Humanity got their priorities backward when they placed a man on the moon before inventing flying automobiles. At least that’s what his grandfather, the family inventor, would’ve said, Lark thought, inhaling a mouthful of cold, autumn air while staring up at the busy sky. The crescent-shaped moon was barely visible behind the colorful blur of vehicles making turns around skyscrapers. As he stood within a transfer circle, Lark rummaged his hands deep in his leather jacket for the umpteenth time. He couldn’t remember the last time he had to take the bus to school.
Was it elementary or middle school, he wondered, missing his caretaker. If only Wangshi hadn’t caught a cold, he wouldn’t be standing out here so miserably like this.
Lark hugged his sides and buried his neck under the layers of his Infinity scarf. The soft cotton-like material radiated heat to his skin through smart threads. Technology and fashion always had a place in the economy. Combine the two and you got yourself a genius idea. But, it wouldn’t always be a money-maker. Lark lamented, recounting his grandfather’s failed inventions: fox-ear hearing aids, underground-ostrich binoculars, and the infamous feather-hair braider. The latter tapped them millions in debt. It replaced hair with feathers instead of arranging clients' hair with the feathers. That fiasco lasted for a few months until their next hit: Light-bread gloves. The cute buns were made of fleece and smart threads that changed facial expressions and crispiness depending on the temperature around the user.
While his family fortune amounted to a good sum of wealth dependent on his grandfather’s wacky inventions and company, Runetech, which pioneered the innovative smart threads, no amount of money could compare to inventions supplemented with alien technology. Though it was not the official term, alien technology was the only feasible explanation for flying vehicles. No explanation was given by the government on how flying cars were created or how transfers were possible except that it worked.
And convenience exempted answers.
Especially when money traveled faster than rockets. Though Sky, the space guy and his best friend since childhood, would never let him hear the end of it if he poked fun of space travel. Speaking of Sky, Lark peeked at the leather-banded device on his wrist. He had set his watch in a minimalist, digital mode.
The bus should've been here a minute ago! He shifted uncomfortably underneath his makeshift scarf mask, half-regretting not taking his set of Light-bread gloves. Who cares if it was designed for cute girls? He was cute and cold!
He tapped his foot against the outlined circle around him and frowned at the cheap materials the city government used to develop transfers. No wonder it was taking so long for the bus to arrive; the government used the less expensive alloys to support public transportation. Even his watch design had more thought and consideration than this dingy transfer circle. Then again, he owned the exclusive Trinity Watch from Soko’s Auction House.
A half a million dollars gone from his bank and Lark owned a multi-functional watch that came with the standard applications of any smart device from the twenty-first century. Unlike other smart devices, the marketing name Trinity came from its ability to transform its appearance from manual, digital, and sundial modes. Not to mention, other important distinctions such as a holographic messaging system, sound barrier, and incorporation of data necessary for transfers. Though, the only alien-sounding thing that came out of the transaction was the mysterious inventor’s speech on the benefits of owning the Trinity Watch such as soul-bounding.
Soul-bounding sounded like psychomancy to Lark, something that would be found in the description of an occultist shop or a game. He never expected it to be real after winning the bidding war at the prestigious auction house for alien wares.
When the mysterious inventor calmly listed the benefits of soul bounding and the other hundred properties of the Trinity Watch, Lark could only numbly listen like a gentleman. Plus, he had the information booklet at home that reminded him of the Swedish furniture store.
Besides, always knowing the location of his watch and its inability to recognize others as the owner did not sound real and Lark half-expected the man to shout, "NEVER TAKE IT OFF."
But after signing off the check and no schemes to take his blood sample, Lark continued to wear the watch at all times.
As the morning wind blew against his face, he could make out the distinct bright-red bus approach from the clouds. Finally. As soon as the flying vehicle came overhead, a white glowing halo stretched from the sidewalk and covered his body.
A synthesized voice spoke as the white halo turned green. “Bus pass detected, entry accepted.”
A moment later, he found himself sitting on a cushioned bus seat. A chill ran down his spine. It took longer than ten seconds to complete the transfer according to his watch. He unwrapped his scarf; at least the bus had the heater on.
Tapping on the interface of his watch, a holographic keyboard pulled out to above his forearm.
“The bus was more than a minute late. Compensate me for my grievances,” he typed to his friend, then added a pulsing red angry face for dramatic effect. Satisfied, Lark pressed send and the blue-color keyboard dissipated.
Looking around, most of the bus seats were empty, but a few passengers wore his school emblem. Not unusual since this bus line passed by his high school, Dubois High.
His watch beeped once, notifying him of a new message. After tapping the message icon, his friend’s sharp, glaring face came into view. It was a video message, so Lark setup the silencer function on his watch, which provided an invisible soundproof barrier around him.
“Incorrigible! This type of gratefulness is unbecoming of you. At least you don’t have to use your legs, like the rest of us commoners.”
The sound of a motor engine revved up off screen, and Lark rolled his eyes. Legs? More like a motorbike rig. His best friend managed to save enough money to afford himself a set of wheels over the summer. No wonder he lent his bus pass so freely.
“Don’t get so lazy in our last year of high school!” the boy on the floating screen scolded, but lightly smiled.
“Besides, you should be the one compensating me for being so secretive! So stop with the whole mysterious act, and tell me already what you wanted to show me! Otherwise… Ah well, you know who your biggest fans are.” A sharp gleam rolled off his glasses that only (slightly evil) computer-nerds could pull off in Lark’s mind.
Lark’s lips twisted into an uneasy grin as he held back a sigh thinking about Sky’s younger siblings, Cloud and Teddy. Twins. They were still at the cute age of six, but they were becoming more mischievous by the hour. They would hide whatever they could get their grubby little hands on. Sky's molecular model was still missing since last summer. And whenever Lark would come over, the twins would subject him to hours of physical (torture) games like tag, hide-and-go-seek, monster-thrashing… He recalled their last bout, where he played the dashingly-handsome, but evil dragon and the twins fought him with the pointy end of cardboard swords and lego ammunition. There was a dull lego-shaped bruise on his knee; a badge of defeat after tripping on an ice bolt.
The screen turned off and Lark reverted back to looking out the window.
Is life similar to living in a container? He wondered.
The world had changed a lot in the last decade after infrastructures integrated alien technology. But at the same time, nothing had changed. A certain dullness that maintained itself through the tides of time. It was the same feeling that sat inside his chest as he looked over numerous flying vehicles soaring through air traffic, all in various shapes and sizes, from boat-sized airships in the top lanes to skinny motorbikes on the lower lanes. On the ground level, there were a few pedestrians, college students on their hoverboards, and a couple of exercise maniacs on their pedal bikes.
If he reached outside, all he could touch would be the wispy, white-tinted vapor, and feel the breeze of going 60 mph in the air. But would he be able to feel the fleeting warmth of the sun or have his arm lopped off by the oncoming traffic first? He supposed it would be ironic if his lopped off arm landed on the billboard advertising prosthetics supported with alien technology at Friledaux hospital.
Lark felt what his therapist called an inappropriate response rise on his cheeks. Fine, no more smiling. Besides what would other people think if they saw someone smiling to themselves. Strange. Creepy. Inappropriate.
His mind has been a wandering a lot, especially since Junior year. Something he hadn't done much before, until the inheritance and near death experience.
He wished Wangshi could’ve driven today, then he wouldn’t have these mundane feelings from looking at a picturesque scene of daily life. He missed the blacked-out windows, his personal space, and the controlled air-flow instead of this stifling stuffiness called a heater. More importantly, he wouldn’t have to feel or look miserable around others. He closed his eyes, waiting for his stop when a sigh did finally escape.
“Next stop: Dubois High.”
Lark pressed the green circle to the left of his seat and a voice said, “Be ready for transfer in thirty seconds.”
He stifled a groan.
Lark always walked to school with his headphones plugged in; no music, just noiseless pads cupped over his ears to drown out the signal pings on everyone else’s smart devices. Unfortunately, soundproof barriers were banned for use on school property. He remembered this unfortunate school rule as a train of students from various clubs chorused through the front entrance.
The captain of the martial arts club was shouting a chant through a voice modulator, something about showing school spirit, but Lark quickly moved away from the scene. The music clubs fared better on the side entrances by donning on their club uniforms and staging quick performances. It was definitely a more eye-catching and tactful recruitment strategy compared to the musclehead's screams.
School of thought was the leading sub-heading to Dubois High. To obtain information that can’t be gained from studying. This was the principal’s attractive gimmick to new students and donors. Expanding electives instead of focusing on standardized tests allowed for more student freedom. This also meant shifting funds into clubs and specialized classes. Though it wasn’t surprising that the more traditional organizations received more funding than others such as Varsity sports.
It wasn’t until he saw a flock of students wearing shorts and cleats in front of a recruitment table full of ‘Go Vikings’ accessories, did he remember why he didn’t want to stick around too long outside before classes began.
Please, don’t find me, he thought as he weaved around confused, lost freshmen. He had almost made it past the main entrance when someone shouted his name.
“LARK. Stop right there!”
Two more seconds and he would’ve been out of their line of sight!
He inwardly sighed, freezing in place as soon as he heard his name called. The soccer coach’s natural voice somehow sounded volumes louder than the voice modulator. Grimacing, he turned around on his heels to see the person who replaced him as captain this year. The new captain would be the only student wearing an armband with a C on it.
“Hi, Coach. How nice to see the team together. Nice-looking visor, by the way.” Lark forced a smile as he walked up to the table and rested his headphones over his collar.
The coach always wore a visor, even when the sun barely peeked out like today. The coach’s squinting eyes darkened under the printed visor with the Runetech logo. Most likely, the coach expected a different kind of greeting seeing as he quit the team during Junior year.
“Boys, meet our newest sponsor.” Two rows of shiny teeth blinded Lark and he couldn’t tell who had the faker smile. A strong, tanned arm jostled his shoulder as he was pushed closer to the table. Lark toured the recruitment table as if he were a shiny trophy on display. Well, more like a second-place medal, the way his old teammates were glaring at him. It didn’t take him long to find the new captain, who was handing out free water-bottles for interested freshmen, while slyly glaring at him.
“I’m glad you like the visor, Coach, and this way…” Lark grabbed one of the water bottles. “It’d be like I’m always with the team.”
“Don’t say that Lark, you’re always welcome to come back to the team. You’re our number one striker! Are you sure you don’t want to play for our last season—?” the female manager, Daisy, who was sitting down spoke up. Her hand had inched over to the sign-up board when not only Lark but the other team members stopped her. The new captain, Wei, seeing Lark’s hand over Daisy’s, placed his own on her shoulder while sizing up Lark. Another player, a junior Lark recognized, had also furtively placed his elbow on the clipboard.
Lark’s heartbeat kicked up a notch. Shit Daisy, you’re really living up to your carefree name.
“Thanks, Daze, but there’s no need for that,” Lark said, smoothly retracting his hand and fixed the water bottle into a free pocket on his sling backpack. “If I have time, I’ll stop by practice and maybe give a few pointers and demonstrations. If I remember correctly, I still have a good corner kick.”
He matched his gaze with Wei’s, before chuckling.
“But the team should be in good hands with Wei. Oh yeah, what did we call you in that game back in regionals with that body feint, Makeweeeei.”
Only the seniors and Daisy cracked a grin, while Wei’s expression seemed stuck between fuming and shock. The coach coughed and slapped Lark on the back with a hearty guffaw.
“Thanks Lark, you’re free to drop by the field anytime.”
After a quick retreat and waving goodbye, his watch alerted him to an incoming call from Sky.
He held his phone up to his ear and immediately grimaced. “Please, tell me you weren’t watching.”
“Oh, oh no. I didn’t see shitty Daisy try to recruit you back into the fold, and her fawning all over you after you touched her hand. Ha! And the look on Wei’s face too! You do hold a penchant for making frenemies.”
Hearing the sound of Sky’s derisive laughter, he ended the call and walked up to the boy wearing straight cut jeans and a collared cardigan. With one hand barely keeping a lid over his mouth, Sky waited next to the stack of gray lockers. Their shared locker was conveniently located at one end, so they didn’t need to hover in between other students. “Stop laughing so much already,” Lark said, placing his lunch bag inside the locker.
“Can’t help it, you always do something so unorthodox.” Sky grinned innocently up until he saw Lark fish something out of his backpack. Almost apprehensive, Sky asked, “Look I know Junior year was hard on you, dealing with the inheritance, the cryogenics, and all, but c’mon you need to talk to someone other than me and your therapist.”
“This is senior year, man! College apps. Prom. Ditch day! Graduation!”
“Senior year! Graduating class of the new century!” Sky repeated, emphasizing its importance in a higher octave. He was about to hiss it again, but what came out was an odd squeak as Lark revealed a pyramidal-shaped object in his hand. Gray lines etched over the sides of the silver object in a way that reminded Sky of a computer chip. The mysterious object’s size was small: half the size of a gambling die. For a second, Sky could’ve sworn the lines glowed in a white hue.
Lark chuckled. “Didn’t think you could make your voice any higher.”
“Think again. Everyone is capable of surprising others.” Sky zoomed in on the silver object that fitted perfectly in the middle of Lark’s palm. “Though you can take first place in that category. How’d you get your hand on another piece of new alien tech? You weren’t satisfied with spending half a million dollars on a watch?”
Sky made the same motion of pushing up his glasses whenever he felt peeved.
“Don’t feel too jealous now, what would your younger brothers think of a jelly monster Sky.” Lark smirked, while his friend frowned.
“Hey, you’re not allowed to threaten me with my own siblings,” Sky said with a shake of his head. “That’s my privilege of being the eldest. They adore me.”
“Whatever, so you really think this is alien tech?” Lark asked, lowering his voice. He would’ve activated the sound barrier around them if that function could cover more than one person, but it didn’t have that capability yet.
“Not a hundred percent sure, but it certainly has the form. The gray lines that glow, and the vibe I’m getting.”
“You’re going off of a vibe?”
“Yeah,” Sky admitted. “All computer chips I’ve worked with certainly do not glow nor are they shaped into a 3D model. Plus, I’m unfamiliar with alien technology, and this is one thing I’m unfamiliar with. Does that seem sound to you?”
Lark rolled his eyes and tucked the object back inside one of the pockets.
“So when are you going to tell me where and how you got it?”
“Later. First, let’s get some mental exercises done in that sassy brain of yours.” Lark pushed Sky in the direction of their first-period class: AP Calculus II.