I promised last week to start contributing once again to this blog and here’s my first story in a few months. Hope you enjoy it! And remember, if you want to beta read my first book, you can find details here.
The shot whisked past, the plasma energy searing my hair as it landed with a heavy thud in the wall next to me, which began to dissolve. Plasma does that to almost anything, concrete, steel, and anyone unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of a weapon powered with it. Someone like me.
My attacker had missed but they had closed the gap and were standing less than a metre away now. With their plasma shotgun and a full suit of power armour, I was done for. I wasn’t afraid, even with every reason to be, maybe it was because I couldn’t believe this was actually happening to me. Only this morning I didn’t have a care in the galaxy, I’d been accepted into the Academy on a full scholarship and it seemed that nothing could go wrong. Now I was about to die. What I felt most was anger. I didn’t even know who was trying to kill me but they were clearly a professional with equipment to match.
After posting news about my scholarship to every network out there I’d gone for a celebratory breakfast, which was things started to fall apart. Standing in line for my usual order, I’d gently flirted with the cute guy in the line beside me. We did it every morning but we’d never learned each other’s names. We got to the ordering machines together. His order went through, mine didn’t.
I held my arm up to the machine so it could read my bio-implant when the screen suddenly flashed red. “Access denied. We apologise for any inconvenience.” I tried again but was still locked out. There was money in my account, I’d only checked that morning.
“You’re holding up the line,” came an angry voice behind me and I mumbled an apology before finding a booth and checking my implant only to find it wouldn’t respond. That happened sometimes, usually during a firmware update, but they never took this long and everyone else’s seemed to work perfectly. The guy from the line was already finishing his coffee and walking out, using his implant to hail a cab.
I didn’t know what was going on but I followed him onto the street and tried to raise one but still my chip was offline and people were starting to stare at the crazy woman frantically scratching her own arm until it bled. That might seem like an overreaction but without a working bio-implant, you can do almost nothing in the twenty-fifth century. The implant should have released nanobots to repair the damage to my skin but the blood continued to flow. I started to run.
Without access to my implant, I had no access to the integrated maps but I knew there was a diagnostic station nearby and weaved through the crowd, ignoring the angry shouts as I pushed and elbowed people out of the way. The station was a pad on the ground that covered me in an energy shield as soon as I stepped on and set to work. I allowed my breathing to slow and tried to calm down. This was weird but I was still elated from my Academy acceptance letter and everything would be sorted out soon. How could it not be?
And then the energy shield turned red as my ID flashed up briefly before me.
Name: Claire Laretti
Date of Birth: … Error. Data deleted.
One by one the other items were replaced with the same message. Data deleted. That was impossible, once anything’s added to the Register you’re automatically entitled to see it and your data can never be tampered with or deleted without your express permission. I frantically tried something else and attempted to access my bank account only to see the credits drain away before my eyes until the balance read C00.00. Then that went too, only to be replaced with a message reading “Account terminated, thank you for your custom at Galactic Mutual.”
With rising panic I stepped off the station platform and the energy shield dissolved. I stumbled backwards, landing on the ground with a dull thud. When I got back up I realised everyone was staring at me and the massive screen hovering over the square made it clear why.
Under a giant picture of me – at least five times taller than I am – flashed the words “Wanted terrorist. Do not approach, contact law enforcement officers immediately upon sighting.”
No one needed to do that, though. The augments in people’s eyes could be accessed by the Unified Metro Assistant – the AI which controlled everything from waste collection and disposal to the planet’s entire defence system. Whenever anyone saw me, the UMA would see me too.
I ran again and this time, people parted from my path as if I carried the plague. My apartment wasn’t far and I ran into the building, ignoring the looks and shouts as I passed as best I could. With my implant still refusing to respond I had to take the stairs and was breathless by the time I reached my floor but it didn’t matter. When I got inside I could think things through, no one had seen me enter the building. I just needed time to think, to figure out why this was happening to me. I wasn’t a terrorist, the closest I’ve come to being violent in my life is playing virtual reality shooters (not to brag, but I still hold the galactic speed record on the Third World War shooter Operation Northern Lights 4).
This was all some awful mistake and as soon I got a chance to explain that it would be obvious to everyone how clear that was.
Even my apartment refused to play ball and the door stayed firmly shut no matter how much I pounded on it. My parents wouldn’t be home for hours and it was only then that I realised what an I idiot I was. By coming here I’d put them in danger. Shit. I slumped to my knees, stumped, with no idea of what I could do or where I could go next.
That was when the elevator opened and my plasma shotgun-wielding friend showed up. When the elevator door opened I didn’t even see him come in and jumped when the whir signalled the shotgun was powering up. I looked up at him defiantly when the first shot missed, refusing to give him the satisfaction of showing fear when there was another loud shot. Unable to stop myself, I screwed up my eyes and waited for the end but it never came. I opened them again and saw a middle aged man standing over the soldier armed with a weapon I’d never seen before. He crouched beside the body and pulled the shotgun clear before tossing it to me.
“I can’t use it…” I said, mostly because my mind had gone blank. “It’ll be tied to his bio-implant.”
“It was, I scrubbed it,” the man answered gruffly. He wore a long trench coat and had thin, grey hair which was rare to see in an age when genetic markers could be overridden and even rewritten entirely.
“How…?” UMA would never allow tampering with military-grade hardware that easily.
“I have friends in high places. Now let’s go unless you want to stay here and wait for this guy’s friends to show up?”
Mutely I rose and followed. I had no idea who this man was or why he was helping me but I didn’t have much of a choice. With my own government trying to kill me I was ready to take any help I could get.