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Like Walking on Water [IC]


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Aroma Cafe

Monday, January 28th, 2013

3:52 PM


Eliza sat in the corner of the coffee shop, taking in inspiration and trying to avoid distraction as long as possible.


The small cafe in Lincoln was one of her regular after-school hangouts. It was one of the holdouts of the Seventies, aimed at encouraging art and expression in a part of the city with a reputation for gang warfare. The theory had been that it would be better for people to take it out with their voice than their fists - and, for more than a few, it had worked. The Aroma had a reputation for the "passion" of its clientele - that's when some people want to say "anger" but be real polite about it - but said clientele was an incredibly mixed bunch. More than a few students from Freedom College made their way down here and made it a regular hangout. 


Today, Eliza was working on her homework - notes towards a term paper, math problems, and another poem for her Creative Writing class. She wanted to get as much done as she could before Sharl showed up. She didn't know what was going on with him. They made a habit of talking regularly on the phone when they couldn't arrange to get together, and Eliza was used to Sharl being out of contact. His school often meant that there was some field trip to somewhere exotic and out of cell reception. But after the last jaunt, he'd been the one to call first, and he'd seemed... nervous. Somewhat excited, too. Said there was something important he wanted to talk about, and in person. 


So she waited, trying to focus on the necessary to make time for the important. 

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When Sharl did arrive, he didn't look any different than he usually did. When he wasn't in the Matrix-style black trenchcoat and sunglasses that she'd come to accept as his typical mode of dress, he generally stuck with some variation on the theme. In sunglasses and black leather jacket and jeans today, he looked more like a teenager of the 1950s than his usual 90s look. "Hey, Eliza..." He sat down across from her, his emitter humming almost inaudibly as the seat moved underneath him. He looked across the table at his girlfriend, who he hadn't seen since before the crisis on Erde even began, and found himself leaning across the table to kiss her on the lips. "You'll never guess where I've been!" 

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Eliza smiled as Sharl took a seat opposite from her. She knew Sharl didn't exactly have a huge grasp on Earth fashion, but it was interesting to see him show up dressed like he'd walked out of Grease. Not that she entirely objected... 


"Hey, Sharl," she said. She was always interested to hear his stories about his experiences. While she'd been able to surprise him with the occasional jaunt into the realm of spirits, it was like second nature to her at this point. Sharl, however, was always seeing new places - Antarctica, the depths of space, that place where all the giant monsters dwelled in the Pacific, the occasional alternate universe... "Let me take a stab. Planet of the Amazons?"  

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"Not really, I..." Sharl looked around for a moment, checking to see who might be listening, then focused on Eliza. "It's a long story. You know how I told you about that other dimension where the National Socialists won World War II? Well, my friends and I, we went there," he added in a soft voice that the  murmur of the coffee shop blotted out past their table before he went on, "and we rescued the Tronik of that dimension. The National Socialists were holding it captive and experimenting on the inhabitants, and I couldn't allow that. So my friends and I, we went there, we defeated their commando team, and we rescued a whole city full of my people. It's resting safely on Earth-Prime now. That's twenty million people." He smiled thinly. "From what everyone tells me, it was a really good day." 

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Eliza was most certainly intrigued. Not only had Sharl gone to another universe - and the way he said it, it was a regular occurrence - he'd found a copy of his homeworld there... and under enemy occupation. And he'd managed to liberate it, and bring it back around. "That's pretty damn incredible," she said. "Twenty million... almost can't believe it. How are they settling in? You setting up relations between your Tronik and this other Tronik?"


It was then that something Sharl had said pricked at the back of her mind. "Wait. 'From what everyone tells me'... something happen over there? System fault? Nazi amnesia bomb? Nasty virus?" 

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"We came back during the Day of Wrath," replied Sharl frankly. "Our school was already under attack, and we were carrying not just the other Tronik but biological weapons we'd liberated from Erde. We went to the Sanctum, fighting our way out of a trap the Curator had left for us. And when we got there, he was waiting for us." When he got his coffee, Sharl stared down into it in undisguised fascination before looking up at Eliza again. "He sent those robots to kill people here, but he _came_ for Tronik in person. He was already loaded into the program matrix when my friends got there. He'd gone...crazy, I guess, he wanted them to worship him as a god and was going to drag them back to his mainframe forever. Hundreds of people died. My best friend died. But my friends stopped his machines, and I fought him in Tronik with my friend Gal Vanic. At the end of the fight, as far as we can figure out, I found a way to use my own program to overwrite the Curator's. To make him leave Tronik alone and abandon his plans for this world. And he went away, and I...well, I died. In Tronik, I died, fighting the Curator." 

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"I'm sorry for your loss," were the first words out of Eliza's mouth - if only because it took her quite a bit longer to process the "I died" part of that statement. She turned it over in her head, trying to juggle the weight of it. She was familiar with the idea of things dying and coming back - she'd met more than a few spirits of roses, corn, and other plants that died in the winter, only to rise again with the dawning of spring. But for Sharl...


She knew it was different. She knew he was different. It was just now, talking about something like this, that it really struck her. 


"How...?" "How did it happen?" begged to be asked, but it was probably the most insulting thing she could say. So she wrestled it down hard. "I mean, are you okay? I mean, you're obviously not dead, but... well, is everything all right?" 

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"Well, luckily Miss A had a full scan of my memories and personal information on file from just before we left," said Sharl with a little shrug. "So, she took that information, plugged it into a base Tronik file, and here I am. I've talked to my friends and I've watched what we have recorded, but I don't remember anything between being scanned by Miss A and waking up in her laboratory after the Day of Wrath." He looked down at his coffee for a moment, then shrugged again. "So I guess, you know, that was really weird. Some of my friends were really freaked out because of how I came back. But all people are is the sum of their memories, right? It's not like I'd have a soul anyway, even if they are real." 

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Eliza knew better than to debate metaphysics with Sharl at this point. She was pretty sure, on some level, that he had a soul - but the nature of the matter wasn't of much concern to him, and bringing it up would likely trigger either a debate or some ruminations of the trickier aspects of his little "reboot." "Memories do help, yeah," she said. "But... there's something they shape, on some level. There's the you that's crafted and directed by the memories. I could've grown up in rougher circumstances, I could've grown up in better ones, but... on some level, I'd still be me." There was a part of her that wanted to talk about "programming" here, but it was a part of her that she wanted to attack with a baseball bat for being too cute. "You're you, Sharl. The memories just help back that up."

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"That makes a lot of sense..." Sharl looked Eliza in the eye and put his hand on hers, taking just a moment to gather his courage before he went on. "I'm sure whatever it was in the Tronik stock program anyway, so I'm fine. So anyway, now that that's happened, I've been doing some thinking about you and me and our relationship." He glanced around to make sure no one was listening, realizing with a little embarassment that he was more worried about people hearing this than their earlier conversation. "I really like you a whole lot, Eliza, and getting blown up made me think about all the things we want to do but never quite get around to doing, and how much missing out on that would suck. So what I was thinking is that, maybe sometime this week, you and I could take things to the next level. You know." 

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Well. This wasn't exactly the direction she'd been expecting the conversation to go. At least... not entirely. When she'd heard about Sharl's brush with death - okay, that was putting it lightly, his death - she'd honestly considered the boundaries of this relationship. She was able to get around the differences - it was Freedom, there were much weirder differences and much weirder couples if you cared to look. To hear about his restoration brought a sense of relief, and with that a rush. But when Sharl had mentioned wanting to "cement" the relationship... she was still wondering how to take it. A half a dozen things she'd heard from her friends and her mom about the things boys would say to you to get in your pants went through her head... but then again, it wasn't like she hadn't thought about the act, or not wanted boys to do just that. And Sharl was... Sharl was kind. Sharl was boundless. And Sharl was just as weird as she was. 


Eliza smiled. "There's a few things we'd probably need to research first," she said. "Don't think 'The Birds and the Bees' is 100% accurate for 'The Electronics and the Elementals.'"

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"Well, I'm biologically just like the Earth boys," he murmured. "Maybe a little better, thanks to all the genetic engineering. Except I don't have biology at all, depending on how you look at it." He blushed. "Oh man, I'm going to have to ask Miss...anyway, let's talk about that later." He smiled at her and took her hand in his, rubbing his thumb along the back of her hand. She felt close to real, anyway, which was about as good as things got out here in the real world for him. "Right now, let's talk about your eyes. Tell me what's been lucky enough to look at them lately." 

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Eliza smiled, taking a second to parse Sharl's flattery. It was slightly clumsy, but like a lot about Sharl, it was sweet. "On the crime side, some of the usual small fish," she said. "Dealers, bangers... there were a few Yellow Kings who gave me a bit of trouble, but they went down quick enough. Spirit matters... usual business. Some politics, some wondrous phenomena, and the occasional disaster." She knew spiritual politics weren't quite Sharl's thing, and while he made an effort to be interested, she probably wasn't going to bring him around to animism any time soon. "How 'bout you? Had you been to Centurion's Sanctum before? What was it like being there?" 

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"It...didn't really mean anything to me," Sharl admitted, almost shamefacedly. "I mean the architecture was cool, the way the Centurion rebuilt his homeworld there, and all the technology. Koshiro's really into old architecture, so he thought it was really cool, and he's even working on a map of what we saw, but for me it was..." He shrugged. "I never met the Centurion. He saved us, but didn't really talk to us. The only one who did know him well enough was Leroj, and he's gone now. So it was neat and all, sure, but it wasn't really my thing. I don't even remember this last trip, anyway." He fell silent for a moment, then admitted again, "I think we're going to have to move the Troniks. It's not safe keeping them there with just the Centuritrons watching them, not with as often as the Sanctum gets attacked." 

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"I can understand," said Eliza. "To be honest, I don't really know that much about the Centurion, either. He was before my time. They talk about him in history class, and I've seen specials about him on the news, but... I don't know if I was even a possibility when the Invasion happened. I mean, I guess I'd like to know more about him, but..." 


She shook her head. "I guess it's something to put down for the future," she said. "If you need help moving the Troniks, I'd be glad to lend a hand. Don't know exactly what's involved, but I'm pretty sure there's something I can do. Even if it's offering refreshments." 

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"I'll let you know. Everything right now is...up in the air." He sketched an invisible pattern on Eliza's hand, thinking about the future. "There's not much you could do in the physical world, since we can't let water get anywhere near some of those corrupted systems. Your powers would probably work there once you were uploaded, if they're something the system can understand. It's pretty flexible these days." He looked into Eliza's eyes for a moment, his mind wandering. "Anyway, er. You'd be really useful there, even if you couldn't stay. It's an island city." He took a breath and admitted, "I'm really...really excited. Do you think we should try your house, you know? I can't really sneak you back into my school..." 

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Eliza honestly wasn't sure how her powers might interact with the structure of Sharl's world. While she imagined that Tronik might have some sort of spiritual echo, she wasn't entirely sure if a mystical dominion over water applied to virtual water. "I'd love to see it," she said, "even if the whole powers thing doesn't carry over all the way. It'd be good enough to see your home, and to walk under another sky."


She smiled as the talk turned back towards the bedroom. She was just as excited - and likely just as nervous - as Sharl. "I think we could make my house work," she said. "Dad should still be down at the docks, and Mom's still gonna be at the Boardwalk. I can go ahead first, make sure the coast is clear. They know I'm seeing you, so if one and/or two show up, we may have to turn it into... 'studying.' And there may be some risk of a family dinner in there, too."

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"The sky back home is nothing like the sky here," he said reflectively. "Our sun is always up, even if you can't see it most of the time, and it's green instead of blue. You have to be way up on a sector roof to see it at all, but when you do it's like no other world I've heard about. Even if it's only real to us," he admitted with a thin smile. Moving on to the much more attractive possibilities of getting to see much more of Eliza, he went on, "OK, do you think I should meet them first? If they know me, know I'm your boyfriend, maybe they won't think it's weird if we're hanging out together...you know." Sharl wasn't really up on most relationship details, but he was a quick study. "For school." 

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"I'd love to see it," said Eliza. "Hell, I'd love to see the streets, too. Just love to see how a city forms with such a different idea in mind. Way you get down to it on this world, it's usually bricks, glass, steel, and asphalt in a different formation each time. I mean, each one is different at its core, but I'd love to see what it's like to see a city grow out of such different soil." 


She stirred her coffee, playing with the spoon just so that it didn't look too weird that it was moving on its own. "As for my parents, I'd like you to meet them. But if you'd like to meet them before... well, you know... that's up to you. I'm... okay with having it happen after." 


Damn, girl, is there any way you can sound less smooth about that? 

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They made arrangements for Sharl to come over that weekend, giving Eliza plenty of time to 'introduce' him to her parents. Over the next couple of days, he thought about bringing the subject of intimate relations up with Gina, but decided against that. He was pretty sure Gina had sex, since Steve was staying over at her place all the time now and he'd caught them together that one time he tried not to think about, but she was like his cool, albeit angry, big sister, and he didn't particularly want to hear advice from her about sex, just as he was pretty sure she didn't want to hear him answering those kinds of questions. He did make arrangements for Koshiro to cover for him the night he was planning to stay very late at Eliza's, using the same kinds of tactics that Sharl had used when Koshiro was making his solo expeditions into town.


Though Koshiro was a bit surly at the news, Sharl still got a high-five for his plans before the afternoon he headed over to Eliza's place before the dinner hour one Saturday night. He was carrying with him a no-fooling paper book of all things, an Intro to Computer Science that would be easy enough to explain as something he was an expert on, and had dressed conservatively in a white shirt and slacks, just the thing to impress a girl's parents. Surely this would work.  

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Eliza, likewise, made her own preparations. There were... supplies she'd managed to acquire from a clinic six blocks over. There was little chance she'd need the protection - as far as Sharl said, the sheer discrepancies would ensure that there would be little chance of any unfortunate side effects. But still, the items she'd acquired might see some use; Better safe than sorry, after all. She'd also conferred with some of her friends for advice on how to make the night work, but a lot of it was conflicting, even contradictory. She just decided to see what would happen, instead of trying to contort herself and risk throwing something out, either metaphorically or literally.


She opened the door for Sharl when he showed up. She was wearing a somewhat demure but still exotic skirt with a similarly alluring blouse. "You're right on time," Eliza said, leaning in for a kiss. While she was in the region, she whispered, "Just remember... Dad doesn't know about my heroing. He doesn't even know I've got his water gifts. He's really cool with the idea of other realms, though, so if you wanna talk about Tronik, that's cool. I'd just rather this not go real awkward, real fast." 

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"Sure," said Sharl agreeably, "I won't ruin anything." He knew how protective Earth fathers were of their daughters, if TV was any judge, so he kissed her lightly on the lips and looked around for her family. He was excited, but did his best to play it cool, not wanting to give away that what he and Eliza would be studying that night had nothing to do with education and everything to do with...he'd have thought of a better metaphor, but it was pretty hard to concentrate that far ahead. "Don't worry, you can count on me." He made sure to hold her hand, and nothing more, as they headed into her family house. "Wow," he said automatically, even with his practice with Gina's house, "This place is huge! Does all your extended family meet here?" 

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"At Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the occasional Juneteenth," Eliza said, leading him through the house by the hand. It looked fairly suburban, as he'd gotten used to the term, but with the occasional strange burst of life. The bookcase in the den was bedecked with tomes of spiritualism, fortune telling, and various concepts of "the other side." The kitchen, meanwhile, had a fish tank with nothing in it save for some long, crystalline rods of ice -- which refused to melt, despite the fact that the water had to be at above freezing. "Other than that, it's just us. Real estate in Lincoln isn't exactly at a premium. We're in a pretty good block here, though, and Mom and Dad keep the place together." 


Eliza's bedroom looked like what Sharl might imagine a teenage girl's bedroom to look like. There were posters - though mainly samples of local art and a few Freedom-based hip-hop and R&B artists - a desk, a bookcase - with plenty of books, some of which looked like they'd been carved rather than written - and, drawing the center of both their attentions, the bed. She sat down on the edge, drawing Sharl down with her. She placed a kiss on his lips and whispered, "...you ready?" 

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By way of response, Sharl leaned in and kissed her, long and deep, his hands coming up to cup the back of her head and stroke her hair. When they stopped for breath, he looked at her and smiled. In a warm voice with just a trace of a teenager's nerves, Sharl met her eyes and said, "I'm ready for you, Eliza. Let's do it." It occurred to him, suddenly, that losing his virginity to a pretty alien girl was one of the reasons he'd gone through the gateway out of Tronik in the first place. That thought was enough to make him smile and pull her close, stifling any nervous laughter by pressing his lips against hers and sliding his hands over her body, finding the places where her blouse was open and her skin was warm. When their lips met this time, he definitely felt a spark. And as the lights dimmed in her room, his holographic body glowed ever so slightly in the dark. 

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Eliza welcomed Sharl in with the kiss, and lay down as events proceeded as one might imagine. Eliza found herself easily getting lost in the experience, but still had enough awareness to guide Sharl on the course of the whole thing. But it was... good. Well, maybe "ecstatic" was the better term. There was an electricity running through her throughout the entire thing - and not from the obvious source. It was building inside her, coursing as she and Sharl grew closer. And in time, when it reached its peak, the storm burst. She cried out and fell back onto the bed, drawing Sharl closer to her.

"...wow," she said. "That was... um. Wow. It was... incredible." She was still trying to find the words to say, but they weren't exactly swift in coming. "I think --"

Her thoughts were cut off by the sound of the front door slamming, and an older male voice echoing down the halls. "Eliza? Are you home?"

Eliza bolted right up in bed. "Oh, damn!" she whispered. "That's Dad!"

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