1.10 Vanilla Ice Cream

1.10 Vanilla Ice Cream

Cogs: Malicious Designs
1.10 Vanilla Ice Cream

Crouching behind the building, waiting for the traffic to go by, Avril looked up at the night sky and the stars above. He couldn’t see the moon, and he wondered, Is it Godsday?

He tried to remember the date. Godsday was the twenty-eighth, the last day of every month, but on reflection, he wondered why he cared. He didn’t have a schedule, and it didn’t matter what day it was.

Avril blinked and gazed at the road, realizing the sedative had cleared the paths in his mind, and now his thoughts roamed unconstrained.

Focus.

Two assault vehicles rumbled past on the road going close to what had to be their top speed. Avril looked down at his handheld AI. His car’s AI relayed information to him via an encrypted tight-cast to keep the existence and the contents of the transmission private. Neither of the cars that passed had passengers or were transmitting anything.

Avril stood from his crouch and stretched his hands skyward. The assault vehicles were still visible past the line of decaying plastic furniture and umbrellas that dotted the side of the road.

He swung his shoulders to stretch muscles that were already loose, and then he bent forward, fingertips touching the ground, to stretch his back, drawing out the time until he returned to the confines of the car.

When he came back up, Avril noticed a shape that looked like a person at one of the picnic tables. Probably nothing, he thought and squinted to get a better look, convinced his eyes were playing tricks on him.

He stepped forward to discern the nature of whatever it was. A gentle breeze stirred Avril’s hair and sand in the desert.

It’s something attached to the umbrella stand, Avril thought, recognizing his foolishness and the pointlessness of the inquiry but persisting anyway.

The shape moved again.

“I got you one too,” a female voice said.

Avril stopped as the shape turned and resolved into a figure sitting at one of the picnic tables and holding something out to him. He looked down at his AI and saw a life-sign where a moment before there hadn’t been any.

A shiver ran across Avril’s back. Who is this?

“Silly, it’s just us,” she said.

He recognized the voice, and his unease passed.

Everything he knew about her coalesced in his mind, and he smiled at his good fortune, meeting her so unexpectedly on the road. It would be good to spend time with somebody who wasn’t trying to take what was his or impose their will on him.

Her use of the word silly made him smile as he went to meet her. “Silly? You haven’t stopped saying that yet?”

“Nope.” She beamed at him.

“What are you doing here?” Avril asked.

“Be quick. It’ll melt soon.” She held out a cone-shaped object. “Vanilla, right?”

“Yep.” Avril accepted the cone and sat at the table opposite her. He found the cardboard tab on the wrapper and pulled it to get at the ice cream.

She’d almost finished her cone and used the tip of her tongue to tease out the last of the ice cream. Big brown eyes fixed on him. She said, “Strawberry.”

Avril grinned as he removed the last of the wrapper from his. “What are you doing here, the last time we saw each other—”

The cone fell to the table as Avril scrambled backward. The bench he sat on was fixed in place and tripped him as he retreated. Avril’s back struck the ground when he landed. The pleasant memories he’d recalled a moment ago vanished as he searched them for their last encounter, and he realized he’d never seen her before.

He didn’t know her at all.

She guffawed into a hand, a sound that ended with a snort, and asked, “What are you doing?”

“Who are you? What is this?” Avril demanded.

Disappointment replaced her amused expression as she groaned then slapped her hands on the tabletop in front of her. “Don’t do that. Don’t think about it. Come back. That way is no fun.”

Avril stood up and continued to back away. “Why did I think I know you?”

“Because you do, but you’re thinking so hard you can’t see. Relax. You’ll get it.” She retrieved his ice cream cone and said, “You got dirt on it.”

“I’d remember,” Avril said, thinking she was too pretty to forget.

“Thank you,” she said with a playful shrug.

Annoyed she’d read him with such ease, he added, “I always remember…” he struggled for the word and discarded each one that occurred to him. Psychos. Weirdos. Stalkers.

“I got you an ice cream. Vanilla. Your favorite,” the woman said.

“Who are you?” Avril demanded as he undid the zip over his nutri-port and swapped out the vial with the sedative for the vial with the stimulants.

With a raised eyebrow, she said, “You know who I am, and I know you. Vanilla proves it. Nobody likes vanilla except you. If we didn’t know each other, how could I know that when there are hundreds of great flavors to choose from, you always take the most boring flavor ever?” She leaned forward with her hands held out to her sides and a wide-eyed expression that suggested he was an idiot for asking.

With his initial shock gone, Avril brushed sand off his clothes and muttered, “Lots of people like vanilla.”

“Yeah, boring people,” she said.

Avril edged closer to study her, the feeling he knew her threatening to break through the surface of his thoughts.

They were about the same age. She was maybe a year or two younger than him. Her skin was dark, almost black in the night, and the whites of her eyes were bright and big. An amused smile played on her lips, and he saw a flash of the playful teenager she’d been.

Avril pushed that idea away. I didn’t know her as a teenager. What is this?

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