On Days Like These

This piece was written as a response to a prompt on Writer’s Circle. We had to take a phrase from pop culture and write a story around it. I tried to make it as unconnected to the actual context as I possibly could.

I ended up writing quite a few short stories focusing on the world I made up here and I might develop them into something longer at one point.

Charla picked at her food listlessly, ignoring the hustle and bustle of the cafeteria as best she could. She momentarily contemplated getting up and running to the Student Office, demanding her papers and then just leave the Uni. Never stop running until her shame stopped burning.

A heavy hand dropped on her shoulder followed by a growling “MindifIsithereokaynice.”

She tried to get up, but the hand remained. “Saw you sitting here and figured, I figured that there girl, she got some troubles. Storm inna cup, yeah? So, tell me about it.”

Charla tutted softly and got up, shaking off the stranger’s hand. “I don’t know you and I am fine. I am also late, so excuse me.”

The stranger let out a loud guffaw. “Exactly. You don’t know me, so I won’t judge. And believe me, you will feel better. This Uni can break the strongest of us.”

Charla stopped. She sat back down, not really knowing why. She coughed. “Okay. I mean it’s probably all over for me, might as well tell someone.”

The stranger’s eyes gleamed with mirth. “Believe me, we’ve all got our own problems. No-one is likely to notice or care too much. Say, you’re from the Zeta quadrant, yeah?”

Charla nodded, “Third parsec. Charlasandis. Call me Charla.” She hesitated for a second, then spoke up. “You’re a Grys.” The stranger nodded. “Perceptive, Charla. Was it the tail or the horns?”

Charla smiled faintly. “Neither, it was the arrogance.”

The stranger’s smile froze, then she exploded with laughter. “Touche, my new friend! We do know what we want and how to get it. Ytres is the name, world-formation is the game!” Charla looked around self-consciously, “Um, you’re a Worldbuilder? What are you doing here then with us normos?”

She noticed that the students at the table stopped their conversations and were exchanging excited whispers. A Worldbuilder!

“Call me stupid, but I never thought isolating ourselves in ivory towers of knowledge did anyone any good. Not to be too arrogant, but I make good worlds and that’s because I like talking to people. Heard of Grytt IV? That’s one of mine,” Ytres added proudly, savouring the adoring looks she got from the eavesdroppers. “Won Hoo’s Worldbuilder Award this chapter. Judges said they never saw physics like that and it was all because I got drunk inna pub with a guy from Freher the night before the competition who tried to explain floating oranges to a stoned Terran. But enough about me. What’s up with you?”

Charla sighed and shuffled uncomfortably. “I blew up the Timegrid.”

Ytres stood up abruptly. “Okay, let’s talk somewhere else. This is way bigger than I thought.”

Charla nodded miserably and slouched after Ytres as she made her way across the cafeteria. The Worldbuilder moved with a self-confident grace, Charla noticed with a pang of jealousy. Like she owned the universe and it only existed there to serve her whims. She kicked at a discarded can and buried her hands deeper into her Dayformer robe.

Five minutes later she sat daintily at the end of a bench and wondered where to put her hands so they would be in minimal contact with the grubby surface of the table. She stole furtive glances at the patrons of the pub as she waited for Ytres to come back with the beverages.

Hoarder’s Inn was a bar famous in this Quadrant of the Galaxy, although it begs the question why. The music was a bland mix of oldies and obscure bands from less visited parts of the Quadrant, the beer was poured with the minimum amount of care or fuss and the menu was mainly dishes made with whatever was on sale in Ber-mart this week. Despite Yupp, the owner, trying very hard to make the place as cold and without personality as possible, it was frequented by celebrities of a dangerous sort, smugglers, drifters and petty criminals of a more glamorous kind. Everyone who was anyone in the Quadrant proudly recounted days and nights drinking, brawling and singing at Yupp’s. Star-crossed lovers whispered in dark corners, promising they will at least always have Hoarder’s Inn. Smugglers desperately fidgeted on the hard haemorrhoid-inducing chairs, waiting for their contact but never worrying, because it’s Hoarder’s Inn. If someone says they will be there, Death herself couldn’t stop them. There was also a healthy dose of students from the Universe drinking their joys or pains away and even a tourist or two, who will be lucky to only get pickpocketed and have their less valuable organs stolen by the end of the night. Yupp got a hefty commission from that, probably the only reason why he kept the place, at the cost of two wives and several partners of all genders who had strong opinions about organs staying on the inside of the body.

And, of course, here was Charla. She sighed again, wondering if she was really that desperate for company that she agreed to have a beer in this cesspit. She made up her mind to leave and was just starting to get up when Ytres plonked two mugs down. “Drink ‘em while you got’em! Bottoms up, pants down, hey!” She clinked her mug against Charla’s that remained on the table. “Now, talk. Blew up the Timegrid, eh? Takes some skill to do that.”

Charla blushed scarlet. “It was an accident.”

Ytres snorted into her mug. “Kiddo, Timegrid could withstand me going to town with the Doppler Effect strapped onto Hrrtn’s Equations. Pull the other one.”

“It was!” Charla hissed hotly, “I tried to adjust the sunset to reflect the emotions of the buyer and it just collapsed on itself!”

Ytres looked impressed. “You wanted to include the buyer’s emotions? Were you doing a sponsored project?”

“No, what’s that?”

“Well, sometimes, one of the patrons of the Uni comes and gives the Dayformers a commission. Like, they say they want to order a special day for one of their friends and have students design it. Gives you real-life practice in building a day from scratch and it gives the patron a warm and fuzzy feeling of taking care of the education of future Dayformers. Plus they get a hefty discount, because nobody pays a bunch of kids.”

Charla shook her head, “No, it was nothing like that. I was trying to input a matrix which would adjust itself based on the flow of emotions from any person accessing the Day.”

Ytres whistled softly, “Whoo, kiddo, you don’t mess about. I never heard of anyone even thinking about that sort of thing. No wonder the ‘grid went kablooey. You need some heavy-duty machinery for that. Not sure it even exists yet.”

Charla nodded miserably, tears pooling in her hazel eyes. “Professor Lhu kicked me out after that. He said if I ever come near his class he will personally stretch my body over two weeks.”

Ytres rolled her eyes. “Lhu is an idiot. What you did was revolutionary. Even if it doesn’t work.”

Charla wiped angry tears from her eyes, and spoke through her sniffles, “Look, I know the rest of Uni sees Dayformers as pushovers. Right, we make single days, people give them as novelty gifts, like here, have this day as an explorer in the early Thacian period. Or Granny, re-live your younger days and dance the night away like you used to. But for some people it means the world. They get to experience planets they never would have otherwise or do things they are physically incapable of. I know it’s not as glamorous as world forming, but we make people happy.”

Ytres pushed her mug away and aimed a stern glance at the sniffling Charla. “I never said you were subpar. Each of us does our best.”

Charla let out a hollow laugh. “Not me. I’m out of this Uni, Lhu won’t let me into his lab and I can’t pass my exam if I don’t have my Day ready by next week.”

She looked up to see Ytres giggling softly. “What? What’s so funny?”

“Oh, nothing. Listen, you can have access to the lab anyhow. All you need is a commission.”

Charla scoffed. “Yeah, wonderful. Where am I going to get a commission? I’m forever going to be known as the girl who blew up 6 million credits worth of Uni equipment.”

Ytres’ eyes gleamed with evil pleasure as she downed the rest of the mug. “Me. I’m giving you a commission. Better yet, I’m giving you free rein. Whatever you want, goes.”

Charla snorted a bit of beer in her nose and dissolved into a coughing fit. “You? You’ll commission a Day from me?”

Ytres smiled and spread her arms magnanimously. “Sure. Go ahead. Make my Day.”

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