For Nanowrimo 2014, in addition to finishing my Dan Howell fanfiction, I wrote several short stories involving a city in my world that doesn’t actually feature in my novel. Some of them are pure world building, but I’d love to make an anthology of them at some point, once people are more familiar with the world in my novel. I’m totally out of nonfictional inspiration at the moment, so I edited this one and I hope you enjoy it.
Michael grunted in frustration as he worked through the pockets of his jacket, his shirt, his jeans, his schoolbag.
“What?” his friend Darren said, shifting his backpack impatiently. They had been standing outside the Skylar Condos penthouse for almost five minutes.
“I can’t find my card,” Michael said, punching the blue cement wall beside the door. He rested his knuckles there for a moment before hanging his head with a groan.
“Is your dad gone already?” Darren asked. They’d done primary together, but they’d ended up in separate secondary schools when Darren’s dad moved to a different sector. They didn’t get to see each other during the week anymore.
Michael rang the doorbell.
The intercom light came on. “Hello, Mr. Taylor. Why have you damaged the wall?”
“Shut up. Let me in.”
The light around the doorknob winked green, and Michael pushed the door open. Darren closed the door behind them with a sarcastic sigh.
“Are you saying you have a path and you didn’t remember that five minutes ago?”
“Well, sorry. We just got her a couple weeks ago.”
They came into the main room, a high-ceilinged combination of kitchen, dining room, and lounge. The cyberpath in question was seated in Dad’s armchair, one knee pulled up almost to her shoulder. She wore skinny jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, both jet black. She looked a bit younger than Michael, probably fifteen, with dark hair that cascaded down her back except from above her left ear, where her head was shaved so that the house matrix cable could be plugged in.
Her metallic blue eyes whirred as she focused on Michael. “Welcome home, Mr. Taylor.”
“What’s she wearing?” Darren said in horror.
“What does your path wear?” Michael retorted.
Darren smirked. “A bikini.”
“Of course she does.” Michael turned back to his path. “Quinn, any messages?”
“One message from your father threatening to disown you if the neighbors complain about anything this weekend.”
“What kind of stupid name is Quinn?” Darren scoffed.
Quinn focused on Darren. “The one my parents gave me, you utter tart.”
Darren stared at Michael. “How high did you set the sass on this thing?”
“I dunno. Dad installed her. Quinn, make dinner, okay?”
While Michael headed up the stairs to his room, Quinn pulled her other leg up and closed her eyes. Her toes wriggled thoughtfully as she accessed the consolidator in the kitchen. Within minutes, the scent of roast chicken began to fill the penthouse.
Skylar Condos was in sixteenth sector, the most expensive sector of Ausbury. Everything in this dome was brand new, and the credits required to live here proved it. Nearly all the penthouses were owned by billionaire businessmen, with a few being owned by mere underworld bosses. Michael’s dad was the owner of a pharmaceutical research company that supplied most of the eastern sectors.
Michael and Darren returned from dropping their things off in Michael’s room to find Quinn setting the table for them.
“You can set a place for yourself too, Quinn,” Michael said to her.
Her eyes whirred, but her face made no expression otherwise. Darren frowned at Michael.
“What?” Michael said.
“Why do you talk to her like that?”
“Like she’s a person.”
Michael reached out to touch Quinn’s arm. Quinn grew still, but allowed him to squeeze the meat of her forearm for emphasis.
“She’s made of flesh and blood just like us. Why wouldn’t I?”
Quinn set a third place at the bar, where she ate by herself instead of joining the boys. Michael didn’t mention this to Darren. Even Darren had to feed his cyberpath, or the module’s processing power would decrease to nothing. It was hard to kill a cyberpath, mainly because of the nanites streaming through their blood, but it was possible. If you could kill it, it had to be alive, right?
“What on VS, Quinn?” Darren called to her.
Quinn listed the shows as she hopped off her barstool and started the dishes.
“Put on the free-running one.”
Michael ducked the cable to bring his plate around to Quinn.
“Mr. Walters is staying all weekend?” Quinn asked quietly, accepting his dishes.
“Yeah, his mom’s picking him up Sunday night.”
Michael grabbed a couple sodas and joined Darren on the couch. Darren didn’t seem very focused on the viewscreen, however, as his gaze constantly wandered to Quinn. Michael’s arrival had activated the housewife sequence, and she was dusting the bookshelves and straightening the furniture.
“Quinn, pause VS.”
The movement on the viewscreen stopped. Michael turned a scowl on Darren.
Darren looked surprised. “What?”
“You don’t like her. Do you want me to hibernate her?”
“I never said I didn’t like her,” Darren protested. “I just can’t get over the fact that she’s wearing so much.”
Quinn cocked a dark eyebrow at him. “Do my clothes displease you?” she asked, looking down at her black ensemble.
“I mean, who has a female path and covers her up?” Darren inclined his head thoughtfully. “Actually, I’ll bet when women get male paths, they don’t cover them up either. It’s defies nature.”
Michael smiled slyly. “Do you think she’s pretty?”
“Sure. No such thing as an ugly path. The manufacturers take care of all that when they get the bodies.”
Darren’s sandy eyebrows rose. “What?”
Quinn didn’t move. Darren frowned at Michael for a moment before getting up and walking over to Quinn. She didn’t move as he leaned over and pressed his lips against hers. She then reacted by punching him in the throat. Darren staggered back, spluttering. Michael walked over, face curled into a broad smirk.
“Michael, what in glacial tor?” Darren finally managed to gasp out. “I didn’t know you could get them programmed anything other than pacifist.”
“That’s not programming.”
Michael touched Quinn’s cuff gently. She looked the other way. He pushed up her sleeve to her expose her forearm. Circuits were visible through her fair skin.
“My path has those too,” Darren said. “So?”
Darren inspected the circuits closer. “The main line isn’t lit.”
“Quinn has a personality because she was improperly wiped when they pathed her. She has memories because she wasn’t dead.”
“But that’s illegal.”
“So? Ever visited the Kandelas?” Michael pulled Quinn’s sleeve back down. “I’m pretty sure neither of their paths was dead.” He made a face. The Kandela syndicate’s paths were nothing short of supermodels.
Darren settled back on the couch as Quinn resumed her chores. “I didn’t know you could program living people.”
“There’s a lot more going on in Ausbury than the council likes to announce.”
“Well, I knew that. I mean, there’s been chipless people living in the plates for decades, but no one wants to crawl through the tunnels to arrest them.”
Michael settled on the arm of the sofa. “When I replace my dad, I’m going to use the company’s voice to make sure no one else ends up like Quinn.”
“Imagine if our kids got kidnapped,” Darren said, looking up at Michael. “If we refused to ransom them, and they just pathed them. My daughter, installed in some tertiary party animal’s apartment.” He suddenly looked like he was going to be sick.
“You make out with your path, don’t you.”
“Not anymore,” Darren declared.