Author: Elanor Lawrence
Genre: YA dystopia
Genre: YA dystopia
When I open my eyes, I’m in Paris. I know this because the Eiffel tower is right ahead of me, a stark contrast to the white skyscrapers surrounding it. It seems smaller than when I saw it last. Maybe the skyscrapers are taller.
There are people all around me, most of them dressed in the traditional flowing garments. When I look down, I’m wearing one, too. At least it’s purple. Purple makes everything so much better.
“My lady.” Darius steps in front of me, bowing. His quirky grin twitches as I frown. He’s wearing a green tunic which looks surprisingly good on him, considering how ridiculous the European fashions are on everyone else.
“My vassal,” I say. “Stand up and wipe thy smile of thy face.”
It’s like someone waved a magic wand in front of his face. He’s serious now, or at least pretending to be. Honestly, I don’t mind his joking. Without him, this job would be a lot less interesting. And I don’t mean that in a sketchy way at all. Darius is just a really good friend (who happens to be extremely cute.)
“So, why are we here?” I ask, looking around the plaza. The Eiffel tower stands at the center, surrounded by a narrow strip of gardens and fountains where we’re standing. After that are only more of the boring white apartment buildings, just like back home.
“SUCO has given us very little to work with,” Darius explains, and I sigh. Most of the time they tell me what’s going on, but occasionally they tell me virtually nothing. Supposedly it’s to keep me on my toes. As if fighting all the NAU’s battles isn’t hard enough.
“As far as I can see, we’re the only ones here,” Darius continues, staring at the satellite map on his wrist. It’s disguised as an antique piece of jewellery called a watch, but really it shows the position of every human in the area. Our soldiers are blue. Their soldiers are red. Ordinary citizens are grey. Right now the screen is covered in grey with two little blue dots and absolutely no red. This assignment is going to be easy.
Darius and I start walking so we won’t seem as conspicuous. “We have to contact someone on the 27th storey of the Animate Art building. Probably some intelligence that’s too important to be sent over the nets.”
So, maybe not so easy. I’ve never been to the Animate Art building before, but I know all about it. They program the different styles of virtual reality there, all the ones the government deems appropriate. If our contact works there, he must be important.
Back home it’s Monday, but time works differently here, so it’s Saturday. No one will be at work. Once we get inside our job will be easy, but it’ll be nearly impossible to break through the triple-sealed doors in broad daylight. Then again, if we fail we can just try again, over and over. That’s one of the benefits of my job. Mistakes are permitted and even accepted.
Darius knows the way to the Animate Art building, so I just follow him, weaving through the oddly dressed crowd. Ever since Europe made their alliance with Asia and decided to go back to their cultural roots, their clothing has been anything but practical. A cross between a medieval dress and a Sari ends up weighing more than I do.
It’s strange the people are even outside. Back home I travel everywhere in the tunnels. It’s so much quicker and the weather is never a problem. Right now, though, with the sun beating down, I enjoy being outside.
Once we leave the narrow courtyard and wend our way through the narrow alleys between apartment buildings, the sun disappears. Even though it’s almost noon, the buildings are at least a hundred stories tall and they block out the sun unless it’s directly ahead. I don’t mind. It’s nice and cool in the shade.
The path here is fairly wide, paved in white stone and edged with gardens. Apparently botany is more advanced in Europe, because they have no weeds in their gardens. Back home, weeds are the least of our worries. Plus, we have the Dynamic to pull them for us.
Right ahead of us is the Animate Art building, no taller than the other buildings, but at least twice as wide. There aren’t many people around anymore. After all, it is the weekend and Europeans love their vacations. At home, people would still be working, but here the Animate Art is nothing more than entertainment.
In America, virtual reality is a way of war.
I’m feeling a little tired from walking so far and annoyed at SUCO for not dropping us off closer to the building, but Darius insists that we walk around a couple times for surveillance. So that we don’t look suspicious, we hold hands and smile coyly at each other from time to time. It’s actually kind of fun to act like a lovebird for once, even when it’s impossible for anything to happen between Darius and me.
As lunch time approaches, the nearly empty square becomes totally deserted. I’ve also spotted the perfect way in. The double doors at the front are obviously not an option, due to their triple seal. All the other doors are equally protected.
Then there are the windows, hundreds of them in endless columns and rows. All of them are blank, with the sky blue one-way glass blocking every attempt to even see inside. But at the back of the building, on the third floor near the right, is one open window.
Leaving a window open is such a stupid mistake that my brain screams ‘trap!’ Maybe it is one. I don’t really care. It’s the only way I can see to get inside quickly and easily. If there was anyone waiting inside to kill us, then Darius’s communicator would register them. Probably a worker simply forgot to close the window. Or maybe our contact left it open precisely for us.
Either way, getting up to the third floor won’t present any difficulty. Darius always has what we need. It turns out that he has a SmartChain hidden under his robe.
I don’t know what I would do without SmartChains. Darius hands me one, curled up into a neat roll. As soon as my hand touches it, the cord takes a DNA sample from a dead skin cell, processes my preferences, and turns purple. I love it when it does that.
Taking aim, I swing the rope around a couple times and let it fly. The pronged end latches onto the windowsill, sending tendrils through the atoms and joining itself to the building. I grab the other end and climb up, hand over hand, my feet against the side of the building. Below, Darius holds the rope steady until I reach the windowsill.
Inside the building, all is deserted. The room is lined with blank vidscreens. There are a couple chairs arranged pleasantly in the center, but no people. I pull myself into the room and motion for Darius to follow. As soon he climbs inside, I squeeze the SmartChain and it detaches from the window and rolls itself up again.