Enjoy an excerpt from Emerian Rich’s “PODs” featured in our newest anthology ON TIME.
Waiting in traffic for the San Francisco-Los Angeles Transbay Tunnel was bad enough, but with her interview at L.A.’s most prestigious animation studio in an hour, Kelly grew beyond fidgety. True, the SyncTank Animation building was only five minutes from the tunnel by car and the transfer took only seconds, but the wait times displayed over the tunnel entry read forty minutes. Cutting it close was not how she wanted to make her first impression.
“Stop clicking your pen,” her mother said.
Kelly sighed and put her pen in her bag. Yes, her mom and her thirteen-year-old brother were with her, too, which made the situation more aggravating. To them, it was a fun shopping weekend, but to Kelly, it held her ticket to a better life. Her brother, Seth, sat in the back seat, earbuds in, his thumbs pumping away at his first-person shooting game.
“Huffing and puffing isn’t going to get us there any quicker, Kell. Why don’t you sketch?” Mom moved up a car length as the time display clicked up to forty-one minutes.
“We’re going to be late.”
“We’ll get there, don’t worry. I’ve been in worse crushes than this.”
“Maybe I should just take a POD. The wait times over there are only ten minutes.”
“But you have to rematerialize in that dingy old station where the lights are always flickering.”
“Better than being late. Don’t you understand what this job means to me?” Kelly dug in the bottom of her bag for transfer tokens.
“Yes, but what if you get mugged once you get there? You know how they don’t guard the exits. You could get hit while you’re rematerializing. Your purse will be gone before you snap out of it.”
“Mother, that only happens on Crime Wave TV. There’s been like two incidents of that since the PODs launched, and the suspects were apprehended before they left the terminal.” Kelly smiled as she found three tokens, enough to get to L.A. in a POD.
“Fine. Go. We’ll meet you for dinner, if you survive.”
“Nice, Mom.” Kelly rolled her eyes and opened her car door in the stand-still traffic.
“You have your ReMat tabs? I don’t want you getting sick.”
“I have them. Don’t be late. Serano’s. Five o’clock.”
“Yes, dear.” Mom waved as Kelly slammed the door.
Making her way through the obstacle course of vehicles, Kelly finally stood in the personal POD line. Wait time clicked down to five minutes. She ran through the list in her head. Transfer, walk the five blocks to SyncTank Animation, and have about ten minutes to relax before the interview.
The computerized voice greeted the person in front of her. Awesome, she might even have time for an iced latte if the line continued to move fast. A flash of light, and the POD slid open.
“Welcome to Transbay POD 238,” the computer said. “Please enter the POD and stand on the foot plate.”
Kelly did as she was told as the computer weighed her.
“One hundred and fourteen pounds. Where is your transfer destination?”
She pushed the big Los Angeles square situated between London and Mumbai on the monitor in front of her.
“You chose Los Angeles, is that correct?”
She tapped the green YES on the screen and held her tokens at ready.
“Please insert three tokens.”
Pumping in the tokens, she bit her lip. She’d POD-jumped hundreds of times before but always got a queasy anticipation in her stomach.
“Payment accepted. Prepare for buckle in.”
The POD door closed behind her, and synthetic straps crossed her body—one across her chest and two more on her hips and legs—holding her in place. Head pads moved in close to her skull. Biting her lip, she waited for the flashing red, waiting light to turn to the green, transferring light.
If she got the job with SyncTank Animation, her life would change. She’d move out of her mother’s house and get her own place in Los Angeles, maybe by the beach.
Her POD glowed green, reminding her of one of those rapid release pills her mom took for migraines.
“Transfer will commence in 3…2…1.”
Kelly took a deep breath, even though they said you shouldn’t do that before the jump. In a moment, she rematerialized in the L.A. POD with a suction pop. She let out her breath and came back to herself. Oxygen blew in to the POD, and the front door slid back. Her mom was right about rematerializing; it could be a bitch. Stomach a tad queasy and eyes blurry, Kelly blinked as the placement straps detached and the head pads moved back.
“Thank you for traveling with Quicktrans PODs. Please watch your step and have a wonderful day.”
Kelly stepped out of the POD dizzier than normal. She blamed it on not eating breakfast. Popping a ReMat tab in her mouth, she prayed it would alleviate her queasy stomach.
Contrary to what her mother believed, no one milled around the pristinely-clean terminal around the POD station. In fact, there were only three other users in sight, coming or going about their day.
Kelly stepped onto the escalator and emerged in the bright sunshine at street level. The SyncTank Animation building was five blocks to her right, so she slung her messenger bag over her head and walked as quickly as her interview shoes would allow.
The area had been renovated since the last time she’d been there. A beautiful park was to her right with water fountains and a large statue of a family. She paused, her artist mind unable to pass by such a sculpture without study. “Never Forget” a plaque read at the families’ feet, and she smiled. Los Angeles must have built a 9-11 memoriam for their lost comrades in New York. Kelly kissed her fingertips and placed them on the bronze little girl’s cheek.
Walking on, she took a sip from her water bottle. The massive glass doors of the SyncTank Animation building loomed before her, and she had just enough time to arrive early for the interview. The iced latte would have to wait until after, but she’d consider it a well-earned treat. Glass doors parted electronically as she approached the building, the air conditioning a pleasant gift after walking blocks in the hot sun.
“Your business here?” a guard asked as she walked toward the elevators.
“I’m here for an interview. SyncTank Animation, seventh floor?”
“Step over to the front desk, please.”
“ID and CV card.”
She pulled out her driver’s license and handed it to the guard. He scanned her ID with a small metal rod.
“Wow. You guys are pretty high-tech here. Can you see my parking tickets, too?” she asked.
“No. CV card?” He didn’t seem amused in the least.
“Citizen Verification Card.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
He gave an irritated sigh. “CV cards have been mandatory for a year now.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I’m not from here. I just transferred from San Francisco.”
He looked at her ID, turning it in his hand to inspect the hologram. Picking up a phone, he dialed.
“Security. We have a Kelly Torkin here for an interview. Yes, I see, understood.” He hung up the phone, studying his screen and looked back at Kelly. “SyncTank Animation doesn’t have any interviews booked for today, but someone is—”
She gripped the counter in desperation.
“What? No, that can’t be. I definitely have an interview at…” She looked at her watch. “Right now, in fact. Can you check again?”
“I’ll ask you to step back.” He came around the desk, hand on his weapon. What was that? A taser? Pepper spray?
“Okay.” Kelly held her hands up in surrender. “I give.”
“Someone is coming to speak with you. Take a seat.” It was an order, and she didn’t miss the warning in his voice.
She sat on a bench near the lobby doors. The security guard went back behind the desk but kept her in his line of sight.
She pulled out her cell phone and saw the little icon on the top of her screen displayed an X where the service connection should have been. Sighing, she peered down the lobby hall at a line of three phone booths. Should she try to call Mr. Lawson?
“Excuse me, Miss, are you Kelly Torkin?” a Mr. Lawson asked as he stepped though the security check. He wore a gray suit that matched his hair.
“Yes. Hello, Mr. Lawson.” She stood and shook his hand.
“Forgive me, but we don’t have an interview today.”
“But, we spoke on Wednesday, remember?”
Mr. Lawson glanced to the guard and waved him away.
“Why don’t we sit over here?”
“Don’t you remember me? We met at the San Francisco job fair last spring.”
“I do remember. You were the most promising animator to graduate in your class. I was very excited to get you on my team.”
“But you didn’t show for your interview, and Miss, that was three years ago.”
Emerian Rich is the author of the vampire book series, Night’s Knights. She’s been published in a handful of anthologies by publishers such as Dragon Moon Press, Hidden Thoughts Press, Hazardous Press, and White Wolf Press. Emerian is the podcast horror hostess on the internationally-acclaimed podcast, HorrorAddicts.net.