***This is the opening of a short story I am currently working on. It’s a very rough draft but comments most welcome.
She looked up at the clock: the last hour was always the longest, especially when she had plans. She imagined a tiny figure, a round, dumpy man in overalls donning a flat cap with blackened features and greasy fingers popping out from behind the face of the clock, taking a break from working the mechanisms to push the minute hand further on, fountains of sweat pouring from his forehead forcing him to stop, before heaving again and again, just for her. She wasn’t that lucky. No one here was.
She was exhausted. Not from the 40 hours she had almost clocked up this week, not from the boredom of entering the eternity of insignificant data to make the corporate arseholes their bread and butter (obviously they didn’t eat bread and butter) but more so from the internal struggle she faced as she tried to balance on a tightrope – a spectrum of emotion, torn between two extremes; at one end excitement and at the other, anxiety. She was going to be vacationing for the first time later that evening and she couldn’t stop thinking about what the experience had in store for her, how everything was about to change, one way or another.
She was finally released from her duties, indicated by the automatic shutdown of the system. The door to her work-pod released and the timer signalled her 2 minute warning to leave the pod, leaving her a further 8 minutes to exit the complex completely. She didn’t waste a second. She rushed through the cold metal corridors, the sound of her work-pumps, clanking on the iron bridges as she went, before she came to a standstill, almost bounding into another worker but managing to put the brakes on just in time: a human traffic jam. This was the worst part of the day, believe it or not. There was nothing so demeaning as walking single file in order to ensure you could get out of work on time; it was badge of complete control, worn by the powers that be.
She made it to the shuttle and sat trying to think about anything else but her impending engagement. But what else was there for her to think of? The squalid living quarters she was assigned to as part of her work contract? The exquisite meal option that awaited her because it was Friday, powdered something or other laced with garlic? The phone access she had been granted for her lengthy service (a full year was considered a long time.) to the family and friends that didn’t exist? No, she had to think about this vacation because it was the only thing that existed.
The door to her building performed the routine retina scan, before the cold voice of the computer delivered the obligatory security questions and demanded for her to display her work credentials. Her daily work schedule and duties formed part of today’s test and she momentarily panicked; she’d been in such a rush to leave and her mind was elsewhere and now drawing blanks, but luckily the answers came to her before the time elapsed. Thank god for that, she thought, she simply couldn’t miss the opportunity that awaited her behind that door.
Four grey walls greeted her as she crossed the threshold of her quarters. It was the same grey that had swept her along the streets outside, the same grey in her work-pod: it was the same grey that existed everywhere. Well, everywhere she had ever been. It was all she had ever known. She didn’t think about what else existed too often, she didn’t see the point. Where would that get her? And there it was: her opportunity for momentary escape, her chance to experience a taste of life. It was the VR system that before tonight, she had tucked away out of her sight since she had been granted it six months ago. She had been saving her credits, you see, for the vacation. She didn’t want to dip in and out, wasting her hard-earned credits on lousy experiences like the others did. She wanted it to be the best it could be. She wanted it to go somewhere. That was the smart thing to do, right? But that’s what was scaring her. What if she never wanted to come back? Then what would she do? There were only two real choices: come back and face reality once more and the other thing didn’t bear thinking about.