At peace, she looked at Jack, seeing that same happiness in the faint lines just now starting in about his eyes, seeing the reaffirmation that they belonged together. He wants to retire? She wished this would never end, but she’d be content if she could hold on to it forever and never forget.
“Did you remember to plug in the car?” Peri asked as she trundled her overnight bag past the row of Sity bikes waiting for warmer weather. Her building loomed over her, and she couldn’t wait to be back in her apartment, finding herself.
Looking tired, Jack pocketed their access card and held the door for her. “As always.”
The stairs were unheated, and it was cold despite the low February afternoon sun shining into the glass and cement stairway of the residential tower. Peri’s bag thumped up the steps behind her, conspiring to make her shoulder ache and her black eye pound. They could take the elevator, but it was slow and their apartment was only one flight up.
She’d picked the place out five years ago, liking the balcony overlooking the engineered pond and surrounding shops and restaurants collectively known as Lloyd Park. Even then her job had paid enough that she could have afforded one of the larger units on the top floor. But she couldn’t jump out of a top-floor window and survive the landing. The second floor, on the other hand, was perfect. Jack had moved in six months after becoming her anchor, but it still felt like hers.
Jack jogged past her on the stairs at the last moment, his dress shoes scuffing as he got to the fire door. “I said I’d bring that up for you,” he said, and she puffed her bangs out of her eyes.
“And I said I had it,” she muttered, her mood bad. She hurt, and that brought out the worst in her.
“As you wish,” he said, his dry humor making her smile as he pushed open the fire door. He’d been distant and preoccupied since defragmenting the draft, and a return to his normal, cheerful self was a relief. Perhaps he was worried about Bill. Their handler was a stickler about her mental state, demanding tests and sessions when their earned downtime would accomplish the same thing.
Peri followed Jack into the warmer hallway, giving the solar panel–covered, snow-edged parking lot shared by the twin residential towers a last look as it glowed in the setting sun. Detroit was a pretty backdrop, Opti a short ride in by magnetic rail or car. Much better, Peri thought, remembering streets so choked with cars that you couldn’t drive, and then the frightening emptiness when everyone who could left.
She’d watched Detroit falter, was there when the city fathers tore it down to use the old infrastructure to create defined pockets of clean industry, commerce, and housing, then connected them with green relief and quiet transport all layered over the original foundry steel. Though still known for her cars and music, Detroit had become home to the developing human and technology interface industries. Her Mantis was a part of that, a pretty, monstrous bauble that showcased Detroit’s new technologies. Hiding the Opti military installation amid the new medical park hadn’t been difficult.
Unlike many of the restructured areas, there hadn’t been a landmark used as a stylistic cornerstone at Lloyd Park, but Peri loved the Frank Lloyd Wright theme gone neon that the architects had played with. The stark patterns of angles and lines were everywhere from the streetlights to manhole covers to the roof over the taxi charging stations, even the fencing around the park. But it was at the nearby commons where the neon took over. Surrounded by high-end shops and eateries, the red, gold, green, and white blazed loudly between the ever-changing e-billboards and big-screen communications monitors to keep the courtyard alive with people even in the dead of winter. The façade of her building continued the neon theme, and though the style was heavy in the lower common areas, it was a mere hint in her apartment.
Just enough to make a statement, she thought when the fire door clicked shut behind them. She was glad to be back—impatient to do something normal. Having lost six weeks, she felt as if she was coming home from an extended vacation, not three days. The shadow of cat feet moved back and forth at the crack under the door, and she smiled. Jack had named the stray, thinking it hilarious to call the cat after a late-night TV skit character who could divine the arcane. “Hi, Carnac,” Peri said, and his meows grew louder.
“I think he’s in love with you,” Jack said as he opened the door and Carnac came out, tail high as he wove between her feet, the bell on his collar ringing.
“Sorry, sweetie, I’m a speciesist,” she said fondly to the marmalade cat, and they followed Jack in.
“Change setting. Weekend,” Jack said loudly to shake the apartment out of extended-leave mode, and the environment computer dinged, recognizing him and turning up the heat.
Peri’s shoulders slumped in exhaustion as Jack called for more light, and she trundled her overnight bag into the large, open-plan, high-ceilinged apartment. Leaning against the wall, she unzipped her boots and kicked them out of the way. Her feet stretched, pressing against the hardwood floor in relief. It was cold. She should’ve called ahead and gotten the house warmed up when they crossed the Michigan border.
The spartan apartment felt spacious, decorated with solid blocks of color, mostly whites and grays with some teal and brown for contrast. There was a big screen with a gaming console for Jack, and a formal dining table for her that they never used. A ball of yarn and a project she didn’t remember starting sat in the crook of the couch, hidden like the compulsive behavior therapy it was. Scarf? she wondered, eyeing the scrumptious red yarn in passing and thinking it was a good match with the gloves in her bag.