Short Story – ‘Mood Lighting’

Good morning, all. And happy weekend! Hope all is well with you and yours.

As promised, here is a brand new short story. Another bittersweet SciFi/Spec ficlet, just over 1000 words. A reflection one what the future might hold, both good and bad.

Thanks for reading!

Mood Lighting

red-670-front“We’ll get an appeal. We have to. Even if we don’t, if we could at least get the lawyer to release a statement, get the word out on the networks about what’s happened…”

“Why? What’s the point?”

Angelo stared at me. Those wide, black eyes, so dark that when we first met I could see the stars in them, now bored into me like jackhammers. 

“What?” I asked wearily, rubbing the skin around the implant where it was still raw and itching, doing nothing to improve my mood.

“If you’ve even asked that question, perhaps you’re right. Maybe there is no point. Maybe there never was.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Yes it was.”

The hurt I’d caused tightened his jaw.  He’d never been any good at masking his feelings. And if I’d been in a vindictive mood I’d’ve stated that was how we’d ended up in this mess in the first place. But I wasn’t. For once. I was just tired. Tired, sore and aching with the bashes and bruises but also with the effort of not-acknowledging the pain the look on his face generated in my chest. 

“I don’t know what you want me to say. There was always a chance this would happen. Are you telling me you never prepared yourself for this?”

“I thought we would win.”

I couldn’t fight a dry smile. “Of course you did.”

Angelo turned his back to me. He leaned his forehead against the bars on the cell door and closed his eyes. I wondered if he was getting one of his migraines. 

At least that’ll shut him up for a while.

The kick of guilt I felt in response to this thought was harder than constant needling pain of our near-constant fights ever since the arrest.

“I’m sorry,” I heard myself say. He didn’t move. “I know it means nothing now. But for the record, I am sorry.”

“I don’t want you to be sorry. I want you to be angry.”

I searched about inside myself for a reaction. I knew I was disappointing us both when I found none. I kept my mouth shut.

“You just don’t care any more, do you? About any of it.”

Again I searched. Again, I came up empty. I hung my head so I wouldn’t have to meet his look. 

Silence stretched on. I shifted on the itchy blanket of the bunk and stared at the grey wall. Angelo slid to the concrete floor, rested his head against the wall. 

“It was my fight,” he said softly after such a long time I wondered if he’d finally said his last words to me. “I see that now. I want to say I’m sorry for dragging you into it. But I can’t. I still think we were right.”

I managed a shrug. “I’m not saying we weren’t right. I’m just saying we lost. And were probably always going to.”

He rubbed his temples. His lips had paled. A migraine was definitely coming. I wondered if they’d be worse now we’d both been Implanted. I checked my instinct to go to him and rub his neck where I knew it helped. I didn’t examine the hesitation too closely to find out whether it was because I didn’t want to or because I didn’t think he would welcome it. Deep down I knew it was a bit of both.

“If no one speaks up, people like Richmond will be able to carry on doing whatever they want, no matter how it hurts people. Destroys lives. Divides families.”

“People like Richmond will always get away with it,” I murmured after a while. “They have the money. The lawyers. The clout.”

“We had a lawyer.” I wrinkled my nose and was gratified to see a grey smile brighten Angelo’s face a moment. “Ok, yeah. So he wasn’t great. But his heart was in the right place.”

“Heart gets you nowhere in this world.”

Angelo looked around us at the grey walls, the strip lighting, the single, blinking red eye of a camera in the corner. “It got us here.”

“I thought that was my point.”

“You have so many points these days, Cheri. It’s hard to keep track.”

I picked at a snagged fingernail. The bruises across my knuckles were starting to heal. The cuts didn’t sting so much. The the implant still pulsed angrily into my skull but the discomfort had already eased since the morning. Soon I wouldn’t even be aware it was there. Just like they wanted. “I thought my point was there was no point.”

Angelo sighed and closed his eyes again, a line forming between his brows. His shoulders had come up and his neck muscles were taught. I kept quiet, knowing any further attempt at talking was not only genuinely pointless but would ratchet up the severity of his headache. I glanced at the wall chorno and was relieved to see it would still be several hours before they crashed the door open to dump dinner trays on the plastic table. We still had the time and space to hurt.

I stretched out on the bunk and stared at the white ceiling. I didn’t close my eyes. Exhausted as I was I knew I wouldn’t sleep and I didn’t want to see the scenes from the day before playing out on the inside of my eyelids. Not again. Not so soon. Neither did I want to think what life would be like from now on, in here or out there, now my thoughts, feelings, physical stats and sensations were being logged on a server somewhere for behaviourists to analyse.

“Richmond got into power because he has money,” Angelo croaked a few minutes later. “He had the money to push his Implant technology onto the open market. Richmond isn’t rotting in this cell instead of us because he had the money for better advertising and a better lawyer. When did it all come down to money, Cheri?”

“Do you really want an answer to that?” He cracked open one of his dark eyes. I sighed. “It’s always been, my love. It probably always will be.”

“If you always thought that, why did you join me? If you really believed it was hopeless, why fight at all?”

“Because it was your fight. And it was important to you.”

Angelo raised his head. His face was tight with the internal thunder of the gathering headache but his look was clear, empty of the anger and hurt that had sharpened it over the last months. He looked like himself again.

He climbed up onto the bunk next to me, moving stiffly like someone whose limbs were strung with wire. The flashing light behind his ear from his cranial implant was a moody red, indicating that his physical state was unsettled even if his mental was calming. He put a hand, bruised and bloodied as my own, onto my arm. The weight of it sent a warm rush through my body and I felt a tingle behind my ear as my own implant flashed from amber to green. The camera in the corner whirred, the monitoring systems no doubt alerted to our change in mood by the Implant transmissions. But Angelo just sat there, eyes closed, one hand resting on my forearm whilst the other propped up his chin like his head was too heavy to hold itself up.

I covered his hand in my own. His light eased to amber and his shoulders loosened. We sat there in silence. We didn’t move even when they brought food. The lights went out as night came in but we still sat, hands entwined, until our pulses gradually adjusted to beat in time with our Implant lights now flashing green into the darkness. 

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