As part of a serial creative writing installment, Prompted, we present the next segment of Eliza Partika’s “LA 2093.” Read Part 1 here.
I toss the fountain pen from hand to hand a couple times, bewildered. I try to write with it. Nothing. I examine it for flaws. Nothing visibly alludes to tampering. Fine etchings of ancient handiwork run down the pen to the nib. I trace the twisting vines until something inside the slit of the nib catches the light. Someone managed to slide thin sheets of metal in the slit. I stare in awe and dig around in my pocket — just as I thought — there’s a ZapOpen chip in my right pocket that I unfold and wedge into the slit; the chip works at the metal until the nib blossoms like a flower, revealing a complicated array of wires and buttons snaking back to the top of the pen where a red light blinks, barely visible beneath the flimsy ink cartridge cap. I scan the pen for explosives. None. I quickly reassemble the pen, relieved that I haven’t gotten myself into some sort of rebel plot to overthrow Amazonia Corp.
Suddenly, the pen begins to vibrate in my hand; the red light fades into a dark green and rises out of the cap, the four quadrants close to from a button, strobing a gentle green hue onto the roof. I run to the bars, glance down the hall. No guards. I retreat to the back wall, in case one happens along. I press the button. The green light fades into a pink lavender, and clicking gears inside the pen signal the button’s return to its place underneath the cap. The guard across from me calls lights out. The call echoes down the corridor, and each light switches off one by one. In the fading light, the guard smirks and places one finger on his lips. “Shh…”
My heart thuds uncontrollably in my chest as I’m plunged into darkness, and an eerie silence settles. My eyes frantically scan the blackness. In my grip the pen becomes abnormally warm, and as I shift my hand a dull lavender glow illuminates the floor lighting a fading path that directs me to the other corner of the cell. Carefully, I follow it to the wall, where the path seems to dissolve. What is it directing me to? I run my hand along the smooth concrete until my fingers brush a divot in the wall. I gain a solid grip and pull. The wall descends into the ground with faint puffs of steam. As I duck through the hole, I glimpse others doing the same, dark silhouettes descending down stairs from every level of the prison, backlit by the same dull lavender hue. I continue into the abyss stunned, following the mysterious light simply because it is the only thing I can think to do.
Someone brushes against me. Our eyes meet; hers mirror the fear and confusion in my own.
“Luxor,” the woman whispers. I manage a half smile and extend my hand. She gropes to find it, executes one firm shake. “I thought I’d find you here.” Her teeth shine purple in the dim light, amusement displaces the fear in her dark green eyes. “Eloise Bryant.”
I stop and gape at my coworker’s figure disappearing into the darkness. “You’re not here to kill me?”
“Of course not,” she scoffs, shaking her head. “Why would I be?”
It takes me a moment to collect my thoughts. “Why didn’t you tell them about the atomizer?”
“If I would’ve told them, we would’ve never been able to get you out of here, or any of them for that matter.” Her silhouette gestures to the other prisoners descending the stairs.
“Where are they headed?” She looks down into the endless line of shadows, lost in thought.
I begin to think my question will go unanswered, but she finally speaks, a hesitant smile creeping into her voice. “Home.” She pauses, and the momentary joy disappears. “There isn’t much time. Come on. We’re taking a shortcut.”
She extends her hand. Blindly, I take it and follow her through a side door. She leads me down a narrow hall to a bolted door. The lamp above us clicks and whirs as it flickers. Bryant turns to me, a strange gleam in her eyes. “I’m going to open this door, and you aren’t going to freak out, okay?”
“As if my day couldn’t get any stranger.”
She kicks the bolt and shoves the door open with her shoulder. The door swings back just in time to reveal a man swiveling in an easy chair in front of a TV that spans the wall, watching my body get wracked with bullets and fall to the ground, dead. My clone’s corpse disappears in the chaos of people trying to escape the convention center. Coverage from Beijing cuts to commercial. The man controlling the television shuts it off with the wave of his hand
“Aren’t you glad you didn’t go to Beijing today, Mr. Nepos?” The man swings his chair around to face us. It’s the guard from the prison, an amused smirk plastered on his face. I can barely contain my disbelief.
“I’ve had enough of this. My identity has been stolen, I’ve been wrongfully accused of breaking a law that is punishable by death, and my — my twin, for lack of a better word — has just died because I wasn’t there to die in his place.”
“So, someone please tell me what’s going on.”
The guard speaks. “My name is Renellus. I’m a military historian for the Eurasian government — or I was — until it was taken over by Amazonia Corp. and Alphabeta. I orchestrated your escape, and the escape of all these prisoners. They are all historians, poets, literary analysts… lower class citizens accused of crimes they didn’t commit. Amazonia is trying to exterminate us. We are a threat to them, because we know what the world was like before corporations controlled our lives. But that’s a story for another time.” His ice blue eyes take in my surprise. He continues. “Sorry about anything they did to you in prison. It was a necessary step to a better end for all of us.”
Bitterly, I interject. “Apology accepted. But what about the man you just killed? My technology?”
Renellus turns to look at Bryant. “As I watched you develop this new cognitive technology, I saw you delve into parts of the human brain that have never been accessed before. You found a way to wire the human consciousness in such a way that someone could control that person’s thoughts, feelings, even their dreams, without them even batting an eye. It was incredible, groundbreaking — too incredible.”
“You’re saying that my technology was the cause of this man’s death.”
“Yes. I -”
Uncontrollable fury and grief surged in me. “It wasn’t meant for that! With cognitive technology, we could align the world’s thoughts against war, prevent countless crimes in the upper classes; it wasn’t meant to cause death. It was meant to save us from it!”
Bryant’s eyes flame. She seizes my shoulders, searches my face. “Luxor! Pull yourself together! That man was a hologram controlled by our database. He wasn’t real. Our main goal now is to get you away from Los Angeles. Anyone who gets their hands on this technology will use it to manipulate the system which could very well mean the end of humanity. Luckily, we were able to find you in time to prevent you from going to Beijing. If you stay here, Amazonia Corp. will eventually figure out you aren’t dead and they will find you and extract all the intel on your technology from your prefrontal cortex. Then they will kill you so you can’t stop them from using it for their own ends. To put it mildly, you can’t be a tech anymore. It’s too dangerous.”
She pauses and steps back. The room crackles with expectancy.
“So my ID is a ploy?”
“Not exactly.” She pauses, heaves a heavy sigh through her nose.
Before she can explain more, sirens wail and the doors begin bolting themselves.
“We’re out of time.” She whispers. “Come on!” Now there is real fear in Bryant’s eyes as she thrusts me through another door to a teleport and beams us away into oblivion.
Read more next week on newuniversity.org