12 friends. 12 million bucks. 12 months.
No food. No adults. No backing out.
It’s 2037, and humans worldwide are losing their jobs to artificial intelligence. Everyone needs money to survive, including Eden Shepherd, who agrees to spend a year inside a biodome experiment with 11 other kids from her high school to make money for her family.
They are each paid one million dollars in cash to stay inside the dome for 365 days. The kids plan to party away the year in Lockdownland and it starts with a bang. The problem is that there's no supermarket, no electricity, and supplies are limited. There is no panic button they could use to escape.
As the group becomes more and more divided, Eden must tap into her inner strength and sharp wit. But does she have what it takes to protect herself and survive?
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Dedication and acknowledgements
366 Days To Go
366 Days To Go
365 Days To Go
364 Days To Go
364 Days Till We Get Out
364 Days Till We Get Out
364 Days To Go
362 Days Till I Show Mumshine My Mil
362 Days To Go
355 Days To Go
Forever To Go
311 Days To Go
311 Days To Go
All Year To Go
241 Days To Go
241 Days To Go
182 Days To Go
181 Days To Go
180 Days To Go
160 Days To Go
132 Days To Go
131 Days To Go
130 Days To Go
129 Days To Go
129 Days To Go
127 Sleeps Till I Get Out Of Here
127 Days To Go
I Will Never Get Out Of Here
Let Me Out
Please Let Me Out Of Here
18 Sleeps (assuming no further fuckups)
One Sleep Till Mumshine
Next in the Series
About the Author
Copyright (C) 2017 Michael Botur
Layout design and Copyright (C) 2022 by Next Chapter
Published 2022 by Next Chapter
Edited by Terry Hughes
Cover art by CoverMint
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the author’s permission.
Deep thanks to the following people who donated to raise $3,000 on Boosted.org.nz to bring the first version of what was known as Moneyland: Book One into existence in 2017. You weren’t just giving the author a donation. You were giving encouragement, and now young readers have a cool novel with important messages in it.
That’s thanks to you.
Tre Poutama, Jesse Gray, my little baby nephew Lincoln Botur, my beloved parents Sally and Chris Botur, Jody Reynolds, Sarah Benikowsky, Hilary T Smith, Fiona Sussman, Roman Zaytsev, Andy Mayhew and Alliance Media, Rosemary Anderson, Ruth Moore, Kelly Stratford, Vivian Thonger, Hannah Lee, the MacManus family, Ash Ali-Aziz, Anthony Killeen, Renee Liang, Kelly Stratford, Donna Blaber, Nicola Day, Ryan Gibson, Anita Arlov, Gemma Keene, Michael Marneros, Chevaun Nel, Phoenix Benikowsky, Yannick Artozoul, Loo Farrell, Donald Offwood, Geraldine Philpott, Ryan Donaldson, Rachael Botur and Venus Chen.
Massive thank you to the people who helped read Moneyland in its draft stages. They are:
Kelly Stratford, Zach Wendt-Smith, Haley O’Connor and Aroha Bell.
This lady asked me what aisle she could find tinned pineapple in and I told the lady she might have to get a Mech to show her and she rolled her eyes. People hate dealing with robots. When you work at DeliDiscount, you’re supposed to know where stuff is off by heart, but all I knew off by heart was the prom. It was 129 minutes away (and 51 seconds, 50, 49). I had the whole night storyboarded in my mind. I wanted to ankle my suckyass job, anyway. I only did 10 hours a week, and my allowance from Mumshine and Dad paid tons more, but you had to be seen to work so no one could say you were a Mechalover. Plus Chan was assistant manager of the bakery and I got to stare at his back muscles flexing as he lifted heavy trays out of the ovens. Chanvatey Prach. A seriously hot piece of ass. Lead in the school production, head of marketing for the 40-hour famine fundraiser. On the beach volleyball team, plus the football team, God, everything. Total blue-chip boy. Six feet tall and he had Luddite tattoos and dressed just gangsta enough to look dangerous but not get in trouble. I even liked his name. It looked like it rhymed with “man” but it was more like Charn, like Charm, like Prince Charming…
I pulled my mind off Charming Chan and the prom. The Mopomatic was hovering beside my wet floor sign, putting pressure on me to work faster. Mopomatics aren’t cute like my Robopup or anything, they’re just one more Mech that’s a way harder worker than me (according to my manager, who got a cyopsy on his lungs, so he’s a quarter Mech and also three quarters dickhead). The Mopomatic doesn’t sulk all day when it’s got its period, it doesn’t have itchy bra straps, it can search answers to customers’ questions if they’re not too bummed out to get help from a Mech. The Mopomatic doesn’t forget its nametag so when old ladies ask your name you have to tell them your name’s Eden and they say, “Ooh, that’s a lovely name, deary, I have a granddaughter named Eden,” and your manager tells you off later for too much chit-chat on work time and says he’s gonna give your job to a StockBot.
There was one thing the Mopomatic needed to be jealous of: I was going to prom in two hours. I was going to get crunk, sing karaoke, maybe ask Esther if I could borrow Chan to dance with, brush up against his abs. If I wanted to badly enough, I could make babies with Chan (and I did want to, pretty bad). Yeah, Mechs can live for ever, but they WISH they were us.
As I counted down to the end of my shift, I put some bags of garbage from produce into a trolley and wheeled them through the plastic flaps out the back of the supermarket and past the loading dock, where heaps of people used to unload the trucks before drones started delivering everything. There’s only a third of the workers that were here when I started two years ago. It’s mostly stack-o-matics now, grade-o-matics. Carbon fibre all up in my face. Spray-o-matics. Plus my manager, Dick-o-matic.
I wheeled my garbage over the stained concrete floor, past the skyscraper of perfectly Mech-stacked banana boxes and out to the incinerator. Round back it stank all fruity and warm and rotten like Chan’s Nikes that I sniffed one time ’cause Maeve dared me to. I felt empty from all the prom stress. I’d eaten about one day’s worth of food in the whole past week and I was getting the starves pretty bad, like I probably wouldn’t even last through prom tonight if the excitement didn’t keep me wired.
Beside the chain-link fence was this conveyor belt where you loaded your garbage bags then they got pulled in and the machine separated out recyclable minerals then incinerated the remnants. Sometimes Fleshies that have lost their jobs and live on the streets try to eat the bread that we throw out, but DeliDiscount’s policy is we can’t risk some homeless fleshy suing the company if they get E coli. Dick-o-matic always used to say my job would be first to go if I got caught giving food to homeless peeps.
I was chucking the bags into the mineral separator when I noticed someone crouched underneath the conveyor belt.
“I can see you, Adam. Having fun down there?”
Adam Turing: the skinny pauper from my class, the only one who didn’t have to diet to get his cheekbones and ribs to stick out. Adam was from all my schools, had all my same teachers. From my kindergarten, even. Me and him used to put praying mantises and spiders in a jar together and make ’em fight, that is before I grew up and realised how embarrassing he is. The bug-jar thing was so stupid and childish, I can’t believe we ever got that little electrified thrill between our legs as we made the bugs battle. First they were united as bugs or whatever, but after a while the hunger made them savage. Adam never got over that science stuff, never grew up and became chill like I did. Like, we’d been at the same sports days and assemblies every year, since, God, like forever. I even think we had the same Mech nanny carrying our dirty diapers out to the garbage when we were little. He’d always been there on a scholarship, half because he’s such a brainbox and half because his family’s so poor – if you can call it a family. All he had was a dad. They used to live in that Mahonyland subdivision till that big global credit thing made all the loser families sell their homes to the Mechastructure and go move into the projects.
“I was just… tying my shoe,” Adam said lamely, standing up straight among mounds of garbage bags, eyeing up the dumpsters, looking for an exit. Adam had a mullet he couldn’t afford to cut, so bouffy and thick with grease it made his whole body look little.
“Seriously? You won the Young Inventors Fair. Can’t you invent a better excuse?”
Adam was in Robotics Club at school and everyone said he was a Mechalover, especially ’cause he loved tech so much and wanted to be a journalist and was always creeping around school making secret movies of people. KT’s brother Kane smashed up the Robo Homos one winter lunchtime when we were all bored and we all filmed it on our organisers and it was like lolocaust.
“Share something with me, Eden,” he said, reaching into a hole in a garbage bag and pulling out something that looked like a piece of wood. “You look famished. Here – these Danishes are wonderful.”
“Thanks but I’m on a diet where I can’t eat garbage.”
“You’re saying..? Oh. Another jibe.” Adam sighed and said: “Exit” and tried to disappear between two dumpsters but I spotted the paper bag between his legs.
“You’re not supposed to take that stuff, even if it’s junk. I told you that last week. See?” I banged on the recycling machine. “There are elements in that food. Metals. Gotta let the machine take out the selenium and all that. The supermarket wouldn’t even break even if it didn’t sell metal to the Mechastructure. What if, like, me and Chan lose our jobs? I oughta snitch on you.”
“And you’ve got mouldy bread crumbs in your little moustache! I seriously gotta get a pxt of this.” I activated my organiser and the hologram screen appeared in front of me. With the holoscreen, I snapped a photo, loosened my stress a little bit. “Imagine if I sent this to everyone. Like, I’m not that mean. I’ll spare ya. I’m feeling generous today. Just imagine, though.”
Adam picked up his sack of tired bread and rock-hard cake and tried to climb some pallets and escape. I set off the alarm sound on my org. Adam winced and covered his ears.
“OMIGAWD, dude. How hungry are you people? You can’t take the breads, yo.”
“My father doesn’t exactly manage to provide… look, Eden, c’mon, don’t you remember our project?” His voice got squeakier the more desperate he got. “For Ethics? Our zero-waste model? We got highly commended? When we rule it’ll be a capital offence to waste food and all that? You said you’d be queen to my king? I said we could rule together? I said the mighty should look on my works and despair?”
I wanted to geek out with Adam, kinda, but I was trying to train myself to be less sentimental and more gangsta. Since I was about 13 I’d been obsessed with strong women leaders, girls like Shirin Ebadi, I did a whole assignment on her, she was this human rights lawyer in Iran like ages ago who won the Nobel Prize for fighting in court to stop the tyrants in government treating her friends like shit. Even her husband and sister got beaten and chucked in prison and she still stood staunch. Every time we got made to do a report on a famous person from history, I always chose strong women who stood up to assholes. I used to lock my Kindle midway through reading 50 Fierce Females and fantasise that I was in some smoky futuristic prison camp and someone was trying to take my baby away from me. I’d try to feel the exhilaration of righteous rage flowing into my fingers and feet. Then I’d quit daydreaming and go back to the real world, where everything’s too safe for anyone to do anything defiant.
“We were, what, 12? I say dumb stuff when I’m happy, okay? This is the real world. Kids don’t rule nothing. Plus, we’re not in class. Quit it with the nerd words already.”
Adam reluctantly put the bakery waste on the conveyor belt and backed off, putting one leg through a hole in the fence. He hovered, though, eyes darting.
“So d’you think we’ll get in? To the Treasure Island thing?”
Our school was in the running for this biodome experiment where you get a chance at winning a sweet million bucks EACH if you lasted on a tropical island for 12 months with 12 friends, not that it was necessarily an island, or tropical. They hadn’t told us what country the kids would get put on. We just guessed it would be a Survivor-type biodome deal cause that’s what you saw on TV. No one was sure if it was, like, a behavioural thing or an economics thing, like starting a civilisation from scratch and studying how the money spreads. All we knew was the university was paying peeps a mil and if you went in, you weren’t allowed out for the whole year, no matter how antsy you got. 12 months’ paid holiday on a beach, or in the jungle, or tropical rainforest? It was gonna be krayyyyzeee – not that we’d get chosen, though.
“Some other school will get in, guaranteed. Besides, I’m starting to regret entering if you’re gonna be there eating my scraps like a freakin raccoon.” I picked a cabbage and a hard cube of bread up off the gravel and shoved it at him. “Here. Take. Go. It’s hardly got any metal in it, anyway.”
Adam’s lips started wiggling like he was gonna weep with joy and his eyes went all wide. Love, lust – whatever it was, it creeped me the hell out.
“Go get dressed for prom already.”
I got into the car and Mumshine was like, “How was work, sweetie?” and she tried to hand me a PB and J sandwich, like as if I really wanted carbo-bloat before the biggest night of my life, and I epically laid into her as she hovered on the lip of the car park, trying to pull out into traffic. She’d said she would fetch me in eight minutes. It had taken her 11. Mumshine wasted tons more time fighting the car. It would drive itself if you put it on automatic, but Mumshine refused. She said she didn’t trust the car to look after her baby girl. Every time she squeezed the gear stick – which she wouldn’t have even needed, if she’d just trusted the car to drive itself – I got an eyeful of the 01XX tattoo on her wrist, all wrinkly, the black ink faded to a thin green. The tat was some shit she got when she was stationed at Camp Kampf, which is supposed to mean Camp Struggle, apparently, this multi-national Luddite resistance settlement where Mumshine used to put together pipe bombs and programme viruses and shoot bullets at targets of Mechalovers who sided with the Mechs, all that gangsta rebellion stuff back when her skin was tight and her chest was firm, until she pussied out and decided she wanted to make life instead of ending life. Sad.
I pressed my org and screened her out on the drive home so her voice was all muffled. I messaged my friends. Tonight would be heaven.
“Good to see you, big girl,” Dad said as the nose of the car touched the driveway, walking across the lawn, arms outspread. “Hey, if you have a moment, I was hoping I could talk to you about…”
I barged past him and hit the stairs, letting out just two words that said it all: “PROM, Dad!”
I had my belt unbuckled before I’d even made it into my room. I slammed the door, tugged my pants down, lay on my back on the carpet and pulled the pants over my ankles, then pulled my work shirt over my head and took off my bra, too, and put my robe on. Robopup sensed I was home, activated and marched over and gave me some sniffs but I paused her and pushed her back under my bed. You have to watch how many snuggles you give Mech pups cause they’re programmed to get all attached if you let ’em. Like Adam Turing or something. Ech.
Dad knocked on the door while I opened a gym bag and pushed into it all the stuff I’d need to get ready with the girls round at Maeve’s place. I could get there at 7.50 if Mumshine didn’t drive like a retard, get Maeve’s mechmaid to put my hair extensions in by 8.25, maybe. The limo was arriving at Maeve’s place at 8.30, it was one of those programmable Tesla ones, so the schedule would be majorly tight. Jesus Christ my mum had botched a lot of things tonight. I packed my heels, my toothbrush, deodorant, tampons, pads just in case, water, hairbrush, makeup bag and especially The Pill and condoms, just in case Chan broke up with Esther for some reason and me and him hooked up after prom. Losing my Big V to Chan would be even better than winning that million-dollar experiment thing. Or maybe me and Chan could, like, get rid of Esther. Not tip her out of her wheelchair, just make her disappear somehow. Esther was my friend, but Chan was… Chan was like a prince. A guilty glow spread through my flesh thinking about him coming up behind me at work, whispering orders in my ear, patting my butt. I imagined his breath smelled like sweet Gatorade.
I took my prom dress out of the cupboard, draped it over my shoulder, went into my en-suite bathroom and put foundation on and spray tan and just a little basic lipstick. I would get my real makeup done round at Maeve’s, ’cause her mechmaid can spray on the perfect amount of makeup that reacts with the lighting with, like, scientific precision. Luminescent microbeads or whatever.
I came out of the bathroom and was about to cross the floor and grab my perfume when I realised I had an intruder.
The intruder was wearing my prom dress.
“MUM! GET OUT! Get OUT of my dress! Take your meds already.”
Mum looked down at her hands. “Getting out the wrinkles for you, honey. It just needs some body-heat. On the back? You haven’t noticed, but there are just a couple of creases. You don’t want the bots working on it. Needs human hands. You do your makeup, hon, wrinkles can be my…”
“TAKE. IT. OFF, MUMSHINE. GOD!” I kicked the zombified tower of folded-up carbon fibre in the corner. “Let the housebot take out the stupid wrinkles.”
“I never went to the prom when I was your age, angel, I, I left the camp because, because I was expecting. Expecting you.”
“What do you want, an apology for me being born?”
I pulled Robopup out from under my bed and shoved her at Mumshine. “You want my life, here. Her kinetic battery’s low. You have to take her walkies to charge her.”
“I thought the two of us could go. Just the girls.”
“Hashtag: psycho. Just drive me round to Maeve’s already. And you’re not coming in. And please don’t give Maeve’s mum any more seedlings and cuttings and shit. It’s not… normal.”
I put on a miniskirt and a long-sleeved tee and made the housebot do up the laces on my knee-high boots, just to look okay when my girls saw me.
“Just let me run my fingers through your hair, Edie. What if it’s the last…” Mumshine got all choked up, put one hand on her collar bone and flapped the other to cool down.
“Mumshine, you know I love your bipolar ass. You honestly need to chill though. For real. It’s only prom.”
I put the housebot and Robopup on sleep and locked my bedroom door. Dad was standing right outside in the hall with his organiser screen hovering to the left of him. Dad’s a short guy whose dorky Cosby sweaters seem to make him real chirpy, except when he’s got work on. He’s got this love-hate thing with work. If the Mechs haven’t told him to stay home for the semester, he’s usually second in charge of computer programming at the university. He’ll talk to anyone about programming if they can endure the way he licks his nerdy moustache when he’s excited.
He was licking that frigging moustache tonight, all right, and trying to read me an email, right then and there. On the most important night in history.
“Edie, there’ve been a couple of developments today – Christ, it’s been a long one – so I’m wondering if we can sit down and go over…”
I took a deep breath, squeezed his shoulders, pressed my nose against his, gave him a kiss to distract him.
“MUMSHINE! Start the car. Dad: tell me tomorrow.”
Dipped in black and blue light that made us glow like ghosts, I stood against a neon bar with Chan and Eli and Kane, the hottest boys in my group, as DJ Gershw1n, this amazeballs Mech DJ, piped music into our earbuds. The beats were optimised to make us feel slutty at first, then excited, later loose and reckless, and drowsy and swooning as the night thinned and people pashed and fingered each other in the corners. Acoustic engineering, baby: just another way we make Mechs work for us. At least, we tried to convince ourselves we had the upper hand. Everywhere you went in the city – the convenience store, the doctor, the movies – there was always a panel with tiny red eyes checking you out. Here, too, in our school hall. Mechs filming us. Trying to suck away everything they were jealous of.
Tuxedo jackets draped over their arms, the boys all had their organisers out and were using this app to put bets on the big robot boxing match that was on that night. Dumb hunks of metal entertaining dumb hunks, I thought to myself, and giggled. The boys were total cavemen. Everyone’s dependent on their orgs – you get your org implanted immediately after you’re born, though, so no surprise everyone grows up thinking their org is part of them. My prom boys cared about the roboxing way more than they cared about tomorrow’s experiment. They thought the Survivor Island experiment-thing was a write-off, like zero chance of getting in.
“But our school nominated us, right?” I tried to get them to talk about Eden-stuff instead of their caveman crap. “They pulled me out of class to interview me, didn’t you guys do those questionnaires too? I thought everyone in the whole country was in the mix.”
Chan took his ear buds out and his Ca$h Money Billionaire$ cap and checked to make sure it still had the price tag on then repositioned it perfectly on his head. My beautiful boy always cared about looking perfect. “We’d ace that shit. If they chose our asses, I mean.”
“Hope y’all been saying your prayers,” Eli said. “Getting chosen ain’t easy.”
“As if that religious bullshit’s gonna help,” Kane snorted. His sister KT came up beside him and massaged his neck playfully. KT was official president of the Social Club (I was Acting President when she couldn’t be there). KT’s prom night was all about making sure everyone partied. Since we’d all brought friend-dates instead of date-dates, we could play it cool. Hook up or not, it didn’t matter. In my group, you came in a limo with your people and after a night of flirting, if you wanted to go with someone at the end, that was all G. It was like a lotto to see if your status went up or down, depending on whether you hooked up with a hotter or less-hot person. 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 his churchy stuff. “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 tons of Luddite gangs on his street. I’d heard Eli actually wanted to go in the experiment so he could give his million to his church.
Kane and Eli and Chan kicked each other’s shins for a minute, giggling and making Luddite L-shape gang signs with their fingers, then got interrupted by these waiter robots wheeling through the crowd with trays of lite champagne. Waiterbots have this gyroscope that gives them perfect balance so you can kick them and they get back up 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 the Mechs and tried to unlock their input pads.
“Where’s your botsucker friend?” Kane sneered in the Mechs’ artificial faces.
I could tell Adam was avoiding our corner. Stay cool, do as good as the waiterbots, get paid, take his paycheque home to his broke-ass dad. That was Adam’s mission.
My group and I talked smack and sort-of flirted in pairs. It was hard to tell who was gonna hook up with who. We were all trying to shuffle closer to losing our virginity without being too obvious. That clingy boyfriend-and-girlfriend-going-steady stuff? Only Esther and Chan were doing that. Pretty old fash, really.
I snapped back to reality, in my dark corner of the dance hall all striped with lights, and discovered Watson halfway through a rant about some sciencey-junk. He was arguing with Eli about the experiment, I think. Something about ethics. Watson was like 99 per cent geek and everyone thought he had Assburgers syndrome or whatever that fussy nerd condition is called.
Maeve elbowed me and asked if I thought Wats should shut the hell up. Maeve always asks me to back her up. She’s my BFF but she’s been a total wide-eyed copycat ever since I screamed at these bullies to leave her alone in the sandpit when we were, like, five years old.
In true caveman style, Kane dragged Maeve away for a dance as she squealed in protest (if you can call Kane lying on his back on the dancefloor and benchpressing Maeve dancing). Eli danced too, pulling the arm of this girl Anya till she peeled off the wall. I was surprised anyone had even invited Anya. Anya was a total outlier. Hard and lanky, with square shoulders, she was the tallest girl in school, this real sporty kinda tomboy from that country that got all mechanised and polluted with acid rain and stuff and had that war in the snow and made all the Fleshies refugees. Anya had been marching over mountains dragging a suitcase since she was, like, two, which was why she always won most stuff on Sports Day.
I was getting ADHD. I searched my group for someone to lol with. It was hard to interrupt those lovebots Esther and Chan. Esther’s real bubbly and always has these real pretty haircuts and, like, barely even acknowledges that she’s in a wheelchair (except for her Youth Paralympics medals she always brings to Show and Tell). Even with that Mech DJ Gershw1n pumping the beats, I could hear Esther prattling on about her vaccination summer camp in Vietnam with the Peace Corps, trying to eradicate malaria or whatever. Chan was nodding like he was interested, but I reckon he was faking it. I reckon he was secretly nodding at me, like giving me a signal. I loved Little Miss Perfect to bits, but Esther didn’t seem right for Chan. I mean, I’d never seen a movie where one person makes love to another person in a wheelchair. Like, couldn’t Es find someone a better match for her? Someone from ParaYouth?
Fatima and KT came over all shrieking and whooping as their favourite song came on and grabbed Esther’s chair and wheeled her on to 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 respectable. The dances and the lols and the conversations were all good but losing my V card was majorly occupying my brain. I doubted Chan was going to whisk me away tonight. I would’ve settled for almost anyone just so I could tell Maeve I’d done it before her. 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.
Just when I thought I was gonna have to message Mumshine to pick me up, I spotted Omar, tall and shaggy as Bigfoot, lumbering from group to group, being all gangly and wild. I tugged him away from the table where he was filling the pockets of his camouflage pants with almonds. 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.
I loved Omes ’cause I didn’t have to impress him. He was too obsessed with survival stuff to worry about his popularity level. He hadn’t trimmed his beard for prom and, with his cap and button-down pockets, he looked like a duck hunter. Omes and me had a quick twerk and I rubbed my butt all over him but it was just stunting. Our dance was over in like three minutes cause Omar was more interested in the waiterbots’ canapés than me.
“YOU OUGHTA STORE ENERGY,” he yelled into my ears, spitting aïoli on my face. “You never know when you need a reserve of fat.” 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 Fatima, this jokester from my accounting class, had both thrown up in the bathrooms at Maeve’s place so we could fit into our dresses. I wasn’t going to waste my body on a cracker.
Nerdy-ass Watson was too stiff and robotic to dance but he made some conversation with me, mostly speculating on that experiment that was kicking off tomorrow, analysing the statistical probability that our school would get chosen. He blabbed nerd-words; I made fun of his nerdiness then pinched his flabby nerd chest to let him know we were still buddies. That was the kind of banter we did 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 graph pad and Adam got all red in the face, screaming, “IT ISN’T A PYRAMID, IT’S A ZIGGURAT,” and going and hiding behind Anya. I couldn’t imagine being stuck under a dome with those dropkicks.
Eventually Adam’s manager-Mech aimed its laser pointer at our group and Adam was told to drag his ass over before he got fired, 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, clapping, getting my group to look at me, “I saw Adam fully scavenging at the supermarket.” I pressed my belly button, opened the photos on my organiser, pushed towards my friends a hologram of Adam cradling a paper bag of rubbish like an infant.
Maeve squinted at me, all concerned. “You didn’t give him any food, did you?”
I dodged the question and watched the sideshow that had broken out. Kane sang, “Rock-a-Bye Baaaabyyyyy, 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 Adam’s dead mum with a cybernetic dick while singing Rock-a-Bye Baby and Adam limped away without even crying, without fighting back, just sagging like his spine had been snapped. Esther wheeled up and slapped Kane’s arm and told him he’d gone too far and you shouldn’t talk about people’s parents and Fatti threw in some jokes about her weird-ass family praying all the time, praying about food and how precious it supposedly is and how going to the market’s like apparently some massive blessing and everyone started talking about their parents all at once. Heaps of our parents had gotten redundant or had to retrain and stuff like that. The stress was kind of getting to us, even though it wasn’t really our problem. Like, my dad had been made redundant and hired back again like three times already. Beause my dad works for the university, he’d been the first to tell me the Millions Test was coming up and he kept ribbing me at the dinner table till one time I was like: “Dad: do I seriously have to earn pocket money for you?”
“OI, YOU GUYS,” I interrupted my group. “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, taking yogurt-covered raisins from a waiterbot and stashing them into a pocket on his tux. “I’ll have to take you hunting some time.”
“Piss off. I don’t kill innocent animals.”
“Anyway, my money’s on India. They’ll send us there.”
“Oh come on, Ede. Your dad’ll pull strings. He wants you to get the cash. Guarantee it.”
“Whatever. He loves having me home more than money. Yo, did you do that screening questionnaire? The one that asks you your allergies, your diet, your family’s income…”
Esther waved her hands, cutting us off. She looked a little scared. “They asked me who the bottom five least popular-est 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.
We partied until our perfect night spilled into a new day. Around 2am I checked my org and there were like 20 messages from Mumshine, her going, “You’re In You’re In You’re In,” which probably meant, “You’re inside, I’m waiting outside,” and I was about to message her like, “Yawn, Mumshine, tell me something I don’t know,” when she sent me another message that just said: “Check th news.”
I was breathless as I looked at my group.
Everyone already had a news bubble open. There were heart attack words on a ticker scrolling across the bottom of the screen under the market report, and all the words were our names.
Mum drove slowly down a row of oak trees that pointed towards the centre of a green campus. At first I thought she’d drifted into the university just to turn around. Instead we went deeper and deeper. A glass wall separated the university from that Mahonyland development on the other side of the river.
“This isn’t the airport. WTF?”
“Don’t swear, angel.”
“I’m not swearing. If I was gonna swear I’d say, ‘What the fuck,’ because what the ACTUAL FUCK are we doing at the university?”
Mumshine avoided looking at me. This couldn’t be right. Mahonyland? The suburbs?! Me and my friends messaged a ton of frowny faces to each other. It was disappointing as hell not to be hopping on a jet to Easter Island. God damn it. At least this place was close to home. 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. Or used to connect, anyway. Maybe the dome had closed off the bridge. You could hardly see anything ’cause the glassfield was tinted and on some angles you couldn’t even tell there was glass at all. On our history field trip, Mr Mohamed had told us the place was named after some guy called Leopold Mahony who was, like, mayor yonks ago when apparently it was no big deal to have a weird-ass name that sounded like “leper”.
I doubted Leper Mahony would’ve predicted today homeowners couldn’t keep paying back the bank and a lot of them had better lives if they went inside a dome and let the Mechs test Alzheimers cures and medical marijuana and beam weird messages into their heads to see if they could drive them schizo. So many people’s lives had gotten fucked up since the Singularity. Except my family. And my friends’ families. We were sweet.
Mum was in a parking lot in front of a building made of white stone. It looked fancy-ass. I got a tingle of excitement deep in my belly and needed to pee real bad. I couldn’t see my friends, though. Could there be some secret elevator inside? A bullet train to Guam?
“I’ll hover. You come back out, if you want. Just… You’ll need this… Take it, Edie.” Mumshine 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, Mumshine. Didn’t Dad tell you?”
“Just a seedling, then.” Mumshine reached over, popped the glovebox open, pulled out a tiny stem with two leaves in a little pot of soil. “It’s a pear tree. You could start your own orchard! Everyone needs fruit.”
“No one who’s normal eats raw fruit, Mum. Jesus Christ. Enough of the Boudica guerrilla living-off-the-land stuff. We’re not fighting the Battle of Silicon Valley. We don’t have to eat from people’s orchards. Quit worrying.”
“I’m turning round, I won’t let my daughter… I’ll volunteer instead. I’ll get a second job, I’ll…”
“MUMSHINE. Chill. I’ll. Be. Literally. Fine.”
I burst out the door and ran, got 10 metres, stopped and turned around, sighed, leaned in the door and gave Mumshine a kiss. “I got this, Mumshine. Honest. Just go. You’re embarrassing me.”
I slammed the door on her and ran.
The building’s reception area was empty. No party. No cake. No banner.
Adam arrived just behind me, farewelled by his loser dad who had an Uber passenger to pick up. His moustache tickled Adam’s face as the dad kissed his son and Adam scratched his cheek, pushing his dad away playfully.
I checked the messages on my org. It was only, like, seven o’clock and I was sleepwalking but amped at the same time.
My messages:C U AT DA CAMPUS!!ZOMG WE GOT IN2 DA EXPERIMENT :O)EEW MY MA GAVE ME A BOX OF MUFFINS GROSS NOT EVEN PALEO
There was also a message from Mumshine, like a hard-out two-page email she’d written. I parked it for later, took a breath and got ready for the best year ever.
The walls of the reception-y place were white and bare and glowing like inside an Apple store. The receptionist’s desk was behind a clear plastic counter. The receptionist seemed to be studying my deets on a screen but she hardly even looked up.
“Eden Shepherd? You can go through if you like. Your compensation should be expected in 24 hours. Your parents have read the terms and conditions and signed as your guardians.”
“I’ll bet you’re just as excited as I!” Adam said cheerily, standing on his tiptoes.
“Shut up, dude. Gotta sort out this compensation thingy.” I cleared my throat, tried to sound like I wasn’t about to explode with excitement. “D’you seriously mean I get a million bucks tomorrow?”
Reception Lady looked up at me and nodded. I noticed little diodes inside her skull flashing on and off. I could just see behind the desk where her torso merged directly into a cylindrical base with wheels on it. She’d been switched on in this room and had probably never had a break. Her hair and forehead and eyes looked Fleshie, though. Mechs are sneaky fuckers. Ever since Silicon Saturday they’ve replaced us one by one, taking all the stink jobs we didn’t realise we valued, encircling us till we were trapped in our island of supposed superiority.
“Payment twenty-four hours from now. Confirmed.”
“It sorta feels like a set-up. Like, you sure you’ve got my bank account number so I can get paid and stuff?”
“A bank account shan’t be required. Move forward, please.”
I walked with crystal, tense, worried legs towards the far end of the room, which sealed behind me and cut off outside noise just as Adam was about to blab some more annoyances. I followed a corridor edged in thick glass which only let me turn left then left again. I lost my bearings within a minute. The floors and ceiling were clean and white as a hospital. The glass became a skyway and I was walking on air on my own in a box, tilting. I couldn’t see any joins in the walls of my glass tube as I began to tumble down it. The entire corridor was upending. I pressed the palms of my hands against the glass, trying to grip like a gecko. I scrabbled, found nothing to grab on to. All I could do was keep my feet in front of me. Something soft and brown was coming up, with green spots – a giant frog? A hill? How far was I fall–
I tasted air, then smacked into a brown, foamy lake-looking surface. It shattered and swallowed me in a cold blanket. I kicked and flapped until the water fizzed white. My legs pumped, trying to connect with bicycle pedals that weren’t there, and the river bottom churned up brown silt that seemed to suck me. When I started losing sight of the sky, I forced my arms to breaststroke, tried the bicycle kick again, finally hit the river bottom, pushed hard with my feet and powered to the surface.
I gulped air, panting, hyperventilating. The body of water had to have been that river that separates Mahony from the freeway, just about turns Mahony into an… an island? THIS was our tropical island?
Fucking hell, I thought. Not exactly Ibiza. I hoped there’d be some decent nightclubs here. Probably not though, pfft.
I wrestled through bulrushes and clambered on to the river bank. I bent over and pressed down on my cargo pants and tank top. I pushed the balloons of water on the sides of my pants and they squirted brown soup then made my way over sand and duck poop on to neat, flat asphalt. I left a trail of drips then arrived on a sidewalk of paving stones. If I squinted and ignored the glassfield high above me with its fake-ass screensaver of blue sky and puffy white clouds, I could pretend I was just walking home from the swimming hole like an ordinary person. Pretend Mahonyland wasn’t quiet as a mountaintop. Pretend the silence didn’t make my spine wriggle with anxiousness.
My peehole clenched with fear. A muddy figure slapped the paving stones with brown sasquatch feet as it ran towards me. “I knew it had to be you!”
“Adam. Okayyyyy… wow.” I did a huge sigh to insult him. “You’re here. Right behind me like Slenderman. Totally not creepy.”
“I was beginning to think they’d dropped me in here all by myself! Twelve million for me!”
“Found any others?”
“I’m pretty sure they dumped everyone in the river. Even Esther, which really makes you wonder…”
“ES! Hey – people, right?! People up ahead, I see people! Is one of them in a chair? We gotta go find her. Hurry!”
I began sprinting and Adam dogged me. The dark shapes up ahead got larger, four of them, it seemed, and the shapes heard our muddy shoes slapping, and they turned to see who was catching up.
One of the mud-covered spectres had floppy black rock-star hair over his ears. Chanvatey Prach, thank God. Another shape wiped its face and revealed Eli Joshua’s nostrils and cheeks and eyes.
I squinted to try and work out who the other two muddy, dripping people were. One stocky, one skinny, striking blue eyes and…
“KT and Kane. God, man, I honestly thought I was gonna get stuck with Limpet Boy all year.”
“Where’s McDonalds at?” Kane went. “Dude, I’ll even do Burger King. Tell me where the VendBots are, I’ll kick the glass in, get me some cookies. Man I could eat… who’s got food on them? Anyone?” Kane was his usual wild self, in commando mode, always hungry and aggro. He had been patched into a Luddite clique, I’d heard, and he was always looking for excuses to smash Mechs. One time he even melted this Asimo teacher aide, like after school Kane and the boys tied it down and built a massive-ass pyre around it to melt the palladium in its central processor.
KT’s smile broke through a muddy face. “Eden, suuuup? Good to see you.” We shared a muddy air kiss and pushed our hair back behind our ears, where the river goo held it in place. “How exciting was our entrance! You got chucked in the river, too, right? It was like sooo refreshing. Talk about making a splash, eh?”
“How original,” Adam said, droll.
“Adz, hi, like, über-nice to see you.”
If Adam felt the sting of the Uber reference to his dad, he didn’t show it. I guess Adam got dissed so many times every day that he kept all the hurt locked away in a basement inside himself. KT put her hands on Adam’s shoulders, gave him air kisses on both cheeks, then took three steps back so she was further away from him than when she’d begun. “We’ve been in for, like, an hour or somethin. There’s a limo, by the way, you guys. Up by that park, that Samuel Miller park?”
The name of the park sounded familiar. I was pretty sure I’d been here for something before.
“Holy shit, man… a limo? Dude.”
“It doesn’t even work, though,” Kane growled, “Obviously I tried it. No gas in any of these stupid-ass cars. Spotted a BP a couple miles away, though.” Kane shoved his sister out of the way, curled his fingers into fists, flared the cords in his neck. “Glad you’re here, Rock-a-Bye Baby. I need me some entertainment.”
“You… you can’t bully me in here?” Adam’s voice was almost pleading. The little bit of inflection on the end made him sound like a total pussy, like he was asking Kane’s permission.
„Ich bin wirklich begeistert. Auch die Möglichkeit des zusätzlichen eReaders im Abo finde ich persönlich toll.”
„Die Auswahl von Legimi ist großartig.”
„Der Leser findet seine E-Books/Hörbücher sehr schnell und sie lassen sich, ob mit oder ohne Internetverbindung problemlos öffnen.”
Wurm sucht Buch
„Ich finde das Angebot von Legimi richtig toll.”
„Besonders schön finde ich die große Auswahl an möglichen Abo-Modellen und besonders die Abos mit eReader.”
Miss Foxy Reads
„Ich muss sagen, dass ich von dem E-Reader mehr als positiv überrascht bin.”
„Das ist wirklich eine großartige Idee und mal was ganz Anderes.”
Mikka liest das Leben...
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