I stood against a neon bar with the hottest boys in my group, Chan and Eli and Kane, as DJ Gershw1n, this AMAZEballs mech DJ, piped music into our earbuds. The beats were optimised to makes us feel how we were supposed to feel as the night went on – sexy at first, then excited, later loose and reckless, and drowsy and swooning as the night thinned and people pashed and fingered each other.
The boys in my group were all confident and good looking and most important: popular. They all had their organisers out and were using this app to put bets on the big robot boxing that was on that night. They cared about the roboxing results way more than they cared about tomorrow’s experiment, cause the odds of us getting chosen to go on Survivor Island were real weak.
‘But our school, like, nominated us, right? They pulled me out of class to interview me, didn’t you guys do those questionnaires and shit too?’
Chan took his ear buds out; I took mine out too. It was important to do stuff the same as him so he’d notice me. He took off his Cash Money Billionaires cap too, checked to make sure it still had the price tag on then positioned it perfectly on his head. ‘Definitely we’re in. We’d ace that shit.’
‘Hope y’all been saying your prayers,’ Eli said. ‘Getting chosen ain’t easy.’
‘Like that religious bullcrap’s gonna help,’ Kane snorted. His sister KT came up beside him and massaged his neck playfully. KT was in the Social Club and she wasn’t gonna hook up with anyone, she was all about making sure everyone partied. We’d all brought our friends instead of dates. At our kind of prom, you came in a limo with your people and after a night of flirting, you hooked up with someone at the end. Unless you were a pauper like Adam Turing. Then you spent the night serving drinks to normal peeps.
Eli slapped Kane’s head for dissing him. ‘Show some respect,’ he said. No one else could’ve gotten away with smacking grumpy Kane like that ‘cause Kane’s always looking for fights. Eli was from the Hood and he was training to be a youth pastor cause his people feared God heaps and there was tonnes of Luddite gangs on his street. I’d heard Eli actually wanted to go in the experiment and give his million to his church.
Kane and Eli and Chan kicked each other’s shins for a minute, giggling and swearing, then got interrupted by these waiter robots wheeling through the crowd with trays of lite champagne and punch. Waiterbots have this gyroscope that gives them perfect balance so you can kick them and they regain their balance straight away and don’t even spill the drinks. It was like a fun game for the boys to try trip them and waste as much drink as possible. Kane went extra-aggro and spat on them and tried to unlock their input pads and asked where their “friend” Adam Turing was. Adam was being a waiter tonight but I could tell he was avoiding our corner.
We talked smack and sort-of flirted in pairs but not really. I think everyone, like me, was trying to lose their virginity. If the sex was with someone less popular than us, we’d try not to let each other find out. That was sort of like the unspoken code. You just said ‘I lost my Vee’ and acted all coy so people imagined you did it with someone respectable.
There were, like, ten of us painted with pink light and blue shadow in our corner of the dance hall, 11 if you counted Watson, who was like 90% nerd but 10% alright because he never said anything we could mock. It was something to do with his autism or Asperger’s or… I don’t know the difference between all that disabled junk. Maeve, who always asks for my approval on dumb stuff, asked permission then danced with Kane (if you can call Kane lifting her up and benchpressing Maeve dancing). Eli danced too, pulling the arm of this girl Anya til she peeled off the wall. Anya was the tallest chick in school, this real sporty, kind of tomboy-y girl from that country that got all mechanised and made all the fleshies refugees. Anya had been hiking and dragging heavy suitcases and eating root vegetables since she was like two so she always won all the athletics at our school. Her tall body seemed to suit Eli, though I’d started a rumour not long ago that Anya was a lesbian because I didn’t want Anya being accepted as normal, cause then every other popular kid would have to recalibrate. I mean Anya was born with respect, but I had to work for it.
I would’ve tried to get Chan to come up on the roof with me so we could vape and talk about our feelings except he was devoted to Esther that night, cause I’d heard that he’d made it Official with Esther earlier that afternoon. Esther’s this real bubbly girl who always has these real pretty haircuts and gets around in a wheelchair and wears her Youth Paralympics medals whenever she’s got an excuse to brag about them, like at Show & Tell. She coaches first aid and goes to, like, Vietnam on vaccination summer camps with the Peace Corps and she’s also a teacher aide for some of the retards so most people think she’s Little Miss Perfect. I loved Esther to bits, she said nice stuff to me one time when I was crying in the toilets cause I lost President of the student council to KT, but one thing that pissed me off about Esther was she didn’t seem right for Chan. I mean, I’d never seen a movie where someone fucks someone in a wheelchair.
Over four hours we took turns pushing Esther’s chair out onto the dancefloor for a spin. Es can control her chair herself with a joystick, but wheeling her is a chance to seem like you’re friends with someone cool. The dances and the lols and the conversations were all good but losing my V card was majorly occupying my brain. Even though I wanted Chan to do it to me, I would’ve settled for almost anyone just so I could tell Maeve I’d done it before her. Me and Maeve had this thing where she copied everything I did, even if I was always better than her, like my arms weren’t as fat as hers and I was taller. Maeve had brought up the V-word six times in the last month and it was getting hard to come up with excuses when she asked me if I’d gone to third base with anyone.
Omar was popular enough to spend some minutes with. I tugged him away from the food tables where he was filling the pockets of his military-style pants with energy-dense food. Omar always thinks the zombie apocalypse is about to happen and he’ll need food supplies, which is why he always goes climbing trees and exploring sewer pipes after school, finding gross wild toadstools and hazelnuts. It’s not like he would chat with our group online after school anyway. He’s like wayyyy dyslexic.
Omar and me had a quick twerk. Our dance was over in like three minutes cause Omar was more interested in the waiterbots’ canapés than me. ‘You need to store energy,’ he tried telling me, spitting aioli on me as he talked, ‘You never know when you need a reserve of fat,’ and I was like Vomit. I told him if I got fat I’d look exactly like Maeve, but I took a canapé anyway and snapped a photo and posted it on my page. I only ate the salmon off it ‘cause the cracker had too much gluten. Me and Fatimah, this jokester from my accounting class, had both thrown up in the bathrooms at Maeve’s place so we could fit into our dresses and she’d puked up her Prozac and we’d lol’d for ages. I wasn’t going to waste my body on a cracker. I would keep a close eye on my calorie counter app and stop at 100 cals or Chan might not even look at me.
Nerdy-ass Watson was too stiff and robotic to dance but he made some conversation with me, mostly talking about that experiment that was kicking off tomorrow, analysing the statistical probability that our school would get chosen while I made fun of his nerdiness. That was just the banter we did, even though the stats were sort of interesting. It was kind of like the sort of interaction we had while waiting for maths class to start, the nerds gossiping in the corridor about science while me and Maeve made fun of Adam’s doodles of pyramids on his maths pad and Adam got all red in the face, screaming It’s not a pyramid, It’s a ziggurat and going and hiding behind Anya’s strong back.
Finally Adam’s manager pointed at our group and pushed Adam towards us and he dragged his ass over, carrying his own drink tray, doing mech work. The prom was getting boring and we were glad to have some fresh entertainment.
‘Omigod you guys,’ I said, ‘I saw Adam fully scavenging in the dumpsters earlier on at the supermarket.’ I pressed my belly button, opened the photos folder on my organiser, pushed towards my friends the hologram photo of Adam clutching a paper bag of rubbish like a baby.
Maeve looked at me all concerned. ‘You didn’t give him any food, did you?’
I dodged the question and watched the entertainment as Kane sang ‘Rock-a-Bye Baby’ in Adam’s face and Adam tried to keep on being a waiter, keep on working as hard as the waiterbots but Kane finally broke him when he made this crack about Adam’s dad having sex with his dead mum with a cybernetic dick while singing Rock-a-Bye Baby and Adam limped away without even crying, without fighting back, just looking like his spine had been snapped. Esther told Kane he’d gone too far and you shouldn’t talk about people’s parents and Fatimah threw in some jokes about her weird family herding camels so everyone started talking about their parents all at once. It was good that we were in the Confession Zone and the tunes Gershw1n piped into our ears were like all momentous and touching.
It turned out a lot of us were worried about our folks having to borrow truckloads of money to keep our houses and self-driving cars and breakfast cereal with pistachios in it. Redundancies were going on no matter how cool and popular your family was. My dad had been made redundant and hired back again like three times already. Cause my dad works for the university on and off, he’d been the first to tell me The Millions Test was coming up and he kept ribbing me at the dinner table til one time I was like, Dad: do I seriously have to go out and earn pocket money for you?
‘…paying us to perform for them, give them data, that’s why they’re haters,’ Chan was going, putting his arm around the waists of three girls in a row and lifting each of them. ‘Having bitches all over you? The mechs will never have this. They hate us cause they ain’t us.”
‘Correction: technically mechs don’t hate you,’ Watson said, ‘Artificial intelligence doesn’t have emotions. I’d posit that the purpose of the experiment is to see how quickly you can waste your opportunities.’
Chan tossed a boxing glove hologram into in the air. ‘I’ll waste you if you keep using big words, bro.’
‘OI YOU GUYS,’ I interrupted. ‘Where d’you reckon they’ll make the kids do the experiment? Ecuador or something? The Sahara? If that was me, I’d fully spear a pig. Wild venison with a red wine vinaigrette: mmm.’
‘Venison’s deer, dear,’ Omar went, stuffing a waiterbot’s yoghurt-covered raisins into the chest pocket of his tuxedo. ‘My money’s on India. They’ll send us there.’
‘Oh come on, Ede. Your dad’ll pull strings.’
‘Whatever. Yo, did you do that screening questionnaire? The one that asks you your allergies, your diet, your family’s income –
‘It asked me what my favourite playground was when I was a kid,’ KT said. I told her they asked me the playground question too, when they screened me, and heaps of stuff about the foods I hated as a kid that my parents loved: corn, tomatoes, strawberries, eew. Fish. Jellied eel.
Esther wheeled into our conversation and everyone paused to let her speak. One of the reasons Esther was in the Top 10 Most Popular was ‘cause she’d refused to get cybernetic legs. The cyopsy would’ve let her walk better than ever, but she would’ve been an outcast. ‘They asked me who the bottom five least popularest people at school are.’
‘Omigawd: Adam Turing, right?’
‘Adam any day,’ KT said, ‘I mean no day, lol.’
‘I chose Adam too,’ I said, ‘I mean, I chose not Adam. I’d rather have sex with a Mopomatic.’ All of us girls cracked up and hugged each other as we laughed. Gods must have been listening because Adam came around then with a fresh tray.
‘What are these? Carrot flowers? Who made these?’
‘Too tricky to programme a waiterbot to do it,’ Adam mumbled, staring at my chest. ‘I carved each one myself.’
I took a carrot flower, stroked it. ‘So pretty.’ I watched Adam’s lips quiver as I chucked it away. ‘Too many cals.’
We partied until it rolled into a new day. Around 2am I checked my org and there were like 20 messages from Momshine, her going You’re In You’re In You’re In which probably meant ‘You’re Inside, I’m waiting Outside’ and it was like Yawn, Momshine, tell me something I don’t know.