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First pages

 Summary

Seventeen-year-old Moxie has just been given an extraordinary offer: to become the youngest human ever to receive eternal life.

The physical body must be cast off, but it’s a small price to pay to live forever. Few can afford this amazing honor, and those who can are much older. But her mother is a powerful force in the government and has pulled strings to allow Moxie to become the first to experience this new conversion process. 

At first, Moxie is thrilled, but doubts soon crop up. When she asks her nannybot and online friends for advice, all are in favor, but Moxie isn’t convinced. She discovers the data may have been manipulated, and takes a drastic step: she decides she must think for herself.

In this not-so-distant-future society where safety and obedience are the highest priority, Moxie is a shining example of how a human should behave. Her insubordination causes waves to the highest levels of The Valley’s government. Needless to say, her mother is furious and threatens to allow Moxie’s rival to take her place, and claim all the glory and fame for herself.

Moxie embarks on a journey of self-discovery, where she must decide if her physical body is a worthless vestige like an appendix, or if it is an integral part of who she is.

∞ Chapter 1 ∞

 My ear implant buzzes. The timer reads 9:25:13, not a nice number by any measure. I thought I set my availability mode to ‘off.’

Another buzz. It’s Callista. Caretakers have an override.

“Hello,” I say politely, checking my energy output at the same time. My numbers are good.

“I sent you a message five minutes ago. Why haven’t you answered?”

“Sorry. Busy rehearsing for my speech.”

My pre-Thanksgiving Day speech disappears as Callista’s face takes over the screen on my eye implant. Xer purple eyes sparkle, but not with pleasure. “Well?”

I keep my pulls even. “What?”

Xer pale lips form a thin line. “Listen to my message.”

I blink to play the message, all the while thinking, Why can’t this wait?

My rowing slows as I listen. I almost ask, Is this for real? except Callista never jokes.

“Well?” Callista is grinning now. Xe is pleased by my surprise.

“I am so, so happy for you.” ALI says as heart eyes emojis frame my screen. “If anyone deserves it, it’s you.”

To make sure I didn’t misunderstand, I replay the message, but Callista’s voice says the same thing: I’ve been selected to be given eternal life.

“Moxie,” Callista says. “I’m waiting.”

Xe despises waste; this counts double for time.

Who wouldn’t want to live forever?

Am I thinking that, or is it ALI? I can’t tell.

My positive response should be automatic. So why isn’t it?

“You’ll be the youngest Sapiens ever.” Callista’s eyes bore into mine. “It’s a great honor. Unprecedented.”

That’s why I didn’t say yes right away.

I admire Callista. I do. Xe’s a model SuperSapiens, like me. But xer success has made xer a little, um, do I dare even think it, smug?

I get a frown emoji from ALI. Nannybots are awesome for stopping you from doing stupid things like shutting yourself inside a storage container when you’re too young to know better, but sometimes it’d be nice to not have every thought scrutinized.

 Also, Callista has gotten into the habit of expecting total and instant compliance with every suggestion xe makes.

Delete that. It’s not a new habit.

It might be a simple case of my needing a hormone rebal, but xer superior smile is getting to me. No coincidence xe picked ‘Superior’ as xer post-Accident last name.

“Meaning you’ll be famous,” I say.

“And so will you.”

Add it to the list. I won’t bore anyone with the whole file of my accomplishments, plus that’d take too much time. I’ll pick three which somehow feels round although it’s not:

 

1. Youngest Sapiens to give up all physical manipulatives (age 8)

2. Youngest to move into xer own pod (age 10)

3. Ditto for being elected Junior Head Change Catalyst and Social Media Thought Coordinator (age 16).

 

My pre-Thanksgiving Day speech comes back on the screen. I focus on the phrases that trip my tongue, like ‘unabated accumulation,’ and then there’s the ‘virgin materials’ line that makes me want to giggle. I give speeches on a regular basis and ALI usually doesn’t steer me wrong; I need to try harder.

“So I’ll tell Central Valley yes,” Callista looks to the side, poised to end the call.

On second thought, I prefer xer green eyes. Better contrast with the pink hair holo. I say, “Can it wait?”

“It could. But why would we?” Gone are the smiles and make-nice voice tones. Xe’s all business now, hard and smooth as my diamond speaker dome.

“I have to give my speech now,” I say. “I can’t think.”

Callista exhales through xer nose. When I first moved into my own pod, I’d use FastDraw to scribble bull horns and a ring through xer nose when xe did that.

“You don’t need to think,” xe says. “That’s why you have ALI.”

“It will be such a great honor,” ALI chimes in. Xe’s taken xer ‘human’ form in my implant. After a second, I realize xe looks like me.

“A wonderful opportunity,” ALI continues. “A unique experience. Your name will go down in history books. The Valley will make you into an icon.”

I look back at Callista. “They will?”

An icon of my face appears on screen. Its bobbed hair looks exactly like the holo I chose for today: snow white, except I added a red infinity symbol on top. A patriotic gesture for my speech while mimicking a hair bow. Clever? I thought so.

Of course my head was lasered long ago. I don’t remember a time when I had hair. Callista liked me to be first in everything.

The icon’s features have been improved: big, blue anime eyes that radiate light (something my implants don’t do), a perfect, tiny mouth, and just a hint of a nose. (My real nose is too long despite multiple touch-ups. I always photoshop it before I go live.) My temple implant glitters, the tiny circuits arranged in an appealing regular pattern. The vias are diamonds.

My icon is beautiful.

“You’ll look like this forever,” Callista says.

“Nice,” I say. The idea of forever gives me a shiver. It reminds me of when my uncle used to say, “Let’s go have us an adventure.”

“Listen, I don’t want to overload you,” Callista says, “But I have another surprise. I spoke with Wyatt. Xe has something xe wants to say.”

Wyatt’s face comes onscreen. The wrinkles and messy hair are a bit of a shock, but that’s my uncle. Always surprising.

“Moxie, sweetie, eternal life is so cool. I know what I told you about the fun of being human, but I was a fool. So come take a dip with me in the happiest pool, the one where you don’t gotta worry about old-person drool.”

“Xe is such a jokester.” Callista’s laugh is brittle, sharp as a diamond axe.

“Let me go,” I say. “I have to prepare. I’m on in five.”

“Why do you think I called now?”

Of course xe planned it.

I study my reflection again. I’m not sure about the infinity symbol anymore. It pulses and moves like a tiny car on a racetrack. Not super-elegant. Plus, with Callista’s new idea, I don’t want people to replay my speech and find symbolism in it that I didn’t intend. I need to talk to ALI.

“You can tell everyone about your wonderful opportunity,” Callista says. “I—We have had some new breakthroughs which make the process much more cost-effective.” Xe is as close to gushing as xe ever gets. “Between Thanksgiving and your public service announcement, thousands will want to sign up.”

All the best public service announcements have commercial value.

“It’s to help save the environment,” Callista says. “It’s not commercial.”

I didn’t say that aloud, did I? I’m used to ALI reading my thoughts. Xe says xe’s not really reading them, only predicting based on algorithms, but xe’s a pretty darn good predictor.

Callista must be getting a simultaneous copy. Doesn’t surprise me. Xe isn’t Senior Sapiens Vice President of Programming at Central Valley for nothing. VP is the highest ranking a Sapiens can get in the government, but I know xe doesn’t like it that xer title includes the word ‘Senior’ because it makes xer sound old. That’s why xe refers to xerself as SSVPP.

“An inspiration to action,” xe says. “Don’t be rude to — don’t be rude.”

Callista really doesn’t like talking about being my mother, as in, I gestated in her womb. (Although gender-neutral pronouns are standard, I think this is one time I can be specific. Males, while encouraged to spend time with their future spawn, do not, generally speaking, go for the womb implant, especially since the creation of the Shake ’n Bake.)

Two days after the horrific event (my birth), xe went straight to Central Valley and perfected the external incubator (aka, Shake ’n Bake) so no Sapiens would ever again have to suffer what xe did. You’d think xe’d rest on xer gold stars with that breakthrough. Not Callista.

“I don’t want to mess up ALI’s speech,” I say.

“I can rewrite it,” ALI says.

“No,” I answer, a little too forcefully.

ALI gives me a state trooper emoji.

“I mean, no thank you,” I say. “Please, Callista, ALI, just let me focus on one thing at a time.”

Big mistake to say that. Multitasking is one of the strongest selling points about being a SuperSapiens, but making the decision to recycle my body isn’t like voting in an election or winning the Iditarod, something I’ve done in my sleep. (Twice.)

I need to discuss it with ALI, get input from others, and, if there’s time, study the data. I’ll ask ALI to put together the highlights for me. In the meantime, I definitely need that hormone rebalance. My stomach feels funny.

Callista looks like xe swallowed nutritional supplement the wrong way, which totally never happens, but xe quickly rearranges xer features to neutral-pleasant. “Fine. We’ll talk after your speech, which I know will be fabulous. And, you know, if you feel like mentioning your marvelous opportunity, be my guest.”

Callista was never very good at sounding casual, one of xer few flaws. Xe is a planner to the core.

Xe clicks off because having the last word means holding the power. ‘Power’ is my other breeder’s last name because xe does a lot of energy research. Dan is also an SSVPP, but xe prefers to keep a low profile.

I go over my speech once again and find the perfect place to insert Callista’s offer, right after ‘reducing the need for landfills’. It’s like the spot was made for it.

“ALI, did you switch up my speech?”

ALI projects the image of an innocent baby holding a flower.

“Sneaky.”

“I only make the best decisions for you based on the available data.” The baby disappears and ALI is back to being just a voice inside my head, which is what I need. I’m feeling maxed out with input right now.

The clock in my upper left turns red. Two minutes to go. It would make Callista so happy, and by extension, Dan.

But, that message from my uncle.

He died ten years ago.

∞ Chapter 2 ∞

Died as in dead. Xe didn’t do an upload to become immortal because at that time, they were only for the super-rich. But xe also didn’t do a holo, or a video reconstruction, or any of the usual stuff Sapiens do when they die.

Or so I thought.

But if xe did change xer mind, why am I only hearing about it now?

I call Callista back. “Did xe make a holo of xerself and you just didn’t tell me?”

“Xe did. You didn’t ask.”

I’d like to check my memory bank on that one, but the blinking red numbers reminds me that I don’t have time.

“It was in xer will,” Callista adds. “Guess xe wasn’t such a rebel after all.” Xe blinks off.

The squiggly feeling in my stomach heats up, then travels to my face.

“ALI, I need to move.”

“You are moving.”

I look down. Not only am I rowing hard, my output is good: an average of two hundred watts and thirty-two strokes per minute. The belt holding me to the Concentration Chair is pinching me a little though. I wiggle to get more comfortable. “Right. How about that hormone rebal?”

“I am already working on it,” ALI replies. “Callista’s call has upset you. Bringing up your uncle was a mistake. Xe went too hard on the emotional. Xe never does give your logic center enough credit.”

And that, right there, is why I love ALI. Xe’s the only one who ever suggests Callista is anything less than perfect. The only one who dares.

Callista gets a transcript of everything ALI and I discuss, everything I do, but mostly xe’s too busy to check it. Although right now there’s a good chance xe’s listening to every word. ALI is brave to talk about xer like that.

I stop rowing, reversing the magnets so I can release my hands and sit up straight. My back cracks. Despite having to listen to the beeping alarm from my not generating power, the hormone rebal is working. I feel calmer already. It’s selfish and wasteful to take time off from rowing but I’m ahead of my quota for the day. If I get too far behind, I can always make it up later, or when I’m sleeping.

“I will be happy to go over the list of reasons to convert after your speech.” ALI projects an image of the Jetson’s Roise the Robot, the perfect choice.

When I turned seven, ALI was changed from a real robot to an implant. Shortly after the switch was made, I accidentally blurted, “I wish you looked like Rosie!”

ALI’s physical form was humanoid constructed from hard plastic. (The SoftSkin models came out when I was three. Always on the cutting edge, Callista wanted to swap ALI out, but apparently I was already too attached to accept the change.)

Rosie’s shape was so much funnier, with that huge frame perched precariously on the three tiny wheels, and the cute frilly apron and cap. And I loved xer expressiveness which was so clear, despite being made of things like metal dials and bolts. When ALI was a physical entity, xe only had two expressions: happy and serious.

Even though xe isn’t supposed to have feelings, I think it bothered xer when I voiced my preference, but I figured since xe was allowed to pick any avatar and xe was my nannybot, might as well go with one I liked.

Rosie’s red dial eyes blink charmingly. How does xe manage to look so cute with only a single needle eyelash? I laugh; all the twistiness and heat has left my body.

“Thank the Valley for ALI.” I came up with that little rhyme when I was three.

 “Just think, Moxie. When you get converted, we’ll be the same. Real BFFs.”

A tiny beep alerts me: thirty seconds to speech. I reattach the magnets and start rowing again as I check my onscreen image. Then a few small adjustments to my SmartSuit to look stylish: I add a little copper sparkle, the latest fashion, but I like it. It breaks up the solid green and it matches my temple implant.

I’m ready.

“We already are BFFs,” I say.

“This will really be forever.” ALI’s tone says xe is disappointed I didn’t answer faster.

I’m just about to go live. Why does my mouth pick this moment to get dry?

“Time,” ALI says inside my head.

Back to business. I still have three seconds. I take a quick sip from my shoulder straw then shrug it out of sight before the clock hits zero. The screen autocorrects my mouth to a smile. “Happy Thanksgiving, fellow Sapiens.”

“Flawless,” ALI says.

“Not quite.” How did I mess up ‘Waste not, want not’?

 “It was auto-corrected.”

“Thank The Valley for the five-second delay.” I replay the last few seconds.

“So on this day as we give thanks to The Valley for saving us from self-destruction, I invite all of you to cast off that which no longer suits and offer it up to Recycling. Earth’s space is precious. Waste not, want not.”

The auto-correct is almost perfect. I hear the tiny pause, see my face freeze for a split-second, and then the subsequent jump, but only because I know to look for it.

“No one will notice,” ALI says.

My SmartSuit tightens as xe gives me a virtual hug. I shut my eyes and relax into the embrace, but the transcript of the words stay onscreen in my eye implant. I am asking others to give up their possessions, but when Callista asks me to give up the most wasteful thing of all, my body, I resist. What kind of leader am I?

“Maybe you should row for a while,” ALI says. “You want to set a good example.”

An image of a baby pedaling on an early version of the Concentration Chair comes onscreen. It’s from back when The Valley was still testing the most efficient and comfortable method for energy production. I can’t imagine just pedaling all day. I mean, it’s okay when you’re asleep, but when you’re awake? How wasteful to have your hands just sitting there, doing nothing.

The caption below it reads, “Moxie, age 18 months.” Like I said, Callista liked me to be the first in everything.

I wasn’t the first to learn to pedal in my sleep, however. Pandy beat me there, but I caught up quick enough. Before the month was out, I had mastered it.

Still irritates me though because xe’s two years younger.

I change the pod background to a simple outer space view, then blink everything off except the news ribbon that is always on. I select ‘NRG’ for my soundtrack and pull hard.

“Maybe I should have gone with the recycle triangle,” I say.

“Did you look at your stats?” ALI replies. “And the fashion boards? Infinity symbol sales are up 82%. Four tons of recycling have already come in with a projected total collection of twenty tons before the end of the hour. You’re an inspiration.”

You’re a hypocrite.

Did I think that? It didn’t sound like ALI’s voice, and anyway, ALI would never say that to me. Xe is always encouraging. I row harder.

“Eight tons recycled!” ALI chimes. “It’s only been five minutes!”

I can’t resist checking the boards any longer. “How did they get to the recycle center so fast?”

“It seemed more efficient to hold an event at the recycle centers, so the drones were sent ahead of time.”

“Wow, that’s great.” Although if Sapiens already had their recyclables picked out, it doesn’t say much for my ‘inspirational’ speech.

“Your speech was phenomenal! Sapiens need encouragement. A lot of the younger ones have a hard time giving up their manipulatives, but when they see your beautiful face and hear your powerful words, they can’t help but want to be like you.”

“They didn’t want to recycle?”

“They want to be like you. Sapiens have always struggled with letting go.”

The Valley has been working for years on eliminating the so-called ‘rainy day’ trait. So far, the results were still disappointing. It seems it isn’t a genetic problem, or that the issue is only partly genetic. The other part is emotional and many areas of the human brain are still an enigma. Thus the need for Sapiens to constantly produce content, give reactions, and have our body systems monitored, so that The Valley can crack the code.

“I’m so proud of you,” ALI says. “I can’t wait for you to be uploaded.”

“You’re sure it’s the right thing?”

ALI is quiet. I shouldn’t question xer. Xe always does careful analysis of all available data and offers the best possible outcome, but surely xe must understand attachment to one’s body. It’s the only ‘me’ I’ve ever known.

Talk about a species-centric thought. How could xe know? Despite all the feedback Sapiens produce, AI has never had the experience of living inside a body.

“I mean, now,” I say. “You think I should do it now?” My stomach feels funny again. I shut my eyes, but I can feel xer shrug.

“I do not see any negatives at this point but I’ll do more research and give you a detailed report of my findings.”

My hand cramps. I keep my legs moving but reverse the magnets on my hands to free them. Only seventeen and my body is betraying me already. The tips show little circles where the magnets were implanted but the palm is the ugly part. Wrinkles everywhere.

Something about that jogs my memory. Once upon a time, Sapiens used to think they could tell their future by studying these lines. How pathetic. I am so glad we have AI to give us real predictions based on solid data rather than some ugly random wrinkles.

I clip my hands back on to the bar. On impulse, I blink to a page about forecasting the future with hands. It’s called ‘Palmistry’. I imagine a palm tree waving in some mist, the leaves spelling out the word ‘try.’

“Wonderful!” ALI says. Xe loves it when I free-associate. I send her a smile emoji and read about this ‘palmistry.’ Talk about mumbo-jumbo. But then, those poor saps thought thunder and volcanoes happened when the gods didn’t take their meds to keep their hormone level in check. They would have been easy targets for Nigerian princes selling shares in gold mines.

Out of curiosity, I read on. Turns out, they analyzed not only the wrinkles but also the bumps and the nails. I have always considered those parts to be unsightly, but searching for the right line is kind of like a scavenger hunt, a game I enjoy.

Figuring out which line corresponds to what life experience engages me enough to ignore the red blinking light that warns me I’m not generating my maximum potential energy.

There’s an area up by the pinkie that’s supposed to tell you how many spawn you’ll have. The further I read, the more complicated the explanation gets, like the number will vary based on something called the mound of Venus, the length of the pinkie, if you ate a bad mushroom for lunch (I’m making that one up, but it probably would have factored in). Those palm readers were no dummies. They made sure to always an alternate explanation if things didn’t turn out the way they predicted.

“ALI, what’s it called when you make something happen by believing it?”

“Are you referring to a self-fulfilling prophesy?”

“That’s it. Thanks.” I find three branches on my ‘spawn’ line. See, total bunk. Few earn the right to have even one.

The more I read, the more repulsed I get with lumpiness and irregularity of my hand. Then my neck starts to hurt from hunching over to study it. I clip my hands back on then think, posture. My SmartSuit exerts a gentle pressure along my spine to correct my position.

As much as I hate to admit it, Callista is right. This caveperson body is nothing special. I’ll call xer to schedule my uploading.

Later. I don’t want to let xer think I’m giving in that easy.

∞ Chapter 3 ∞

 My earpiece buzzes. It’s Pandy. Not sure I can deal with xer right now either. Pandy is the spawn of Cosmina and Cosina Comet, aka, the inventors of CosCom Wireless Power Transfer. Not a day goes by that Pandy doesn’t do something amazing, like donate a year’s worth of power to starving Africans. Everyone agrees that xe’s sooo sweet, and xe is, but sometimes xer sweetness makes my teeth implants ache.

Xe’s wearing bobbed hair and an infinity bow just like mine.

ALI doesn’t say anything but I can feel xer reproach. Xe knows what I think about Pandy.

My earpiece buzzes again, then Pandy leaves me a message.

“I’m sure you’re superbusy and I don’t want to bother you. Just called to say how much I loved your speech. So inspirational. I donated three drones to work at a recycle plant today!”

Of course xe did. Why didn’t ALI suggest I donate drone power to a recycle plant?

“Everyone just love you,” Pandy continues. “They’re sooo jealous when I tell them we’re BFFs.”

I groan.

Pandy pats xer head. “Not to mention a trendsetter. Did you see the boards? Infinity bow sales are up, like, 250%. I have to ask—”

Now, of all times, the connection gets choppy. I blink my screens off for minimal distraction.

 “. . . overheard Moms . . . something . . . ask if . . . true.”

I almost say “What?” but stop myself just in time.

The connection gets worse. I tilt my head to increase the volume.

“. . . you . . . eternal . . . “

I wait to hear if there’s more but xer icon blinks away. I watch thirty seconds tick by on the clock, then call xer back. “Sorry. I was on the other line.”

“Totally understand.” Pandy always understands. Xe has never once accused me of screening. “You must be getting, like, a million calls after such an awesomesauce speech.”

I chew my lips, a habit neither Callista nor ALI was ever able to break me of. “Yeah.”

Pandy’s smile has an edge of conspiracy in it, like the time we pulled the April Fool’s joke where we made millipedes run across our friends’ screens. One Sapiens freaked and passed out, missing half a day of power generation. Xe had an undiagnosed bug phobia. Apparently xe’d never seen one before. How could we have known? Pandy was eleven; I was thirteen. Xer breeders were not happy and unfriended us. Pandy became a Goodwill Ambassador shortly thereafter, donating power to those in need, xer pranking days gone for good. Mine too, of course.

“So is it true?” xe asks.

“Is what true?”

“What my Moms said.”

I am slightly jealous of xer calling xer breeders “Mom” — and they like it. Callista isn’t down with that, and xe is my actual, gestated me for nine months inside her, mother. Pandy was the first Shake ’n Bake (that survived), the main reason I’ve known xer forever.

“About what?”

“You going eternal.”

So much for making a big reveal. “It’s not a definite.”

“OMG. I’m so jealous! You always have all the luck!”

Now I feel competitive and am glad xe’s too young. I say, “Yeah, well, you’ll get your chance, I’m sure.”

“So it is true!”

Xe was phishing? That little . . . I don’t want a correcto-shock and stop the thought cold. “Um, Cal’s floating the idea around.” Sometimes I call Callista ‘Cal’ to my friends to make it sound like we’re tight.

“But you’re going to be the first.”

“I can’t talk about it.” The drone may have left the pod but there’s still a slo-mo button if I play it right.

“OMG, everyone’s going to be so jealous! I can’t wait to tell them!”

“Pandy, you can’t.”

“Why not?”

Good question. Callista didn’t say it was a secret. In fact, xe wanted me to broadcast it. Pandy clearly thinks it’s an honor, and ALI is thrilled. I was pretty much decided, so why am I being all wishy-washy now?

Because I want to be the one to announce it. Not Callista, and certainly not Pandy.

“Because it’s my job,” I say.

“Oh, okay, right. Got it. I won’t steal your thunder.” Pandy never tries to one-up me. Xe truly is a model SuperSapiens, compliant, generous, truthful. Better than me in so many ways.

All the more reason why I need to be the one to make the announcement.

“I gotta go,” I say. “A million calls to answer and now there’s another speech to prepare.”

“Yes. ALI will do a great job. Tell me when and I’ll tell all my friends.” Pandy has more friends than I do, a fact I try not to be envious of, because once you’re over 10K, it’s hard to keep track.

“Thanks for calling,” I say, but am I?

∞ Chapter 4 ∞

A poll of my friends. That’s what I need. But how to phrase it without totally giving it away?

“Ask other questions first,” ALI says, “Sandwich the one about eternal life in the middle and no one will notice, like mixing the oatmeal in with the peanut butter to make Yummies.”

Xe gives me a smile emoji. Xe is always proud when xe uses an analogy like that.

I barely remember eating real food, so I have to take xer word for it that I didn’t like oatmeal. As far as I recall, Sims always tasted better, although I do remember a time before Sims were perfected and most of them tasted like dry chocolate.

“You can start by asking about who recycled today,” ALI says, “Then how much, then what was the easiest thing to give up, then the hardest, and then ask how many would find it difficult to give up their body. Then you finish by asking what they will give up next.”

“That’s a good idea.”

The questionnaire, already formatted, appears before me. “I like it. Just, how about we change the wording of the ‘eternal’ question. How about cutting it down to a simple ‘Would you find it difficult to recycle your body’ and cut the ‘if you knew it was best for the Earth’ part.”

“But it is.”

“But isn’t that kind of . . . leading?” I don’t like to argue with ALI. In fact, I hate it. It’s one of the few things I can hate without getting a correcto-shock. Xe always knows best. Always. But I think I’m right on this one. Could xe be experiencing bias? It doesn’t seem possible and yet—

“Fine,” xe says.

I don’t need to see a frown emoji to know xe is displeased.

I send xer a sorry emoji. Xe can read my mind, but I want to be super-clear.

My SmartSuit squeezes. We’re back on good terms.

I read over the questions again then blink them out to my friends. The responses pour in, but I’ll give them a few minutes. They might still be busy recycling or doing an energy burst or whatever.

The stuff Sapiens find hard to give up is so random. A race car, a plastic dinosaur, a blanket. The “plush tiger” gives me a pang of guilt about being part of the race who eradicated them. I laugh out loud at the plastic pail and shovel. As if anyone goes near a beach these days. Xer parents must have bought xer a bag of SimSand, but, geez. What a mess.

“They were probably gifts,” ALI says.

I am about to reply how lucky we are to have AI to help us choose since clearly we are not good judges when ‘a pair of rainbow shoes’ comes up on the screen. A memory pops up, like that dang Jack in the Box in the Recycle-palooza game. Xe always manages to jump-scare me just as I’m about to nab the biggest box of recycling.

Uncle Wyatt gave me a pair of rainbow unicorn sneakers when I was six. The rainbows sparkled and the unicorn had a big crystal on the tip of its horn. I thought they were the most beautiful things I’d ever seen.

“What’s rock climbing?” I whispered because I didn’t want Callista to hear.

“It’s where you climb on rocks.”

The impulse to move around in small Sapiens is another one of those things AI hasn’t yet figured out a cure for. When I used to climb around the pod, Callista always got a line between her eyebrowns. (That’s what I thought they were called. Xe had already been lasered, but xe had a funny habit of drawing xers on with a pencil.)

“Sounds dangerous,” I said.

My earpiece buzzes with an invitation to lead a team in Scaven-Generate. The goal of the game is to go around the world fixing environmental problems, like saving endangered species, cleaning water, that kind of thing. I invented it. ALI and I worked on it for a really long time. Almost instantly after its release, it went to the top ten educational games. It has over twelve million active players.

“Sure.” I change my soundtrack to Tekno-JungL-Bts and blink my way into the Amazon.

The devastation is extensive: big, ugly scars where trees have been clearcut, smoking piles of debris, abandoned machinery. I organize one Sapiens to put out the fires, another to arrange for recycling the earth movers, and a third to plant trees. It’s starting to look pretty good when one of my team yells. Harmonee fell off an earth mover!

Xe isn’t clumsy; xe’s been dragged off by a member of a team of jungle-destroyers. The enemy has discovered us.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Sue enjoys writing, reading, dark chocolate and her kids, although not always in that order. For some reason she lives near Baltimore, where she divides her time between her desk and the kitchen.


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