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First pages

One --The Augment

Corrag smiled at the idea of Gurgie in her bedroom on Durkiev Drive across town and the shock of recognition when she realized her friend had signed off on MandolinMonkey rather than go in for the remnant. So characteristic of a truly dynamic soul, Gurgie would say, to quit nonchalantly on the verge. But for Corrag the reality was less comforting. She had ten minutes before her parents called for dinner. It was a more complex fear coming over her -- of facing Ricky and Alana, the stalwarts of St. Michael's Close, the exclusive, tree-lined enclave of Edmundstown where she had grown and lived her entire sixteen years. Her parents, the Drs. Lyons as they were titled in the annual consensus, had implied that this talk would be “important to her future.” Whatever that could mean. Something about the boring infinitude of possibilities always just around the corner. Like signing off on the game rather than face the interior of the obelisk, it was easier for Corrag to be present and accounted for -- ride the tide of her parent’s displeasure -- than to make a stand by remaining in her bedroom, the private space she continued to carve out of the increasingly imperiled life she was about to leave behind.

She observed numbly as the icon came up on the nanowall, the family crest with the towering crane and the stylized image of the transgalactic, so twenty-thirties, and wished again she’d had other siblings, that Ricky and Alana had been more compelled by the recommendations of the Commission on Demography and less concerned with their augmented careers. But so be it. There were also advantages to being the basket in which were placed all the eggs of the Lyons family name. If only the crest design were more compelling. She hit the kill button before the music could end. It was the theme of HG Wells's acclaimed classic The Shape of Things to Come, which she had performed during her sixth grade drama season in a stellar role as Hillary Perron, the Council leader responsible for the withering away of the former state of California, the sclerotic, corrupt vestiges of what had once been democratic governance. Now it just reminded her of her parent’s unfulfilled expectations for her development as a young woman about to assume the mantle of augmentation.

She descended the stairs covered in royal blue carpeting and sat at the dining room table of molybdenum while her father, white beard trimmed neatly and his cardigan in the colors of the University of the Upper West, maroon with cream pockets, beamed at her. Her mother Alana continued to talk in that subtle, alluring monotone with hints of New Albion that had entranced uncounted faculty parties on the shores of Mono Lake.

“And I’ve always maintained that tennis induces a better oxygen wash of the skin than yoga, Ricky. Well. Here she is. Corrag? Where is your file?” asked Alana.

“Can I get my food before the interrogation?”

“Of course you can. Don’t be silly,” said her father, trying hard to keep the sound of despair out of his voice. Alana sighed. Corrag hated hurting their feelings, but there was nothing else to be done. This would have to be endured. Not even Alana was going to come out of this smelling of roses. There was probably a word in another language for the moment when a young woman declared her independence from her family without a pre-approved plan in place. Corrag felt herself destined for a new form of singular existence that depended on taking this risk.

“Have you taken a stab at the essay yet? When is it due?" asked her father, once she had served herself from the tray offered by the housebot of the lasagna and truffles.

“In two days,” said Alana. “It’s getting late.”

“I’m having thoughts about it,” said Corrag. “I’m not sure.”

“Not sure. Thoughts. That’s Corrag for you,” said Alana. “What is sure for you? Nothing is ever sure in your world. You are the classic case of choice overload. We never should have let her have a PlayCube of her own.”

“Let her speak,” said Ricky.

They waited breathlessly, the two anxious parents, while Corrag forked some lasagna and chewed without looking at them.

“Didn’t you always tell me to follow my desires, Dad? Well, that’s what I’m trying to decipher. I don’t really know what my desires are. I don’t know what I really want. That’s my problem. I want to know. I can’t just plunge ahead into fine-tuning until I do. It wouldn’t be right for me.”

“Right for me.” Alana repeated. She dropped her fork. It clattered on her plate. Ricky grabbed his head helplessly with both hands. The bot, sensing some urgency, circled the table speedily. Corrag waved it away with her hand and looked at it with a hard stare that sent it back into the kitchen through the energy panel.

“This uncertainty of yours is in total defiance of your education and privilege,” said Alana.

“I know,” said Corrag. “But it’s what I want. Until we reach augmentation, we can choose what we want, right?”

“Within reason, Corrag. The parents still have the final say,” said Alana darkly.

“It’s unbelievable, Corrag,” said her father. “There are no more exemptions. Look at the Calder boy. He wanted to take a year and read the books in his grandfather’s library because he said he 'valued the experience' of holding the words in his head instead of instant upload. He tried to argue in the consensus -- you don’t remember, do you? -- that the year of reading was worthwhile. But there were no more exemptions. Do you understand? He was effectively exiled. The only thing left to him was the HumInt Corps. Is that what you want? Hundred mile marches in the swamps where not even the bots can go? Certain premature death? No augmentation means no physical corrections.”

“That’s not true. There are other things,” said Corrag, the color rising in her face.

“Like what?” asked Alana.

“I don’t know.”

“Uugh,” grimaced Alana, her face wrinkling like a prune despite the botulin implants.

“Look,” said Ricky. Corrag could see the glint in his eye that told her he was probably in the Cloud. “It’s a common condition of human childhood to seek individuation. We try to condition it away, but the vestiges of the trait are stronger in some and may require remedial conditioning. Or else you can choose the VocAg. There are some interesting possibilities. If you like manual work.”

“Okay,” said Corrag. She’d heard it all before. The path of the conversation had taken a familiar tack that apparently was not remembered by her father. But Alana would not have it.

“Do you know what that is? It’s not exactly gravy, is it? Give them run of the greenhouses. How ... utterly tacky,” said Alana.

“So? Somebody has to grow the food. I thought we were all in this together. Hail the Federation. Smile all the while."

“Corrag,” said Alana sharply.

“What?”

“I can accept that you need time," said Ricky. "You’ve always been ... different."

"What are you talking about, Dad? I'm just like you. Have you forgotten? You told me about refusing to play football. How your dad took it hard. How you had to find your own way."

"I know. You're different. Yes, like I was once. That’s why I love you. We’ll continue to support you in your choices no matter what.”

“But she doesn’t know what she wants.”

“Give her a year. What if we send her to New Albion to stay with Geoff and Joan? She can work with them, I don't know, help with the cows and the vegetable garden and get a real taste of life in the Republic. How does that sound, Corrag? It’s a world away from here. You haven’t seen your cousins since you were oh, two years old.”

“I don’t remember.”

“I agree,” said Alana, with the glint in her eye. “At first I thought it was a bad idea. After all, the Republic’s ideas on education and adulthood are very different than ours. I just don’t know how it will sit with the Council.”

“I’ll run it by Mitchell Culpepper. There is the youth emissary program. It’s usually staffed by graduates of fine-tuning, but they may make an exception for me."

“And I’ll get in touch with Joan. There’s the risk of course.”

“Of course. But paradoxically there are fewer opportunities for young people in the Repho. The reliance on market forces will always prove inefficient as a mechanism to harness the singularity.”

“Do call Mitchell.”

“I will dear. Tonight.”

Ricky and Alana finished their dinner with occasional glances Corrag’s way. The matter was closed as far as they were concerned. Corrag watched her parents, wondering at their ability to turn on a dime conversationally once all the options had been thoroughly considered. For her though, a year abroad loomed mysterious and menacing. She hadn’t heard them talk about the New Albion family in a very long time, and why that would be the best option for her was not clear. Corrag had, in the back of her mind, figured they would find a way to get her private tutors to prepare for augmentation with some kind of mental health dispensation. Certainly it would have channeled her into the arts, but that was where she felt at home, without the responsibility for determining the way forward for the entire civilization. Just entertain us. That was the mandate for the ArtSmile corps coming out of the Federation system. Most of their recent mindscapes and challenges were pretty bland. The occasional bootleg memes from Sandelsky, the main branding of the Republic that teenaged hackers sometimes spread around the play spheres, far outstripped Democravian productions in technical flair; and they just seemed deeper, somehow more important.

 

She advanced around the dark corner. The street was empty except for a parked vintage Bundeswehr quadcopter on the right. She passed it and lifted her head. In her hand she hefted the laser pistol and aimed it at the bonfire about three blocks away. The Mandolin headquarters was a square, black obelisk, modeled on a classic Anish Kapoor sculpture. The fire, smelling of gasoline, raged around its doors, and she had to shoot her way through a crowd of ripper monkeys.

 

They were easy. They always aimed right for your head and all you had to do was duck several inches and fire back at the same time in their general vicinity. The game makers had been recently faulted at a consensus for setting the adversarial level purposefully down market in order to secure continued funding. For Corrag, the subtext was clear. Life was a popularity contest. No matter how efficiently the council liked to think it was doing its work you couldn’t do away with the basic human flaws of wanting, desiring and seeking what was out there. Greater RAM speeds and advanced neural networks had never gotten to grips with the pattern-making propensity of the human brain and the magnetic allure of pleasure which threw up the energy-matter continuum all around. MandolinMonkey did a good job of smoothing the jolts of scenic transition and stimulating the pituitary with each new level attained. Still, she found herself impatiently bypassing the obvious level trap with a joystick function and flying down the hallways unmindful of lesser adventures and parallel opportunities.

 

Above and behind her sprung two Greckels, stoat-like creatures capable of quick dimensional extensions and sharp tears at limbs and throats. She felt a blatantly obvious turbo lift from their move that gave them away. Of course they were Gurgie and Mathew.

“Come with us,” said a high-pitched voice.

 

She had five seconds. She knew she should check the table for power surges at least, but she felt compelled to follow. If they were leading her astray, so be it. She would find a way to dodge an ill end, as the game makers called it. Her avatar, an Elfin, had the power over water and fire and so was a logical complement to the Greckels’ slippery land capabilities. What the game lacked was diversity of power source, the ability to shape shift and entertain various outcomes at the same time. But for now it would do. In the end, win or lose, the only thing that mattered was displaying the innovative spirit that the Founders wanted in the future leader corps. Once you had that figured out, everything else was an easy trick. The person that had helped her to climb the ranks Federation-wide was Ben Calder. Where was he now? Was he still alive? Or had the stint in the HumInt Corps in the Basin wars possibly killed him, as her father had suggested? A stab of fear hit Corrag at the thought of Ben dead.

 

They were in the obelisk. Corrag wondered how they had gotten in. Down the hall the two Greckels paused and stood on their hind feet at a nanowall display. There in a neon gothic font flashed the message:

 

Be a Vence with us at the Spring Fest.

 

She had their songs posted all over the soundscape in school. The Vences had painted their faces in ghoulish camouflage colors and had flouted the ideals of physical perfection and the singularity long enough to gain for themselves a diehard following. Gurgie’s parents had been fans and so had Ricky, in his youth. But he hated their music now and cringed whenever Gurgie came over for a visit trailing Blast Me Down Andromeda out of her loose earpiece.

 

“Very smooth, Gurgie,” said Corrag, pressing the joystick dialogue button beneath the thumb hold. The Elfin jumped and clapped, signifying acceptance of a strange, land-based phenomenon. Corrag smiled at the clever algorithm that had allowed her avatar to anticipate her feelings. Then the Greckels faded into the ether and she was alone. A blank look on the Elfin’s severe, drawn face was intriguing, as if she were pondering the significance of life.

 

Corrag saved and hit the power off with her index finger, before any other competitors could appear to threaten her, and lay down on her bed. Sometimes the Elfin almost seemed to come alive and read her mind. That was the most frustrating thing, the apparent gap between her capabilities and actual human feelings. There were some who believed that bots had already made the transition, but Corrag was not one of them. For a while she had believed, and her parents and teachers still fostered the foundational concept that humans and bots would soon be equals in thought and feeling. But for Corrag the issue was now moot. In the last year, she would guess, she had come down thoroughly on the side that this equality was neither necessary nor desirable. Not that she dared to voice the opinion. It would place her beyond the sphere of Democravian influence and deem her “inconvenient” for continued leadership training. Because the ideal of the Democravian way, ever since the initial founding of the institutional state in 2022, was to raise a cadre of youth who would merge with the bots in order to undergo the transgalactic mission -- colonize the most desirable Earth-like habitable planets, 23 of them, that had been so far identified as potential targets in the Milky Way. And in the intervening two decades since the first councils and consensus meetings, the notion of youth had of course expanded so that almost all citizens with the appropriate formation could potentially qualify for merger. It was this very accessibility to the highest ideals of the state that gave Democravia its missionary fervor, its self-styled exceptionalism, and made it all the harder for Corrag to accept that she was swimming against the stream. Though she knew, in the darkness, under the sheets, about to fall asleep in the silence of the Edmundstown night that she was not really alone.

Edmundstown Senior School was divided into two floors, the Upper Deck and the Lower Hall. On the Upper Deck, Corrag took most of her classes except gym. Miss Schilling taught the humanities block for advanced seniors. They were touching on the literature of the transgressives, in the context of the decline of the West and the rise of the plural. Miss Schilling was a bright-eyed thirty-year old. Mathew and Gurgie sat in the front row and laughed at her references to James Joyce as “that old man in the trench coat hiding in the sand dunes.” Corrag sat in the back row between Julian Alvarenga and Prualyse Kopeckwitz. She wondered what was that funny about Joyce. Was it his notion of the circularity of time, so maligned and disparaged? Miss Schilling, with her bright smile and sharp hairstyle, looked at her as if reading her thoughts.

“And of course you have had the night to reflect on the links to our core curriculum factor nine, and that is what? Corrag?”

“Factor nine?”

It had been flashing on the wall at the beginning of the class along with a soundscape by SwiftBoat.

“Oh yes. The need to transcend individuation and internalize utility,” said Corrag.

“And how does our study of Joyce tie in?”

“Well, I don’t quite know. I mean, yes, there were a lot of voices, but isn’t it admirable for a man to try and capture the essence of his reality like that?”

“But the end result is a cacophony. A cacophony that at best yields a meager portrait of one individual’s disillusion and bitterness. Democravian artists have dwarfed the possibilities of the transgressives. To end, Corrag, with Molly Bloom reminiscing on the romantic past, I’m sure you’ll agree. Such a shoddy counterfeit of reality. When we compare that to the works of the Ontavians, collaborations that we will look at next week that mix the perspectives of symmetry and harmonics, it will all be clear,” said Miss Schilling. Gurgie turned around and gave a hard stare.

“But it’s about the common people struggling with the weight of history. Isn’t that a part of what Democravia represents?”

“It’s not good enough, Corrag. Not good enough. It disparages women.”

“But so does The Great Gatsby. Look at Daisy. Irresponsible and careless and destructive.”

“Yes, but Fitzgerald identified the malaise, the lack of tether in the primitive, unwashed American soul, the need for correction. The inevitability of self-destruction. That is a seminal work. If only Fitzgerald had correctly identified Zelda as a collaborator in his life work. The myth of the heroic male was still too strong. There were too many economic factors at work in its perpetuation. You’ve seen that in your history block. I want you to reference the SwiftBoat parody of masculine artistry. Nietzche and Me. You’ll find it in Unit 28, I believe, in the Library archives for this course. In your reflective piece tonight remember to present in a visually appealing manner and to comment on the works of at least three of your fellow students. That’s all for this morning, students. Smile all the while.”

Julian Alvarenga smiled wanly at her.

“Nice try, Corrag. Going for the gusto, aren’t you?”

“What is that, Julian? An obscure reference to 20th century advertising? Let me guess. Cigarettes.”

“Close. Try beer.”

“Try beer. Funny. Very transgressive of you.”

Julian was the first of his siblings to attend the Upper Deck. They were a family of former farm workers, the dark-skinned people of the Valley, mostly displaced, like the majority of work sectors, by the first generation of semi-autonomous bots. He had a permeable quality, as if life was just passing through him that reminded Corrag of a sieve. She looked him in the eye to test her theory. He looked her right back and smiled. This was strange.

“Corrag? Can I see you a minute?”

Miss Schilling lifted her head at her desk. Corrag nudged past Gurgie.

“I’ll wait for you," said Gurgie.

“By the O tank.”

“Fine.”

Miss Schilling looked tired. She patted her hair behind her ear and cocked her head at Corrag, who suddenly felt under siege, as if something had popped inside her skull.

“How is that essay coming?” asked Miss Schilling.

“It’s not.”

“I didn’t think so. I’ve seen this before, you know. I want to help.”

Corrag felt like crying.

“I’m taking a year. My father’s going to clear it with Axion.”

“Looks like poor Corrag is having a crisis.”

“You don’t need to rub it in.”

“I’m a little bit angry, frankly. I offered to help you months ago.” Miss Schilling thrust her hands out on the desk, splayed fingers on the console, which was flashing slogans and cafeteria menus and student visuals.

“But I don’t believe in it anymore, Miss Schilling.”

“Don’t believe in what? What you’re going through is perfectly natural. Your feelings of nostalgia and ... and anger are the signs of a higher calling. I so much want to recommend you for higher order augmentation. And it’s going to raise questions about the entire program here if you don’t complete the application process for Axion Fine-Tuning. You can’t do that to us, Corrag.”

Miss Schilling was sitting straight up on the chair and suddenly looking at her with that eagle-eyed augmented focus that made Corrag instinctively want to squirm. She looked down and away. Again the easy path beckoned -- to follow along and do what she was told and hope someday it would all be okay. That was the subliminal message, the factor X of the hidden curriculum not just of the Edmundstown Charter School but of the town itself. Perhaps even of Democravia.

“I’ll try.”

"More than try. Put in the Corrag effort that we all know you’re capable of. Top shelf stuff. Give it all you’ve got. Do it for us, for the Wildcats. For Edmundstown. Make us proud.”

“Is that all?”

"Yes, that’s all. Share with me, please. And Corrag?”

“Yes?”

“Smile. All the while.”

Corrag got out through the faulty energy panel that zapped her back with a slight jolt. The janitor, Mr. Breen, was already coming down the hall on the beat up old Segway, his laser torch repair tool swaying dangerously against his hip. At this time mid-morning the energy grid constantly experienced minor fluctuations as the wind either rose or fell, and the water desalination plants kicked in up and down the Kaiser aquifer, giving the bigger power users in the area headaches such as energy panel misalignments and nanowall absurdities. Mr. Breen smiled at Corrag as he would at a senior with some insider knowledge of these sorts of problems. Gurgie leaned against the wall and Mathew looked up and down the hall nervously at the river of well-dressed and contented Upper Deck students in their paisley and Kubik-patterned neoprenes with the various interchangeable logos of self-satisfied Democravian memes. There were few other teachers in the Upper Deck. Most of the classes, conducted via upload and lecture, needed only administrators to assist with student work in the study hall blocks. Miss Schilling had only a few more semesters of small class teaching before she would move on in the Axion system to upload lectures in a regional class encompassing the Western and Middle Southern districts.

At the O tank, Corrag fastened the mask to her face while holding her standard issue ExePad tablet in the other hand. The O had a sweet aftertaste. They added something to it, some kind of anesthetic. That was the rumor anyways. And on some days there was a caffeinated mix that heightened the fervor of students about to embark on a school-wide mission, one of the collaborative, experiential pieces. The last one, to Haiti, led by Mrs. Wilson, the head of the PTA, had been a disaster. Seven students had caught new forms of the pulmonary virus that had decimated the Caribbean and South America and had needed long stays at the Beth Israel Xen Kai Hospital in Matamoros.

“So, Corrag. Do you have anything to say?” asked Gurgie.

“Yes, I saw your visual. And yes, Of course I’ll go with you to the Spring Fest. What did you think?”

“Well, you have been acting very strange lately,” said Mathew, eyeballing her with mock augmented focus.

“I’ve had a lot on my mind. I haven’t finished my application essay.”

“Why not?” asked Gurgie. “You can’t be thinking about transferring to the VocAg?”

“I am.”

“Jesus, Corrag. You need to come with us tonight.”

“Okay. I said I would. But more importantly, how do we dress? We’re a team, right? Forget the Vences. Everybody’s going to do that. I have an idea we go as Daisy and Tom and Gatsby. I’ll be Gatsby. I have the perfect idea for a pants suit that my mother used to wear. It’s in a box in the attic.”

“But I thought we had discussed going as Joseph in The Assistant,” said Gurgie.

“No, I was going to be Tobler the Inventor,” said Mathew.

“Oh, that’s right,” said Gurgie, distracted by the sudden thinning of students as the next class began. They walked together towards the cafe. Corrag wondered at how easily Gurgie gave up on the Vences. The changes they all went through were happening way too fast and Miss Schilling was having way too big an impact on their social lives. Outside, a flock of small birds flew in a cloud by the energy panels, distorting and magnifying so as to seem a shade, like a hand drawing down upon the three of them as they walked along.

“The thing is,” said Corrag, thinking aloud. “I like Daisy and Tom and Jay Gatz, whereas I don’t like Joseph. He’s too pleasant ... and passive.”

“Exactly. Just like Gatsby. Only the mask never slips,” said Gurgie.

“Well, I’m not feeling very Chinese. But I am feeling destructive,” said Corrag with a cackle, turning and leering at Mathew and Gurgie.

“Okay. Spring Fest is our last fling at childish role-play. So you want to celebrate that bourgeois trope of creative destruction. Be our guest,” said Mathew.

“I just want to have fun,” said Corrag coldly. “Mathew.”

“Oh, God. Fun. Right, I forgot how important that was to you.”

Corrag’s brows wrinkled. Mathew was upsetting her.

“Doesn’t mean we all feel the same way,” said Mathew.

“You’ll feel just like Miss Schilling wants you to feel, which is to say not feel anything at all. Isn’t that the preconditioning? Too numb to think for ourselves so we take on the augmented way and don’t have ourselves to answer to any more. How convenient.”

Mathew and Gurgie looked at each other, letting their confusion about Corrag’s defiance of the Democravian ethic of obedience show in the glance held between them.

“Corrag. Okay. We’ll go as Daisy and Tom and you can be Gatsby. But we’ll be Daisy and Tom as Walser’s Chinese, as the assistants, and Gatsby will be the Inventor. We’ll turn the two books around.”

“That’s the Gurgie I love the best." Corrag threw her arms around Gurgie and spun in the hall. A teacher, Mr. Aarnits, glared at them through the open doorway of his classroom, and the emosensor directly overhead glowed a warning green.

The crowd outside the Taylor Jabones Civic Center seemed to undulate and throb as the Lyons family portagon pulled up to the curb. Mostly dressed in velvets and vintage chambrays and shades of purple and green, the colors of the Edmundstown Wildcats, purple for the Upper Deck and green for the Lower Hall, the students were an unrecognizable and restless mob in the customary spirit of the Spring Fest. Corrag had mixed feelings about the night. She mainly wanted to dance and forget about the issues confronting her at that moment.

“Good night,” she said to nobody in particular as she stepped away from the open door of the van.

“What time do you expect to be picked up,” said the driverbot, speaking from a juncture of the neckpiece and the swivel-cam head. It was Alana’s voice.

“One thirty, please,” said Corrag.

“Not acceptable. Twenty-two thirty at the latest. We will be at the loading station then. Please be there as well. Mind your manners.”

Mind your manners. That was just like Alana, to remind her of the proper way to behave at a Spring Fest. As if she had not been a rabble rouser before Corrag had been born, one of the late 2020s leading Unoits who had marched on Federation Councils demanding an end to supression of the Vallegos and increasing availability of subsidized mezzopeptide and other corrections to the unenfranchised dwellers of New Canaan, as Democravia had then called itself. Corrag shuddered at the image in her mind of her mother as a young woman just a little beyond her own age.

As she made her way through the sea of bedecked and masked youth of Edmundstown, Corrag kept looking out for the familiar sight of her two closest friends. She had on a mobster fedora over her mass of long curls and a bone white Venetian bauta mask, tight cut Wall Street pants with black neoprene Night Wolf galoshes. A low cut, long, red vintage Hollywood silk coat and in her hands a digital wand-clock with wings finished off the outfit. Somebody jumped into her path with a black Zorro mask and a Spritz gun.

“Who are you?” asked the masked figure.

“No. Who are you?” asked Corrag.

“Your best friend.” There were hoots of laughter as the crowd of booters egged the masked youth on. Corrag pushed by the group, and they sprayed their Spritz guns into the air, letting off the rainbow hues of the plasmic concoction. This caused an outbreak of similar Spritzfire around the pedestrian square in front of the Civic Center. Then the real fireworks began from the roof of the Center, and the crowd went berserk with cheering and shouting. Corrag stopped in her frenetic rush to the entrance steps and watched the waves of exploding color fanning out over her and descending on the crowd from the black night sky. The explosions and the crowd’s reactive shouts of glee merged into a dull throbbing at the back of her mind. Corrag had a flash image of the fireworks she’d seen in the desert at her grandfather Al’s ranch in Sonora. The old man had never been a hand at the consensus and thus remained outside the Democravian orbit until he died. But at his funeral he had been made an honorary recipient of the Arts Benefit Lifetime Award and his books uploaded into the official curriculum of the Augmentation Board, the 14 members from around the world, mostly Republican Homeland and Democravian, who controlled the IPP keys, the core of the Interneural Web, the old INW along whose frequencies ran the entire collective virtual sphere.

Corrag was about to look at her emosponder when she felt a tap on the shoulder and turned around to see two characters from some macabre production of musical theater complete with wigs and vintage paper Chinese umbrellas.

“Where did you get the umbrellas? I love them.”

“You haven’t said anything about the matching boots,” said Gurgie. She pushed out her foot and Mathew rolled his eyes.

“Lizard skin. There was a Yaqui Indian in the family service who made them for my brother and I,” said Mathew. His V mask in the dim light of the fireworks somehow perfectly fit him.

“Oh, you guys are absolutely the best. Shall we go in? These Spritz guns are driving me nuts.”

“Let’s do it,” said Gurgie.

Inside, the event organizers had pumped up the O to maximum levels and the band onstage was putting out a synthesized auralscape that was also simultaneously being relayed along a local intranet. Dancers were plugged into wireless ear clips and gyrating along to the pulsating power chord driven harmonics. Refreshments in the form of fermented Maxergy drinks were being dispensed by generic bots laid on by the Western council, and info-point stands along the perimeter of the hall manned by Democravian council workers were representing the various work sectors, including a recruiting officer of the Democravian Military Defense Wing, a cubicle of mimics and aerobesthetes from the ArtSmile Corps, the VocAg table dispensing samples of hormone replacement snack from local Valley growers and cooperativa pickles, and of course the Daughters of Harmonious Memory, a social organization that looked after orphans and whose members' ancestors had fought in the New Canaanite wars, were flashing images of vintage industries such as the Hollywood cinema, the primitive visualscapes that had once so entranced the older set. Gurgie, Mathew and Corrag stepped along, driven by the sweep of the crowd into the middle of the dance floor where the lights from the emosensors were pulsating the fastest. The band began playing Heaven’s Gate, a classic Spring Fest staple. Dancers jumped together, craning their heads back and pumping both fists in the air to the bass line rocking the hall. They came closer together and then fell back like a human wave, the youth of the Valley celebrating the apogee of the year. The rockers with the Spritz guns, along with the girls, many of them costumed as simple sex workers or in jury-rigged uniforms with the insignia and the classic meme of the HumInt Corps, Ridet Geritur, linked arms on the outside of the dancers and began to circle. And then the choreographed symbolic imagery was lost, subsumed as the dancers spilled out beyond the circumference of the steppers.

When the song ended, Corrag looked around, slowly coming to her senses. She unsnapped her ear clip and felt her way towards the outside of the dancing mob with her hand. The next song increased the intensity, and the circle of Lower Hall booters renewed their boundary walk. Corrag waited for the right moment, a lull in the energy pattern, and broke out through the human line. She walked over to the refreshment valve and slipped on an O mask. Her head cleared and she felt for an instant a sense of euphoria, somehow almost organic, as if she were suddenly light years away, on a distant moon of her own, with no impinging concerns about the future and what it held weighing her down. She wished she could hold on to the moment. Even better, she wished she could share it with someone.

All the Zorros and Buzzyears and the Hillaries and Eunique Biebers -- they were all kids she would have known from Lightning Leagues or fencing classes or the myriad theatrical productions she’d been in through the grade and middle schools. Corrag found it fascinating that in this sea of familiar yet bizarre anonymity she was free, free in a way that carried an exotic charge of exhilaration.

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Anthony Caplan is a former wire service journalist who has lived and worked on three continents. Currently he lives with his family in New Hampshire where he writes, keeps sheep and hopes soon to make his own cider.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
My inspiration came from my two daughters and realizing the life they will lead will be determined by their character and their ability to meet challenges that I can hardly imagine. I wanted to try and imagine what some of those challenges might be.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
This is the second book in the Jonah Trilogy, but it stands alone in terms of plot and character. The first book, Savior, is about a son who is on a quest. This book is about a young girl, the daughter of the son, who is on her own, very different, yet related quest.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
I write because it's the best drug in the world, a total immersion in a fantasy world that comes alive every time I set to work.

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