Aphelion Issue 281, Volume 27
March 2023
 
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Perfect City

by Vanessa Kittle





Jas was eating his breakfast when his mother and brother came into the kitchen. Ari had a stupid smile on his face. Jas' mother asked him, "Why aren't you dressed yet?"

"Why do I got to get dressed?"

"We have to go to the park now. You know it's our day."

"I don't want to go. I'm not going."

"If we all don't go they charge us. You gonna pay the fee?"

Jas slammed his fist on the table, spilling his cereal and white milk. "I won't!" Ari was smiling at him like a moron and was hooking in. By the faraway look in his brother's eyes, Jas could tell that Ari was messaging all his friends and posting a video. Jas sat up straight and said very calmly, "Fine." He glared at his brother.

Jas hated the park so much. He could still remember their trip last year. It was gross. He asked Jen, "We don't have to go to school today, right?"

"You get a half day."

Ari whined, "That's not fair. We get a whole day!" Jen turned to him. She looked all tired or sick or something. Jas hooked in to post a video of Ari in case he was about to do something funny, but Ari saw him connecting and he just stood there instead being all boring like always.


* * *

Down below their apartment they waited at their station in the long line for the sub. Jas was killing snags in Perfect City. Ari was somewhere, too, but not Perfect City. This old connection sucked so bad. Jas kept bouncing back midswing with his club, and he had to keep his hand pressed over his port behind his ear or he would get logged off. He wasn't about to bring his good hookup to the stupid park.

They were just able to fit into the car. They would have to stand the whole way and it was really hot. Jas thought someone must have crapped themselves. It stunk so bad in there, and it was hard to breathe. The whole way this creep guy kept bumping him. Jas yelled, "Get off!" The guy pretended he didn't hear. Jas got logged off when he yelled and he wished he could club the loser like a snag. When he got back on he had to start the whole level over again.

At the park entrance, they stood in a long line to get scanned. The woman with the scanner kept saying, "Your period is from 9 to 10. Visitors must scan out at 10 to get credit. Connections are disabled in the park." Ari looked pretty mad when he heard that. Obviously, he didn't remember from last year. Jas grinned at him.

The line slowly moved forward now and they stepped out into the bright open space of the park. It was surrounded by walls. There was no way out and no way to connect to Perfect City or any other site. They had to stay for a whole hour! Jas wanted to run, but there were so many people still coming up through the sub entrance, and Ari would make fun of him forever if he tried. Jas' hands were in tight fists. His nails were digging into his palms and it hurt so he tried to relax. He looked down. His feet were wet. Gross! That stupid grass they had was all wet. So gross.

When he looked up, he was staring right at this girl about his age. She was from his class! He'd never seen her in the dull world, only in class, but he was still sure. In school, your avatar had to be made from a real picture of you. What was her name? Yeah, it was Lissa. Her seat was in the front left row. She looked better somehow in the sun. That was weird. Most stuff was uglier in the dull world. Not her. Her hair was real dark black and shiny, and her skin looked almost as good as it did in class. She was bending down to get a good look at one of the stupid robot squirrels they had in the park. They even had robot bugs here. Who cared about bugs?

Jas thought that he would like to say something to Lissa. He went over to her. When she stood up and turned around they were right face to face. She kind of jumped back. Maybe he was standing too close. He said, "Hey. You're in my class."

"Yeah. That's right."

Jas thought he should say something else. He couldn't think of anything cool. He said, "That's pretty weird, right?"

"What?"

"We both had to come to the park today."

"Oh, yeah. I guess it is." She smiled and giggled.

He was doing well. He wanted to do even better. He asked, "You like those squirrels?"

"I guess. It's nice to be able to pet them. It feels different than petting stuff in Perfect City."

"You're on Perfect City!"

"Yeah."

"I just got my last upgrade surgery. I can get into the adult areas. You want to go after school?"

"I haven't had my upgrade yet. I'm not 18 until June." She looked down at her feet.

He said, "That's ok. We can go to the beach or something. I'll add you."

She gave him a smile. "Yeah, cool. All right, I'll see you in class," she said, and she went off to walk around with her mother.

When Jas turned to find his family, Ari was staring at him with his mouth open. He said, "Watch out or you'll swallow a robot fly," but Ari didn't get the joke. Jas had heard it on Perfect City and thought it was funny.


* * *

For once, as he logged into his classroom, Jas was actually looking forward to it. He saw Lissa right away in her usual seat. She appeared just after he arrived. He was hoping she would look back at him but she didn't. Their stupid teacher, Danees, appeared at the front of the room now. She sent them all their Governor's biology test scores. Jas opened his message and saw that he had passed with a 72. He had a request now for a 1 on 1 with Danees. He accepted. He sort of had to.

Their private room was as plain and boring as you could make it. That was what school was all about. It was just a square box with him sitting in his regular classroom seat and Danees standing in front of him. She said, "You filled out your test wrong. You need to do it again right now the way I sent you last week."

"Why? I passed. What do you care?"

She said, "I'm not getting marked down for your lousy score." She was glaring at him with a real nasty expression. He bet she was ticked in the dull world, too. He wished he could post a video of their room. She looked pretty funny.

He said, "I don't need the Gov diploma anyway. I already got set. I'm gonna be a spammer for Perfect City!"

"You're going to fill the test out right or I'll refer you down."

"Fine, I'll do it."

"You still got the file I sent you?" she asked.

"Yeah."

"Well you better get to work then."

Jas had to fill out the whole stupid test again. This time he did it more carefully with Danees' answers. He would get an 80 or something. Whatever. He didn't finish until class was almost over--just in time to send Lissa a Perfect City invite. It said, "Got your bikini?" He might get a ding for using PC in class but he didn't care. There were only 2 months left until graduation.

Lissa answered back pretty quick, "You know it ;)."


* * *

Lissa was already there on the beach when Jas logged on. He joined her zone. It said it was Coney Island. That sounded kind of stupid, but he mapped her and ran up the beach to her location. There were all sorts real tall metal or plastic things nearby that he didn't recognize. They were playing some kind of kids music. There weren't many people in this zone. Jas wasn't surprised. Then he had a cool thought. He wondered if she had picked it because it would be dead, so they could be alone together.

She was lying on a blanket on the sand near the water. There were little waves that made noise and white foam as they came up onto the beach. Jas thought that was kind of annoying, but Lissa's avatar was smoking hot. She was in a tiny black bikini. He skin was perfect and smooth and browned like if there was sun. She sat up a little when she saw him. She asked, "What do you think?"

"Hot."

She did a laugh and said, "I mean the place."

"Oh."

"It's near the city in the dull world, did you know that?"

"No. Never heard of it. It's kind of dead."

"Duh. You want to try swimming. Or do you want to get on the blanket with me."

"Blanket," Jas said, but just then another kid came walking up and stood next to him.

The guy said to Lissa, "What are you doing here with this loser?"

"Jas is from my school. He has an adult hookup to PC."

"Big deal, I get my surgery next month."

"Well, maybe I'll see you then."

Jas did a laugh. He sent the guy a snag killing challenge with the bet set to 100. The guy refused the challenge and logged off before Jas could tell him, 'that's what I thought.' He lied down on the blanket next to Lissa. Everything got very quiet. All he could hear was the water and the far away music from the plastic things. He decided to go for it. He leaned in and kissed her and she kissed him back! He had never done this before for free. It was awesome. His adult upgrade made it feel so much better. He started to pull her bikini down, but she backed away. She said, "Not now."

"Come on."

"Maybe tomorrow."

"All right," he said, "Hey, do you want to do something later."

"I can't get on tonight."

"I mean in the dull world."

"Oh, no, Jas. I like it better here. Don't you?"

"Yeah," he said, but he wasn't sure. He said, "Okay, I'll see you tomorrow then."

"Maybe you can get me into the adult? They have guest passes at this club. I checked."

"Okay, sounds good," he said, then he logged off. His brother was in his own room. His mom was still at work in her room. He stared out his bedroom window. It was starting to get dark. There was nothing out there to see anyway. He went invisible and logged back in. He would kill a lot of snags tonight.


THE END


2014 Vanessa Kittle

Bio: Ms. Kittle is a former chef and layer who lives on Long Island with her evil cats; Lama and Sombrero, and her more evil partner, Erin. She has published 2 collections of poetry: Apart, and Surviving the Days of the Empire, both with The March Street Press. Her work has recently been in The New Renaissance, Contemporary American Voices, Nerve Cowboy, Limestone, Ibbetson Street, and A Generation Defining Itself anthology. She has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. Her first novel, Elaenorh, has just been published by Double Dragon Publishing.

E-mail: Vanessa Kittle

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