to look at him, revealing further details of her face; almond-shaped bright green eyes, a lumpy long nose, and voluminous pale pink-brownish lips. The curves and the line of each part was odd when singled out but formed some sort of pleasant harmony when looked at altogether. Her cheekbones were wide and high, further sculpting her head. Her jaw was small and pointy and coordinated well with the rest of her features. She looked to be in her twenties as her light brown skin was free of any defaults and blemishes. She jumped and curled back to her sitting foetal position, startled. She mumbled: “Your English… is really good…”

“Do you not get that often?”

“Not at all—especially with such an accent. Most of the guests we get here have poor to bad level. Where did you learn English? School? Are your parents Brits, or at least one of them?”

He smiled, unable to stow away his pride: “Thank you! I’ve been learning alone. I mean, we do have some English classes, but none of these are sufficient to get to my current level… Both my parents are from Vietnam, so no ties to an English-speaking country whatsoever—”

“How many languages can you speak?” she asked, starry-eyed, unconsciously staring at the Asian again. He peered by her and started counting on his fingers: “Let’s see… French… Vietnamese… Spanish… English… That’s about four. Though my Vietnamese is a bit poor; let’s stick to three for the moment.”

Emily went back to her curled position with a wide smile—one she was desperately trying to hide. In-between her knees, she muttered: “You’re smart… I wish I could learn as much…”

“Smart? Nah, not even close—I’m stupid and dumb, you’ll have ample time to figure that out by yourself, you’ll see.”

“That’s three languages and a half yet you say you’re not smart—”

“I’m not—just you wait and see. I’m sure you’ll get there.” he cut with frigid intensity. He noticed a small grey critter scurrying past the balcony door. It meowed and was followed short after by a second fuzzier cat. Emily suddenly bloomed and jumped off the couch: “Perry Perry! Akylia Blue! My kittens!” she darted towards the sleekest feline and carried it on her arms, “You’re so cute and soft!” She proceeded to vigorously pet the grey animal, remaining fairly calm under her grasp. The fluffier one made its way on the couch to stretch, yawn, and lay down. Kyroya observed the whole show with a large grin: “Are those cats yours, Emily?”

“They… You could say they are. We haven’t officially adopted them, but they basically live here…” She sat down on the couch with the pet still under her clutch.

He headed towards and sat next to her and near the cat. She instantly backed up to the corner near the wall; Kyroya looked at her with surprise but proceeded to present his hand to the fluffy cat anyway. It sniffed the man’s fingers and laid its tiny grey head on the couch. The Frenchman went on to pet its coat; it felt soft, fluffy, pleasant overall—the feline started purring loudly. Kyroya looked towards Emily: “What are their names?”

“The one I’m holding is Perry,” she pointed towards the relaxed one with her chin as both her hands were full: “that one is Akylia Blue… Do they disturb you?”

He looked at her: “Does it look like they disturb me? At all?”

She gazed upon Akylia Blue with envy, still petting Perry: “He already likes you… Do you like cats?”

“I love them—to be honest, I want to have one someday.”

“Do you not have any pets?” she asked, taken aback.

“None—my parents wouldn’t let me; my mom is afraid of any animal and my father has had bad experiences with them…” She nodded and carried on with pampering the small grey critter. It was looking at the Frenchman with curiosity—he lifted his hand from Akylia Blue and headed towards Perry still in the young woman’s arms. Emily recoiled, startling the new guest; he apologised: “Oh, I’m so sorry, I just wanted to pet the cat—” she extended the feline to him, enabling him to stroke its grey sleek fur. Perry started purring loudly and slowly blinked to Kyroya; the young woman stared with acute intensity: “They really do like you—”

The sleek-furred feline started to thrash and toss; Emily clutched the cat harder and got it close to her slender body. It ceased to resist for a brief moment of respite—Kyroya looked both the young woman and her pet over: “Erm… Maybe you should let her go? You’re going to get hurt—”

“But I love her—she won’t let me love her… Why won’t you love me?” she spoke these words with the tone of a battered victim in distress. The man laughed nervously: “Well, seeing as how you constrict them—”

The corridor’s door burst open and entered the former trio. Linda shouted from the top of her high-pitched voice, accompanied by her youngest daughter: “We’re home!” one of her arms was holding a small bag of groceries while the other one held on to Cassandra’s tiny hands. Her gaze stopped upon Emily and Kyroya, both sitting on the couch and petting the cats: “Em, are you ready? Get those cats outside and take some bottles of water; we’re leaving soon, come on!”

She got up sighing, still clutching Perry in her hand and made a few steps towards the small double doors leading to the wooden balcony. The Frenchman stood up all the same and tried to follow in her wake; upon picking up the cat fluffy snoozing cat, he froze. Emily came back after ousting Perry outside and came upon the hesitant man: “What’s wrong?”

He looked at her with a nervous smile: “I… I never knew how to pick up a cat properly…”

She bent over the bed-couch railings and picked up the feline with little to no efforts. Upon reaching for the animal, Emily’s shorts fitted her in a way that highlighted the curves of her slender physique—her hips were wide while being supported with two long legs with ample thighs. Her shirt was sagging from her body, hiding any details of her body. Once she had a grasp of Akylia, she headed towards the balcony all the same and released the cat: “You go play now—I’ll come back soon okay?” she said crouched down, petting its fuzzy pelt.

“Are you ready Kyroya?” Linda’s high-pitched voice beckoned the young man, burrowed in contempt and thought.

“Oh—yes, I’m all set and ready to go, there’s just one thing…!”, he got his heavily-customised phone from his pocket and headed towards the mom and her youngest child, “my family back home would like to have a picture of myself, and I thought it’d be great if you were part of it. Group picture?”

“Oh—sure! Girls! Gather ‘round!”

Emily and Adelia grouped up around the man while Linda picked up Cassandra. Kyroya opened his camera app and clumsily raised his phone above the agglomeration of people. He tapped the button on the screen with a slow and steady thumb. The phone emitted a basic shutter sound. The phone was brought down and made to display the picture freshly taken—which was surprisingly pretty good. He immediately sent it to his mother. Linda then carried on with preparing for small trip:

“Go out front through the corridor over there; I’ll meet you out front near the car—Em, hurry up!”

The Frenchman grabbed his burgundy jacket and put it on, ready to face and explore the unknown world that was Brisbane.

“Wow…”

He turned around to find Emily gasping in awe: “What’s wrong?”

“Your jacket looks nice… Is that tweed?”

“Oh—thank you. It is tweed indeed!”

“So posh…” she said in full contempt.

They both went through the corridor silently, with each step echoing in the house and in the floor itself. The hallway barely wide enough to contain two people walking side-by-side, in this instance, Emily and Kyroya. He was the first to break the silence:

“Do you know where we’re headed to?”

“Hm?” she shook her head in surprise, “Oh, probably Southbank, and we’ll circle around to your workplace. It’s a bit of a walk…”

“That’s alright, the weather is nice today and I could use a bit of exploring!”

The corridor was lined up with a handful of doors all leading to ancient-looking quarters: bathrooms, bedrooms equipped with bunk beds, another where a mountain of cloth had found its way… At the end of the hall, a circular lounge sofa was amidst numerous old filled shelves, a cluttered desk, and a decrepit piano. Upon arriving in front of the entrance, Kyroya took a minute to figure out the mechanism under Emily’s amused eyes and opened it with pride: “Tadah!”

The young woman stood back, surprised by the sudden display of enthusiasm. They proceeded to descend the stairs; Kyroya took great care as those were steep and unfamiliar. Emily seamlessly shadowed him as though she had scaled and unscaled those her whole life. They both now were on the front garden, with the driveway still cluttered with the wreck Kyroya successfully avoided yesterday. The front of the house was made of white-painted wood, like any traditional Queenslander. The more modern versions had improvements made to the roofs, windows and several other metallic alloys reinforcements added to critical pillars. This one, however, remained untouched save for a few touches of today’s style; some of those were the LED lit stairs and pristine new gutter system. The grass bordering the cement driveway was as patchy as the back garden’s, except some plant pots and other lawn decorations were resting on it. On the right of the house was a gateway leading to the back yard; its entry was protected with a wooden grate.

The young man turned around to see the same black SUV that picked him up last night. It looked like any other vehicle from outside, save for pitch black window tints—surprisingly, there were no bumps nor scratches in the paint. The sun was shining brightly with no cloud in the horizon, yet the temperature was cold enough for Kyroya to remain in his jacket. It was ten in the morning in the beginning of June; France at that time was under sweltering heat—something the Frenchman handled poorly. The suburbs were peaceful; save for the incessant dogs barking in the back yard, the crows relentlessly cawing and the leaves in the trees rustling. On the other side of the street was an establishment looking like what would be a school suited for children; the swing set, the seesaw, and even somehow the sandpit looked to be sized for people that haven’t had their growth spur. Adelia popped out of the black SUV, moving towards Kyroya with dancing skips and steps: “That’s my school right there!” She said while pointing towards the lot.

“This close to your house? You are so lucky,” he whistles, “my parents had to drive me every day to primary school—”

“Yes Adelia, you don’t know the pain of trekking four kilometres to your school on a daily basis—” Emily had a wide grin on her face whilst looking down at her feet.

“That’s because you choose not to take the bus! You wouldn’t walk as much if you took the bus instead of walking!”

“You still don’t know the pain and you may never will—”

“Are you ready guys?” Linda showed up on the second-floor porch holding Cassandra’s hand on top of the stairs, “Get in the car!”

Unsure where to sit, the guest, in his modest position, chose to open the back-seat doors of the car. He was stopped dead in his track with a screeching shout from Linda, getting down the stairs: “Kyroya! You get in front!” he turned around and acknowledged. He proceeded to go around to the right-hand side of the car where he was beckoned a second time: “Are you driving?” asked Emily, looking positively dazed. It took a minute for the Asian to compute that question; every ounce of fog was dispelled once he had opened the car door—driver’s door. He smiled in embarrassment, face palmed, went around a second time with haste to find the seat he was on yesterday.

Linda and Cassidy arrived not a moment later and opened the back-seat door: “Emily, you know Cassie’s too young to sit in the middle.” Adelia rushed in to get the rightmost seat, shortly followed by the young woman, then in came the toddler. After a few seconds of rustling and bustling, all three seatbelts were fastened and secured—at the same time, Linda had taken the driver’s place and responsibilities. Kyroya looked out the windshield and side window; it was high time to discover the heart of Brisbane by day.

 

 

  1. Flood on the Southbank

Linda had driven for nearly fifteen minutes when she broke off the to left in what seemed to be a huge university campus. The trip was punctuated with Cassandra’s singing and random cheerful bursts of voice and unrelenting questions from Adelia to her mother. Those were essentially about where the group was going, what was planned in terms of food for the day and how long the trip was going to last. A stereotypical ten-year-old, Kyroya thought—Adelia wasn’t getting on his nerves; rather, he was wondering if his younger self was behaving the same at that age.

He drew to the conclusion that he was at least ten times as worse.

Brisbane City by day was a sight to behold. The trip from where he was now living—the suburbs— to the centre of the city revealed very modernised and well-maintained buildings and roadworks. The household’s shelter was getting paler in comparison with each passing metre.  Though the gradual increase in building (and investment) from the outer-city to the core was still noticeable, few structures looked poorly upkept. As the car made its way to the heart of Brisbane, the buildings grew taller and built with more expensive material. The most exquisite ones would break one’s neck to look at the top and were made of display glass with a metallic alloy structure. The trait all architectures had in common was the heavy presence of holo-signs emitters—those were littering the outer walls and roofs, like seagull on a pier. Should Kyroya activate his HUD—or anyone else that had not calibrated his systems— an onslaught of visuals would overwhelm his sight. For the moment, the Frenchman wanted his vision to be free of any virtual clutter; his wish was to enjoy the sheen from the unexplored scenery.

Linda had parked the SUV in a visitor’s lot a bit remote from the entrance of the institute. She opened the driver door and consequently opened the leftmost backseat door to unfasten Cassandra’s belt: “We’re here Kyroya! The OIT!”

He got out the car after detaching himself: “The OIT? I was told this was the QUT…”

Emily got out the car after Cassandra had safely reached the ground with her tiny feet. She followed him short after: “It used to be the QUT—the whole campus was recently renamed to the OIT.”

“What does it stand for?”

The young woman paused for a few seconds, trying to get her answer fleshed out: “Oceanian Institute of Technology—its fame and influence has spread throughout Australia and New Zealand as well, hence the name.”

Kyroya acknowledged and peered up the wide and long paved road leading into the institute. The sun was casting the shadow of the numerous trees bordering the path. Several buildings were in sight and were designed following classic roman architecture; white stone, large columns, and heavy engravings on roofs and pillar feet. In the distance, structures of display glass were towering the entire grounds, as though a glass giant had stepped inside the OIT.  The Frenchman whistled as Adelia and Cassandra went ahead hand in hand, gleefully skipping on the huge strip of stone. They were followed short after by Emily—the way she moved whilst walking was a bit odd, almost clumsy; though she still was looking at her feet when doing so. Kyroya turned around and came upon Linda, rummaging in the car. He approached with haste: “Do you need any help?”

“Could you take that bag?” she handed him a small pink Peppa Pig bag, sized for a pre-school child.

“I can… Handle it, yes,” unsure if he was talking about holding the bag, or the embarrassment it induced, “is that Cassandra’s?” he added, sizing the bag while holding it far from his body.

“What makes you say that?” she jokingly asked, “Is it the pink colour?”

He squinted his eyes: “I think it’s more about the size…”

She laughed and got out of the car with a bag in each arm: “Emily, Adelia! Come and get your bags—help me!”

Adelia huddled up with Cassandra for a brief moment then rushed towards their mom. Adelia clutched a blue tote bag and the elder daughter a renewable plastic shopping one. They proceeded down the stone road, walking between the trees in the shade they cast. The area was not crowded save for the handful of people walking around to enjoy the charming scenery and the enchanting weather; a young woman was jogging with her earphones on, a group of friends went by talking about their past night, a couple was pushing a pram… The technology institution welcomed all, from casual strollers to top-tier scientist along with students. The number of holo-signs emitters in the area was toned down as opposed to what the man had seen in the city centre—perhaps to allow a peaceful and relaxed environment for students and other researchers to thrive in.

“It’s so nice to walk here,” said Linda with a relieved voice, “no pop-ups, no signs, no tooltips to be distracted by; just general directions and relevant information… Don’t you think guys?”

“I don’t have my HUD on,” said Kyroya taking the sights in, “but I like the feel to this place—studious, sober yet refined—”

“Why don’t you have it on?” barged Adelia, still holding Cassandra’s arm.

“Erm, well, because I don’t want to use it—”

“Why don’t you want to use it?” she said with great haste.

“It can be a bother at times—”

“How can it be so bothering—”

“Adelia, leave him alone!” Emily stopped the question streak, “Sorry about that, she’s just so impatient to get hers—”

“Em, you have one, but you almost never use it!” Adelia’s passion and eagerness for the systems was getting fiercer by the sentence.

“That’s because I also have my reasons,” replied the slender young woman, “you’ll understand when you’ll get yours—”

“Shut up! Give me yours if you don’t use it then—”

The elder daughter’s voice gained in volume: “That’s not how it works; I’ve explained it to you—”

“That’s enough, both of you!” Both daughters turned towards their authoritative mother, who had taken a stern tone, “Didi, you will get yours when you grow up, if you’re so impatient about it I will not allow it! Em, no need to be so sassy—”

“But I wasn’t being sassy—”

“You were!”, Linda went from relaxed to stern and strict within seconds, “Now can we please have a quiet walk?”

All three daughters carried on with their stroll silently, staring at the ground—though Cassandra didn’t give a care about what was going on. Kyroya’s gaze kept on darting left right and centre as though nothing had happened. It eventually stopped upon Emily’s slender figure, who was sighing and tediously slogging forward. The man approached: “Sister rivalry, huh? I guess the principles are universal…”

She looked up to him for a brief second and stared back at her feet with a grin: “Yeah, right…” She paused for a moment before hesitantly rising her sight on him; he was looking in the distance: “Do you… Do you have any siblings?”

“Yeah—a brother.” He looked at her—she immediately stared at the ground:

“Is he older than you? Or is he younger?”

“He’s older than me; I think he’s around twenty-nine?”

“You think?” she said, amused, “You’re not sure about your brother’s age?”

“Well, I know for sure he’s seven years older than me—what I’m not sure of is my own age.”

Her laugh was contained, producing a panting snake’s hiss. She peered over to him—his face exhibited what she thought was the most genuine of smiles. He quickly corrected:

“I’m joking. I know he’s twenty-nine; I’m twenty-two years old—I mean, last time I checked.”

“Then you don’t know what it is…” She was smiling nervously, still transfixed by her feet.

“Sorry?” His face turned towards Emily, imprinted with curiosity.

“You don’t know what it is to be the first sibling, to have little sisters.”

The Frenchman paused for a second, thinking. He got back to the young woman with what seemed to him an epiphany: “I thought you had a bigger brother? Leon was it?”

“He…” She hesitated, “He left home a year ago,” her feet were shuffling on the ground, “he doesn’t count.”

Kyroya recoiled in surprise: “A bit harsh for him, don’t you think?”

“Well, he shouldn’t have left the house in the first place!” Her tone showed a tinge of anger and remorse, “Plus, he left because he wanted to leave—no one forced him to.”

“Any idea where he went? Is he… Okay?” he asked, worried.

“Oh, he went to live at his girlfriend’s,” she hasted, “he’s fine—he’s just not at ours anymore.”

“Do you not have news from him?”

“Barely,” she sighed, “Mother doesn’t have his number and neither do I. Only Father has it and they don’t speak to each other frequently—or maybe they do, but he doesn’t tell us…”

“Do you…” Kyroya paused a second, wondering if he was asking a bit too much, “Do you have any idea why he left? I know it’s none of my business, I don’t mean to pry—”

“He just wanted to get out of the house, I guess…” she replied quickly under Linda’s watchful eye.

The group had reached the bottom of the large glass buildings, now standing on a huge plaza. A flight of stairs led down in between two large structures. A few touches of vegetation were left here and there, giving a park-like feel to the place. In the immediate distance, rows of palm trees and bushes occulted the path to concrete buildings towering over the grand court. An antique roman structure presided in the centre of the ground, though its precise function was unknown to the Frenchman; he looked up amongst static signs to uncover the mystery.

A huge white blur went past him, leaving a huge gust of wind in its wake—it landed metres away from the group, near tables set outside of what looked like a café restaurant.  The creature was a massive white bird, about Cassandra’s size, with black accents on the tip of its feathers; its beak was long and curved, bigger than a banana. There were several others around the place, swarming around tables and terraces. The Frenchman’s mouth was agape; he raised a finger and pointed towards the volatiles: “What is that!”

He rushed towards the animals and turned around. Emily had shadowed him with an amused smile; he took his phone out to immortalise his first encounter with Australian wildlife: “What. Is. That. Thing—It’s huge!” He took a picture under the curious eyes of the customers on the terrace and stowed his phone away in his orange pants. She peered over to the avian: “That’s an ibis; it eats off trashes and food people throw away—they will try to steal your food if you’re not careful…”

The man stared at the bird, mouth agape: “So those are your pigeons?”

“We have pigeons as well, but I haven’t seen a lot recently… Instead, we have ibises.”

“They’re like—massive pigeons!” His face turned to her; the idea of supersized trash dump birds and his first encounter with a typical Australian creature had him thrilled. He jumped from foot to foot in a springy fashion: “That is so awesome! Look at him! Look at his beak and his tall skinny feet!”

 

“’Him’? ‘His’?” Emily looked to the bird with intent, “You assume it’s a male?”

Kyroya shook his head: “Oh, ‘it’, sorry—common French mistake. We don’t have a neutral pronoun as in English, and ‘bird’ in a masculine noun in French. But I mean—look at it!” he pointed his finger with a demented grin.

The enthusiasm radiating from him made her smile; she looked at the bird in contempt. Even though she had seen those all her life, she now somehow found them amusing.  The way they walked with their ridiculously tall legs was odd, even more so when combined with their alternatively slow to fast head movement. They turned abruptly to predate sandwiches, breadcrumbs, bag of chips or even plastic bags. One was flying with its wings spread—easily spanning over a metre and a half—and landed near a free-flying paper wrap. The animal attacked with his oddly shaped beak to check for content but gave up soon after as it found naught. The Frenchman stopped to look at the young woman: “A friend of mine went to Australia a year ago, and I remember her telling me there was a lot of white birds with black beaks around—”

“Cockatoos?” she corrected.

“Yes! These! I haven’t seen any, though she sent me pictures where their numbers would equal pigeons’… Do you have some here?”

“Not in Brisbane—there are some in Queensland, but they don’t usually flock to Brisbane… There are a lot in cities like Melbourne though.”

“Shame—I hope I get to see one during my stay here though!”

Both Kyroya and Emily were transfixed by the flock of clownish birds while the two youngest daughters and their mother discussed food. Kyroya checked his hybrid watch; the hands pointed four o’ clock—he approached the trio, followed short after by the elder sibling: “It is about time, yes! Are you hungry?”

“We didn’t eat breakfast this morning,” said Adelia and her mom in unison, “and I’m getting hungry!” added Cassandra. Kyroya nodded and looked around for potential food as Linda was in deep thought. She invited the party to gather around: “I have an idea; why don’t we drive to Southbank to picnic? It’ll be nicer there and Kyroya will get to see the path to his work place!”

Didi and her younger sister gleefully agreed with her while Emily expressed how little it bothered her. The first rushed back first before being stopped dead in their tracks by Linda’s shout: “But first we have to see which building Kyroya will work in!”

“Oh, there’s no need, I can find that myself—”

“Nah, we’ll get there while we’re still here; which block did you say it was?”

The party grouped up with Adelia and Cassandra huffing and puffing. The Frenchman got his phone out and trawled for a minute: “I have to be… At the O block, at 9am tomorrow.” He looked on static signs to look for one pointing towards his goal; he soon found one—he followed the direction trailed by the family. It took all of about five minutes to get to the bottom of the building in question; its architecture was complex, nothing Kyroya had seen before. The outer walls were made of coloured concrete mixed with wood panels and were six floors high. On the exterior, a set of lounge couches and tables were installed next to a balcony with a breath-taking view on one of the campus’ exits. Linda beckoned: “See that bridge over there?”

He squinted his eyes and nodded, seeing what looked like a construct over water. Linda turned her face towards him: “That’s the Goodwill Bridge. It leads to the Southbank across the Brisbane river,” she paused, thinking, “that’s the bridge you’ll have to cross to get to work if you take the bus from ours—you’re lucky!”

“How so?” he asked, confused.

“The view from the bridge is amazing! You’ll see it for yourself—let’s return to the car.”

The group turned heels and headed back the way they arrived. As per usual, Adelia and her younger sister were ahead, playing and skipping around the place. The three oldest people of the group hung close to the juvenile spearhead, keeping an eye on them. Em looked over Kyroya:

“Do all French people dress like this?”

“How do you mean?” he asked, putting on trial his choice of clothes.

“I mean, your pants, your shirt, your jacket, scarf— nothing has the same colour and…”

“And what?”

“You kind of stand out…” she muttered slowly under her breath.

Kyroya stared at Emily for a good ten seconds, eyes squinting: “Nah, very few people dress like me—I’m an eccentric guy.”

The young Australian quickly brought accuracy to her statements: “I mean, it looks nice but it’s so out of picture… Does everyone in France wear scarves?”

The man paused to think for a second: “It heavily depends on the season. In winter it’s quite common to wear one, I wear one all year round—”

“You guys have winter!” she asked, eyes full of stars, “How are winters over there? Does it snow? How’s fall? Do the leaves actually go red and fall?”

He laughed: “You ask this as though you had never seen snow nor a cold winter before—”

“I haven’t! Brisbane sucks. Australia sucks. Summers here are horrible and it doesn’t snow in winter—”

“It snowed three years ago,” corrected Linda, “in Canberra though. The coldest Brisbane has seen was ten degrees by night—Emily is right though; summers are impossible to live through here. You came at the right time!”

Adelia and Cassandra came back running. The youngest sibling was in tears; cupping her right knee in her hand. Linda stared at the both with fierce intensity: “What happened!”

“Well, we were playing chase and she tripped and fell,” she said whilst looking away from her mother, “I didn’t do anything!”

Cassie was pouring tears out, shaking uncontrollably under the furious gaze of her mother. After a few seconds of silent retribution from Linda, Kyroya got close to the weeping child and knelt down in pity: “You alright big girl?” he said while brushing some strands of her blonde hair away from her face, “show me your knee!”

The scrape was a minor wound, nothing too serious; she was bleeding a little, but the blood dried quickly. He gazed deep into Cassandra’s clear blue eyes, smiling: “Ha! Made you look!”

The toddler suddenly stopped crying, looking positively confused: “There’s nothing on your knee big gal,” he said with a cartoonish voice, “but I made you look anyway!” he touched her nose with his fingertips. The child started chuckling and quickly came to laugh. Adelia came and took her hand: “Are you okay?” She nodded. “Then let’s play!”

Kyroya got up and turned to both Linda and Emily—both were looking at him admiratively. He rubbed his hands together to dust them: “She’ll need a bit of disinfectant when possible, but it’s just a small scratch—” he stopped, seeing both women were eyes wide open, “what did I do?”

Emily stuttered: “It’s just that—well, you see…”

“You’re good with kids,” completed Linda, “it usually takes her a few minutes to stop crying…”

“Am I? I don’t know,” he shrugged, “I just knew what do to then—I just got lucky!”

Linda grinned, and the group continued to head to the family SUV. Once again, Kyroya went on the wrong side of the car, but aside from that, the departure from the parking lot went without a hitch. After threading and swaying in the heart of Brisbane, the car came to a massive bridge over a large river. Kyroya looked out the window and whistled—Cassandra tried to imitate him, but miserably failed. Adina was playing with her while Emily was silently sitting in the car, peering outside at vehicles and the scenery. The music playing in the car was what could be heard in nightclubs ten years ago—the Frenchman didn’t pay it too much attention as he was transfixed by the overwhelmingly dazing body of water running beneath the suspended construct. The water reflected the sun, creating an ocean of sparkles on the surface of the river. The riverbed was lined with reinforced concrete—the water left a noticeable mark of erosion that was higher than its current level. Some small transport boats were sailing here and there, minding their own business getting from a pier to another.

The traffic was fluid enough to let the bridge be crossed in less two minutes. The other side of the bank looked populated all the same but exhibited a warmer ambience. Perhaps Brisbane came to life after midday, or maybe the abundance of shops, bars, restaurants and other leisure structures majorly contributed to the warmer welcome of this part of town. Linda parked at the end of a huge avenue bordering the riverbank. Upon getting out, Kyroya set his sight upon the huge bustling street surrounded by the numerous establishments. Pedestrians went and came in and out of the shops like ants would their nests. In the distance, the hulking Mater Hospital stood watch while seamlessly nursing its patients back to health. The helipad on its roof was seeing no traffic, to the city’s great relief. To the man’s left was Southbank, decked out with a children’s playground, barbecue stands, benches all of which were resting in shades cast by trees onto the luscious grass. The area was heavily populated, though the scenery remained calming despite the children shouting, the dogs barking, the bikes passing by and many others.

The entire group had gotten out of the vehicle with their respective bags when a thought occurred to the mother: “Kyroya! Have you been to a HUD shop yet?”

He turned to her: “What for?”

“To update your systems; we’ve had foreigners having problems with their displays here—they had to go there to get it fixed apparently—”

“There’s no need,” he interjected with pride, “I took care of that!”

She drew a wide grin: “That’s great! The city puts on a HUD show above the Brisbane River each Sunday at two in the afternoon; it’s something you can’t miss!”

Kyroya considered the possibility with curiosity: “A HUD show? I’ve seen a few in France, they weren’t quite my cup of tea—but I’m willing to try here. What’s it about?”

“Last week was something about Christmas in July, the movie was really touching and cute at the same time. Adina and Cassandra loved it—”

“Wait, they’re allowed to have the systems implanted at their age?”

Linda laughed and corrected: “Nah, I gave them my phone, so they could watch the show too,” she paused for a few seconds to search for the said object in her bag, “anyway, I think this week is about… the recreation of a naval warfare?”

“Pearl Harbour,” added Emily, “they’re casting some animation of the battle in Pearl Harbour.”

Kyroya stood there in awe, wondering how the entire scene could be framed and played out. Were the boats going to be projected on the water? Would he get to see the inside of a Japanese World War Two plane? Will the spectators play as an American sailor? He was now looking forward to it, but not before having eaten something; the Frenchman was digesting his own self from starvation. The family’s mother then offered a godsend: “Let’s sit at the table there—I’ve prepared some sandwiches for today,” she said whilst pointing to a wooden table sided by benches, “I’ve also got drinks—”

“Where’s my bottle?”, asked Adina.

“In your bag Didi—I shouldn’t have had to pack up your bag this morning, you should say thanks! You too Emily!”

“You didn’t have to,” answered the elder daughter, “but thank you mother…” Adelia rummaged though her blue tote bag and retrieved a marine sports bottle which she started chugging from like a drunkard would his pint. They headed towards the miraculously free table and seats and started setting up. To the man’s left was the elder daughter; Cassandra, Linda and Adelia were all sitting on the other side of the table. The mother set her youngest daughter on her knees then retrieved the fabled food from the shopping bag she was lugging around:

“Will you have some Kyroya?”

He hesitated, embarrassed and flustered by the offer: “Erm, it’s alright really—there are a few restaurants and snacks shop over there,” he pointed towards tables and chairs set outside beyond a counter, “I can get something myself—”

“I’ve prepared your share of the sandwiches, don’t be shy!” She extended a generously full aluminium-wrapped pack. He indulged himself, thanking her with the most courteous of bows and the deepest gratitude. Adelia searched inside the bag and retrieved many more of those square packets: “What’s inside mom?”

“Some are with bacon and ham lettuce and tomato, or chicken, take your pick—Don’t open them all!”

She already did and started munching down on the pork-based sandwich when she had found it. Emily picked one from those Didi had pried open and slowly started biting off the edges. Linda was helping the small toddler to eat by dividing her share into small pieces, all while she helped herself to her own. Adelia sung praises of her mother’s sandwich skills while Emily remained focused on eating. Kyroya was looking around between each bite, getting the scenery and the feel for the place in. Southbank was a very lively place to be at, especially Sundays at that time; joggers, family picnics, outings with friends, market stalls, food vendors, everything here reminded the man of a vacation ambience. He’s had the same perception in coastal and very touristic cities in Spain such as Roses or Figueres on the Costa Brava. But what he was living in right now was nothing more than a casual Brisbanite Sunday, right next to the Brisbane River waterfront. In the distance, children and older were swimming in a pool set in the middle of the park. Next to it was a small water park with various fountains and other water-based contraptions. Brisbane was a city geared out for lengthy and arduous summers.

“Mom! Mom! It’s going to start soon, quick—give me your phone!” Pressed Adelia.

Forced out of his bubble, Kyroya looked at his watch; the hands showed six o’ clock. People were gathering near the river’s waterfront, organising as they could to let most viewers enjoy the show. All were converging, effectively creating a human barrier to the stream’s walkway. After putting Cassandra on the ground, Linda stood up: “Are you coming to see the show?”

“I can watch it from here,” said he dreading the crowd building up, “plus, someone needs to watch over our belongings!”

She nodded and handed her phone to Didi after one too many requests. She took Cassie’s hand and followed her second youngest daughter who had speared ahead. Emily squeamishly bit in the small piece of food she had left: “Don’t you want to go and see the show?”

Kyroya rubbed his hands together and sized the crowd that had built up—he lost the trio of his sights: “I can see the show all the same here; they were made to be seen from different perspectives anyway—”

“But don’t you want to be near the action?” interjected the young woman.

“Amidst this bustling crowd? I know I have to adapt to Australian culture, but let’s take it slowly alright?”

She emitted a contained laugh and peered down the table. Kyroya looked her over:

“Besides, why don’t you go and watch as well?”

“I’m fine here; plus, I’m not too fond of HUD shows…” she squeezed her hands in between her long thighs. Her tight-fitting shorts revealed her wide hips and generous legs.

“Well then, let’s see what Ozzy HUD shows are like!”

He led his right hand to the back of his ear and gently pressed his skull for a solid three seconds. The young Australian woman looked at him, amused. Several messages popped up in his sight: Booting K-HUD-Os…OK. Chip integrity check… OK. Glass screen cast… OK. Verifying user data… OK. Pairing with phone… OK. Region parameters… OK.

Welcome back Kyroya.

He smiled proudly: “Alright, everything seems to be order! Let’s see—”

A fierce, burning ache surged in the rightmost back part of his head—the piercing pain quickly spread out to his brain as a sudden brutal headache. He let a short suffering scream as he staggered right and left, while cupping the back of his right ear with his fingers—it felt scolding hot. His HUD interface was severely glitching, blinking and warping—displaying artefacts and shortly after, a battery icon. The searing pain wouldn’t stop.

“Kyroya! Are you alright!” screamed the young woman.

His gaze rose to meet her clear green eyes. His vision soon became clouded with an increasing number of black dots, buzzing around like flies.

Everything went dark. He soon heard the thud of his head collapsing on wood accompanied by Emily’s panicked breath.

 

 

  1. The Daggersby incident

 

Bullets flew over his head as he threw a hand grenade without peeking out of his concrete cover. He slung his assault rifle in front of him and grasped it with unwavering determination. He felt the texture of the customised grip and the weight of the weapon in his hands. He emerged, set his sight down on a soldier striding the desolate battlefield and shot a burst of bullets. The target staggered and fell. He scanned the field for additional targets—bullets hit the ground near him, forcing him into cover once again.

“Honey!”

Time stopped, a menu popping in his vision.  The screen faded, revealing a tall slender red-headed woman: “Still playing those video games I see?” she said, smiling. Freckles were dotting her face as stars do a clear night sky.

“I was the day we married, and I still will the day I die,” the man replied resting his hands on her hips.

“Well, this little soldier had better go pick up his loving daughter up!”

“What—already?” replied the man, surprised.

“It’s four o’ clock,” she said looking at a clock hung on a wall, “school called. Apparently, there won’t be any tutoring today—it’s Friday and the Christmas holidays are right after.”

The man smiled and kissed his wife on the cheek: “Well, I guess I’ve got my mission objectives then!”

He went past his wife and out of the room. She popped her head out: “Daniel!”

He turned his head around, sizing the magnificent face that has appeared out of the door frame:

 “What’s up Alex?”

“You’re cooking tonight! Remember those games you lost to me?”

He did. Strategy games weren’t his strong suit, or maybe Alexandra was Napoleon himself. He lost several matches to her last night, and his wife would never let such an opportunity pass by.

“Damn it; yes, I recall… What would you like to eat?”

“Lobsters!”

He squinted his eyes at her: “Come on.”

“Alright, alright…” she paused for a full minute, deep in thought, “I’d like some salmon—and mushies!”

Daniel snapped with his fingers, persuaded he’d found the answer to every question in the universe: “Pasta, sour cream salmon and mushrooms with a tinge of lemon juice and dill!”

Alexandra walked towards him, ever enticing and enchanting: “You rock.” she kissed him vigorously on the lips. “Go now, go! Before the school thinks we’ve left Lisa out to dry.” The man grabbed his leather coat and his car keys before heading out his apartment door. Winters in the UK, especially near London, were harsh—but today’s weather was mild; the sun radiated throughout the entire city, blinding its entire population with the reflection of the pure white snow that had fallen the past week. Fortunately, the snow plough had skimmed the streets of the Sutton and cleared the roads for cars and other vehicles tending to their businesses in the few days preceding Christmas. The frigid air invigorated Daniel as he breathed it in, empowering every step he made towards his Ford. The sun warmed the man just enough, so he felt comfortable in his lined leather jacket. The family car reacted to his presence with light pulses and welcoming beeps as he neared the vehicle. He opened the right-hand front car door and thrusted himself in the imitation leather seats. The car started up automatically as his HUD systems switched to drive mode. A speedometer appeared on the lower right corner of his vision as an overview of the path to his daughter’s school covered his sight. Daniel pulled the gear shaft far behind; activating reverse and engaged into the streets—he now was underway to pick Lisa up.

As per usual, the father-of-one listened to the newscast on the radio whilst driving—a habit his wife found boring but nonetheless needed. Today’s debate revolved around anti-HUD activists; more or less violently berating the use and production of such systems:

“Heads-Up Displays are seeing a rapid growth spreading across the world; growth that remains today uncontrolled and wild. Today, children are fitted with such devices, stunting their personal growth—this is nothing more than what has been seen in the past with the rise of smartphones…”

Daniel took a sharp turn to end-up in a traffic jam; everyone in Sutton was out to get their descendance in home in time for the first dinner of the Christmas holidays. As he nudged the car forward on rare golden occasions, he sighed and continued to listen:

“With the current integration of HUDs in our daily lives, deleting every trace of it would be impossible. The logical course of action is to press forward to understand the limits and possibilities such technology holds…”

The traffic regained in fluidity; the man would soon be in front of his daughter for her loving embrace. He continued to pay attention while the car progressed slowly in a straight road:

“This ‘technology’, as you call it, is the precursor of many other human-enhancing implants that can spiral out of control should we ignore the threat HUD poses. It is vital for humanity—yes, humanity— in its entirety to impose laws and restrictions for such devices…”

Daniel parked his car in front of the school and got out of the vehicle while all other parents were cooped up in their motorised nests. He walked towards the school’s gates and eagerly waited as a tidal wave of children and toddlers washed over his legs. He squinted his eyes and saw Lisa’s ginger mane torpedoing towards him. He crouched down and lifted his daughter high in the sky. Her skin tone was light and dotted with numerous freckles all over her face. Two emerald pupils were sitting proudly in her eyes, seemingly shining with joy and happiness. She soared as high as Daniel could carry her—she soon was lowered into her father’s loving embrace: “Hey kiddo—”

“Daddy!” she said trying to fully circle him with her tiny arms, “Today was super cool! We drew, and we played musical chairs and we ate cake and—”

He laughed: “Alright, alright, calm down sweetheart! You’ll tell me all about it on the way alright—you know what, I think mommy will want to hear all of this too! Hold on that until we’re home! Get in the car, quick, let’s go! She’s waiting!”

He let her go on the ground; she speared to the car first, waiting for her father to open it. He walked up to it—Lisa opened the back-seat doors and got in with a swift climb. Daniel started the car and got on the way home. Several vehicles went on the same path, creating yet another traffic jam. The radio was running on the same channel while Lisa was playing with a horse made of corks:

“The threat is real; several belligerent activists work in the shadows to highlight and exploit the HUD systems flaws as we speak, we—”

The speaker on the radio was booed before he could finish his statement. The radio jockey then moved onto the next part of the program.

“Daddy?” Lisa called, peering in the rear-view mirror.

“Yes darling?”

“What are we having tonight? I’m hungry…” she said cupping her tiny stomach.

“Oh—right, I almost forgot! We’ve got to go to the supermarket… Want to tag along? I’ll get you a candy!”

She accepted with eruptive joy as the path showing up on Daniel’s HUD altered. He was to take a turn out of the dense traffic to proceed to the grocery store; which took him less than five minutes to arrive. Upon parking the car, he grabbed a plastic basket and proceeded to gather cream, pasta, salmon and mushrooms. When he got to the cashiers, Lisa arrived short after, weeping—he had forgotten about her. He crouched down:

“Oh dear, darling, are you okay? I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry!”

“I thought you— I thought you…”

Many judging eyes came upon him, eyes belonging to numerous shoppers came to gather supplies for the upcoming holidays. He embraced the weeping child:

“I didn’t leave you, I’m sorry Lisa, please forgive me…”

He looked around, confused and panicked, seeking a way to pacify his daughter. He came upon a massive candy cane—he clutched it and presented it to her:

“Look at that,” Lisa’s glistening clear green eyes rose, “this is yours, and I’ll give you a bouncy piggyback ride!”

Lisa contained her last tears and started slightly grinning: “A really bouncy one?”

“The bounciest you’ve ever had!”

“Yay!”

She wiped away the leftover tears off her face and donned her usual pure innocent smile. Daniel felt relieved from all the judgemental stares and started carrying two bags of goods after paying. He crouched down, allowing Lisa to monkey her way up to his back. On the way to the car, the father did the best he could to jump his highest without tripping and compromising his daughter’s safety. She bounced far up and close to the ground, giggling and laughing hysterically. He stowed her in the car along with both plastic bags and went to the driver seat after making sure her seatbelt was secure. As he started driving, Lisa pawed at the packed fish whilst licking her massive candy cane:

 “Is this what we’re having tonight?”

Daniel nodded: “Yep—mommy’s favourite! I’ll add something extra, I think you’ll love it dearie!”

Her face started to darken as she stared down the car floor: “I was so scared… I followed the arrows and I found you but… I was so scared!”

“Sweetie…” the silence set up between them for a long moment as the child was mulling the past moment over and over as a broken record does. Daniel suddenly snapped with his fingers.

He parked the car on the side of the road and unbuckled Lisa. He carried her to the driver’s seat and sat her on his knees:

“Get your hand there and there,” he said pointing at ten and two o’clock on the wheel, “you’ll drive with daddy today!”

The holidays were right around the corner—there was very little chance Daniel would get caught for such an action. Plus, he did so for a right cause: his daughter’s bliss. Lisa’s tiny hands gripped the highlighted spots as her father cupped them with his seemingly massive hands. He attached the seatbelt so as it tightened both of them, squeezing the child’s back to his torso. After activating his signal, he carefully engaged on the road; Lisa’s smile came back along with giggle and chuckles, imprinted with immaculate joy and untouched purity. She remained fairly tame as she only let her father control the car’s steering, but she felt this day would be a day she’d remember forever.

Upon their arrival at their home’s parking lot, Lisa took her school bag and rushed ahead to the apartment block entrance. Daniel gathered both bags and locked the car with his departure. He swore he’d never lose his daughter like this again; he would install an app on his HUD systems to always remind him she always exists—at all times. After opening the display glass door, they climbed up three flights of stairs to reach their welcoming warm haven. As they opened the door, Alexandra scooped her daughter up:

“Hey there my little baby! How are you doing? What did you do today? Tell me everything!”

They both went to sit in the living room, crumpled in the comfortable leather couch while Daniel proceeded to prepare to prepare the first dinner of the holidays. He sliced the salmon and mushrooms after he set a pot of water to boil. He quickly stir-fried both ingredients and added cream, dill and lemon—he set the heat to low, waiting for the scents and flavours to seep in the thick liquid. Once the pasta was done, he proceeded to serve the sauce in a separate bowl from the pasta. He pondered over the dinner table for a second and got the parmesan cheese out the fridge; the so-called extra touch he promised Lisa.

“Dinner m’ladies!” he said with a posh voice, “Dinner is now served!”

Both women, juvenile and older, entered the kitchen while the man pulled their seats:

“Divine pasta served with its rich cream of salmon and mushroom with an enchanting touch of lemon and dill! Please, enjoy.” He first seated Alexandra and left her with a peck on the cheek. He got near Lisa and lifted her up in the air to set her on the chair, which he pushed straight after. He sat on the chair next to her and started serving generous portions to each family member—him included.

Dinner went by as Lisa counted her many adventures she’s had at school and beyond. Upon hearing she was lost at the supermarket, Alexandra stared daggers into Daniel’s soul—but her wrath was soon quenched when she heard about her driving the car under her father’s supervision. The dishes were soon emptied though the conversations still were going strong. Alexandra gazed out a window and yelled:

“Snow! Snow is falling outside! Let’s go, let’s go!”

The family went out for a walk in Sutton’s streets, well frequented at this time of the evening. Christmas decorations were lighting up roads and establishments in a myriad of colours, warming up the ambience despite the frigid cold reigning over the city. Lisa was skipping in the snow and occasionally threw snowballs at her parents, walking hand in hand trying to enjoy their first walk of the Christmas holidays. On the umpteenth snowball that hit him, Danial suddenly released Alex’s hand and grabbed the child by the hips; he then jumped into a patch of tall and thick snow. He started to dump snow at her as a dog would dig a hole in the ground. Lisa, overwhelmed with crystallized water, couldn’t move and couldn’t stop laughing her heart out either. She soon was tackled to the ground into the snow, her father lying on his back beside her. He then swung his arms and legs up and down, drawing a snow angel in the ground; Lisa was soon to follow up.

They both got up and stared at the results of the mayhem and chaos. They hugged lovingly under Alexandra’s benevolent eyes. They continued walking in the streets until they reached a park, frequented by a dozen people, enjoying their night out, or making their way home.

Their HUD systems acted up, showing a Caucasian white male with massive bags under his eyes. He was bald, around his thirties. He started speaking:

“Good evening fellow British men,” he said with a high, squeamish voice, “my name is Michael Daggersby, and I am the head of an Anti-HUD group called Daggerstare.”

The family huddled up, confused as to what do to.

“Recent days—years—have seen the development and proliferation of HUD systems within mankind. Such expansion remained uncontrolled and unsecure, as opposed to what top-tier researchers, state leaders, and engineers say.”

They all looked to each other in distress, their visions cluttered with the man’s face.

“The stunt I am pulling right now tries to prove my point in a very convincing fashion. But accessing HUD implants are a child’s game—the real danger lies in what could be done from there.”

Their gazes darted around, looking for help amongst the crowd and themselves; everyone seemed to be as alarmed as they were.

“For instance, I could just display a slew of pop-ups to cover your vision—have you ever been blind in your life? Untamed HUD systems can lead you there.”

A flurry of artefacts appeared, effectively blinding the family. Police and ambulance sirens started going off.

“Have you thought of the effect that could have on people poorly accommodating to the system? Allow me to demonstrate what they could go through—but before that; remember that we fit those dreaded systems on our children, grandparents and our family, regardless of age, condition and age… You have brought this upon yourself. Again, my name is Michael Daggersby. I bid you farewell.”

A violent, piercing searing pain took over Daniel’s head. Lisa began screaming in agony as Alexandra grabbed her head in-between her hands, staggering. Random pedestrians tumbled and fell to the ground, writhing and arching in silent suffering. The father went down on all fours in the snow, screaming from the ever-increasing headache. Cars crashed left right and centre in trees, benches or shops. Suddenly, an electric shock. He crumpled in the snow with Lisa’s inanimate innocent face in sight.

As he woke up, he still had a burning sensation inside his head, vision blurry. He recognised Alexandra’s fiery red hair spilt on the ground. He crawled towards her; she was still conscious, heavily panting: “Daniel… Daniel,” she muttered with all of her might, “I can’t feel my legs nor my arms—I can’t… I can’t move…Lisa…Lisa! How’s Lisa!”

He gathered all of his willpower to make his way to his daughter, lying inert in on the snow-covered floor. She was still breathing but wouldn’t respond to any calls nor hails he was addressing. Sutton was crippled within moments as chaos unfurled in many forms; screams of agony, calls of distress, car crashes, mourning cries—a nightmare had befallen on the city and its inhabitants.

It took about four hours of patience and suffering in the blistering cold for the ambulances to begin functioning and start gathering victims across the barren city. Once inside the hospital, male doctors slogged their way between patients and emitted diagnostics aided with artificial intelligence scan. With a grim face a doctor told Daniel his and his family’s:

“Sir… Your… your wife has lost all motor skills from the head down. Her HUD systems were wired to her entire body; upon overheating, a lot of nerve damage was done.”

He cupped his head and grabbed Alexandra’s hand—she could not feel his warmth nor grasp. The cold was not the culprit on this occasion. Alexandra turned what she could—her head, weeping:

“What about our daughter… Lisa? Lisa Reynolds?”

The doctor trawled through his data pad and held it close to his chest, head staring towards the floor as his face became dark:

“Her vitals are stable but…”

“But what doc?” pressed the father.

“There is no more brain activity. She’s brain-dead, sir.”

Daniel felt this day would be a day he’d remember forever.

 

 

 

 


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