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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Gamechanger

The Bounceback (Volume 1)

L. X. Beckett

Tor Books

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

PART 1

TUTORIAL


Our task as a species in this century is to survive it.

—John Green


CHAPTER 1

(FORTY YEARS LATER)

THE SURFACE—WESTEURO DENSIFICATION ZONE

METRO PARIS, MAY 2101


Cherub Whiting’s first realworld police raid was nothing like the sims.

She was in a chic Parisian neighborhood with a view of the Eiffel Tower, waiting on a meeting. When @Interpol showed up in her pop-in conference room, she’d been sending pings to a no-show client for the better part of an hour.

Luce, you’re late. Luce, it’s time for our face-to-face. Where are you?

He’d be afraid to skip, wouldn’t he? By the time someone’s social capital got so bad they merited a face-to-face meeting—one involving the horrifying carbon cost of flying a lawyer from Toronto to WestEuro, no less—they were desperate to get life back on track. Failure to appear was unheard of.

The drag of jetlag had left Rubi mentally fogged. It dawned only slowly that she was obsessing.

“Can I get a volunteer gig while I wait, Crane?”

Her electronic sidekick had obviously been expecting the request. “A radish pallet across the hall has requested weeding and watering.” Crane’s crisp voice, transmitted via tiny implanted earbuds, had a British accent; he sounded like he was at her shoulder. “Its usual gardener had an emergency.”

“Accept task.”

Rubi’s visual implants superimposed the mirage of a yellow arrow onto the floor, mapping the way to a conference room big enough for twelve. The pallet of seedlings in question had been abandoned mid-job. Thumb-sized plants with leaves like propellers ruffled in a breeze from the open window. Beyond them, the streets of Paris beckoned.

Rubi felt a pang for whoever had been tending the radishes.

“Run tutorial?”

“I remember how to weed radishes, Crane.” Nudging aside a delicate stem with her thumbnail, she isolated one of the undesirables, tugging it from the soil. “See?”

“Very good, miss.”

Where was Luce? If they couldn’t convince Cloudsight he could behave prosocially, he’d be remanded to managed care: relocation to the outskirts, mandatory labor on an ecosphere rehab project—topsoil generation, probably—and censored comms. It was a prison sentence in all but name.

You can’t make him appear, Rubi told herself. Breathe. Pull weeds. Enjoy the solitude.

Heavy boots, pounding up the stairwell double-time, filled her with relief.

Finally!

Crane spoke, momentarily drowning out the elephant stampede. “Miss Cherub? Call for you.”

“Is it Dad?”

“Your father’s fine. The call is from your archnemesis.”

“Not funny.”

“No? I’ll make a note.”

“Gimlet Barnes is not my arch—”

Clomp clomp clomp bang! An armored man charged through the door.

Rubi pivoted, squaring off to face the threat … and brandishing a fist full of weeds. The move was reflexive, triggered by hours logged in-game.

plus, maybe, the mention of Gimlet …

If this had been a game, her implants would have augmented the white-walled meeting room until it was unrecognizable, frosting visuals and sound over mundane reality, porting her into playspace: a dungeon, maybe, a space station, or a canyon in the mythical American Wild West. Instead, the walls lit up with official warnings. Posters scrolled on the plaster, red-and-black placards: POLICE LINE. DO NOT CROSS!

“Don’t move!”

A cop? Luce couldn’t be a cop, could he? With his social deficits?

Official directives crawled the posters: REMAIN IN PLACE! WAIT FOR INSTRUCTIONS!

Rubi had risen to her toes, prep for rolling left if he attacked. Heart slamming, she scanned for weapons.

Like what—a crossbow? Holy water?

Two cameras and a pacification bot drifted over her radishes.

“Stand down, mademoiselle! Stand down now!”

Rubi lowered her fists. Of course this policeman wasn’t Luce. He was a stranger.

Handsome stranger, noted an inner voice.

Dammit, stay on task! “Complying as ordered.”

He was tall and olive-skinned, with flyaway hair the color of charcoal and forbidding features: sharp nose, steely eyes. A protective vest, over the base layer of nanosilk he wore as a primer garment, left her to imagine the details of his physique. His bot was armed with a joy buzzer, third-gen Taser tech. Dad claimed that a good jolt would make you wish you’d died.

He would know, wouldn’t he?

@Interpol must have a warrant, because the building hadn’t warned Crane he was coming.

As this thought gelled, a badge resolved on the wall.

@Interpol Special Ops, Agent Anselmo Javier

Pronouns: he/him

Cloudsight Respectability Rating: 59/100%


Copyright © 2019 by A. M. Dellamonica