Jason’s brain felt fuzzy. That’s the only word he could think to describe it. He was in a house of some kind. It felt familiar though. It took him a long time but as he moved through its hallways he realized it was his home. The only place that ever had been a home. It had been over twenty years since he’d been here physically., but whenever they tried to make him do something he didn’t want to do, this was where he’d always go. He’d imagine he was home again, with Mom making him the “special” bread he loved.
That‘s right, this wasn‘t real. It had to be a dream of some sort. But, if it was another dream, that would mean his mother would be here. “Mom? Moooom?” Jason began searching the house. She had always been here before, when he came to escape what the real world. But something was different from the way he remembered this place. It was as if it had been abandoned for years. Dust covering every square inch. The door creaked open as he entered his parent’s bedroom. His mother wasn‘t there. He went to his bedroom. She wasn’t there either. He went to the kitchen. She was nowhere to be found. “Mooooooom! Where are you?”
Jason choked back a tear. He went into his parent’s bedroom and sat on their bed. He picked up the photograph his mother had on the nightstand. He passed his hand over the dusty frame clearing up the time worn photograph of Mom and Dad holding up their little boy. He didn’t know why, but Jason started crying. Every time he came here during those dark days, she had always been here to comfort him. Why wasn’t she here now? He wanted to see her more than ever before.
His mind searched for reasons. He looked in the mirror. He was a man now. When was the last time he came here? He couldn’t remember an exact date, but he recalled last mentally visiting this place of refuge when he was still learning how to fire a rifle properly. Had it really been that long? He felt ashamed.
Knock. Knock. Knock. Jason glanced up and rubbed the salty drops from his eyes. Wasn’t he dreaming? Why would someone knock at his door in a dream? He put the picture back on the nightstand and dried his eyes. He opened the door and his eyes opened wide.
Average Height. Golden blonde hair spilling past her shoulders. Leggy. Chesty. More curves than a sine wave. It was her, the Girl. What was she doing here? He wasn’t complaining, mind you. He was just confused. She gave a bright smile that made his heart skip a beat.
Jason asked her why she was there. “I’m moving my stuff into here and I’m helping you fix up this place, Jason. It’s sorely needed.” When he inquired about what stuff she was moving in, the Girl produced a dolly with several boxes on it and waltzed right in, casually requesting his help in getting all her stuff into his room. Jason could feel something strange was going on, but he didn’t care all that much. The girl of his dreams was here, talking to him, and asking for his help to move some heavy boxes. Only an idiot would start asking questions!
He helped her move her things into his old room. She informed him that she would be residing there for a while and he made no complaints. He could just sit sleep on the one couch his parents had. You make sacrifices for a girl as perfect as her.
Over the next few days he got to talk with her a lot. The Girl really helped him get his mind off of how much he missed his Mom. She just seemed to know so much about the world. Fashion. Movies. Music. Dance. Culture. He was learning so much from her just from listening.
The more he talked to her, the more relaxed he felt. Casual conversation was never something he got to enjoy in Crescendo. As the Girl talked he felt closer and closer to her. She understood him. She in turn, asked a lot about his parents, especially his mother. She was able to coax out of Jason the truth about how much he missed his mom. Though the Girl had no information on how to find her, she suggested that they should at least fix up the small home for when his mother returned. Jason whole-heartedly agreed.
The next few days were spent cleaning the neglected surfaces, patching up cracked walls, and fixing broken appliances. The Girl also spent some time updating the deco of the aging home. She would leave for a few hours and return with cans of paint and simple, but new handles and knobs. As most of the locks seemed to have aged and rusted, she replaced those as well, giving a safer feel to the place.
As the days turned into weeks she pulled Jason from the safety of his restored home and into the world. She started off by having lunch with him at a high-end coffee shop. There he learned to interact with people beyond those who were assigned to be his teammates. The feeling of the place was one of formality though. The Girl explained that these kinds of places were government sanctioned businesses, mostly frequented by the elites. While they were good for the occasional cup, it wasn’t some place people like them would be able to afford too often.
Afterwards she took him to a shopping center where there were stores stacked upon stores, all catering to the elite classes exquisite tastes. Some stores specialized in clothing for formal events. All the dresses and suits were hand-tailored and made of silks and fine linens. He was surprised to find out that some of those outfits could cost a common man’s full yearly salary.
Other stores had more casual clothing. These were mass produced by machinery, advertising a certain “brand,” though Jason was informed that they all came from the same parent company, Garner Incorporated. Each brand was supposed to have its own style, but it all ended up looking the same to Jason.
The next day, the Girl took Jason to the lower markets that the elites avoided at all costs. “Here is where the real fashion is,” she informed Jason. He agreed. The clothing was simple, never having more than two colors; but the clothing was always vibrant and full of expression. The lower market styles always seemed to push against the trends of the elite, as if defiant of their culture. The Girl tried on many outfits, asking Jason for commentary. He thought she looked good in them all. Undeterred, she taught him about coordinating colors and using styles that complimented a person’s features. After a few visits, Jason could pick out an outfit as well as her. She seemed most pleased by this.
After his mastery over fashion, the Girl did not seem content to stop his education there. He was quite excited and simultaneously terrified to learn she wanted to take him dancing. While he wanted to learn, he had no idea how. “We’ll take it slow. Let me show you something,” she happily chirped. The pair sneaked into the rafters of a fancy ballroom on the affluent side of town. The music was even, smooth, and familiar. It was also was very old music, having been around long before Jason was ever born. As the elites danced in their fancy dresses and well-kept suits, the Girl pointed out that he had to ignore the practiced elegance of the dances and focus on their faces. They were rigid and expressionless, as if going through the motions.
The next day she took him to a popular club. There the rich youth danced away the night, moving their bodies without thought or deliberation. There was nothing practiced about their motions. But the music they danced to sounded processed: synthesizers, autotuners, generic beats, female singers with the exact same breathy voice, boy bands all harmonizing the exact same way, lyrics with all the flavor of chewed bubble gum, and messages with all the depth of a puddle. “You can only make it as a band if your songs get played over the airwaves. The only way you get on the airwaves is if you’re approved by the Musical Oversight Board. They don’t want music that pushes the envelope or tries anything new. New and different can be dangerous for the establishment. Tomorrow I’ll take you to where the real action is.”
The Girl kept her promise. The next night she took him to the decaying side of town, the Rustways. He tried to voice his objections, as the Rustways was notorious for violence caused by the various local Rabbles. She just laughed at him and told him the media reports were exaggerated. They walked on foot to an abandoned textile factory, only for Jason to find it wasn’t so abandoned.
On the cold cement floors there were several dozen low-class youth dancing the night away to music that Jason had never heard before. The dancing was very similar to what he had seen in the clubs, but the music grabbed him: it was filled with electric guitars, the rhythms were highly experimental, the speed at which the songs were played tested the skill of the musicians, and the lyrics had meaning behind them. Some songs exposited on the difficulties of living in the lower classes, some about the disillusionment of ever being able to attain your dreams with the current societal setup, and a few were openly hostile to the SOC itself. He couldn’t believe how free the atmosphere felt here, away from the eyes of the government.
She taught him how to dance. He was resistant at first, but soon found himself on the makeshift dance floor with the Girl of his dreams. He felt silly, moving his body in front of others in ways that weren’t very soldier like. But with his Girl guiding him along, he soon was stepping to the beat. She would have him mimic her as she shimmied and swayed and after a few trips to the Rustways he was dancing just as well as her.
As the weeks passed, the Girl and him kept meeting in the poorer neighborhoods where most of society was relegated. In the Rustways, markets, workplaces, and homes of the commoners Jason saw first hand the results of the SOC’s tyranny. There was so much red tape between them and the Elites that they stood little chance. If you did well enough in school you might get accepted to one of the Science Academies. You did well enough there, you even had a chance get recruited by the SIM. If you rose through the ranks of the SIM, then your ticket to becoming one of the few to rise into the Societal Elites would be punched.
If you didn’t do well in school though, a man could become a soldier in the military. If you survived the battles you could get promoted. Officers at least made enough to join the small percentage of the population that was truly middle-class. Women could apply to the Linguistics or Secretarial Colleges, get recruited as communications or executive secretaries and eek out a decent enough living.
If that didn’t work though you could try to get a coveted service job. The pay wasn’t very good but you at least didn’t have to work twelve hour days like those who were stuck working in the factories. “It doesn’t matter what kind of job you get. Unless you end up working on the black market, and believe me that isn’t exactly the best work environment either, you’re playing the game on Society’s terms. But, the game is what it is. No sense in complaining about the deck handed to you. Just need to put your head back and ” And as Jason’s money supply dwindled, the time came for him and the Girl to play the game.
He resisted. His time amongst the people had helped open his eyes. He was beginning to feel guilty for his own role in protecting the corrupt government. But the Girl was being more realistic, “If we don’t have money to eat, we will either starve or start to steal for food. If you are going to follow Ms. Winters and start atoning for your past, you need to be strong. More importantly, you need to learn to blend in. Resistance members can’t be underground all the time. A day job will be the perfect cover. I know a place that owes me some favors. C‘mon, I can get us some jobs.”
Jason’s eyes went wide. How did she know Dr. Winters? As they walked he inquired for more information. She was a bit dodgy on her history with Dr. Winters, but was quite vocal about how she trusted her. Before he could find out more, they were at the door of one of the clubs filled with young Elites and bland music. She told him to wait there. When she came back, she had somehow gotten both of them jobs serving drinks and food to the patrons.
Jason was awful at the job at first. He could balance a tray well enough, sure, but he struggled moving through crowds with drinks on his tray, keeping orders straight, and especially holding casual conversation with customers. He thought he’d try using small talk like when he visited the coffee shops and markets with the Girl, but he soon found out he was wrong. She lectured him, “Talking to patrons is different than talking to random people you meet. They are the customer, you need to make them feel at ease. Compliment them. Flatter them. It doesn’t matter, you just need to put them in a situation where they feel confident and important. Especially Elites.”
He watched her work. She’d always find something to compliment them on. Their hair, their outfit, their muscles, their glasses, their intelligence; the key was she always started them off with a friendly greeting and a compliment. She’d always act so impressed by them, using a jealous-sounding voice with female customers and a flirty one for the boys. No matter who it was though, they seemed to always like her; the Girl just knew how to make them feel important. As he observed her, Jason began to mimic her approach. After a few days, he was flattering just as good as her.
Next she worked on his concentration. “The reason you can’t remember your orders well enough is that you’re used to singling in on a target and that target alone. As a waitress you gotta be able to think about multiple things at once. By the time you get to the counter, you’ve focused so much on other things that you’ve forgotten the order. This will be even more important later on so practice hard.
The blonde bombshell slid through the crowd effortlessly, “C’mon Jason. You were a sniper, right? You had to anticipate movement of a single person there. It’s the same thing now, just with multiple people. You should be great this!” He hadn’t thought of it like that before. He wasn’t sure why, but thinking of everyone as a target simplified everything for him. It took a couple of nights of practice, but soon he could feel the flow of the crowd and move with the currents of people.
Once Jason had the art of navigation down, she started working on his posture. She trained him to keep his back straight and to hold the light plate on the tips of his fingers. He felt it was easier to fully grip it, but she pointed out how much more refined her way look. Plus when she did it with a large amount of drinks, the patrons sometimes would be impressed and throw a little more extra in for a tip. Jason actually felt the extra tips were due to the fact she looked amazing in a skirt, but he wasn’t going argue. In time, he was serving drinks with the same flare that she had. He was pleasantly surprised to find that his tips increased dramatically too.
The Girl made sure to coach Jason on listening in on conversations. While the kids of the elites weren’t the most well connected, they tended to overhear things that could be useful. From things as benign as where to find good deals on clothes, to valuable information like where the Supra-national Police were cracking down recently. The more Jason listened, the more he found himself getting a picture of what was going on in the greater community. Gossip on what Elites were cheating on their wives. How business was doing for one of the local conglomerate barons. When some military bigwig plans on coming into town. The information was quite valuable to the right people.
The weeks turned into months. Every day felt like a fresh start on life. The Girl had opened his eyes to a happier life. They eked out a meager living, but he was free. Nothing else mattered to him. The only thing that bothered him was how he no longer felt the intense physical attraction to the Girl. The longer he was with her, the more he related to her. She had taught him so much, he couldn’t think of her as just a beautiful girl that took his breath away. She was more than that now. She was almost like a mentor, despite the fact she was obviously much younger than him, barely out of her teenage years.
One day, he started getting ready for work when the Girl walked in and stopped him. “We’re not going to work today.” He raised an eyebrow, very confused. “Today we finish this, and we get to work on the real task at hand.”
He wasn’t sure what she meant. As they walked out the door, she explained, “I’ve been training you for this day. I have taught you as much as I could, to make you as much like me as possible, but it still isn’t complete. You would have to spend a lifetime in here for that to happen. You do not get that long, unfortunately.”
He wasn’t sure what she meant. The more she talked the more confused he became. They hopped on a commuter train and headed away from the city. “You and I have seeped into one another. We couldn’t afford to completely erase Jason Lightfoot. Doing so would be counter-productive to our goals. Thankfully, what I have taken from you though are your good traits. Your sniping training has taught me patience whereas before I was just a frivolous party girl.”
He wasn’t sure how his sniping training could have taught her anything as he hadn’t been to a range or taught her to fire a thing. She smiled. “That is the purpose this exercise though. As I have taught you, you have taught me. You don’t realize it, because that’s the design of the program.”
Program? What was she talking about. She giggled and ruffled his hair. “Not the brightest though. It’s time for us to switch, Jason. It’s time for you to start your new life. It’s time to start your redemption.”
Jason scratched his head as they got off the train. He looked up at the massive and bright building in front of him: The Izzard. It was the ritziest casino in all of Eremmi, if not the world. What were they doing here?
“Jason. Here is where it all starts. Now kiss me.” He snapped down and gave her a funny look. Kiss her? Why? “Because that’s how the switch will happen.” She put her hands around his neck and looked up into his eyes. “Now kiss me.”
He swallowed a lump in his throat. Kiss her? All the time they had spent together, he had never kissed her before. He felt nervous but a small amount of courage bubbled up in him. No, this was exactly what he had wanted. The beautiful Girl of his dreams wanted her to kiss him. He had to be confident!
Jason put his hands on her hips and leaned down. He took a deep breath. This was how they did it in the movies. That was his only experience. He pulled her in a little closer, leaning her back some, then he made the dive.
Scariest moment of his life.
As his lips pressed against hers he felt electricity dance across his skin. He lost all sense of balance as he was filled with new emotions he had never felt before. He felt loved, secure, confused, aroused, and maybe even a little giddy. But most of all he felt excited. Excited at the brand new world he had just entered. He didn’t want the kiss to end. He didn’t want to stop tasting her lips. He want to stop feeling her hands on his hips. He didn’t her to stop tipping him back. The world felt so…
But wait, she had put her hands around his neck, not his hips. And he had tipped her back, not vice-versa. Jason opened his eyes and was quite surprised to find himself staring up being kissed by… Jason?
He pulled away in shock. “Wh…what the hell?” The voice was not his own, but the dulcet voice of the Girl. Her honey-blonde hair spilled into his eyes. What was going on?
The fuzziness of the world around him began to sharpen. He had gotten so used to it that he had forgotten how fuzzy it really was. Colors faded as he found himself waking up.
The Other Jason smiled and let go of the stupefied Jason. He apologized for confusing her, but said it was time for them to separate. As the world grew sharper, it started to fade from view. “Wait, what’s going on!? What’s happening?”
Other Jason didn’t explain but instead just smiled and told her to trust Dr. Winters and to listen to her heart. The Other Jason faded from view as the world around Jason was awash in bright sea of white.
A voice on the other side of reality brought her out of the white. “Time to wake up. Wake up, Aurora.”