City noises drift up from the urban sprawl below Ma’rud, as they squat on the ledge of the Legacy Overpass. It is otherwise quiet on this massive and ancient stretch of steel and concrete spanning 200 meters, floating 200 meters above Old City rooftops. The glow of neon light from holoboards advertising soulless fashion brands illuminate the emptiness of the city at this height.
Thousands of windows in surrounding buildings gaze out over the expanse with them, skimming the view for some sign of activity. It’s been raining for almost a week straight now, and everything feels wet and soggy. A commercial abruptly flickers into view nearby, the images of happiness in the models’ faces sharply contrasting the sense of isolation they are hovering over. One of the models winks knowingly.
Ma’rud frowns at the sudden, intrusive ad. They’ve forgotten how long they have been squatting there, and shift their weight a little. Left foot feels numb, neck is tight. They roll their neck around, the rain rolling off their black polyfiber poncho, droplets joining the steady rain’s descent into the chasm below.
They hear the creak of a food vendor’s wheels approaching, a dangling LED lit sign slapping against the side of the cart rhythmically. They look over and see Moe; a living relic from a forgotten era, pushing his cart full of pastries, bagels, and coffee around. He waves and approaches, not speeding up or slowing down in the slightest, his bulking figure ambling steadily under a massive yellow and blue umbrella. It could possibly be the brightest thing in the universe.
Ma’rud nods in his direction, “Hey Moe.”
He pulls up next to them, the rain’s pitter patter shifting from their poncho to his umbrella’s colorful canopy.
“Hey Ma’rud. It’s awful out, what are you doing out here? Hanging out on the edge of the guardrail like that, it always makes me so nervous. Aren’t you afraid you’ll fall?”
“I didn’t know you cared, that’s sweet.”
Moe chuckles, “Who else am I going to sell coffee to out here if you’re gone? This weather is killing my business, and you’re the only one weird enough to sit in the rain all day.”
While they riff, he pours them a coffee, throws a sugar cube and a swizzle stick in it, and hands it over. They tap their ledger on his dangling sign, and watch the LEDs signal a successful transaction. He hands them a wrapped danish, and they vanish it smoothly into a hidden pocket.
Moe tells some stories about the old days, but Ma’rud is is zoned out, sipping on the warm coffee, feeling the caffeine slowly move dopamine levels around. They greatly enjoy the rarity of real sugar Moe provides, which leaves no chemical after taste. They never ask after the source, even of the arabica beans, for fear of engaging more than necessary.
Suddenly a distant buzzing sound is in earshot, rapidly getting louder. Ma’rud immediately identifies the intrusive sound as Ringo’s ridiculous, hacked up scooter. What a piece of colossal mechanical shit.
Ringo pulls up, as Moe disapprovingly counts off a number of reasons why “kids today aren’t gonna make it,” and starts pushing away.
“Sheesh, Moe really just hates me doesn’t he?”
“Maybe he just doesn’t appreciate you pulling up to his place of business in that deathtrap you’re straddling. Bad for business.”
They both laugh.
Ringo digs around in his pockets.
“Got something for ya. Owe ya from last time.”
They both look around carefully before Ringo hands over a neat little package. Ma’rud puts their coffee down and daintily peers into the packaging in their hands.“Is this a JL?!”
“You know it! It’s intense. Your curiosity is going to overwhelm you.”
“I went on a date and took a Morph last time, and that was curiously overwhelming”
Ringo’s eyes widen.
“Holy shit. You went on a date?!”
Ma’rud punches Ringo’s shoulder as he giggles at their cheerless expression.
“Yeah, just because I think you’re a dingus doesn’t mean I think everyone else is.”
“Well, I think you’re going to find this will be an educational experience. It made me feel like I was actually smart!”
They both laugh like idiots.
Ringo noisily scoots off in the rain, a cartoon-like sight of the times; a replica antique on unreasonably massive wheels, burdened by a claustrophobic cluster of various miniature devices and apparatuses. Who knows what any of them do.
Soon it is quiet again. Ma’rud glances around quickly, and vaults over the ledge. Swinging gracefully over the rails, they propel themselves into a hidden enclosure beneath the Overpass. Settling into their secret nook, they slide off their poncho, light a few candles, and take a look at the beautiful glass-like pill that has come into their possession. They lean back, and drop.
The transition is immediate
City noises drift up from the urban sprawl below Ma’rud, as they dangle their legs over the side of the Legacy Overpass. A festive day on this massive and ancient stretch of steel and concrete 200 meters above Old City, music and chatter permeate the air. The sun bathes the scene of vendors and those strolling down the stretch in warmth, a sense of community apparent in the waves of conversation rolling by.
Thousands of windows in surrounding buildings face a city full of history, culture, and connection; the architecture and technology part of a story that never stops unfolding. Teeming with life, the city dances its dance of commerce and progress, ever growing, ever expanding. Holoboards display models showing off the latest casual fashions with looks of contentment, a certain humility to their body language as they project genuine smiles.
Ma’rud remembers all the ads that have passed through these holoboards, and how the architecture around them has slowly grown and evolved over the last couple of decades. They grin up at the beaming ads overhead - and suddenly feel a surge of energy rapidly spreading out from behind their eyes, rushing down their neck and spine, and expanding intensely outwards.
The Overpass turns into a glass bridge spanning the vast stretch between buildings so far up over the centuries-old architecture below, its rooftops visible through the floor. The windows in the modern buildings all around slowly glow, their glass panes now stained with color, each one refracting day light across various colors of the spectrum of light.
As Ma’rud shifts their gaze over towards the vendors, they spot Moe with his beautiful vintage food cart, approaching with a percussive rhythm singing of an era defined by analog machinations. Moe waddles over steadily, and they both wave at each other.
They exchange hellos, and he hands them a cup of coffee, and a pastry, and Moe begins telling some stories about the past. He speaks about old bagel stores in Old City, and a Turkish cafe that smelled like rose water all the time. Ma’rud sips their newly acquired coffee and listens intently.
He asks them, “Have you ever had Turkish coffee before?”
Before they can answer, their world melts away into a million panels of glass, and reforms into the scene of a weathered neighborhood with a bagel store on one corner, and a coffeeshop right next to it. They peer in through the cafe window, and experience a surge of knowledge rush into their mind. They suddenly know so much about Murat, the shop’s owner. They know where his coffee beans come from, why he only uses a copper cezve to heat his Turkish java, and just how much sugar he believes is best for a single serving. They can taste it now, the aroma filling their nostrils, and the caffeine sharpening the senses.
And everything falls back through the myriad of stained glass facets, and they find themselves in front of Moe again.
“Turkish coffee is so strong!”
Moe laughs and nods, “Indeed, a delicious shot of energy! Do you remember when it first became so difficult to find a decent cup of coffee?”
Reality transforms steadily into a mosaic of stained glass panels, and Ma’rud watches with fascination as the restructuring of their environment brings them to an older version of the city. They look around and see buildings made of brick and glass, streetlights dangling from wires held up by ancient aluminum poles. A noisy car passes by with neon detailing all over it, the driver staring up at the sky in awe.
Ma’rud looks up and sees massive structures falling out of the sky and recognizes this day as the day all the satellites fell out of the sky. Burning streaks of flame and smoke shooting across the sky, terminating one by one all across the sprawling city they live in. Screams are suddenly audible all around them. The knowledge that the corporate conglomerates and governments all got their systems hacked at once comes spilling into Ma’rud’s mind.
Their data networks breached, their corruption exposed, and now their satellites programmed to fall out of orbit and crash back down from whence they came, a time of change and great hardship followed. Impact sites were devastating to the already frail environment, their resulting toxic fires billowing plumes of hazardous chemicals into the atmosphere. Communications networks were shattered, and the global financial system collapsed in a matter of seconds.
And from the fall of the uncaring giants running the planet, came a time of reconsideration. Entire generations grew up watching the rise of new technologies geared to rebuild society. Massive scrubbers were built to filter and clean the air. Droids and recycled polymers were developed to build over and above existing cities. And a new interconnected network called the Metaverse replaced the old web, allowing people to escape the dreariness of the world.
Slowly, some old human tendencies came back; overpopulation, meaningless jobs and economic hardships, and escapism resurfaced. And amid it all, the cities grew, and grew, until the sprawl enveloped the majority of the planet.
Ma’rud allows everything to fade back into a collage of glass shards, prepared this time. And instead of falling right back into the Legacy Overpass, they freeze the transition halfway, and find themselves looking at a masterpiece of stained glass with floral designs, and a beautiful sunflower right in the middle. Each petal of each flower a window into potential futures, the green leaves apertures outlining vignettes of nature scenes, and blue skies a patchwork portal of translucence drawing tears up from wells deep inside of the human spirit.
They reach out to touch the sunflower at the center, and suddenly experience the tactile sense of running one’s fingers across finely gilded precious metals. They have only ever seen such antique materials in movies and holobooks. The sensation envelops them in a feeling of intense sentimentality, both foreign and familiar. Memories from another life, another time overcome their mind, and they feel their vision blurring with tears.
Ma’rud cries, and Moe gives them a hug. They hear a distant buzzing that can only belong to Ringo’s awful crapmobile. Wiping tears out of their eyes, they look over and see people getting out of the way as he approaches. They blink and suddenly are staring at a stranger making coffee. They blink again, and are looking at light shining in through stained glass portholes. Two last blinks bring them back through a vibrant city and into their nook below the Overpass.
The candles are burning a little lower, but there is still enough light to write by. From a deep fold within their discarded poncho, Ma’rud pulls out a notebook and pen, antiques they discovered years ago in Old City. They begin writing furiously, stories flowing out of them like a chemical torrent: distilling the experiences of a million past lives.