The sign read: closed for a year. Nettie sighed and turned to her companion. “I’m not sure about this.” The big brown eyes looked at her with compassion. Of course compassion was really the only expression Ellie had, but for a moment Nettie was grateful. “If I go you will have to go into storage.” No reproach from Ellie, she just wasn’t programmed for it.
There really was no if. Nettie had been planning this for the past ten years. Ten years of constant work and saving, just for one year, a whole year. She didn’t know if she could cope in First Life. Putting her key in the lock she secured the shop, hearing the click of the deadbolts. At least she had managed to pay for the space the shop stood in, so that people wouldn’t forget her. Having to put the shop into storage with Ellie would have been a massive undertaking and the simple underwriting process would have taken about a year. Turning on her remote Nettie reprogrammed the display wall to show a countdown of her return and a montage of the weapons available inside. Staring at it for a moment to make sure there was no glitch in the programme she noted the endless stream of rifles and pistols, as well as the staffs and axes. By the time she got back all the weaponry would be out of date and would have lost at least half it’s value. Sure, some of it could be updated but most she would have to flog off to Newbies and those who where scraping a living. Unfortunately once she started her year away there would be no contact with the shop, no contact with anyone.
“Yo! Nettie!” a voice yelled across the street, its timbre rich and suggestive. “You sure you want to go. You’d miss all this.” The man gestured at his leather clad body.
Nettie looked across and scrunched up her eyes… who? Quickly she used her remote to bring up an identification arrow which immediately sprang up above the man. Was it a man? Nettie could see that his over-all colour was a rich burgundy with highlights of blood red. And he definitely had a tail with a tuft of black hair. This was the only hair on the whole body though. The arrow flashed a couple of times and then pinged; ‘Needlz’ appeared above the arrow.
“Did you just do ident ping?” Needlz said, laughing through his dog-like snout.
“Yes,” Nettie said annoyed. “You were green yesterday with 2 pairs of arms and long hair. Look at you now. Needlz, I don’t know why you change so much.”
“I know it,” he said, unconcerned, “but then look at you. Little Nettie still in her default skin. You ever been augmented?”
“No,” Nettie said primly, attaching her remote to her belt. “If I had I’d hardly be able to afford this year out.”
Needlz grunted and crossed the street. Now Nettie knew who it was she wouldn’t attack. It was against her rules to attack friends, although she wasn’t sure that he would classify himself just her friend. Maybe she should attack him, then perhaps he would leave her alone. Still… Nettie watched as he stumbled up the step and almost tripped over his own tail. Amazing that they had even let him out with that little amount of co-ordination.
“You sure you should even be out of the centre. You don’t seem too well adapted to a tail.”
Needlz grunted and took hold of the offending appendage. “I wanted to have a go at a tail but so far all that has happened is that I’ve tripped twice and almost got in a fight when it smashed into a guardian.”
Nettie winced at the last one. Guardians were some of the worst to offend as they were the strongest. Actually Nettie was a guardian herself but she never published it. Just as Ellie, her pet and companion, was one of the strongest on this world. Of course, Nettie had an inkling what Needlz wanted and she wasn’t sure she wanted to give it to him.
Silence had fallen over the pair and Needlz looked at the floor before glancing at her. “You know I can’t come,” he said quietly and so seriously.
Nettie blinked. This was not the conversation she was expecting. “No.”
“I’m too old.” He laughed with no humour. “Been one hundred and fifty years in this world. It’s too late for me, otherwise I would come with you. Make sure you were safe.” He sighed and then brightened with a rueful smile. “Didn’t realise you were dating an older man did you?”
Silently Nettie answered – didn’t realise I was dating. Out loud she said, “no.”
“So I’ve decided the least I can do is make sure you’re safe.” Needlz lunged forward with all the speed of a fully augmented humanoid form. Nettie was strong and fast but no match for this and for the first time she wondered if he wasn’t hiding his gaming level. Was Needlz a guardian as well? He grabbed her remote and placed it next to his own, tapping a few keys.
Nettie looked on, totally shocked. He had just effectively married them. He had opened up his own resources to her. The boxes in his hands beeped and Needlz said, “yes.”
He was about to hit the backup key when Nettie placed her own white hand over his red one. “Yes.” Her voice was clear and the boxes chimed ‘accepted’ together. Now everything they owned, they owned together.
“Nettie.” It was his turn to look shocked. He handed back her remote and Nettie glanced down. Needlz was indeed a guardian. “You didn’t have to.” He said quietly.
“I think I did.” She held out a hand and he grasped it. She found his smooth skin very different from the fur he had before and looked up at him with surprise in her eyes. “Twenty years. For twenty years you have been coming into the shop. Why now? Why say anything as I am leaving?”
Needlz smiled sadly, “Scared.”
Nettie looked unconvinced. “Really? What with you being… how old?”
“Yeah, spent my life playing and not experiencing and this, well this is definitely experiencing, even on this plane.”
Nettie nodded and looked at her remote. “I’m leaving.”
“I know. And this way,” he said gesturing to the remote, “you’ve got the resources to come back.”
Nettie nodded, looking bashfully at her new relationship and not finding it too distressing. After all Needlz had been coming in the shop for years. He was like her favourite pet, except he talked back and his hands wandered. Of course that was less of a problem now he was down to one pair, but she did miss the fur and the colour, a beautiful emerald green.
She looked at the remote and flicked a finger at the navigation bar. Wow, this guy was loaded. So if she… Quickly she made a few passes over the remote until the screen held the body of a man type creature. Covered in teal hair and with only two arms it had a more human face and was what could only be described as a ferocious teddy bear. She hit send and Needlz looked.
“Can you?” She asked hesitantly.
“You want me to be a teddy bear?”
“No,” she said looking at the floor, “I want you to be my teddy bear.”
Needlz grinned, showing a nasty set of pure white teeth. “Done.”
He then turned to his own remote and sent an image to her.
Nettie stared. “It’s me.”
“No. I mean it’s me as I look now, in the same skin I have always had. No different.”
“You have the default skin we get when we arrive. I didn’t fall for your looks but for you inside.”
They looked at each other for a moment and then Nettie broke out into a huge grin.
Ruefully Needlz said, “corny I know but this time the truth.”
“I believe you.”
At this moment Ellie trumpeted and both players looked at the elephant. Don’t think large elephant though. Ellie only came to Nettie’s waist and was a beautiful turquoise colour with baby pink ears. She was also one of the most powerful pets in the game. Smiling, Nettie reached for the remote again and began earnestly tapping on the keypad.
“You’re going to be late for the portal,” Needlz said. “Wasn’t that your Ellie alarm.”
Distractedly, Nettie nodded and started to walk toward the town centre.
Needlz watched her go with a sad smile.
Turning she looked back, “come on then. I need you with me.”
Needlz grinned, looking like a big kid and loped after her. His grin slowly faded as Nettie continued to work and didn’t acknowledge him at all. Needlz stopped outside the storage depot but Nettie continued on, not even looking up. Finally they reached the very centre of the town. Nettie hit one last button and nodded to herself. Then, looking at Needlz, she grinned and kissed him lightly on the nose, his current form having a muzzle and not a kissable mouth. “See you in a year.” And she was gone. A flash of blue light filled the area.
Needlz closed his eyes for a while and wondered who he was going to talk to now. Something rubbed against his leg. Something thick skinned and surprisingly warm. Opening his eyes and looking down he gazed uncomprehendingly at Ellie. She in turn sat like a large dog and looked at him.
“No,” he said and Ellie cocked her head to one side looking at him expectantly. Grabbing his remote he turned it on and saw that Nettie had swapped all of Ellie’s controls over to him. Staring at the remote he couldn’t believe the value this little elephant had. Then a message flashed up: “To keep you safe. See you in a year.”
I know the story is a little out there but it was one I created for my MA and it fit the Daily Prompt – Mutants and Hybrids. Hope you liked it as much as I do.
The image is from here.