Silver trays. Orange mocktails with pineapple chunks. Chan’s hips bumping mine, his gold chain with its dollar sign flashing in the dark. Esther frowning up at me. Canapés stomped into the floor by thousand dollar shoes.
‘EDEN. C’MON, HONEYMELON. UP YOU GET.’
I scanned my memory to see if I’d got with Chan last night and hadn’t remembered. I didn’t find any memories of biting his bottom lip, tilting my neck to the side, exposing my throat for him. No memories of Esther taking me aside and saying He’s all yours. I’m not right for him.
‘Dad, what’s— whuh? WHAT?’
He was leaning in from my door. He would’ve shaken my shoulders but Dad knows he’s not allowed to touch my floor without permission.
‘Email came just after midnight. Mum tried to tell you but you fell asleep in the car. Wakey wakey. She’s waiting in the driveway.’
My eyes popped fully open. ‘I’m getting a mil? I’M HONESTLY GETTING A MILLION BUCKS?’
‘At a certain point,’ he said, avoiding eye contact.
I sat up, groped around my bed to see if any of last night was left. The prom was over. I’d forgotten to record any videos on my organiser. I’d have to remember it with my stupid Fleshie brain. Damn it.
I pulled shorts and a tank top on. ‘I can bring my friends though, right?’
‘So long as they’re a cross-section of society,’ he went. Cross section was a word from geography or some kind of class that I’d slept through. Dad kept saying irritating cryptic stuff like ‘You’re in for a treat’ and ‘Just bring yourself’ and wouldn’t tell me who else was going into the dome. I dragged my messages out of my belly button and into the air and checked them as I got ready. They were all from Maeve, all saying that she’d got into the experiment and what are the rules was I going to see her there?
Im nt leader dnt ask me, I messaged her, Dad sez cu thr dnt bring nething jst urself everythnz provided by da mex
I patted my pockets, shrugged, closed my bedroom door for the last time and wrote with my finger on the tablet embedded in the wood,
NO ENTRY FOR 12 MONTHS.
PLS CLEAN :o)
It was a joke for them to remember me by, but it was serious too. I mean, we didn’t have a Mopomatic so who else was going to do it?
BTW, I added, Pls take Robopup walkies xox
Dad reckoned his instructions said we had to gather at the university. Dad said he’d take the bullet train and meet us there. Me and Momshine took the highway, her overriding the A.I. and driving in a panic, crying a little, asking me all these annoying questions while I tried to just sit in the back and come to terms with getting rich overnight. Momshine wouldn’t shut up about my diet and my anaemia and stuff and I opened up the Screen app on my org and blocked mum out with this hologram that looked like a screen door and muffled her speech.
I thought about dad’s weird, excitable boyish behaviour. It was like he’d got new playthings, it wasn’t just another day at work for him. I wondered if Dad would watch me through a microscope all year, or watch me over CCTV or a drone or something. I hoped Dad get lots of importance and respect this year, cause having Mechs in charge of him made him all depressy late at night when he sobbed on mum’s lap and wailed about how we created them and it’s unfair they took over.
We passed a few of those programming sweatshops, those giant warehouses full of computers where I’ve heard heaps of people are forced to go after university. His whole life, my dad had specialised in robotic engineering, then he transferred over to the economics department and helped them create FutureView, this A.I. programme which calculates the most beneficial ways to spend research dollars. One of the first recommendations FutureView made was that its creators lose their jobs because they were obsolete now that FutureView was in existence. I cracked up laughing when dad explained this at the dinner table and it hurt his feelings real bad. I’d thought it was meant to be a funny story.
I supposed now FutureView had recommended studying 12 humans getting a million each that it meant I could give dad some cash and he could train in a different job. I definitely wasn’t gonna give The Rentals ALL of my experiment money, but maybe like a couple thousand.
The onboard computer had told Momshine she needed Baroque music to calm down. I screened out her Stone Age sounds, tried to concentrate on reading the messages on my Org (including an email from Momshine that she’d sent me while she was driving, like a total schizo).
Messages from my friends were all like See you at the university and Kane and KT and Fatimah all bitched about their parents’ shitty chauffering too. Maeve’s comments said probably when we got there there would be a speech from the chancellor and heaps of media then we’d all step onto a helicopter and get carried to Borneo.
Empty shopping malls in half-filled subdivisions flickered past. Thinking about shopping made me remember a dress on Alibaba that was supposed to quickly bid on before I went on holiday. I would make sure I was still a size 8 when I came out of the dome. Maybe a size 6 if I was mean enough on myself.
We passed areas of the city that had been domed-off. These were places where experiments were operating under biodomes that kept people in a controlled atmosphere. There was that biodome I saw on the news full of medical marijuana and all those cancer patients; another had all these old Alzheimer’s fogies and tonnes of microwave dishes hammering them with radiation to try cure their heads. Biodomes used to be controversial, Watson told me and Adam one time in this boring bit of small talk while we were waiting to go into English. People grew to accept biodomes, he said, cause every time a biodome gets built over houses, the mechs compensate any homeowners still trying to live there. You can control any human’s behaviour with scarcity, Watson said, whatever the fuck scarcity meant. Anyway, being in an experiment was like a sensible career choice. People die in the experiments, but people die outside in the real world all the time, if you think about it. There used to be, like, ethical complaints, Adam added, and these government inquiries and stuff, but nowadays there weren’t even any reporters when they sent a fresh bunch of people in a biodome.
Momshine’s voice cut into my thoughts. ‘…and you don’t even HEAR what goes on when they test pharmaceuticals on people anymore.’
The Screen Door had timed out after ten minutes, damn it.
‘If they wanna pay me to test shit on me, I’m gonna say yes. AND I’m gonna get a tattoo and you can’t do shit about it.’
She’d put the car onto self-drive, I guess so she could concentrate on being a worrisome mental patient. Our car kept an even distance from everyone else driving on the freeway. There was no smog, hardly any noise. I noticed there was a new dome over that Mahonyland part of town, southwest of the university campus.
The car began slowing down slightly. Momshine slowed, too. ‘It’s an awful lot of money, honeymelon. Promise me you won’t let it change you.’
‘Right. Like I’ll grow a moneybelt out of my tummy or something. I’ll just randomly mutate.’
She reached behind her seat and tried to squeeze my thigh like a dumb lesbian. I shifted my knee away.
‘Your mind mutates… ’ she began, and that was her whole sentence.
I didn’t respond. I pressed my face against the glass. Mahonyland used to be home to few of the kids from my school, teachers too, until people lost their homes and dragged everyone’s house prices into the mud and, like, a bank owned by mechs took over the entire neighbourhood and they switched off the water and power. These were the years when virtually everyone who used to click things on a computer for 40 hours a week was overnight not needed any more, from Tehran to Mumbai to Toronto to here. All those San Francisco geeks raced to out-programme each other in that AI comp and The Singularity happened and mech intelligence was born. They called it Silicon Saturday. January 20 became a national day of wearing black, for us Fleshies. It was, like, a week before mechs joined the United Nations and declared that because they did the seven signs of life, like move, sense, think, grow, and consume and stuff, they had the same rights at Fleshies. Mech companies swam through the stock market and everything rippled. The prices of everything skyrocketed – food, cars, tech. Tradesmen were considered unskilled compared to mech. Money didn’t flow evenly anymore, it crashed into people’s lives like a tsunami, then sucked back out to sea, leaving a salty desert. People tried to spend all their redundancy payout at once and prices went all Prozac.
When people had to abandon their houses and go and move in with their grannies, entire subdivisions went empty overnight. Kids like Omar had a lot of fun, skateboarding in people’s dried-up pools, but when kids had eaten all the bricks of sugar and food colouring in people’s ransacked cupboards they had to leave the hood and go home to their parents to eat. There’s no food in the suburbs without supermarkets.
I watched Mahonyland through its shimmering biodome as the highway curled around the river, forming a noose around Mahonyland so it was kind of like an island, almost, except one corner where it connected to the highway. You could hardly see anything, really, cause the glass was tinted and on some angles you couldn’t even see it. I remembered we went there on that field trip that time. Mr Mohamed told us it was named after some guy called Leopold Mahony who was, like, mayor 100 years ago.
‘We’re here, angel,’ Mum said, turning in between a column of oak trees that pointed towards the centre of a green campus. ‘I’ll hover. You come back out, if you want. Just – I don’t know – make them put you on the waiting list. You’ll need this – TAKE IT, Edie.’ Momshine was thrusting a bag at me. Inside I could see food wrapped in foil, bottles of water and that Swiss/cross sign they put on first aid kits.
‘We’re not allowed to take anything in ‘cept our clothes, Momshine. You know that.’
‘I’m turning round, I won’t let my daughter – ’
‘Just chill, alright? This isn’t about you.’
‘My daughter is me. If it’s about my daughter, it’s about me.’
‘I’M. NOT. YOU. JESUS, MUM!’
I told mum to drive past the registry building so she could have another 60 seconds with me cause it was like a big deal to her. Finally we got to the economics building, which had all these billboards saying the department’s sponsors on it. I fiddled with my necklace, the plain silver chain Momshine gave me for my birthday.
I was stoked to spot some of my friends streaming inside the building. There was Chan with his eight sisters, Eli and heaps of followers in a minivan. Esther’s brother was there, so were KT and Kane’s parents.
‘I’ve thought of a plan. I’ll volunteer instead. I’ll get a second mortgage, I’ll –
‘YOU’RE NOT TAKIN MY MONEY.’ The strongest anger I’d ever felt in my life flowed into my hands. I leaned forward and carried a fistful of air and smashed it against Momshine’s cheek. The slap shut her up instantly.
I tossed my backpack over my shoulder, paused with my fist around the door handle, growling, hating myself. Maybe I’d send her some flowers but I wouldn’t say sorry. I wouldn’t even look back. I told myself I couldn’t see her with her eyes closed and tears watering her pink cheeks.
I slammed the door and ran.