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Authors: Rachel Pattinson

Synthetica

BOOK: Synthetica
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Copyright © Rachel Pattinson, 2015

Rachel Pattinson has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any
form or means (including electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the
copyright owner.

This is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of
the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Cover design by smartcg.co.uk

For Roy,

Who always believed in me.

Contents

One 6

Two 11

Three 19

Four 36

Five 43

Five 47

Six 53

Seven 57

Eight 63

Nine 70

Ten 79

Eleven 85

Twelve 92

Thirteen 98

Fourteen 103

Fifteen 109

Sixteen 116

Seventeen 123

Eighteen 130

Nineteen 138

Twenty 141

Twenty-one 147

Twenty-two 151

Twenty-three 155

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 162

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 163

The green light flashed. Finally, the program was online.

He paused, staring
at the computer screen, hardly daring to believe it. The computer
was an antique from the 21st Century, but using such old technology
had its advantages. For one, it meant that its software didn't
register on modern computer models, making it laughably easy to hack
into any new system. These people truly were arrogant if they
believed themselves to be untouchable.

Well, he was just
about to prove to them just how wrong they were.

He skimmed the
text with an expert eye, registering certain details as they leapt
out at him. ID number, name, age, job title, where they lived, even
what they ate last week. His laugh was muffled by the black mask
strapped across the lower half of his face. This was almost too
easy. It was almost as if they wanted to die.

His fingers flew
over the keyboard as he typed in commands, the computer whining as
he pushed it to its maximum capacity. He pressed the 'Enter' key
without pausing.

Whilst he waited
for confirmation that his command had been sent, his grey eyes
wandered over to the small box of picochips on the desk; their
silver and bronze whorls twinkling in the half light. If this test
worked...these tiny wonders he created were about to change the
world.

Ten years. Ten
years he'd been waiting for this moment. Waiting for them to mess
up. Waiting for them to create something he could manipulate to his
own ends. And finally, it was here. All of his waiting and planning
would finally pay off.

The computer
beeped, telling him that his command had been accepted by the host.
Behind his mask he smiled a cold, cruel smile.

Time to see what
Mr Smithson was capable of. He wondered, just for the briefest of
seconds, if Mr Smithson had any objection to becoming a murderer.
Not that it mattered if he did – he'd be dead in a few hours
anyway.

One

The
first time Anais saw a man being murdered, she was
just seventeen.

She was already
acquainted with death – having witnessed the traditional burning
of both sets of grandparents some years earlier, she knew what was
what. But she'd never seen someone actually die. She'd never seen
someone murder a man in cold blood. It was not to be the last.

It was a cold, clear
day, which marked the beginning of autumn in the Imperial City. The
trees were a riot of colour, their crisp leaves crunching underfoot
or floating dreamily on the still warm breeze. Anais was safe at
home. She opened up the Food Dispensation Unit to find breakfast,
predictably, waiting for her.

“Good morning,
Anais. Your biometrics indicate that you are lacking in protein
today. Please find your suggested breakfast option below,” the
cool female voice that inhabited the FDU intoned. Anais looked at
the plate of diced avocado and bobbly cottage cheese, sprinkled with
quinoa, in disgust and almost threw up.

“System override,”
she said hastily. “Requesting bacon and eggs.”

The FDU was quiet for
a moment, in what Anais imagined to be a sullen silence.

“This course is not
recommended,” the voice said. “Bacon and eggs has been requested
three times in the last seven days. Variation at meal times is the
best option in getting the recommended amount of vitamins and
minerals per day.” Was it Anais' imagination, or was there a hint
of reproach in the machine's voice?

“Then stop making me
stupid meals,” Anais muttered. A little louder she said, “System
override.”

The FDU remained
silent.
It's definitely taking longer to prepare food
Anais
thought. Could machines have feelings, or was she simply being
paranoid? After a few seconds, the offending plate slid out of view,
and a minute later a new one rose up, complete with three steaming
rashers of bacon and two fried eggs.

“Stingy,” Anais
said as she inspected the plate. “You definitely gave me four
rashers the other day.”

The FDU didn't reply,
so Anais shut the door with her elbow and turned away to place her
breakfast on the table. She sat down and began to tuck in, although
she couldn't help feeling that the bacon wasn't quite
as
crispy as usual, and the yolk in her eggs was only
just
runny
– clearly, she'd caused offence one too many times.

With a sigh of
satisfaction, she pushed her empty plate away and touched a spot on
the glass table in front of her. The embedded screen flickered into
life, the latest news and entertainment stories popping up to greet
her. She scrolled through the different windows, occasionally
skim-reading a headline that looked interesting. One pop-up informed
her that black and white stripes were back in season; while an
advertisement for prenatal conditioning flashed repeatedly (
L
et
your baby shine; neon DNA now half price! Only 2,000 CRD for a
limited time only!
). She touched the glass, beginning to turn
off all the pointless notifications, when one of them caught her
eye, hidden behind a slew of advertisements and celebrity gossip
feeds. Her heart leapt. She maximised the window and began to read
eagerly:

You're
invited!

Dear
Imperial City Citizen,

Here
at Civitas, we can't believe it's our 50
th
birthday already. Where has the time gone?

Over
the years, we've prided ourselves on bringing you the latest in
technological innovations; from more efficient FDUs, to allowing
effortless communication with the latest RetCom designs.

Now
the time has come to celebrate our 50
th
birthday in style!

You're
officially invited to our street party and parade, taking place
outside our headquarters on
Saturday
15
th
September at 12:00
.
There'll be food, music, and of course, a large discount on selected
Civitas products! So if there's something you've had your eye on,
what better time to purchase it? Our party is also the ideal time
for us to launch our highly anticipated Scholarly Learning Programs;
download knowledge on any subject you wish – instantly!*

So
come along and bring all the family – we look forward to seeing
you there!

*
Programs
are subject to availability. Please click here for full list of
programs. Terms & Conditions apply.

Anais finished reading
the invitation, excitement coursing through her. She clicked on the
link provided and scanned through the list. She didn't have to look
very far to find what she wanted. There, in-between Aerodynamics and
Art (Oil based) was the subject she'd been waiting for;
Architecture. A huge smile spread across her face.

She absentmindedly
rubbed the small area behind her right ear where her ID chip was
implanted as she looked through the rest of the subjects Civitas
would offer on their SLPs. Sometimes she imagined she could feel it
sitting underneath her skin, not quite tingling, but definitely
aware that it was there. The feeling had intensified since she'd had
it upgraded last month so it could handle the new SLP software.

Her dad walked in at
that moment, switching on the HoloVision set as he entered the
kitchen. A hologram showing the latest news flickered into life,
projecting itself into the air above the HV console, a hubbub of
voices filling the air.

“Morning, love,”
he said, giving her a kiss on the top of her head as he passed.

“Morning,” Anais
replied, concentrating on the screen in front of her.

“Up a bit early for
a Saturday aren't you?” he asked, as he opened the FDU. Anais
focused on the bottom left hand side of her vision where her
electronic RetCom lens covered her eye.

“Oh yeah,” she
said vaguely, as the time displayed on her RetCom showed ten to
eight. “The street cleaners woke me again. Thought I might as well
get up.”

There was another
reason she was up so early; it was at the edge of her memory, but
try as she might, the thought kept eluding her. There was something
she was supposed to do today, something to do with the Academy. She
had a vague recollection she was supposed to be somewhere, but after
having the last few weeks blissfully free of school since she'd
finished her final exams, all thoughts of anything school related
had been washed from her mind. She blinked and looked up in time to
see her dad making a face.

“What's up?” she
asked, leaning back in her chair slightly to see what edible
delights the FDU had cooked up for him. He pulled the plate out and
offered it to her.

That bloody machine!
She knew it – there was definitely some kind of malfunction going
on somewhere in the food network. There, right in front of her, she
could swear was
the exact same plate of avocado and cottage
cheese it had tried to feed her. Mr Finch looked down at it
mournfully.

“I don't suppose you
want to swap?” he said, his expression lifting hopefully before he
registered Anais' empty plate, and it fell again.

“Sorry, dad,”
Anais laughed. “I've already eaten. It tried to give me the same
thing. Why don't you just ask it for something else?”

Her dad shook his head
as he sat down with a sigh.

“It won't let me,”
he said, looking miserable. “Apparently I've been disregarding its
advice too many times, and now I'm not allowed to override the
system until my cholesterol is back to normal.”

“Says who?' Anais
asked, baffled. “I didn't know appliances could actually stop you
from doing something.”

“They can't,” Mr
Finch sighed. “But your mother can.”

Anais stifled a laugh.
There was a
ping
inside her head, and a small circular icon
depicting a calendar flashed in her vision. It expanded out into a
short paragraph, informing Anais of her schedule for the day:

MISS
ANAIS FINCH

ID:
901219

10.00AM
– CAREER’S ADVICE

LOCATION:
CITY HALL

STATUS:
COMPULSORY

CURRENT
TRAVEL TIME TO DESTINATION: 37 MINUTES

She groaned as she
read through the information. This was what she couldn't remember.
She'd completely forgotten her year group was due to have their
careers advice before they left the Academy for good – after
they'd spoken to the careers advisor, the Academy would enrol them
in whatever training program or job the advisor deemed them suitable
for, regardless of whether or not they wanted to pursue that
particular career path.

“Something wrong?”
Mr Finch forced down the last mouthful of food and sat back with a
grimace.

“Career’s advice,”
Anais said, blinking away the words in her eyesight.

“Ahh yes,” her dad
nodded. “I was wondering when yours would be. I can still remember
mine. I had someone called Mr Peters. Horrible bloke. Told me I
could go far if I applied myself, but because of my appalling exam
results, he gave me a job at the picochip factory.”

Anais stared at him.

“You didn’t ask to
work at the factory? But...I always thought that’s where you
wanted to go.”

Mr Finch shook his
head.

“Nope. First choice
was…” he frowned as he tried to remember. “Medic, I think. But
it all turned out for the best – you know what I’m like at the
sight of blood.”

He grinned at her and
Anais gave a small half smile in return, but there was a sick
feeling in her gut. She knew getting an apprenticeship as an
architect was a long shot, but what if she didn’t get into her
second or third choices either? What if her exam results had been so
bad that she was deemed to be unemployable, or worse, ended up in a
dead end job as a street cleaner or working in the underground
recycling plant? In a moment of panic, she called up her exam
results on her RetCom, scanning quickly through the list. They
didn’t seem so awful to her – she’d scraped passes in
everything but Programming, but she chose to ignore this result.
She'd always hated Programming.

“I guess Career's
Advice will be redundant in a few years anyway,” Mr Finch
continued. “After these SLPs are released, you'll be able to get
whatever job you like.”

“I hope so,” Anais
muttered darkly. She didn't fancy spending her life toiling away at
a job that she hated. But in a week's time, none of that would
matter. Instead, she could simply buy whatever knowledge she wanted.
She chose not to think about the fact that she had no idea how she'd
actually pay for an SLP; Anais could only hope that the advisor
wouldn't look too closely at her poor grades, and didn't enrol her
in something that paid peanuts.

Mr Finch opened his
mouth to say something else, when he was interrupted by a burst of
music from the HV. Both of them turned to see the noise of the
commotion, as a large hologram of the words BREAKING NEWS flashed in
the air. A flawless-looking blonde newsreader appeared, her pink and
silver flecked eyes looking unusually sombre.

“Police
investigating the murder of a thirty-six year old man, who was
pulled from the Golden River early this morning, have discovered the
body of the man believed to be the murderer near the scene of the
crime.”

The hologram cut to a
team of medics and police huddled round a white tent that had been
erected by the riverside. Judging by the skyscrapers behind them,
Anais guessed they were somewhere downtown, west of the financial
district. A picture of a man with floppy auburn hair appeared and
began to rotate in the air.

“The victim has been
identified as thirty-six year old Ben Anderson, a director of
medical supply company MediTech. The suspect has been confirmed as
forty-two year old George Smithson, a recycle plant worker.”

A second head appeared
by the first. This man had neatly trimmed mauve hair, and the
faintest hint of stubble on his cheeks. Both men didn't look a day
over twenty five. Perhaps it was just because of the nature of the
story, but Anais felt a chill down her spine as Smithson's pale blue
eyes bore into hers.

“ - found with his
throat cut. The police are yet to determine the cause of Mr
Smithson's death. They are currently appealing for information about
the events leading up to Mr Anderson's murder. Anyone who may have
seen anything suspicious is encouraged to contact the police
immediately.”

Anais frowned as she
watched the footage of a forensics team sweeping the river's edge. A
line of matt-black securi-bots were patrolling the area, guarding it
from curious passers-by. There was something familiar about the
company the victim had been a director of. She knew the name well
enough, but it took her a moment to realise that it was also the
same company that her best friend's parents worked for. She made a
mental note to message Dalla and ask her if her parents were okay.

The cameras returned
to the glossy, golden haired newsreader who flicked back her perfect
bob and began reading her next story. A movement caught Anais' eye
and she turned to look down at the table which had an explosion of
new notifications, all clambering on top of each other in a desire
to catch the reader's attention first; relaying the news of the
murder, speculation about the murderer's motives, gossip about the
two men's fashion sense and whether or not Smithson wearing last
season's tartan was a crime in itself.

"How awful!
Anais, were you planning on going downtown today?" came Mr
Finch's horrified voice. Anais looked up at him, and for the first
time that day, she registered the dark circles under her father's
eyes. His teal coloured hair, which was normally slicked back, was
beginning to look lank. Working twelve hour night shifts at the
picochip factory was starting to take its toll. If he wasn't
careful, he'd soon be starting to look like his true age. No doubt
his boss would soon be snidely enquiring when his next appointment
at a HelixPod was booked for.

BOOK: Synthetica
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