Nick stepped forward as Bruce moved aside. Large clouds of condensation billowed in front of him from the early morning winter air. He leaned close to the retina scanner, but not too close. So many people didn’t care, pressing their faces right up to the rubber eye mask. It was like rubbing noses with thousands of strangers. Every time he got to within a few inches of it, the skin at the base of his neck pulled tight and he could almost see the bacteria.
The small green light signalled for Nick to press the fingerprint scanner. It rewarded him with a second green light and the turnstile opened. As he walked through, he fished an anti-bacterial wipe from his bag, cleaned his face first and then his hands before discarding it on the ground. There were no bins in Scala City. Who needed bins when you had an army of lower class citizens to clean the streets? And they did a wonderful job.
Suited worker after suited worker entered the square with the clacking ring of operating turnstiles; a symphony of productivity. Nick filled his lungs with the cool and fresh air. Wellbeing Square had the best air purifiers in the city. Not only did they crank up the oxygen levels, but they laced the atmosphere with a small hint of menthol and eucalyptus. Vehicles were also banned from using the skylanes directly above—the only place in the city afforded that privilege because of how it negatively impacted the ambiance. Everywhere else, hover cars zipped around like flies on amphetamines.
The plaza stretched over one thousand square metres and the sides were lined with skyscrapers. On the weekend, it became a playground for pigeons. So abandoned, it turned post-apocalyptic. But at times like this, it could have been twice the size and would have still felt cramped.
Bruce elbowed his way free of the crowd bottlenecking to enter the square. “What are you grinning at?”
“I love being here. We’re among the lucky few who have jobs andget to come hereto do them. That’s something to be grateful for.”
Although Bruce smiled, the dull glow of fatigue in his blue eyes revealed his true feelings.
“We’re the lucky ones, Bruce. This”—Nick spun around—“is living. We have the very best Scala City has to offer.”
The skyscrapers stood like sentries. The early morning sun bounced off their chrome exteriors and mirrored windows. Corporate mecca; they were in the financial heart of the city. And they’d all worked hard to get here. They deserved it.
A scream cut through Nick’s reverie. A strip of gooseflesh ran down his spine. Over to his right, a street cleaner stumbled before slamming into a woman in a power suit, her blonde hair puffy like a meringue. The man who’d shoved the cleaner continued on as if nothing had happened.
“Hey!” Nick said.
The man spun around. Blotchy skin and with black bags beneath his eyes, his decadent life fitted him better than his straining suit. “What?”
The street cleaner had flushed red with embarrassment. Nick said, “You just knocked into her.”
“Take a look around, you ungrateful bastard.” Although Bruce pulled on Nick’s arm, Nick held his ground. “We’re in one of the most beautiful spots in Scala City. The cleaners help keep it that way. Show some appreciation for what they do.”
The man looked from Nick to the street cleaner before returning a shrug to Nick.
Hundreds of pairs of eyes on him, even Bruce had put some distance between them. Not a cause he’d win in a place like this. Who gave a shit about street cleaners? They were lucky to have a job. The cretins should be grateful they weren’t turned into obsoletes and discarded like the litter they picked.
More than ample time for Nick to reply, when he didn’t, the man shook his head, turned around, and walked off in the direction he’d been heading.
One by one, the audience broke away.
As the square returned to its bustling best, the street cleaner dipped an almost imperceptible nod at Nick before she picked up a piece of litter dropped directly next to her wheeled bin by a passing commuter.
“You’ve got to stop doing that,” Bruce said. “It’s embarrassing.”
Although Nick and Bruce stood eye to eye, both of them about five feet ten inches, Nick carried at least five stones more weight than his friend. Suited, slim, and sharp, the always immaculate Bruce could have walked through a tornado without a displaced hair. Coolness personified, and he always had been. Nick, on the other hand, sweated when he walked to the toilet and back. But he was on a diet, and this one would work. He shook his head, his heart hammering and his voice shaking. “I’m sorry, but I won’t have it. The cleaners are important. They keep this place beautiful. I just can’t stand to see them treated like shit.”
Nick fell into step at his friend’s side. The lull in their conversation gave him the perfect time to send some lifts into the world. He chatted to himself like many of those around him. “I’m so lucky to have Karla in my life. She’s kind, beautiful, smart.”
With his brow locked in a frown, Bruce quickened his pace, weaving through the crowd.
If Nick was the only one doing it he’d understand, but a thousand words of gratitude filled the cold winter air. Lucky, blessed, kind, smart, clever … Many of them were sending their lifts out early and, like Nick, many of them were smiling. But none wore a grin as broad as his. And why shouldn’t he be happy? The oxygenated air, the gratitude, coming to work with his best friend like he did every day. What more could he want?
“You should really get a car, you know?” Bruce squinted against the bright sun, focusing ahead rather than on Nick. “I worry about how early you have to start work every day because you come in with me. You must give your company days and days of free labour every year.”
A wave of his hand as if batting the comment away, Nick laughed. “Don’t worry about that, buddy. Work looks after me. Steve’s such a great boss. He always appreciates me running that extra mile. Besides, as a manager, it sets a good example to the others.” Before Bruce could say anything else, Nick added, “I like seeing you each day. I get to ride into work with my best and oldest friend.” More words from those around him. Amazing. Wonderful. Thoughtful. Beautiful. “Is it the cost?” he asked. “Do you want me to contribute to the car’s electricity? Or maintenance?”
While laughing, Bruce shook his head, “No, it’s not the money at all. It’s just …” He scanned the crowd before lowering his voice. “I might not always be able to give you lifts to work.”
Together they avoided a group of suited women with briefcases. Seven of them, they walked in a V formation, cutting through the crowd, the clicking of their heels delivering the threat of a ticking time bomb. Get in their way and they’d go atomic.
“A real estate agent has offered to buy my property. It’s a good offer from a big firm. I’m wondering if now’s the right time for me to give up and sell, you know? I could do with a career change, and it’s a lotof money. You and I both know I’m making nothing in recruitment. The industry isn’t what it used to be.”
“With their being very few jobs and all,” Nick said.
“And those jobs decreasing in number daily.”
Nick smiled to combat his sagging face. That’s what friends did, right? They supported one another, even when they wanted to be selfish. “That’s amazing, mate! I’m so happy for you. It sounds like a great opportunity. I think you should take it. Will you get back into programming?”
“But you were great at it at school. I mean, child prodigy great.”
“That’s the problem. Remember when I got into trouble for hacking into the central government computers?”
“When you got served with a net ban?”
As one, they both jumped back, a man on an electric scooter dissecting their conversation on his soundless vehicle. “Those things are too fast for pedestrianised areas,” Nick said as it moved away. “He’s going to—”
The man on the scooter slammed into a cleaner, sending both of them sprawling.
The cleaner apologised, pressing his hands together and bowing at the man, who let rip. “You idiot!Why don’t you look where you’re going? You’re lucky to even be in this square. Don’t make me complain to your boss.”
Bruce grabbed Nick’s arm and pulled him away. He’d already embarrassed them once today. “Well, that net ban was for life.”
The cleaner stood up. He looked okay. “You never told me that.”
“I was ashamed. I let my ego get in the way because I wanted to prove to everyone how good I was at hacking. It cost me my dream career.”
“And a shit load of money.”
“Don’t remind me. I think it’s why I’ve never done well in recruitment. My heart’s never been in it. I should count myself lucky really. If Dad didn’t have so many contacts, I would be an obsolete by now.”
Wellbeing Square hadn’t always had that name. It’s current sponsors were the richest company in Scala City. And they deserved it because they’d created the Wellbeing app. A large Wellbeing Incorporated booth had become a permanent fixture in the centre of the square. Flags at each corner, they stood at least five metres tall, dancing in the wind above the chaotic crowd. They bore the company’s namein red writing on a yellow background.
Nick nodded in the direction of the booth. Best to focus on that than his friend potentially leaving. “Do you think there’s been any updates overnight?”
After glancing at his watch, Bruce then patted Nick on the shoulder. “I’m not sure, mate, but I need to dash. Do me a favour; if there’s anything worth talking about, let me know, yeah?”
Releasing another large cloud of condensation, Nick deflated as his friend walked away. He then filled his lungs and pulled his shoulders back. He could travel to work on his own. Bruce would always be there for him. They’d been pals for over twenty years. They played cricket together and hung out socially. They were friends for life. Nothing would get in the way of that.
“I’m so lucky to have Bruce in my life.” The Wellbeing app even picked up on nicknames. And a good job because Bruce rarely introduced himself as Adrian Swint to anyone. How sad would it be if he never heard all the wonderful things said about him? “Bruce is such a pal. He’s always been there for me. Sticking up for me at school against the bullies and making my life so much better.”
As he moved among the people, Nick went through his morning routine, sending lifts out to one friend after the other for the Wellbeing app to gather. “Adam is the funniest man I know. He makes me laugh every day. My life’s so much richer for having him in it. Jane has such a kind heart. The strength she has to be there for everyone blows my mind.” Even when he didn’t feel the words, just the thought of the impact they’d have on his friends lifted him. The genius of the Wellbeing app: the reciprocal elevation of everyone’s happiness. What would life be without friends to be kind to? What would life be without the Wellbeing app?
As Nick got closer to the Wellbeing booth, he tried to see through the throng of commuters. Wednesday mornings usually meant Wellbeing Wendy. The boy dressed in the yellow and red of his employer certainly wasn’t her. His name badge read Wayne. Clearly just out of school, what the hell did he know about the company and the app? Nick shook his head to himself. He shouldn’t write the boy off without giving him a chance. Don’t judge a book and all that. Besides, kids today knew more about programming than Nick would ever learn, even if he dedicated the rest of his life to the cause.
Hooked up to the PA system, the boy wore a wide grin as he hopped onto the booth. Some of the tension left Nick’s shoulders. At least he shared Wendy’s enthusiasm.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the boy called out, his oversized shirt flapping from the fans set up on the booth to make the flags shimmer. “It’s Wednesday morning and we’re excited to announce some midweek updates to the Wellbeing app. Those of you on the ball probably already know what we’ve done.”
Although Nick could have looked in-app for the latest update news, he liked to hear it from Wellbeing Wendy.
“An update that’s long overdue …” the boy said. “We now let users save as many lifts as they like. There will be a sliding scale of charges based on data usage. But before we start charging, we’ve increased how many you can get for free. Wellbeing premium subscribers can now save five hundred lifts rather than one hundred.”
Every day, Nick faced the challenge of which lifts to save. Although, he’d probably reach five hundred in no time and have the same dilemma all over again.
The crowd increased in number, all of them hanging on the boy’s every word. The boy cleared his throat, but when he opened his mouth to speak, the words never came.
A roar like a giant beast inhaling, the wind pulled Nick and everyone else a step closer to the booth.
A dazzling glare, it lit the square like the sun.
A loud boom sparked a wall of fierce heat that turned Nick weightless as it launched him backwards.
Another explosion of light, but this time it slammed through Nick’s vision as he hit the ground face first. The day dimmed and a cacophony of shrill panic surrounded him.
He passed out to the coppery taste of his own blood.
The wind slammed into Marcie, her legs working overtime to counter the effects and stop her being thrown to her death. It didn’t matter what cybernetics she had, nothing could compensate for a fall of over one thousand metres. When she left the building, she had to do it by choice to stand any chance of survival. Hundreds of tiny adjustments, micro movements, small twinges, they fired from the top of her thighs to where her ankles met her feet. It had taken her years to trust her synthetic parts, but the microprocessor’s calculations were always better than her own.
Marcie stood on top of the Apollo Tower—the tallest building in Scala City—as she watched the traffic crisscross above most buildings. Most buildings, but not the Apollo Tower. The skylanes were organised by the traffic mainframe. Collisions were a thing of the past. A sprawl of lights stretched away in every direction. Vehicles headlights, the white pin pricks of residential buildings, the multicoloured glow of commerce. Strip lights lined the edges of the hundreds of walkways stretching between buildings as if they’d organically grown out of necessity.
Marcie’s blue glasses not only hid her red eyes when she visited the city, but they were equipped with cameras and a microphone. A piece of equipment that would get her killed in the Blind Spot, Sal had given them to her and she’d stored them outside ever since. They were essential so he could join her on their secret runs. She raised her voice over the howling winter winds. “It always looks amazing in the dark. Such a beautiful city.”
“And so much prettier than the Blind Spot,” Sal said.
“My armpit is prettier than the Blind Spot.”
“I wouldn’t know.” The clickand whirof his chrome lungs gave him the puff to finish. “The last time I saw you with your top off, we were four and pissing in the same lukewarm water.”
“Show me a four year old that doesn’t let go when they’re bathing.”
The Apollo tower had been the tallest building in the world for a hot minute. At least, that’s what the residents of Scala City believed. Hard to be certain with so little communication between the cities dotted throughout the wastelands. Very few things passed through the wastelands. Most people guessed there were taller buildings now in Prime City. Thirty, fifty, one hundred times the size of Scala City, and with a skyline dominated by skyscrapers, they had to have something taller. When you ran out of space on the ground, you could only build up. Other than the neon glow on the horizon, Marcie hadn’t ever seen the place. Maybe one day. Although, for now, she’d be happy just getting out of the Blind Spot.
The twitching and shifting turned into a buzz as Marcie’s legs worked overtime. Unlike her dad’s, many of her enhancements were hidden. It only took her blue mirrored glasses to make sure all of them were.
Sal sighed. “I wish I could be up there with you.”
Winter nipped at Marcie’s skin. She filled her lungs with the cold city air. So much fresher than in the Blind Spot because the purifiers on the ground turned the atmosphere into something worth breathing. Like Prime City, Scala City had built plenty of skyscrapers. Even from her current vantage point, she couldn’t count them all. The moon lay a silver highlight along their tips. “It won’t be long before we’re living here.”
“Can you,” click, whir,“adjust the camera?” Sal said.
“I willbring you with me.”
“I stillcan’t see.”
After a slight twist of her glasses, Marcie said, “Better?”
“It’s the best I can do. If I move them any more I’ll expose my eyes. Do that and I might as well wear a flashing neon coat with Blind Spotwritten across the back.”
“It would be an improvement.”
“I didn’t choose the colour, it was the most appropriate fabric in Mum’s wardrobe at the time. And what do you expect, that I’d run around in cerise? Brown keeps me hidden. You know what dad says. Your anonymity is your freedom. Protect it. So if that means wearing brown, then I’ll wear brown.”
“And if you get caught, it has nothing to do,” click, whir, “with me, okay? I don’t want to be on the receiving end of Wrench’s wrath.”
Marcie laughed. “He’s not likely to blame you, is he? Oh shit, I didn’t mean that. I—”
“It’s fine. You’re right. Talking of getting caught, you need to get moving. I know there aren’t many CCTV drones in the city, but you’re asking to be filmed by one if you stay still for too long.”
“Do you think they’ll ever put more cameras in?”
“What’s the point while there are anonymity masks? More cameras means more people will wear them in the city as well as in the Blind Spot. Not only will it be a waste of money, but with so many anonymous citizens, the place will become a nightmare to police.”
Marcie leaned forward. The walkways below were no more than thin dotted lines of lights. A thousand metres always seemed much farther when it ran straight down. Her heart quickened and Sal breathed more heavily. This is what they came here for. “Ready?” Before Sal could reply, she let go.
The tick of grit in the air peppered her glasses and the wind sent her ponytail out behind her like a streamer as she ran down the mirrored dome at the top of the Apollo tower. Her legs managed the necessary adjustments to meet her demands while Sal screamed as if he’d made the run himself.
The second tallest building in the city stood near to the Apollo Tower and clocked in at just under eight hundred metres. Marcie fixed her sights on it, her eyes feeding the calculations to her microprocessor.
The large mirrored window beneath her let out a bass drum boom when she kicked away from it. A taxi between her and the next tallest building, the power in her legs slammed a loud thud against its roof. It always sounded worse, her legs compensating so she didn’t leave a dent. The driver screamed from his window, but she’d be long gone by the time the traffic mainframe let him turn around.
Despite her velocity, Marcie’s legs accommodated a near soundless landing on the flat gravel roof. Her heart pounded as Sal panted in her ear. “No matter how many times I do this,” she said, “it never gets old.”
“So where are we going tonight?” Sal said.
“The place where it happened.”
“Is that wise? There’ll be police everywhere because of the explosion. Maybe even CCTV.”Click, whir. “And with the curfew, you’ll stand out like a sore thumb, even if you do keep your eyes hidden behind those glasses.”
“It’ll be fine.”
“Aren’t you worried about Wrench catching you?”
“Of course I am, but we’ve been over this already. I’m not going to be a prisoner in my own home. I’m nearly sixteen and he still treats me like a baby. It’s because of him that I want to live here, and it’s because of him that I sneak out at night.”
“He does it for what he thinks are the right reasons. It may be misguided, but you can see he loves you.”
“What are you, Wrench’s advocate or something? Are you on his payroll now? Look, stop worrying, Sal. You can’t stop me from doing what I want to do, so just enjoy it. I need to see it myself. I need to see what we’re being blamed for.”
“Just be careful.”
“I can turn the camera off if you want?”
Marcie ran to the edge of the roof, kicked off, and leaped at the next highest tower over one hundred metres away. Whilst she’d made the previous jump without them, this time, she spread her arms. She’d modelled her suit on a flying squirrel—colour and all—the wing flaps filling and turning her into a glider.
Moving on an instinct fed through her eyes to her microprocessor, Marcie turned left and right. Each adjustment kept her on course for the next tower, accommodating the fierce wind. But her eyes couldn’t make adjustments for what they couldn’t see. The air bike came from nowhere.
Sal screamed, “Shit!”
Marcie pulled her right arm in and spun away from the collision. The wind of the vehicle brushed past her, the driver’s mouth hanging open as he watched her away. She used her left wing to right her course and completed her next silent landing.
“How do you not kill yourself?” Sal said.
“A lot of money’s been spent on my enhancements. Are you ready to go again?”
The retina and fingerprint scanners to access Wellbeing Square meant little when you came in from the sky. Marcie’s route would take her over the two-metre high fence and its electrified spikes. An exclusion zone above the square prevented vehicles from passing over it, but her suit didn’t march to the beat of the traffic mainframe.
“Marcie, have you seen the drone?”
Of course she’d seen the drone. She had the same tech in her eyes they used in the Blind Spot to sense cameras; she wouldn’t get caught out. But it clearly hadn’t seen her. As she came in from above, she landed on it with both feet and rode it into the ground, shattering it before it caught any footage of her.
“Well, that’s one way to deal with it,” Sal said.
Marcie looked around to give him a good view of the place.
“It’s been,” click, whir,“completely shut down.”
“Isn’t it always at this time of night? I’m sure it’ll be open again in the morning. After all, capitalism stops for no-one.”
All of the square’s lights had been shut off. For what good it did; in a place like Scala City, power cuts were the only thing that could bring complete darkness, and they hadn’t had one of them in decades. Still, Marcie’s eyes flicked to night vision to help her penetrate the shadows.
Sal must have heard the click that marked the transition. “Just tell me what you see.”
“Less mess than I’d expected, if I’m being honest. I thought I’d see a charred mark on the ground.”
“They must have already cleaned it up.”
“Yeah, maybe. Some of the windows in the surrounding buildings have been shattered, but it doesn’t look to have done any structural damage to them.”
The clack of one of the turnstiles snapped Marcie rigid. Two police officers had entered the square.
“I knew you shouldn’t have done that to their drone.”
Marcie scanned the air above them. “Thankfully, they haven’t brought another one with them.” Dressed from head to toe in bulletproof riot gear, their faces were covered by full helmets with tinted visors. A blue light on top of one of their helmets came to life, dazzling her through her night vision and sending her stumbling backwards. The whoop whoop of a siren accompanied it.
Sal saw it before Marcie and hissed, “Shit”through the earpiece.
Marcie switched off her night vision. The two officers had come armed. They pointed their guns at her. “Hey, kid,” one of them said, her voice amplified and distorted, “you shouldn’t be here. It’s past curfew and this is a crime scene. Put your hands up.”
She spoke so only Sal could hear her. “You ready for this?”
“Just be safe.”
Marcie smiled. “Where’s the fun in that?” A second after she burst to life, the crack of gunfire snapped through the square, chasing her as she ran. Several bullets hit the ground behind her, gouging into the stone and spraying the back of her legs with small chips.
Marcie zigzagged. She moved quicker than any organic being, especially someone as poorly trained as a cop in Scala City. She had more speed and she intended to use it, but first, she had to work out how to get the hell out of there.
The steps then came to her, fed from her eyes to her microprocessor. One building to the next, she traced her exit. She’d be clear in three bounds. Until …
A loud whoom and the shimmering blue light of a dome covered the square. Much like the anonymity dome covering the Blind Spot, except this one was a—
“Forcefield,” Sal said.
Marcie scanned the transparent blue ceiling. “Dammit.”
“Put your hands up,” the other officer called. “You’re trapped.”
The dome turned into a grid from where her eyes layered a blueprint over it. Every forcefield had a weak spot.
A one hundred and eighty degree turn, so fast it made her dizzy, Marcie ran straight at the officers.
The pair of them continued to shoot. At least she now saw the attack coming. The speed of a bullet had nothing on her eyes and microprocessor combined. They fed the information to her legs.
The officers’ guns swayed as they tried to track her movement. They stopped shooting. Why waste the bullets? When Marcie leapt at the officer closest to her, he screamed and covered his head with his arms. The perfect launchpad, she kicked off from him, the punch of her legs slamming the cop to the ground. This time she left a dent.
Focused on the shimmering spot, Marcie waited until a moment before impact. She pulled into a ball and the entire blue dome shattered with a loud crash! The digitised structure broke like glass. The pixels vanished into thin air before hitting the ground.
Several more bullets slammed into the tower Marcie clung to, missing her as she scrambled onto the roof. Once clear, she flipped the officers the bird and ran into the night.
Scala City behind her—police sirens wailing in the distance—Marcie entered the Blind Spot dressed in her normal clothes but with an anonymity mask on. She always stashed her glasses and flying suit in a safe spot close by. The Blind Spot dealt a harsh punishment to anyone bringing in surveillance of any kind. Even if you were the boss’ daughter.
Two large security guards stood at the entranceway. Like many of the Blind Spot’s residents, they wore their cybernetic enhancements on show, adding bulk to their already large frames. They were born for the job, and then built for the job. A pair of anthropomorphic tanks, they watched Marcie. Maybe they recognised her, and maybe they didn’t. Better for them if they didn’t question it, otherwise someone would have to admit to letting Wrench’s daughter out in the first place.
Marcie’s heart sank like it always did when she returned home. Garish neon advertised the businesses she passed. Many shop fronts showed their building’s legacy, the establishments before them clear in the old signage or symbols left on the street. It highlighted the transient nature of commerce in a place like this. Many shops sprung up and closed down. The businesses that endured tended to sell sex or drugs. Lurid and hedonistic, they were classless. By comparison, every shop, restaurant, or bar in Scala City looked like it had been specifically built for the current tenants. Put together by architects and interior designers with panache and artistic integrity.
But at least you were free in the Blind Spot. The residents wore their enhancements with pride. Mechanical arms, glowing eyes, half-exposed metal skulls. Scala citizens populated the streets too, some of them wearing anonymity masks, others trusting the surveillance-free environment. Marcie picked up her pace as she moved through the rat run of alleyways.
When she closed in on the red light district, the amount of Blind Spot citizens halved, while the numbers from Scala City trebled. The place packed with drug users and Johns, they were all here for sin and debauchery before they put their suits on the next day and rejoined the hustle and bustle. Their particular penchant was easy enough to identify. The addicts usually kept their anonymity masks on. They were often so blasted when they left, they were better off hiding their identities now so they didn’t forget their masks later. While Scala City allowed its residents to enter the Blind Spot, they weren’t averse to using that against anyone stupid enough to be caught on camera entering or leaving the place.
One of the largest houses in the Blind Spot, Marcie approached her home. Although, she only saw a prison. Since her mum had died in there, her overprotective dad had kept her locked up as if incarcerating her would somehow resurrect his wife.
While Marcie’s eyes fed her microprocessor the calculations she needed, her legs kept her moving forward. Without autopilot, she wouldn’t have ever returned home. And soon she wouldn’t. Scala City was far from perfect, but even the wastelands would be a step up from her current existence. She leapt at the first ledge, bounced off the next one, and landed on the roof.
Marcie slid the loose tiles free and slipped into the dark attic space before covering it over again. The reek of dust tickled her nose as she made her way to the loft hatch. The guards downstairs were none the wiser of her nighttime antics. And even if they were, they wouldn’t admit it for the same reason as those at the Blind Spot’s entrance. The fact that she’d gotten out only highlighted their incompetence.
The stealth of an assassin, Marcie lifted the loft hatch and touched down on the landing. She moved on tiptoes to her bedroom door, slipped inside, and heaved a weary sigh. But when she flicked the light on she lost her breath in a gasp.
His large frame swamped her small chair. His knees were folded to his chest. The gold bolts on his pneumatic legs glistened in her bedroom light. Nine in each leg. Eighteen in total. She used to count them as a kid. Not a flashy man, but he had to express his dominance over the Blind Spot in some way. A show of wealth, other rulers would have gone much further. His half-exposed face, one of his eyes red like hers, but all the mechanics around it also on show. Parts of him remained organic, like his stubbled chin and his furrowed brow. He realised a hard sigh. “Frankie and I know you go out in the city and take Sal with you. We’ve known all along, and have instructed our top hacker to make sure your broadcasts get through.”
“But if you’ve known—?”
“Why didn’t we say something?”
“Because you needed it. You need to see the city, and god knows Sal deserves some freedom in his life. You’ve never tried to bring your glasses in here, and you’ve never been caught on camera. You’ve protected your anonymity. As you know—”
“Anonymity is freedom.”
“Right. It’s your birthday on Friday. You’re going to be sixteen, so it’s about time I let you grow up.” When Wrench stood up—his pistons and pumps firing—he towered over her. Seven feet four inches tall, he slumped his shoulders in an attempt to mask his true size. Another sigh, he spoke to her feet. “Now get some sleep. Tomorrow you can rest, but we have a busy day on Friday.”
Marcie stood rigid long after he’d left the room, frozen in anticipation of his furious return. But what did he have to be furious about? He knew all along. She fell flat on her bed. A picture of Sal on her bedside table, he smiled at the camera. Marcie kissed her fingers and pressed them against the glass. “G’night, Sal.”But her head spun. Sleep wouldn’t come quickly tonight. What would happen on Friday? Had she just lived the last night of her childhood?