The Journey to Ekur — Chapter 3


The mood in the room was so tense Sol could feel it, like summer sweat tacky on his skin. He hated everything about his father’s office — the towering window boasting one of the best views in the city, the austere, tech-packed desks, the buzzing incandescent lights that he always felt gave everyone a faintly ghoulish appearance. The kind of space you used to impress your business friends — cold and removed from the rest of the home.

“Why does it matter what the stupid thing says?” Sol yelled, “Why do I have to do anything, anyway? Why does it matter? It’s not like I couldn’t just sit here for the rest of my life and get whatever I needed, anyway!”

“You think I was handed everything the way I’ve handed it to you?” his father asked. “I have worked harder than any of my brothers, than anyone I know, to build this up to where we are today. And you expect to just be given it forever? These things take work, smarts. I thought I taught you better than this.”

“You taught me nothing,” Sol grumbled. “You’re so wrapped up in your work, I’m surprised you even remember you have a son.”

“Do not speak to your father that way! After everything, he’s done for us?” His mother was furious. Sol didn’t care. He was pissed, and neither of them understood.

“And what about you?” Sol asked his mother, flinging his arm out. “You haven’t done anything but stay at home for the last two decades. Why is it so bad for me to want that? To be able to reap some of the benefits of what we’ve grown here, instead of turning around and starting it all over again? We don’t need it anymore. The business is big enough.”

“I was playing out my life path, just as you need to play out yours.” His mother sounded hurt, and Sol had a flash of nausea as he thought about what he was doing. Why was he freaking out on them? The stupid thing had told him he was supposed to take over his father’s business in five years. No, more than a business — a veritable trading empire. But he didn’t see the point. There were plenty of other people who could do it, and he was sure they could do it better.

“Why not have Avaya take it over? You know she wants to,” Sol suggested. “Or even Marcos, when he’s old enough?”

“You are the eldest. It is expected,” his father said, “And besides, I need to start training my replacement now. I am older, and I want to make sure I can work alongside whoever I train for some time. It will be four years before Avaya would even be old enough, and ten for Marcos. You think I have that much time to waste?”

“This is so stupid. I’m eighteen! I’m not supposed to be locked up in your office with you, haggling over the prices of carbon steel with some old fogies. I’m going to Omar’s place.”

“Maybe he’ll knock some sense into you,” Sol’s father snapped, “That boy knows how to do business. Sharp as a tack, always on the money.”

“Whatever,” Sol said, slamming the door behind him, storming down the stairs and through their garden. It was one of the few green spaces in the city, and he rolled his eyes as he made his way through the three checkpoints that protected the front of the garden. What was the point of all of this, anyway? His father worked so hard so they could all live behind walls? It was all so pointless. What did it really matter, in the end? He pulled his jacket up around him. It accounted for temperature, its fabric fluctuating to ensure he could wear it — his favorite piece — regardless of the weather, another thing his father made fun of him for. There was no way to appreciate their wealth right. No way to do it justice. Everything was either a waste of money or he hadn’t spent enough money on it. He was relieved to make his way out of the heavily guarded segment of the city he called home — the city might call it a neighborhood, but it felt more like barracks than anything else.

Omar was delighted to see him, “My man, finally a man!” he cheered, slapping him on the back. “What great future is in store for you?” Omar’s place was cramped, but it was his own. He had done the most he could with the space — it was all organized efficiently first, comfortably second. Every square inch utilized and then a couple blankets thrown on top for good measure. Posters, carefully framed to demonstrate that Omar was now an adult, lined the walls. If you didn’t know Omar, you might think they just featured his interests, but like in everything else, he had a system. Omar only bought posters for games he had hundred-presented, and only for movies, he deemed good enough to watch at least ten times.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Sol replied, throwing himself down on his friend’s couch. “Want to hop in Devil’s Delight or something? I could get away from all of this for a while.”

“Didn’t get a good path, huh?” Omar asked, grabbing some drinks from a mini-fridge under his desk and tossing one to Sol. He caught it easily.

“No, it’s fine, I guess. I just don’t really see the point. The dumb thing seems to think my father could train me into some great trader, but like,” he paused, looking down at the soda in his hand, “How much is this worth?”

“Three credits? But I buy them in bulk, get them cheaper, so maybe one-half.”

“See, you always know it all. You, my dad, all these people. It’s like you have a computer in your brain.”

“I mean, we do,” Omar laughed, tapping his arm and the side of his head, “So do you. We’re all integrated, man.”

“Right, but like, unless I pull up some display…” he sighed as he cracked his drink open and took a gulp. “Look. It doesn’t mean anything to me that this is three credits. So, what if it’s three, what if it’s fifty? That’s supposed to turn into something, affect market values, or something. None of this makes sense to me. Why would I spend all my time tracing numbers we made up in the first place?”

“You know, I’m a little surprised right now, too. But more about the fact that your life path thinks you could be a trader,” Omar laughed, running the commands to start up his VR space. “Did the thing give any justification why you would even be able to do this at all?”

“Apparently I’m smart,” Sol said with a sigh. “And it thinks my dad can train me.”

“Your dad is one of the best. My uncle told me when he first got his life path, a bunch of guys thought it was a joke. Thinking he could do that much, get that far? Even your dad doubted it. But then it turned out to be totally true, and maybe it’s the same for you. It understands your potential.”

“Potential to be monumentally bored for the rest of my life.” Sol shrugged. “It’s all just numbers. Our whole life here is just numbers, numbers, numbers. At least the farmers actually grow stuff.”

“We do develop a lot of tech the scholars design,” Omar said, loading up his character. “We literally build the things people use in their every day, and make it possible for the three societies to pass resources back and forth effectively. What’s so bad about that?”

“Let’s just play,” Sol said. He didn’t know how to communicate his disconnect to people. They all had reasons to justify what they did — everything meant something to them. And it was all just stuff. He couldn’t tell you why the cars zipping around meant anything more to people than the VR station he and Omar were playing on now, or why he was supposed to care about it.

He got lost in the game for a while. They had been working on battling their way towards the lead boss, and he felt his excitement rising as they got closer and closer, their hand-crafted swords in hand. It had been months of work to grind all the materials they needed for this point and they were almost there.

“You ready for this?” Omar turned to him in-game, his avatar a burly barbarian. Sol, now a knight, nodded.

“Let’s do this.”

The game’s boss — a dragon-devil of immense proportion — came bursting from the stone ground as they entered his resting chamber. Omar let out a whoop and charged forward, Sol hanging back, watching for the timed tail swipe attacks and jumping and rolling out of the way to find the gaps in the dragon-devil’s movement, surging forward to attack. With his first hit, he knew they were over-leveled. He watched the spurt of numbers flicker away, mixed with the particle effects. They made short work of the beast, both of them panting after the battle.

Omar looked at him with a grin. “That was wicked!” he shouted, fist-pumping the air. Sol smiled, high-fiving him, and they turned off the machine.

Sol stared down at the haptic gloves on his hands. “It was pretty quick,” he said, the excitement draining from him. What had they just spent months doing? What was the point?

“Man, because we’re freaking good at this game,” Omar said, shaking his head happily as he came to sit on the couch. “What do you want to do now?”

“I think I need to go for a walk,” Sol said. “Get my head out of the clouds.”

“When you see your dad again, tell him I told you what’s what, okay? I want your old man to like me.”

“I know, I know. Business connections and all.”

“It’s all about networking,” Omar winked. “Thanks, man.”

“No problem,” Sol said, heading out to the now rain-slicked streets. Maybe a walk would shake him out of his funk. He was being set up for a life of prestige, of running one of the most successful companies in the world. So why couldn’t he find it in himself to care?



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