White noise from the rain emits a percussive drone, rapping steadily on the massive window before Aeric. The auditory massage envelops all other sounds in the lounge, subtly wrapping the communal vibe with continuity. Wisps of smoke drift lazily through the air, carrying rosy and spiced aromas across the room. Subtle mood lighting washes the interior with cool purple tones, setting a backdrop for warm flickers of candlelight. Quiet conversations are cradled in recessed alcoves throughout this cozy Middle Eastern establishment.
As drops of water streak down the enormous circular window overlooking Old City, Aeric muses on the dimmed urban spread before him. 90 stories up, and facing East, Aeric wonders how beautiful a sunrise would be from this vantage point. The massive porthole before him is framed with ancient Northern African patterns, OLED panes set in between motifs made of welded steel. He taps on the closest pane and orders a Turkish coffee, and double taps his AR set to sign the transaction request.
Aptly named, The Window is one of the oldest businesses around. Vast Persian carpets with deep red and blue tones cover the floors, worn in with years of foot traffic. Beautifully ornate light fixtures float overhead, dispersed throughout, casting intricate geometric shadows on the ceilings and walls. Though not quite as ancient as Old City, this part of town is littered with gems like this one; interiors comprised of non-modern elements are not very common in the rest of New City.
Aeric appreciates the cultural time machine this space has turned into for its patrons. The coffee is not synthetic, and they use actual sugar in their confections. The tobacco and nargile are authentic, and guests questioning the use of natural coals are generally treated with some disdain. In fact, anybody complaining about the authenticity of anything in this space tends not to come back for a second visit.
The week-long rain has settled its humidity into the bones of the city. Older establishments like these tend to breathe the dampness in with every incoming customer. Every time the door opens, dangling chimes adorn the heavy air with high pitched harmonies. The dark atmosphere matches the mood outside, but provides much desired warmth and shelter.
Dressed in flowing fabrics, the proprietor of the space comes over, and places a small tray in front of Aeric. In a pleasant tone she says, “Nice and sweet, just how you like it,” and takes a seat across from him. Two pieces of baklava sit in a small square dish, right next to his tiny cup of coffee. The saucer the cup sits on is trimmed with a repeating, reddish geometric pattern, gilded details adorning its edges.
Aeric draws in the familiar aroma, and smiles at her.
“Thanks Defne. How’s life?”
She takes a seat across from him and gazes out over the sprawl. Absently, “It’s ok. This weather’s been a drag. I heard you took a trip out of town recently?”
Scooping a piece of baklava up, he holds it up in front of his face and observes it closely.
“Yeah. Needed to get out for a bit. Had Charlie watch the bar, and I went home to Mexico for a week. Weather wasn’t much better; it’s the same everywhere nowadays.”
He tosses the morsel in his mouth, as Defne glances over at him with a raised eyebrow.
“I didn’t know you were from there.”
Chuckling, “Yeah, my dad was from up North apparently, but my mom was Mexican. I actually went to see if I could track her down. Never really knew my dad, but then I don’t really remember my childhood - do you?”
She looks back out over the dreary cityscape, and seems to be lost in thought for a minute. Then, abruptly, “Memory is like a combination lockbox we have forgotten the code to. How well do you remember your mom?
He is slightly thrown off by her sudden avoidance of his question, but doesn’t think twice about it. He takes a wary sip of his still steaming coffee, and puts it back down.
“Not very clearly. I don’t remember specific things, but I remember her bringing me up.”
Defne looks at him with intense eyes, her posture semi-relaxed. Seemingly out of thin air, she produces a neatly wrapped tiny little package, and slides it towards him.
“Take this. It may not restore your memories, but it will show you some roots.”
The chimes by the door shake them both out of the moment. The silhouette of a hooded figure appears at the entrance. They appear to survey The Window for a moment, and then glide smoothly in the direction of their table. Aerik has never seen this person before, but Defne’s demeanor indicates she is familiar with this stranger. He can’t seem to make out their face clearly.
She gets up to greet them. “Good seeing you Aerik. Welcome back. Say hi to Charlie when you talk to her later.”
Utterly caught off guard now, Aerik stumbles for words. He glances at the package, then at the stranger, and back at her as she saunters away.
“I.. will. What is-? Who is-”
Glancing back over her shoulder she says, “You’ll know what to do. I’ll see you when you’re back from your trip!”
The hooded figure appears to nod in his direction as the two go to an unoccupied, darker corner nook. Aerik stares after them, completely befuddled. Taking another sip of his coffee he opens the package before him, and finds a beautiful little red container with a transparent cover. Within, golden sun rays dance around a fantastically ornate red pill. Markings reminiscent of ancient pictograms detail both vessel, and pill. His AR lens fires up and enhances it, levitating golden rings and abstract bits of debris suddenly whirling around it.
A message flies into his HUD from an unknown sender. In monospace font, it simply says: ‘TAKE THE PILL.’ He somehow knows it was sent by the hooded stranger.
Aerik has known Defne long enough to know he can trust her. This feels shady, but it wouldn’t be the first time he has taken a questionable substance. The Window is a safe place, and it’s not like he wants to go back out into the dismal weather outside.
The glass panel hinges open in his palm easily, and he picks up the happy little pill. Without overthinking it, he says, “fuck it,” and chases the pill down with a sip of coffee.
The transition is immediate.
The steady drumming of rain on the massive window bathes the room in a persistent hum. A tactile massage on the senses, it envelops all other sounds with a firm grip. Wisps of smoke move like patient ghosts, completely at odds with the auditory torrent streaming through the room. Cool purple tones peek out from hidden enclosures, as candles occasionally catch sneaky currents, and flicker with agitation. Murmurs between faceless folks creep out of shadowy alcoves, and into the antique Middle Eastern lounge.
Aeric looks past streams of water on the window panes, and takes in the sheer vastness of the urban sprawl before him. Even the dark weather cannot hide the colossal scale of things at this height, 90 stories above Old City. Geometric Northern African motifs outline the massive porthole, segmenting the view. Occasional data streams pass by in some of the facets, vying for his attention.
Reaching out to order a coffee, Aerik touches an OLED pane, and everything unexpectedly freezes frame. On screen data suspended, the rainy landscape behind it a sudden photograph of sullen dystopia. He feels a strange pressure building at the tip of his finger.
A glowing red light begins to spread out from his point of contact with the glass. It branches out and into the steel frame of the enormous aperture before him. Impossibly, it begins to outline the cityscape outside, merging the frame with the depth of the world behind it. As the neon-lit contour lines stretch out towards the horizon, an incredibly intricate mosaic of varying sizes and shapes begins to form. Aeric gasps at the terrifying complexity of outlined architecture before him.
A myriad of isolated patterns extrude towards him as he takes a big breath in, drawing him in and overwhelming his sense of depth perception. Different geometric motifs begin to fill his vision, an influx of data he is unprepared for. He falls into a world of angular chaos, scores of shapes and intersections transporting him from one dimension to another. His mind reeling at the experience, he begins to panic.
And just like that, the portals stop. He finds himself standing before a large circular opening in a dark void, massive suns setting into the horizon in the distance. The light streaming through this threshold bridges the abyss to an intricate landscape of complex topographies, both angular and curved. Sharp mountain peaks compliment soft slopes of rolling hills all around them. A plateau in the distance glows with a warm radiance.
Mesoamerican motifs begin to spiral out at him from a sunburst of warm hues. Framed as a silhouette in front of it, a figure approaches with a great headdress, reaching out with a highly detailed scepter in its hands. The staff morphs into a snake, and writhes closer, inspecting, inquiring. The bright aura trimming the figure dims as the suns fall below the vista behind it, and blue-toned skin comes into view. A halo of bright feathers frame an impossibly dark face with bright, inquisitive eyes.
The entity exhales. Its suddenly immense physicality begins to fold in on itself, a ferrous liquid reacting to a magnetic current. Steadily it transitions from an amorphous state into the form of a black and blue hummingbird, hovering in front of Aeric. Its wings beat an intense blur of red, at unfathomable speeds. Twilight gives this beautiful creature an indigo backdrop, speckled with distant starlight.
Aeric reaches out with an open palm to offer a perch. The now tiny godhead accepts the offer, and lands in his hand. Upon contact, a black mass of tendrils shoot out under his skin, like veins colored with the darkness of deepest night. He begins to feel constricted, his body no longer under his control, his autonomy taken away from him.
As the darkness spreads, Aeric experiences feelings of extreme sorrow at the very core of his being. Immobile, he arrives at a liminal understanding of all the power this entity has lost over millennia. He discovers a rumbling whisper deep within himself, “Give in.” Like a floodgate, thousands of inner voices begin competing for his attention.
With immense resolve, he stops fighting the surge of darkness spreading throughout his being. Soon his entire physicality is enveloped in a void-like mass, an impossible paradox of mass existing without light. The clamor of voices die down, and a few remain audible. They lead his void-state out into the scene before him, aural guides of this alien landscape.
Life begins to sprout all around him; flora follows rising suns skyward at a rapid rate all around him, an unquestionable expression of fertility and health. He finds himself before a large clearing with a gigantic golden egg in the center. As he approaches, an entity breaks out of it, punching its way out of the shell with multiple arms, and a golden explosion of lotus leaves crowning its many faces. In a state of flux, the entity observes Aeric through multiple eyes. With a deeply resonant voice, it speaks: “Remember.”
As if by reflex, he closes his eyes and looks inward. He finds the memory of being cradled in the arms of his mother, a moment entirely forgotten in time. No other memories come to him. Opening his eyes again, he finds himself looking out over an endless valley of deep reddish hues. The ocean of red before him is in contrast with azure skies, and snow capped mountains. A breeze breathes waves of undulating life across what he now realizes are fields of blooming amaranth, drawing his vision across great distances with calmness.
The realization settles in that he is experiencing an ancient world, forgotten in time. Unable to remember his own childhood, he is saddened. Intuitively, he plucks a blooming sprig of amaranth, and offers it to the world before him. It takes root in his hands, and spreads like veins throughout his physicality, replacing his emptiness with color and life. He feels great warmth wash over him, scouring anguish and grief away.
A sense of regained autonomy sinks in, and the flowers in his hands ignite. Tiny flames rapidly turn into an intense arc of golden plasma, and begin to spread out and gild the landscape around him. Soon, everything is contoured in bright gold, so bright it blinds him.
Aeric blinks, dazzled by the intense luminance. He finds himself standing before an enormous egg in a field. He blinks again, and is staring at an enormous godhead haloed with sunlight. It blinks at him. He blinks back. Intense, artificial neon red lights illuminate an ancient city. One more blink and he is back at The Window, staring out at his rainy city. Slightly disoriented, he reaches for his coffee. Taking a warm sip, he is assured that he is back.
Unsure of what exactly just happened, he is surprised at how good everything feels. Something is stirring in the recesses of his mind, and the air around him feels less weighted. Looking over into the lounge, he sees Defne looking at him. She smiles, and turns back to conversing with her faceless friend.
Feeling a surge of confidence, he pops the last piece of baklava in his mouth, and taps his comm implant and calls Charlie.
“Hey Charlie, can you watch The Coffeeshop for another week? I’m going back to Mexico.”