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EVER

Ever was slowly becoming one of the nightfolk, her compulsion driving her out of the safety of the Comfort Zone.
The wind played with her thick black coat.
It billowed out behind her caught up in the gust intent on causing havoc in the sleeping city.


Ever dashed down dark alleyways, her Doc Martins plowing through the muck left behind by day dwellers with little regard for the place in which they did their business from 8-to-7 every day for 360 days of a year. Sundays seized being sacred in an era where money became Divine.

The city clean-up usually commenced in the small hours of the morning; Ever reckoned the schedule worked as the council workers could do their jobs unhindered when the Market Zone was cleared of crowds. She had the quiet streets to herself for at least two more hours before she needed to head back home to surburbia.
"Let's meet at midnight," he suggested in his communicade, replying to her request for a meeting in a flash.
The dark  hour, it seemed, was the best time for clandestine affairs and dodgy dealings.
It suited her well.
Bankers & other money traders had little difficulty doing their dirty deals in the light of day. She however, preferred the cover of darkness. Especially when she went to meet him. Meeting him was an emotional high, it was a struggle for her to keep her mask in place during their meetings. Strange really, when she had been conditioned since birth to keep emotions in check outside of the Comfort Zone. Emotional displays were frowned upon in the Market Zone. It was included on the Agenda of the next Council Meeting following an unfortuate occurence at  the annual meeting of  the shareholders of SAACorp when a high heeled boot had been flung at the CEO by an irate shareholder in the back row. Ever was needing him more and more as her job became more stressful and she needed a longer working day; the minimum12 hours just didn't cut it anymore.

The first time she met him was in the middle of  a workday in the middle of a week. His appointment was pencilled in for the Thursday by Trish, usually adept at turning people away. Wearing a charcoal suit and looking mildly uncomfortable; his hair jet black gelled back, the Contact came and changed her life.
3pm and her day was not even close to getting started.
She was frazzled; nervous, her eyes darting over her screen.
Projects lined up: Rows-and-rows across.
Sub-tasks listed:  Columns-and-columns down. It looked like tall buildings that needing to be scaled.
Her buzzer sounded and Trish announced him: "Your 3 o'clock's here!"
No names, only a time slot.
He entered her office, his hand reaching out his hand as soon as he saw her.
She was unaccustomed to the old-fashioned greeting in disuse for decades now by a germophobic society. She accepted his hand, tentatively shaking it out of curiousity.
"Mrs Mayor," he said in a voice like silk, rich and tonal, devoid of the monotone adopted by the masses in recent years: "Good time!"
His greeting was carried by a smile.
"You are?" she asked, mild intrigue coating her words.
"AI," he pronounced it like "I", "a pleasure..."
Ever sat down, tilting her seat back to look up at his tall frame. She gestured for him to sit across from her; the desk her wall.
"How can I help you?" she said, "you have 5 minutes."
"The question is how can I help you, mrs. Mayor?" he said.
"5 minutes, Mr AI.." she reiterated.
"That's all the time I need," he said.
Ever leaned forward, pressed the button and connected with Trish, "Coffee for two."
"Cookies?" he interjected.
"And biscotti, Trish, please," she added.
"I read your tweet," he said, "and I have the answer."
"Tweet?"
 "I've tweeted more than 5000 times, you need to be more specific."
"Where can I go to buy time?"
"You tweeted that on Sunday, 25 January 20... at 7:30pm, I assume, from your office?"
"What," she started to feel uneasy, "that was more than a year ago! What do you want?"
"I'm here," he said, "to offer you TIME."
Standing up swiftly, Ever moved her office chair back, and said, "this meeting is over."
"You promised me 5 minutes," he insisted just as Trish came in carrying a tray laden with coffee and cookies.
With a sigh of  acquiesence she sat back down, and he did the same.
"Shall I pour," Trish asked, lifting up the french press.
"3 Sugars, no cream," he asked.
Ever shook her head, frowning at his self-indulgence, sugar was almost a swear word these days.
She took hers black and strong, no sugar, no cream; Trish knew exactly how she liked hers.
"Let me get straight to the point," he said, taking a loud sip of the coffee.
"Hmmm.....nice!"
"What I have, is not for sale, but I am willing to trade you for it."
Ever remained silent, listening intently, enjoying the aroma of the strong blend as it filled up her office. She did love her coffee.
The thought made her smile, "One of my few indulgences."
He flipped his tablet, tapped open the presentation screen, and it played before her eyes.
Ever appeared on screen, in full colour, in 4D.
On screen-Ever blew a kiss, and Ever felt it brush her cheek.
A shiver went down her spine. Her jaw dropped.
"SID," he said, "it stands for Simulated Individual Device, and it is only available to selected clients in the initial phase, handpicked by me. And I am offering her to you." He gestured an open hand at Ever.She watched the flow of his hand through the air towards her.
"How?"
"You have a large online life print, go ahead, key in your name, you'll get over 1000 000 000 hits, and that is just a safesearch..."
"It's taken more than a year to programme her to perfection,She is ready to stand in for you in your life, ready to fulfill your duties and responsibilites, giving you time  to do the things you love, to follow your passions, guilt-free.Your life gets done, while you enjoy your freedom."
He paused for effect. Allowed it to sink in, while the video of Ever played in front of her eyes.
"But the programme only functions for 5 days at a time, for now, " he said with displeasure, "I'm still working out the glitches."
"Perfecting the chunks of time, will take time," he snickered, taking another sip of his lukewarm coffee.

"Only you can activate a time slot." he explained, "using your fingerprint."
"And you get to destroy the unit in the same way now, if you are not interested."
"If your answer is 'No', the programme is burnt, the unit  de-constructed, and you'll never hear from me again."
"In exchange for?" she asked, afraid to hear the answer, afraid because she was so intrigued, and scared that she was giving it her consideration.
"There are certain... uhm ...pleasures that have become outlawed... you have the power  to sway decisions affecting public law in the Comfort Zone."
"Small pleasures, really," he smiled, "I miss smoking;  I miss public displays of affection, fast foods, talking & laughing loudly... walking my dog on public beaches, ...small things," he said, "you know?"
Ever felt a thrill, remembering the pleasure of a cigarette after a good meal, tried to remember the feel of a thick juicy burger in her hands, couldn't remember the last time she felt Joshua's arms around her with the sun on her face....
"A small price to pay," he stated, "for buying time."
"My five minutes are up," he said standing, "you decide, do I stay?"
Ever turned to the window, the view from her office on the 14th floor afforded her the best view over The Company Gardens.
She stood looking out, longing for the solitary winding paths, imagining the feel of the gravel under her boots, the crunching sound as pebbles shifted under her weight, she longed for the clearing of the mind as she ambled along, the walk a balm against her frenzied state induced by the  Market Zone.
"Stay..." she said, sealing her fate.

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The Market Zone at midnight was almost unrecognizable. The glass skyscrapers that sparkled by day as sunlight hit solar panelled windows were dull  faceless giants in the arms of Table Mountain by night.
Entering the Market Zone at midnight took a bravado she never knew she had.
Plastic bags fluttered in the wind where it got caught on barbed wire and security fencing keeping criminals and drones locked inside office complexes till the clock struck 7.
The dark clung to her as she dodged round corners hiding out from the dim light cast by lampposts disappearing into thin air.
"Goddamn cold!"she cursed wrapping her coat tightly around her. She flipped up her collar, catching dark tendrils streaked with grey on her coat buttons. After years of wishing she could tame her wild mane, she'd finally given up and let the curls win. It sprouted out from her head like weeds, wild and willful, her tiny face getting swallowed up.
She yanked it out breaking off bits, She needed a goddamn break. Her last SID-break felt like a lifetime ago.
She spied him standing in the doorway of an old cafe boarded up, the Coke sign faded but clinging on, a remnant of a bygone era when people drank soda like water and everything was upsized.
The Contact motioned for her to come, it was safe, the patrol had moved on to the Industrial Zone.
She looked  up when she reached him, her mask slipping, childlike glee contorting her features, "Long time, AI, long time!"
"Only a fortnight, Ever," he said, dragging deep on a Camel, "thanks for this by the way."
He opened his palm, the light of the reader flashing red. Ever raised her index finger and pressed down hard, initiating her salvation.

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Ever opened her eyes to find Joshua standing over her blocking out the Sun.
"This came for you, darling," he said, lovingly smoothing back her hair made crazy by a deep morning sleep in the sun on the lounger poolside.
She opened the note written on paper in a steady hand, the smell of his cologne lingering on the ivory sheet

For Ever

Be, just be.

Always
AI

A warm thanks to @Francine Hirst for the inspiration behind "Be".

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