Jardel stared at the giant portal, watching dozens of ships from the Emano Commonwealth clustering together in a Tetris-like dance trying to take up as little space as possible before the jump. The slow graceful movement of the giant ships was enchanting. Some of the ships were hollowed out asteroids like the one she was on, some were just boring old commercial ships where function was form and nothing else creative, and some, like the Capitol Ship, were ornate over-complicated designs with no business ‘flying’ through space.
The giant portal was breathtaking. The screen was crystal clear and even though Jardel knew there was at least a thousand meters between it and the hull of the ship, the portal had the appearance of a giant, glass window cut into the edge of the hull. She scanned the length and breadth of it and her eyes were drawn to the trademarked logo in the bottom right corner that read “Light Gutters©”.
“Dammit,” she cursed under her breath.
The portal had noticed that she looked at the logo and suddenly the entire view changed. It was no longer a view upon the universe, it was now an advertisement for Light Gutters. No one else on the deck noticed the change because the portal adjusted the ad for exactly Jardel’s viewpoint. She was the only one who could see it. A handsome man appeared on screen and began explaining the virtues of the Light Gutter. Jardel realized it was a man she had seen yesterday at the café she had lunch in. She had noticed him sitting by himself and kept stealing glances at him, but of course, he was way out of her league. She cursed again. The man in the advertisement was no actor. The stupid ad had simply seen her real life browsing history and used his image to get her attention.
The man explained that although there were plenty of fine portals on this ship, only Light Gutters gave you the “True View®”. He went on to explain that other portals throughout the ship were merely video feeds from various cameras stationed outside the ship’s hull. You might look out a portal while on the starboard side of the ship and in all actuality, the man said, the video portal was showing you a view on the port side. In this particular example, it showed a third person view of Jardel in the café yesterday, sipping her coffee and staring out the portal behind the very man she was pretending not to notice.
The man looked up from his coffee and stood, speaking directly to Jardel in the café.
“Light Gutters, on the other hand,” he said, “shows you exactly what is in the direction you’re looking, even if there is a thousand meters of of stone, corridors, machinery and various other sundries between you and the hull.”
An animated cross section of the ship appeared and displayed a cartoonish diagram of what the man was explaining.
“Also,” he continued, “there is no camera between you and the view, the Light Gutter tunnels the light from the outside right to your eyes via special, optical gutters. Nothing can stand between you and the light with a true Light Gutter.” The commercial ended with the guy sitting down at Jardel’s table and winking. “Light Gutters,” he said. “See what you’re missing™.”
The commercial faded and Jardel felt the need for another shower.
Jardel walked down Regal Avenue and turned onto the stone bridge that crossed the little green stream that had frogs and minnows and an abundance of wildflowers but she barely glanced down; she kept going up Dairy Street until she came to the dark tunnel made out of cobblestone that connected the mill side of town to the White Oak section and walked through the tunnel, enjoying the damp smell of old, wet stone and emerged out onto White Avenue in the bright, warm sunshine. It had obviously rained earlier but the sun was burning up the small pools of water and a light mist rose off the damp cobblestone street. The street was lined with ancient looking row houses carved out of the stone that reminded her of some ancient ruins back home. Built by the old colony when they had to travel well below the speed of light, by those who would live, raise families and die, sometimes violently, on the rock. With nothing much else to do, they carved out some magnificent buildings and even though she had passed down this road many times before, her pace was slowed by the crawl of her eye scanning the many intricacies of these wonderful facades.
One of her favorites, the Martin House, caused her to pause altogether and follow the masterful stonework, covered in ivy up to the third floor balcony. A man and woman were chatting up there and the man rested nonchalantly on the balcony holding a glass of wine in his hand. The woman seemed very interested in the story he was telling. She laughed that type of laugh where she quickly covered her mouth, almost embarrassed that she had been drawn into his story and not wanting to reveal her interest. As she covered her mouth, laughing, she looked away from the man and down to the street where Jardel was. They locked eyes for a moment, and Jardel, slightly embarrassed for visually eavesdropping on the couple, cast her eyes upwards as if to say she wasn’t looking at them. She stared at the bright blue sky where big white clouds moved eastward, racing away from the sun. Of course, it wasn’t a real sky, but it looked it. Since she was in IT, she knew the sky, or ceiling of this street, actually ended a few meters above the couple, but you could not tell that by looking at it. The sky seemed to stretch above them forever. She looked back at the woman and the woman was now saying something to the man and he looked down at Jardel. Jardel acted as if she hadn’t noticed them and quickly started to walk away, but she stepped right into a small pothole in the street, filled with rainwater. She almost tripped, but did not stop.
Jardel turned right at the end of White Avenue and onto Kingslee Lane with its wide, tree lined streets and a good sidewalk. The houses were old, brick ranch house style dwellings that were reminiscent of old, black and white TV shows. At one time they were all well-manicured poster perfect dwellings with kids in the yard playing baseball, moms gossiping, and dads cutting the grass. That was some time ago, back before Jardel had done her maximum amount of hyper-sleep. Now, most of the yards had knee high grass and For Sale signs, the houses abandoned and curtain-less.
She stopped in front of a house that was obviously well cared for. There was a little, hand painted sign of an old lady smiling that read “VIC, 175 Kingslee Lane.” It had the storybook white picket fence, perfectly trimmed shrubbery, and several large orange trees giving abundant shade. Many of the other houses had orange trees along the sidewalk also, but their oranges had been ignored and had fallen to the ground, littering the sidewalk.
“Maintenance, I need a street sweeper on Kingslee Lane. We got citrus on the sidewalk,” Jardel said into her comm. “Citrus!”
She unlatched the wooden gate and walked up to the door of 1750 Kingslee Lane filled with a mix of excitement and dread.