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Authors: Jared Garrett

Beat

BOOK: Beat
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BEAT

Future House Publishing

 

Copyright © 2015 by Jared Garrett

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form

or by any means without the written permission of the publisher.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either

the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Cover design by Adam Glendon Sidwell

Cover design © 2015 by Future House Publishing

Developmental editing by Helena Steinacker

Substantive editing by Heather Klippert

Copy editing by Heather Klippert and Mandi Diaz

ISBN-10: 098912536X (paperbound)

ISBN-13: 978-0-9891253-6-9 (paperbound)

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Adam, Helena,
Ami, Ryan, Mandi and the rest of

the Future House Publishing Team

 

For Thomas, Hintze, Lily, Nathaniel, Benjamin, and Wallace.

Your hugs and imagination keep me going.

CHAPTER 1

 

The beeping monitor on my wrist felt like needles in my ears. Spammy piece of drek.

Pedaling hard around the corner, I had to dodge the people walking home from their shifts, the afternoon sun glowing off the white, curving walls of the huge dome buildings lining the sidewalks. Shouts followed behind me, telling me to slow down, warning me of the knockout. As if I needed warnings. I’d worn the Personal Assistant on my wrist since leaving the Nursery at age four; I knew about the knockout.

Everybody did. It hadn’t cured the Bug, but it protected us, saving humanity from extinction.

I studied the path ahead through the spaces between the people; I was still a hundred meters from the Enjineering Dome. I forced myself to breathe slower and deeper. I glanced at the beeping Personal Assistant, which everyone called the Papa, on my wrist, ignoring the three flashing digits telling me my heart rate. The time readout was small, but I was used to focusing on it. 14:28.

I wished I’d had time to deactivate the bugging speed suppressor in the cycle; I had two minutes to get to my position in Development 4. But if an Admin or Enforser caught me tampering with the cycle, I’d not only be in for a longer shift in the Enjineering Dome, but I’d also get a shift in the Dumps. Working with Rojer was nothing but tek paradise, but scrubbing kilometers of smelly conveyor belt sucked bug, and Enforsers could tell when you were going faster than your cycle was designed to.

You had to be careful and lucky if you wanted to have fun in New Frisko.

I grinned. Yeah. Bren and the others were finally catching on to the whole “fun” thing. We’d been Pushing, my name for it since I started it, for the last hour over in Hope Park. Pushing your heart rate as close to 140 as you could without breaking that barrier and getting the knockout—that was fun. Even more fun was seeing Pol or Koner slip up, pass 140, and fall completely inert on the ground from the knockout.

Nobody was as good as me. I hadn’t had the knockout for months.

The beeping got louder, with one long beep coming between three short ones. Instinctively, I glanced down at my wrist-monitor. It was like having a neurotically beeping parent attached to your arm, which was why everyone called it a Papa.

I slowed, reminding myself to breathe slower. It would
not
help to get the knockout right outside the Enjineering Dome. An image flashed behind my eyes: me collapsing just as the magnetic doors to my department slid open. Talk about embarrassing.

I jolted the pedals to a stop, tapping the brake sensor with my right thumb and yanking the cycle into a hard skid, my back wheel careening left. Leaping from the cycle and kicking the leg activator, I dropped it into a locking slot against the outer wall of the Dome and jogged the four meters to the door.

“Nik Granjer.”

I jerked to a halt, the grating, filtered voice sending tingles down my spine.
Bug me.
I turned, inwardly flinching, knowing what I would see and cursing my luck. The black-clad Enforsers, with their glinting, multi-barreled Keepers, patrolled the sidewalks during the day, but I hadn’t seen one as I’d pedaled. This Enforser loomed over me, his matte black uniform acting like a light magnet—the space around him even seemed dim. I hadn’t done anything wrong; what was his problem? The last thing I needed now, for my shift and for tonight, was to get in trouble with an Enforser. My right hand went to my pants pocket, fingering the tiny square in there, before I could get it to stop.

“Your speed endangered other citizens.” The Enforser’s face hid behind a smooth helmet that made me think of an ant’s head. A visor that didn’t reflect even a little of the sun in the western sky covered his eyes. “This is your second offense this week.”

I knew that.
Spam. I should have just left two minutes earlier.
“I’m sorry. I lost track of time.”

“That’s what your Personal Assistant is for.”

“I know.” I shivered. The visor’s dull flatness made the man seem more machine than human. Everyone knew the Enforsers were human. They even had Papas; at least that’s what we were told. But they lived differently from the rest of us and worked as if they were part machine. If you were my age, you remembered seeing them show up in force at the school to “restore calm” last year when Teacher Harris went nuts. He started throwing desks and chairs, yelling about the Bug and humanity and something about artificial language. The Enforsers were there five minutes after it began. Maybe twenty of them, circling the teacher silently and firing their Keepers at the same time. Battery-powered electrodes and nets hit Harris in an avalanche. The barbed electrodes spiked his heart rate, and the knockout hit him. Within sixty seconds, the Enforsers were gone, an unconscious, net-wrapped Teacher Harris with them.

We were told Harris had somehow blocked his knockout and had died of the Bug while being treated for what the other teachers called dementia. For a while, I had wondered why the Enforsers hadn’t just allowed Harris to naturally push his heart rate up enough to have the knockout kick in. Then one day it came to me: a show of force like that would keep people from acting up or breaking rules.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had put Harris up to that fit just to give the Admins and Enforsers more control over us.

I lowered my gaze to the Enforser’s Keeper. The sleek weapon, not quite a meter long, shot all kinds of nasty things. I knew about the nets and sizzling electrodes and had once seen a rubber bullet. What else was in that smooth cylinder under the barrel? The weapon bobbed slightly as the man spoke. “Watch the time. Stay calm and maintain the calm in others.”

“Yes, sir.” I hated the fear the Enforser sparked in me. I wondered if they ever did anything like Pushing. I wasn’t sure whether the Enforsers trained so they could catch somebody on foot without getting the knockout. But if not, I was in better shape than this guy. I might be able to outrun him, but not if they really were part machine.

Even if I could run faster, there was no way could I outrun an electrode or rubber bullet. Not that running away from an Enforser did any good; they always knew who and where you were.

Nope. Didn’t matter if I could outrun this guy. I’d have to be able to deactivate or take off the Papa to make running worth it.
Or I could jam the tracker.
My stomach flipped.
Take it easy. Save it for tonight.
I couldn’t jam it right now, anyway.
I stared at the Enforser’s matte visor, guessing where his eyes were. I injected sincerity into my voice, wishing my mouth weren’t so dry. “I’ll do better.”

“Once more and we will have a longer discussion.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Dismissed.” The Enforser stepped back and proceeded down the sidewalk, his steps loud on the hard ground. I stood there for a few seconds, wondering if I was insane. If we made a mistake tonight, the trouble we would be in—it had to be worse than the Dumps. We might disappear like Harris had.

I pushed it out of my mind and glanced at the Papa—heart rate monitor, clock, slave master, savior, and locator all in one—and my heart sank. Bug it; 14:33. The doors hissed open and I darted through the entry area, past the startled Level 8 girl at the front desk, tossing a smile at her pretty face, and into Dev 1. Twenty seconds later, I slipped through the door to Dev 4 and spotted Rojer at his usual station.

My entrance must have caught his eye because he looked up. “Hey.”

“Hey.” I waved my Papa at the sensor embedded in the side of the table where Rojer worked. “Nik Granjer. Four minutes late to shift. Released at 18:24.” Luckily, there was enough noise in the lab that the sensor’s female voice didn’t carry far.

Rojer popped a fresh power cylinder into his bild-all tool. “Everything good?”

“Yeah.” I pulled my bild-all from the magnetic strip above Rojer’s work table. “I was almost on time, but an Enforser stopped me.”

“Point his Keeper at you?” Rojer stepped on a plate, and the machine he and I had been working on was hoisted up another half meter, high enough for both of us to get under it. Rojer was nearly a head shorter than me, so I appreciated him doing that.

“No, but he didn’t really have to.” While I pulled on anti-static gloves, I watched Rojer slide a shiny fab-steel plate down behind a propulsion unit. He tapped his bild-all against the part he wanted to loosen, waited a moment while the attachment slid into place on his tool, then slipped the attachment over the bolt. A whir sounded as the tool tightened around the bolt. Rojer pressed the button on his bild-all and the bolt was removed in a second. He dropped it onto the table.

I stepped up next to him and held the propulsion unit while he removed the other three anchor bolts. The unit was twenty centimeters in diameter and ten centimeters tall, with completely smooth lines and a power core embedded into the top half of the fat disc. With the bolts out, I toggled two wire clips off and lifted the unit onto Rojer’s cluttered worktable.

“Something’s wrong with it,” Rojer said. He flipped it over, sliding catches off the power core compartment cover. “It won’t run higher than 70 percent.”

I glanced around. Five other pairs of workers filled the room at their various stations. Just like Rojer and me, one was the mentor and the other the intern. But unlike Rojer and me, most of them were working on boring stuff, like a better clothing processor for the homes in New Frisko. One that would use less power.

Not us. I grinned as I took in the machine Rojer had conceived and I had helped him build so far. It had the general shape of a cycle, but it was anything but. Propulsion units, all mounted on independently rotating pivot balls, clustered all over the bottom of the machine. Handlebars at the top controlled the machine, but Rojer had finished that part before I became his intern. It was a powered cycle—a really fast one. It was going to be able to fly above the sidewalks and roads, not as high as the Enforser pods, but above people’s heads for sure.

I stepped next to Rojer, wishing I could test the new cycle.

Rojer pulled out the power core, rubbing his gloved hand on the metal contact. “Maybe the connection is being obstructed somehow.” I glanced at the core. Possible, but unlikely. There was enough surface area for a good connection, even if it were dirty.

Running at a low percentage meant power wasn’t being used right. I turned the propulsion unit over, setting it down carefully. The bottom part, the place where the force pushed out against the ground and gravity, was ringed by heat plates, manufactured specifically to capture and reflect heat energy back to the power core—maximizing and conserving energy use.

My idea.

I bent close and slid my finger lightly along the top of each plate. There.

“You got something?” Rojer bent close and set down the power core.

I touched the plate in question. “Yeah. It’s loose.”

“So?”

Rojer’s favorite question. Sometimes he knew the answer, and sometimes he didn’t. But he loved asking me, kept insisting it made me hone my thinking. “So if it’s loose, propulsive power is lost through the seam, and the recycling doesn’t work like it should, either, adding up to a pretty significant net loss of efficiency and capacity.”

No response came from Rojer. I straightened and met his eyes. “What?”

He smiled, but there was more to it than the usual goofy satisfaction when I got something right. “I couldn’t have said it better.”

I shrugged. “Yeah, well.” I felt squirmy at the compliment. And his strange expression was making me worried. What was the big deal? “I’m good at this stuff. You said so.” I grinned, trying to get rid of the weirdness.

“Really good, Nik. Crazy good.” Rojer handed me my bild-all. “Fix it.”

I turned back to the propulsion unit and got to work. As I disassembled the heat plate, I intermittently watched Rojer test the other units. Every minute or so, a thick whine and a bright glow would fill the air.

He continued diagnostics while I carefully reinstalled the heat plate. He finished before me. As I snapped the last piece into place, I realized he was watching me. I handed him the repaired unit.

Rojer let out a quiet snort. “Nice work. Fast work.”

“It’s fun.” There was that weird expression again. This was ridiculous. “What’s going on?”

We both got under the machine and worked together to put the unit back in place. After a minute or two, Rojer sighed. “I’m going to miss you.”

BOOK: Beat
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