Lena drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. The car drove itself in a pack and she didn't really need to pay attention, her thoughts centering on her friend Mirjam. She calmed her fingers, surprised at her nervous twitching. She wondered if matchmakers usually felt this way.
Lena parked the bubble car on its landing wheels in between two Fiats and clambered out the front bubble hatch onto the Östermalm sidewalk. Lena was impressed with Mirjam's east side row house. Outside the building's front door, a candle in a tin cup nestled in a snow drift. The higher end housing associations had begun copying the restaurant's fashion of burning candles outside their doorways during the winter's long nights.
Lena knocked on the door of the eighth floor flat. Impressive. The elegance of Mirjam's virtual avatar hadn't been all gussy. Lena waited as the sounds echoed within the room. She glanced at her phone and doublechecked Mirjam's address card. She had the right address. She knocked again.
Dust spewed into the air as the door opened a crack stopped by a chain. A pale face, dark hair on the other side.
"Mirjam? It's Lena." The blue eyes, like whirlpools, matched Mirjam's avatar. "You agreed to see my new bubble car."
"I... I thought you meant virtually." Mirjam's voice cracked and her words were barely audible over the thrum of the hallway. Mirjam slid the chain and the door opened. "Tea?"
Lena grabbed her friend's hand and pulled her forward. "How long since you've left your flat?"
Mirjam held a hand up to block the blue-white LED lights in the hallway. Her pupils dilated. She waved a hand at her simple Acne blouse and H&M slacks. "I can't go out."
Lena closed Mirjam's door and pushed her friend towards the elevators. Her friend wouldn't impress the skin-deep crowd, but Håkan would look deeper. Especially, once he'd seen her whuffie score. "You must see the car."
Outside, Lena patted the clear bubble of the car. "How do you like it?"
"Nice. I'll go back inside."
Lena curled her lip and pouted. "You haven't even looked at the car."
Mirjam walked around the car. A foot slipped on the ice and she reached out to the car to balance herself. "Why only two wheels?"
"Smaller, fewer moving parts. It uses dynamic stabilization to balance."
"How can it run on that?"
"Get in, we'll take it for a spin," said Lena.
Mirjam's whirlpool eyes spun to a single dark point. She opened her mouth, closed it, and climbed into the bubble car.
They crisscrossed town until they reached the wide boulevard of Sveavägen. The street was still marked with two lanes for the old-style cars, but this was a bubble car only thoroughfare now. Bubble cars four across weaved through the city. Lena turned to sit Indian-style in the seat facing her friend.
Mirjam placed a hand against the dash. "Lena! Don't you need to drive this thing?"
"All automated. Don't you watch the ads?"
Mirjam grimaced. A car jerked between the lip of their bubble and the bumper of the car ahead of them. "My personalized ads know that I don't go out. You should know that too."
Lena chewed her lip. She'd gotten this far, and she couldn't stand Håkan up. "Let's stop at the bar for some food." Lena waved her hand towards one of the rowhouses on the right side where a few smokers hunkered in the red glow of heaters hanging from a yellow awning.
Lena smiled. "You don't have a choice. You come with me, or you walk home." Lena didn't like the wounded look she saw on her friend's face. This was all in her friend's interest. She shouldn't live her life holed up in her room, living virtually.
They sat at a heavily stained table. Håkan hooked a chair with the curve of his leather boots and leaned on it over their table. "Hi Lena, who's your friend?"
Mirjam looked at her friend and then at the man with the propeller beanie, white tee-shirt, and jeans. "You set me up. How dare you." Mirjam snagged her coat off the back of the chair and pushed her way through the bar's patrons.
Lena shook her head. Håkan could've dressed better. "Give her a ride home." She tossed her keys to Håkan.
"What about you?"
"I'll find a ride." She winked. "You know me."
Scene seed from my writer's weights challenge on using character foils to show traits and on the economist's "The Bubble Car Is Back" article on the EN-V bubble car prototypes that GM is exploring with a company in China.