Sunday, January 11, 2015
First 5 Pages January Workshop - Scott Rev 1
Name: Rachel Scott
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Science Fiction
The girl’s pale hand grazed over flames but was not burned. Her green eyes were electric like the storm outside, its steel-drum beat of rain assaulting the windows of SimTech. Despite the San Francisco weather, I barely noticed the people in the lobby as they watched water streams like news ticker tapes. They were uninteresting. It was the girl inhabiting the giant screen who captured my attention, those strange eyes taunting me with a silent,Didn’t know a few pixels would alter the course of your existence, did you, Nate Walker?
At least, that’s what I imagined she’d say, if she were real. Her silver dress and icy blonde hair fluttered in the fire that appeared to consume the screen. The reflective surface mirrored the downpour outside, shadows of droplets falling in straight rows like calculations. There would be a lot of numbers forming her on that screen. No flesh and blood, just heartless binary.
The image zoomed to frame her eyes, and words appeared beneath them. Cognitus is born. It was just a video game she advertised, but the artificial intelligence that powered it made it one of the most important products mega-genius Wesley Sims had ever developed.
Sims never did anything that wasn’t revolutionary. Just standing there, in his glass and steel powerhouse, intimidated me. I was just a student who never would have scored an invitation to test the game if my father weren’t Sims’ right-hand man. Vote Hal Walker, dad of the year. He’s for nepotism.
A rush of January wind chilled me as the doors swung open. A chrome handle banged something from the force. Min had arrived, barely on time as usual. I waited for her from my spot below the girl. No, the ad for the game.
The clunk of Min’s worn motorcycle boots paused near the front desk where she was delayed by security. She swore in Korean before darting over to me.
“Is that a spark of humanity in your baby blues, Nathaniel?” Min-Ji Kim flung one arm over my shoulders, which was dumb, because she was a lot shorter than me, and it made her stand on her toes.
“Never. And don’t call me Nathaniel.” I glanced at my friend, trying to raise one eyebrow in the condescending way only she could manage.
Min’s black hair was a glossy sheet that fell over glasses which were clearly new and thick as the heel of her boots. “Not my fault Nate should be short for something. It’s unnatural. Like someone named Bill who’s just Bill and not William.”
“There are plenty of guys named just Bill.”
“That doesn’t prove my point.” She gave up her awkward position to cross her arms.
Min had near-perfect vision in her scary black eyes, so the glasses were just for show. She smelled normal at least, like coconuts.
“By the way…” I turned fully towards her. “Your glasses are stupid, and your hair is super shiny. It’s mismatched.”
Min stuck out her tongue. “The glasses are a dare that’ll get me twenty bucks from Chauncey, which I want because his name is Chauncey. The hair is because I bathe in Crisco and faerie blood.”
“They look like hipster glasses. Or Waldo, maybe. Where’s Waldo. Where’s Min…it should be a comic.”
She punched me in the arm. “Don’t call me Min! It’s my version of Nathaniel.”
“But your name is Min! We’ve been through this before.”
“It’s Min-Ji. You’re the only person I let get away with plain Min.”
“You’re not letting me get away with it,” I whispered like it was a secret.
“Yes, that is what Nate is short for.” I was phasing out though, fixating on the screen again, and Min followed my gaze.
“If that’s an example of the graphics, this is nuts.” Her eyes bugged out with anticipation.
I nodded. Probably. It’d be just ten more minutes, or fifteen, before I saw the game for myself, the world behind the silver girl’s unnerving eyes. It was hard not knowing exactly when so I could count down and occupy myself with the quantification of seconds.
My father would meet us soon. Maybe there’d been no real conversation between us since my mother’s death seven years ago, and maybe our relationship was beyond repair, but still…Hal didn’t have to arrange for me and Min to be the first game testers who weren’t SimTech employees. I never asked him for it, even though I’d been stalking news of the project for months. This was pure magic, this techno adventure activated by the clipped march of expensive dress shoes announcing my father’s arrival. Right on schedule.
“Good, you’re here.” Hal checked his watch after the fact. Weirdo.
Min answered, because she could talk to Hal freely, unlike me. “Yep, responsible testers we are. So responsible, so adult.”
Hal smiled at her. Everyone always smiled at her. “Course you are. You won’t have much time in the game, I’m afraid, but since this wasn’t a planned session, it was the best I could do.” He spun back the way he entered and took a few sharp steps.
I analyzed my father’s strange behavior. It didn’t seem to be fake. It didn’t seem like bribery for attention or acknowledgement of his greatness, but why was he being so…nice?
I cleared my throat. I’d spoken less than ten sentences to Hal this month, so I could spare one. “Thanks.”
He faltered, but recovered quickly and didn’t glance back. “It’s nothing. I know how much you like this sort of thing.”
When Hal had mentioned he could get me a testing session, it might have been one of the few times I’d been rendered speechless. I’d nodded and maybe even smiled, and I hadn’t even had to ask about Min. Her inclusion was a result of a carefully-crafted formula: fifty percent assumption, fifty percent Nate never goes anywhere without her anyway.
He’d worked in SimTech’s artificial intelligence division for years, since before Mom’s death, but I thought that had involved robots that could replace humans. Something about the space station, too. He never shut up about that, but Hal Walker was a proud man who liked to remind me how I had to keep going no matter what, and how I’d never get anywhere if I couldn’t move on. Like grief had an expiration date.
I’d been ten years old when one-third of my family vanished off the face of the earth. Hal lost his wife, but had promptly replaced her with Bridget, my shallow hag of a stepmother, just a year later. At least I got Liza out of that unholy union, my five-year-old half-sister, but apart from her, everything had been ruined like some ancient civilization that sunk to the bottom of the sea.
I stopped the tiny feeling of gratitude to Hal I had subconsciously allowed. Instead, the game.
I brushed one set of fingers through my hair, flooded by the urgency of new. This game was the first break I’d felt in my tedious existence in such a long time. I couldn’t shake it. Maybe it was depression. Or lack of complex carbohydrates. There was only silence then as we followed Hal across the lobby. I stole one last look at the girl before we got whisked away in a glass elevator like Willy Wonka.